Bangalore

Travelling with T1D is always a challenge, but when travelling to a 3rd world country for an extended period the challenges, and adventures, can be multiplied.

In this section are stories from my four and a half months in Bangalore, some directly to do with T1D and some not. But all of the stories are regardless, based on an existence with T1D as the always present consideration.

Bangalore – The One About the New Apartment

This story has nothing to do with type 1 diabetes. It is set in 2005 when I did my first trip to Bangalore and shows what a fascinating place India is. 

It’s Sunday and all is well. The main thing that has happened in the past week is that I have moved into my permanent accommodation. 

The way that it is done is that if you are here for a short term, say 1 to 6 weeks, you stay in an extremely expensive hotel. If you are here for longer than that, and some Melbourne people are here for 10 or 11 months, then you spend the first week or two in a hotel, during which time more permanent accommodation is found for you. 

One of the things that staggers me about Bangalore is the cost of accommodation. There are a lot of hotels, of all standards, and as westerners it is expected that we will accept nothing but the best. So we are put up in 4 and 5 star hotels at a cost of $A2,600 per week or more. Now that might be expected for the reasonably brief stays of a few days, but I was in the hotel for 4 weeks at a cost exceeding $A2,600 per week. And I think anyone who has stayed in a hotel for that length of time would agree that hotels really get on the nerves after a while. 

So they found me an apartment. This process took 2 weeks and a number of trips out with the real estate agent; a charming balding local fellow of 34 years of age. He was very helpful and managed to land me an apartment. Part of the problem is that apartments of a western standard are as rare as hen’s teeth because there are so many people wanting them. This makes it a seller’s market and the price goes up. The apartment that they managed to get for me is costing $A3,000 per month. I thought everything in India was meant to be cheap? Some things are but many things are not, and accommodation is one of them. 

But wait. There is more to the story. 

The apartment, which I moved into on Saturday, is probably 20 something squares in size. It has 3 big bedrooms, each with its own bathroom. It has a powder room. It has a laundry, large kitchen and a huge living area. Oh, and all of the floors are made of marble. It is fully furnished with very expensive looking Baroque style furniture. It is fully fitted out with all of the knick knacks like vases, ornamental things and a jade coloured glass ornament thing that is truly ugly and worth Rs40,000. I know because it is all listed on the fact sheet that the owner provided. It also has a brand new fridge, a brand new washing machine (that isn’t properly connected up yet. Phone call to the agent coming up I suspect.). And I’ll be living here on my own. 

What it doesn’t have is hot water in the kitchen. Hmmm. 

The owner is a charming Indian lady who lives in Hong Kong with her husband. I met her during the proceedings and she was very nice indeed. It turns out that she also lived in Saudi Arabia for 3 years and didn’t like it very much. We had a good chat about that, surprise, surprise. 

Now my question is, do I really need 3 bedrooms, each with its own bathroom? No of course I don’t, but the incredible shortage of accommodation in this town means the choices were very limited. Oh, and 12 months ago this same apartment would have been worth half the price that it is worth now. So if you have a spare wad of money laying around, you could do worse than plonk it on real estate in Bangalore, India. 

Work is work. Nothing of great interest there, except there are more and more people from Melbourne coming over here. Very interesting change that one. Watch this space. 

Today (Sunday) I had a very pleasant lie in, then went to another part of the city that people have been saying is good. And it is. This is Commercial St, which is an area of a few blocks that is narrow streets and shop after shop after shop. Of course I wasn’t there for the shops. I was there to wander around and watch all of the people. When you venture off the main road, which itself is a narrow little road with cars lining both sides, and into the tiny little laneways and alleys that abound, that is where you find the interesting stuff. I found tiny little outfits doing tailoring while you wait. And here’s a twist – there was a tailer shop up an alley that was barely a metre and a half wide, that was run by an Arab. Donna, Rohan and Anna know that the tailor shops in Saudi are primarily Indian, even if they are owned by Arabs. But here was one in deepest, darkest India that was run by an Arabic fellow. 

