Saturday, May 13, 2017

Can Your Age Mask Your Stupidity?

I was in the clinic doing nothing worthwhile. One of the consultants who visits my clinic was attending to a patient. It was a young boy and his parents were standing closeby, anxiously watching what was going on. (Though all they could see was the back of the consultant’s head).  I had nothing to do. In fact, there was no need for me to be in the clinic at all but my patients feel better if I am around. This is not my statement. Patients say that! God knows what makes them feel so, it blows up my head! Well, anyway, In such a situation, I either occupy myself writing some nonsense like this and forcing it on others or if I cannot conceive anything, try to be harmless with reading a book or listening to some music on my laptop.  

It was the same scene yesterday. I put on some music, plugged my ears with the earpiece and was listening. ( I don’t like these ear plugs.They keep falling off my ears and I have to repeatedly push them in and hold my head in one particular position to keep them in place. But I have to use them because of the presence of others in the clinic and what I listen to, may not be ‘music’ to their ears!). It was a lively classical composition of carnatic style and without my knowledge my fingers were tapping on the table.  My consultant asked me what was so interesting and I disconnected the earphone and put the speaker on for a moment so that she could hear and appreciate it. By then somebody called at the door and I switched the music off and went out to answer.

I returned after few minutes, placed the earphones in my ears again and switched the music on. It was now  hindustani classical, ‘Bhairavi’ By Panditi Bhimsen Joshi. Usually Pandit Joshi’s  rendition is robust but here, I felt that the sound was very low. I increased the volume. Now, I could hear the music but felt it would sound better if the volume was even higher. There must have been something wrong with the recording. I turned the volume to full and felt that was OK. The consultant raised her head and looked at me. I smiled and signalled it was fine. She and the boy’s parents exchanged some words but I concentrated on the music and did not interfere.

Some time later my son entered the clinic. He is also a dentist and he puts in a cameo appearance in my clinic now and then. The consultant who was working was his good friend. As soon as he entered he covered his ears with his palms, came close to me and said

“What is wrong with you? Why have you kept the volume so high?”
“There is something wrong with this stupid YOU TUBE, the sound is very low. I can hardly hear anything”

“What do you mean  low? I could hear it in the next room and came to see what is happening”

Then he looked at the lap top and said

“Wah, No wonder the volume is low. You have put the earphones in your ears but haven’t connected them to the laptop. You are the one who is stupid. Not YOU TUBE”

Then the tube in my head clicked on. I had detached the earphone from the computer so that the consultant could hear the music but later I had not connected it again. I had only plugged my ears with the earphones and had switched the music on. The faint sound that I was hearing was actually the blaring lap top, filtered by my ear plugs! Thinking that something was wrong with the recording I had taken the volume beyond the tolerable limit of others and they had been politely bearing with the volume and my stupidity.

I was very much embarrassed for having made a fool of myself. I switched the music off, took out the ear pieces and addressed everybody present.

“ I am so sorry. It was so stupid of me. I did not notice that I haven’t connected the earphones to the computer” And to save my face, I added

“ I think it is my age”  ( I completed sixty last september and am now allowed a reasonable margin in my social behaviour)

My son smiled and bent low

“Good try” he whispered “ but you can’t always mask your stupidity with your age!”  

Thursday, May 4, 2017

Naayi Bandaavo Benhatti .......... (Dogs Are Behind Me)

The four stalwarts out of the eight title holders of the first 250 mts of my walking path.
It is five in the morning. Still dark outside. Though the summer makes the interiors stuffy, outdoors is refreshingly cool.  As I step out, I can feel the scent of the jasmines wafting in the air. I stop for a few seconds to enjoy the fragrance and start walking. I turn into the only road around my house that is not yet dug up for laying the sewerage pipes. I am surprised to find my muscles and joints not protesting my attempt of a brisk walk. May be they are still sleeping. I decide to utilize the opportunity and start jogging very slowly so as not to wake them up and proceed cautiously along the edge of the road. A part of my brain starts chanting the “Sahasranama” a sacred verse, which I have by heart, and which is now almost involuntary. (Sahasranaama once is twenty minutes. I don’t need a watch to keep time of my run!)  The other Part gives way to many of the flippant and useless thoughts that occupy the mind when there is nothing else. To put it in short, I am chanting, I am lost in my thoughts and am jogging peacefully.

