Bangalore’s idiots who speak an idiolect at home

D.P. SATISH writes from New Delhi: The travel writer Paul Theroux first came to Bangalore 35 years ago when he was working on his iconic 1975 travelogue, The Great Railway Bazaar.

But, he didn’t stop at Bangalore.

Bangalore was not on his itinerary.

It was just a small provincial town back then. So he got down at the Cantonment railway station and boarded another train which took him to Madras.

Theroux wrote these words on the City he breezed past:

“Small, sleepy, tree-shaded and bungaloidal, Bangalore was inconsequential at the time. It was a town of retired people, many of them British, Indian army officers, fading God-botherers with all that implied: gardening, bowling, cricket-watching, churchgoing, running, women’s institute jumble sales, among the clubbable and the soon-to-be decrepit in the limbo of staying on, the Indian equivalent of Cheltenham or Bognor Regis or Palm Beach. They could sit on the veranda, sipping cups of tea or chota pegs of locally distilled brain damage and moan how India was going to hell.”

35 years later, when Theroux was planning Ghost Train to the Eastern Star, in which he revisits many of the European and Asian settings of his earlier work, Bangalore’s image had undergone cataclysmic change.

The small town of retired people was a giant metropolis with global buzz. It was one of the places Theroux wanted to visit and explore. But unlike his fellow-American Thomas L. Friedman of the The New York Times who was floored hook, line and sinker, Theroux was still not impressed by Bangalore.

Bangalore disappointed him. He felt sad. He desperately wanted to run away from the so-called Silicon Valley of India.

He writes in the 2008 book:

“The longer I stayed in Bangalore, the less I liked it. Many of the Indians I met there wanted me to be dazzled by the changes, but I was more horrified than awed.

What went under the name of business in Bangalore was really a form of buccaneering, all the pirates wearing dark suits and carrying cell phones instead of cutlasses.

“The City had not evolved; it had been crudely transformed—less city planning than the urban equivalent of botched cosmetic surgery.

“The proud, tidy, tree-shaded town of the recent past was now a huge, unfinished and deforested City sagging under its dubious improvements, where it was impossible to walk without falling into an open manhole or newly dug ditch. Most of the sidewalks had been torn up and the trees cut down in the interest of street-widening. The bypass roads and flyovers were all under construction, wearing a crumbled and abandoned look, and the skinny men working on them, poking the clods of earth with small shovels, suggested they’d never be completed.

“And the Government of Karnataka, where Bangalore is situated, introduced tax incentives in the mid-1990s; this gave benefits to start-up companies and attracted foreign companies, too. Languages was another factor. Because there is no single dominant language in a babel of contending tongues (Coorgi, Konkani, Tulu, Kannada, Hindi and others), English was widely spoken.

Two men in my compartment said they spoke English at home, though theirs was almost an idiolect, or at least a variety of English that I didn’t find easy to understand, with the usual archaisms, of which “thrice” and “mountebank” and “redoubtable” were just a few.”

Also read: ‘If IT takes away Bangalore’s values, burn IT’

‘A City whose soul has been clinically removed’

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