What the Irani café was to Mumbaiites, the humble Iyengar’s bakery was to Bangaloreans. After a hard day at school, and a long bus ride back home, there could be no greater treat awaiting me than some warm vegetable puffs and fresh pastries from the local bakery (Maggi 2-minute noodles be damned!).
These little bakeries were omnipresent, dotting every large street in just about any Bangalore suburb, especially the older residential suburbs like Jayanagar, Malleswaram, Basavanagudi or Rajajinagar. My own haunts in Jayanagar had some of the best bakeries anywhere. The delightful aroma of fresh baking would greet the weary walker who passed one of these. Most of these bakeries were just called “Iyengar’s bakery”, or “Bangalore Iyengar’s bakery”, but some of them would make a strong statement of individuality by imaginatively calling themselves “LB Iyengar’s bakery”, “YB Iyengar’s bakery” or something on those lines.
The variety of products, so to speak, would largely be identical in every Iyengar bakery in town. The sweet tooth would be treated to orange, sticky honey cakes, or just plain old super-sweet cream pastries, or “butter biscuits” or novel treats like their own invention, the “Japanese cake”. And then there was the magnificent dilpasand, and the sublime dilkush. Many people were never sure which was which (since they look somewhat similar), but to the cognoscenti the dilpasand always has sweet stuffing with coconut, while the dilkush was more mundane with reddish-brown stuffing, and never had coconut. For savories, you had the dazzling choice of fresh vegetable puffs (unlike their Hyderabadi baker counterparts, the Iyengar bakers would never serve egg puffs), salt and “khara” potato chips, khara (spicy) buns, “palya” (vegetable) buns, and a little something modestly called “toast”. This “toast” had little to do with its namesake, a slice of bread browned by a toaster. Here, bread was taken to sublime heights, by topping it with a “patented” recipe that was yellowish, had lots of onions, some tomatoes, and LOTS of spice. It often made your eyes water (while its smell made you drool), and just like Lays; you couldn’t stop with just one.
My own patronage was split between two bakeries. There was one, right by my house in Jayanagar 9th block, and another, less than a kilometer away, in 4th T Block. This second bakery was run by a friendly Iyengar baker we secretly and uncharitably nicknamed “goondan” (Tamil for fatty). That wasn’t saying much, since every single Iyengar baker worth his salt was plump, with a well-rounded paunch, clean-shaven, and with slick, oiled-back hair. Goondan fit the description perfectly, but also wore spectacles. The first bakery in 9th block was run by Goondan’s younger brother, Goondan Jr. (little fatty). Together, they were trying to squeeze out another Iyengar baker, who was located exactly halfway between their bakeries. To their advantage was the fact that they were both right by the 9th block or 4th T block bus stands. I preferred Jr. since his bakery was just a block from our apartment, but B and K would make me get off the bus a stop earlier and drag me to Goondan, claiming his puffs were vastly superior to his brother’s (just because THEY lived closer to Goondan’s bakery). I (naturally preferring the company of good friends) would sulkily follow. Their theory was shattered when we once saw Goondan Jr. running his brother’s bakery in 4th T Block, and we found out that they often baked their goods together in the mornings, and sold them at the two separate stores. But B would still stubbornly continue to insist on Goondan’s superiority (experience, he said).
I paid Goondan Jr.’s bakery a visit this March. I hadn’t been there in over a decade. A warm smile still greeted me, but the hair was graying, and wrinkles lined his face. He didn’t recognize me. As I was polishing off my third palya bun, I asked him how business was.
”Paravailla Sir, atharu munthe thara illa” (Not too bad, but not like it used to be).
He said he was selling half as many loaves of bread as he did ten years ago. His son and daughter are both in Engineering College, and they don’t care much about the bakery.
Bangalore has changed tremendously, and the sleepy, laid back suburbs are a distant memory. There’s a Café Coffee Day or Barristas in every corner, or an upscale bakery, where people can sit in (often air-conditioned) comfort, chat and munch their 50 rupee pastries. The joy of spending that soiled five-rupee note on a scrumptious treat, and indulging in friendly local gossip is also becoming part of that distant memory.