As they keep searching      

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                                                                                                                             Source: mensxp.com

Many wannabe musicians feel that following music full-time in this country does not pay off financially. And this insecurity tends to make many abandon their dreams and passions. This wasn’t the case for Uddipan Sarmah, the lead singer and guitarist for Ahmedabad’s Hindi-post rock and ambient outfit aswekeepsearching. The band has received critical acclamation since the release of their debut album Khwaab in October 2015 and has played in shows headlined by the likes of Tides From Nebula and Steven Wilson. The band is back with their latest 11-track offering ZIA, which was released in May. Since the band’s formation in 2013, they have come a long way. From playing in shows without any payment to signing off a deal with a music label from Russia, the journey has been tough but rewarding at the same time.

Shubham Gurung (Guitarist/Keyboardist) and Sarmah came up with the idea of the project when the latter was doing his engineering graduation from Dayanand Sagar College, Bangalore. “I have known him for the past ten years. We have been making different music whenever we used to catch up. I was in Bangalore, doing my graduation and he used to be home in Ahmedabad so whenever I had semester breaks, we used to sit and write music,” says Sarmah. After his graduation with an electrical engineering degree, Sarmah worked as an application engineer for a year and a half before taking quite a risky step and quitting his job in 2013. “I had two years of experience and a degree and even if I had to lose two more years doing music, it wouldn’t have hampered me and so I decided to pursue music full-time”, he says. Coming back to Ahmedabad, Sarmah decided to open up BlueTree Studios, his own personal recording space which proved to be a major asset for the band’s activities. “I started producing other artists, mostly local artists from Ahmedabad. And since we had our own space, a lot of things got easier for us, for example, to record or maybe sit in a studio and write scratches,” he says. Sarmah approached a mostly DIY process when it came to the technicalities of the recording process by consulting YouTube videos and experimenting on his own personal projects including the band’s first EP released in the year 2014 titled Growing Suspicions.

“After the studio was up, I and Shubham decided that it was time to take things forward professionally. Thus, we wrote some scratches from our side but we were short of a bassist and a drummer. That is when we met Tushar and Ashwin Naidu who filled up for the duties respectively,” he says. The release of the EP generally got them a positive reception and the next step in Sarmah’s mind was taking it live. But things weren’t so easy for them. “We jammed but we didn’t get any shows for around 7 to 8 months. And we were from Ahmedabad which didn’t have a scene and until and unless you come out of the city and play in other cities, nobody notices your work. And I believe at that point of time, there were a lot of other bands who were doing really great and for a new band to reach out to a larger audience was really difficult,” Sarmah recalls.

Tushar and Naidu decided to leave the band in late 2014 for their musical pursuits. Current drummer Gautam Deb and bassist Bob Alex came into the picture after a few moments of discussion and jamming sessions proved them able for the job. Sarmah goes on to talk about the genre they are associated with, something which is quite underground in the country. “We never considered writing post-rock music. It was more of like our whole influences put together into a song and when it was released people started categorising it into post rock. We were influenced by that genre and bands like God Is An Astronaut for instance and that is evident, but our music has elements of electronica, rock and metal and I think that makes us much more than a post-rock band,” he remarks. What set the band apart are their Hindi vocals and Sarmah believes that this was something which made them interesting and the audience felt that this was different within the scene as there wasn’t such an amalgamation between Hindi and western influences. The quartet might be the only Hindi post-rock band on the planet.

Sarmah was able to sign up a record deal with Flowers Blossom In The Space from Russia who was seemingly impressed by the music that they were making and this led to preparations for their first debut Khwaab. “Every band’s first album is always something which is special. We ended up getting some really genuine fans who came out to see us live and then talked about how good the experience was. We are a performance based band and live shows mean a lot to us,” Sarmah says. The five city tour in Russia during October 2016 was a turning point in their career and even provided inspiration for a song titled There You Are in ZIA. “It is old now and we have talked enough about that tour. Let’s just say it was a fun experience,” says Sarmah.

ZIA chronicles the various adventures and feelings the band members felt while travelling and touring after Khwaab’s success. “This time we sat down and discussed our experiences and decided to write songs based on them. What we felt collectively was really deep and so it was easy for me to write the lyrics for the album. Khwaab was more of a random album while this isn’t,” Sarmah says. The production took one and a half years with delays mostly due to touring. Sarmah and Gurung travelled to a small village named Kalga in Himachal Pradesh for a week which inspired the song Kalga. “Going there was more of a personal choice because we thought that we were at that moment of time when we were lacking some creativity and wanted to take a break from constant gigs and travelling. Even then we definitely had that whole thing on our head of writing music there. We took a few instruments with us so that we could program and write scratches,” he says. ZIA features three guest musicians namely Sambit Chatterjee from Ganesh Talkies, Ajay Jayanthi from Anand Bhaskar Collective and Rishabh Seen from Delhi-based prog band Mute The Saint. On taking this step, Sarmah says “The moment we were done with the songwriting and recording, we felt like in some songs we had some space for some tabla, strings and sitar. So, we sent it to the artists and they really liked it and the moment they sent us the scratches, we liked it in the first go itself”

Being featured on UK’s prestigious PROG Magazine and Metal Hammer has been earning them quite an international presence. Many blogs have reviewed their new album and the reception has been positive. When asked about the band’s future prospects, Sarmah makes it really clear, “Now we are only focusing on the gigs ahead of us. We are doing a 14-city India Tour starting from September 5th. We will also be playing live in the NH7 Weekender in both Pune and Shillong. So now, all we want is to go onstage and just play the music. Once we are done playing ZIA in different venues, we will plan for the future.”

