Bangalore is a strange place because it is just like cities at home. Almost slap bang in the middle of India, it sits like a jigsaw piece put in the wrong box. To some, it is the epitome of the “two tier” society outsiders see when they look this country. But that is just in mean economic terms, and when you actually get here you soon realise that Western ideas of how society structures itself into two halves down purely how much cash is in your account is the worst of models. It just doesn’t work in India; there is another dimension to the whole thing, a special dimension of multi-layered religious and social tiers laying next to each other for a thousand years. Most of the time, India provides a refreshing change for visitors. How much money you have does not define you and your world.
And then you come to Bangalore…
Like an enclave, an aberrant experiment from a westernised think-tank or a sad glimpse into the future, Bangalore encapsulates India’s movement. It will take a very long time to become the norm, and I am sure that the people will fight it, but if India is the future economic power that the west fears, then This Is India 2030. But is that my wearing nostalgic glasses for the “raw” India? I must admit that in moaning about Bangalore in this way I feel like John the Savage talking to Mustapha Mond at the end of Huxley’s A Brave New World.
“So you want the dirt, the grime, and the children dying in the street, the mud, the religious chains, the unbreakable and the unbearable unfairness?” He asks me.
“Er yes –“ I answer before he cuts me off with a wave of his hand.
“You’re welcome to it!” he says.
I guess he would be right, but I still don’t like it.
Bangalore is a part of India that western people often imagine. Home to the famously outsourced call centres of banks and Indian high tech. The basin of Indian programming companies, hammering out some of the world’s best products in all sorts of verticals. It is a city being built up all around itself. There is the endless work on the sky train that will be finished any millennium now. Shopping streets unlike anything I have seen outside of Mumbai and some of the best high end coffee shops in the country. We stopped there for only a few days after our visit to the ancient heartlands of Hampi, because Cesca needed a new power cable for her laptop and we found one in a Singapore-like technology mall. It also had a Cannon showroom, camera shops galore, laptop outlets and privately run computer stores.
It was really quite dizzying after Hampi and not designed for the tourist. Or at least the non Indian tourist.
It was here, perhaps because I had nowhere to really visit and so I was in the room a little more, that I noticed something about Indian TV advertising that still makes me chuckle. It was one of those things where you see something from the outside or skewed in some way that suddenly makes you realise that it is very strange or that you suddenly understand it in another way. An example would be the film Bladerunner, which I watched maybe 10 times before some girl at a party pointed out that Deckard was also a replicant. Suddenly, the entire film was phase shifted in my mind and I saw into the heart of it in a way I never had before. This was like that. It says something about the aspirant nature of India, Bangalore and the want for being, what the west would call, the “haves”.
It was adverts for motorbikes.
Or more exactly adverts for mopeds made to look like motorbikes.
They all basically went along the same lines. A very handsome guy is asked by his friend how it is that the ladies love him. He explains, in that way that is kind and offhand – because he is soooo cool, that basically, “chicks dig his bike.” Cut to short excerpts of film showing women, usually the type of rich Indian women who has self confidence, money, western clothes and yet is somehow from a previous generation in sexual ethics. They all see this guy on his bike and almost swoon. This can in some cases become a little sordid. I saw one advert where a women, walking with her children, hides them to appear sexually available to his bike riding Lothario. The guy rides manfully into shot, looks right into the camera and taps his chest with his hand, like he is saluting a Roman Emperor, and says, “Tak Tak Go!”
Quite apart from the misogamist, anti-women, anti-respect nature of the ad – what women would hide her kids like that: it was sickening! – the thing that makes the add really stand out, and it makes you suddenly realise you are being sold “fnords”, is the guy’s bike.
All that macho, sweaty pro-male bullshit about how sexy this bike is and it is 100cc. Yes, 100. I know two guys in the UK, real men who love their wives and care for their kids and take care of business, who have bikes over 1800cc. The idea of acting “cool and hard”, the idea of acting “special”, on a 100cc bike is frankly hilarious. And it made me feel better about India’s strides to ape the (almost broken) western model of society and wealth, because with ads like this – clearly – they have some way yet to go.
Not that our hotel room was a nice place to sit either. In fact it was the hottest and most uncomfortable night’s sleep I had in India. We couldn’t even use a sheet to cover us, it was that hot. Our room was in one of the innumerable travellers hotels and not anything I would want to revisit. As I pulled back the cover, a bed bug ran out. It was here that we formed the two bed bugs rule. One, I will put up with. Two, well, we are moving to a new hotel!
This was our view out of the window, ‘nuff said:
We left and moved on to Mysore with great happiness.
That entry coming in next weeks podcast!