Monday, June 27, 2011

While It's Still His Birthday...

Here's presenting a gem composed by R.D. Burman who, if alive, would have been 72 today. Though not necessarily as popular. There is something magical about death: it makes the world realise the true worth of an artist. But when alive, the same artist has to prove his worth with every single composition or song or book in order to stay alive professionally. Or else the 'world', which can be very mean and ungrateful, tends to forget you -- until you die. Look what happened to Michael Jackson.

This song, Hum tum ghum sum raat milan ki, is close to my heart for two reasons. One, it happens to be one of the three songs that got ingrained in my mind when I was still a baby -- too young to even know what a song is. (The other two songs being Kanchi re kanchi re and Panna ki tamanna: both Pancham!). Reason no. 2: this song belongs to the great body of rarely-heard songs that Pancham created during his lifetime. This great body of work, containing songs that are as perfect as a Hindi song can get, was discovered and toasted only after he died. Chancing upon such songs is like finding an unopened whiskey bottle in the cabinet of your long-dead grandfather. This song is one of them -- I am so glad that I did not stumble upon it recently but had the tune buzzing in my head since childhood: Jhumnaa jhumnaa, jhumnaa jhumnaa.

It's a sensual song, and just look at the way Kishore Kumar has modulated his voice! He is neither humming, nor is full-throated -- he is somewhere in between, to suit the mood of the evening. Asha Bhosle, of course, matches up to him effortlessly. Sip the song and enjoy -- and while you do so, do remember me!

Pancham Beats

Today is R.D. Burman's birthday. Here's my review of the book, R.D. Burman: The Man, The Music, written by Anirudha Bhattacharjee and Balaji Vittal, which appeared recently in The Hindu:

The story of R.D. Burman is not so much about the successes he enjoyed as a music director during his short life. It is more about the stark truth that, had he lived a few weeks more, he would have had the last laugh, after having sustained a longish lean patch that saw one loyal producer after another deserting him.

Shortly before the songs of 1942-A Love Story stirred the nation in 1994, their composer had died heartbroken, at the age of 54, little knowing that the world would soon be at his feet — rediscovering, reliving, relishing, and remixing his music. Seventeen years after his death, his fans are still busy discovering — and gathering like awestruck schoolboys — hitherto unheard gems he had composed either during his lean phase or for films that had bombed back then.

In short, the story of R.D. Burman is not so much about his life as about his death, after which he seems to have permanently become Hindi cinema's No. 1 music director — ask the RJ of any Hindi FM channel or the salesman of any music shop. Whether such a story celebrates a posthumous triumph or laments an inevitable tragedy, it is difficult to say. But it's been told quite well — in delectable detail — by Anirudha Bhattacharjee and Balaji Vittal, who have done great service to Hindi cinema by bringing out this book.

For the fans of R.D. Burman, or Pancham, this book should be a Bible. That this is the first book to be written about him in the 17 years since his death is a matter of shame, considering the number of lives his tunes continues to touch even today. Better late than never, though, because in Pancham's case, the later you discover him, the better he sounds. Just like wine.

One, however, wishes the title of the book had been more imaginative. But R.D. himself never cared much for the titles of the films he made music for, be it the intriguing Gol Maal or the aggressive Hum Kisi Se Kum Nahin. Incidentally, these are two films whose songs are, like nursery rhymes, ingrained in the psyche of every Pancham fan, especially the notes of the trumpet that open their most famous songs — the Chaand Mera Dil medley and Bachnaa Ae Haseeno(Hum Kisi Se Kum Nahin), and Aane Wala Pal(Gol Maal), for example.

So who played the trumpet in these songs? It's an important question for the Pancham fan — as important as asking a sixth standard student, "Who's the President of the United States?" Commonsense suggested that it might have been Manohari Singh, Pancham's long-time music arranger who played the saxophone for the senior Burman in Gaata Rahe Mera Dil for Guide. But no, the man who played the trumpet was an Anglo-Indian musician called George Fernandes! For a hardcore Pancham fan like yours truly, this piece of information alone is worth the Rs.399 the book costs.

There are other priceless pieces of information too, but most of them tend to break your heart. This is what singer Abhijeet had to tell the authors: "From a time when he would record at Film Centre, Panchamda had slid to recording at a small studio in Khar. He would urge me to go to Anand-Milind and Rajesh Roshan as he did not have any work to give me."

