There are no free lunches in this world, unless you are a member of the Karnataka State Cricket Association with tickets to watch India play Australia at the Chinnaswamy Stadium. In that case, fully-catered, complimentary meals are free with your Rs 500 season ticket. Bye-bye, picnic basket.
At the Chinnaswamy, lunch is served every day on the clubhouse lawns under billowing white shamianas, at the admittedly odd hour of 11.30 am. This is not the KSCA’s fault. Cricket is a winter sport in India and the light fades quickly in the east and in grounds north of the tropic of Cancer, so an early start (9.30 am at least) is necessary to get in the mandatory 90 overs. The absurd consequence is that Bangalore and Chennai, the two southern-most Test match venues in India, find themselves putting on the full spread at 11.30 am. Yes, even on weekends. It’s a point we wish to raise with KSCA member Ramachandra Guha -- you may have heard of a book or two he’s written -- since he’s now a BCCI grandee, but he avoided the Members’ Stand this week, seating himself at the N-Stand at the opposite end of the ground instead. Well, the mighty do as they please.
Lunch at the KSCA, like the batting on the pitch prepared for this game, is hit and miss. Each day of this Test, for example, brings a slightly different variation of the same all-vegetarian menu: starter, Indian bread, curry, rice preparation, and dessert. On Day 1 it was batata vadas, rumali rotis, mixed vegetable curry, vegetable pulao and mysore pak. On Day 2, it was ambode (better known as dal vadas), phulkas, channa masala, tomato baath, and coconut burfi. On Day 3… you get the picture. The starters and sweets are almost always Kohli-cover-drive standard; the rest range in quality from Shaun Marsh (reliable) to Mitch Marsh (what is this, I don’t even).
Not even in the presence of our very Delhiite captain, however, can essentially South Indian establishments (such as the one which catered the Bengaluru test) get “North Indian” food right. The consistency is uneven, the spices are wrong; it all feels like India trying very hard to convert Irfan Pathan into an all-rounder – you ruin what you have and don’t get what you’re going for. It’s not that there are no native bread recipes south of the Vindhyas. Give the jolada rotti, the Malabar porotta or even the humble raagi rotti a fair go with familiar, authentic curries such as the yennegai, we say. (No, this is not a coded complaint about the lack of opportunity given to Karnataka players in the Indian cricket team. Why would you think that?)
Across these four days of cricket, the menu has some constants: Masala dosé, coconut chutney, tomato rasam with fryums, and curd-rice. The masala dosé is the most popular item on the menu and with good reason: adhering to the best Bengaluru traditions, they are crisp and golden on the outside and smooth and fluffy on the inside, smeared with red chutney and enclosing a dollop of potato masala. Folded in half, eaten with coconut chutney ( no sambhar forced into the mix), they are as solid and comforting as a Rahul Dravid innings from ages ago.
Of course, the flavour of this meal always lives and dies by two condiments: the cricket and the crowd. This week, the contest (as you may have heard) has been gripping; the bowling, fielding and some of the batting, of the highest order; the result is genuinely in the balance till the last hour of play. The Chinnaswamy roar – a wall of sound amplified by the acoustics of an enclosed stadium – is a living thing that pulsates with the rhythms of the game, reaching its manic crescendo when the final wicket falls on the fourth day. Not even the best possible TV experience can match the atmosphere of watching a close game with 25,000 people. Trying to savour the experience at home is like ordering the masala dosé from a food delivery app. It sates hunger - but only a fresh one makes your soul glad to be alive.
Now if we could just work on getting the paneer right for Virat.
Getting there: M Chinnaswamy stadium, corner of MG Road and Kasturba Road, opposite Cubbon Park. Keep an eye on http://www.ksca.cricket/ for upcoming games.
Accessibility: Entry into the stadium premises itself is easy, but not all stands are easily accessible if you have mobility issues.
This story was contributed by Alok Prasanna Kumar, an advocate based in Bengaluru who struck the genetic lottery by being born to someone with a life-membership of the KSCA. Thanks to the Lodha Committee reforms, this is a privilege he is not likely to enjoy for too long. He plans to make the most of it while it lasts.
Image credit: suhrith_p
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