How do you feel the pulse of a city? Of a generation? The clothes they wear; the universities they go to; the language they speak or, a smorgasbord of all those ingredients.
To me, the pulse lies in the eating-joints and the pubs of the city. Not the glitzy, halogen-lit corner quarters in the central business district, but those joints that are known only by word-of-mouth, and rely on old-fashioned switches to let its patrons see each other upon dusk. If you are in Bangalore, Hotel Airlines would top the priority list of must-visits. There maybe other joints of a similar stature but being a loyalist, I would put Airlines on the top of the heap – its position no different from the mish-mash of the ubiquitous carrot and coriander on a rava idli.
There are two ways to get to Airlines – travel down Lavelle Road from Lady Curzon’s Circle on MG Road, taking the first left as you head towards Vittal Mallya Road. Look out for a stream of cars heading in and out of what looks like a park met a parking lot. All cars are vying for one of two things – the fantastic ice-cream at the original Corner House on the left, or those Masala Dosas on the right from Airlines, for which sane men would commit highway dacoities. The other way is to stand on MG Road and ask the nearest pedestrian “Airlines?” with a vigorous shaking of the hand, thumb held high.
If you’re looking to get a feel of the city’s denizens in one single sitting, like that executive summary you are so used to seeing, Airlines is the place. A digression follows.
I remember being asked to dissect a cockroach as part of class 8, Biology labs. The run-up to the section, which had its fair share of excitement due to Royston, resident bully insisting on funding the entire class’ budget of cockroaches on his own over the weekend, was not something I enjoyed. On the day of Endoskeleton Armageddon, Royston failed to turn up with the required quota. I was glad. The attendant, 15 minutes into the class funded the shortage. Thanks to the attendant, I had a dead cockroach in front of me and a rusting scalpel held tightly between my fingers, behind me.
Me: “I don’t feel like killing it”
Evil Teacher: “It’s dead already”
Me: “I’m a vegetarian”
ET: “I didn’t ask you to eat it”
Me: “Waaaaaaaaaah!!” followed by cockroach tears
ET: profanities I would understand one year later
What’s the point of the digression? The need of the class was to draw the inner organs of Mr. Roach, a cross-section of his body if I may.
A similar cross-section of Hotel Airlines, would yield the following:
(a) Students from the commerce and science colleges nearby – 20-somethings talking loudly and animatedly with colour coordinated clothes and streaky hairstyles. They are the ones that bring the brightness to the place.
(b) Middle-aged crowd discussing domestic matters, internal (to their homes) and internal (to the country). Occasionally they do stray across a topic outside of the country, but are soon cut-to-size by the third demographic – pardesis
(c ) Backpackers and working professionals alike, from outside the country – mud-layered clothes, big packs by the side and smaller ones around the waist, experimenting with the menu. (d) Life-members of the local mafia whose typical conversations go “Cox Town naa paathikre, nee Fraser Town paathiko” (http://translate.google.com/#)
But the group that deserves the biggest mention, the most respect (they command it; no choice on that), and extract the maximum bend out of your back by letting you plead are the Airlines’ waiters. The sitting area is marked out by the waiters with magic lines visible only to them. No waiter shall serve you if you aren’t sitting in his quadrant and if your quadrant’s waiter is on a break of a few minutes, you bloody well wait. A full blog on them will shortly follow. They command that too.
Its where we meet thrice a week; we never get bored; the giant figus tree never stops providing shade; the waiters never stop treating us like 2nd rate citizens and we’ll never stop being grateful to them inspite. In a city fast swallowing itself like a black hole, it offers those few square yards that tell you the city and its citizens are still doing fine. And one day when someone’s concrete dreams come to shatter the calm of those sitting under the giant figus tree, hands will be held. The mafia and an old-timer; the average middle-class Bangalorean and a teenager on his first visit to the place and yours truly will do more than post a blog.