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Chronicling KR Market

These photographs describe my journey to KR Market (Krishna Rajendra Market) and the different things I saw and experienced. All the photographs are taken by me using my cell phone. The pictures have been post processed up to a certain extent. The photographs were taken on 26th February 2017.

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Although KR Market is situated only three kilometres from where I live, I had never had the opportunity to visit this place. One of my friends sent me a link to an event which was happening in the so-called KR Flower Market. I had seen pictures of this place but didn’t have any idea as to what it was really like. Taking an auto, I was whisked away to a place which was different from the Bengaluru I usually got to see. Away from all the glass structures and multinational IT companies, KR Market was a place that was disorganised. This was the first word that came to my mind. Honking buses, auto rickshaws slithering down around like cockroaches, people crossing the road without any kind of warning sign, flyovers spanning overhead and the indefinite noise; this was how KR Market welcomed me. The weather was searing and as I got out of the auto, I saw people bustling around me, the big white mosque to my right, a big red building to my left, traffic policemen trying to regulate the traffic, buses still honking and Google Maps shutting down unexpectedly. I started walking towards this mysterious KR Flower Market.

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Taking directions from a boy who was selling vegetables, I came to know that the Flower Market was in a building behind the red building. Crossing the road, I entered this huge complex which had numerous shops which sold mainly two commodities i.e. hardware items and flowers. I asked another guy as to where the courtyard of the Flower Market was and he told me to walk down the corridors and take a left. KR Market took me back to Chowk Bazaar in Tezpur. Narrow lanes with shops on both sides but the only difference here were that almost all these shops sold flowers. There were shops selling varying types of jasmine that are usually used to make gajra along with garlands and other flowers. The air had an odour which resembled the mixture of several different flowers, pungent but somehow choking at the same time. After walking a few more steps, I could hear the sound of drums beating in the distance. I knew that my destination was nearing and I followed the sound.

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The drum beats grew louder as I approached the courtyard of the flower market. It was a huge open space where flowers were being sold on all four sides. There was a crowd gathered around near a tall pillar where a mural had been unveiled. Beneath the mural was four men drumming djembes in a much pepped up beat and hands were raised recording the performance. Inching a bit closer into the crowd, I heard the sound of someone playing the flute as well and saw a woman dancing. The courtyard had baskets full of flowers, placed in huge mounds. Red, orange, violet, pink, it was a spectacular display of colour. A kind I had never seen before and which left me in awe. People around me were clicking pictures, whistling and craning their necks. People on the second and third floors of the building were peering down at the performers, hooting and whistling occasionally. A few customers roamed around, checking flowers to buy while there were a few groups who were silently weaving garlands. A few foreigners were astounded by what was happening around them. This place was alive with activity!

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I decided to go upstairs to get a bird’s eye view. And this is what I saw

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Hardware shops adorned the first and the second floor of the entire complex. And most of these shops sold drilling machines. There were shops selling pumps, bathroom fittings, electronic items, tools and hardware, even steel and aluminium utensils but drilling and drilling repair shops outnumbered everything else. Somehow, this gave an industrial edge to the whole place. These shops stayed away from the flower shops and were creating a contrasting dimension within the whole place.

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I decided to leave the courtyard and decided to explore the other parts of the market. Never in my life did I know that selling flowers can be such a big business idea. There were people who were feeding entire families just by engaging in this business and the daily transaction that happened created a lot of revenue. What was even more interesting was the variety of flowers one could find in this place. It included everything from roses to jasmines, crossandras, barlerias and much more. I couldn’t help but think about where these flowers came from, where were they grown and how they were available on such a large scale. On asking a bystander I came to know that most of these flowers came from the area along the Mysuru – Bengaluru highway. Another observation which I gathered was that this business was mostly run by the Muslim community. A few men nearby were weaving garlands. I decided to take a photograph of them but one guy sitting in the middle told me not to do so because they were doing a ‘religious process’, which shouldn’t be disturbed. A few others sitting beside him laughed but they were too engrossed to look up at what was happening.

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KR Market is one of the few remaining places in Bengaluru which has been untouched by modernity. This place would call me back again because in the midst of all the people and the grime and the sweat lies a raw, unpolished sense of something old and ancient. To an outsider like me, it shows Bengaluru’s past and the way this past has been preserved. Just beside KR Market lies Tipu Sultan’s Summer Palace and Bangalore Fort; the walls of which are still standing to this day. As I was leaving the market, someone got mango juice in a tray for 30 rupees. My body demanded something to cool itself down. Standing near the stairs, I saw this guy selling paan, a commodity which is as important in Assam as sambhar is in Bengaluru. KR Market reminds me of my home in varying ways and I will be coming back soon.