* * * * * * * * 

It is now Friday the 25th of March; Good Friday. I’m at work today, but that’s no big deal, believe me. Today is much the same as any other day here because, with so many religions around, Christianity is just one of them and its special days are amongst many. Today also happens to be a very special day for Hindu’s. It is the second of a 3 day festival when from dawn til dusk they celebrate their God by throwing coloured powder on each other. I saw some young people doing this last night on the way home from work. I saw 2 teenage girls whose faces were covered in bright red. There were other people behind them still throwing the colour at each other. Keiran told me this morning that it is a special time and they do this for 3 days from dawn til dusk, and also drink a locally concocted brew which is “like alcohol but isn’t alcohol”. I don’t think I need to know any more about that. 

Settling myself into the new apartment has been interesting. One of the first things I noticed was that there is no hot water in the kitchen. There’s plenty of cupboards and bench space. There’s a reasonably good gas stove that has 4 out of 5 burners working. There is a brand new fridge that works a treat. But there is no hot water. Hmmm. I went into the bathrooms and discovered that there didn’t appear to be hot water there either. I thought “I’m in deep trouble when Donna comes to visit” so quickly spun up to desperate mode and rampaged around the apartment looking for answers. Eventually I figured out that each bathroom has its own hot water heater mounted on the wall and that there is a switch on the wall in the bedroom associated with each bathroom to turn it on. So I did this and lo and behold, half an hour later, I had hot water in the bathroom. Now for the kitchen. Yes, there was a similar switch on the wall. Yes, I could see a power point high up on the wall. Yes, I could see some “fittings” on the wall. But no, there didn’t seem to be a hot water heater. 

I contacted the real estate agent, who is now climbing the list of my life-long best friends, and asked him the obvious question. He was shocked and arranged that we would meet at the apartment at 4pm the following day (I finish work at 6pm). I agreed and meet we did. He told me that he had contacted the owner and she had confirmed that, no, there was no hot water in the kitchen. He explained to me that it is not normal for people in India to have hot water in the kitchen and that they wash their dishes in cold water. He also explained that the reason he was shocked at the lack of hot water was because he knew that us westerners expect to have it and he would have thought the apartment had it as it was being leased to a westerner. Meanwhile the owner had agreed to buy a water heater for the kitchen and have the agent supervise the installation. 

So, we had identified the situation. Now we needed to do something about it. The agent organised for a plumber to come in to install the unit. The two of them, plus the fellow who was there to connect the new washing machine, were waiting down stairs in the foyer of the building because there had been a misunderstanding of arrangements. I thought the agent was picking me up from work and we’d go together. His understanding was that I would meet them there. So after a mobile phone call and a mad dash in an Auto, I arrived at the apartment with them out the front. The three of them had only been waiting for 45 minutes for me. 

The washing machine was no drama. The fellow connected it up and then insisted on going through the apparently complex arrangements for putting washing powder in the machine and explaining the science behind the water level. When this was complete he left. Meanwhile the plumber was looking at the kitchen wall and the agent was, between mobile phone calls, watching the plumber look at the kitchen wall. 

Eventually there was movement. The plumber needed to get supplies because this was progressing into the realm of Civil Engineering (note the caps). Now I was getting unsure. It was approaching 6pm and I needed to go back to work to pick up my stuff and I wanted to get to bed at some stage tonight. Plus, I didn’t really want major works going on in my apartment. The plumber had taken off to the local plumbing supply place and the agent and I were in the apartment alone. So I suggested to the agent that maybe I would just not worry about it and explain to my wife when I saw her. Keep in mind the water heater unit had been purchased and was now sitting forlornly on the kitchen bench. The agent, ever trying to do the best job possible, decided to get a second opinion and used his trusty mobile phone to call the apartment complex maintenance people to get their point of view on the rogue water pipes. They dutifully arrived and, interestingly, gave the exact opposite point of view on the purpose and placement of said pipes. Now I was getting quite concerned, rather than just concerned. 