Suddenly there is a sharp bark close to me and a street dog which might have been lurking unseen amongst the heap of mud and trash by the roadside  jumps up on me. My heart skips a beat, my chanting stops (and I forget where I was), brain shifts in an instant from peaceful to dreadful thoughts. I stop in my tracks and attempt to scare the dog away by shouting at it. I try to show that I am not scared but  have started sweating and my legs are shaking. The dog also stops in its tracks and looks at me with a very innocent face as if questioning me “why are you shouting?”. It walks back to its heap of mud and curls up as if nothing happened.

Nothing happened to the dog. But my pleasant morning and the peaceful reverie is shattered. Now all my senses are alert looking for other unseen dogs which I imagine lurking behind the fences and shrubs and I can’t make myself chant or jog anymore. I am jarred. I start walking wearily and curse myself for not getting my stick along. Not that it would have made any difference. I don't think I am capable using a stick against street dogs effectively. I would have just felt better. But the stick has its disadvantages too. It attracts attention. I have noticed that dogs which just ignore other walkers, bark at me when I pass by carrying a stick. And a stick is Ok if you are walking. If you suddenly shift to jogging (as I often do ), it is a hindrance and sometimes tends to get entangled with your legs.  In spite of all these, I do feel better with a stick in my hand.

People who know dogs and their ways tell me that I should take it easy and the dog did not mean any harm. It was bored spending the night alone and just jumped at me to express happiness over finding company and tried to exchange pleasantries. May be. But I am bugged.

I am jealous about people who can get pally with dogs. I meet a gentleman who comes walking on the same road everyday. As soon as he is seen at a distance, the dogs run towards him vigorously wagging their tails and without barking. They prance around him and he bends down, pats them on the head, mumbles something in their ears and proceeds on his walk. The dogs come back smiling as if blessed and if I happen to be close by, growl at me and go back to their places. I am not as gifted. Hence I prefer to maintain my distance. My policy is just peaceful coexistence. I never trouble them and expect similar courtesy in return. But how will I make them understand?

The stretch of road which I love and on which the dogs have ownership rights.
Not that they are intent up on troubling me always. I am fated to be troubled by them! I will tell you what happened yesterday. The road I go walking  is about a kilometre long. I walk up and down the road several times making up the distance that I want to cover.  There are four groups of dogs along the road and they have divided it amongst themselves into four parts. Each group claims a territory of about 250 mtrs and they zealously guard their territory. When I started jogging yesterday there were about two dogs of each group sleeping next to the road guarding their places. I finished a full lap passing all eight dogs twice and they left me to myself. I finished one lap and turned about for the second. Just as I turned the Pavwala (fellow who sells bread) came along on his bicycle and one of the street dogs, which is his pet, ran in front of the bicycle. The moment this dog got into the next territory all hell broke loose. There was a lot of barking yelping and fighting. I was jogging just behind the pavwala. Luckily for me the dogs were busy with themselves and did not notice me. But the noise thus created alerted the dogs of the next territory and they came charging on to the road barking and baring their teeth, eager for a good fight.  By then the pavwala turned back and his dog (which was the cause of disturbance) went back with him.The charged up dogs which came rushing on to the road saw their target disappearing at a distance but found me on the road instead. Since they did not like to loose the pent up charge they decided to make do with me for their target practice! All of them rushed forward baying for my blood. I had to do a lot of waving the stick and dancing on the road before they reluctantly gave up and went back.
A lone watchman of the third territory.
What I mean to say is it is just my fate and I have to be resigned to it. Santa Shishunaala Sharif must have had similar experiences in his life with dogs. That is why he compared his fellow men who barked at him for no reason to street dogs and composed his song  “Naayi Bandaavo Benhatti”.

Shishunaala Sharif was a 19 th century saint poet, who was born a Muslim and who took a Hindu Guru. Both the teacher and disciple are said to have worked for the unity of the two communities. The guru, Govinda Bhatta was accused by the hindus because he took a muslim disciple and Sharif was targeted by muslims because he accepted a hindu guru. (In a way they succeeded in uniting the two communities - in hating the 'Guru - Shishya' combine!) Sharifa called it 'barking for the sake of barking', ignored them and compared them to street dogs in his famous composition, 'Naayi Bandaavo benhatti'.

