The Weekend

There has been blogging silence for a while. Perhaps the lack of interesting topics to talk about or the reluctance to talk about things on this not-so-private platform.

Had a much relaxed and different Saturday night in a while… different in the sense it wasn’t my usual crowd and usual hang out spot. I graced the streets of the city centre after months, only to being hyperventilating a minute after stepping onto the main street.

I was all excited and eager to be there but in the joy, I had forgotten that it was Christmas and every mother’s son and daughter would be on the street ‘celebrating’ the day. But since i was already there, I figured the only way to really deal with it was Pink Floyd and plugged on my ipod and literally jumped into the crowd. It was a little like jumping into an ocean of black heads and backs. You cannot see anything beyond a step in front of you, and if you are lucky, beside you too. So you need to know where you want to go and plan accordingly and the crowd carries you till then.

The most surprising part was that people actually managed to walk in groups and not lose each other in the madness. Guys made use of the opportunity to cop a quick feel while others tried to get out of there as fast as possible.

Ironically, the other pavement was only half crowded. I don’t know what laws of the universe states that this side of the pavement has to be always crowded on this street. That’s how it has been as far as I can remember. Perhaps people just cross into the street and don’t want to cross over to the other pavement. I don’t know. But as I had to take a left, I walked with my head down and Pink Floyd wailing that we don’t need no education till someone literally yanked me into the corner and said “hey”

So we – a friend and me – stood at an intersection and talked, without really blocking anyone. That’s another way this place works… there are little nooks where you can stand and chat.

And because it was Christmas, there were piles of Santa hats being sold. The fashion of the season. Almost everyone was wearing one or was dressed in red. For once, I was glad that I was not wearing red…. I wore non-Christmas colours, I realised surprisingly. The cafes were crowded and even the staff wore Santa hats.

The marked difference between predominantly Christian countries and India is that during Christmas every shop does have a tree and a mistletoe and perhaps even Christmas special menu but the goodwill is absolutely missing. Of course, in the U.S. or elsewhere, most of these shops will be closed. But here, nobody wishes you “Merry Christmas” when you enter the shop or give you candy when you are walking out. That sort of marketing just has not entered the retail mindsets here.

The only place where we were wished was this old Chinaman who took our order at a restaurant. I found his courtesy and the way he spoke to us utterly charming. The food was mediocre and the ambiance, worse. But the man made up for all of it and more.

Shopping was… unsuccessful to say the least. When you have specific ideas like I do about what you are looking for, it is really hard to find in a city that is a season behind the top fashions and even then factory-produces the designs. And then prices them outrageously.

It is disappointing to find that my favorite shopping haunts are gone or have become outrageously priced. Since when did a simple long woolen top cost close to a grand in a non-branded, rip-off place. Commercial Street and such are Bangalore’s equivalent of Bombay’s Causeway or Linkin Road. But the thing is… the prices and the quality simply cannot measure up to Bombay. The retailers realise that people are willing to pay in Bangalore. So what would probably cost 500 in Bombay costs double here. Worse, my favorite shopping haunt – Tibet Market – which is run by these displaced Tibetans is now one of the most outpriced places in the city 😦

They had simple, clean fashions that fit me (important factor). The quality was the same as in the stores (who would mark up their goods by 50 percent – as a retailer friend tells me) so Tibet Market was where all us college kids headed for good bargains. Now, they are perhaps more expensive than a store. Charity? Donation for a cause? I’m not sure I feel charitable anymore.

Oh well… it was an evening well spent. Church Street often reminds me of the back alleys of the most exclusive cities in the world. Or the slightly faded street behind the most exclusive streets in the world. At 11.30, there are autos parked outside every restaurant, which is every few steps, soliciting and bargaining with people. Autos are a terror in the city. But when buses stop plying around midnight or are few and far in between, not to mention about the safety part…

There were women dressed up in the shortest skirts, making me wonder how they were not shivering in the 8 degree temperature of the city. Men were drunk and loud. We got hit on several times in the short stretch of the road… I’m undecided yet if that could even be called “hit on” or be called “harassed” and if there is any part of it which is flattering that a 20-year old thinks I look young and hot; or how guys are such morons that they get a kick out of saying ‘hey hey hey’ till you look at them and then giggle and then approach you and say ‘my friend wants to talk to you’. And then laugh like hyenas when you roll your eyes and keep walking.

It isn’t an Indian thing. We got asked for a drink by Indian guys when we were walking past a club, we got harassed by a bunch of drunk African guys when we were leaving and an Iranian guy suggested we would like to join him an after party. Men all over the world really have no idea what a woman wants?