Then the plumber came back with his newly purchased supplies. A combination of the agent conducting with his mobile phone and the building maintenance guys in their blue uniforms were able to finally convince the intrepid plumber that maybe, just maybe, his understanding of the point and purpose of the pipes was not entirely accurate, and that if he did in fact manage to remove the now round nut that had been carefully painted over the same colour as the wall, we would be swimming out of the kitchen rather than just dragging our sorry sole’s out of there. 

The plumber shoulder’s sagged and his head went down. He had succumbed to a greater force; 3 hand waving, babbling compatriots rather than just one. Chalk one up for common sense. 

So, the upshot of all of this is that I do not have hot water in the kitchen. But I can easily transport pots of scalding hot water from the bathroom (of which there are 3 don’t forget, plus a powder room) to the kitchen via a pot. That then raises the subject of a plug for the sink. Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. Do you really want to hear the story about the plug for the kitchen sink? Well, it began with ……………….. 

* * * * * * * * 

I was walking around the local area the other night when I saw a sign for a language school. The sign stated that it specialized in English but also taught German, French “and other foriegn languages”. Note the spelling. Isn’t that great? Does it fill you with a desperate desire to part with your money so they can teach you a “foriegn language”? 

On the same walking trip I was walking past an older lady (40? 50?) who was sitting beside the path begging. She looked forlorn and looked up at me with hopeful eyes. But she didn’t plead and she didn’t touch me, so I gave her Rs10. She took the money and touched it to her forehead in a gesture of thanks and bowed to me in honour. 

I’d given her 30 cents. 

That is India as I have seen it. 

Bangalore – The One at City Market

It’s Sunday the 24th of April and today I have chosen to explore the City Market. It has taken me a long time to learn about the market, but I finally found out about it during the week and I went off to explore it today. 

The Auto driver wasn’t too clear on where I wanted to go, so I followed our route in the map book as we travelled along. I’m starting to really understand the set out of Bangalore now, or at least the inner part. In Melbourne terms, I’m getting quite good from Glenferrie to Footscray, with me living in Hawthorn. We got there with no drama at all. 

It was easy to tell we were there, map book or not, because suddenly the amount of activity in the street increased a thousand fold. I asked the driver to pull over, paid him his money, donned the backpack, checked the mobile and set off on this new adventure. 

I made my way through the thronging mob along a wide footpath where lots of street vendors were touting their wares. I knew this wasn’t yet the market and wanted to start the exploring centred on the actual market, to be able to set and maintain my bearings. So I made my way through the crowd towards the enormous intersection, on the other side of which was the market. The number of people amazed me, but I had only just scratched the surface so far. 

The first thing I saw as I entered the market proper, apart from a sea of humanity, was a sign in various languages warning of the presence of pick pockets in the area. I have seen a similar sign before, when I was in Commercial St, so this didn’t surprise me. I swapped my wallet to my front pocket and held my mobile in my hand. That’ll fool them. 

Off I went. 

Have you ever felt like the whole world is looking at you? Have you ever “stood out in a crowd?” Yes? No you haven’t until you have walked into Bangalore City Market wearing a white, New Zealand t-shirt and carrying an over packed backpack on your back. Talk about turn heads! I can confidently say I was the only caucasian (There’s another interesting word. Have a look at it. What sort of Asian are we? A CAUC Asian. Interesting.) amongst conservatively a quarter of a million Indians. Many people might feel a little unnerved by that, and the thought did pass fleetingly through my mind, but I felt no danger what-so-ever. Although many strong men would wilt if they went where I went next. 

After entering the market I wandered through an area where they were selling fruit and vegies, which were very neatly stacked in piles on sheets on the ground. The ladies, and most of the people selling were ladies, sat there cross legged, surrounded by their goods. I didn’t recognize much of what they were selling, but the cucumbers were obvious, as were the bananas and oranges. But there is much else that I’m sure I’ve never seen before. 