“Naayi bandaavo benhatti, naaraayaNa, naayi Bandaavo benhatti.
Naayi andare naayi alla, maanava janmada heena naayi,
Jnaanaananda tiLiyadantha shwaanaanandadoLu dundhe”

“Barking dogs are chasing me, Oh god, dogs are chasing me.
Not the street dogs but wretched human dogs,
Who can't experience the bliss of enlightenment but enjoy acting like street dogs!"

This song is one of my favourites and I wanted to provide a link to the song. Though I tried my best I could not find it. I only got a 'Disco' version which I hate but could not upload even that. Hence I decided to sing myself. Sorry for the assault on your senses. Please close your eyes and ears and listen with your heart. That may help you forgive me! And if it is any solace, I did not sing the full song, only the first two verses. (If you are lucky, your mobile will refuse to recognise my video and you will not hear the song!)


Friday, April 28, 2017

Enchanting Northeast . Assam - Meghalaya.

I must have been eight or ten years old when my father took us to the very popular english movie, Hatari. He usually took us to english movies. The sound of Music, Those magnificent men in their flying machines, Italian job, Laurel and Hardy flicks, and animal movies like Hatari, The Drums Of Destiny, Born free, Charlie the lonesome Cougar ( from which I drew lots of material for the animal stories which I made up for my children) are a few which I fondly remember. The theaters Imperial, Plaza, Liberty, Rex, Lido and Galaxy of Bangalore almost always ran english movies and they had their own character. Unlike the singularly uniform (and boring) Inox and E square.

Coming to Hatari, needless to say we were extremely thrilled with the movie and I think my fascination towards wildlife began there. I loved everyone of the animal movies but the scene which is etched in my brain forever is the Rhino chase in Hatari. The Rhinoceros seemed to be the very symbol of raw power and ferocity and I loved the scene where it attacks the jeep on the run. I had felt very sad when it was caught at last. Whenever we went to Mysore (which was quite often) and visited the Chamarajendra Zoo (compulsory on every visit) I spent a considerable time in front of the Rhino enclosure but the animals in the enclosure seemed very docile and lacked the spirit of the Hatari hero. I expected them to attack the caretaker at least when he hit them with a stick to make them get out of his way but they just kept munching the grass without even shaking their heads at him let alone attack him with the horn!

It was only much later in life that I heard about the Kaziranga. I can’t remember where I read about it first. Might be the National Geographic. And when I read that there were hundreds of Rhinos which roamed carefree all over the forest I had a desire deep inside me, to go there and see them. In Kaziranga I was imagining the rhinos of Hatari.

I spent the first half of my life in Bangalore not more than two hundred kilometers from the famous Bandipur and Nagarahole wildlife sanctuaries and I have not been there till date. (for all my love for wildlife and talk about them!). I am more of an armchair wildlife enthusiast!   Kaziranga was more than three thousand kilometers! I never thought that I would actually go there sometime. I would not have, had my cousine not got his posting in Missamaari, Assam.  

Missamaari army base is little more than a hundred kilometers from Kaziranga and my cousine has been there for three years. I had a sincere and loving invitation from the couple to visit them, had experienced their hospitality earlier - which was very tempting - but had not made up my mind. This January he said that he is likely to be shifted shortly and that he may not be posted in Assam again. That brought a sense of urgency to my long pending kaziranga dream  and we fixed a date and booked our tickets.

Since we were flying till Guwahati and then going by road to Missamaari, my cousine urged us to visit Shillong, which is about two hours by road from Guwahati, before reaching his place.  And that is how I ended up in two of the most beautiful states I have ever visited, Meghalaya and Assam. Since I am not capable of describing them in words, I will just post the photographs (more than what you can comfortably bear) and I am sure they will certainly do a better job.
Surroundings of the army station near Guwahati where we stayed over night. Swampy  region which would have been better off left to itself but encroached up on by civilisation for commercial benefits. 

Shillong - probabaly once beautiful hill station presently afflicted by over population and un planned construction. Beautiful narrow winding roads (if you see them in decade old pictures) but a nightmare to traverse in peak traffic. Took about forty five minutes to cover four kilometers.  

Aha, now you have left Shillong behind and is on the way to Mawlynnong, the cleanest village in Asia. The roadside scene makes you feel like jumping out of the car and run towards the hills!
That is what exactly I did here! Ran up to the patch of cultivated green field seen at a distance.

