Through the lens of Cop Shiva

Cop Shiva believes that he is still a village boy even though it has been many years since he left Ramnagar, his birthplace and came to Bangalore in search of a livelihood. “Everybody needs jobs and I have not studied much. I have studied only till the 10th standard. I used to work in different kinds of jobs but I was very good in sports. Because of that reason, I applied for the police services and got it”. Before becoming Cop Shiva, the photographer he was Shivaraju BS, the policeman and even before that he worked as railway policeman. The need for a secure job was important for him as he was the sole breadwinner for his family. “My job as a cop gave me a lot of strength, it has resulted in me respecting people and has taught me how to deal with people”, he says with a smile. This helped him a lot in the long run when he started capturing the lives of ordinary people with extraordinary stories through the lens.

Although he was happy about his job, Shiva had an artistic side which hadn’t yet seen the light of day. He recalls his days as a young boy when he used to read novels and was fascinated by Kannada art films. Apart from him, nobody in his family had any affiliation with the arts. “During my free time, I used to work as a program coordinator at 1 Shanthiroad art gallery. I used to go there and attend the exhibitions and I helped director Suresh Jairam in running the place”. This was the moment for him to discover his passion. He met a lot of artists from different nations who came to the gallery as part of residency programmes. By this time he had taken charge of organising events there and helping out the artists in building their projects. He was also in charge of documentation and picked up a camera for the same. “I started out with a small camera and I was always surrounded by artists, filmmakers, photographers. Over time, I realised that I wanted to do something similar”, Shiva says. But why photography? The answer lies in his 14 years of service as a policeman. He was always out on the streets, surrounded by people, people and more people. This made him understand their lives and as he was a local guy, things were all the more convenient for him. “It is easier to work within your community or within your own people. I feel that as an artist, you always have to work with your community; you have to look around within your circle. No need to look somewhere else”, he says. This resulted in him creating two of his very finest projects Being Gandhi and I Love MGR. Both of these projects have been exhibited in countries like the US, UK, Switzerland and Bangladesh. The former project was recently displayed at The Frank Museum of Art in Otterbein University, Ohio. He remarks that the Gandhi project which started in the year 2009 is still ongoing. “There was a time when people thought that Bagadehalli Basavaraj (the man impersonating Gandhi) was mentally ill. But now they respect him more than ever”, his voice has a tone of achievement.

Shiva has had a knack for looking at what he calls the “hidden” and this has been sort of a driving force for him to keep looking for new subjects. There are untold and ignored stories of people hiding in plain sight. He believes that one has to be curious and observant of the things happening in his/her surroundings. It is not entirely necessary that one has to go to faraway places to document something when there is so much that is waiting to be discovered in your own neighbourhood. And this is clearly reflected from his most recent project titled Ecstasy which chronicles the many obscure festivals and rituals happening in Bangalore. In a time when media has decided not to bring these facets of life to the mainstream, Shiva believes that these stories can be unearthed only if one is constantly observant. For him, this might be capturing some tree or wall while people around you wonder what on earth is there to take a picture of. The eye of a photographer finds beauty in the most mundane. “It is difficult to describe how I have developed that instinct, it is a connection in your mind itself”, he says. He has been a witness to the change this city has gone through but his eye as a photographer still revels in the way he was brought up. “I have been living in this city for a long time now but I still consider myself as a village boy. Maybe the way you look at things is what matters. For me, I think the city is changing only for a certain kind of people”, Shiva quotes.

Pictures from I Love MGR (L) and Being Gandhi (R) Source: copshiva.com

For a photographer, consistency of work is paramount. True, there are times when one may not be able to find the perfect subject but that doesn’t mean one should get disheartened. The reason why Shiva chooses not to take names of people whose works he has admired is due to the fact that many of them have given up photography altogether. “The thing is, now it is easy to buy a camera and consider oneself as a photographer. But you constantly have to keep continuing your work. Only then you will get a good grip, you will get good subjects and it will be possible to create a good body of work”. Of course, there have been times for him when the project reaches a point where it moves slowly due to various factors. It takes time to build up a connection with a person as a subject and that requires a lot of planning. It is a two-way process in which the subject has to be comfortable with the artist as well for a fruitful outcome. For Shiva, a project can go on for as long as ten years but it can never actually reach a point of conclusion because there will always be a new perspective which will mushroom up. He gives the example of his Gandhi project and goes on to say that now he is finding new ways to project it differently. There are a lot of ideas and some of them might not work out but that doesn’t count as a failure.