I moved through this area and came to the entrance to the main building. A set of stairs went up and a set went down, so I chose the down ones. I descended to the set of a Saturday afternoon movie from the sixties, in which the hero is pursuing the villain through the back streets of Zanzibar. It was unbelievable. Now don’t get me wrong; there was nothing wrong with it at all. What was unbelievable was just how far from Melbourne I was, both in distance and time. I was now thousands of kilometres and sixty years from home. I actually paused momentarily to ponder my future. I checked my wallet and phone. I tightened the straps to my backpack, why I don’t know. I girded my loins, whatever that means, and decided to proceed. 

What I entered was a tightly packed labyrinth of stalls and pathways. Each stall was jam-packed with goods. Down here was where they were selling the things that couldn’t be sold in the sun, like tomatoes, cabbages, lettuce. There was aisle after aisle of stalls with more fruit and vegies than you can imagine. 

I walked up and I walked down. There was just so much to see. I came to realize that there were two central areas in the building around which the rest of the building was arranged, forming a figure eight pattern. At the bottom of the central areas were ladies sitting with piles and piles of the beautifully aromatic flowers they use to make the exquisitely smelling flower decorations for ladies hair. Around me the stalls had changed from fruit and vegetables to flowers, so everything was smelling beautiful. 

I walked around and around, spell bound by it all, eventually taking the stairs up to the next level. On this level were stalls selling kitchen ware of the type that was around fifty years ago. Now I was seeing what the “normal” people in Bangalore used to cook and eat with. Much of the cooking ware is made of heavy steel or iron and is used on gas stoves of the most basic kind. There were also many aluminium pots, from small to extremely large. I slowly walked around and around until I thought I may have attracted enough attention. 

I left the building by another door and found myself in another street of stalls, this time selling coconuts. Not knowing any better, I headed to the right, soon coming to a proper street. There were Autos, cars and two wheelers (motorbikes in case you have forgotten) snaking their way up the street with horns squealing. You see, the street was also full of people, walking up and down checking out the shops. Every shop had a stall out the front on the edge of the street, which wasn’t very wide. So now we had shop stalls, people, cars, Autos and two wheelers, all taking up the very limited space in the street. 

I turned left and right all over the place. According to my trusty map book I was no longer in the actual market, but was now in the suburban streets surrounding the market. I walked and walked and walked, always slowly and always seeing new things. Every so often there was some sort of religious celebration going on, with cows with coloured horns, flowers, lots of colour and many people gathered around a central area under a multi-coloured banner. There was always very loud music blaring from mobile speakers. One time they started the music up at the exact moment I was  walking in front of the speakers. I’m ever so glad I was prepared for anything, otherwise I could well have lost my lunch. I have no idea what the celebrations were in aid of and am only guessing when I say a religious celebration. It could well have been the Bangalore equivalent of the sausage sizzle at Bunnings. 

I turned a corner and found myself in a large road with traffic crawling in both directions. The road dipped away from me down a slight hill, which enabled me to look along a kilometre of market road. It would have made a fantastic photo if I had my camera with me, but I’m wondering if the camera would have been able to capture the true sense of what I was looking at. Quite frankly it was mind blowing to see what I was seeing. There was so much activity and so many people and it was all so un-Australian. 

Finally I had to rest. I found a quiet door step (Don’t you hate those door steps that make noise.) out of the way and propped myself for ten minutes. This was a very pleasant way to see the people who were here. Unlike Brigade Rd, most of these people appeared to be working class or lower. For the sensitive amongst you, you will need to excuse my descriptions of class and social standing. When in India, the contrasts are so much greater than Melbourne that it is pointless trying to maintain the flimsy façade of “niceness” that we wrap around everything in this politically correct but bland world of ours. I was now surrounded by working class people who probably struggled to get through each day. Of course there were middle class people as well, but there were definitely no upper class people at all. Interestingly, there were no beggars. I have only now realized that I didn’t see a beggar all day. I wonder why. 