I had to look closely to identify the source of a mewing sound which I heard. I don't know if it was a domestic cat or a jungle cat/cub. I was not sure.  And if it were a cub and the mother was anywhere around, I was in trouble. Since my love for wildlife does not extend to getting  close with them and having a feel of their teeth and nails, I quietly walked back! 

The seventy kilometre route was full of such exhilarating scenes. Sometimes the clouds engulfed everything and you never saw the valley.  

Our driver was extremely confident about his knowledge of the village roads till he saw this falls which he had never seen before on the way to the cleanest village. Since he was not sure if the government recently started this to attract more tourists, he grudgingly accepted that he might have taken a wrong turn and turned back. We enjoyed the wrong turn nevertheless! 

Water from the falls flowing towards Bangladesh, which is quite close. 

Mawlynnong - The cleanest village in Asia. The few lanes starting in all directions from the parking lot do look absolutely clean but due to the drizzle, I could not walk along them up to the end and confirm. I assume they are and three cheers to the occupants. But not to the visitors some of whom can't resist an urge to spit irrespective of the status of the place they are in. 

Living root bridge. Called so because the hanging roots of the two adjacent trees have entangled themselves creating a bridge across the beautiful stream.  It was lunch time and since most of Meghalaya sustains itself on beef and pork we had not found anything to eat.  The kiosks in root bridge provided the much appreciated plantains and biscuits. 

Another enchanting scene. We decided that this would be the last stop because if we stopped more, there was no chance of us reaching Missaamari that day. 

Missamari army base  is part of a reserve forest and animals like this wild elephant still consider the base, their home. Yes, you need a keen eye sight to locate the elephant. It is to the right of the tree in the middle.

The majestic 'mahaaraj' as it is known, close up. Courtesy one of the JCOs. 
Getting up at four in the morning and driving hundred kilometres is worth if you could get a sight like this. Kaziranga Bio diversity park. A very small section of the forest is open to public who can see it from an elephant back or a jeep. And the rhinos here also are  not much different from the ones I saw in the Mysore zoo! They are sort of semi wild and are probably used to the humans invading their privacy and taking pictures like this. 

The other side of the water body is beyond the reach of visitors. The black dots that you see there are Bisons. 
One needs an experienced eye to locate an animal in the wild. I could not see this wild boar which was twenty feet away from an elephant back till our guide pointed it to me. I am sure it is not easy to locate it in the picture too, thanks to my expertise as a photographer. It is the black smudge in the middle. 

Our people need to be educated about forest etiquette. They talk and laugh aloud and call out to their friends on other elephants. No difference being a part of a 'baraat' party heading into the wedding hall and being a part of a party heading into the forest! 

Kaziranga in the end was a mixed feeling. I was glad that I could see a part of it at least and need not resort to imaginations in future, but it was not as i had expected. In fact I feel that I could have seen  kaziranga  better, if I had walked along the national highway running next to the park with a good binocular in hand. 

This is another forest range called Nameri. Forms one bank of the river Bor Dikorai. The options to see the forest is through a three hour trek or a one and a half hour ride on a rafter, which is a very pleasant experience. 
I am fascinated by many things in life and a very strong fascination is for anything in uniform. I was very keen on joining the army but believe me, my fitness came in the way. Well, that is a story by itself. The gist is that I could not get in. I would have loved just to roam around the army base for five days but there wasn't enough time. I utilised the last morning for a long walk stretching into almost all corners of the base taking pictures. Missamaari is an army base and photography is prohibited. (According to the instructions painted on the board near the gate, a mobile phone with built in camera can not be taken inside! Army would do better to rouse itself from sleep!) I would have posted many of them but my host was a bit wary about my camera and my posts. So, I thought that I would respect his sentiments but make an exception as far as the forest bit and road is concerned. 

An unforgettable trip ended with a long walk along the clean roads of the army base on a refreshing morning - while keeping a watch for the permanent residents the 'Maharaaj' and his friends! 

Friday, April 14, 2017


Mavalli Tiffin Rooms as its name suggests is located in Mavalli, very close to Lalbagh. Lalbagh Botanical Gardens is one of the very famous landmarks of Bangalore comprising of about 200 acres of landscaped gardens and has four entry points. ‘Mavalli’ is the approximately 4-6 sq km area next to Lalbagh. MTR is on Lalbagh Road about one hundred meters from the Lalbagh main gate.

