‘You may see the city slowing down’ : Five poems by Malcolm Carvalho

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‘You may see the city slowing down’ : Five poems by Malcolm Carvalho

"I’ve felt like a dot surrounded by dots / all being pushed along a curve, / through the bowels of the city."


I don’t know when I shed my roots
and my new ones entrenched themselves in this city.
In this city,
if you look past the traffic,
you might fall in love.
Like I did.
I have grievances of course.
Namma Metro does not run through my part of the city.
The powers that be did not deign to offer that to Koramangala.
The auto driver enthusiastically asks me 'Yelli Sir?',
then on hearing the destination,
he sizes me up, guessing my net worth,
and quotes his price,
a number that makes the bus fare to Mysore look like a steal.
One way streets divide the city into several ventricles,
making Bangalore look larger than it really is.

I am a foreigner in this city where many are foreigners.
I filter words from the Kannada conversations I overhear
at restaurants,
in the cab, in buses,
in the rare ones at the office,
and push them into my head.
My tongue is a slow learner;
understanding the difference between beda and beku is as easy as flipping a coin.
Turns out,
though I haven't learnt a lot,
it is still enough to tell the guy at the breakfast place
that I need coffee with 'swalp sakhara haaki'.

I came to Bangalore four years ago,
my skin tempered with the smells and sounds of Mumbai.
Even then my taste buds didn’t take long to adapt to idli and filter coffee,
or to long drawn weekend breakfasts at Hole Lotta Love.
I still can’t understand why Koshy’s is rated as high as it is.
It was even easier to get accustomed to the green spaces.
In Mumbai, the nearest park maintained a good distance from where I lived.
Progress brought malls nearer but not an acre of green.
Down here, I find parks sandwiched in between homes and cafes and restaurants and roads,
and I initially wondered why Bangaloreans fuss about this lack of open spaces;
as a Mumbaikar, I could not complain.

The dip in the temperature tells me I’m walking through Cubbon Park,
the bamboo plants arching over the road.
Then I question why vehicles zip through the place.
Bangalore is not too different from Mumbai after all.
Everyone is in a hurry to get ahead of others in a race to go nowhere.
When I need to get away from the city,
I push my way up Nandi Hills,
huffing yet rejoicing in the morning misty air,
while motorbikers come rushing down like boulders
forcing cyclists and runners like me to dodge their path.
I read what analysts say about Bangalore,
and wonder if I moved in too late.
Many say the city will be unliveable by the 2020s,
with water getting rarer than it is now.
I get a sense of deja-vu,
having moved from Mumbai for similar reasons.
This garden city too is bursting slowly,
just as I am beginning to fall deeper in love with it.


Traffic Lights, Hawkers and Cavities

I’m at the junction where Queens road meets MG Road meets Kasturba Road meets chaos and cacophony.
Ten seconds till the lights go green,
Enough time for candy floss sellers to wriggle between cars,
and thrust their garish pink wares
arranged radially on a towering wooden pole
at passengers shielded by glass panes in AC cars
or at those leaning back in their high seats in the bus.

The vendors’ target clients though
are the children distributed on scooters
in ones or twos,
and often in numbers the vehicle manufacturers did not factor in
when they tested the two wheelers.
The hawkers drop their pace,
hoping a guardian would give in
at the right moment.

Unaware of these market conditions,
a hand juts out from an auto,
and a hurried transaction later,
a toddler – looks like he’s two –
clutches a candy stick,
his fingers dwarfed by the cane.
He pulls the plastic wrapper,
the woman next to him
raps his forearm.
She must be his mother.

The lights go green,
our paths diverge as the auto careens,
without warning,
to the right.
In a parallel universe, indicators are decorators.

The pink bundle recedes into a dot,
I thank myself for not having a sweet tooth
as my tongue rolls around
my set of twenty-three full and five half teeth.
The cavities are not my doing.
I curse my dentist,
and message a friend if he knows
someone new in Koramangala.



You may see the city slowing down
if you look carefully.

It’s a little hard to notice,
like the missing beat of a mildly arrhythmic heart.
You must place your thumb just right,
quieten your own heart,
and wait.
Wait and watch the road.
And through the steady lub-dub of vehicles,
you will hear the odd beep,
see the irregular kink in the stream of motor consciousness,
as pulsing engines fight themselves
and each other.

You will see
headlights groping number plates,
handlebars invading the personal space of rear-view mirrors,
as every inch of black on the road is covered.
there's only so far we can tuck in our elbows so we don’t touch the other,
only so much we can let the fumes of the motorbike ahead graze our noses without us taking them in,
only so much we can turn up the music in our earphones,
before the traffic light turns green.

the city won’t be slow for long.

Because I've seen machines drill through the road at Ejipura.
Their rumble, like a sprinter's heartbeat,
is rapid.
It halts abruptly after a quick burst
and then the machines go on again,
piercing the earth's belly,
breaking through the tar and gravel and concrete
so, we can see the brown underneath.
It's hard to say
if the sight of brown earth surprises us
or if it is the other way around.