If you look back at the story about Brigade Rd, you will see that I make mention of the fact that many of the women wear traditional style clothes but none of the men do. That is not the case in the market area. Here, the women still wear the traditional style clothing, although not quite as nice as Brigade Rd, but many of the men are also wearing non-western style clothing. I can’t say they are wearing traditional clothing because I honestly don’t know what the men’s traditional style clothing looks like. But you don’t see many men in Melbourne wearing loin cloths, or simple skirt arrangements made from a length of material wrapped around at the waist. The market area is definitely closer to the old India than any of the other places I have been so far, with the exception of the quiet stroll up the side street. 

Maybe the crowning glory of today’s adventure was when I was walking slowly along a narrow laneway connecting one street to another. I stepped around the cow with the coloured horns, side-stepped the steaming offering that had been made by the cow with the coloured horns, and saw walking towards me a Swarmy and his disciple. The Swarmy was old, maybe seventy years old, and was striding along at a decent pace. On his head he was wearing a turban, with multiple coloured lines and dots on his forehead. Over his shoulder was a bag and a cheese cloth wrap. His trousers were a loin cloth / nappy looking arrangement, beneath which his dark, spindly, bandy legs protruded. On his feet were sandals. In his hand was a walking stick as tall as he was. 

His disciple walked a pace behind and to the left. He was dressed in a similar fashion, but without the walking stick and with a different coloured turban on his head. His legs weren’t as bandy and were a little more muscular than the old fella. He was taller as well and maybe thirty five years of age. 

Teacher and disciple. 

That is India as I have seen it. 

Bangalore – An Indian Wedding Adventure

This story begins last Sunday, when I went with a group of local lads and lass from work to the wedding of another of the fellows from work, Basanth. He had invited me to his wedding on the second day that I was in the office, so I think he was taking a bit of a punt. But the Indian people seem to be eager to share their life with others as I have had many examples of people inviting me places and offering assistance above and beyond. So anyway, with images of “Bend it Like Bekham” in my head (I have no idea how to spell his name and I really don’t care), I piled into the car at 7:30 Sunday morning and off we went. 

There were two car loads from the office. The car I was in, which was a slightly warm Mitsubishi Lancer, was being driven by Keiran. He’s a charming, tall, local fellow of about 24 or 25. Sharing were another fellow, whose name eludes me, and a young lady, whose name also eludes me. I wasn’t aware of the details of the trip, but it turns out that we needed to be there by 09:30 if we weren’t going to miss out on the major part of the ceremony. Now, think eastern suburbs of Melbourne and Ballarat. Now, take away the multi lane freeways. Take away any sense of road rules. Take away any and all speed restrictions. Add to the mixture cattle being herded along the side of the road. Also add trucks driving the wrong way up the road. Don’t forget to multiply the amount of traffic by a factor of at least 10. Oh and of course into the traffic you must insert donkeys, pushbikes, cattle ON the road, slow trucks, smoke belching buses, slow cars, fast cars, motorbikes with 4, 5, 6 people on them. Now the road must have potholes. It must also have faded white lines that are there specifically to be utterly ignored. It must have every form of dangerous hazard that Victoria has spent the past 30 years getting rid of. And don’t forget, we have to be there before 9:30 or we miss the main bit. 

We did get to the village with 20 minutes to spare, although it was a miracle. Along the way there were many “exciting bits”, such as the time we were driving up the exhaust pipe of a huge, smoke belching truck as it lumbered past another huge, smoke belching truck. I was wondering why “our” truck was behaving the way it was when it suddenly pulled in front of the truck it was passing far too closely. Keiran stood on the go pedal to rocket us toward our destiny when he suddenly swerved back in behind the trucks, because hulking down on us at a great rate of smoky knots was yet another huge truck driving on the wrong side of the road! Remember Tom Cruise and Goose in Top Gun when they did a fly pass with the Russian MIG? Well that was me as this damned truck thundered past on OUR side of the road. 

As we approached the village (which I suspect has more people than Geelong, but I may be wrong. Yeah, right!), I was wondering why there were so many Brahman cattle being herded along the side of the highway. When we got to the village I saw that today was cattle market day and the joint was teeming with Brahman cattle. Apparently this happens once-a-month and this was the day. 