I can’t think of Lalbagh and MTR separately. I am sure  it is so for the hundreds of walkers who used to come to Lalbagh for their morning walk everyday and later crowded the footpath in front of MTR for the invigorating cup of coffee. Since the numbers were huge and the demand was only for coffee, it was served right on the steps and people enjoyed it standing and talking. I have not been there recently and do not know for sure if it is the same now. I think it is. Anyway, MTR and Lalbagh are always together in my mind and both jointly have entwined themselves firmly with my childhood. That being the case, I request you to kindly forgive some of my childhood memories creeping into this story of MTR.

To begin at the beginning, I understand that a hut with a thatched roof,  preparing and selling Idlis, was set up by the Maiya brothers on what is known as Lalbagh Fort Road, not far from the present MTR, in 1920. In a short while, it grew to become The Brahmin’s Coffee Club, popular for its idlisambhar and masala dosa and was housed in a bigger and better building. I vaguely remember reading about it in DVG’s book, “Smriti Chitragalu”. (Pictures Of Memory?) While reminiscing about eateries of that time, Sri DVG mentions this establishment and how, at a time when it was taboo for the orthodox brahmins to eat in a hotel, many youth, lured by the taste, would enter the hotel by stealth and consume their idlis and dosas. It seems one of the brothers, Sri Yagnanarayana Maiya was instrumental in making the hotel grow in popularity and status, and it was later named Mavalli Tiffin Rooms and shifted to its present location in 1960.

Cash Counter and the stairs leading to the restaurant
We visited MTR quite often during the period 1962 - 1972.  Our house was at a walking distance from Lalbagh and hence it was the preferred site for our Sunday outings with our father. We entered Lalbagh through the Southgate, climbed the hill, bought roasted ground nuts from the hawkers, sat on the hill eating groundnuts and straining our eyes to locate an air plane in the far away HAL air port. We climbed down on the opposite side of the hill to reach the deer enclosure, fed the leftover ground nuts to the animals which eagerly ate from our hands pushing their snouts through the metal netting, and walking through the glass house, reached the cages housing pigeons, parrots, guinea pigs and rabbits. We spent sometime there, walked under the huge rain trees close by collecting the fallen pods, (soaking and pounding which, we made a big mess in the house and one or two out of shape cricket balls) arrived at the statue of Chamaraja Wodeyar near the main gate, came out of Lalbagh and entered MTR. It was one smooth movement from entering the Lalbagh to ending up in MTR.

The anteroom where people waited for the tables to be free

MTR was a ground and first floor structure. The kitchen, storage and washing areas were on the ground floor of the building. The food was served on the first floor. As you entered, there were the cash counter and the stairs to the left and under the stairs was the refrigerator. The MTR’s famous (almost all their dishes were famous of course) fruit mixture was prepared right there. As one climbed the stairs, one could see the rows of clear glass containers being layered with finely chopped fresh fruits  and topped with MTR’s special ‘American’ ice cream. (As I have mentioned earlier, that was the time when every hotel prepared its own ice cream). The ensemble was then crowned with figs, cherry and grapes. It was too tempting a sight and only an extremely strong will and a look at the price of fruit mixture on the display board, prevented one from ordering it right away!

We occupied the table and placed the order. It was invariably Masaladosa and Gulabjamoon for me and my brother, and fruit mixture for the princess of our house, my sister. If he still had money to spare, which was rare, my father ordered a Kharabhat for himself and if not, just coffee. We never bothered to think why our father did not eat anything. I thought about it after I grew up and wondered why he took us there every other week even though he had to exert himself to afford that expense. It was only after I had my children that I experienced the joy of seeing one’s children relish what they were eating. And my son, thirty winters behind him, amply provides me with the pleasure, even now, if I take him to MTR!

