Archive for January, 2007

Welcome to Shivajinagar Market

January 23rd, 2007



I was out of Bangalore, traveling.

Received news about riots in East Bangalore from a friend in Bombay.

She asked if everything was okay.

I wondered if everything was okay at all?

Sent a text message to an acquaintance in Bangalore asking if all was well.

He replied saying that you Bombay people become paranoid when you hear about riots.

I yelled back saying and what about you Bangalore people, you are indifferent to trouble.


(A boy was killed in East Bangalore in a procession condemning the hanging of Saddam on the first day of the month of Muharram. I still don’t know the details …)



It is about 12:00 PM. The sun is shining bright. It has been my intention to walk around Shivajinagar market and begin the year’s writings from here. So here I enter Shivajinagar, amidst an odd silence and a white Rapid Action Force (RAF) van zooming past me. The place might appear normal. But certainly this silence is not normal. Some tension is looming in the air. The normalness is not about the silence; it is about the tension.


Standing in his shop is a young Muslim boy, dark skinned, running the machine to serve sugarcane juice to a waiting customer. I ask for coconut water. He seems like a pleasant, amiable fellow. As I sip the coconut water, I ask him if there is tension in the market. “ Raada idhar mein nahi hua, udhareech hua, mere ghar ke paas! ” I asked him if he was suggesting that the trouble broke out in Cantonment area and not in the market and he said that was the case. The trouble broke out close to his house. “ Abhi baraah baje maloom padega kya hua! ” I paid him and went off inside the market.


I am not sure how to map out the market to you. It’s a vast place, incompatible with what I had imagined it to be. It has various hues and colours, perhaps many histories, memories and of course, there are multiple identities here. I see Muslim women walking, Christian women walking, and South Indian women walking. There are police vans and army vans near the Ave Maria church. I am quite surprised that these are stationed here instead of around the Jumma Masjid which is also in the market. But then, I have never understood the logic of security and protection.


Shivajinagar is made up of several streets. There is the Central Street. There is a Chettty street which I avoided today. I went all around the Ave Maria church to discover a world within Bangalore which I was unaware of. I walked down from Central Street and watched all the shops and their wares. There were lots of clothes, some in shops, some outside the shops on the streets. There were hawkers, some stationery, some mobile. One hawker had displayed his minimum wares on a motorbike parked in the street and was negotiating with a customer from that space. The back side of the wall of the Bowring Hospital is occupied by hawkers who have displayed their clothes-wares on the wall. There are Tibetan women sitting there, selling woolens. On the opposite side are cane crafts and furniture shops, engaging in export and import of their wares. I can’t say that the density here is that of Bombay markets, but there is a peculiar sense of time that I feel here, a time of the past, a present of that past, a future … perhaps … who knows!


I emerge out of the market by moving towards the bus stand. Opposite me is ‘Singapore Wares Shop’ selling Chinese goods and a little distance away is the Bombay Chowpatty Kulfi and Bhelpuri. A little away is a poster carrying Saddam’s picture saying something to the effect of:

“Saddam is the friend of India

We pray for World Peace

Down with George Bush, Tony Blair and global imperialism!”


As I walk out from Central Street, I notice yet another white RAF van. All through this visit to Shivajinagar today I have navigated through feelings. And here, with another RAF van passing by, I ask myself if I feel a sense of numb indifference, a product of the memories of the Bombay riots of 1992-1993, watching several RAF vehicles then. Who knows! It’s either paranoia or indifference …


Towards the end of Central Street is a wall with posters of South Indian films. One of the film posters has an English subtitle saying ‘feel of flow’. Yeah, perhaps walking through this city will give me a feel of the flow.


A Pakistani acquaintance had once said to me that you Bombay people don’t walk; you simply look for transport. As the year commences, I am testing the strength of my feet, the tenacity of my heels. (And then in the BMTC bus which I board to go back home I find a boy sitting in front of me, his feet naked, caked with dirt, perhaps finding solace in the bus ride). Let’s see how far I can write with my feet.






January 20th, 2007


This evening I watched Mani Ratnam’s ‘Guru’. Perhaps loosely framed around the story of Dhirubhai Ambani, the story has an ambiguous position towards ‘capitalism’.

Gurukant Desai (Abhishek Bachan) hails from a village in Gujarat. Having failed his final year school exams, he goes off to Turkey on a job offer. After seven years of progress, he decides that he will work for himself and come back to his village. He marries his friend’s elder sister Sujata (Aishwarya Rai) and invests the dowry money in business. His wife, now brother-in-law and he come to Bombay and start trading in textiles. Guru faces the hurdles of starting his business including corruption, bureaucracy and power. In the process he meets the owner of the newspaper Independent (Mithun Chakravarthy) who is referred to as Nanaji. Nanaji is a communist who believes in writing the truth. For Guru, Mithun is father figure. In the relationship that Mithun and Guru share, we see the tension between capitalism and socialism/communism.I am not even sure what Mithun’s own position is because in the beginning of the movie, he scolds Abhishek for staring at the building he lives in and later comes out as a professed socialist!