Now of course, getting to the village was only the start. Now we had to find the place where the wedding was happening. So Keiran warp-factored from rikshaw driver to rikshaw driver asking where it was. Between them, each speaking a different grab-bag of languages, they were able to learn where the wedding was being held. It was during all of this that I was able to have an out-of-body experience and watch the village people go about their business. Actually it was more like the village person because there were lots of Indians, but not too many construction workers, policemen and whatever. (Hands up those who have no idea what I’m talking about. We’ll meet after the lesson and talk about the wonderful music of the 70s). 

So, at the wedding we finally arrived. 

The wedding, which extends over a 2 day period in which time the happy couple don’t get much sleep at all, was not quite what I expected. But then we were there for only two and a half hours out of a total celebration time of 36 hours. But in that 2 1/2 hours we ate a fully laid on meal twice (separate meals, separate times), saw the actual passing of vows, met a lot of the families and managed to pass on our congratulations. Basanth was joyed to see us and, as usually happens, the sea of people parted in front of me as I moved through the thronging well wishers. I still don’t really understand why that is; maybe it is politeness or deference or something else. Whenever I am walking through a crowd or in a shop or whatever, people move out of my way when they see that I am an outsider. Maybe I need to check my deodorant. It didn’t happen in Saudi but it does here. Anyway, I was the buzz of the moment as I took photos of the happy couple. There were the thick end of a thousand people in the audience behind me and everyone on the stage stopped while I took my photos. Oh and by the way, the happy couple were smiling, but not at the moment I took the photos. It seems to be that taking photos is a serious business so no smiling is allowed. 

Keiran, who needs to drink less red cordial, wanted to leave just on midday. Also the young lady, who had been a mine of information about all things Indian and pertaining to people less than 25 years of age, was desperate to get home to her boyfriend (I didn’t ask the obvious questions about arranged marriages. Wrong time, wrong place.) So we took off just after 12. But between them they concluded that I needed to see at least one of the local sights, so we drove around the village looking for the way to the gate of a local temple. This took us through the cattle market, past the back streets of the village and up a hill. The road stopped at the gates to the temple compound, which has been built amongst the huge boulders that make up the small hill. We entered the compound, took off our shoes, and went in to see. 

This is the second temple I have been to now and each time someone in the group starts doing the motions and repeating the mantra. Even among the young people, religion is very important here. That’s not to say all young people because the bright lights and glitz of the modern world is slowly taking over, but there are still a lot of young people who seem to adhere to the religions of their parents. Oh, and one other non-related thing I find humorous. In Australia we talk about “vegetarians” as being the exception. Here they talk about “non veg” as being the exception. Aint that great! But gimme a juicy steak any day. 

Thursday night I was invited to an outdoor restaurant at one of the better hotels in town. One of the fellows at work was leaving for Melbourne the next day. The expat community here has a similar feel to Saudi, with people chipping in to include others in expat activities. I haven’t got involved in the long term expat community yet, and probably won’t, but I gather it is quite large. But amongst the people at work there is a healthy social life. I went bowling last night with a team from work. It wasn’t my team but I was invited along by the organizer, a fellow from Melbourne, because that’s what you do. You help your fellow expatters by including them in social activities.
The restaurant on Thursday night was wonderful. It was a Vietnamese restaurant in an open gazebo in the beautiful, tastefully lit gardens of the Taj West End hotel. Being Bangalore (notorious in the past for mosquitos), this was a recipe for disaster, especially since I hadn’t brought the radioactive insect repellant goo that I got in Melbourne and was told to wear everywhere. But there wasn’t a mosquito in sight. What all of the hotels here do is “fog” the place just after sunset. I would hate to know what the fog is made of, but it must be safe for humans (I presume) and boy, does it get rid of mosquitos. I have been told that the main time for mosquitos is the hour just on and after sunset. 

So a great night was had by all. 

