Monday, July 12, 2004

Reminiscences of a Bangalore gone-by

They have all watched the world go by

Many of central Bangalore’s well known landmarks are vanishing. The ones still around evoke many fond memories for old timers.

Coffee house in MG Road will no longer be around, so won’t Madhu Sweets. Victoria is gone and has been replaced by Bangalore Central and Tiffany’s has been razed to the ground.

All these landmarks were a throwback to the laidback Bangalore of the pensioners, who had made it a home to retire in, when long walks amidst tree lined boulevards, listening to the birds instead of the noisy traffic was what mornings were made of. This was often followed by a relaxed breakfast of puttu kadalai at
Victoria sitting in the verandah overlooking the road.

The waiters took their own time to serve you, so you sat there reading your morning newspapers, in no hurry to go anywhere. Nobody asked you to leave and you could sit there until you found something else to do.

It was no different at Tiffanys, where sometimes it seemed as though there were four waiters to a customer, hanging around chatting in corners, until somebody waved out to them to catch their attention.

Driving past Vittal Mallya Road now, all you see in the place where Tiffany’s stood is rubble and debris.

The Coffee House on MG Road is another icon from the past, that along with Victoria and Tiffany’s gave central Bangalore its identity, its old world colonial hangover. The waiters in their white and red uniform are probably as old the Coffee House itself. They know most of their customers and stop by for a chat.
The coffee costs only Rs 5 and the masala dosa, like the way mom makes at home, is only Rs 13. You can sit over your coffee and watch life hurrying past on MG Road outside.

At the other coffee house outlet in the Coffee Board premises, they even serve crunchy onion pakodas, along with the usual sandwiches, the cutlets and the scrambled eggs -- all specialities of the two Coffee House outlets. Government officials, NGOs, journalists, high court advocates and pensioners have over the years made the Coffee House their adda. The conversation here rises and ebbs with politics, court cases, government policies and politicians’ nakras.

Whether this Coffee House outlet too will disappear in deference to the new market economics only time will tell.

As old landmarks give way to the new, as a city’s culture evolves and changes to accommodate new ideas and new thinking, it is surprising that a place like Koshy’s is still standing proudly. The waiters here are as old as the restaurant and the tables old and rickety too. Yet Koshy’s has managed to retain its old world charm, keep its old clientele, while ringing in the new. Generations of Bangaloreans have gone through the Koshy’s doors -- actors, musicians, painters and out of work accountants and students - who frequent Koshy’s for its Smileys, its stew and appams, its sandwiches and its coffee pot.

Koshy’s is as much an adda for the 70-year-old who sips his coffee, as he reads his morning newspapers at a table tucked away in the interior, just as it is a hangout for the 17-year-old SMSing her friends at another table nearby. “Let’s meet at Koshy’s over coffee,” is a common phrase I have used over the years, and have often found that my children and their friends had the same idea.

So what is it that translates four walls and an eatery into an icon, an adda or a hangout? Just like no one knows what makes a book or a film or a painting a hit, I am sure nobody has yet been able to find out what makes one restaurant click in the customer’s mind while some others shine briefly and fade away.


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