Ten years a home

Duliajan is also known as the Oil Town of Assam. Digboi, the place where the Britishers dug the first oil well in the country is situated just 80 kilometres away. Oil India Limited found oil fields in Duliajan and established a modern0town with quarters and various other amenities for their employees. I was born in a hospital which had the words Oil India in it. C-Type, our first quarter was a cramped 2-BHK house which was excruciatingly hot during summers, owing to the asbestos roofs above. It was the house where I watched Teletubbies and Kaun Banega Crorepati as a toddler for the first time while my father struggled with the TV antenna outside to get a good signal. Cable hadn’t arrived till then. It was also the house which housed our vomit yellow FIAT Padmini in the cane-walled garage while the red Hero Honda gleamed beside it. Most importantly, it was the house whose walls were abused with crayons by yours truly in such a disgusting way that the occupants after us were traumatised.

 

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Somewhere in Duliajan. Credits: http://dada.theblogbowl.in/2012/11/the-badminton-chronicles.html

 

I was a particularly shy kid, as my parents tell me. Babu Dada was my favourite relative. His mother used to call me out from the back of their gate in the evenings while I stood behind our gate looking like some lost puppy, drooling. Sometimes she opened the gate and advanced to pick me up and that was when I ran inside. They lived opposite to our house. Babu Dada was a teenager at that time and he had a lot of good toys, especially that green truck which was my favourite among the lot. He gave me that truck when we left C-Type as a parting gift. I was ecstatic. I attended a play school for some time before going to Tiny Tots for kindergarten. My father used to haul me up on the petrol tank of our Hero Honda and drop me till the school, which was actually a house. On a hot summer day, the tank used to burn my bum but I seldom paid any attention to it. A few passers-by giggled as they saw me sitting awkwardly on the tank and not on the back seat. I was too young to sit back there without falling off. When my father napped in the afternoons, I used to go near the bike and twist its accelerator while making bike noises. I could never reach the seat. One foot rested on the ground while the other used to stay at the footrest. There is a picture of me doing that when one day my father saw me and got very fascinated. We had a Yashica back then and father used to take a lot of pictures with it.

Outside our quarters, we had a small garden in which big, yellow dahlias bloomed during spring. My mother was fond of gardening and there was space to do all that. We also had a few jasmine plants and chrysanthemums. Then one day, there was a storm. We had been reading the papers that a cyclone was imminent and we were terrified. Father was out of Duliajan for some reason and my mom and sister were even more worried as to what was going to happen. None of us even knew what a cyclonic phenomenon was. There were high-speed winds that day and it rained for hours. We stayed inside and I think my mother was praying now and then, she is immensely scared of thunder and lightning. The cyclone didn’t blow us all away but it decimated the garden outside. It was pitiful to look at all the dismantled flowers which my mother painstakingly grew. She was upset. I had experienced a cyclone for the first time and survived through it.

Father got a promotion and we had to leave C-Type by the time I enrolled into a nursery. We moved to the quarters named DD (pronounced Double D) which were a few kilometres away. DD was resided by people who belonged to the ‘executive classes. We got free gas, free electricity, free water, a maid, and a small patch of a garden, a large 2-BHK house which had a terrace which made the house hot yet again and three families as immediate neighbours in the block. Parul Didi was our maid and she used to take me to Tiny Tots. She was from Andhra Pradesh but she had lived in Duliajan for many years and had learnt Assamese. She used to bathe me, feed me and tolerate all my not-gonna-go-to-school tantrums early in the morning while my mom shouted in the background; I hated school from the very beginning. I walked with her to Tiny Tots for three years. She introduced my mom to idli and even got a cooker from her native place and taught her the process of using it. Back then, my mother was one experimental cook. We got a microwave oven and I was fixated in just opening and closing the damned door of it. It was probably the best invention I had seen till then. Mom even made dhoklas in that oven.

We lived on the first floor and DD-39 had a balcony too. Overlooking the balcony was a badly maintained road and across that was a high concrete wall with barbed wires on top. Beyond the wall lay a stretch of tea plantations which extended all the way to the horizon. Sometimes we saw women and kids plucking tea leaves and they waved at us when we stood in the balcony. I waved back at them but my mother was a bit reluctant to do that for some reason. There was a road on the horizon which went to this place called Tinsukia and the vehicles plying looked like fireflies at night with their headlights. My mother got a lot of potted plants and decorated the balcony to match those of our neighbours. Our neighbours were nice people but I never had the kind of toys their children had. They had Beyblades and Hot Wheels sets while I was only permitted to have a small blue Maruti Zen and a yellow Tata Sumo. Sometimes I felt that gross injustice was done to me but I seldom protested in front of my parents. There was this one incident in Oil Market. Everything in Duliajan had Oil in it, even the market. So, Oil Market was this enclosed bazaar that we frequented. There was a shop named Pick-Me which we crossed on our way to other shops. It had a glass-paned counter and behind that were chocolates. There was one big blue pack of Dairy Milk which I will never forget; it is perhaps the biggest Dairy Milk I have ever seen. I don’t remember how many times I begged my mother to buy me that, but she never did. One time, I got so hysterical that the shopkeepers inside looked surprised as to what was happening outside. My mom, on the other hand, did not budge.

