My grandfather’s sisters used to live in Basavanagudi, known for the famous Bull ( Basava ) Temple ( Gudi ), the Ramakrishna Mutt, the hectic annual Kadlekai Parishe ( Groundnut Festival) , flower filled Gandhi Bazaar and many other important must- visits.
Whenever we had to visit them, everyone would groan and say ” Oh..it’s so faaaaaar away ” and make preparations for the trip like we were off to Mysore for the day ! Never mind that it was just a hop and step away from Richmond Town, where we lived. It had nothing to do with geographical distance. It had everything to do with the Bangalore state of mind.
I used to wonder if it was because we don’t take kindly to being displaced. To hectic momentum. Maybe we are just not comfortable with flux, no matter how small it may be. Maybe that’s why we cannot seem to go anywhere these days and come away without at least one intense discussion on ” how this city has changed !”. Or ” you have no idea how it used to be back then. ”
So anyway, a few years ago someone told me that even if people weren’t born in Bangalore they could still fit in seamlessly as long as they had the `Bangalore state of mind’. There was that phrase again ! Being a Bangalorean who still lives in the house that I was born in with the famous site of birth right around the corner, I didn’t quite get the external point of view back then.
All was revealed the weekend we headed to the delicious little Basava Ambara store for a `dekko’ and lunch at The Rogue Elephant in Basavanagudi. This time round, a few decades later, no one said a word about our `far off ‘ destination. Feeling constantly displaced in this new Bangalore had evidently altered our attitude to change.
Driving through Basavangudi’s quiet, broad roads was wonderful because it still FEELS like Bangalore as we once knew it. The `state of mind’ conversation immediately crept back into focus. Bangalore used to FEEL warm. Familiar. Intellectual. Friendly and easygoing. Laid back. Quiet. Understated and un-affected. So were most Bangaloreans.
No one was ever in a hurry to get anywhere. While friends in Delhi-Mumbai were whizzing along the fast lane, we were happily tripping along little moss covered bylanes, taking our time navigating our way through life. While `chicks’ in other cities blow dried their hair for a night out on the weekend, hot Bangalore girls walked into `Peco’s’ in rubber chappals and jeans. They knew their Kafka from their Kundera and would have run a mile from J Bieber just as most boys in Bangalore ( who lived in the same T-shirt for a week, played in rock bands and had beer, not blood in their veins ) would have run a mile from R Black. Visitors from other cities used to say Bangaloreans were `chilled out ‘ and that Puneites came a close second.
Money was not meant to be displayed in ye olde Bangalore. Nor was status. Or possessions. It was simply `not done’. Who you were was more important than what you had. Except for what you had in your cranium. It was completely okay to have that on display, but modestly, of course.
Over time, these enviable qualities were lost along with our collective memories of the city. But sitting down to eat at the Rogue Elephant in Basavanagudi turned out to be a time – space -mood altering event. My Saturday ended up feeling like a Sunday. ( Saturdays are good days to go if you want to shop and eat, because Ambara is closed on Sundays ).
Set against the backdrop of the traditional M. Mahadevan family home ( there’s a lovely sepia – tone photograph in the store introducing you to the family ), the successful retail combination of Ambara – Rogue Elephant-Hybiscus exudes an easy, old world charm here. Pleasant chi altering wind chimes tinkle in the summer breeze and the calming sound of running water from the garden accessories on display welcomes you as you walk in.
Vintage chairs and carved marble top tables are scattered around the restaurant area, so you get to sit down and take a deep, relaxing breath pretty quickly. In a minute, Raja, the hospitable maitre’d, is at your elbow with the menu, only asking you what you’d like to drink. Nobody here is in a hurry to get more `covers’ for each table. Take your time.
Iced tea and cold `nimbu paani‘ are a great idea now that it’s summer and so is my hot favourite, a delicious salad with figs, creamy pannacotta and lettuce, drizzled with a secret balsamic vinegar based dressing. But since figs are out of season right now, luscious strawberries come with it instead. While waiting for the beverages to arrive, chinks in the bamboo slats allow for glimpses of the equally big mansion next door and its wanton garden that closely resembles a tropical rain forest. Bees buzz, leaves rustle and wind chimes continue to tinkle while we sit back and bat the very same warm summer breeze. We are completely ` bien dans sa peu ‘. It feels exactly like we are eating a pretty summer meal laid out in a corner of our own garden. If only they served breakfast !
Maybe the easiness emanates from all the Buddhas around us and the hammock in the corner, but it’s the beautiful mansion in the background and the big open garden to look out at that really do the trick. No noisy clatter of dishes in the kitchen, raucous diners at the other tables, stifling interiors smelling of food, false ceilings and stale air conditioning.
Sitting here, Bangalore is suddenly what it used to be. A Garden City. Time slowly begins to crawl to a halt. Sitting in the shade yet out in the open, no one really feels the need for animated conversation. It’s such a relief to find a few peaceful spaces left in the city.
The salad diminishes rapidly to make way for the vegetarian Moroccan stew served with Cous Cous. The stew is an interesting assortment of tomatoes, yellow peppers, zucchini, olives and aubergines and is served with little bowls of crisp fried onions and a hot little red paste I don’t know the name of. My regular favourites here include the Pan Fried Fish with lemon butter and the Herb Roast Chicken with Sauteed Veggies and Mashed Potatoes which are a really good bet as is the Olio Alio, a light summer pasta – Penne tossed with olive oil, sundried tomatoes and full olives. I like eating olives in summer. They instantly transport me to exotic Mediterranean islands shimmering in the summer sun.
Despite being out in the open, there’s very little sound of traffic. Therefore when the Kulfi arrives ( after much debate over whether the `choice du jour ‘should be the Brownie, Carrot cake, Apple pie or Walnut Banana loaf ), each soft sigh of satisfaction is heard clearly. Of course, the ever courteous Raja beams with delight when he sees you polish off every little bit. We decide it really wouldn’t be polite to lick the plate clean even though it might make chef Manu in the kitchen pretty happy.
And then, no one wants to move, get up or even walk. Not because we are terribly satiated, but because suddenly, we are easy, lazy, laid back, understated and soft spoken again.
As we leave, Raja says ” next time, madam, please come in the evening”. He says it is lovely. ” People are coming at 6.30 and sitting here only till 9.30 ” I so totally get it. Because out here, it’s so easy to slip back into that long lost Bangalore state of mind.
This is not a food review. It’s about re-visiting mental spaces in Bangalore as well, from a dyed in the wool Bangalorean’s point of view. 🙂
The BSOM can be found at the Rogue Elephant, #93, Kanakapura Road, Basavanagudi( next to New Generation School ), Opp: KR Park, Bangalore, from 11am – 9.30 pm. No alcohol is served. Ph : 98456 64681. They also cater.