Kharabhat with the MTR trademark tomato slice on the top. (The tomatoes of the size of a cricket ball or bigger. I have not seen them in the market these days. they were my father's favourite)

Every MTR preparation has its own fan group and for me it was and still is, Masaladosa and Gulaabjamun. And between the two the Gulaabjamun. This Gulabjamun is made of pure khova, fried golden and brought submerged in flavoured sugar syrup. I wonder how they keep it in shape till it reaches the table because, the moment you touch it with the spoon it disintegrates and once conveyed into the mouth just melts. Nowadays, however, I find the MTR Gulaab jaamun a bit too sweet for my taste but do order one even now. And my sister still insists on her fruit mixture but says some canned fruits have found their way into the container.  

Apart from the usual fare which is part of the menu in all hotels, MTR had its trademark sweet ‘Chandrahaara’ which was prepared only on Sundays. It was a fried maida preparation made using a secret recipe and served covered in thick sweetened cream. It was not as appealing to look at as the dosa or the jamoon but I remember having ordered it once sometime later in life and feeling that I should have tasted it much earlier. It was enjoyable!

MTR was supposed to have been the first hotel in Bangalore to have installed equipment to sterilize the plates, cups and utensils and had gone a notch up in maintaining cleanliness - the result of Sri Yagnanarayana Maiya’s visit to England. And they had made sure that every one of their guests witnessed the facility by arranging for the exit only through the kitchen and the back door!  The sight of the hissing dishwashers, whirring grinders, and huge mounds of colourful washed vegetables contrasting with the spotless white dhoti of the cooks was very impressive and the picture has ingrained itself firmly in my brain.

Sometime during my BDS course, probably when I was in second year, Indira Gandhi declared emergency. I remember seeing L K Adwani, Madhu Dandawate and other leaders imprisoned in the Central jail Bangalore, brought to GDC for treatment under police escort and me being so hopelessly ignorant about the outside world and thinking that they were smugglers arrested under COFEPOSA.

The Corporation commissioner of the city of Bangalore (I am raking my brain but unable to recollect his name) decided to create his own version of equality in the city and targeted the hotels for the purpose. Using the unbridled powers that he enjoyed, thanks to emergency, he fixed the price and quantity of each and every item and ordered that all hotels coming with in the jurisdiction of the corporation shall serve the food as prescribed. For example an Idli had to weigh 60 gm and had to be sold at 50ps per piece along with 20 gms of chutney. Masala dosas should be a minimum of  8 inches in diameter having 50 gms of stuffing and be sold at rs 1.40, a rice plate should consist of a minimum of so much of rice, two vegetables of quantity ....gms, two chappattis of diameter .... and so on and so forth. It made big news and people thought that it would be a treat! We visited about half a dozen hotels out of curiosity and found that all that was available on the menu in every one of them was a tasteless lump of boiled Rava called Kharabhat weighing exactly 160 gms, costing 80ps and 150ml of a brown liquid called coffee/tea costing 40ps and prepared by pouring boiling water again and again over the same coffee/tea powder!

MTR was the only hotel, as I heard, that retained their full menu and maintained the same quality but priced their food as prescribed by the commissioner! If I remember right they only discontinued their fruit mixture. you should have seen the crowd in front of MTR then!  After three failed attempts to enter MTR, we gave up and so, I do not have first hand information. MTR did this for nearly a month and then the hotel was shutdown completely.

After about two weeks time MTR started a grocery store in the adjoining place owned by them which sold cleaned rice and pulses along with all other material and they announced a free home delivery for orders of rs 200 and above. Since this saved us the trouble of pushing our monthly groceries home on my bicycle from chickpet, and saved my mother the tedious process of cleaning rice and pulses we bought our groceries there. I remember taking a small detour when I rode to the college on my bicycle to hand over our list at the store and the MTR van delivering the goods by evening. After sometime they started manufacturing and selling their famous Rava idli mix which was followed by  idli, dosa and Gulabjamun mixes.  In no time they had a thriving ready to eat food business along with the grocery store. The hotel remained shut. 

Once the emergency was lifted, or may be after the commissioner realised his folly and  took back his order, the restaurant re started, the grocery store closed and ready to eat  business got a boost. Many more items were added and marketing was expanded. I remember reading in the papers about MTR collaborating with some multinational multiplying the production and spread. Today I understand that their ready to eat food business is many times more than their restaurant business and the MTR group have to be thankful to the commissioner of Corporation of the city of Bangalore for forcing them into the business.

