Notes from Nowhere Man
What really is a 360 degree view? Skimming through the odds and ends that thinker, writer, filmmaker, gardener, wine maker, cook, pianist and teacher Peter Colaco has left behind, I find the answer in his article titled ‘Squirrel’. An excerpt: ‘I thought of squirrels as gentle, furry creatures with bushy tails who spend their time chasing each other up and down trees. This illusion was nurtured by Mr Hanumanth Rao’s photograph of 4 squirrels running up a tree trunk. (Mr Rao owned a firm, which manufactured garments, but he was famous as one of India’s first wildlife photographers. He spent his spare time and money shooting (photographs, of course!) in the jungles (including Bangalore, then.) But proximity and a level viewing ground has made me review my position on squirrels. I have been living with my sister and brother in law on their fourth floor apartment in a remnant of the old town. The trees and buildings no longer follow the old dictum that trees should be higher than the buildings and buildings should not aspire above their proper stature...It’s a jungle in which we survive on a philosophy of live and let live. Some hostile creatures like snakes and centipedes are systematically exterminated (rash drivers are not!). Mosquitoes in their millions thrive on our climate. And squirrels are free, unfettered, charming (and destructive) partners in our shrinking space.’
The relevance of space and what time can add to it, define Peter’s 360 degree musings of subjects right under his nose, beyond borders, close to his heart – through Bangalore and its relation to music... ‘In the 1980s,’ I find among Peter’s writings, ‘there was a weekly musical evening in Cubbon Park. The (non-commercial) sponsors organised petromaxes, a drum set and an amplifier. Anyone was welcome to perform. The audience sat around eating chaat and sipping booze under the evening sky. The sticky, sweet smell of ‘grass’ wafted in the breeze...The music was pop & rock standard, and some improvised on the spot. I wonder what songs they would sing today (if ‘Music Strip’ were permitted by law.)...’
Internalising a new phrase for the road – Music Strip, I smile for the ‘gazillionth’ time at how words came easy to Peter. Just as they did to William Shakespeare, I venture to compare... ‘Kannada and Tamil,’ he writes, ‘have a collection of what linguists call ‘loan words’, borrowed from English, but with strange shifts in meaning. It is wise to be aware of the pitfalls of words you think you understand, in the hybrid dialect, which is called Kanglish. The first Kanglish words that come to my mind are bottle, lady, habit, admit... Lady (Eng): a woman of good breeding or social standing; a polite form of address for the above, e.g. Ladies and Gentlemen. In Kanglish, there is no singular. Ladies (pronounced ladeece) normally refers to women of questionable breeding, no social standing and easy virtue, whose company may not be got for a price. It is no compliment in Kanglish to be referred to as a ladeece.’
Shifting focus to those ladies and gentleman as prescribed by the English dictionary, it’s all about the P-word, Peter iterates: ‘The big bucks have hit Bangalore, but I will never get to earn them. I’ve given myself a makeover; my take on things is cool. But I just don’t understand the P-word. (U dn’t gt it dude?) The P-word. `Power Dressing’. (Actually, I have no hope of escaping the fact that I belong with dinosaurs. I am a contemporary of the late Rajiv Gandhi and a year older than Narayanmurthy (the dude who just superannuated himself) from Infosys . I also flinch at the thought of having Clairol rinsed into my hair. I bristle at gels, hair-conditioners and male perfumes. And once, when my young friends dragged me to the Mall, I lived in terror of using the escalator.) I am `sartorially challenged’, as P3P Ajit Saldanha would put it...I discovered the P-word (it was called a Dress-Code) when I was briefly at the Academy of Administration in Mussoorie. The Raj was not dead! We were not permitted to appear in public without coat, tie and shoes (with socks! of course). `Jodhpurs’ to breakfast on riding mornings; tennis shorts with sweatshirts for evening tea in the lounge. Just like Back Home – in England. According to the Probationer’s Handbook Sundays were for casual wear. The first Sunday I walked into the Mess in crisply ironed pajama-kurta. The `bearers’ asked me to leave. I sat down, ignoring them. Stalemate. They couldn’t throw me out physically, but they could employ go slow tactics with breakfast. The Mess President was called to `persuade’ me not to cause trouble. I would not be persuaded and threatened to leave under protest and put it in writing that, in post Independence Indian bureaucracy, even casual dress did not include a national costume. But you can’t buck centuries of colonial tradition. I eventually resigned and came home. It took me three months to shake off the familiar yoke of tie, coat and formal footwear. Thereafter I worked in Bangalore where dress codes became more and more optional. (Though not entirely. I was once sent out to meet a big MNC client. I went in my usual white bush-shirt and sandals. The boss, a snooty Brit, asked one of his native managers to inform me `We wear ties to work’. `I don’t!’ I retorted. Nothing further happened. I guess we had attitude. My attitude was `Nobody tells me what to wear. Talk about my work.’ Today’s attitude is `The Man with the bucks dictates the code. So once again it’s `We wear ties to work.’ Monday to Thursday. Friday for casuals. That’s our dress code back home -- in USA.’
And Peter grew in years, to become writer with a 360 degree perspective until, he discovered: ‘An interviewer on a TV programme asked me the standard question: `As an `Old Bangalorean’ how do you feel about the dramatic changes in our city?’ `Actually I no longer think of myself as a Bangalorean, the city is too big… I’m a Cooke Town person. Or a Hutchins Road person… Like many long time residents, I feel like a `Nowhere’ person. Just a resident with feelings of `un-belongingness’. Like the hero of The Beatles’ song? `He’s a real Nowhere Man, living in his Nowhere Land, Making all his Nowhere Plans… For Nobody.’
But Everybody, I’m quite certain, who has read between the lines in Peter Colaco’s magnum opus: ‘Bangalore – A Century of Tales from City & Cantonment’, and, or met him, or been one of his adoptees, as I have, can find the wonder of the Nowhere, but Everywhere Man’s reconnaissance of Bangalore and its people in ‘Odds and Ends’ – a book of Peter Colaco’s writings in the making...