Sunday was perhaps more successful. A warm, sunny afternoon… wine, pasta and brilliant company after finding almost the very thing that you wanted. It reminded of the afternoon just a year ago spent by the lake in Melbourne. The sun makes you a little more drunk… and makes you lazy and just wanting to bask on a bean bag with a novel and just… snooze. Rare, such afternoons are. Particularly in winter when the sun sets early and the wind gets harsh. I walked around, feeling stronger, feeling calmer… and not thinking about those things that haunt your sleep.

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The Day That Was

I am beginning to believe that I am jinxed. In some little manner.

Saturday was supposed to be finally the much-craved fun-filled day. I debated whether it should be casual, dressy or a slouchy t-shirt day and figured it would be blue jeans, white shirt and white pumps (you will get to know why this is important). So just as I was about to leave home, I got a call from a friend.

I’ve been planning to do a photography course for a while and finally managed to call the guy who runs the course and enrolled. I was to meet him on sunday or monday and pay up for the course. I’d been trying his cell ever since we spoke but it was switched off.

Now the friend calls and asks “What the hell is happening with Hellmuth Conz?” and I was explaining that I’d not been able to get in touch with the guy, so maybe I shouldn’t have told people I’m taking a photography course already. “No no! All these things about him being a German pimp?” she said.

Turns out the guy was buster yesterday for running a prostitution ring somewhere in the city! Of course, there was only one tiny article about it on some website called Express Buzz and I would’ve dismissed completely if his phone had not been off since the day the article said he was arrested. Happy Coincidence? I know not!

He is over 60 years old and has been living in this city for over a decade. He has also been conducting photography classes in various top colleges and is a really great photographer. Would he really need to run a prostitution ring? I do not know. Couldn’t the cops have been ineffective for a few weeks more, if they hadn’t been able to catch him for nearly 10 years? WTF!!!

On the other hand, I’d not yet paid up for the course. I’m sure if that is compensation enough because I was really looking forward to this course. I like his style of photography 😦 And yeah, it is funny in a weird way.

So with that news playing in my mind, and wondering who else had referred to him as “german pimp” a while ago, I headed out to drown my miseries in some bad wine with friends. Considering I would be drinking, I figured I’d take an auto and get a friend to drop me back home or take a cab back.

Except within two minutes of hailing an auto, the guy starts taking a different route. “You are supposed to go left” I said.

“Yes I know. Two minutes. I want to get gas.”

I hate it when they do that. Don’t they have time to ever get fuel in the city, all the while they are fricking lounging around on street corners? They always choose to get fuel when I’m in it and I’m running late. So I left him to go do what he wants and hailed another auto. Of course, for once, I had to walk nearly ten minutes.

Twenty minutes later we are stuck in the middle of a horrible traffic jam near the city. The traffic was less than crawling and the auto guy started blaming me for it.

“We should’ve taken the other route,” he said. I stared at him, wondering who it was who said “this way will be faster and less traffic”.

I figured I would walk – in white, heeled shoes – till a spot where the traffic cleared up a bit and hail another rickshaw from there. So I plugged in my music, wrapped my stole around me as tight as possible and started walking. 7 PM on this road, women walking (in groups or otherwise) is absolutely not advisable. Actually I don’t think women ever walk around in this area… it is filled with car shops – tyres, seats, audio equipment; furniture stores etc… all those places where you get good, cheap deals with warranties (which separates it from the grey market, which is further down the road). But no woman walks there…

Finally, after nearly having been run over by a bus who figured vehicles and people would vanish into thin air if he just revved in a two-inch space, I walked into a road where there was no traffic. But there was nothing else either. This is the seedier section of the road with mechanic shops. A bit of a slum, it is quite dirty, dingy and you see no women here. Well, there are maybe one or two but they are walking, covered in a veil, with their men. There are a few mosques there and most of the businesses there are owned by Muslims.

I never realised till then how unsafe Bangalore has gotten. There were men staring at me as I walked past. There were low whistles, which I ignored. The one good thing about being on a street like that was the autos would pull up to you, ignoring all the men waiting before you. Except, they could also smell my desperation to get out of there, the way a dog scents fear. And none of them spoke kannada, hindi or english. They spoke Tamil. Of all the languages in this state, they spoke tamil. And they wanted outrageous prices to take me 4 kms down the road. One quoted 150 bucks, the next was 80 and the other was double the fare. As desperate as I was, I wasn’t ready to be hosed.

But the frustration made me turn and snarl at two guys who were walking behind me, singing weird songs, whistling and pretending to hail autos as well. Maybe it was fear or sympathy, they hailed an auto for me, who agreed to take me the 4 short kms if i paid him 10 bucks extra. I figured I’d pretty much used up my luck, cursed, swore and got in.