While these changes were happening, the Maiya family, which controlled the business, had also grown in numbers and new generations were at the helm. Success, fame and money  were followed by  bitterness and fight for bigger share of them amongst the multiple stakeholders of the family and in due course the restaurant and fast food business got separated. Later one of the cousins - making use of the 'Maiya' reputation - started the Maiya chain of hotels and opened branches in other locations in Bangalore. The flagship MTR had to keep up and today we have branches of MTR also in many places. I have eaten in one of their branches and the food is definitely comparable to what I remember eating at the original MTR. And Maiya's have turned out to be equally popular. 

Bangalore has grown beyond recognition, the population has multiplied - reaching infinity - and new players have taken over in every field.  For the new generations, MTR will be one amongst the many good hotels in the city. Few grey heads like me may still remember the MTR that was and the coffee being served in silver cups! I may not declare the MTR Masala dosa was THE best, (But that was the only hotel from which people are known to have had the masaIsdosas packed on their way to the airport and carried the parcel to Bombay!)  may not say that the MTR service was THE best ( it was, in fact, a bit snobbish) but I say that for a few decades or may be even half a century, MTR was certainly the king of hotels in Bangalore, known for best of everything in the business. No other hotel had the reputation and stature of MTR. To describe it in one word, It was - class!


Thursday, April 6, 2017

Watering At the Mouth - Writing about eateries of Bangalore.

I was born in Chamarajapet, probably the very first suburb of Bangalore of the yore. We shifted to Basavanagudi when I was three or four and after another two years, to our own house in Shantinagar, near Wilson Garden. The year 1962. Cost of the site of size 40*60 was Rs 800 and cost of construction Rs 12,000. My father took a loan and repaid it over the next eighteen years. This is just to give an indication of the economy of that period. My primary education was in Maruti Vidyalaya in Wilson garden.  None of my relatives who heard the name of my school could ever resist commenting “I think they have named the school, looking at the way you behave!”. Then I joined National High School and later GDC. Most of our friends and relatives were also around these places and hence the Bangalore that I am very familiar with is the one within a radius of say, five to six kilometers from GDC. Well, in fact that was almost the whole of Bangalore five decades back, if you excluded Malleshwaram and Ulsoor. Malleshwaram was not actually Bangalore. It was the first railway station after Bangalore city, towards Tumkur. And Ulsoor was cantonement area. Again not actually Bangalore. So were the present day hotspots MG road, Brigade road etc etc.  See, I am already on a tangent. I was supposed to write about hotels. Not history of Bangalore.

There were quite a few famous eateries in the Bangalore outlined above, but some of them have been legendary. Here I plan to restrict myself to the very famous MTR, Vidyarthi Bhavan, Udupi Krishna Bhavan, Raghavendra Bhavana and Rama Vilas Hotel. I will give a very short account of each before going over to MTR the king. 

Vidyarthi Bhavan, located in the center of Gandhi bazaar is supposed to have been named so because it catered mainly to students. That must have been before the sixties.  Because at the time I was in National High school/college  (which is the closest educational institution to VB) hardly any students went to VB. Their popular haunts were the Bakery at the corner where Vanivilas Road joins DVG road and “Bhattana Hotlu” (meaning Bhatta’s hotel) on DVG road.

Coming back to VB, the hotel used to be (and still is) a very congested one and there was no scope for leisurely sitting, chatting and eating. You got in, stood next to a table eagerly waiting for the occupant to finish his coffee and slid into his chair even before he was fully out of it. Then the cleaner would clean the table and in his zeal would push a stray onion bit or a piece of idli on to your shirt.You ignored that and waited patiently for your dosa to arrive. You ate your dosa, ordered another one if so inclined or asked for your coffee. Even before you imbibed the last drop the person standing next to you would be pushing you out and you obediently obliged, paid your bill at the counter and walked out. Since there was only one wash basin located next to the entrance, usually a piece of news paper was served along with your Dosa to save a trip to the tap and more importantly save table time! You just wiped your hand with the paper and hence you enjoyed the flavor of dosa for a long time on your hands! Till you got an opportunity to wash with soap and water. Many a  times the dosa smell remained even after that!  

I do not know If Dr Kumaraswamy of Oral surgery was a patron of VB.  I am sure most of us of the “Pre Gloves” era have experienced  the smell of clotted blood remaining on the hands for a very long time after doing a particularly difficult open method. When some one mentioned that the smell remained even after washing the hands with soap, Dr Kumaraswamy said “It is like the smell of Masala dosa I say, remains on your hand till evening!”. 