Guru goes on to start his textile factory where he produces polyester. He runs his business on the basis of public equity. He is given gifts of land by ministers. He fakes his exports to gain license. He runs two factories under permit to run one. And he establishes the country’s most successful company.

Mithun vows to reveal the corruption behind Guru’s success and get his reporter (played by Madhavan) to do stories about Guru’s business malpractices.

Guru starts to doubt whether he is a businessman or a thug. He is struck by paralysis and is served a court notice on 39 charges. Finally, in the court, he defends himself by saying that when he started his business, he faced corruption, bureaucratic hurdles, did not know what customs was, what excise was, what income tax was. He says he knows only how to do business which is what he has done and has successfully established the biggest company in India. In this respect, if he has defaulted here and there, it is for the benefit of the people of India who have also profited from his success.

The courtroom drama leaves a lot to be sorted out in our own heads. Does this film mean to say that for the country’s development and for the sake of the nation, anything is fair in business? Somehow the film is itself confused. While it wants to glorify Dhirubhai Ambani for taking the country on the path of progress, it cannot deny the malpractices that have been involved in the building of the Reliance empire. But for the sake of the nation, we are willing to overlook the malpractices is what the film comes out as saying.

This film is definitely different from a Swades type, it still remains confused in what it wants to say. If global monopoly is problematic, isn’t national monopoly equally not acceptable? Is it possible to tell a story of an ordinary entrepreneur without getting into the trap of narrating the story of national development? Who is the entrepreneur after all?


Welcome to Bangalore, Welcome back to CityBytes

January 15th, 2007


It has been about five or close to six months since I have been in
Bangalore, peppered with three trips to Bombay. I am wondering if I can
say that now is the time when my writing will pick up, but let us see

So what is a city and what is Bangalore I would say, for now, that the
city is a space. It is a space that I carve for myself. And I can
fairly say that a great part of this space is prodiced by perception.
So my perception of this space is different from yours!

So what is Bangalore? Reflecting back on the last five or nearly six
months, I feel I have still not been able to capture the texture of
this city. Perhaps that is also because I have not developed much
liking for Bangalore. And here I am in a position of a migrant who has
these ambiguous feelings about home and journeys. I reside here in
Bangalore with an anxiety about my sex, that I am female. I dare not
say gender because that takes us in different domains. So I am female
in this city. I get marked here as a Muslim but that marking has a very
different context and texture to it, a different (social) fabric.

I decided to live in Thilaknagar which has a history of Muslim-Tamil
conflicts. I had hoped that living here would help me find my words but
that did not come to be. Instead, I interestingly navigated thourgh the
dilemmas of property. A daily wage laborer sleeping in the garage
downstairs causing immense anxiety to my landlord that this might
become his permanent space of occupation. Children from the
neighbouring areas climb up on the terrace to fly kites and I wonder
why other people’s terraces are not made kite flying battlefields?!?! I
find an anonymous clothesline tied from the gate of my house in my
absence and I rethink occupation. I have to lock all open doors in this
two storey building and I wonder about freedom and the city. My
neighbours can take my space for granted. Each of these experiences
have revealed my attitudes, vulnerabilities, tensions, anxieties, etc.
towards property. And I emerge from among these with fresh confusions,
tensions, anger, amusement, violence and surprise!

Experiences in Bangalore have revealed the importance of public
transport in experiencing the city in similar and dissimilar ways. I
also look at ways in which people interact, what are these spaces where
people gather to interact and I find for now that the spaces are
private, domestic.

To conclude for the day, there is one experience which I find worth
sharing. Some days ago I was traveling all over the city and was
virtually fed up and angry with the auto drivers, expensive auto fares,
the monopoly and attitude of auto drivers, and lack of public
transport. I felt this city is worth giving up!
At abou 3 PM, I descended on R. K. Hospital canteen to wolf down a meal
of rice-bhat. Standing, eating his meal, by the side, was a very old
man. I watched his reflection in the mirror. He was eating with great
effort. Perhaps he had lost some amount of his teeth. He looked tired
and worn out by age. He made sobbing noises as he ate. In his
reflection, I looked inside myself and realized that this man’s
suffering could not be greater than mine, that his sorrow could not be
beyond mine.
To this day, I live with the image of his reflection, giving hope to
myself that  am yet to discover humanity, I am yet to discover the
Bangalore (and perhaps I am hinging closer to my words)!

Welcome to the new year!
Welcome back to citybytes!
(Home is where the words are!)