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Seattle’s furthest outpost: Why news of Chris Cornell’s suicide echoed louder than love in Bangalore

In the 1990s, grunge bands like Soundgarden and Nirvana found a welcoming home in the southern Indian city.

Some time before it became Bengaluru, and before it became the place where Thomas Friedman famously realised that the world was indeed flat, Bangalore was where several weird subcultures thrived.

For decades, Bangalore had been one of the most anglicised cities in the country. This was in part due to its cantonment culture and in part due to the availability of middle-class jobs and universities: no easy thing in pre-liberalisation India. Geography too played a role: Bangalore was far away from the post-Partition anxieties and politics of New Delhi.

But neither was it just a city of Kannadigas. Since it lay just a morning’s drive away from Telugu-, Tamil- and Malayalam-speaking areas, Bangalore had for decades attracted comers from all the southern Indian states. In the absence of Hindi as a common language, English had filled the vacuum.

So when the 1990s rolled along, Bangalore, and particularly some of its youth, was ready to be radicalised by American pop culture, via a new cable TV subscription that could be had for a mere Rs 100 a month .

I was an English-speaking Kannadiga schoolboy, taught by my teachers and parents to revere among other people, William Shakespeare and PG Wodehouse. But when MTV, and later Channel [V] came along, it was easy to start worshipping the rockers who had taken over the world. (It would be a few years till these channels started Indian programming. Hip hop, the other great American music export, would take a few more years to take root in India.)

Two songs stand out in my memory of the very first time I saw the Grammy awards on TV: Pearl Jam’s Jeremy and Soul Asylum’s Runaway Train. I was hooked. That was in 1993. A year later when I went to pre-university at Christ College, I was ready to be initiated into the the cult of grunge.

Finding Nirvana

My explorations would start with the punk-pop-metal rhythms of Nirvana and from there to Pearl Jam, Stone Temple Pilots and eventually to the propulsive pounding of Soundgarden. Perhaps with a little bit of prodding from the music magazine Rock Street Journal, we would all realise that every one of these bands except for STP, came from Seattle.

Comparisons came very quickly. Someone noted that like Seattle, Bangalore’s weather too was rainy, cloudy and subject to quick changes. Seattle’s biggest export was Microsoft, which was Bangalore’s biggest import. The other big company from Seattle, Starbucks brought coffee to the world; in Bangalore, filter coffee was everybody’s obsession. It seemed completely appropriate too that Seattle’s sound should find a home in the city.

Soundgarden was literally perfect. The odd time signatures of their songs and the heaviness of their music simultaneously appealed to the nerd and metalhead in me. All four members of the band could write music while each being a virtuoso in their specialisation. Matt Cameron’s jazz-influenced drumming could pound you into a corner. You couldn’t get Kim Thayil but you suspected intelligent design in his chaotic leads. Ben Shepherd could lock you down with his bass lines.

And Chris Cornell – who could ignore that voice? His four-octave range was guttural and primal. His baritone could soothe you and his screams could send shivers up your spine, which was perfect for his beautifully dark lyrics.

The songs could grind you down, but somehow, a few friends who struggled with mood disorders made it only because of Soundgarden’s dark music. I wasn’t much of a guy for posters but I had one of the band’s in my bedroom. It’s probably accurate to say that I haven’t worshipped any other band like I worshipped them.

Getting respectable

As Bangalore hurtled towards the new millennium, it seemed that grunge as a movement was spent. Rock music was itself in retreat. And one by one, the big stars of Seattle flamed out, either through suicide (Kurt Cobain) or drug abuse (Layne Stayle, Andrew Wood). Bangalore’s explosive growth too mirrored the explosive growth of the grunge scene, with seemingly similarly disastrous consequences. Pearl Jam and Soundgarden seemed to be the only bright spots.

Sometime in the last week of April, I chanced across Pearl Jam’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame when surfing cable TV at my hotel roo in Washington DC. I couldn’t recognise them at first. Could these be-suited, grinning bunch of old guys with normal hair actually be the tearaways who’d captured our attention? Eddie Vedder even allowed himself a Bono-like moment when he spoke of climate change.

Somehow, I couldn’t picture Chris Cornell fitting into that scene when it was Soundgarden’s turn to be inducted. And now he will never get the chance to prove me right.

HR Venkatesh is an ICFJ Knight Fellow and founder of NetaData.

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“My body instantly craves chai and samosa”

German expats talk about adapting to India, and the surprising similarities between the two cultures.