Our neighbours included our family to the executive life by taking us to Zaloni Club. The place was a hangout place for many of the people in our colony and others. It had a movie theatre which was also an auditorium, a swimming pool, tennis and squash courts, a bar, a restaurant, a canteen, open space with a stage for events that happened, a gym, a place for aerobics, a venue for table tennis, a small cricket pitch and a lot of rooms behind which I don’t know what lay. None of us had seen a place like this and we were surprised by the openness of culture over there. Kids were roaming around in shorts, speaking fluent English because they were from DPS (I was in KV and there was a rivalry with them) while their mothers walked around in high heels with short hair and smeared themselves with red lipstick. All the kids in my neighbourhood did some kind of coaching in Zaloni Club, some did tennis, others did squash or swimming or TT. Naturally, my parents expected me to do something as well. My father joined the gym and found his long lost love for swimming and so did my sister. Mom joined aerobics and gym for a short time as well. Everyone lived a very healthy, active lifestyle. I tried swimming but failed miserably due to hydrophobia and I screamed and wailed in the swimming pool and made life hell for my father. “I am not taking this good-for-nothing back there again”, he told my mom one day. I enrolled for TT instead because tennis was beyond my physical capabilities. I was the only noobie in the TT department and the coach ignored me because he already had some ten kids who were playing quite well and deserved more attention. I learnt some of the basics but failed to catch the attention of the coach. My first time of watching a movie in the theatre happened here as well. It was The Polar Express which was screened as part of Club Week, a week long fiesta involving a lot of food, games, competitions and other upper-class stuff like flower shows and all. Most of my friends in the neighbourhood went there while I was forbidden to do so. Kids were allowed to buy ice cream by just signing a coupon and writing their parents’ name. They didn’t have to pay money because it got deducted automatically from the parents’ bank account. I was strictly forbidden to do this as well.

In the Club Week of the year 2004, I decided to take part in a children marathon race. It started from Zaloni Club went through the DX quarters, took a U-Turn, beside the Golf Course and back to the starting point. It was a beautiful stretch, shady with trees and shrubs along the side of the road. There was a kid who lived in a couple of blocks from us named Riki. Now, the news was floating that Riki had been practising for the event with his father in the Golf Course every evening. Everyone in the neighbourhood was sure that he will bag the first prize. I didn’t do any practising but my father gave me a couple of tips. Start slow, keep your stamina for the final 400 meters, let everyone pass you first but they would eventually die out, regulate your breathing and do not open your mouth at any cost. I did the same, I was in the third position for quite a long time and was content with that. The organisers gave everyone Center Fresh before the race. That’s when I got greedy. I stopped and my fingers went into the pocket to get my chewing gum. I looked back and saw a few kids but they were far. I forgot the last rule my father said and ate the gum and started running. Naturally, I inhaled from my mouth and that’s when my lungs got tired and the lactic acid crept in. There was a shooting pain and I lost my speed. There was still around 300 meters to cover and my breath was gone. I saw a kid run past me and then another until some four kids crossed me. Ricky was in the first place as expected and he won. I sipped the glucose which was given after the race dejectedly, cursing myself. Back home, I told my parents what happened and they face-palmed themselves on my stupidity.

Duliajan was one terrific place. After father got a transfer and we shifted to Tezpur, I and my sister got a tremendous culture shock. We had to leave our executive lives behind and move to a place which was ordinary and mundane, didn’t have clubs or swimming pools or round-the-day electricity. It took me around six months to assimilate with the new place but I missed Duliajan a lot. Many years down the line, I occasionally gave a thought as to how life would have been like if I grew up in Duliajan as a teenager. It would have been exciting and active and fun-filled maybe. But in some ways, I was also glad that I was able to grow up in a much humbler setting than Duliajan, amidst the common folk. I left Duliajan in 2005 and haven’t seen it ever since. From what I have heard, things are pretty much the same. There are still Club Weeks and other stuff which happen every year. Many of the kids I knew played with are doing different things in different places. Duliajan was my hometown for nine years but it gave me moments worth writing for.

 

On Raksha Bandhan

There was one occasion every year which my sister devotedly followed and that was Raksha Bandhan. I remember her waking up earlier than usual on those days, taking a quick bath and arranging the thali. As I came out of the bathroom, she used to stand ready with a lighted diya, a rakhi, a bit of tika, some flowers with rice and some sweet, mostly a rosgolla. She used to wear a churidar on those days, tie her hair up and put some kajal. Mother stood close by as she did the aarti by doing the whole ‘thali in a circular motion’ in front of my face. There was something in that warm glow from the diya which stayed with me for a long time. The rakhi stayed on my wrist till the end of the day. Afterwards, we used to hurry off to school. I never gave her anything as a gift for quite a long time. I felt kind of shy in front of her during those days; mostly because this was too much of sudden sibling love and it was unlike us because we used to fight with each other all the time.

