Church Street, Diversity and Bangalore

On one end of my street is busy Brigade Road, filled with people and shops selling almost everything under the sun, on the other end of my street is the quaint St. Mark’s Cathedral, my father and I have gone there for the Sunday morning services for many years now, always a pleasant feeling listening to the choir sing and the bells ring.

In between these two extremes is my street- cobble stoned footpaths, pretty street lights and beautiful buildings. I’d like to believe that my street is the connection between capitalism and religion. I have always told people in order to truly understand Bangalore; one must slowly walk from one end of Church Street to the other, slowly exploring the several amusements one will find on the way. Don’t forget to read the graffiti on the wall while you walk, it may scare you to read some of the statements but they all come straight out of the Bangalorean heart.

Right after St. Mark’s Church is Koshy’s, the den of all things taboo. I have fond memories of having breakfast here after the Sunday morning service at Mark’s, the old waiters, the antique furniture, the smell of coffee and the sound of a million  conversations always awed me, maybe one day I too  will find myself sitting here with old friends, chatting about happy memories of a Bygone era. Above Koshy’s was the legendary British Council Library, one of the good legacies of the British Empire in India.

Cross the road and there’s KC Das, the world famous Bengali sweet makers known for their sweet meats which give you such a sugar rush that you’ll soon be singing John Lennon in a Yoko Ono voice. For many years now, the owners of KC Das have built a reputation of being the best sweet makers in the city. Funny because something which is so quintessentially Bengali is also something so quintessentially Bangalorean.

 

On the other side of Church Street, hidden behind a posh pizzeria is the Indian Coffee House, walk into it and you’ll find yourself right back into the 1950’s- A huge picture of Gandhi on the wall, waiters dressed in Colonial era uniforms and most importantly coffee for insanely cheap prices. My friend once remarked that if we ate all our meals here, we may be have able to afford a vacation at the end of the year. Ironically just a few meters away, we have a Starbucks, where I’ve spent hours doing work enjoying the air conditioning. This is a reflection of what India really is- a mix of the past and the present, where the past clings on to anything in the present and where history is as important as modernity.

My street is studded with several pubs and nightclubs, some old and many new, it’s not uncommon to see drunk and dizzy young people walk up and down the street on a Friday evening, I pity some of these people, they work like donkeys the rest of the week and scream out “Thank God It’s Friday”. My religious grandmother would have undoubtedly remarked “Tell them to thank God for everyday!” Music blares out from these places and the alcohol flows freely like polluted water, bartenders try to smile and serve their customers who barely even notice them but in 21st century language- my street is “OG”. If the Greek God Dionysus had a home in Bangalore, it would most certainly be on Church Street.

My Street however isn’t known just for alcohol and bored young people trying to escape reality, it’s also known for numerous book stores where I’ve spent thousands of hours, it was here, in these dingy book stores where  I read about George Orwell’s nightmarish predictions, Willy Wonka’s scrumptious discoveries and Shashi Tharoor’s big words. If today I’m known as an avid reader, reading a wide plethora of genres and authors, it is thanks to these stores on my street. For a generation that grew up believing that Instagram was cooler than the pages of a new book, it is refreshing to walk into these shops and spend some time with my best friends- Books and have a small chat with the owners, always happy to hook you up with the new releases. These book stores are important because they truly reflect the cultural diversity in Indian literature, you’ll find books from across the country here, in languages sometimes you may have not even heard of.

If you’re a food lover, my street is the place to be, name a cuisine and you’ll get it here. Three quarter Chinese for great orientation fare, cholesterol at Smally’s, Fancy breakfasts at Socials and even a healthy salad at the newly opened salad bar and more recently wonderful family run cafes specializing in food from the North East of India, something which has largely been ignored in the food map of India.

Musicians too have a place on my street, a hippie guitarist with a long beard can be found sitting outside the metro station on my street, playing old English melodies for the soul. Clubs like the Blue Frog frequently host some great local bands playing a mix of Indian and Western music, if only I was immune to noisy crowds, I may have visited these places more often. If you love history and architecture, there are quite a few old Bungalows you can take a peep at and get some pictures of, time stands still here, again a gentle reminder that our past is always around us.

My street has seen some bad times too, a couple of years ago there was a tragic bomb blast outside the Coconut Grove restaurant, known for its delicious coastal fare, an innocent woman was the victim of hatred but my street showed the world what it means to bounce back after being a victim of hatred. When I heard this news I almost immediately thought that this would be the end of my street but soon the street was back into action, it was a powerful way of telling people that we aren’t going to bow down to terror or hatred, love is the corner stone of our city and it will always remain so.

But the reason I love my street so much is because it radiates the multiculturalism which has become the face of Bangalore, a city which has seen several phases of development and progress. Today, Bangalore is a huge mosaic of people from across India and beyond – a huge Tamil Population, a large number of Telugu middle class families, several people from the North of India, mainly here to work in the IT sector,  a vibrant young population of students and young people from the North East States, A sizable African population from countries like the Ivory Coast and Congo, a small Jewish population, a large number of people from the neighboring state of Kerala, Nepali and Bhutanese immigrants, Rajasthani and Gujarati merchants and shop owners, Anglo-Indians, Catholics from Mangalore, Kodavas from Coorg, several families from districts across Karnataka, Kashmiris from the North, Bengali communities, Goan families and of course people who are a little bit from here and a little bit from there. All of these communities have quite nicely blended into the local culture, don’t be surprised when you see Bengali cafe filled with Tamilans conversing in fluent Kannada! That’s my city, a city filled with diversity, tolerance and inclusiveness, a place where people from across the country feel at home, a place where India shows her best side, the side of multiculturalism and diversity.

I can’t write an article about Bangalore without a mention of the local  language, Kannada is undoubtedly one of the most beautiful languages I’ve ever heard, I quickly learnt to speak Kannada as a young boy and  was introduced to many facets of Kannada culture in College- learning about Kannada Literature and it’s gigantic contribution to Indian Literature made me proud to know that I belong to a state with such a rich cultural legacy. Stalwarts of the Kannada literary circle include greats like Kuvempu and Bendre, whose names are nationally recognized as well, pop into any of the book stores on my street and you’ll find a wide range of Kannada books, some of them translated into English, you’ll also find books with titles like ‘Learn Kannada’, which are normally bought by those from other states in order to learn a bit of the local language, a powerful message that learning new languages and exploring new cultures makes us strong, it doesn’t dilute our preexisting culture. And with this, I’ll end my walk and I’ll leave you with a quote to think about, my street reflects my city which in turn reflects my country, a beautiful mosaic of culture and diversity.

 We have become not a melting pot but a beautiful mosaic. Different people, different beliefs, different yearnings, different hopes, different dreams. ~Jimmy Carter  (Although Carter here is referring to the US, I think it perfectly sums up my street, my city and obviously my country)

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