Monday, August 15, 2005

Of tarpaulin and other things

The apartment complex where my parents live flanks the Bangalore-Bellary road that is being widened in preparation for the new international airport. Bangalore, burgeoning with new development projects, seems to be splitting at its seams here: earthmovers raking up heaps of rubble on the roadsides; wage-laborers patiently striking heavy hammers to break existing concrete structures; and uprooted trunks and roots of what had once been massive trees, still caked with the red earth of the subterranean depths from which they had been disinterred.

On my many bus trips from Yelahanka – where my parents live – to central Bangalore, I noticed especially the frequent use of the sturdy, waterproof canvas sackcloth also known as tarpaulin. I’ve asked myself: why did I notice tarpaulin of all things? Why did other roadside ubiquities – dogs waiting patiently outside kebab stalls; tea shacks; corrugated tin, iron and plastic sheets; thatched roofs made of dried branches of coconut trees – not catch my attention as much? I’ve surmised that it has something to do with my love of the word tarpaulin, just the way it sounds. Or was it the pervasiveness of its use, not as a word, but actual, physical, practical use?

Patchwork of tarpaulin, blue, black, green and white! Sheets of tarpaulin, under which: pyramidal mounds of apples and pomegranates! Sacks of tarpaulin, for shoe-smiths to protect still-not-fixed, still-strapless leather slippers and sandals! Tents of tarpaulin, in the dark depths of which I saw a blackened stove and a few utensils!

Near the Hebbal bus stop is a cluster of just such tents as I’ve announced above with much exclamatory pomp. Most of those who live in these portable tents are artisans – maybe migrants from the villages and tribal districts of Karnataka’s interior – and flanking the road for a more than a thousand feet are their creations, for sale. I like their woodworked items – mostly faces, religious and otherwise, that they shaped from chunks of timber. I also had the fortune to see them at work, as they carved with ease on the cylindrical pieces of wood, a foot or so thick. They were putting to intelligent use the trunks of the many coconut trees that were being felled for road-widening efforts along the Bangalore-Bellary road. I couldn’t help but be struck by the sheer practicality of this.

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