One of the best descriptions of Mangalore comes from 'Outlook' editor Krishna Prasad. He writes:
"The tourist guidebooks don't quite put it that way, but Mangalore has always been a bit like the city's trademark ice cream, the 'gadbad'. A potpourri of religions and languages-Hinduism and Islam, Christianity and Jainism, Tulu and Konkani, Kannada and Malayalam-that's one delicious whole. Canara Pinto buses dovetail Durgamba; Yenepoya College isn't far from St Aloysius, which isn't too far from Kasturba."
Many Mangalores exist within Mangalore. It is Mangalooru in Kannada, Mangalore in English, Kudla in Tulu, Kodiyala in Konkani, Mykal in Beary and Mangalapuram in Malayalam! Perhaps no other city in India (and perhaps in the world) has so many names in so many languages.
Most Mangaloreans speak three languages: Kannada, Konkani and Tulu. A few speak two more: Beary and Malayalam.
Once our firebrand leader George Fernandes (the ailing George is a famous Mangalorean) told me that Mangalore was the only place where a three-year-old child, irrespective of its caste and religion, spoke three languages!
The Air India flight from Mumbai to Mangalore is full. Oscar Fernandes, a senior Congress leader and a Mangalorean (actually from neighbouring Udupi!) is my co-passenger. He speaks to me in Kannada, he shifts to Tulu with an elderly woman, and returns to Konkani when he tells his son Oshan to get him a pillow. He also greets somebody in the Beary language!
A visit to Mangalore is always refreshing. For me it is a beautiful city. After my beloved Bangalore and my hometown Shimoga, I love Mangalore the most!
The landscape is fast changing in this lush green place surrounded by the Arabian sea, and the Nethravati and Gurupura rivers. The old Mangalore-tiled houses are fast vanishing and making way for highrises, malls and luxury apartments. I feel like a stranger in a city I know very well.
Older parts of Mangalore, like Pump Well, Hampankatta, Kankanadi, Bundar, Kodiyalbail, Balmatta, Urva and Boloor have turned into a concrete jungle. Only a few government buildings have retained their old world charm. I tell somebody that Mangalore is now looking like Bandra in Bombay in the early 1990s!
Interestingly, many well-off Mangaloreans live in Bandra in Mumbai!
Mangalore is to Karnataka what Mumbai is to India. It is called the Gateway of Karnataka. The Western Civilization entered Karnataka through Mangalore, two centuries ago. Mangalore was the first port of call for Roman Catholic missionaries, nuns, traders, teachers, doctors, technicians, sailors and soldiers from the West. The same place is now exporting nuns, nurses and nuts to all over the World! Out of total 54 Roman Catholic bishops in India, 17 are Mangaloreans.
Europeans called Mangalore 'the Rome of the East' two centuries ago.
Mangalore has always been a coveted city. Many wars have been fought for Mangalore. All the dynasties which ruled Karnataka maintained their oversees relations (today's foreign affairs!) through the Mangalore port. The Portugese first set foot on Mangalore in 1520 AD. The Portugese naval forces defeated the Vijayanagara empire and took control of Mangalore.
They sowed the seeds of Christianity in the Canara coast of Karnataka. The magnificent, nearly 500-year-old Milagres Church tells the story of Portugese influence on Mangalore. But the Portugese were forced to leave Mangalore by the Wodeyars of Mysore and later by Tipu and his father Hyder Ali. It was a time of grave crisis for Mangaloreans. Finally, it fell into the hands of the British and firmly remained with them till Independence.
The British zealously guarded Mangalore like a precious gem.
The Christian missionaries introduced modern education and western medicine to Karnataka through Mangalore. The first Kannada newspaper Mangalooru Samachara was started by a German missionary, Fr Herman Mogling, in 1843. Two other great German missionaries, Fr Muller and Rev Kittel, also entered Karnataka through Mangalore. Their contribution to Karnataka's art, culture, and education is immense. Old Mangalore is largely a city of Roman Catholics with their Sunday mass and confession.
The main road from Pump Well to Bundar via Hampankatta is full of brand new malls and highrises. One of the biggest malls in India is coming up here. The road is dotted with showrooms selling luxury brands, food courts, and multiplexes showing the latest Bollywood and Hollywood movies.
Bollywood star and Mangalorean Suneil Shetty has built a mall on this road. I jokingly ask my friend, "Where are Shilpa Shetty's and Aishwarya Rai's malls?". He replies with a straight face, "Will ask their relatives. Probably near Hampankatta, where their relatives live!"
Mangaloreans always wear a serious look like the Arabian sea. Don't joke with a Mangalorean! They take you seriously.
Mangalore now has top-rated hotels. Luxury hotels like the Taj Gateway, Gold Finch and Ocean Pearl have replaced the once famous Pentagon near Pump Well, which now looks like a haunted mansion. Mangalore was known for its famous cabaret shows in the 1970s, '80s and early '90s! The leading Kannada daily 'Udayavani' used to devote one full page for cabaret ads during those years!
Young Mangaloreans now spend time at the malls, multiplexes, video game parlours, health clubs, and spas. Old-style Mangalore businesses are disappearing. Recently, choreographer Saroj Khan was in Mangalore to open her dance school. Let's hope the ancient Yakshagana and Bhootha dances survive the onslaught of Bollywood.
Youngsters now prefer to speak in English, and Kannada, Konkani and Tulu are facing a real threat.
Mangaloreans run the best south Indian restaurants all over the World. But Mangalore really can't boast of great eateries. Only the Taj Mahal at Hampankatta has retained its old glory and taste. Moti Mahal on Phalnir Road is no longer a favoured eating joint. The best dosa, idli and vada are available at Lakshmi Nivasa, a small hotel at Kalladka on the outskirts of Mangalore. I recommend this eatery to every visitor to Mangalore!
I hear the best sea food can be had at Anupama, Gazali, Palki, Kudla and Deepa.
The women of Mangalore are beautiful and bold. Pretty Bunt women run their family with an iron hand, and coy Konkani women do it with polish.
I ask the local people ' Who is the most famous Mangalorean of our times ?'
Pat comes the reply ' George Fernandes '!! Surprised by this answer I again ask ' What about Shilpa Shetty and Aishwarya Rai '?
They say 'George Fernandes is famous', Shilpa Shetty and Aishwarya Rai are popular among the younger crowd!! George is a mass leader and these starlets are a media created celebrities"!!
Bombay and Calcutta have novels celebrating them. Not many cities can boast that privilege. I haven't read a real Bangalore-centric novel in English.
But there is one on Mangalore! IAS officer-turned-fulltime writer Richard Crasta's 'One Little Indian' is a superb Mangalore-centric novel. It talks about Mangalore of the 1960s. Richard Casta is now an NRI. His father John Crasta was a soldier in Netaji's Indian National Army (INA) during the World War II. His book Eaten by the Japanese tells horrifying stories of Japanese brutality.
The late K Ramaiah Rai, a distinguished police officer, wrote Tell Tale Teeth a Mangalore-centric suspense thriller. It is the real-life story of a police officer pursuing a brilliant, elusive murderer.
I get a taste of Mangalore's diverse culture at the airport. Three pretty girls at the Kingfisher counter greet me and help me check in in just two minutes. I look at their badges: Sana, Marina and Aishwarya. A Beary, a Catholic and a Bunt perhaps... they speak three languages and belong to three different faiths. But they are Mangaloreans first and last. Because Mangalore is their identity!