Looking back at his life as a young boy from a small village, Shiva regrets the fact that he wasn’t born 20 years earlier. With gleaming eyes, he goes on to describe how as an artist it is necessary to look back in the past because it shapes who you are; all your experiences and ideas are noteworthy. “You can compare them and maybe work on an idea which came to you five years ago”, he reveals. His love for films has been a constant for around 20 years and every now and then he has an urge to work in that direction. As of now, this ambition is kept for another day because there are always financial aspects to consider first. No matter how ambitious his aspirations have been, his family has been a constant support for him. “My mother and sister don’t know much about art but they are happy with what I am doing and they are confident about me because I started working when I was 15 years old. I took care of my sister, my nephews. They are all settled now” he says with a smile.

At the onset of his career, Shiva was working rigorously without taking any breaks but now, he has reached a point where he can slow down a bit and reflect on what he has done. But still, he feels that there is a lot that needs to be done. One of the things that he wants to make a reality from his long list of to-dos is to travel across the country. He has been to many places abroad; he recently attended a three-month residency programme in Sweden and there is an upcoming one in Switzerland. “Because of my life and job as a policeman, I couldn’t travel much. There are a lot of things I have missed” he says. Apart from that, there are three projects in the pipeline which will be seeing the light of day soon.

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Church Street 2017: In pictures

 

 

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Church Street is located almost in the middle of the map of Bangalore and is regarded by many as the numero uno destination for the youth of the city. The 750 metres stretch houses some of the most iconic places in Bangalore like Blossom Book House, Church Street Social, Amoeba Sports Bar, Indian Coffee House, Hotel Empire and numerous pubs for the thirsty weekenders. BBMP took an ambitious step in February 2017 to create an underground electricity and water pipeline system and as a result, the entire stretch of road had to be dug up. The estimated time allotted for the entire project was six months. It has been more than six months now and the work is far from complete. Business has been affected and the public hasn’t been happy with the turn of events. The pictures below show the Church Street of 2017.

 

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If one gets down in front of Hotel Empire, this is what he/she would be greeted with. Currently, this part of the street is the most affected as there is construction happening on both sides of the road as a result of which entry to Church Street has been stopped temporarily. Parking outside Hotel Empire has been prohibited, much to the dismay of the staff. “Business has been hit really hard. People have turned away because there is no place to park their huge vehicles”, says Sayed, an employee of Hotel Empire. Access to the hotel has been closed from one side which has been causing inconvenience to customers. The street becomes increasingly muddy due to all of the digging which is a nightmare for pedestrians.

 

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These are the pipes which have been laid down alongside the road. All of them are electrical lines while a central concrete pipe runs beneath, carrying water from the storm drains. There will be underground junction boxes beside the electrical lines. Also, there will be manholes like the one visible in the picture above. Abbas, a worker in the BBMP says, “It has been problematic for us to work because of the traffic. It is a good thing vehicular entry is barred now. Most of the delay is only due to traffic and the rains. Work will be over mostly within the next three months”.  The electrical wires inside the pipes haven’t been laid yet and Abbas is clueless as to when that will be done. One can see that the trees alongside the road have been preserved although there are a few which had to be cut down.

 

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Entry of four wheelers has been prohibited in the area and parking on the side of the road would result in towing. The towing truck makes multiple rounds in the area and it is mostly the two wheelers who become the prey. As I was standing alongside the road, one guy came in an Audi and asked a man standing beside me for a place where one could pay some cash and park his/her vehicle. The man said he had never heard of such a place and warned him about the towing truck. “There’s no way they can tow the car away. Look at the road. I would love to see them try”, the man chuckled and walked off. Traders have been demanding the complete ban of vehicles which is the chief reason behind the delay in the completion of the project. Vehicles make walking all the more difficult as there is always one car that is stuck in the middle of the road somewhere.

