All my life, I have been moving, traveling, relocating. I have never lived in a house, with a neighborhood, and a backyard. Thus far, apartments and suitcases and occasionally hotel rooms have been my life. With so much change, it is difficult to find a place you can call home. But, one suburb, north of Bangalore city in Karnataka, India does have my heart.
Yelahanka New Town, despite its name, has a long and rich history. Dating back to the 12th century, Yelahanka was a region under the rule of the Chola dynasty, then known as “Ilaipakka Naadu”. Later, the Kempe Gowda rulers, acclaimed as the founders of Bengaluru (Bangalore city) in 1537, established Yelahanka as their capital. The region was first known as “Elavanka,” which gradually evolved into “Yelahanka” under the Yelahankanadu prabhus (rulers of Yelahanka), descendants of the Kempe Gowdas. However, history should not be mistaken for antiquity, for Yelahanka New Town is nothing if not a bustling, developing ecosystem which many, including myself, call home.
The most omnipresent feature of Yelahanka is the main road which interconnects the people who call it home. Major Sandeep Unnikrishnan, a soldier in the Indian army who died fighting during the 2008 terror attacks in Mumbai is whom the road is named after. Although the name reflects national pride, it is still personal to the people who live in Yelahanka. Near my old apartment, on the opposing sidewalk, stands a watermelon vendor. For almost every day in the months of the summer, he stands under the shade of the trees, selling watermelons to the thirst-ridden passers-by. This sidewalk is the means to his livelihood. The dividers that separate the road hold lush trees, which are cared for by workers who water them every day, this is an intrinsic part of their lives. The road is also the entryway to the Mother Dairy factory, a milk and dairy product processing plant that is the employer to hundreds of people.
The Mother Dairy factory is one of the key points of industry in the town. It also plays an important part in my experience living in Yelahanka. As summer rolled back around, school uniforms and textbooks were lost in the back of closets. Every other day, our group of friends met at the gate of our apartment building, with our colorful shoulder bags and sandals. We would walk down the narrow sidewalk, in two lines so no one was left behind, to the small shop that stood outside the gates of the dairy factory. The shop sold all the things the factory produced- whole milk, skimmed milk, Indian sweets with a milk base, chocolate, buttermilk in small packets, and so much more. The only thing we were there to buy though, was the ice cream. From chocolate to vanilla, cones to popsicles they had them all. One by one we would go up to the glass window and ask for our choice of ice-cold delight. An odd fact I recall is that they were always unevenly priced, and when the shop didn’t have change, they gave you a small candy instead. As we walked back home, we would savor the summer treat as it dripped down from our hands onto our clothes and the bumpy sidewalk. Over the years, as our group of friends expanded, when we went up to the shop, they would give us all our ice creams at once in a small cardboard box to prevent us from making a mess.
Another integral feature of Yelahanka New Town is the small park that lies right next to the busy main road. Every morning, joggers run through the small park to get their morning workout in, while some sit on the park benches enjoying some chai (Indian tea) and reading the newspaper. The park contrasts the bustle of the road next to it; the lavish greenery acts almost like a suppressant to the loud traffic. The traffic is another constant for anyone living anywhere in Bangalore. During the time we lived there, one of my family’s more unusual activities was to sit in our balcony up on the ninth floor and watch unfortunate speeders get caught by the traffic police at the corner. Another memory I have is waking up in the middle of the night to a truck driver’s incessant honking, which was interestingly made to blare tunes of old Hindi songs whenever used.
Thinking back on these memories, I have come to realize that the town I remember from 3 years ago, which was before I moved away, probably isn’t the same today. My older friends have all moved out and gone to college, and the younger ones soon will too. There is a chic new ice cream parlor right next to the Mother Dairy factory where plastic cups have replaced cones and there are no cardboard boxes in sight. All the trees have been cut down to expand the road, and the cool canopy has been replaced by electric poles and telephone lines. There are new fancy restaurants to replace the local dhabas (roadside restaurants), and I doubt the watermelon vendor still stands on the sidewalk quenching the thirst of random passers-by.