My earliest memory of gifting her something goes back to 6th grade. By that time, I had gathered knowledge that one is supposed to give something to his sister during Raksha Bandhans. TV ads and the fact that my sister got gifts from her bro-zoned classmates made me realise that. I gifted my sister a chocolate that year and I remember the Cadbury Celebrations that she got from some classmate-turned-brother in school. I followed this never-seen-before box all the way to the refrigerator and hoped earnestly that she would share it with me. She did share but she consumed most of its contents herself. My tiny 20 rupee Dairy Milk seemed inferior against that large cache of chocolates. By the next year, she had moved out of Tezpur for her higher studies to Guwahati and things changed a lot. There were no early morning aartis anymore but instead, the rakhis started arriving by post, with a hand written letter in the envelope. I received the first letter of my life in 7th grade written by her using sketch pens. This was also very unlike of her and I was surprised that she wrote something for me. Needless to say, I felt very special and for the first time, sensed that someone was actually missing me. I mentally did somersaults and blushed as I read that letter which was filled with a sort of sibling love that I hadn’t experienced before. Her words conveyed a lot than her physical presence ever did. It said all the things we could never say to each other verbally and it made her absence all the more profound. I felt that the letter deserved a reply and I wrote and posted one, tried my best to convey everything that I was feeling and mentioned that we will talk more over the phone and share things from now on. I promised her over the phone that I will gift her something when she comes home during the vacations.  The next year, I received a similar package and I decided to act mature. I asked my sister over the phone as to what gift she wanted this time. I had saved a bit of money by now as I was ‘old enough’ to handle money on my own. She told me that she wanted an eyeliner and a few good nail polish bottles. I didn’t have any knowledge about cosmetics so I had to confirm which colour of nail polish she preferred. After getting an idea of everything, I went to the market on my own to buy the same. Mom didn’t know what was happening. It was the first time I was buying cosmetics for someone so it took me a while to figure out which brand to get and what Lakme Colossal Kajal actually was. I gave her gift when she came home during her Autumn Break and she was happy with the nail polish colours I chose. I felt glad as a level of competence flashed on my face.  My mom gave me surprised looks because I had managed to do everything so discreetly.

This tradition continued till 10th grade, although the length of those letters decreased to the size of a note. By then she had moved to Bangalore and the rakhis took more time to arrive by post. Instead of me giving her gifts every year, she made sure that the parcel contained not only a rakhi but a small gift as well. There was a t-shirt one time and when she wasn’t able to include one with the rakhi, she made sure she got something on her visits during the vacations. Each time I made the same promise of yeah, I will give you the gift when you come home. By the time I had reached 12th grade, I already had three years’ worth of pending rakhi gifts that I was supposed to give her. That backlog lives to this very day.

Truth be told, I have seldom protected my sister from anything and over the last year, Raksha Bandhan isn’t the same for me anymore. I understand the essence of a sibling connection but I am so not okay with the whole brother-protecting-sister thing. My sis has protected herself just fine all these years so why follow some tradition just because our history and parents tell us to? For issues involving family and parents, I have covered up for her, more so in recent years. She has protected me equally but more than that she has been a guiding post and that matters a lot more for me. Last week when she told me to meet up as she wanted to give me the rakhi in advance, the feminist in me was in a conflicting position. I texted her saying that I don’t want the rakhi as I do not comply with the tradition behind Raksha Bandhan anymore. I told her that should a case arise, I would be there to ‘protect’ and support her in all ways possible and that a thread wasn’t necessary to make sure that happened. I used sentences like “patriarchal traditions” and “why are we still doing this”.  She agreed with what I was trying to say but she urged me to understand that this was something she wanted to do, regardless of what history or tradition says about it. I was glad to see that she took this tradition for what it is meant to be, a bond between siblings. That’s all. She didn’t want to break the bond which was created well before I was in 6th grade and I couldn’t say no to that either.

Actually, I feel like I should tie a rakhi on her wrist as well.

 

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Me and my sister c. 1998

 

A Childhood Curiosity

His mother always told him that boys seldom paid attention to their appearance. That, the dressing table was only meant for the ladies in the house while the men were occasional visitors who came to put a bit of moisturiser or comb their hair, whenever necessary. Men looked good the way they naturally were and didn’t spend time in front of the dressing table like women did, she remarked. It somehow created an air of mystery for our boy Philip here. The more his mother told him about the dressing table, the more he was intrigued to open all the individual drawers and peer into the secrets that they held. But alas, all the drawers were kept locked in the only wooden dressing table his house had. Apart from the regular cold creams, perfumes and combs that were kept outside, he couldn’t see the rest which were locked away safely. Fortunately, he went to his relatives’ house quite often. Thus, a childhood curiosity was born.

People usually do not pay attention to kids when they are drinking a cup of tea and munching on snacks. Usually, this was the time when Philip used to sneak into the bedrooms of his relatives’ house. Every bedroom had a dressing table by default, their appearances and configurations varied. Some were tall and made out of dark brown wood while others had a combination of wood and sun mica or even metal. Some had few drawers while others had many; all of them had one mirror which was the only similarity. Philip used to quietly open the drawers and marvel at the belongings inside. It had everything ranging from combs, cheap plastic bangles, kumkum and bindis, buttons and earrings, needles and threads, strands of hair to cotton balls, tablets and cough syrups, kajal, ear cleaning swabs.

There was a certain sweet smell which used to emanate from all these drawers. It was more of a damp, woody smell mixed with varnish that lined the walls of the drawer. Somehow, the contents inside lost their individual smells and got mixed with this smell giving the entire drawer one single, collective smell. Philip never took anything from all the drawers that he opened, he just used to look and poke around with the contents inside. Sure, he used to open the moisturizer bottles and perfumes to check what they smelt like, maybe use the perfume or deodrant once in a while if it was really good, but that was it. Sometimes, there were moisturisers having ingredients like Shea butter which smelt so good that Philip felt like eating a bit to see if they were actually sweet. But, he never did that because they were never sweet to taste. He was never caught during any of his inspections and always made sure that he kept things the way they were after he was done with everything.

