Fifty years back, when I lived with my parents in Malleswaram, a nice neighborhood in Bangalore, I was just a teenager in high school. I used to get out of the house to escape the cacophony. Escape the loud voices of my mother and sister. The whole street could hear them talk, discuss, argue, fight, both very highly opinionated. So I used to slip away, walk all the way to eighteenth cross road, a busy beehive of activity. This was the big bus terminus, where most of city buses arrived from the city center and other localities before taking off again. Opposite the bus terminal were various shops, a small restaurant, a sweet shop with all kinds of colorful sweets, flies swarming all over the place. At the corner of eighteenth cross road and Margosa road were two vendors, one with seemingly endless supply of fresh roasted peanuts, and the other with a big cauldron of hot oil, to deep fry spicy bondas and bajjis, hygiene be damned, they were soooo tasty. Depending upon the money I had in my pocket I treated myself to some of those delectable offerings. Having fortified myself, I used to cross Margosa road and then Sampige road, on to the peaceful Sankey Tank road, to walk on the sidewalk abutting the lake. Sankey Tank was a man-made lake, commissioned in the nineteenth century at the behest of a British Colonel, Richard Sankey. The Sankey Road is elevated, on one side is the lake and on the other side the low lying area of Vyali Kaval. If one ignored the dhobis beating their clothes on the rocks, close to the road, the view, as far as the eye could see was pretty, tall evergreen trees enveloped the large lake. Some days, I used to walk beyond the lake, to the high compound walls of the Raman Research Institute, peep into the big wrought iron gates, in the hope of catching a glimpse of Professor Raman, the legendary physicist and Nobel Laureate. I heard that he enjoyed his rose garden in the evenings. One day I was rebuked by the security guard for staying too long near the gate. He chased me away with a warning. “This is not some tourist attraction. Run off before I beat you up.” I knew he was only trying to scare me away, he wouldn’t hurt me. Anyway, I ambled up the small incline towards the Mekhri circle, named after a businessman. He was a boon to the bullocks of Bangalore. Because the bullocks carrying their load had to climb up a steep gradient, he got the road leveled, to make it easy for the animals. He was honored by the then king of our state—the great Krishnaraja Wodeyar. During the long drawn Freedom struggle, spearheaded by Gandhi, Nehru and other luminaries, Mr. Mekhri did his part to disobey the British, and was promptly thrown into jail. After independence, the government honored Mr. Mekhri by naming this important intersection in his name. There was a large stretch of wooded area between the Sankey Tank and the Raman Research Institute, where I was a bit worried to walk alone in the dark, worried about a lurking leopard or a jackal.
The walking habit, a habit borne out of the sheer necessity to regain peace and tranquility, to seek solitude, to walk away from the mayhem at my parents’ house, stayed with me for all these five decades. However busy I was, even after I moved to America, I always made time for my daily walk of three miles. I walked around the antebellum architecture of the deep South; the lovely park near lake Michigan; the walkway around the river in the beautiful Iowa University campus; the hilly streets of Moscow, Idaho; the nature preserve in the State University of New York at Binghamton; Wrightsville beach in Wilmington, North Carolina. No matter where I went, I walked. To maintain my sanity, to enjoy the fresh air, to smell the roses, and in later years to boost my waning metabolism. As beautiful as all these places are, my mind always went to back to my walks around Bangalore streets.
Like most of my peers who came to America, leaving behind their ageing parents, I went back to Bangalore periodically, to do my filial duty, spend time with my parents and siblings. Of course I never failed to take my morning walk. However, as the years went by, there were changes in the landscape, an old house torn down here, a multistory apartment complex sprouting up there, more vehicles, more people, more noise. My sister who lived couple blocks away from my parents’ house, dropped in every day, she and my mother continued their deafening discourse, as before. But now I wasn’t able to escape to the streets, as they too became extremely inhospitable, noisy and pedestrian unfriendly. It was almost impossible to cross the Margosa and Sampige roads, the relentless traffic, the blaring horns, the smoke, the heat, the dust. Even ten policemen couldn’t direct the chaotic traffic. The once salubrious city now became unhealthy. I couldn’t enjoy my walks anymore. I had to go to the neighborhood gym to trudge on a treadmill. The gradual but disgusting deterioration of the beautiful Bangalore streets, where pedestrians could once walk freely, is now complete. Many centuries-old trees were felled in the name of progress, the city reduced to a garbage dump.
As time went by my visits to Bangalore became sporadic, particularly after my parents passed away, one after another as if they couldn’t bear to be apart. Although my body is in America, my soul is still in Bangalore, the memory of the aroma of those warm, salty peanuts, spicy bondas and bajjis are still with me even after all these years.