A trip to old Bangalore…

I have lived in this city for 25 years and I have never once stepped into North Bangalore. *hangs head in shame*

Well, actually, i have visited that area… a couple of times or more. I cannot use geography as an excuse anymore because I am familiar with the rest of the city. I guess it was a combination of disinterest, geography and a lack of friends in that area that led me to completely ignore Malleshwaram.

It was quite a drive when we were kids to get to that part of town. Not to mention we had to pass through the most congested part of the city – Majestic (the central bus stand). So that part was largely ignored, till I had to make a trip to that part of town today.

And the moment the driver took the turn from the flyover, I felt I had stepped back in time. The roads were wide, tree-lined and canopied, barely enough traffic to do justice to this city, the weather was cool and nice – thanks to the trees. There were small ‘darshinis’ which used to the face of Bangalore before red-hued boards took over. Everyone just seemed really nice as well.

There were signs of progress – the orange board of Donut Baker, the pink sign of Baskin Robbins… and of course a mall (supposed to be the largest – I’ll come to that in a bit). But it was quite easy to ignore it when the city seemed to be functioning so smoothly and soundlessly.

Combine that with lack of sleep, I almost did believe that I was in a different city, if not stepping back in time.

And as I was in that area, I figured I would check out the Mantri Mall – touted to be the largest mall in the country (or city?). It was fairly early, so there weren’t many people. The first stutter was at the entrance, where the security guard turned my bag upside town. I really wonder what on earth she was looking for. I told her there was a camera in the bag which made her whatsthatthinginthehand beep. The camera was huge, so there was no way she could miss it. And there were books. So what on fricking earth was she looking for? Why the hell do they turn your bag upside down when it is so obvious from the word go that there really aint anything suspicious in the bag. And if there is, I’d probably strap it into my underwear.

Anyway, moving on… the mall reminded me of the Queen Street mall in Brisbane. There was even a level of stairs going down to… well, somewhere… But lack of sleep and food were getting to me so I figured I’d explore the nicer parts – after I bought a pair of earrings similar to what I bought at the Gold Museum in Australia (what can I say? I do love shopping and they were right there!). Every possible brand I could think of was in the mall – Lifestyle, Shoppers Stop (talk about a face/off contest!), Reliance stores of all sorts, ShowOff… names I cannot remember if i’d heard them before.

My brain was craving for two things – an Apple store (still not over the iphone mania) and Taco Bell.

Yup, the famous Taco Bell is located here. For a country that barely even knew what a burrito was – or mutilated a burrito with rajma beans rolled in chappatis – we are quite crazy about it apparently.

Anyway, I couldn’t find the Apple store on the map, so I nearly bought a Sony digicam but figured being dead on my feet wasn’t a good time to buy a camera. So I headed to the extremely uptown touch-screen map and tried to find Taco Bell. All the malls I’d visited abroad in my life were crowding into my head… of course, the touch screen didn’t have audio. Nor a clear map. Taco Bell was shown in a row of shops alongside Lifestyle etc. There were no… lanes, shop numbers etc. And shop numbers would’ve been as useless. But I turn and there is Taco Bell… with the lines empty, beckoning me.

And that’s pretty much where the story ends. Abrupt I know… but I figured I’d need several days of sleep, bottles of water, packets of food, good sturdy walking shoes to navigate the mall. And a sackful of credit cards and a GPS.

The burrito was interesting… least they used the right bread and not fake chappatis. But honestly, I’ve had better at mom-and-pop joints. But then again… mom-and-pop joints always have better and cheaper food…

The mall? They had some different stuff… but I really miss flea markets. or road-side shopping. Where you got really cool stuff for 100 bucks… now they move the same things into the stores and put a little label and make you max out your credit card for one dress.

I guess that is when I realised I was in Bangalore. That, plus when I stepped out of the store, the guard had to go through the whole check-bag-punch-receipt thing. I found it a little ironical that I’d just visited a government office and nobody as much as stopped me there, while here every place I was treated like a potential threat by people who were clueless about what a threat was. I am beginning to find this mall security thing extremely irritating.

Is it just me? Or does everyone else devise ways of sneaking in illegal stuff when they are waiting to be checked. Mine is simple – when you are in the car, hold the material in your purse. So the guy scans the car etc… cuz they don’t actually have full body scanners there. Then you leave it in the car, go through the mall and vamos! Come on! Don’t tell me a criminal wouldn’t have thought of it. These are such obvious loopholes. I am all for security, if you do it right. Invest in those full-body scanners – for vehicles and people. Of course, in a mall it is a little tough to stop people from carrying in chemicals. And if he has a license, you can’t stop a guy from getting in a gun too.