 

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It was a Saturday afternoon. One doesn’t need to be informed that Saturdays are the time of the week when Church Street comes to life. In spite of all the inconvenience, there was a line of youngsters waiting outside Russh, one of the most happening pubs in the area, known for its attractive happy hour offers. Such is the spirit of Bangaloreans! “I don’t come here frequently. I thought I will come here and park my scooter but then I had to go all the way around to MG Road and park it and then I had to walk till here. That’s a real inconvenience”, says Afnas, a student.

 

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The work is more or less complete once you cross Blossoms Book House. The footpaths are yet to be constructed properly and there are uncovered manholes everywhere. All the establishments alongside the road were given a notice prior to the start of the project and most of them had been supportive of the idea. But, as time has passed, business has been hit and there has been a foul cry due to that. “It’s not that bad anymore. Earlier, the water from the streets used to come when the digging was taking place. All the shops had to pay for the new electrical connections but I don’t think anyone has complained with regard to all that. We believe that it is for the greater good so it’s fine”, says Rooh, an employee at Amoeba Sports Bar. One of the BBMP workers told me that the entire complex which houses shops like Hysteria and the electronics shops (picture above) will be demolished and a new building has been instructed to set up.

 

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Uncovered manholes like this pose a grave threat to pedestrians, especially when it is raining.

 

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This is the road right next to the Times Network office and is the zone where most of the work is taking place. The first impression one would get from looking at this site is an area struck by a bomb blast. Electrical and water pipes crisscross each other and it is difficult to make out which is going where. Workers have been working tirelessly to complete the work in this zone. Vehicular traffic is completely prohibited as there is no place for cars to go. One can only imagine the plight of people living in the houses on the far side of the street due to this disruption.

The redevelopment project for the roads has been undertaken by TenderSURE with a budget of Rs. 9 crores. The entire project was divided into two phases. This part of the area belongs to Phase I while Phase II is from Rest House Crescent Road junction to St. Mark’s Road junction. So the next you go to Church Street, don’t be surprised if a JCB like the one above is blocking your path, although it is highly advisable to not tread this road when it’s raining.

 

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All photographs have been taken with a Moto G3 and have been post-processed using VSCO

As they keep searching      

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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.”

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.

Sartre’s version of hell

Spanning over two hours, Jean Paul Sartre’s seminal 1944 play No Exit (Huis Clos) is an acquired taste. It has to be consumed one take at a time, like the gentle chewing of undercooked rice. As part of Bangalore Little Theatre’s (BLT) three-day French Theatre Festival, Alliance Francaise de Bangalore staged the play on 20th August. BLT’s Director Training programme is an initiative to propel new artists and directors to come up with live productions within three months while learning to manage a theatre production. The third edition of the festival saw two more plays staged; Jean Anouilh’s Dinner With The Family and Moliere’s Tartuffe.

 

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Joseph Garcin in conversation with the bellboy

 

The afternoon show at 1 seemed auspicious with the patchy sky and the venue had a sombre air, synonymous to what an existentialist play would demand. Although it wasn’t a full house, as expected on an afternoon, the people present in the room had not come to watch just any other play. Sartre demands your attention at all times and fraying from this rule even for a moment means one cannot comprehend the next scene. The play, directed by Deepak Mote is a mélange of many sensory elements. One has to shift between what is happening on stage to what is happening on the other part of the stage while being in tune with the rumbling bass, snare drum with the cymbals against the backdrop.

