Grapevines of the Past
Long-time thespian and first-time author Kirtana Kumar speaks about her book Bangalore Blues, her motivation for writing it and how it captures the city’s sensibility and ethos
BENGALURU: Kirtana Kumar has written Bangalore Blues for everyone. For the old and the new. For the aged and the young. For the curious and the nostalgic. For the long-time Bengalureans and the many fresh faces in the city.
“The fourth story, ‘Dear Stranger’, addresses this. It invites someone who may not know the Bangalore of the past ‘to come in and have a dose’. It offers the possibility of getting to know a city. While it allows old-timers the joy of familiarity and recognition, it equally offers a ‘stranger’ to the city the chance to get beneath the skin of a certain Bangalorean sensibility and ethos, through an understanding of the geography, the landmarks and the pace of the city,” says Kumar about her debut book.
The book features 33 vignettes of the city. The number 33 has no special significance to it other than it ‘resonates’ with the author. Maybe what 42 is to Douglas Adams, 33 is to Kumar. While the book offers enough to a newcomer in the city, Kumar had to look heavily through the past during the research process to capture the city’s essence and she ‘had a blast doing it’. “Being a research junkie, I loved doing a deep dive into the pop culture of the past decades.
What music was played in public spaces in Bangalore in the ’70s? What movies did we watch? What is the architectural form of Mayo Hall? Who were the early Indologists? When did the Bianca toothpaste toys come into vogue? And also, reading documents such as the Mysore Gazetteer and having conversations with old-timers. The stories took a relatively short time to write. I must add that I had a fantastic and caring editor who was as pedantic as I was! Plus, we both lived through the ’60s and ’70s, so we really got into the nitty-gritty of it,” she shares.
For Kumar, the only real challenge in writing the book was time. “Finding the time between my other work to edit, fine-tune, design and publish this book. The evocative black and white photograph of a prominent media house on the cover is by Ranjit Chettur of Jumpcut Pictures. Ranjit would often call and ask when the book would be out and I’d always have to say another week..another fortnight,” she explains.
The motivations behind the book are multifold and so are the origins of its title.
“Perhaps the motivation was the snow, perhaps it was the pandemic. In 2021, I found myself alone, in an atelier in Villa Waldberta on the banks of Lake Starnberg, for two months. I was reflecting a lot on my father and what a funny guy he was, a Cantonment guy, tenderly connected to all that was charming and maverick about Bangalore. The stories poured out of these reflections. The title is a play on words. Bangalore Blues are our local variety of fox grape - vitis labrusca. Blues are the genre much loved by my generation of music-mad Bangaloreans. Blue was also the colour of the jeans we wore,” she says.
Kumar feels due to the seemingly perennial evolving nature of Bengaluru, traces of the old Bangalore can hardly be seen now, except maybe in some people.
“Look, cities evolve, people come and go, so long as Bangalore offers the possibility of livelihood to people, gentrification is an inevitable reality. Yes, the Bengaluru we see today doesn’t much resemble the Bangalore of yore, but that is the nature of the beast. I do see the old Bangalore, but in certain people, communities and subcultures, rather than in bungalows or monkey-tops. It has to do with living in proximity to and taking great pleasure in, diverse ways of life,” she says.
Primarily an artiste of the stage, a thespian and a playwright, penning a book was an ‘offering of her universe’.
“I’m a theatre artiste and writing this book has been a joyous extension of performing or directing a play, teaching young people or writing for the stage. An offering of my universe, whether through words, movement, visuals or text, and then, my curiosity about whether people wish to walk in,” concludes Kumar, who will soon be taking eight Theatre Lab (Youth) students to Germany on March 31 to perform a play based on Reduced Inequalities at Schauburg Theatre, Munich.
There are also more upcoming Bangalore Blues events, including a large one at the Bangalore Club on May 27.