My friend sneaked in a camera into a theatre once. Yes, it is quite irritating not to be allowed cameras inside a movie theatre when my phone can record the entire movie in high resolution and upload it online before I leave the hall. The explanation they give you? “Rules madam”. Bah!

What made Bangalore so paranoid and yet unsecure? For all our paranoia, there is no security yet. We are just running around haphazardly trying to make sense of things. Which is why the “checks” at the hotels irritate me. They just love looking into what is in my bag and paw all over it (grrrr!) while being absolutely clueless abt what they really need to look for.

Anyway… then I stepped out of the mall… the road was crammed with vehicles… and I had to haggle with the auto driver… back to bangalore and reality.

Song of the day: Alice in Wonderland (cuz that’s how I felt for a bit) – Avril

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A Walk In The Market

The dirtiest and one of the most busiest markets in Bangalore. At 8 AM. Which was probably a little late because the real work here happens around 6-7 AM, but considering our level of laziness, me and a few other friends did a photowalk at Russell Market in Bangalore.

It was interesting… I’d been there a couple of times. Once, when a friend and me returning after a party decided to take a short cut and avoid 2 kms of a road and a traffic light headed into the maze. We followed a bus that we figured would come out on the other side, except the  bus led us right into the centre and stopped.

So we wound our way around and finally resurfaced on the main road 40 minutes later.

The other time was again in an auto – least this time, the guy knew the roads. But it was right before Ramzan or some other Muslim festival, so the streets were crowded with last minute shoppers and it was truly a celebration.

So when my friend asked for suggestions for the photowalk, I figured that would be an interesting place.
I didn’t quite get the energy I was looking for.
The chaos and the noise. But there was activity. People were setting up for the day. The florists were knotting the flowers in garlands, stacking bunches of roses, sprinkling water and sorting the bad flowers out. There were rows and rows of fruit sellers and I smelled the rich scent of mangoes for the first time this summer.
That was probably also the last good smell for the day.
We wound our way past the florists and I caught a whiff of meat. That unique smell where you know there is flesh around the corner. I wondered if I should head in there alone or wait for my friends. I was starving by then but the smell of fresh meat? Ugh!
Plus one of the members of the group was a vegetarian. And then I realised he was off happily shooting flowers and fruits at the other end.
So we headed into the butcher’s alley.
I had seen something of the sort in Mysore. Rows and rows of butchers, with all kinds of meat. Well, at least there was space for all that. There were only a handful of guys and the meat was all goat. No pork in here.
And then I wandered out back to the fish market. How many times have the teachers at school called the noisy classrooms a “fish market”? Such a wrong comparision!! For one, classrooms are noisy. But they do not stink. And the fish markets aren’t noisy. Tch tch! But they sure as hell are interesting, once you manage to get over the overpowering stink.
Crabs, fishes, lobsters, big crabs (what are those called), alive, dead, partially alive, prawns of all sizes, sharks, fishes as big as me… mussells, something that looked like eels, squids… you name it and you could get it.
Some of it would be sent to the big hotels, one of the guys said. The others would vanish in a couple of hours, apparently. I wondered how much people should love food to get drag themselves there at 8 AM on a sunday morning to get fresh fish. They bought coolers to carry back their choice home.
I was tempted to pick up some prawns… but the thought of it in my bag for the next couple of hours, the stink… and the thought of fumigating my bag put me off.
I forget sometimes, living in the city, eating in clean houses, that this is where the food comes from. Most people wouldn’t probably order fish at those classy restaurants if they knew that the fish was lying on an open road a few hours earlier. Yeah, it is cooked and all… but hey! 🙂
We wandered out into the scrap market. A famous place to find spare parts for your car or bike, and I suspect, to chop up cars. There were parts of cars piled on houses and the tin shops. Most of them were still closed… they had no reason to be open at the crack of dawn. But there were enough people around to be curious about a crowd walking around with cameras.
They figured we were the press.
“No photos!” he said quite loudly.
I was wondering how to explain we weren’t the media, at least not right then.
Luckily, my friend stepped in and explained we were just practising our camera skills. It is so surprising how easily people take to the camera. I expected them to be shy, not happily cock their heads and pose for the photo. Some even requested a copy of the photo. The old man in the photo above got irritated at the young boys ragging him about us taking his photo than our cameras.
Is it an Indian thing? Or is it a general need for attention? Women, men and kids alike happily looked at the camera. Or blatantly ignored us. And here I was expecting people to come and say “Stop taking our photo”.
Interesting times. Stinky times.
(For more photos, try my flickr account. You can access it by clicking on here or through my photoblog)
Song of the day: Smelly Cat – Friends

Electricity

Long ago, a friend wrote to me “If we hadn’t invented the light bulb and electricity, we wouldn’t be so frustrated every time there is a power cut”

Today, my city sits in darkness for most part of the day. It is one of the most happening cities in the world, which ironically is awake 24 hours. Yet, the city works without power at least 6-12 hours a day this whole week.