Vidhu Vinod Chopra, who made 1942-A Love Story, explains Pancham's lean patch thus: "Lack of self-confidence. People close to him, including Asha Bhosle, left him. He began thinking that he lacked the ability and was burnt out. This was untrue, but he somehow got swayed by other people's opinions and ended up losing his belief in his music."

Pancham losing belief in his own music? This sounds funny now because his music is considered the yardstick for Hindi film music. But cruel are the ways of the world — the way it treats a man when he is dead is different from the way it does when he is alive. The book successfully dissects the hypocrisy.

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Life In A Metro: The Big Fat Truth

Worrying about weight has become a national obsession

Even as you read this piece, 17 million people across the country are sweating it out in their neighbourhood gyms, another two million are busy practising kapaalabhati kriya (according to Ramdev, each exhalation makes you lose 10-15 gm), about a million are carefully reading the ads of weight-loss clinics and saving their numbers on mobiles, and 0.75 million have just resisted the temptation to have an extra paratha or dosa for breakfast.

I just cooked up these figures – I could be wildly off the mark. Or, who knows, maybe I am not. But there is no denying the big fat truth. Never before in recent history, apart from the struggle for freedom, have urban Indians single-mindedly worked this hard towards a goal. The goal is simple: just losing a few pounds of weight! Achieving it is even simpler: walk as if your life depends on it. But as the wise man once said, the simplest of things are the most difficult to achieve. As a result, weight-loss has today become a multi-million-dollar industry in India.

Wasn't it only the other day when, in our society, being a little overweight was considered a sign of good health and prosperity? In north India, where I grew up, a man was expected to grow a paunch soon after getting married – it was the litmus test for his bride's culinary skills. If the man remained skinny, it reflected poorly on the woman: “She can't even feed her husband properly.” And in cinema-crazy south India, where I live now, men have traditionally been great fans of women who never starved themselves in order to look slim. Even today you have actresses who are worshipped for their girth.

Indians have always been comfortable with the idea of weight. Excess weight, at the most, was an unwelcome guest, but never considered an enemy who needed to be chased out. But the turn of the century, when we were reaping the benefits of economic liberalisation, saw the much-publicised wedding between obesity and illness. Urban Indians suddenly woke up not only to the health benefits of being slim but also the immense social benefits of staying in shape. A recently married man, for example, began to realise that while his newly grown paunch may speak volumes about his wife's cooking skills, it only made him less appealing to other women.

While it is heartening to see more and more Indians sweating it out, it is amusing that the eagerness to lose a few kilos has become an obsession. Weight loss, in fact, is urban India's biggest obsession today. It is threatening to become a disorder in itself. Eavesdrop on the conversation at the next table in a restaurant and chances are you will hear the familiar expressions, ‘calories' and ‘cutting down'. Calories – until 20 years ago, only physics students were familiar with the word. Go to any Page-3 party and you'll find people gushing to each other about their waistlines. And if you happen to detest a woman, you only have to tell her, with a hint of concern, “I think you have put on a little weight since I saw you last time. That time you were very slim.” Your words will play on her mind throughout the evening – the effect will be as disastrous as a doctor breaking to her the news of a terrible disease.

A few weeks ago, returning to Chennai from Bangalore in the early-morning Shatabdi Express, I found myself sitting next to a woman who must have been in her early forties. She was plump. When the attendant who handed newspapers to the passengers offered her a copy, she refused and instead covered her face with a shawl and went to sleep. While I turned the pages of the newspaper, she was woken up for breakfast, and then she busied herself with her mobile phone. Once I was done with the paper and was about to put it away, she spoke: “Excuse me, can I have it for a minute?”

I watched her curiously from the corner of my eye. She did not even throw a glance at the front page, as one does instinctively when picking up a newspaper, but went on turning the pages hurriedly, as if searching for something. She finally paused at page 17 and settled to read an article on top of that page. I peered discreetly. It was a London-datelined report she was reading, that was headlined, “Want to stay in shape? Drink donkey's milk.

Published in The Hindu MetroPlus, 26 June 2011.

Friday, June 24, 2011

Desi Thoughts, Desi Babu

This post is being written at a time when the scene outside the window of my study presents the perfect setting for a late-night Hindi-film murder: it is raining heavily and is pitch dark, except when the lighting brings into view the neighbouring houses for a fraction of a second; and the tyres of passing cars are making a sinister sound as they cautiously roll through water. On nights such as this, the fate of many families has taken an ugly turn -- in Hindi films, that is.

