It’s noon. Blistering heat. I have crawled through 15km of relentless traffic to reach Museum Road. I bargain with a security guard and park the car in an office parking lot. The roads all around Museum Road and St. Mark’s Road are a trekker’s paradise. You would have to navigate past slushy pools lying dormant from last night’s rain, past open cables that you have to deftly avoid (try not to wear heels for the same maneuver), and dodge gaping holes and sweeping crevasses that pass as pavements. The post office on Museum Road is next to an old building that I have always admired in Bangalore. A little bit of Googling and I find that this quaint structure is the office of the Senior Superintendent of Post Offices, supposedly more than 150 years old. From housing Mark Cubbon, the first Commissioner of Bangalore to its time when it was supposedly a jail, this white landmark must have surely seen many a story. The post office I seek is now next to the building. I find that the ‘server is down’ and I would have to come back on Monday.
Walking down past the yellow barricades that point out this mess is part of the Bangalore ‘Project Sure’ project, I go past St.Joseph’s Boys School on my right. It feels like years since I have walked down this stretch of Bangalore. For nearly 4 years, I would have walked up and down as my office was housed in Phoenix Towers just down the road. The vacant plot of land that was just behind the Ganapathi temple now has the Power Transmission office. A board at the gate proclaims that this building is protected under the Indian Official Secrets Act of 1926. The heat is relentless still, but I can’t help but smile. What could be so secret about this?Turn left and you reach Residency Road. Or Field Marshal Cariappa road, depending on what you are familiar with. I go past the Coorgi restaurant crossing the road, thinking of a lunch many years ago with old colleagues. This stretch that leads up to Brigade Road has always surprised me with its utter lack of soul. A petrol bunk.Some bars. Shady hotels. No one really seems to know what to do with this prime piece of real estate. Walk a little more past the Chinese ‘beauty parlor’ and I see that a couple of new places have come up already. But the old shop selling kolhapuri slippers is still there. Has been for as long as I can remember. I am searching for an old money exchange shop. It has for many years been my favorite place to exchange dollars or buy them. Today, I am running this errand for my father. I turn the corner, pass Eva Mall, buy a Thums Up from a restaurant that sells South Indian food and pause in front of St. Patrick’s Church.
Dass Money Exchange should have been right there. But instead, I see in its place a State Bank of India. I turn around, slightly dizzy from the sun. Surely, this is the place. Two people, a mother and her son, walk up to me and ask me for directions to Koshy’s, that famous Bangalore landmark. I point them in what I think is the general direction of Koshy’s.”Take a left and then a right on to Museum Road.” Too late, I realize that Koshy’s is not on Museum Road but on St. Mark’s Road. Exasperated, I turn inside the church premises. Of all these years, I have never gone to St. Patrick’s Church. I still don’t go. I stand there near a chair that is ostensibly the security guard’s to dose my sun-induced headache with a paracetamol. And that’s when I see it.
St. Antony’s Shrine, it says. I peer through the grill and see a man enter. Stand and pray. Intrigued, I follow just as he comes out. The place is simple. Just a statue of the saint, holding what I think is baby Jesus. Stained-glass windows that arch to the ceiling. Outside, the window holds a few locks. From desperate believers hoping for desperate miracles? I stand there for a while, not sure what I should say. My years of faith have dried up and now I have nothing but just a weird dissonance with organized religion. Bangalore’s traffic is relentless just outside. I walk around and then come out, no better or no more peaceful than when I entered.
Stepping outside, I try one more time to find Dass Money Exchange. One of my friends is giving me directions while on the phone. I walk past the bank, and then I just see Mamallapuram Gold Loans, which also offers money exchange. Tired, I just enter the building and spend 30 minutes having my photo taken and various forms signed before I get the money. I am not too sure if I got a good rate. Rs62.70 is what I am quoted. I am keep thinking of the old Dass Money Exchange. By now, my friend says that the address on the internet indicates a change and it is apparently across Eva Mall. Weary, I ignore the message. Not for me a wild goose chase in the middle of summer. Get the money. Leave.
I walk back past the church again. Across, I see Eva Mall. I crane my neck, wondering if the directions were correct after all. I turn the corner, and there. Dollars. Rubles. Marks. The shop was just there. Right at the corner. I don’t know how I missed it. But I was not looking for it there. I can only laugh. Ruefully. And resume the trek.
Hours later, I search for St. Antony. And find out with amusement and a fair bit of awe at the mechanics of the Universe that he is the patron saint of lost things and lost people.