‘Hell is other people’ is the meaning behind Sartre’s No Exit. As three individuals find themselves in a not-so-everyday living room sans the ‘devices of torture’, their conception of how the afterlife of damnation would be like comes crashing down. A bellboy with neatly combed hair in a snappy black jacket comes on stage and brings into the room its first occupant Joseph Garcin and answers many of his stock questions about torture chambers and hellfire. Garcin is soon followed by Inez and Estelle, two women who are to be his roommates for eternity. “It’s like this”, says Garcin in an inquisitive manner. “It’s like this”, answers the bellboy in a bored fashion.

The three occupants start showing their connections to the real world, portrayed by dancers on the other part of the stage, separated by a flimsy cloth. It gives the idea that it is within one’s reach yet unreachable. There are no mirrors in the room and the furniture is colour coded to match their personalities. Estelle frantically looks for a mirror to check on her appearance. Inez offers to be her mirror and tells her to look into her eyes. As Estelle frantically tries to put on her lipstick, Inez reveals the many dark secrets of Estelle and frightens her to the core. The three of them serve as mirrors for each other and in turn become unrelenting torturers.

Garcin is a dapper figure dressed in a beige coat and white shirt, a journalist from Rio de Janeiro by profession. As the heat in the room rises, he sheds his civilised self and the caricature of the coward and the unfaithful wife abuser he came out. He flees his country during the outbreak of the war and gets killed in action. Estelle, clad in a lilac one piece dress is a chirping flirtatious lady from Paris but like Garcin, her true face of a hypocrite and a child murderer propelled by lust and vanity emerges. Inez is a cold and calculated figure who is not afraid to say her mind and stand up for the same. A lesbian postal clerk, she ends up turning her cousin’s wife against him resulting in the murder of the latter. She doesn’t flinch away from showing her sexual desire towards Estelle who never reciprocates. Estelle, on the other hand, shows her lascivious nature towards Garcin because he is a man. Although reluctant at first, Garcin finally gives in to Estelle’s advancements, much to the distaste of Inez. He begs Estelle to not call him a coward and while she complies, Inez remarks that Estelle is doing the same just to feign attraction because he is a man and at this point, any man would do for her. This causes Joseph to make an attempt of escape from the room and although the door opens up, he isn’t able to leave because his redemption lies in convincing Inez that he isn’t a coward.

As their verbal paroxysms shoot up with the temperature in the room, the trio is able to see the characters they formed while they were alive. Now, in hell, nothing can be changed but to shed their outer pretentious selves and embrace what lies inside them. Isolated in space and time, in a room when the night never comes they are able to perceive the torture device they themselves are to one another. For all eternity, Estelle won’t care that Garcin is a coward till he kisses her; Garcia won’t be able to kiss her because he knows he is a coward while Inez will always despise Garcia and lust after Estelle in vain.

The lighting and the musical score in the backdrop play a crucial role in the play, highlighting the moments of crescendo. Somehow, the electricity cuts in between the play would not have surprised the viewer as it fits seamlessly into the atmosphere of it. The dancers depicting the earthly lives of the three characters are able to portray the emotion that is expected from them. The play gives Sartre’s message that for the living, change is always possible until the final choice is made.

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

 

 

This Malayalam Film Will Enrage You For All The Right Reasons

I vividly remember the end scene of the film “Ka Bodyscapes” that was being shown at the Bangalore Queer Film Festival (BQFF) 2016. Just as I entered the dark auditorium at Alliance Française de Bangalore,  the screen showed a man walking gradually towards the sea before disappearing out of sight as the sound of crashing waves resounded the room and the screen turned black. I checked the pamphlet that I had in my hand and looked for a name. “Ka Bodyscapes, Malayalam, 1h 30 mins,” it read. For some reason, I wanted to know what the film was about. But I couldn’t at that time.

Now that I have watched the movie, I tend to believe that I was meant to watch it. Call it fate or give it some other name, I am glad I got the chance. This film by Jayan K. Cheriyan has been fighting for a certification without any cuts from the CBFC for the past two and a half years. The movie has been screened privately in film festivals and has won immense praise and accolades, but hasn’t seen a formal release in this country.

