Once upon a time, before computers in Bangalore


E.R. RAMACHANDRAN writes: With computer-related work occupying more than 80% of jobs, at last count, one wonders what kind of jobs people were doing, before the advent of computers? What were grownups doing in Bangalore and other cities once they were out of college, vocational institutes and engineering colleges?

Bangalore had a system of its own.

The city spread a sleeping blanket, lined with a mosquito net, as it were, over its snoring populace till 7.30 when the first sip of filter coffee would warrant itself.

The first worker if you could call him, the milkman, would have announced himself well before dawn and milked his cow right under the watchful eyes of the housewife. It was this fresh milk that would whiten the strong coffee that would wake the city from its deep slumber.

Sometimes the cool climate urged normal human beings to curl up further and sleep a bit more.

Most of the able-bodied adults in the City were hauled up by 6.30 in the morning into hundreds of buses and driven off 15 to 20 miles  and disgorged into grey and dull factories better known by their abbreviations and acronyms:  HAL, ITI, BEL, HMT, AMCO, REMCO, NGEF, etc.

Later, some more factories joined the list: BEML, BHEL, MICO, ITC etc.

If you were an early-riser, you would see groups of mildly shivering people in dull uniforms with morning newspapers near street corners waiting for their designated bus.

Once the buses had driven a quarter of the working population out of the sleepy City to sleepier factories, the roads were fairly empty. If you belonged to the other three quarters of the population and were still in bed, you had a choice of being woken up by people practicing different vocations.

The ‘Budubudike Dasiah’ would unexpectedly land at your door-step, shaking his budubudike and with his Kani  Shastra (prophecy). Vegetable vendors shouting ‘Soppu soppooo’ would get into a hi-decibel match with women sporting large kumkumas on their forehead announcing ‘Mosuru kanamma, mosuru….

By around 9am, the AG’s office and Athara Katcheri gang would start their walk from different parts of the City reaching the office having chewed the last of their Mysore viledele with Sugandhi adike, or having inhaled through the nostril, the last pinch of Ambal nashya.

Later, the Vidhana Soudha was to become the magnet drawing Bangaloreans from all over town.

The self-employed merchants community, the last sort of the workers, would leave for B.V.K. Iyengar Road, Mamulpet, Chickpet, Taragupet, Akkipete, Balepete and many more petes in smaller gullys the latest.

Here they would operate their business wholesale, retail and from matchbox size shops all day till 9 at night moving the city’s economy. They would have their lunch either at Udupi Krishna Bhavan or Malabar Lodge, or spread an old newspaper on the cash counter and have their meal, with the shop’s door partly closed which meant the ‘proprietor was having his lunch!’.

The city wore a ghostlike appearance, especially when the students got into their class after their morning prayers around 10 in the morning.

Only sounds such as ‘Hale kathri, chakuge saane hidiyoduri ’, ‘Hale batte, kalapathina reshme seerege stainless steel pathre, Ammavre! ’ would rent the air in the afternoon which was strictly meant for women to get the kitchen implements sharpened or get rid of their old clothes for brand new stainless steel kitchen ware.

Both the seller and buyer would play a cat-and-mouse game until it left both exhausted and settle for anything to clinch the deal. Thus, a whole lot of old clothes would leave the attic to be replaced by a shimmering 4–level tiffin carrier or a big all-purpose vessel which would be displayed right at the entrance to catch the eye of the weary husband dragging himself  in.

A detailed narration of how the triumphant deal was secured would follow while serving him kodubale and coffee!

BaLe! BaLe namma BaLE!’ would be the call of the bangles seller around noon who would make his appearance just before Varamahalakshmi and continue throughout the festive season.

If you felt the pension City was dead and gone, life would mysteriously resurface late afternoon with one bus following another into the city. Soon, it would turn into a cavalcade of buses of different colours—blue and cream for HAL, blue and silver for ITI—wearing different uniforms, as it were, streaming into the city.

After making a telephone, radio set, boiler, a walkie-talkie or whatever, around a dozen pair of weary legs would drop off at each stop, carrying a rolled up copy of K.N. Netakallappa’s ‘Sudha’ or P. R. Ramaiah’s ‘Thayi Nadu’ and troop back home.

After uppittu or a menthyada dose over a cup of coffee, and a quick shower would see them spill to the road one by one.

Quite a few of them would take out their well-oiled bicycles out and, like a  cowboy walking his horse, walk their cycles having the other arm over their friend’s shoulder, for the daily dose of one-by-two coffee.

The shopkeepers after downing shutters at night would reach home with a parcel of Mysore pak or Jhangri catching kids just about fall asleep.

At night, the last of the businessmen selling his ware would speed through the City in his cycle lit by wick and kerosene lamp shouting ‘Thati nungu, Thati nungu’ just as people  settled down  to listen to Melville de Mello or a Chakrapani or Roshan Menon, for  the 9’0 clock news.

Thus would end the business cycle before sleep embraced the City again.

Photograph: courtesy Gopal M.S./ Which Main? What Cross?