Last weekend I met Bangalore’s other Nandan. He’s not in the information technology business but like Nandan Nilekani, he has a bunch of faithful troops at his command. Musically inclined ones too.
We met in the well-maintained neighbourhood park under a thick canopy of rain trees. The Bangalore resident, originally from Tamil Nadu, stood smartly in the Wheeler Pavilion, constructed in 1925, and saluted before doing his thing. Bangalore, despite its plundering politicians and that luxury eyesore (where even handkerchiefs cost a few thousand rupees, according to my father-in-law) is quite a city.
Over the years it’s snagged many monikers: India’s IT capital; India’s suicide capital; Asia’s fastest growing city; and now I’ve got one too. Mumbai may be India’s trendiest city, but Bangalore is definitely its coolest. It has Jersey cows; India’s first roads made from plastic waste; when men bump into you in the park they say sorry ma’am; traditional Iyengar bakeries continue to sell the husband’s favourite masala toast; Mizo churches stand pew-to-pew with Telugu churches; so many of Bangalore’s citizens are eco-warriors or neighbourhood ninjas; it’s Ground Zero of India’s biggest voter education campaign; and musical camaraderie is everywhere.
Hidden city: Beyond the UB City Tower. Madhu Kapparath / Mint
Yes, I know there are worries that Karnataka may become the new headquarters of India’s saffron fringe but at the Richards Town Residents Association’s musical evening, where I met Nandan, that face of Hindutva seemed far away.
Impeccably dressed residents in suits and safari suits sat on red plastic chairs; Kanjivaram saris mingled with floral-print dresses and stylish burqas sourced from the nearby Islamic Boutique. Nandan had everyone’s attention. Subhedar C. Nandan, bandmaster of the Madras Sappers Military Band, one of the oldest regiments in the Indian Army (its history dates back to the 18th century), took his band of brass-, woodwind- and percussion-playing gents through marching tunes, patriotic songs, popular tunes and everyone’s favourite hymn.
Music in the park is a common enough occurrence in Bangalore though currently there’s talk of the popular Sunday evening classical concerts at the Cubbon Park bandstand being discontinued for lack of sponsors. At our smaller Richards Park get-together, there were no sponsors, just a list of helpful people who made the event possible—a former chief of naval staff, several policemen and horticulture officials, the neighbourhood café and bakery owners, and even Ms C.R. Geetha, the local traffic police inspector. The chief guest, a brigadier, quoted Homer to emphasize that music is a serious matter for the Armed Forces; the local electric guitar-wielding talent tuned his instrument to Hotel California; and the evening azan floated undisturbed in the background.
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Nandan’s boys played the old marching darling Kadam Kadam (and A.R. Rahman’s version of Vande Mataram); they zipped through Bangalore college-boy favourite Surangani; and even did a military take of Aqua’s Barbie Girl. The husband looked blissful when they played Colonel Bogey’s March (don’t miss the tubas, he whispered). The finale, Abide With Me, began with the bugle players who stood on the stone fountain in the distance.
After the show, I chatted with Nandan. He was so soft-spoken, I had to sidle up uncomfortably (for him) close to hear what he was saying. I asked him if he enjoyed playing in the park. “If you enjoy, I’m happy,” he said. Had he heard of Bangalore’s other Nandan? He looked puzzled. No, he said. He hadn’t.
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