One of the things that I loved in this movie is the absence of background music of any sort, except in the final scene before the credits roll out. It has comparatively few dialogues as well and is presented in a very raw, almost amateurish form when it comes to camera panning and the shift in scenes. Due to the content and ideology of the film, a prior statutory announcement was made before the screening, informing everyone that certain people with certain ideologies might find the film awkward or disturbing and that they can leave any moment they want to. Fortunately, nobody left.

“Ka Bodyscapes” is based in god’s own country, Kerala, in the town of Kozhikode. It primarily focuses on the life of Haris who is an aspiring gay painter, played by actor Jason Chacko and Vishnu, the subject of Haris’ paintings and his lover, played by Kannan Rajan. Along with them are stories revolving the life of Sia, played by Nasreena, who works for a footwear manufacturing company and is a vocal feminist. The film encapsulates a lot of subjects ranging from homophobia to violence against women and the ever infecting patriarchal and right-wing society.

Kerala, as far as I know, is ahead of many states in this country, in terms of education, equal rights for people belonging to different sexualities and everything in between. But the film showcases the conservative side of Kerala, the side which roots for Ghar Wapsi and the need for women to be home before the sun sets. It is a society where cribbing grandmothers with rosary beads wince at the sight of girls washing their feet and do not hesitate from calling them a wench. It is a society where fathers beat up their daughters when they raise their voices against patriarchy and the subjugation and degradation of the female body that it brings with itself. In short, it is a society where love and equality lie at opposite poles.

Haris brings Vishnu to Kozhikode where the latter gets a job as a graphics assistant in his uncle’s right-leaning newspaper Bharatbhoomi. His uncle believes that it is his duty to uphold and save his traditions from going to the dogs and disapproves the idea of Haris and Vishnu living together under one roof. The idea of Vishnu posing as a model for all of Haris’ “naked” paintings ignites him even more. Haris’s place has scores of paintings which he wants to showcase as a part of an art exhibition and he gets a chance to do the same.

A still from the film ‘Ka Bodyscapes’

Sia, his friend who goes by the name of ‘Sia Rational’ on Facebook is a strong advocate of female body rights but is subjected to daily criticism from her conservative Muslim family. She works under a misogynist, condescending boss. Things get bad when this repulsive boss finds bloodied pads in the factory washrooms and tells the female supervisor to take care of the culprit. The supervisor questions all of the workers but to no avail. This is when she grabs one of Sia’s friends and drags her to the washroom for a strip search. The ordeal ends with Sia coming to the girl’s rescue and resorts to calling the police. The police do not take any action, obviously.

Sia along with Haris and a few of their friends decide to stage a protest while Vishnu decides to stay out of it due to its risky nature. Sia Rational ends up putting a Facebook profile picture of her bloodied sanitary pad after which they organise a roadside protest with slogans of “My body, my choice”. While some goons wait on the other side of the road with batons and swords, the police intervene. This entire incident is based on a real-life. What happens next should be discovered by watching the film.

The film is supposed to enrage you and it is successful in doing so. If you do not feel angry for the right reasons, you are not thinking rationally. Amidst all of that, you feel a certain form of helplessness, a very weak state of mind as you begin to realise how inconsiderate and close minded we are as a society and as people in general. You would feel the need to shout as you absorb the frustration and anger that the characters in the film go through while their worlds crash down, frame after frame. And this is reality, simple and unadulterated.

Many of us choose to be inside our cubicles, we don’t want to look at things and get our mind “dirty”. Many of us talk about same-sex marriages and equality but I think all of that is too distant for us. We live in times when misogynists feel disgusted at the sight of bloodied sanitary pads and when freedom of expression in the form of art is abhorred. We live in times when religious intolerance is met with death and centres to cure homosexuality operate in full bloom.

The despair that follows after watching a film like “Ka Bodyscapes” lives on for a long time, not because of what happens in the end of the movie but because of how there can never be a world where the need to make a film like this would ever arise.

P.S. If you want to catch a screening of Ka Bodyscapes, there is a screening on 5th August, 2017 at the same venue. Do follow Urban Solace on Facebook for more info.