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Sunday, July 10, 2005

Bangalore after dark

The cover story on the Sunday supplement of New Indian Express is on Bangalore. It's specifically about the night life, from anywhere between the streets to the call centre office rooms.

The article is a first-hand account. Edited excerpts are below as an appetiser. Below that is the link to the original artcle. And, in case of difficulty in accessing the link, the entire article is reproduced at the end.

We Bangaloreans may find the article quite an uncharitable description. So before we judge it, let us remember that the article selectively focusses only on one particlar aspect of a multicultural, multilingual, multiethnic, multiprofessional, muliti... (whatever) city.

Excerpts:

** Three young men are peering into a piece paper, and one of them is scribbling on it furiously. The fourth occupant of the table, a woman in her early 20s, has no interest in what they are doing. She takes leisurely drags at her cigarette, coming to life only when the man sitting beside her puts an arm around her and leans to whisper something. Then the man quickly returns to the piece of paper. A difficult question has to be answered: Which company owned the Titanic?.....

** It is Thursday evening.... at The Night Watchman, a pub on... M G Road. ...they have this quiz programme called Booze and Brains. To Bangaloreans...who know how to handle their drinks... the booze does not seem to slow down their brains...

** Booze is not difficult to find in Bangalore even long after the police deadline.

** At Mojos, a cosy pub on the Residency Road.... more than a watering hole, this seems to be a place to catch up with friends after work.

** Bangalore never parties: partying is an extension of work here. It’s your right to have a mug or two of beer after work: even single women, unlike women in most cities, are entitled to that right. They just walk in, order a beer, and say ‘Hi’ to whoever they know, and walk off — without worrying about dealing with single men trying to pile on. And nobody is piling on here: everybody is out on work — on an assignment called ‘chilling out’. No wonder Mojos, like The Night Watchman, is packed.

** Outside Styx, a pub on M G Road that plays hard rock. I have reached here after walking the length of the road – walking past groups of “software professionals” (a term journalists have turned into a cliche) taking a break and also groups of exceptionally well-dressed women. The women, it turned out on closer inspection, were gaudily dressed. And some of them were not women at all. Solicitation of this kind does not happen in any other city in India – I mean in the heart of the city and that too as early as 9 pm.

** The next evening I am at a family joint — the Indira Nagar Club. Just before dinner, we go to the men’s room of this family club. There I spot something that resembles a public telephone box: drop a coin and make a call. It turns out to be a condom-vending machine: drop a five-rupee coin and get a pack of four condoms, “Manufactured by TTK, Cathedral Road, Chennai.”

** The condom is a subject of discussion in Bangalore these days. The drainage pipe of a call centre in the city was recently found clogged with used condoms. Also recently, a friend of this filmmaker friend, who is in the business of supplying air-conditoners to big firms, got a complaint from one of the call centres that some of its ACs were not working. When this man went to inspect the machines, he found their vents clogged with used condoms.

** Still, condom-vending machines are available in several call centres: the idea being their employees should be safe than sorry. Yet these big IT firms are doing whatever they can to check the promiscuity resulting from odd working hours. Some of them are said to have replaced couches with single chairs, while some others are said to have instructed security guards to take a round every 10 minutes.


Full article
here

Bangalore after dark
Friday July 8 2005 14:08 IST

Bishwanath Ghosh

Three young men are peering into a piece paper, and one of them is scribbling on it furiously. The fourth occupant of the table, a woman in her early 20s, has no interest in what they are doing. She takes leisurely drags at her cigarette, coming to life only when the man sitting beside her puts an arm around her and leans to whisper something. Then the man quickly returns to the piece of paper. A difficult question has to be answered: Which company owned the Titanic?

The quizmaster, Mark Rego, repeats the question. Most tables fall silent. The occupants gulp their beer, think, and jot down their guesses. The next question is rather easy: Which country was known as Siam? The third isn’t too difficult: Which US city is named after St. Francis of Assisi? Next comes a question whose answer every Indian should know but nobody seems to: Who is the architect of the Taj Mahal? A few more questions follow and one round comes to an end. The DJ plays Summer of 69 and people order more beer and ask the waiters for fresh sheets of paper to answer the next round.

It is Thursday evening and I am sitting with a bunch of newly-made friends at The Night Watchman, a pub on an innocuous-looking street off Bangalore’s famous M G Road. The place is packed on Thursdays, when they have this quiz programme called Booze and Brains. To many the title might sound as an oxymoron, but not Bangaloreans, who know how to handle their drinks. The booze does not seem to slow down their brains, for someone or the other in the crowd knows the answer to even the most difficult of questions — Which country outlawed religion in 1967? I say ‘Cuba’ and one of the friends, Vikram, jots it down. I am confident that a free, moisture-coated pitcher of beer would soon be sitting on our table. But the pitcher was destined for the man — or the woman — who gave the answer as Albania.

