Saturday, 14 January 2012

Bangalore part one

The writers hit Bangalore bookshops
What a day we had in Bangalore on Thursday. After the surreal peace and languid pace of Nrityagram, it was a dramatic change, but also welcome. As soon as we hit the road, it felt like "Hang on for the ride." I had the front seat.  Nabina, Eugene and Birgitta were in the back and not so close to the "action," so they were laughing at me, because I let out a little gasp every few minutes as the driver negotiated around the cows, pedestrians, whole families on motorbikes, slow-moving trucks (oh...aside....I hear the Archies singing somewhere...You are my candy girl! I think it's someone's ringtone), bicycles laden with a truckoad of merchandise. But our driver was good. I thought David would appreciate his driving. He used the horn (as they do here) to warn other vehicles and his concentration must have been total. (I once asked David, "what do you think about when you're driving?" "Driving," he said. This man was like that.)

We drove through the outskirts of Bangalore (known in the local Kannada language as Bengaluru. I love the sound of it) past new apartment complexes, roadside shops of every kind, piles of vegetables and fruits, machinery, furniture (woodworkers outside sanding beds in the sun), cows, garbage, cows foraging in garbage, wreaths of marigolds and bouquets of flowers for sale, goats in rubble, lots of rubble, big billboards advertising expensive watches, small roadside piles of burning debris. And people. There are so many people.

Since it's a big city, people are of all kinds. One of the traveler's perennial concerns (or mine at least) is what to wear so that you don't stand out like a sore thumb. After experiencing Bangalore, I won't worry about that any more. Many people are dressed in western clothing, but usually with a certain Indian flare. One of the most common outfits for women, especially young women, is the kurta, the longish shirt with slits on the sides and jeans or a slim legging type thing underneath. (It's pretty common for men too). This is a flattering and practical garment and I couldn't wait to buy one. (Another aside: I'm sitting outside and watching a cow walking along with a white bird riding on his back)

We made a stop at Arshia's apartment (we were so lucky to have our daytrip all mapped out for us by locals), then to a street lined with shops of all kinds. Birgitta, the Swedish editor, recommended a shop called Cottage... something.  Ack! I'm not much of a shopper at home, but I do have a real weakness for textiles of any kind. This shop was an Indian textile kingdom, full of tablecloths, scarves, rugs,and bedding -- so gorgeous. The colours are the colours of India: rusts, cayenne oranges, indigo blues, saffron and turmeric yellows, curry leaf greens. Natural dyes and many hand-embroidered. The salesclerk saw my interest and began pulling down bedspreads and shaking them out to show me. When I said he didn't have to pull down everything I touched, he said, "It's my job Madam."

Since I'm going to London in a few days and had already planned to ship a bag home with my London clothes, I thought it was my chance to buy something I never would have bought when I traveled as a twenty-four year-old backpacker. After falling for just about everything he pulled off the shelf, (creamy white embroidered with browns and golden yellow leaves; the softest pink with fine, vine-like green flowers...) I decided on a rusty orange (Khal would say "orange, of course!") to remind me of the colour of this Nrityagram soil which has already stained my feet and shoes.

After an hour or so, we called the driver and he returned in about two minutes with the cab for us (!) and took us to Church Street to Coconut Grove restaurant for a Kerala style lunch: meen pappas (fish curry, very fresh), kozhi nadan kari (chicken), malabar poratta (paratha bread), sadham (plain rice) and of course chai. Oh but first a glass of lime water (soda water with lime squeezed into it and a bit of sugar--delicious) to chase the shopping.

Nirmala, a journalist who works with Sangam House and a born and bred Bangalore-ite who loves the city, met us at lunch and we went next to Blossom Bookstore. Very much like my beloved Penticton Books n Things, they have a framed letter from the renowned Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore. Apparently someone bought one of his books there and found the letter, dated Dec. 27, 1931 and returned to the store to give it back to them. Some of the Canadian writers' books I saw there: Rohinton Mistry, Yann Martel, Margaret Atwood.

I bought a beautiful old book of poetry by Rabindranath Tagore. Birgitta, who is a wealth of information on literary India, said there are better translations than the ones he did himself (this one in 1918), and probably the best are by William Radice. But I do love this: "In the light of this thriftless day of spring, my poet, sing of those who pass by and do not linger, who laugh as they run and never look back....Do not sit quietly, to tell the beads of your past tears and smiles,--do not stop to pick up the dropped petals from the flowers of overnight, do not go to seek things that evade you, to know the meaning that is not plain,--leave the gaps in your life where they are, for the music to come out of their depths."

And with that in mind, it's back to work with me. More on Bangalore later.


  1. What a beautiful quote! What an amazing journey, too.

  2. Francie
    I look forward to every entry -- You describe so beautifully your experience of India -- I can certainly appreciate even more how important it is for a writer to walk the landscape of her story. And the Tagore quotation you included took my breath away -- brought tears to my eyes. So fitting to my recent meditations re the past and the present and life's choices and the meaning of the journey we are all on.
    ~Mary Ellen

  3. Francie,
    What an incredible experience you're having-- so much nourishment for the writer's soul. Thanks for sharing it through your blog.

    "The pleasure of a journey lies in knowing one is guided ony by uncertainty and that no mirror will refect yesterday's face" (Marjorie Agosin, "A Map of My Face").

  4. What a delight to return from the mundane weekly grocery shopping and find this entry. Admittedly, it wasn't the first time I'd checked today. Love the quote. Keep it coming Francie...I'm with you, Rozanne

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