In the kitchen, meanwhile, rice is boiling. I can already smell it. Very few aromas are as delectable as that of boiling rice. The rice is going to be my second dinner tonight. Usually, I have my dinner very late -- at times so late that I can hear the chirping of the birds along with the beeps of the microwave. But what to do, I can't write on a full stomach. Today was one of those rare days when I had my dinner early, at the club, after an invigorating workout. I was hoping to lie down in bed and watch a movie or read a book and fall asleep. I was hoping to begin Saturday on an energetic note.

But while we were driving back home, I asked my wife (she's the one who always drives, because I can't) to stop at the supermarket. I wanted to buy cigarettes. As I picked up two packets of Gold Flake Kings and queued up to pay, I noticed, in their fridge, Amul Butter! All these years -- at least for the past 10 years -- I had become totally blind to the existence of butter, only because of the fear of its artery-clogging properties. I had even forgotten how butter tastes like, and was reminded of it only occasionally during my stay in luxury hotels. Planes and trains serve so little butter that you don't even get to taste it even after chewing up the two slices of bread.

But this evening, my heart melted like butter when I spotted the so-familiar Amul slabs, carelessly dumped away in the rack of the refrigerator along with varieties of cheese. Suddenly, memories came gushing! When was the last time I had Amul Butter -- with the knowledge that I was having Amul Butter? I couldn't recall. And when was the last time I had steaming rice with a chunk of Amul Butter melting in it, with half-a-lemon squeezed and some salt sprinkled over the combo? Fuck! This was even harder to tell. Whenever it must have been, it must have happened at the insistence of my mother, who was the only one to understand my taste in food.

My taste in food is very simple. Steaming rice with a spoonful of ghee or butter, served with a sliced lemon, a little salt, and a piece of green chilli to bite on -- that's luxury eating for me. Place a bowl of arhar ki daal and a saag around that plate of rice and I shall be grateful to you all my life. Embellish the plate with a ball of boiled potato mashed with chopped onions, green chilli and mustard oil and I shall be your slave. Simple food not only nourishes your body but also your soul -- or so I believe.

So, while the rice boils, I have decided to write. And to create the hunger for my second dinner, I have poured myself a drink. Since the cooker will shut itself off once the rice (and the two potatoes in it) are cooked, I can focus on the drinking and writing. As long as the birds don't begin to chirp when I take the butter out of the fridge.

But what do I write about? I really have nothing new to say. At the age of forty, I am now leading a pretty boring and predictable life. No new encounters, no new experiences. On top of it, courage seems to be deserting me. Time was when the wife would be out of town and I would remind myself excitedly about the things I could do in her absence. Today, whenever the wife is travelling, I ruefully remind myself of the things I am unable to do in her absence. I really miss her. A wise man would describe this phenomenon as 'conditioning.'

In such a situation, I can only blog about three things with confidence -- things that affect me on a daily basis: my mother, Kishore Kumar and writing. Each day, I make new discoveries about my feelings towards these three elements that currently rule my life.

Hardly a day goes by when I don't recall -- and relive -- that phone call from my father who conveyed the news to me in a very level-headed manner: "Your mother is no more." It is nearly two years now, but the measured voice of my father still keeps ringing in my ear. But I can't keep blogging about it, can I, especially when I have written several posts about my mother's untimely death?

And what new to write about Kishore Kumar? I have written countless heart-felt posts about him. Come to think of it, Kishore Kumar and my mother died at the same age. My mother had had one heart attack, a silent one, before she underwent a bypass surgery, while Kishore Kumar had had two, and even then he went on singing and dancing during stage performances. Of late, though, there have been things I wanted to write about him. Kishore Kumar might have been a great singer, but he could also be mean-minded. When R.D. Burman gave a chance to newcomer Abhijeet (a fellow Kanpurwallah) to sing some of the songs in Dev Anand's Anand Aur Anand, in which Dev Anand was introducing his son Suneil, Kishore Kumar got livid and stormed the recording studio.

Dev Anand managed to pacify Kishore Kumar, assuring him that all the songs pictured on him (Dev Anand) in the film would still be sung by him (Kishore Kumar). But Kishore Kumar still demanded to know why the voice of Abhijeet and not Amit Kumar was being used for Dev Anand's son Suneil. Can't blame Kishore: he was human and not above being insecure. The petty-mindedness, in any case, does not take away from the large-heartedness of his voice.

Then comes writing. What can I write about it? Writing can be a pain in the ass, and I would rather write than talk about writing, even though I have been foolish enough to write several posts on writing in the recent past.

