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Tripping off Terraces – An Ode To Days Spent Above

Written by Kartik Sundar

September 19th 2020

Perhaps due to my own inflated sense of self-importance, or the fear of living through an indefinite lockdown at home, I’ve spent the last few months trying to capture what Bangalore really means to me. I never harboured any great passion for my hometown – only ever rushing to its defence when someone attempts to claim their local ice cream parlour as supreme (trust me, Corner House is better). The perpetually pleasurable weather, relatively friendly locals, and an almost concerning beer culture aren’t wasted on me, but have never played a role in how I think of Bangalore. My attachment to the city, at the risk of sounding extremely pretentious, has always been one characterised by wistfulness. I almost always track back to the memories I made here, but, until I drove myself to see it, I hadn’t paid attention to the space they were made in – the terraces that I grew up on. At each stage – childhood, adolescence, and whatever misleading sense of maturity I’m at now – almost every defining experience took place on the roofs of Bangalore’s not so high rises. Maybe recounting this journey will only be sparingly relatable, an inevitable consequence of my own socio-economic background and famously privileged school. But, in some way or the other, I hope that this partially chronological reminiscence lets you see the Bangalore I know and love, from up above.

Innocence and The Garden

Almost ten years ago, my then sixth standard class was placed under an “experimental” program that sought to break us from the restrictive shackles of the Indian education system. I use this as a starting point because back in Mallya Aditi, standard six was a special year – it was the year you got to spend in the classroom that had a full terrace by its side. And, as part of our new age new education system, a large part of our curriculum was spent outdoors on this very terrace. We witnessed large blocks of ice melt, meditated while staring at a candle, had classes under a thatched roof, and, most importantly, rigorously maintained a garden. Now if all this seems like I’m describing some sort of 1960s hippie cult, I can assure you each and every one of those was an integral part of our learning experience in Bangalore’s premier private school. I remember watching Pariah Kites fly over between classes and having the stray monkey interrupt our book discussions on a whim. Collecting strawberries, pelting each other with strange unidentified fruits, having our own misguided “Hot Ones” competition with our freshly grown green chillies – some of my fondest memories across my school years all took place on that iconic space. What made it all the more special was how we felt a sense of ownership to that terrace. After all, we made the garden that covered it and so each little plant and insect that lived there were valued by us as a collective. Even now, with most of my middle school batch disconnected and scattered across the globe, the sixth standard terrace and the memories made on it remains a point of distinctive nostalgia for us all.

Back home, on the complete opposite end of the city in Koramangala, terraces hosted a very different set of activities. During the countless gully cricket games where we were shoved off streets for disturbing residents, our refuge was found on the rooftop of our neighbourhood’s buildings. Whenever we were presented with one that had some form of netting, you could be sure that a game of cricket or football was bound to take place. Even if there were just two of us, we would don the personalities of our favourite IPL teams and adopt the respective batting stances and bowling actions of each member in an effort to create the grandiose feeling of being in a stadium. Of course, there were always the days we carried on without those precautions, leading to many hours being wasted running down stairs and rummaging through bushes and gutters to retrieve fallen balls. Our fascination with board games and trading cards led us to spend many a day battling it out with our latest “Duel Masters” collections, or having monopoly marathons that would often continue over multiple days on the rooftops. Even further back, I recall entire afternoons spent blowing bubbles rooted in our childhood obsession with Spongebob Squarepants. In these formative years, when lighting crackers on Diwali was still an acceptable celebration, the terrace was a space to play out our imaginations, both metaphorically and literally.

Experience Further: The carelessness, the unabashed confidence, and the defiant energy of “We Are Golden” had it constantly being blasted at full volume while alone in my room as a kid. More than ten years since, the song never fails to put a smile on my face, jolting me with confidence when I need it the most.

Rebellion and Retreat

As our education shifted from the happy go lucky system we had grown accustomed to towards the rigid structure of board examinations, pressure through all possible conduits began to flow onto us. However, what was on most of our minds was not how to ace the next maths paper, but how to fit in with the crowd. We foolishly began to take ourselves more seriously, decrying the overbearing, yet well reasoned advice of our parents and teachers. Like any other group of privileged teenagers in a metropolitan city, our rebellion took shape like scenes straight out of Euphoria. And while I definitely am exaggerating the severity of our “experiments”, it certainly felt as defiant at the time.

In these years, terraces were a retreat from all forms of authority – parental, educational, and legal. Sneaking up to the terrace of Devatha Plaza after the school bus dropped us off at Bangalore club became a routine event for many until one fine day the door was firmly locked off. The quest to find a rooftop that guaranteed our isolation was relentless. Each terrace’s popularity would explode as fringe members in each crew began to use them for their own inner circle. One by one they would serve as a sanctuary for our degeneracy until someone would either be caught or the location itself would be sealed. These terraces were often nameless, unnoticed to most, but they meant everything to us. Sure, this love may have been one characterised by a pure sense of utility, but isn’t that the same sense of love most rich kids harbour for their parents?

Amongst the assortment of these anonymous terraces we frequented – from shady openings in Sigma Mall to unlocked Church Street stairwells – only one stayed constant from childhood to adolescence. We only ever referred to the spot by the name of its old inhabitant, our friend who had long since moved out and who we barely kept any semblance of touch with. But still, we felt a sense of entitlement to the location that had been so central to our childhood memories. We may not have been using it for games of monopoly anymore, but that didn’t matter. The once semi polished rooftop had grown disfigured over the years, now serving as a host to some unidentified vegetation, a growing number of discarded beer bottles, and leftover cases of obscure cigarette brands. For our need at the time, it was the perfect cover. Honestly though, I’d wager that if you go onto the terrace of any building in Bangalore that frequently shifts tenants, I can guarantee discarded paraphernalia for degeneracy will be available in abundance.

