Years ago, wandering through Basavanagudi’s Gandhi Bazaar, we were fascinated by the discovery that a shop dedicated to kadlepuri - in other cities, puffed rice, churmuri, mudhi - could exist. But there it was, D. Selvaraj Kadlepuri Merchants, a shop that has stood at its corner for the last seventy years or so.
Last week, we wandered back in search of it again. Drop a ball of twine from Vidyarthi Bhavan, where you turn the corner on to DVG Road and walk on, until you come to small, neon-lit shopfront, owned by Mr Selvaraj, the Bangalore-born and -bred son of Mr Doraiswamy, once of Vellore.
Late on a weekday evening, his store teems with activity. On and off the shelves fly all kinds of the only item on sale here: puffed rice. A vast, welcoming pile of one variety of kadlepuri sits on the counter. Passersby stop to grab a few grains on their way. A large sign in the corner confirms what you’ve known the minute you passed its threshold: WE HAVE NO BRANCHES.
Its nameplate is in hiding, well above eye-level. If you don’t know it’s D. Selvaraj, you’ll have to ask. People almost never do. The store is perpetually busy; the pavement footfall constant, the service quick, and room to gawk or dawdle virtually non-existent. Come to the counter and a fleet of affable men will attend to you with near-automated efficiency, asking in clipped boredom: “With or without belluli (garlic)?” It is Basavanagudi after all.
In other Bangalore neighbourhoods, department stores quickly substitute outdoor markets as mainstays. Here, D. Selvaraj, with its myriad of varieties of a single item, has the air of a boutique. To be allowed to stay a while, we ask for variety after variety, and the staff returns with sample after sample: straight-up, coloured (“sabakki”), salted, unsalted, even gigantic puffed wheat. Then there are the byproducts: peanuts, fried snacks, roasted corn flakes, all ways for D. Selvaraj to keep up with the times. We must seem like terrible hipsters to the store’s regulars: nobody pauses to enquire in such naive detail as we do.
Puffed rice in its many forms is somewhat ubiquitous across our city: it’s offered to fire at weddings, sold by the coneful at roadsides, doled out by the bag at festivals. It should feel like less of a treat to visit this singularly focused enterprise, but somehow it is. Maybe that’s because of where it’s located and what it represents.
In some ways, Basavanagudi has kept up with the times. Its shiny storefronts are multiplying, their dazzle magnifying. The new phase of Namma Metro makes getting here a cinch. Mr Selvaraj’s father, Doraiswamy, moved to Bangalore from Vellore years ago, and his son has lived in the city all his life. “Google-alli nodi!” Deepak, who works at the store, will now advise customers who wish to pass on directions -- look it up on Google.
We leave with an assortment of snacks: sweet puffed rice laddoos, bright-yellow garlicky puri, and the puffed wheat. Kadlepuri is a snack shockingly easy to get wrong. Leave it out in the air too long and it goes soggy; weigh it down with too much sauce and it drowns. That’s why its comfort is so utterly novel and familiar at the same time, each mouthful reminiscent of those early snacks of jaathre kadlepuri at the open-air fairs of our childhood, replete with fried lentils and peanuts.
Overhead, the billboards now advertise Uber and Zomato. But the crowds of genial gents animatedly discussing local politics (why is Siddaramaiah a crook, and why is Yeddyurappa no better?) remain fixtures. The aging yellow street sign announcing Krumbiegel Road, named after the German botanist we can thank for much of Lal Bagh, has been replaced with a bright blue board that spells his name as pronunciation-friendly ‘Karumbigal.’ This neighbourhood may be the last corner where nostalgia smells so good, tastes so savoury, sounds so bright and crunchy. We’ll bite.
Getting there: 36, Gandhi Bazaar Main Road, Gandhi Bazaar, Basavanagudi. Store timings are 9.45am-2.15pm; 4.45pm-9pm; Sundays are half days. Nearest metro stop: National College.
Neha Margosa lives and works in Bangalore. She tweets at @neha_margosa, and is working on the forthcoming Ooru podcast about life in Bangalore.
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