What should I blog about, then? I would rather spend my time reading Desi Babu. Since the past few weeks, a number of friends who stop by my blog have asked me: "BG, who is Desi Babu?" I wish I knew. All I know is he is a kind soul and a brilliant writer who has recently started a blog, The Peanut Express. When I read his recent post, on Greece, I felt extremely flattered that a man of his calibre should have nice things to say about Ganga Mail. It's strange that some of the best writers I've known on blogosphere don't write for a living and choose to stay anonymous (and also have a Bong connection).

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Life In A Metro: Workout For The Brain

Instant messaging maybe good news for man, but bad news for mankind

Imagine having a dozen suits in your wardrobe, dry-cleaned and mothballed periodically, but nowhere to go. Every now and then, you open the wardrobe and look at the suits lovingly and longingly, hoping that an invitation will soon arrive requiring you to wear formals. But the invitation never comes. My condition is somewhat similar today.

I own a rather decent collection of fountain pens. I clean them with water periodically and fill them up with fresh ink, but rarely do I get the chance to put these pens to paper. Yet, greed keeps getting the better of me. About a month ago, I ordered a Ratnam pen from Rajahmundry (the brand is named after its founder Ratnam, who started manufacturing fountain pens in the town way back in 1932, after Gandhi gave the call to boycott foreign goods), but I am yet to find an occasion to take it out of my pocket. Other than using it to initial the attendance register every morning.

When you use a pen, especially a fountain pen, you think several times before committing your thoughts to paper because you don't want to be seen striking out words or sentences too often. As a result, only the clearest of thoughts get transferred when you are writing with a pen, unlike in the case of a computer, where the luxury of the ‘delete' and ‘backspace' keys spares you the trouble of thinking hard before typing out a sentence.

When the screen of the computer is staring at you impatiently, you often make do with thoughts that are floating on the surface instead of plunging deeper. Who has the time?

But, strangely, in an age when communication is instant, communication itself is fast becoming a vanishing art. What we do today – over phone, SMS or online messengers – is merely keep in touch or make small talk.

No longer do we have the urge to communicate, by way of gathering thoughts and putting them down coherently on a piece of paper, because the people we would have liked to write long letters to are now available online 24/7.

We've paid a big price for instant communication, and the price is introspection. While instant communication may be good news for man, it is a terrible thing to happen to mankind. About 100 years from now, when historians set out to document our times, what will they have to fall back on? They will have to break into email accounts or chat transcripts of the who's-who of the 21st Century. Even then, they are unlikely to stumble upon great pieces of literature, but only brief exchanges in SMS lingo.

Even as I write this piece, I can see the spines of two voluminous books peeping from the bookshelf – A Literate Passion(a compilation of the letters between Henry Miller and Anaïs Nin) and Under the Sun (a collection of letters by Bruce Chatwin, the celebrated travel writer).

Books such as these would not have existed if Henry Miller and Anaïs Nin exchanged text messages, or if Chatwin carried an iPad. This is another way of saying that in 100 years from now there will be no new biographies or compilations of correspondences between great minds.

In the latest issue of Time, the Pulitzer Prize-winning biographer David McCullough, when asked whether people not writing letters on paper will affect the study of history, laments, “The loss of people writing – writing a composition, a letter or a report – is not just the loss for the record. It is the loss of the process of working out your thoughts on paper, of having an idea that you would never have had if you weren't [writing]. And that's a handicap. People I research were writing letters every day. That was calisthenics for the brain.”

What he calls calisthenics, I call introspection, which died unnoticed the day communication became instant.

Published in The Hindu MetroPlus, June 18, 2011.

Friday, June 17, 2011

The Real Man

This evening, the status message of a friend on Google-talk read: A man can love a million girls but only a real man can love one girl in a million ways!

I did not ask the friend whether she had borrowed the line or coined it herself, but I went over it a few times and was tempted to add some words that would have made it read as: A man can love a million girls but only a real man can love one girl in a million ways (even while loving a million others)!

And then a few questions struck me (just as two questions keep striking me these days -- 1. Who on earth in Anna Hazare? and 2. What on earth is Civil Society?):

1. Who/What is a real man?

2. Why should he love just one girl?

3. Why should he love just one girl in a million ways?

4. Is it possible to reach the million-mark in one's lifetime (that was more of a thought than a question)?

5. What if the girl decides that he is not her kind of man, even if a real one: does our man continue loving her in a million ways?