Why? The cynics say that  now that the BBMP elections are over, who cares anymore.

The government says “problems at the power station” which is as classically vague as they can get. But whatever the real reason is, we sweat the hottest months of summer in darkness and no fans.

Every morning I wake up when my fan goes off… i manage to get back into sleep and just as I get used to the hit, the fan comes on again to taunt me for half an hour before the power disappears again. Of course, waking up then would be futile because there is no internet, no pump for the water, no microwave to heat up my coffee, no television.

I was reading this post on NY Times where the author, who lives in Conneticut, was talking about a week without power. Microwaves, laptops, television, radio, shower, the toilet, the heaters, the ac, even the mobile phones – everything is dependent on that spark in the wall. Now, sometimes cars too.

I wish I could say India was not as dependent on electricity but gone are the days when waking up was finding my way to the couch, with half open eyes, a cup of steaming hot chocolate, the newspaper read leisurely before heading off to boil myself awake.

I cannot run my laptop or internet to check for the latest news, I have to charge my cell phone if i want to browse on that at least. I cannot iron my clothes and shudder at the thought of wearing wrinkle-free synthetic clothes in this heat. (side note – with all the improvements in technology, can’t we have something non-wrinkly but cotton?)

I know there are many villages in India who live without power for 6 hours a day at least. They have adapted. But I grew up in a city which mostly had power running… at least the place where I lived in because of certain VIPs around the area.

Why is there such an extravagant power shortage? And yes, we are fast reaching the point of desperation where the advantages of nuclear power seem a lot more than the fall out. But why does Bangalore face such acute power shortage? Bad planning, yes, certainly. But with all the promises government has been making about purchasing power… why hasn’t anything been done yet?

And we haven’t even hit the hottest summer months yet. If the preview is anything to go by, this is going to be a nightmare on which Hollywood will make movies – how people were burnt to death in summer.

Song of the day: Summer sunshine – the corrs

Bangalore Cops

I’d to take an auto home after 9 PM today. Anyone who has been in this city knows that is a nightmare experience… first you need to find a willing auto guy, negotiate the price which could vary from “one and a half” to double or any outrageous amount the driver figures he deserves for taking you home at that time of the night.

This one said one and a half and I agreed… no point haggling at that time of the night. Except… I first get  whiff of alcohol and figure it is my imagination. A few kilometres down the road I realise the meter is running to fast, almost jumping. I pointed it out to him and he pulled over the side and said “get off if you want to”. I shrugged and asked him to continue.

Another couple of kilometres and I realise the meter reads double of what it should. I got annoyed and got off and paid pretty much what the meter read – 70 bucks. (Which I figured was generous). Except he wanted 100.

Something just snapped and I said let’s go ask the cop.

Perhaps the driver was too drunk to care but he agreed. So we approached the cop. The cop instantly messaged someone… checked what the fare was on the auto meter, got a text report about how much it was supposed to be from where I took the rickshaw… which was about 40 bucks. So he figured the meter was fast, and I was being extremely fair in paying him 70 bucks… the driver, who was busy proclaiming he had all his documents in order, got a little annoyed and said he wanted 80 bucks. No such luck.

I was elated… of course, there was a crowd by that point – naturally – and some of them were also the good samartians who got involved in the discussion. I never understand those people… who just stop by and start behaving like judges and somehow believe that their word is also final. But it helped that I was a girl, fairly young looking at that, I guess. The cop kept repeating to the driver how it was not good of him to treat “young women like her” so badly, “making them get off on the side of the road at this time of the night”. I wasn’t sure if I should laugh or be annoyed… it was barely 10, not late by my standard but India remains traditional in some ways I guess.

I paid him off… he kept arguing and the cop got annoyed enough to question why the guy was not wearing his uniform and had booze on his breath… which was when I figured it was time to slip off. They offered to put me on a bus but I figured I should quit while I was ahead… the cop had been surprisingly nice and helpful, without asking for a bribe… and polite. So I got another auto – which again ran too fast – and got home.

Is the city really improving? I don’t know… but it feels good when the cops do their jobs right. And feels justified when you learn that the technology they have invested in is paying off. More traffic cops will apparently have Blackberrys soon so they can access data about drunk driving offenders right away and fine them or whatever. After today, I somehow believe that this could be possible.

Song of the day: Drive Away – Orianthi

Save The Tigers Project

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you know that there are only 1411 tigers left in India. Actually, considering how many regions tigers are found in rest of the world, the overall global population of tigers is probably less than 10,000.

