A Pakistani travels through India as the world’s biggest democracy votes in the national elections. Follow his journey to know what happens and all the people that he meets on the way.
Day 3: From Ahmedabad to Bangalore
The flight from Ahmedabad to Bangalore was interesting. The private flier has revised the sacred script recited ritualistically by airlines all over the world, I mean the during flight announcements 'Metal ka chapta hisa buckle mein daal kar ...' etc. They addressed the passengers as ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls. But what amazed me most was that they give you a menu and sell food and drinks at 'sky prices' which were not really sky high.
A Mandir and a mosque and a church thrive in in close vicinity of each other in Shivajinagar in Bangalore. Karnataka has somehow found ways to a peaceful coexistence. This is not to say that the situation is ideal here and no divisions exist at social and political level but that these have rarely been violent.
This small road side 'church' in Bangalore is fashioned on the style of mandirs of the same genre. More interestingly, Virgin Mary in Karnataka wears a sari. A friend told me that in artistic terms the child Christ and mother Mary are treated as young Krishna and mother Yashoda and some of the latter's celebrations have been adopted into Christianity here as well.
Bangalore is undoubtedly the City of gardens. The weather in summer is not harsh. The average temperature in the hottest months, March to April, remains close to 32C. Most of the city roads are not wide enough but lined with trees on both sides. The city takes pride in its green cover and plant diversity. An attempt by the civic authorities in recent past to chop down trees to widen roads was forcefully opposed and foiled by vigilant environment activists of the city. The picture is of Indian Institute of Sciences.
Bangalore is considered as one of the most developed Indian metropolis. I called the State Minister for Transport to request a meeting. He didn't pick the phone, probably thinking that the unknown number is not worth responding. But I was pleasantly surprised, in fact shocked, when he called back. I later gathered from friends here that the government functionaries are quite accessible. A bigger surprise awaited me when I reached his house in an old street. There was not even a single security guard deputed there. I was not patted and neither did my hand bag go through scanners and there I was sitting in front of him. I needed no other evidence of the prevalent security situation in the city.
Tipu Sultan figures prominently in the popular political imagery in Karnataka. Muslims revere him as a saint-king and since he had fought bravely against the British, he is also accepted as a nationalist by non-Muslims. The Sultan thus is a cross-religion icon here that serves as a bridge between the two communities. A rickshaw driver who could speak some Hindi translated this Kannada sign board in the picture for me as 'Jay Karnataka, Mahatma Gandhi Road Rickshaw Stand'.
Muslims in Southern India are generally are doing well in trade and business and that probably distinguishes them from their counterparts in Northern India. In Bangalore, you can find Muslims in every business from real estate to hosiery retail.
Urdu serves as an important identity marker for the Muslim in Karnataka. You can find many shop signs in Urdu besides the local Kannada and English. I don't think it is the mother tongue of most of the Muslims here but since they learn to recite Quran and then Urdu as a subject in schools, they develop a basic understanding of it. They can handle basic communication with foreigners like myself in Urdu but whenever they turn to each other, they speak in Kannada. The percentage of people terming Urdu as their mother tongue in the 2011 census in the state was less than the percentage of Muslims in population.
At a newsstand in a Muslim locality, there were fewer Urdu newspapers and more literature on guiding Muslim women to be virtuous. It must be a tough task for the guardians of the traditions in the cosmopolitan environment of Bangalore where every other woman prefers western style dressing. But looking at the number of burqas in bazaars, you can also guess that the community's efforts at enforcing the veil code on its women have not been unsuccessful.
The famous leader from the pre-Partition era, B. R. Ambedkar, popularly known as Baba Sahab, is the most important Dalit political icon. His portrait adorned this cobbler's kiosk at a Bangalore road. The lower caste communities in India are struggling to get social justice and political and economic rights. A good part of electioneering efforts by the political parties is spent on maneuvering the support of various sections of Dalit communities.
Related: Elections in Tipu Sultan’s state