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Midnight, Music And Musings

I was introduced to Bengali music quite late in life. I was already 12 or 13 when I first listened to Rabindra Sangeet; and it was not until the age of 26 or 27 that I discovered the other songs. I have described the discovery in great detail in an earlier post (I was searching the archives of 2009 and 2010 to locate this link but found out that it was written in 2007! How time flies).

Today I can boast of a decent collection of Bengali songs and no longer consider myself inferior -- even if not equal -- to a music-loving Bengali. I preserve the songs like gems because I have searched for them and earned them, unlike a Bengal-bred person, for example my wife, who has inherited them. And the best part about not being bred in Bengal is that there is a new discovery to be made almost every other day.

Tonight I made a new discovery -- a stunning one at that. For years I have been listening to a song, one my favourites, sung by Kishore Kumar and composed by Salil Choudhury for the 1977 Bengali film Kabita:

Shono shono go shobe shono diya mon
bichitro kaahini aek kori boronon...

I have never watched Kabita, but I don't need to see the film in order to like the song, which I have always liked for two reasons. One, Kishore Kumar is in his elements in this song -- he throws his voice not only out of his throat but also his heart and soul. Two, I was very familiar with the tune. Salil Choudhury had used it way back in 1966 for a famous song in the award-winning Malayalam film Chemmeen, which went in the voice of chorus as:

Kanaa poomeeninu povana thonikkaraa
Maanathe ponvala veeshana thonikkaraa...

And in the very next stanza, Yesudas takes over (now the tune is that of the Hindi song, Baag mein kali khili bagiya mehki from the film Chaand Aur Suraj):

Chaakara kadapurathini ulsavamaayi chaakara
Thera purathini malsaramaay...

So Salilda had separated his landmark Malayalam song (composed in Woodlands Hotel in Madras) into two more famous songs, one Hindi and another Bengali.

We are talking about the Bengali part here:

Shono shono go shobe shono diya mon
bichitro kaahini aek kori boronon...

What a full-throated song by Kishore Kumar! How he breathed life even into Bangla lyrics! But did you know who sang this song on the screen? Kamal Hassan! Here, watch it.

So that's the discovery I made tonight. I am sure many of you might already know it, but please don't kill my joy.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Life in a Metro — Saffron Robes, Black Money

Alas, Ramdev thought he could go from curing the body to curing a nation.

Dog biting man is no news, but man biting dog is – that's what generations of aspiring journalists have learned in classrooms. But today, for a TV channel, the incident of a man publicly biting a dog would not only be news but ‘breaking news'. The footage of the man biting the dog would be shown repeatedly, with perhaps a red circle pointing to the exact moment his teeth sink into the poor animal. And then there will be sound bites (pun not intended at all) from various people: a psychiatrist analysing how the man could stoop to such a level; an animal lover demanding imprisonment for the man; the veterinarian giving an update on the dog's recovery; and so on.

A few years ago, a cat stranded on the sunshade of a high-rise became the ‘breaking news' on one of the channels, and that was when I completely gave up watching news on TV. I began catching up with the day's events the old-fashioned way – reading the next morning's newspaper.

Until last Sunday, when I decided to make an exception by being a couch potato, and as a result found myself caught in the crossfire between the Central government and Ramdev. The channels – all of them – reported no news other than the midnight eviction of Ramdev from the Ramlila grounds in Delhi, where he had sat in protest to demand the return of stashed-away black money to the country.

As I watched the drama, memories went back to 2003, when I was initiated into yoga in an ashram located in the forests of Kerala. Also around that time, a channel called Aastha had started telecasting live the yoga camps conducted by Ramdev in various towns.

Since I knew my yoga by now, I took an instant liking for him: a good-natured, talkative, saffron-robed man who had taken yoga from hallowed ashrams into the drawing rooms and bedrooms of the common man. He demystified yoga and brought about a revolution in urban India.

But is that why he is so popular and powerful today? No. His real power stems from the evangelist-like statements he makes about the curative powers of yoga. The kapaalabhaati kriya alone, he says, can cure all diseases that afflict mankind. He, therefore, came as a godsend to the middle-class, middle-aged Indian – as someone who promised them quick, painless and free cures for their raised sugar levels and blocked arteries.

While the health benefits of yoga cannot be disputed, it is not known how many diabetics or heart patients were actually cured by following him on television. But faith can be blind. So the number of his followers swelled by the millions, and Ramdev went from strength to strength, holding a yoga camp even at Rashtrapati Bhawan, at the invitation of A.P.J. Abdul Kalam. And then, success went to his head. He became ambitious. He thought it was time for him to cure the nation of its ailments.

