The gentle historian

With his deft strokes of pen, Paul Fernandes archives Bangalore\'s past to offer a rich tapestry of urban culture of the Garden City.

Published: 24th February 2013 12:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 23rd February 2013 01:16 PM   |  A+A-

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Working out of his charming gallery, aPaulogy, in one of Bangalore’s few remaining leafy old neighbourhoods—Richards Town, Paul Fernandes is putting the finishing touches to his coffee table book due to be published in a few months. It is a delightful collection of artistic vignettes of Bangalore’s past. The book is certain to strike a deep nostalgic chord with long-time residents and give others an insight into a burgeoning, newly vibrant city that was once a sleepy pensioners’ paradise. Fernandes’s book contains a wide range of quirky insightful caricatures, done with an eye for detail and a tongue-in-cheek sense of humour. It chronicles a time in Bangalore when air traffic was limited to two flights a day; and the tiny HAL airport was a place where the rich, moneyed sorts went to be seen and see relatives off in style, from the viewing gallery. It was the time when arrival of Christmas was heralded by the hordes of turkeys, geese and ducks that made their noisy, smelly way to the Russel market. When young fruit thieves, aged between three to 13, raided the mango guava and tamarind trees in the neighbouring gardens with virtual impunity. When the dhobi was a weekly visitor with his bundle of starched laundry, each piece individually marked in corners with the family logo, balanced carefully on a reluctant donkey. When India Coffee House on the MG Road was a hotspot for heated political debate and patrons were sometimes packed so close together that the fellow sitting next to you could finish half your dosa before you realised it. When riding a cycle minus a kerosene oil lamp was serious crime.

Each caricature is accompanied by an anecdotal description in Fernandes’s succinct-yet-vividly-descriptive lingo. And through his detailed watercolours and drawings one can easily identify well-known, old Bangalore landmarks—schools, colleges, churches, theatres, bars, restaurants, tree-lined streets and graceful colonial bungalows.

An advertising professional, Fernandes graduated from MS University, Baroda, in commercial art and has illustrated books, and put together a collection of authentic street signs compiled from across India called Shine Board Arts which have sold thousands of copies across the world. But the real impetus to put down memories, places and people from his growing years and open his art gallery came when his ancestral home was torn down to make way for luxury apartments.

“I grew up amidst nine siblings and each of us had dozens of friends. We were always running around, climbing trees and getting into mischief. I knew at that moment that I had to recapture in some way the amazing experience of growing up in Bangalore, a city I loved,” he says. Fernandes has several illustrative works to his credit, including two books and several popular poster murals of Bangalore, Mumbai and Goa.

He is also compiling a series of drawings on the street professionals. Like dentists who could fit you with set of brand new (used) dentures for Rs 100, barbers who could give you a neat haircut for Rs 10 to ‘doctors’ who could cure you of anything, all plying their trade on the pavements of the city. “My work is a tribute to their resilience and versatility. As anonymous malls and antiseptic supermarkets take over our lifestyles, these guys will vanish too. Maybe if we tried a little harder to walk more, cycle more, plant a few more trees and focus on the simpler joys of life, we could get back a little of the Bangalore of the swinging 70s. A charming, liberal city with a cool climate, shady roads and lots of rain,” he smiles.

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