Category: Heritage

An Ode to the Humble Udupi cafe

Udupi standing restaurant
A typical ‘Sagar’ restaurant

Though Bangalore is where I have spent the most of my adult life (across two stints), I have made no secret of the fact that I am yet to warm to the city in the same way as my home city of Mumbai. And one of the key factors in that is food.

I do not think anyone will argue that, between Bangalore and Mumbai, when it comes to food, Mumbai is streets ahead. And when it comes to street food, it is almost unfair to make any comparison – Mumbai’s exceptional street food at very reasonable prices is one of the best in the world, in my humble opinion. As one travel guide put it, Mumbai’s street food culture is more varied than many entire European / Western cuisines!

However, if there is one area where Bangalore manages to beat Mumbai, it’s to do with South Indian snacks. And specifically, the culture of ‘standing joints‘ which go by the generic names of ‘Darshinis’ or ‘Sagars’. Also called ‘Udupi‘ cafes, these typically serve hot  vegetarian South Indian snacks usually cooked in full view of the customer and served with a range of delicious chutneys and sambar at pocket friendly rates – it is the closest that Bangalore gets to Mumbai street food. Add on the exceptional South Indian filter coffee which typically costs only Rs. 10, and you have a clear winner!

South Indian filter coffee
South Indian filter coffee

And like Mumbai street food, everyone, rich or poor, businessman or working class, can be seen standing and eating next to each other. The open nature of these cafe / restaurants with no glass frontage or door also makes for a very welcoming and comfortable space for segments of people who might otherwise think twice of eating out alone.

Almost every locality in Bangalore will have one of these. For a long time, it felt like the only exception was the area where I live. We had all the varied shops and restaurants you would expect in a typical middle / upper-middle income locality, except for one major gap – an Udupi restaurant. Thankfully, the gap was filled a few months. Maybe catering to the locality, this specific outlet does not have any ‘standing only’ tables. But in almost all other aspects, it sticks to the standard template. And, as was to be expected, the place has been buzzing almost from the first day.

 

State Birds of India

I recently came across an infographic about ‘State Birds of India’ on a Nature Group that I am part of. I am sure we all know that the Peacock is the National Bird of India, but did you know that each state of India (and most Union Territories) also have their own ‘State’ bird?

Not just Bird, each of them also has their own State Animal, Tree and Flower. The ENVIS site of Forest Research Institute has a helpful page on these – http://www.frienvis.nic.in/KidsCentre/State-Animals-Birds-Trees-Flowers-of-India_1500.aspx

Here are some (hopefully interesting!) observations of the various State Birds:

Indian Roller Bandhavgarh

The Indian Roller is the most common State Bird across India with 3 states – Karnataka, Telengana and Odisha – having this beautiful bird as their State Bird.

GREAT INDIAN HORNBIL

The state in the extreme South West of the country – Kerala – shares its State Bird with the state in the extreme North East of the country – Arunachal Pradesh. This is the Great Hornbill. And this reflects the commonality of habitat at these two extremes of the country, separated by over 3,000 kilometres of vastly different ecological habitats in between.

Indian sporting birds (1915) (14563975598)

The intriguingly named Mrs. Hume’s Pheasant is the State Bird of the North Eastern states of Manipur and Mizoram. The Hill Myna, an excellent mimic – is shared by Chattisgarh and Meghalaya.

Two of our more common birds – Asian Koel and House Sparrow – are shared by Jharkhand and Puducherry and Bihar and Delhi respectively.

Sarus cranes (Grus antigone)

Among more iconic species, the Sarus Crane is the State Bird of Uttar Pradesh, while the Great Indian Bustard is the State Bird of Rajasthan. An interesting anecdote relating to the Great Indian Bustard – apparently the only reason the Peacock was chosen as India’s National Bird was due to the unfortunate similarity of the Bustard’s name with another word in the Indian language… Which is a shame, because being India’s National Bird could greatly have improved the chances of this – India’s largest and one of the world’s heaviest flying – birds survival in the wild.

Great Indian Bustard from DNP

Note:

All Images have been sourced from Wikimedia Commons. Here are the attributions:

Nature in the City – Book review

Nature in the City

It’s not often that one comes across a non-fictional book that defies easy categorisation. Harini Nagendra’s ‘Nature in the City: Bengaluru in the Past, Present and Future‘ is one such book.