They're building an elevated corridor, the signboards say.
In my head, I euphemise it.
I tell myself
they're laying the groundwork for a concrete rainbow that will arch over Koramangala.
This rainbow will change colours dynamically -
From red to blue to green,
and from black to white to grey,
depending on the vehicles that come by.
In a few years,
the city will be strapped with this new pair of wings,
in addition to the ones at KR Puram, Silk Board and Richmond Circle.
And if you see it from the perfect angle,
the arch may look like an eye,
the vehicles rushing under it with their headlights flickering
would resemble a pupil dilating and contracting,
their beat close to resonating
the rumble of the machines
we hear now.

That is a big if.
For when the work is done,
and the jigsaw of girders and columns
collectively flexes its muscle,
where would you place the lens
to snap a picture?
Would you have enough legroom
for a tripod?
And would you further wonder
if the focal length
was just right?
Or would you have to back up so far enough
that you would fall in love
with infinity?

So how many band-aid solutions will we build with these crisscrossing highways?
How much more will we point our fingers
at clogged roads,
while we keep filling every new spot with our gas guzzlers,
flitting around the city in a single-passenger SUV?



Between the sparse green of Indira Nagar
and the fluff of clouds
arranged as if they were to stand in a straight line,
I see a metro coach slide out of the station in the distance.
The coach is slow,
not in the clunky grinding manner
of a machine with disjointed movements,
but with a deliberate elegance,
like a chameleon pushing out a limb
and pulling its body forward.
I contrast this leisurely scene against my occasional rides on the metro.
Rides whose pace lies somewhere
between a sprint and a marathon,
not quite bisecting the distance,
a tinge of hurry in the belly of the train.
I’ve felt like a dot surrounded by dots
all being pushed along a curve,
through the bowels of the city.
And when the line bursts out above the ground,
I look down at stories in progress in the spaces below,
the intersections and one way streets
no longer a surprise plot twist with my bird’s eye view.
I see lanes and roads branch out like clogged veins,
and rush past them
as if I were flicking through the pages of a novel,
overlooking character detail so I can get on with the plot.
How much can a skimming read help?
Maybe what I see now is the weekend mode of the metro
when trains soak in the laidback city,
watch kites soar above,
let people walk in and out,
without having to rush
to a Monday meeting,
or dash off an email,
tick off items as read,
and then talk about the weekend gone by
over cups of tea,
the tea bags dangling out
like the residue of their lives
sandwiched between five-day work weeks.
Maybe the train
also uses the weekend
to go easy,
to take time
and think if it would like to do something else,
something offbeat, off the track,
questioning if it always has to shuttle between Baiyappanahalli and Mysore Road.
And perhaps when it sees another coach heading the other way,
the mass of metal gliding past it,
it steps up the pace,
for it is due to arrive at Ulsoor within the next two minutes.
Maybe it also thanks its stars
or the makers of the metro
for a single line means no competitors,
no coach
creeping up behind it
and beating it
to the station.


Fruits and raiders

A jackfruit tree stands across the street outside my transient home here.
Its fruits have turned black.
I’m guessing the insides might have turned overripe too.

It wasn’t always this way.
Some months ago
while I stood in the balcony
basking in that rare warm Bangalore sun,
three boys, all on the brink of puberty,
stood below the then-ripe jackfruits,
plotting to get their hands on them.

The skinniest of the three
appeared to have taken on the role of the principal architect,
and directed one of the other two
how he was to scale the tree
and pluck the fruit.
The third, he decided,
would keep watch,
looking out for the old uncle of the house,
who would turn up any moment,
driving them away with a stick.

Just as Mr. Climber rolled up his sleeves to his elbows
and his pants to his knees,
the villain of the piece made his appearance.
Clad in a vest and lungi,
the old man seemed older than Mr. Architect might have anticipated.
He did not carry a stick,
just strode out
and yelled at the three.

As the would-be-thieves made their getaway,
he got on to his scooter
and chased them till they disappeared
around the corner of the street.
The fruits remained glued to the tree,
drying further as the months rolled by.

I think they will fall off by themselves any day,
and we will not be able to tell them apart from stones.

In another month
the tree will bear fruit again.
I wonder if those boys will turn up once more
perhaps timing their execution at a more opportune moment,
when the family is away on vacation
or when grumpy old man is lost watching TV.

Maybe they will assemble a bigger gang.
Maybe they will not come again.
Maybe the tree and the house will wait
till the fruit turns black.
Its insides, yellow and pulpy soft,
may never see the light of day.


Malcolm Carvalho writes poetry and fiction when he is not occupied with his daytime job of a software engineer. His work has been featured in Spark, 365 Tomorrows, Reading Hour, Literary Yard and Muse India. He has attended the Bangalore Writers Workshop, and is a regular at weekly poetry meet-ups at Lahe Lahe in Bengaluru.

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