12/14/14

On Winter and Change



Some enterprising merchant in Koramangala, Bengaluru, has tapped into the zeitgeist and put up a banner at an outdoor market where the pretty young things like to shop. Below neatly drawn sweaters in various styles is written “Winter is Coming” in a friendly font.

The hawker of woollens is not quite right. Winter is already here. That particularly delicious, sharp nip is in the air. The Tabebuia Rosea trees are topped by pink clouds. The stray dogs look shaggier, their winter hair growth giving them mullets and manes that would be the envy of ‘80s white male pop stars.

Tell old Bengalureans that winter is here, and they scoff. This is not Bangalore (still Bangalore, not yet Bengaluru for them) winter, they say.

The breezes are so refreshing this time of year, you say, making another stab at camaraderie. These are not the real Bangalore breezes, they mock.

The same sentiment is repeated across state borders. Back in Kerala my mother complains how it’s not a Thrissur winter either. The “Palakkad-an” wind, those special, cold gusts of air that blow down into the belly of Kerala from the top of the Western Ghats, arrives later and later each year. The same wind was blowing, she never tires of telling me, when I arrived mewling and red-faced into the world three decades ago.

It used to tickle me, standing in the garden in Thrissur, to think that this particular breeze was caressing the tops of trees in Ooty, Coonoor, Mettupalayam and Palakkad before arriving here, where it shook the mango trees in first blossom or the feathers of the red-rumped bulbuls twittering among the branches of the neem tree.

More than a decade ago, I’d stood one December morning in the Shakthan Thampuran Market and watched the same wind blow the tarp off a fruit stand. A man scurried after the blue sheet, now riding the air waves, a surfer on top of the town. It escaped his clutches and the fruit merchant had to look for a replacement. I like to think that sheet that got away managed to take a full bird’s eye view of Thrissur town: the stillness of the Vadakkunathan temple at ten in the morning, the grace of the Puthan Palli, the posh houses of Kuriachira, the tea- and toddy-sodden intellectuals at the Sahitya Akademi. At the end of its gadding about town it would have settled down for a peaceful life among the storks and other migratory fowl wintering in the endless green fields in Puzhakkal.

That wind is less ferocious now. Just like the winters in Bengaluru that disappoint the older generations of city dwellers and the newer ones who’ve moved here with high hopes of that “Bangalore climate”. Instead, we have choked roads and shoving matches in the morning as people try work off their frustrations. Garbage piles up. Mosquitoes proliferate. Mundane murders and odd fetishes fill up the city pages of the newspapers. An auto driver is killed by a friend who apparently can’t stop talking to the police about how he did it. A couple of techies are arrested in HSR Layout for keeping snakes as pets.

And yet, like a sad Thomas Hardy who, whilst gazing at a winter landscape, is reminded of joy illimited by an aged thrush, I too find something to cheer the soul. Not far from my apartment, for most of the last decade, a festering garbage pile had plagued the neighbourhood. Repeated complaints to local leaders, assorted government busybodies and the residents had failed. Sometimes the pile would be cleaned up, only to reappear, like a wart that refuses to go away. A few days ago, however, a number of citizens, inspired by the ‘Disruptive Positive Anarchy’ of The Ugly Indian group, had cleaned up the pile and in its place put a row of potted palms. As of writing, the pile has not returned.

Sure, winters are changing. The Bangalore and Thrissur of old are going to be memories that we’ll never relive. But some changes, with a healthy dose of disruptive positive anarchy about them, could go a long way in making up for that loss.