The mere mention of Koshy’s stirs up fond memories for Bangaloreans. The over seven-decade-old establishment, located at St Marks Road, has long been a meeting hub for the city’s intellectuals and creative bunch, with its old-world architecture and comfort fare creating the inherent nostalgia. A few years ago, keeping in with a government ruling, Koshy’s enforced a ban on smoking.
For the regulars, however, this seemingly small change instantly altered the restaurant’s ambience. “I learned a lot interacting with communities of writers and artists there, which I carried into my first few years working in the city. But the quality of conversation changed after the ban,” recounts Aarthi Parthasarthy, a Bangalore-based writer and filmmaker.
It was to chronicle the change that Parthasarthy, along with her friend Kaveri Gopalakrishnan, conceptualised Urbanlore. This webcomic series, available on urbanlore.com, captures life in urban Indian cities through reflections on their histories, cultures and the people. Their first strip delves into the Koshy’s that used to be – when clouds of smoke hovered over tables, waiters rushed past emptying ashtrays, conversations were intense and people hung around, waiting to finish that one last cigarette. “It came up when we were discussing the ‘changing Indian city’. We realised that people are attached to a certain idea of Bangalore, which again is amorphous,” says Parthasarthy, also the brain behind Royal Existentials, a webcomic that uses Indian miniature paintings to comment on social issues like inequality and patriarchy
While Parthasarthy pens the prose, Gopalakrishnan, an NID graduate, works on the illustrations. Avid followers of webcomics, the duo felt the medium would do justice to the observational format they wanted to lend to the series. “We realised there are hardly any webcomics with an Indian context, something that would be anecdotal and slice-of-life,” says Gopalakrishnan.
An extension of the series, Urbanshorts sums up empathetic experiences or serves as a commentary on political affairs, albeit in a lighter vein. For instance, The Great Indian Commute describes the everyday battle of getting to work that requires one to navigate crowded public transport and deal with snarky auto drivers. Yoga drives home the irony between the unifying essence of the lifestyle and the controversy around Yoga Day.
While the Koshy’s strip is a part of the Bangalore series, the duo plan to include other urban cities — Chennai, Mumbai, Delhi and Kolkata too. “I grew up in Mumbai and Kaveri in Chennai, so those will draw from our lives. But the themes will largely be based on shared experiences, like access to public spaces, poverty, migration and changing seasons,” says Parthasarthy.
The story appeared in print with the headline Faces of the City