There was always one drawer that was locked in every dressing table. When Philip was young and new in the vocation of opening drawers, he felt that the locked drawer had the most valuable secrets. He didn’t know what but he was very curious to know. At one time, he even felt that his mother hid all the cream biscuits in that drawer, considering the way in which he pillaged biscuits in the household. He still does though. But when he grew up a bit more, he got glimpses of that drawer’s contents whenever his mother used to get dressed to go out for occasions. Philip eventually came to know that the locked drawer contained jewellery which were precious and could not be kept out in the open or in unlocked drawers. As he grew older a bit more, he started to inspect the drawer’s contents in detail. It wasn’t a surprise for him that the drawer smelt the same like every other. It was just that the contents inside were of higher importance and demanded to be handle with care. Philip was conscious about this and always held everything with the utmost concentration. Sometimes, he used to put on his mother’s golden bangles which dangled awkwardly on his wrists. He used to feel the texture of those velvety red and purple square boxes inside which lay necklaces and other pendants.

Eventually, Philip grew up to become a young man and this childhood curiosity eventually got lost but what stayed with him was that woody smell. A close synonym for that smell would be musk probably.

 

In VV Puram, all you do is eat and eat and eat

We reached early, it was around 6.30 PM and the road was already filled with a sea of people. I and my roommate decided to take a walk as we waited for M and D to arrive. The small stalls selling boiled corn in an assortment of flavours was eye-catching. One can try these out as a form of starters but we decided to keep them for another day. Walking through Food Street, as it is famously known, the smell of the air changed and like a gust of wind blowing at your face, different aromas came to me at once. With every step that I took, it changed from the smell of fried bajjis, the tangy smell of curd in what seemed like dahi puri being made somewhere, the sweet, spicy and nose-tingling smell of potato twisters, samosa and the buttery smell of pav bhaji culminating with freshly brewed coffee as we reached the other side, after a bit of a struggle walking amidst so many people and cars. Cars shouldn’t be allowed to ply on this road because they look menacing and you are always in the fear of being hit from behind. I don’t understand how people can drive on this road; it wouldn’t make them feel hungry with all their windows rolled up. How can one not smell all that?

We reached the other end and decided to wait for our two other friends to arrive. In a few minutes, M came towards us with what looked like vada pav, only that the vada was missing. It was a bun with peanuts topped over a layering of masala with coriander leaves, onion and grated carrots. As I took a bite, I could sense that there was some butter inside too and the entire thing was one explosion of a nutty and spicy feeling. M told me that this was the Congress Bun from the famous VB Bakery, situated at the end of Food Street. The peanuts used in it are a special type known as Congress Kadlekai (peanuts). But why Congress though? Upon some research I came to know that it has many urban legends, one of them being that Congress netas during the British rule used to write messages in chits and pass them between one another in boxes and snacks of peanuts, hidden from the British officials. We went inside VB Bakery where M told us that it was essential to try the Rum Ball (Rs. 30). Divided into four parts, it had a soft chocolaty texture on top while the inside had a surprise of cherry pieces, raisins and cake infused with a bit of rum. The smell was strong and the taste, equally that which managed to stay in my mouth for quite some time.

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Rum ball from VB Bakery

Right opposite to VB Bakery is Sri Vasavi Vaisista Thindi, a place selling South-Indian street food amidst the usual offerings of Button Idly Sambar and Sagu Masala Dosa. Thindi is the Kannada word for breakfast. M suggested that we have to try Aambode (Rs. 40 for two pieces), which is apparently a Kannada funeral food. It is idli shaped although the taste is nothing like a normal idli. It’s made out of tur daal and has peas, onions, coriander leaves, chili and spices in it. Its taste resembled that of a litti that you get in the north, although this was a more spiced up version of that. I wanted to try the button idli but that too was saved for the next time. We decided to try something sweet and jamoon seemed like a nice idea. The buttery soft ball of dripping sweetness glided through with a spoon like a hot knife through butter.

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Dahi kachori in its full glory

Next up, we reached a small shop selling jalebis and a variety of chaats. Dahi kachodi (Rs. 40) caught my eye and we decided to try that out. The place was also selling Obattu, Akki Roti, and Paddu among other things. The dahi kachodi was like sev puri but had kachodi instead of puri, garnished with onion rings, coriander leaves, a dollop of curd, some tamarind chutney, lots of sev and crushed kachori beneath all of that. Sweet, tangy and wholesome are the words to describe it. Just beside this place was Chandni Chowk Hot Honey Jilebi. Although we just had something sweet, it was too tempting to avoid it and move forward. Something sweet right after something tangy and spicy would not be encouraged by many but we were on a hogging spree so what the heck. That is the power of these sweet smelling sugar concoctions. We decided to eat less and got one for each of us. Jalebi never disappoints but more than eating it, what fascinated me more was how it is poured onto the oil in circular, rapid yet calculated movements.

