Delhi & Bangalore – A lived tale of two cities
Tisha Srivastava, a long time Delhite, is a Bangalore based freelance journalist. Her lived experience of minute and massive differences add up to tell a tale of two cities.
The first time I heard Come off in Bangalore, my reaction was eh, what has come off? Until I realised, it was how folk in the North say C’mon. Each city has its slang subtext and in Bangalore they have named many a restaurant after it. For example, Thulp-ing, local speak for gorging on grub, has a popular food chain called Café Thulp.
If you look carefully at the photograph of the cafe here, you’ll see aliens can use the loo too! A small but visible indicator of a sense of humor and if I stretch the joke, an accommodating spirit. The latter finds special mention in another Bangalore example. While filling up the Gender part of a form for a short course here, was pleasantly surprised to see the options –
Female/Male/transgender/Prefer not to disclose.
Many Dilliwallahs prefer to disclose in other ways, outspoken, affectionate or brusque. In a power heavy city, with extreme historical ruptures, there is often an extractive quality in ordinary dealings, which doesn’t quite permit letting your guard down. In Bangalore, I was to find that politeness is a natural choice and often comes with surprises. I was catching up with a friend at an alfresco restaurant, once famous for its sizzlers. A soft cool afternoon wind was blowing. Kids were playing at the playground opposite us. It had been an hour since the bill had been on the table, we had paid and no one came to disturb us or pick up the amount. We got up to go when the subject we were talking about naturally came to a close. I turned at the outside gate to make eye contact with a pleasantly smiling waiter, me pointing to the untouched bill, lying at the table. The waiter didn’t hurry towards it, just gave me a pleasant smile and a slight nod of the head, which sort of implied the ease of chill maadi/ carry on. I exited with a smile, thankful and glad that our tip had not been less than generous. Sure, the food is probably not what it used to be, but something else was. An unobtrusive geniality, a mutual ease of human trust. Made more delectable in the times we live in. A lack of flash/calling attention to oneself, palpable here – possibly the same reason why flashy cars are less visible here and Reva, more visible than Delhi?
All the Bangaloreans I met, were helpful to strangers. Here is an anecdote of how warmheartedly amusing this can be. Like most metros, I have a home delivery shopkeeper close to where I’ve been living for four years. A busy ole considerate man, (who is usually listening to two customers in his twin sided shop, plus one on landline and one on mobile, all at the same time) I call him on the phone and ask :
Sir, cotton balls hai?
Me: Sir, round and white, cotton face wipe type?
Him: (Silence. Knowing that he will be scanning his shop with his eye, looking for the closest thing he can offer. Commerce and concern intermingling beautifully) says ‘Yes, naphthalene balls hai.’ I love how he’s managed to suggest something akin to the white and round thing I wanted. So what if they were intended for different purposes. This very well meaning trait can sometimes be less funny when one asks for directions. As the take left here – is never quite clear, if the help being offered is from your side of the road. Or the opposite. Yet, stop at any signal and the much maligned auto fellow will delay traffic, but try and help you, if you ask.
In Delhi, this sample size is small and most experiences quite gruff, first up. Bangaloreans are also less likely to interfere in whatever you are doing, until it directly affects them. (Or they might be landlords! For some peculiar reason, Bangalore’s landlords charge a nine month rent deposit, while Delhi’s usually don’t charge more than three months.) Now if you are a natural extrovert like me, it takes time to get used to the flip side of this shyness – the handshake. You see Dilliwallahs are prone to laughing loudly and are often, physically expressive folk. Greeting with affection by hug or backslap.
Bangaloreans I met were largely averse to unnecessary physical contact, until they really got to know you. Genially putting out a polite handshake, when meeting you for the first time. This same hands off spirit shows up in other ways. Dilliwallahs instinctively call people home and don’t have to meet in a café first. Bangaloreans I met, rarely call people home straightaway, preferring to meet outside somewhere. And when they get to know you, you are welcome. For instance, festival time in Delhi often includes welcoming strangers graciously, in an open house. For Bangaloreans, festivals seem to be a family/friends, a closed door intimate affair. The public and the private are visibly separate.
Food comes as a surprise too. You see, my parents come from Allahabad and Varanasi and I grew up partly in Mussoorie and largely Delhi. So to find Bangalore as both a beef eating city and great variety for vegetarians only, is a clear difference. Delhites, this means freedom from paneerama.
Other surprises are well known, although always good to experience. In Delhi, as a woman I had to keep an invisible radar on. In Bangalore, it has been easy to let your guard down (unless it is a very late night), as one sees women working everywhere, tea shops to IT offices. Although I’ve had a theft at my home here and never in Delhi, one feels freer, despite periodic reports to the contrary. (Never heard a catcall here.)
What I have heard is a ha-ha as a response to anything. If you are as talkative as I am, you might not notice that after a point, ‘Ha-ha’ is a polite way of not being able to tell you to shut up. Because that would be rude. This accommodating pleasantness, does it have a causal or a correlational relationship with the weather here, I wonder? A pleasantness nevertheless rupturing in both cities, united by traffic jams. If in Delhi, the metro has sparked off early signs of a change in the public transport culture, in Bangalore, this is yet to take deep shape. This has probably also mentally suburbanized Bangaloreans into silo-living. Travelling elsewhere for spontaneous meet ups in this city of many jams is a seemingly formidable ask. In Delhi, with so much choice in means of transport, one didn’t have to think so much. If this piece offers anecdotal parallels, of what makes both cities unique and different, I could write another on what they have in common. For they really do. And nope I don’t mean the jams. But let me end, on a rapid-fire round of other differences. This time with observations and not anecdotes.
If Delhi smacks of showiness, Bangalore has an unmistakable nurturing air. I’ve witnessed massive clapping for what for me, was a very ordinary play, as well as extraordinary performances. Bangalore, in its people can at once be parochial, avant garde, intimate, and encouraging. It has a mix of spaces, amenable to the independent hearted, with a lot going on, in terms of the sciences, arts and design, as well as traditional vanguards. With RangaShankara, Jagriti and now NSD, as performance spaces, it attracts some very good regional, national and international theatre. The same is true in craft, music and dance I am told. The ‘pass’ culture of Delhi’s entertainment calendar is completely absent here and all events are mostly ticketed or free entry. Physically, Bangalore has its pretty sides in homes and corners, in gardens and localities, a city of many neighbourhoods.
Its pleasures more subtle than the robust monumental presences which wrap your day in Delhi. Individuals have no doubt contributed immensely to creating newer public spaces and initiatives here, be it Azim Premji’s low key initiatives or Suresh Jayaram’s one man studio cum exhibition space, in ways that Delhi tries to emerge from institutional largesse.
Change is being grasped with a hot-headedness new to Bangaloreans, used to as most are, to being even tempered, like the weather. Which too is changing. How Bangalore shapes up will probably be determined by how all its residents, respond to change. Beyond these differences, seen from a North-South lens, people are people. I’ve met terrible ones and good ones. And probably been both. If Delhi browbeats one into moments of aggression, Bangaloreans know too well how to run and hide, to avoid conflict. This spirit works on most occasions, but taken too far can lead to ignoring what’s happening to Namma ’ooru. Both aggression and avoidance, are probably limited ways of dealing with the issues of the here and now.
Now on Delhi & Bangalore – What’s similar? That, another time.