But Ramdev made two mistakes at the Ramlila grounds. One, he forgot to discard his saffron robes. A saffron-robed yogi is supposed to be a renunciate who pursues spiritualism and preaches detachment – he does not take on corruption but instead seeks to rise above it. Two, he forgot that people come to the camps for purely selfish reasons – they are interested in Ramdev as long as he talks about yoga and its benefits. Corruption is something they've learned to live with; their real enemies are diabetes and hypertension.

Which is why his campaign failed: it got mass coverage, but not mass support.

Today, all that is being talked about is whether the government was right or wrong in evicting Ramdev from the Ramlila grounds. Black money remains where it is.

Published in The Hindu MetroPlus, 11 June 2011.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Song Of The Road

The road called life -- my life, your life. From Rajnigandha, directed by Basu Chatterjee.

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Life In A Metro — Urban Blues

In its transition from Garden City to Mall City, Bangalore has lost its identity

When you live close to a city or town of public interest – say Agra or Pondicherry – you invariably end up never going there because the proximity makes you take the place for granted. “Oh, what's the hurry,” you keep telling yourself as the years roll by, while people living thousands of miles away keep coming in hordes to visit the very place.

I came to live in Chennai in early 2001, and it was a good four years before I happened to visit Bangalore, barely 360 km away, and five years before I finally travelled to Pondicherry, just 160 km away. They may say it's better late than never, but in the case of Bangalore, had I delayed my visit by a couple of years, I would have never known what it looked like in its heyday when it was also known as the Air-conditioned City, Garden City and Pensioners' Paradise. I had made it just in time – the reverse metamorphosis of the city, brought about by the IT revolution in the late 1990s, was beginning to be visible but still far from obvious.

As with everything ‘first', the sensations of that maiden trip to Bangalore in June 2005 are still alive. As soon as I stepped onto the station – it was close to noon by then – a cool breeze caressed my face. The portable, invisible air-conditioner was to accompany me throughout my stay. And one evening, when a small group of people had gathered in the balcony of a friend's house for post-dinner conversation, it became so cold that the friend had to dig out all the blankets and shawls she had in her cupboards. This was June, when Chennai was a furnace!

This small group of people, that included me, went pub-hopping every evening. Bangalore took great pride in its pubs – they weren't mere watering holes where people just went to get drunk; they were the symbols of its sophisticated culture where the young rubbed shoulders with the not-so-young to get drunk on music and conversation. The frothy beer was mostly an excuse – and, at times, the catalyst – for the enjoyment. How can I ever forget the sight of young men frenziedly playing the air guitar with their eyes shut as the DJ brought on Led Zeppelin!

June 2011: As I got off the train and walked down the platform on a bright morning, the first thing that struck me was the heat. I waited several minutes for that familiar breeze to brush past my face but none arrived. By the time I reached the parking lot, where a friend was waiting to show off his new car, I found patches of sweat on my shirt. “Next year we are going to buy ACs for our bedrooms. The summers have become quite unbearable here,” the friend told me as he navigated the station traffic. His wife added, “We would have bought them this year itself, but we spent quite a bit on the car.” I hadn't even brought up the weather.

The same evening, I returned to M.G. Road. I found it brutally scarred by the monster called development. It is no longer a place for a stroll, but a cramped pathway where you navigate crowds. And the less said about Brigade Road, once the most fashionable stretch in the city, the better. Today, it is a slightly upscale version of Chennai's Ranganathan Street, where it is impossible to walk without your elbows touching those of total strangers.

The Pensioners' Paradise is today undergoing reconstruction to accommodate the migrant workforce. The green cover is shrinking, the population is exploding. Much of the migrant population has never known the charm of old Bangalore: they are dazzled by its malls and so more malls are coming up. A huge mall is opening shortly on No. 1, M.G. Road – and is most likely to be named after its enviable address.

Later that evening, I made another heartbreaking discovery: the death of Bangalore's nightlife. I was aware that nightclubs now follow a strict 11.30 deadline, but what I didn't know was that many of the popular standalone pubs I had visited during my maiden trip had shut down. In any case, today's Bangalorean hardly has the time to wind down with mugs of beer. After a hard day's work, he has a bigger challenge waiting for him: the long and strenuous drive back home.

Published in The Hindu MetroPlus, June 4, 2011.