VB is pretty much the same even now though the seating has somewhat been modified and efforts are made to make the interiors more appealing. But the ‘Benne masale’ remains the same and that’s what pulls people in.

I have eaten quite a few dosas at the Janata Hotel which was Located next to United Dental building in  Sajjana Rao circle and many a times I have felt that their dosa was as good as Vidyarthi Bhavan and sometimes even better. But the diehard VB fans may not agree with me.

Since my father used to work with an electrical supplies dealer in Chickpet, we used to visit Chickpet for all our purchases be it groceries, books, clothes or footwear. And at the end we invariably ended up in Udupi Krishna Bhavan in Balepet or Bombay Ananda Bhavan in Chickpet. While UKB was a halt for Masala dosa or Uddina wada, BAB was for ice cream. I am talking about the era when the Joy and Kwality ice creams (The very first packed ice cream brands to enter the city) were yet to enter Bangalore.  My father could ill afford this extravaganza but our visits to Chickpet never ended without a dosa and gulab Jamun or ice cream. 

I understand UKB, apart from its Masala dosa was very famous for its cleanliness  and has won the 'cleanest hotel' title from the Bangalore city corporation, many times.

Very close to UKB is the Venkateshwara Sweet Meats, most famous for their Mysore Pak. It is unique and is worth ignoring the cholesterol levels, calorie count and doctor’s orders to enjoy it once in a way!
Raghavendra Bhavan was located in one of the dustiest and dirtiest places of Bangalore - behind K R Market in Gundopant street.  It was reasonably clean inside and the ritual of a server standing next to you and reciting the menu was never there. You occupied a chair and within minutes a steaming plate of Idli smbhar arrived in front of you. If you did not get up or ask for Coffee after finishing it, a plate of Puri saagu followed. If you remained seated even after Puri saagu, you got one of the most divine Badam halwas in a small plate. And then the bill. I have not visited RB as much as the others but I do have some first hand experience. This is not just hearsay.

Rama vilas hotel is in Nagartpet on what is known as Old Taluk Cutchery (OTC) road. The road which connects corporation office to Chickpet. There was a small concrete dome in the center of the junction of OTC road and Avenue road and it was known as Saraf Katte, probably because of the presence of jewellers around the place. Rama vilas hotel is somewhere in between Saraf katte and Corporation office. Not many may recognise the name  Rama vilas hotel but I am sure any Bangalorean of my age or nearby, who has drank the water from the Tippagondana halli reservoir (that was the first public water supply to Bangalore) would start watering in the mouth if you mention  Gundappana Hotlu.  I was under the impression that it is extinct but to my surprise wikipedia says that it is still operating. I should make it a point to go there during my next visit to Bengaluru even if it means driving through JC road inhaling a life time supply of Carbon monoxide. 

We did not usually go to Gundappana Hotlu to eat but its products reached our home often. I said that my father worked in Chickpet. To reach our home in Shantinagar, he had to walk up to NR road Via avenue road, (Narasimha Raja Road, the road in front of GDC) wait for the bus near Jamia Masjid, get down near KH road ( double road) and walk another kilometer to reach home. Many a times he simply walked all the way home via OTC road and mission road and if he walked home, he had to pass in front of Rama Vilas Hotel. If he had a packet of Kharasev, Pakodas, Jilebi or Dumroot in his hand when he reached home, we knew that he walked home. Since we were not mature enough to feel bad about his walking home in the hot sun, we just enjoyed the delicacies and wished he walked home more frequently!
Dumroot by the way is a sweet made of grated pumpkin (Ash gourd) cooked slowly in ghee along with khova and sugar and garnished with dry fruits! It is divine. The khara sev liberally filled with cashew nuts and Jilebi with real kesar had their own special flavor and every bite was a treat. If I make it there in my next trip I will let you know if it is still the same.

At last, I come to MTR. This post is turning out to be longer than what I anticipated. I think I will make another post entirely of MTR. It deserves it. If you have read till here, liked this and still have patience, just say so and wait for another day or two. I promise not to disappoint you. 

NB: None of the pictures in the post are mine. They are lifted from the net.  The words are entirely mine and the experience, first hand!