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And this is how jalebis are made

If you think that Food Street is all about food, then you are mistaken. Sitting alongside the road are people selling toys, balloons and bracelets made out of small squares with alphabets written on them. We also found an uncle selling peas on the middle of it all and a few stalls selling fruits. Moving on, M said that Boti Masale is something we ought to try it out. It is made out of a long, cylindrical finger chips. Inside, there is masala consisting of fried chana dal, sev, pineapple pieces, peanuts, moong dal, chopped onions, and chopped chili. The entire thing is garnished with puffed rice and coriander leaves. A light snack compared to everything we have had till now.

Going to VV Puram and not taking a stop at The Chaat Shop would be a mistake you cannot afford to commit. This place has the craziest chaat combinations I have seen till date. Some of them were Jalebi Chaat, Basket Chaat Tikki Rasgulla Chaat and Nachos Chaat. But, the potato twisters right beside seemed more enticing to us and considering the fact that D loved them, we decided to buy it. The twisted potato slices were spicy and got us looking for our water bottles with our tongues flaring out. The slices were crunchier than any other potato twister I have had till date. This made us frantically look for something to cool ourselves down and kulfi seemed like a good idea. Situated right across the street was Mumbai Badam Milk Lassi Center, advertising all form of faloodas, milk shakes, baadam milk and kulfis. Every name had Mumbai in front of them, which made us all the more confused as to what to buy. Finally, we decided with Gulkand Kulfi which sounded a bit simple. Nothing exceptional about the kulfi though, it had a nice proportion of dry fruits inside of it and thankfully wasn’t melting all over our hands.

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These potato twisters will spice up your life

After our engines cooled down, we decided to continue the hogging spree. By now, it was nearing 9PM, and the crowd had thinned down a bit. We huddled in front of Shri Vasavi Thindi Mane and all around us was a crowd of hungry, peering population. I concluded that this is one of those hit places in VV Puram. We glanced through the menu and among Paneer Roll, Veg Roll and Roomali Roti, pizza caught my eye. Pineapple Cheese Chilli Pizza (Rs. 70) was what caught my eye. It seems blasphemous to have pizza from such a place but after thinking it through, we decided that an experience of a pineapple pizza from a non-pizza place should not be missed. The order took around 20 minutes to arrive. And all that time, we were fixated on the guy who was making the Roomali Rotis. His hand movements and the way he flipped the roti multiple times before putting it on the inverted kadhai, prompted all of us to use Instagram’s boomerang feature to its fullest. D told us that maybe we should have reconsidered our order. Well, it was too late for that. The pizza arrived and it was smaller than what we expected. Garnished with yellow and red capsicums with green bell peppers and pineapple pieces, it looked cute. I was having pineapple pizza for the first time and to many people, I was committing blasphemy. We have all seen the memes but after having the first bite, I mentally said screw you to all those memes. The cheesy taste mingled with the sour and sweetness from the pineapple, until the bell peppers hit you. The cheese was evenly melted and the crust was properly cooked. All in all, it was nothing like what the Internet suggested it to be. The Roomali Roti was saved for the future visit. We were almost at the end of the street and it was time to try the famous bajji that Food Street was famous for. Sri Swamy Bajji Centre is the place to be which was again crowded with hungry bajji eaters. We decided to go with Mangaluru Bajji (Rs. 10 for 3 pieces), as suggested by M yet again. Opposite to the road was a shop selling Obattu and I knew that this had to be consumed. I have a soft corner for Obattu, one of the few Kannada dishes that I really like. I have forgotten what the name of the establishment was but it is situated opposite to the bajji shop. It sold Obattu, Puliyogre, Rava Idly and different types of Baath. Dal Obbatu it was! For those of you who don’t know, Obattu is a sweet dish, which looks like a paratha of sorts. Dal Obattu is made by putting a dollop of the paste of dal inside a ball made out of dough from flour, rolled out like a chappati and fried on a tawa with ghee. It is quite sweet and might not appeal everyone but for me, it was definitely the highlight of the day. Somehow, it went really well with the Mangaluru Bajji.

Nothing ends without a cup of kaapi and to mark the end of this frenzy filled food fiesta, we decided to go to By2 Coffee to fulfill our caffeine needs. VV Puram is indeed a place to eat and eat. There is a lot more to explore in this place which would ideally take two or maybe more visits. We missed out on a lot of places and a lot of food but all of that has been noted down for the next visit. Food Street is definitely one of the must-go places in Bengaluru and is bound to take out the foodie within you. If you are not fond of the food, just go and observe the crowd. You won’t be disappointed.

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Filter coffee to end the day

 

 

An impetus for change

Yesterday, I witnessed a very interesting public event. I haven’t been to many political events or gatherings in my life; I have rarely attended political talks by ministers, student leaders and activists. But yesterday was different. My friend B told me a few days back that he would be coming to Bengaluru but he was unsure as to where the event would be held. We knew that he was coming yesterday though. Three people in class were quite excited about it. The rest of them had no idea that he was coming.

