The streets of Bangalore, fragmented and splintered, make way for an unlikely friendship.
Lal Singh sits at the threshold of Mohan Mansion on Kasturba Road. Some days he’s skimming the newspaper, on others he’s laughing into his cellphone at a decibel that stirs the street dogs who sleep on the pavement outside.
I made the turn into Mohan mansion, my 4’11 frame barely emerging over the steering wheel of a bruised silver Etios. The mechanics of a manual car flummoxed me. I tried to recall learning something about a half clutch accelerator maneuver as I approached the slope but my brain resorted to panicking. I stalled and roared backwards onto incoming traffic. I felt like I’d set women drivers back by a good ten years.
“Madam,” Lal Singh says. I lift an eyebrow, weary because it’s the standard monologue every week. “Find an open field, ghar ke pass and parking seekh lo.” I flash a rehearsed half-smile. We both knew I had no intention of ever following through.
Lal Singh didn’t take to me the first time we met. I was at the beginning of my illustrious driving career, fresh on the heels of two driving schools and a private instructor who left me after I nervously hit the accelerator instead of the brake, and rammed into an auto at a four-way crossing. Acting on intuition, Lal Singh offered me the spot on the far end so I would inflict minimal damage on his curated parking order. He fiercely protected it from interlopers. A gesture provoked by my wayward parking, but one that I would later believe was a mark of loyalty, maybe even affection.
Portrait of Maharani Gayatri Devi of Jaipur by T.S. Satyan, c. mid-20th century, Silver gelatin portrait, PHY.03329
In Bangalore, they like to dig roads on both sides but they occasionally leave a narrow stretch in between for the adventurous. They believe in multi-tasking so there’s a proclivity to dig parallel roads without completing the initial project. Breaking and rebuilding is a continuous cycle. The rebuilding takes time though, sometimes years, but the roller-coaster-esque diversions that unleash havoc on car tyres make it worthwhile.
Aside from cultivating a palate for craft beer and sweet sambar, I’ve come to know this city through its roads. The unmarked speed bumps and BMTC buses that swerve without warning make for an unparalleled adrenaline rush. But these roads, the cars, and the people that I’ve put up with have also, in a way, put up with me. I have fond memories of countless strangers who offered to help me parallel park and colleagues who braved sitting in the passenger seat even after I hit a cow’s horn on a congested street in Viveknagar.
There’s also the invaluable knowledge that I’ve gained from navigating these streets. I have excellent peripheral vision, I respect cows more than pedestrians and I scream expletives at cars with L stickers. But even within the mayhem, there are moments of stillness, even beauty — from the Tabebuia trees in full bloom to the guy in a Pajero eating his chutney sandwich at Sony Signal.
The last time I met Lal Singh, he only requested that I re-park once. He held the door open for me, told me he was sending a hair-straightener to his daughter for her birthday and wanted my advice on it. We chatted for a few minutes before I grabbed my bag and headed to MAP’s office. I turned back briefly to lock my car, when he called out to me: “Madam, when will you be back next?”
Riya Kumar is a Curatorial Assistant at MAP with an affinity for dessert and Instagram reels featuring golden retrievers.