The cultural similarities between Germany and India are well known, especially with regards to the language. Linguists believe that Sanskrit and German share the same Indo-Germanic heritage of languages. A quick comparison indeed holds up theory - ratha in Sanskrit (chariot) is rad in German, aksha (axle) in Sanskrit is achse in German and so on. Germans have long held a fascination for Indology and Sanskrit. While Max Müller is still admired for his translation of ancient Indian scriptures, other German intellectuals such as Goethe, Herder and Schlegel were deeply influenced by Kalidasa. His poetry is said to have informed Goethe’s plays, and inspired Schlegel to eventually introduce formal Indology in Germany. Beyond the arts and academia, Indian influences even found their way into German fast food! Indians would recognise the famous German curry powder as a modification of the Indian masala mix. It’s most popular application is the currywurst - fried sausage covered in curried ketchup.

It is no wonder then that German travellers in India find a quite a lot in common between the two cultures, even today. Some, especially those who’ve settled here, even confess to Indian culture growing on them with time. Isabelle, like most travellers, first came to India to explore the country’s rich heritage. She returned the following year as an exchange student, and a couple of years later found herself working for an Indian consultancy firm. When asked what prompted her to stay on, Isabelle said, “I love the market dynamics here, working here is so much fun. Anywhere else would seem boring compared to India.” Having cofounded a company, she eventually realised her entrepreneurial dream here and now resides in Goa with her husband.

Isabelle says there are several aspects of life in India that remind her of home. “How we interact with our everyday life is similar in both Germany and India. Separate house slippers to wear at home, the celebration of food and festivals, the importance of friendship…” She feels Germany and India share the same spirit especially in terms of festivities. “We love food and we love celebrating food. There is an entire countdown to Christmas. Every day there is some dinner or get-together,” much like how Indians excitedly countdown to Navratri or Diwali. Franziska, who was born in India to German parents, adds that both the countries exhibit the same kind of passion for their favourite sport. “In India, they support cricket like anything while in Germany it would be football.”

Having lived in India for almost a decade, Isabelle has also noticed some broad similarities in the way children are brought up in the two countries. “We have a saying in South Germany ‘Schaffe Schaffe Hausle baue’ that loosely translates to ‘work, work, work and build a house’. I found that parents here have a similar outlook…to teach their children to work hard. They feel that they’ve fulfilled their duty only once the children have moved out or gotten married. Also, my mother never let me leave the house without a big breakfast. It’s the same here.” The importance given to the care of the family is one similarity that came up again and again in conversations with all German expats.

While most people wouldn’t draw parallels between German and Indian discipline (or lack thereof), Germans married to Indians have found a way to bridge the gap. Take for example, Ilka, who thinks that the famed differences of discipline between the two cultures actually works to her marital advantage. She sees the difference as Germans being highly planning-oriented; while Indians are more flexible in their approach. Ilka and her husband balance each other out in several ways. She says, like most Germans, she too tends to get stressed when her plans don’t work out, but her husband calms her down.

Consequently, Ilka feels India is “so full of life. The social life here is more happening; people smile at you, bond over food and are much more relaxed.” Isabelle, too, can attest to Indians’ friendliness. When asked about an Indian characteristic that makes her feel most at home, she quickly answers “humour.” “Whether it’s a taxi driver or someone I’m meeting professionally, I’ve learnt that it’s easy to lighten the mood here by just cracking a few jokes. Indians love to laugh,” she adds.

Indeed, these Germans-who-never-left as just diehard Indophiles are more Indian than you’d guess at first, having even developed some classic Indian skills with time. Ilka assures us that her husband can’t bargain as well as she does, and that she can even drape a saree on her own.

Isabelle, meanwhile, feels some amount of Indianness has seeped into her because “whenever its raining, my body instantly craves chai and samosa”.

Like the long-settled German expats in India, the German airline, Lufthansa, too has incorporated some quintessential aspects of Indian culture in its service. Recognising the centuries-old cultural affinity between the two countries, Lufthansa now provides a rich experience of Indian hospitality to all flyers on board its flights to and from India. You can expect a greeting of Namaste by an all-Indian crew, Indian food, and popular Indian in-flight entertainment options. And as the video shows, India’s culture and hospitality have been internalized by Lufthansa to the extent that they are More Indian Than You Think. To experience Lufthansa’s hospitality on your next trip abroad, click here.

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This article was produced by the Scroll marketing team on behalf of Lufthansa as part of their More Indian Than You Think initiative and not by the Scroll editorial team.