I forgot that the event was happening yesterday. Classes ended and I was walking towards the auditorium while reading Animal Farm. I was down to the last 20 pages and was impatient to finish it off for good. The day had already been filled with frenzy and I just wanted to sit somewhere and read until my friend’s classes ended. The phone buzzed and I heard my name being called at the same time. I turned around and saw B speed walking towards me, his phone on his ears. I checked the phone and saw him calling me. “Kanhaiya is giving a speech at Ulsoor. You wanna come?” “Really? Where?”  I asked back. “St. Aloysius College” he said. S was walking a few steps ahead of us and I thought I should ask her if she would want to tag along. She might be interested, I thought. “Wait, I will ask S and come back” I said to him and jogged towards S. S declined the invitation as she had to meet someone at 5, she said with a shy grin. The talk had already started at 3 and now it was close to 3.40PM. Without wasting another moment, we hopped on an auto, gave directions with the help of Google Maps and were on our way to see Kanhaiya Kumar.

Both of us were sure that this chance shouldn’t be missed. I was quite dejected when he didn’t show up for Bangalore Literature Fest last year, for which me and my friends waited the whole day till 5PM, hoping that he would show up. But he didn’t. Also, B told me that this event would be a good chance to get close to him and invite him for META 2017. I, for one, was quote charmed by Kanhaiya’s charisma and his oratory skills. It took me some time to understand what he was actually trying to do with the current political scenario in this country, what his point was and how he was trying to put sense into our minds; especially the youth. And, it was fascinating. Both of us were quite pumped up and B told me that AM asked him why he didn’t go for the event. It was almost evening and the streets were full of traffic. After encountering multiple red lights, we reached Ulsoor. I had never seen the Ulsoor Lake up close and it seemed like any other lake. The waters seemed clean and devoid of garbage. I didn’t pay much attention though. We stopped near the back gate of the college, adjacent to the playground. I saw a police bus and a few cops roaming nearby. They told us to go to the front gate, the one we had crossed seconds ago. We started jogging towards the gate which was a few yards away. We encountered more cops and they told us to go to the ‘front-front gate’. We decided to run this time because it was really getting late. Me and B laughed while we ran, our excitement running wild. We reached the front-front gate and I saw more cops and NCC cadets. We should our IDs and asked for directions. “3rd floor. Hurry up, it’s ending soon!” the guy at the gate said. We ran three flights of stairs and my legs were numb from running all that distance. I hadn’t run for around six months and my lungs were answering. We entered the auditorium huffing and puffing and there he was, standing on the podium, giving his speech. The place was filled with people, all of them seated on benches, a few cameras hovering around here and there. The first thing I heard him saying was how communism has been maligned by people in this country. “They think the communists are a nasty bunch. That they indulge in all kinds of bad activities, have group sex, and propagate antisocial views. This is a grave misunderstanding and it needs to change.” Me and B shared a quick smile at each other as people clapped and cheered along. I started looking around for familiar faces but I couldn’t find any. Spotting an empty bench instead, I went forward and sat down. I could feel my heart pounding from all that reckless running. My mother’s advices related to physical exercise started ringing on my mind. I realized that I should run more every now and then. I stared hard at the floor.

Kanhaiya went on talking about how the youth play a crucial role in changing the political structure of a country. How the youth has to take action instead of just being vote banks for the country. He talked about the skewed ideology of the RSS and how it has been metamorphosising this country based on nationalistic ideals.  “Nau jawan ko sarak pe utarna parega (The youth has to come out to the streets)” More cheering and applause followed. Someone from the audience raised a question, “Will Kanhaiya Kumar be the next Prime Minister?” More cheering and applause. “I don’t know that, I have no idea” was his reply with a smile. He was speaking in Hindi as well as in English. I had never seen him speak in English before on TV. He spoke slowly and composed himself well, that made you want to listen to him because it felt like he was directly speaking with you. The session was coming to an end when a guy much like me stood up and asked Kanhaiya to chant his ‘infamous’ anthem of Azadi. A sudden uproar emerged, a few people stood up, Kanhaiya slowly moved towards the mic. “Aap sabko bhi bhaag lena parega isme ab toh (Everyone has to take part in this with me)” More people stood up, including me. The guy sitting next to me continued to stare at his phone. I tried to lean and check out what he was doing but I was unable to figure it out. There was a lot of murmuring in the room by now. The chants of “Azadi!” boomed across the room as Kanhaiya went on, fist pumping high. All dynamic. All energetic.

It was motivating. I won’t deny that. The event ended and his personal group of bodyguards from AISF barricaded him as he came down from the dais and smiled and clicked photos with the crowd that was by now throwing themselves over him. Some shook hands and talked for a few seconds. The red t-shirt clad AISF men cleared the way as the pushed through. My friend B managed to get in and told him about our purpose and took a few selfies. I refrained from taking selfies as it’s not my thing, although I took a few pictures while he was speaking. People were waiting outside with motives of their own. I saw a few reporters as well. Kanhaiya was ushered inside a room with the college officials and a few special people who sat down and drank tea and took even more pictures and gifted him an executive diary with a calendar from the college. We meanwhile patiently waited outside. A guy poked me from behind and asked, “Which one of them is Kanhaiya?” “Uh, the one drinking tea. See! He just stood up” I said. “Oh! That’s him? Okay, thanks” He went off without saying anything more.

I counted two more police buses after we came out, along with three police jeeps. There were approximately one hundred policemen outside for his security. As he whizzed away in a grey Swift Dzire followed by his platoon of bodyguards, it didn’t take me long to realize how important this guy, who faced jail time for reasons everyone knows about, is and the impact he has managed to create among the masses. He is an impetus for change.