“Who minds a free pitcher of beer? And if you score the maximum points, all the booze that you have here is on the house,” says Vikram, a creative writer with a top advertising agency, explaining the crowds at The Night Watchman on Thursday evenings. The evening, meanwhile, is coming to an end. It is night now — 11.15 pm to be precise. The Bangalore police wants all watering holes to be shut by 11.30. So we troop out. The quiz is still on and as I near the exit, I hear another question being thrown up: What is the title given to Camilla Parker Bowles?

Outside, the air is chilly. This is June but this can also be a Delhi January. An argument breaks out between my new friends: Whose place are we going to spend the rest of the night? Spending the night means more drinking — that was a given. And booze is not difficult to find in Bangalore even long after the police deadline. So I find myself heading to the place of a man I have known barely for hours. But they are comfortable with me – only that they don’t call me ‘uncle’, maybe out of politeness. Though they keep referring to each other as ‘uncles’ and ‘aunties’ — as anyone in his or her late twenties or early thirties is labelled in Bangalore.

The new friend, whose home I am headed to, shares his flat with a colleague. The colleague, called Yashwant, is fast asleep when we arrive. He has to be kicked awake — literally. But once awake, he is jovial. “Do you smoke?” he asks me. I say yes. “No, no, not that, I am talking about this,” he says, pointing to the grass he is crushing on his palm. I say no. By then he has already made out joints for himself and his friends who, by now, are watching, on their DVD player, a movie called American History X.

The next evening I find myself at Mojos, a cosy pub on the Residency Road. Waiters are carrying around pitchers of beer, but more than a watering hole, this seems to be a place to catch up with friends after work. Bangalore never parties: partying is an extension of work here. It’s your right to have a mug or two of beer after work: even single women, unlike women in most cities, are entitled to that right. They just walk in, order a beer, and say ‘Hi’ to whoever they know, and walk off — without worrying about dealing with single men trying to pile on. And nobody is piling on here: everybody is out on work — on an assignment called ‘chilling out’. No wonder Mojos, like The Night Watchman, is packed. I find myself seated right in front of the door to the men’s restroom, and throughout the evening I am shifting my chair frequently to allow the beer-guzzlers in. That helps anyway, because the loud music prevents you from making conversation unless you keep moving your chair forward. From one wall hangs the poster of John Lennon — he is striking a contemplative pose, with a cigarette in hand. From another wall hangs a picture of Eric Clapton – he seems to be meditating with his guitar.

I am still looking at the posters when my attention is drawn to the T-shirt of a young man who has just walked in. It reads: “Led Zeppelin.” Only in Bangalore can you often find people wearing T-shirts like that. Here, Rock is religion. And people like Zeppelin the presiding deities.

Now playing: Led Zeppelin, says the electronic scroll outside Styx, a pub on M G Road that plays hard rock. I have reached here after walking the length of the road – walking past groups of “software professionals” (a term journalists have turned into a cliche) taking a break and also groups of exceptionally well-dressed women. The women, it turned out on closer inspection, were gaudily dressed. And some of them were not women at all. Solicitation of this kind does not happen in any other city in India – I mean in the heart of the city and that too as early as 9 pm. I fled from the sidewalk, crossed the road and was about to turn into Brigade Road when I saw the electronic scroll: Led Zeppelin. But for the scroll, I would have missed Styx — it sits unassumingly on the first floor of a nondescript building.

A burst of energy hits me as soon as I open the door. I am in a different planet, whose inhabitants drink beer and who speak only in the language of the guitar. This is also one place where guitars speak, and each time a guitar acquires the vocal chords of a human, the crowd goes berserk. I have a difficult time making it to the bar, navigating through half a dozen swaying bodies playing imaginary guitars. There are quite a few single women sitting at the bar, drinking off the counter. I have no courage to make conversation with them. They look the no-nonsense, out-on-business types. I somehow conclude they are “IT professionals” — another occupation reporters freely attribute to any source who does not want to be identified.