Except, the traffic started up again in the next road. Even my favorite song couldn’t keep the frustration down. So out I went again and walked the next 3 kms in my pretty white shoes. At least this was a better part of town…

My friends were already there. Noon Wines – a slightly shady place which serves only beer and wine. The beer is a little watered down and the wine is cheap and heavily adulterated with rum, the big screen plays only cricket or some sport. There is no audible music, it is too dark to discern what is on your plate exactly and the waiters are fast and bored. Just the kind of place to unwind after a bad day.

Soon we decided to head to a nice club – Ice – one of my favorite party spots in town. Had been a long while since I went there and i was with a new bunch of people and quite eager to show off the place.

Except, when I get there, I was told the guest list entry time had expired. But I could still enter cuz hey! I was a regular but my friends had to pay 2 grand to enter. Half of them were okay with it and the other half a little skeptical. And I was wondering, why on earth were we paying as two couples?

And then I see a number of white guys entering the place without paying shit. Which absolutely pissed me off. We have been having this same discussion on Jacek’s blog – how the white people in India get the VIP treatment simply because they are white.

Now I knew that Ice sometimes did this. Infact, a lot of clubs in Bangalore do this. It is their way of advertisement apparently. The way it works, as a friend explained to me, if they let white people enter and party, more Indians will want to enter that club because they think it is cool, a popular place to be and would want to be seen partying with the white people. So the Indians pay the money and the white people party for free. I am not sure what disgusts me more – the assumption behind the marketing strategy or the fact that it nearly works. Or that we have such a horrible opinion about our own countrymen. Didn’t the period of white dominance end?

So me and a friend were horribly pissed – me, more than anything else and I refused to enter the club. I would not pay to enter a place where I have been nearly every other weekend when I have to pay simply because I was a little late to gain entry on the guest list and because hey! I am an Indian in INDIA!

We wound our way up – after more negotiations with auto guys, a broken auto and a bit of walking later – to F&B, which I realised used to be Madeira till a year ago. The city sure changes fast. The decor hadn’t changed, nor had the huge football screen playing Arsenal match. The last time I was there, it was Chelsea vs someone. There were a few foreigners there as well but I’d managed to get most of my temper back in control… mainly due to the fact that i was with some new people and punching someone out wasn’t an option.

We danced to weird house music, tried to make conversation with a bunch of people who didn’t really get us and were wondering where exactly I fit in. You see, I can swim in different waters… I am a Kannadiga, with a lot of exposure to our culture as well as others. So i speak really good kannada, fairly decent hindi, a bit of telugu and I think mostly in English. I have a slight accent, which was American at one point and now it is sort of nothing at all but still ‘anglicized’ as people like to call it. And the group of people I met were very ‘guys’ and very ‘local’.

Not to generalize, but they would be the sort who are software engineers from traditional families, they travel to the US and Europe for work and get a bit of culture, which they might not understand, like or appreciate but they feel the travel adds a bit of exoticness to them and is a good point for their marriage resume. They would not be able to discuss about Italian history and the craziness of it all but they will definitely tell you about the tour they took and what they thought of the colosseum. They would not do much off the beaten path and their un-adventureness is the most beautiful and the most irritating part about them. Their travels have given them enough confidence to talk to strange people suddenly thrust on them but they like to hang out in their group, in the occasional club where they never venture out of the comfort zone of the whole group of buddies, they get married to beautiful women in accordance to their families and they are steady, dependable men.

I am being a little cruel but more or less, that is how it works. The ‘modern yet traditional India’ which sometimes pisses me off with their hypocrisy.

But these were nice guys, sweet and quite willing to talk… even if not dance, which neither parties wanted anyway. But I was the paradox… the south Indian female who wasn’t traditional, yet not quite out there to just classify me as ‘ultra modern’ – a term used to classify the people whose ideas are a little too progressive, eccentric and beyond their understanding and on the border of gossip.

Oh i’ve no complaints with them. They are the sweetest bunch of people I have met in a long while and quite willing to accept everything. My friends though were a little bemused.

And so we had the end-of-night chai, sitting on the sidewalk when i realised it was the first time in too long to count when I was out on a saturday night with friends without cars, without my own car, the saturday night clubbing ritual where you end up in a buffet restaurant, the slow winding down of the day and such. There were no cabs available and so there was yet another overpriced auto and a headache brewing at the back of my head for the first time ever in the form of a hangover (does it count as a hangover if the headache starts even before you go to bed?)

But it was definitely the most eventful – mostly interesting, and not bad, eventful – day in a long while.

Here’s to March, hot summer days and turning 25.

Song of the day: The Long Walk Home – Bruce Springsteen