Yes, as the title suggests, the book is about Nature. But, unlike most books about Nature that look at Nature in a natural, untouched by human activities setting, this book is about how Nature is adopted within a highly urban area. Yes, there are quite a few books about trees in cities, but this is possibly one of the first attempts to analyse Nature as a whole within an urban setting.

As you start reading it, you realise that the book goes much beyond Nature. It looks at such varied topics as history, geography, religion, culture and entertainment within an urban setting, all keeping the context of Nature in mind.

The book draws primarily on the author’s extensive research in this space. Professor Nagendra is Professor of Sustainability at Azim Premji University, Bangalore and has authored multiple papers and books on this topic.

There is always the worry with books on such topics that it could drift into a drab, scientific exercise. It is to the author’s credit that this book avoids that trap and manages to retain a very human, familiar feel. The way the extensive material has been broken down into chapters also makes for an easy reading.

I would love to see similar books for other Indian cities as well.

 

Jans Vermeer

The-Geographer-C.-1668 - Jans Vermeer
The-Geographer-C.-1668 – Jans Vermeer

I have written briefly about how I got interested in Western Art in my previous post. While opportunities to view masterpieces of Western Art are rare in India, thanks to the Internet, it is not difficult to maintain an interest.

Recently, while visiting a house in Bangalore, I saw a print of a painting hanging on the kitchen wall. I had not seen this specific painting before, but something told me that this looks like a Vermeer painting. Thanks to smartphones and mobile Internet, a quick Search revealed that I was right. The print was of a painting by Jans Vermeer called ‘The Milkmaid‘.

I must admit that I was pleased at being able to recognise the artist. I had come across an article on Vermeer previously and am familiar with possibly his most famous work – ‘Girl with a Pearl Earring‘. I guess I must have seen this painting while reading about him, or maybe something about the style of the painting led me to the deduction. I do not know but I realised that I knew very little about this artist, so I started reading up a bit more about him.

Jans (or Johannes) Vermeer was a Dutch artist of the 17th Century. I guess it might be fair to say that when one thinks of Dutch artists, it is names like Rembrandt or Van Gogh that are more likely to come to mind. Indeed, while Vermeer did enjoy a modicum of success during his lifetime, he slipped into obscurity soon after his death. Part of the reason for this is that he did not have a large portfolio of work (only about 35 paintings are attributed to him).

This was the case till around the middle of the 19th Century when his work was ‘rediscovered’, nearly 200 years after he passed away. Since then, his reputation has grown to the extent that he is now considered as one of the masters of Dutch painting, indeed Western Art.

Western Art and Art Galleries

The Louvre
The Louvre

I gained an appreciation of art, especially visual art or paintings, from my time spent living abroad. For this, I will remain forever indebted to the fantastic Art Gallery of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia. It was here that my wife and I had our first taste of ‘Western Art’ and we were hooked. Not only do they have a good permanent collection housed in a fabulous building in an idyllic setting, but they organise wonderful exhibitions periodically that are well worth the cost of admission. Most importantly, admission to the general galleries is free.

We were also lucky, while living in Australia, to get the chance to see some of the greatest European paintings at an exhibition organised by the National Gallery of Art, Canberra. I still vividly remember standing in front of Vincent Van Gogh’s ‘Starry Nights’ and being moved by the intensity of the painting (fair to say I was Starry Eyed!). It was at this ‘Masterpieces from Paris‘ exhibition that I was really exposed to and intrigued by the works of Impressionist artists such as Monet, Seurat as well as others such as Degas and Gauguin.

While on a short trip to Chicago, I managed to take some time off to visit the Art Institute of Chicago where I was able admire more works from masters such as Van Gogh and Picasso.

We then moved to London where we visited The National Gallery. Unfortunately, I only visited once, not enough to form any lasting impressions.

The next highlight on our Art exposure was a visit to Paris. Yes, of course, we visited The Louvre and got a chance to admire Mona Lisa without any major crowds. What stood out for me though was the sheer scale of the museum. I would have loved to spend days there, but we only had a few days to see Paris and we had to move on to other sights.

The Musee d’Orsay is a wonderful museum. It’s of a size that does not overwhelm and sees far fewer crowds than the Louvre. Which means that one can admire its unbeatable collection of Impressionist paintings in peace and at leisure. And, of course, we saw the famous Clock.

One of the highlights of our time in Paris was definitely the visit to Musee de l’Orangerie and seeing Monet’s Water Lilies collection in the Oval rooms. An unforgettable experience.