I get my beer and survey the electrified atmosphere. There are many more single women around. One of them is standing next to me. She must be in her early twenties. She has her lower lip pierced and she is smoking incessantly — lighting a new cigarette from the glow of the dying one — and constantly swaying her head to the music. Behind me, on the sofa, are two young men who are also swaying their heads but their heads are tilted down: they clearly have had too much to drink. And those half a dozen boys are still playing imaginary guitars. One of them, however, is taking frequent breaks unlike the rest — a tall boy with shoulder-length hair. Wherever he spots a glass of beer, he takes a sip. Nobody seems to mind. Not even Ms Pierced Lip. Soon Mr Long Hair gets talking to her. Since the music is too loud, any conversation is not possible without the brushing of cheeks. Kisses follow, and soon after embraces. Ms Pierced Lip and Mr Long Hair have discovered each other – at least for that night. When I walk out of the pub, I feel I could have done better by borrowing a bit of courage from Mr Long Hair.

The next evening I am at a family joint — the Indira Nagar Club. A filmmaker friend, Anand, whose number I have managed to dig out from the directory, has called me for dinner. Here, for the first time, I hear Kannada being spoken as my friend instructs waiters about the drinks and dinner. But then, who will speak Kannada? Only 30 percent of Bangaloreans, I am told, are Kannadigas. Even the FM channels in Bangalore play Hindi songs most of the time: in fact if you listen to the radio here, you will never know whether you are in Bangalore or Banaras.

Just before dinner, we go to the men’s room of this family club. There I spot something that resembles a public telephone box: drop a coin and make a call. It turns out to be a condom-vending machine: drop a five-rupee coin and get a pack of four condoms, “Manufactured by TTK, Cathedral Road, Chennai.”

The condom is a subject of discussion in Bangalore these days. The drainage pipe of a call centre in the city was recently found clogged with used condoms. Also recently, a friend of this filmmaker friend, who is in the business of supplying air-conditoners to big firms, got a complaint from one of the call centres that some of its ACs were not working. When this man went to inspect the machines, he found their vents clogged with used condoms. Still, condom-vending machines are available in several call centres: the idea being their employees should be safe than sorry. Yet these big IT firms are doing whatever they can to check the promiscuity resulting from odd working hours. Some of them are said to have replaced couches with single chairs, while some others are said to have instructed security guards to take a round every 10 minutes.

While the companies maybe more worried about sex in the workplace, people like Ashok K Rau are worried about AIDS infiltrating into the IT industry. ‘High’ = High Risk = HIV Positive, reads a poster in his office, Freedom Foundation, an organisation which rehabilitates alcoholics, drug addicts and victims of HIV. His logic is simple: when you are high on alcohol, you think of sex. And when you think of sex, you don’t really where who you are getting it from. In the process you can get the virus. And in a work culture where sex is rampant, you can pass the virus around.

“You have people who have not even finished college but who are getting Rs 10,000 as the starting salary,” says Dr Rau. “So they might have the money to spend, but they are hardly mature.” He warns “IT professionals” against thinking that AIDS is a disease that afflicts only commercial sex workers or truck drivers. “Today, the IT industry has become a vulnerable group as well, just like the sex workers or the trucks drivers,” he says.

His organisation recently conducted a poll among a cross section of youth employed in the IT industry — including the call centres. Nearly 80 percent thought HIV was only a problem for sex workers and poor people. As many as 25 percent admitted to having casual sex. About 72 percent of the men said they never used a condom because they presumed their partners were either “clean” or “decent”. And 15 percent of the single women said they had their first sexual encounter under the influence of alcohol. About 40 percent of the respondents believed that pre-marital sex was permissible. And 24 percent said “no” when asked whether they should have sex only with their spouse after marriage.

One doesn’t know if Bangaloreans — rather the people who populate the IT industry of the city — would ever have the time to ponder over Dr Rau’s statistics. There is so much they can do in that time. Such as grab a glass beer in one of the countless pubs and listen to Pink Floyd.

7 comments:

  1. decrease the lengths of yr posts man-theyre too darn long to be readable!!.

    ReplyDelete
  2. and i know exactly what you mean by skimpily dressed "i am desperate for male attention" women.

    ReplyDelete
  3. High time someone probed into the Bangalore Night Life and the
    (in)famous Call Centre circuit with the detachment shown by this writer. At present it is a speculative subject. I find this article an eyeopener.

    ReplyDelete
  4. Nice Article, Insightful and there were many new things here about nightlife in blr which I did not know

    ReplyDelete
  5. Anjana: A lot of my blog postings are quite short,as I am very well aware that no one reads anything that is too long. That's also the reason, why I post a summary of a long article that I have read, instead of posting just that article as it is.

    Silverine, Praveen: True, this is not the Bangalore even many Bangaloreans knew. So much so many can't believe it.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Your blog contains interesting information, so i think it will easily to reach the correct market place... Pre School Bangalore Indira Nagar

    ReplyDelete