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Business News/ Mint-lounge / Features/  Local Geography | Cooke’s corner

Local Geography | Cooke’s corner

A Bangalore neighbourhood of pluralities and divideswhere pork chops and ringtone fatwas happily coexist

The Bangalore Pork Shop. Photo: Aniruddha Chowdhury/Mint.Premium
The Bangalore Pork Shop. Photo: Aniruddha Chowdhury/Mint.

Local Geography | Achal Prabhala

I live in a quaint corner of the Bangalore cantonment named for G.H. Cooke, a British bureaucrat of the 1920s. Cooke Town is a mix of tumbledown bungalows, low-rise apartment buildings and parks, and as such is hipster heaven, chock-full with all manner of academic, artist and activist. Twenty years ago, the living was just as easy, the real estate was cheaper, and the hipsters were foreign students: Africans and West Asians who had escaped here to study and grow up. They’ve been priced out, but their legacies live on in the Lebanese restaurants and Syrian shawarma stalls that dot this part of town.

Centre for Islamic Studies. Photo: Aniruddha Chowdhury/Mint.
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Centre for Islamic Studies. Photo: Aniruddha Chowdhury/Mint.

Like me, I think the hipsters come for the human diversity, a characteristic in short supply in richer, newer neighbourhoods in the city, where people and their palaces blend into a kind of tranquillizing monochrome.

A few blocks up on Hutchins Road, where I live, is an old cantonment establishment, the Bangalore Pork Shop (its sister enterprise, the Bangalore Ham Shop in the centre of town, dates back to 1928). Many decades after its founding, a group of local residents constructed a mosque four doors away. The gracefully arched Masjid-e-Munawara sits on a large parcel of land, and is fronted by a multi-storey commercial complex. The Centre for Islamic Studies, a relatively new outfit, rents the ground floor of this complex. The Centre has a large library, offers the usual range of classes, and hosts strident weekly debates on “comparative religion"—something of a go-to phrase in the Indian Da’wah circuit. Its front windows are plastered with instructions, especially prominent among which is a poster relaying a fatwa against mobile ringtones.

The gods are all around us. A few years ago, I used to be woken up every Sunday morning by emissaries of the Pentecostal Church, who were invariably solemn and mournful, and inexplicably Korean (the Jehovah’s Witnesses who congregate at the corner of my road, on the other hand, are a surprisingly jolly lot).

Three doors down from the house of God is another house of swine. Lusitania, named for the Goan heritage of its proprietors, was established 30 years ago by a family who moved to Bangalore from Dar-es-Salaam, Tanzania. Lusitania sells every kind of meat, as well as home-made brinjal and prawn pickle, and is best known for its sausages, bacon and pork chops.

Fine, so I don’t live in the kind of cosmopolitan paradise that I want to believe exists. But maybe the bar for communal dissent is too low, and the bar for harmony, too high. Perhaps pork chops and ringtone fatwas do a happy neighbourhood make. For sure, anyone who earns a living in Cooke Town would laugh at it being considered anything else. People here are trained to keep calm and carry on, and any way you look at it, this is a fine achievement.

Achal Prabhala is a writer and researcher in Bangalore.

A monthly instalment of intimate takes on city neighbourhoods.

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Published: 13 Apr 2013, 12:09 AM IST
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