So we got the message – save the tigers. Do NOT be an idiot who lets an animal gets instinct in your lifetime. I have received several text messages, emails, invitations to groups on Facebook and any other group I belong to. I see ads on tv with famous people wearing tshirts saying “save the tigers”.

I just have one simple question – HOW?

Somehow, in all the conversation and planning the ad campaigns, they forgot to tell us how. I cannot go out into the wild and bring a tiger home. I cannot set up a fence around the tiger. I do not go into the forests with a gun and shoot them down. So, how can me, a normal citizen, living in a concrete jungle, save the tiger? What do I do?

Because I really want to do something. Merely contributing money to yet another organization which says they help wildlife doesn’t really help.

So what on earth do urbanites like us taking up space do to save the tigers?

Driving in Bangalore

… is a nightmare.

I had never really taken my car out in peak hour traffic. Of yes, there were those random weekends when i’d to get somewhere… but I was neither tired, nor was everyone else in a hurry… or I had people in the car with me… or the excitement of taking the car out for the first time. So discounting all that, I took the car out for the first time yesterday during peak hour traffic.

I knew when I got the car out in the morning I should’ve taken my bike. The wind was still a little cool and the sun just warming up to bake us all and I just took the car because my back hurt from riding the distance and I needed a new helmet.

So at 6.05 PM I finally headed out of the office. The road a little fuller than I was used to but having gotten adept at squeezing at whatever possible openings, I managed to get myself to the first bottleneck. I saw a huge Scorpio trying to make a u-turn – which was basically a spot where people had pulled out the stones to make some turns easier for them (read: illegal). The space wasn’t enough to squeeze in my little car, let alone that monster but the guy was determined, despite blocking the traffic for 5 minutes.

5 minutes doesn’t seem like much in the scheme of things but in peak hour traffic, the entire 3 km road can back up, which is what happened now. People leaned on the horn as they craned their necks to see what was happening. Bikes squeezed in anywhere they could – the pavement, the 2 inch of space between cars and buses. What was the hurry? Home is all they had to go! I turned up my music and stopped, figuring they would move when they do.

Cell phones – aren’t they banned when you are driving?

Such rules absolutely doesn’t seem to apply to people. Nor have they heard of lanyards, bluetooth or any such thing. So the phone rings – and I bet it is on vibrate mode – and the guy on the bike struggles one-handed to pull out the cell from the pocket of his overtight jeans… then he keeps on driving (read: zigzagging all across the road) while he shoves the phone in his helmet or worse, just starts talking like he is walking somewhere. And then he sees a cop at the end of the road on the right side and figures if he switches to the left side, the cop won’t see him or won’t bother stopping him (is it worse that this actually works). So he suddenly cuts across the road, despite what cars and bikes are coming. I mean, come on, why wouldn’t people stop for him. Honking doesn’t work. They’ve some device in their ears that just blocks out all such stupid noise.

So I went a little crazy drove almost the rest of the way with one hand on the horn. Apparently a long drawn blast of the horn does get people’s attention. Of course, most of the glances I got were of the “what are you getting worked up about” sorts. This is the way we drive apparently. With no order, no  regard to rules, squeezing through wherever we can find a gap.

Doesn’t it occur to anyone that it would be so much simpler if people followed lane discipline? At least on the main roads. Stick to the right if you are going right. Do not cross over all the way from the right to the left just as the light turns green and zoom across, cutting everyone off. Morons!

And there are roads which are dug up, or parts of a road which are dug up without a warning… So you manage to beat the traffic, overtake a moron talking on a cell hone from the left and are about to zoom when you have to break suddenly – and pray  you won’t be rear ended – because some idiot has decided to dig up the manhole and leave it open and the only on that is a piece of some shrub sticking out of it. And then you spend the next 15 minutes trying to head back into the traffic lane, trying to be polite with your indicator on… hoping some good soul will slow down and let you back into the traffic.

Of course such good souls are rarely present, which means you pull your socks up, put that hand back on the horn and swing into traffic, praying you won’t get slammed. Little scratches are perfectly acceptable. You can choose to stop and argue with the guy – creating a little more traffic but venting your day’s frustration – or shrug and just keep going.

I’m sure there is some God watching all those on the road. How else would you explain that cars don’t get dented (much) or there are as many rear-ending accidents as there should’ve been?

I finally managed to pull up outside my house, the car in pretty much the same state as I took it out but my mind completely frazzled with all the close calls. And I figured till i get used to the fact that the car next to me is closer than the two seats in my car and that is normal, the car stays in the garage.

Song of the day: Willie Nelson – On the Road Again