No matter the event – be it a movie, a party, or lunch – there was no doubt in anyone’s mind that a terrace trip, either before or after, was part of the schedule. Experiencing the true highs of Bangalore’s rooftops while taking the slurred bass boosted psychedelia of Travis Scott-esque tunes was a “broo” moment for us all. The excitement we felt during these years was fuelled by our desire to rebel and claim independence, but looking back now there was never any purpose to our misadventures. With the pressures of adulthood mounting, I often track back to these times spent chasing abandoned terraces amongst the friends I grew up with, all for the pursuit of unregulated good times.

Experience Further: There’s something so innately transportive about “Kids”. It arouses feelings of innocence and nostalgia, making you yearn for those times when you didn’t have a care in the world. The music video, where each adult is depicted as a monster, sums it up perfectly – an anthem for our aversion to growing up. On a more personal note, it being the soundtrack to my high school graduation video will always make it hold a special place in my heart.

Acceptance and Home

The homeliness of Bangalore only set in after three years of going to college in another city. For the most part, my visits were restricted to holidays, sparingly even then. Being away for the better part of the year meant that my time in the city was always supposed to be for winding down. But I could never enjoy these moments, always worrying about not occupying myself enough or taking too much time away from the incessant grind that university demanded. And of course, I wasn’t alone in grappling with this worry of what was to come – of accepting the pressures of adulthood. The friends who I used to meet every day were now people who I had at best a couple of weeks with in a year. Predictably then, we spent each of these days revelling in each others company to escape from our shared fear of real life.

In stark contrast to the carelessness and rebellion the terrace once hosted, it was now a relatively more solemn and introspective space. We no longer needed to hide or escape authority, but I don’t think we were ever as scared. Our conversations matured, and the parties sobered down. The once reckless and unfettered celebration transitioned into muted and reserved conversations that delved back into nostalgia far too quickly.

I don’t lament this change whatsoever. If anything, the tranquillity of terraces today has been a welcome shift. There’s a cheesy saying that I encountered in a temple in Dharamshala – “Joy over Pleasure”. For the longest time, terraces in Bangalore were spaces of pleasure – an instant, but ephemeral hit that generated positive feelings. Nowadays, they feel more complicated – at once both melancholic and joyful. Despite the fear of growing up and the inescapable nostalgia, there’s still nothing I find more satisfying than spending a night in Bangalore on a terrace with a few of my closest friends – a lasting and sustainable joy.

Experience Further: I often pride myself on my ability to write about music, but I would be doing a disservice to this song to not quote Stereogum’s Ryan Leas’s description of it.

“So, then, in celebration of paradoxes. “All My Friends” is happy and it’s sad. It’s naïve, but also disillusioned. It can make you feel twenty again. It makes you feel forty before your time. It makes you feel twenty and forty at once. It spirals into drug-fueled escapism, and it spirals into nostalgia. It’s mature. It’s the sound of sobering up. It’s the song you play as the party peaks. It’s the song you put on headphones when you walk home in the early hours of the morning, and some nights you triumphantly reminisce about all the experiences of your life, but maybe the edges are haunted and just as you step up to your front door and Murphy’s last refrain echoes “If I could see all my friends tonight” you also know you’re searching, too, that you feel all the dejection and isolation that’ve been as much a part of these last thirteen years as a new online version of community, or as much as anything else. It’s a song about 1987 and 1997 and 2007 and probably 2017. Even weighed down by all of this, it still moves. And because we have no other option, because this is our new millennium life: We still move, too.”Ryan Leas, Stereogum 2013

  1. Kartik,

    That did transport me back to the small front yards of Delhi homes in my childhood in the early 70s.
    And the fact that you need to lose something, however seemingly trivial to value it.
    Lovely piece!

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About Us

Anant Shah

Anant Shah- Founder

Anant Shah (just as his Instagram bio says) has always been interested in connecting people though their different cultures. He is drawn to this goal, given his background of a family of artists, as well as his work at several different organisations such as the People Tree with Orijit Sen, The Conflictorium in Ahmedabad and The UN (AIDS) Communications and Global Advocacy Team in Geneva. As a graduate of History and International relations at Ashoka University, he co-founded and set up the Ashoka Literature festival in 2019. Longing to increase this critical discourse on contemporary and traditional Indian Cultures he finally decided to start InCulture.

Kartik Sundar- Founder

Kartik Sundar loves nothing more than opining on cultural content. An avid writer for many publications, the decision to start one of his own came from recognizing a substantive lack of critical discourse around Indian culture today. He graduated Ashoka University with a degree in History & International Relations and wishes to complete further education with a focus on media and cultural studies.

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We at inCulture are looking to shed light on what we see as an emerging new Indian culture as well as paying dues to the traditions that have been integral in shaping the current space. We want to try and create a space where critical reflection on cultural events, individuals, works of art, or practices can be fostered. Rather than exist as a cultural news outlet that merely serves as a bulletin board for the latest releases, inCulture will look to curate multi medium pieces that seek to inform readers about aspects of our culture that make you think beyond an immediate reaction. In particular, we strive to look critically at Indian culture through investigating it under four distinct categories – film & theatre, music, spaces, and society

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