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How green fled Whitefield and turned it brown

June 23, 2009

When I was growing up, Whitefield was to Bangalore as Hubli is to Dharwad. Or Secunderabad is to Hyderabad. Or something like that.

It wasn’t exactly white, yes, but it had touches of off-white and it was the city’s backwoods where you could go to hear the living language of the Anglo-Indians. Stuff you get to hear these days only from Chamarajpet Charles.

For me, as a child returning from summer vacations in Kerala, Whitefield was a railway station stop that announced, with utter and irredeemable finality, that Bangalore was 15 minutes away. The end of holidays and the woeful beginning of school.

When I started going to college, a summer job collecting market data for a logistics company took me to Whitefield. Thanks to a bad stomach the previous night, I had started the day with a healthy upheaval of my stomach contents into the sink. My mouth still tasted of bile when I reached Whitefield at about 11. I was hungry and thirsty.

It was a nice breezy summer’s day quite incomparable, despite Shakespeare, to the summer days we endure now. A little zero-watt bulb went off in my head and pointed me to RR bar and restaurant, in the shade of a banyan tree. It was a spare little place with wooden benches and tables made of planks. But the floors had been swept and mopped and the wash basin where I rinsed my hands was clean.

The company gave me a daily food allowance and I had been smart enough to save some over the weekend. I had with me enough for a full saapaad and some tipple. It was only a quarter past eleven but the beer looked tempting. So I went ahead and ordered a bottle of Kingfisher and some rotis with chicken curry.

On an empty, antibiotic-addled stomach, beer can do funny things. And by the time the rotis arrived, I had trouble locating them on my table. To boot, the three farmers who were enjoying their beers at the next table looked like distant ghostly apparitions of horsemen. I blinked, but the vista wouldn’t fade. In a bold show of dignity, I felt my way to the wash basin, anointing the white-washed walls with a trail of brown curry. My reflection in the mirror left me little doubt that everybody present at RR that afternoon knew I was wasted. On a bottle of beer!

When I recounted this episode to my friend Gautam Raja, he told me that RR stood for ‘Roaring Rectum’. True enough, that evening’s session in the john had been haemorrhoid-inflating.

I came to know Whitefield better thanks to Gautam, who has been a denizen of this suburb for as long as his memory permits him to remember. And it was delightful to see his own little stab at the wayward “development” of Whitefield by the land sharks in Time Out Bengaluru.

“When I was a little monkey,” he writes, “I’d cycle all over Whitefield and it was green and idyllic in a way that bores one to tears when written about, so I’ll spare you.”

And, when I think of the Whitefield my daughter will never see as I  did, I can’t fight the tears myself.

Here’s more:

The closer you ride to Whitefield though, the more the area is best appreciated on winter mornings when the temperature is low and the landscape gently softened by mist. Go through a few hours later, and what you thought was a babbling brook is now Dysentery’s Creek, the wholesome breeze is more like broken wind, and you finally know that the perfume that follows you around after your morning ride is Channel No. 5 – the eau de toilets spray. How sad and funny that one of the first signs of affluence is effluence. That, and a house that looks like a three-storey pista cake.

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