Now, the run down to the end. I’ve just had a shower, cleaned myself up a bit, and now need to get ready for the afternoon’s adventures. After lunch I’m going to take a rikshaw ( aka “auto”, “autorik”, “tuk tuk”) to a new part of town for me. I gather it is the centre of town and is known as Bangalore Central. The attraction, apart from all of the shops, bazaars and interesting sights, is the promise of a “good” supermarket on the 4th floor. Now, I think to myself “A good supermarket wouldn’t be on the 4th floor because then all of the good stuff that people have bought at the good supermarket would have to be carried down 4 floors. Hmmmm. We’ll see.” It has also been described in such a way that it is within my walking distance of a good internet cafe and Brigade Rd, which is accepted as being one of the best and more interesting areas of genuine Indian street life in the city. So who knows what could happen. It is the good internet cafe from which I hope to send this missive. 

And that leads me neatly into my lesson today. India is a land of striking contrasts. At my 4 star hotel I am paying Rs220 for an hour of internet connection, which isn’t much really as it converts to about $A5.50. At the internet cafe I’m aiming for, they currently have a deal where you can buy 50 hours of internet, in a brand new, modern, hunky dory setup, for Rs700. See if you can figure out that comparison, especially as the full, non-deal price for the same 50 hours is only Rs1,500 which is $A30. 

Until next we read. 

Bangalore – A Walk Up A Side Street

Today we are going to take a walk down a typical back street in Bangalore. Don’t worry; there is no danger involved at all. 

The back street we are going to walk down is near the hotel where I started. So to get there we must take a ride in an Auto. So let’s start there. 

When riding in an Auto (three wheeled, motorized rickshaw), the first thing that you must ascertain is that the driver will use the meter, otherwise you ARE going to be taken for a ride. This is not usually a concern, but occasionally it can be when the driver is hell-bent on taking you to the shops that he is associated with, OR simply thinks you are a gullible tourist. So, while standing outside the Auto, we point at the meter and say with gusto “Meter?” This is followed by a nod from the driver. First step taken. 

Next we get into the Auto, which involves quickly establishing whether the back seat is actually bolted down or not. If it is not, ensure it is pushed back so you don’t end up sitting on the floor in a flurry of bags, arms and legs. Speaking of bags, arrange as best you can. How people squeeze three, four, sometimes five people into an Auto has me astounded. They aint big. Now sit back and enjoy the ride. 

We take off in a flurry of two stroke squealing. We join the flow of traffic first, then look to see if there is room second. As we hurtle along at 20 kph, which seems mighty fast enough considering the conditions, we are amazed by just how close we can travel with other vehicles. As we approach the first set of lights, the driver manages to inch his way forward through the gaps left between cars, buses, two wheelers, so that together we form a mixture like rock-cake dough before it goes into the oven. There is barely enough room to stand on the road. Then as the lights turn green, all of the Auto drivers start firing up their machines, which they have left to die while we sit at the lights, so there is a blur of revving engines spewing blue smoke and smelling like a Melbourne suburban street on a Sunday afternoon. Off we go. 

Weaving through the traffic as we all take off must be similar to the starting grid at Le Mans. I haven’t yet figured out why we can’t just wait and let everyone progress up to speed. But we can’t, so have to dodge and weave until we have three metres of clear road in front of us. Then we can wind the beastie up to its full potential; 40 kph on the open road. Meanwhile we sit in the back and watch the people and the shops and all of the happenings of life in Bangalore. This is the second best way to see it. The meter ticks over. 

To get to our destination we must travel along the Ring Road, which travels under the flight path of the airport. This area is open, with Eucalyptus plantations, rubbish dumps, squatters and other activities going on along a wide, relatively open stretch of road. So this is where we get maximum speed. The meter ticks over. 

Eventually, after 3 kilometres, we join the city proper again and the suddenly increased volume of traffic. But does the driver anticipate this increase in traffic? It appears not as we approach the congestion at full tilt. Hmm, this will be interesting, especially as the right hand lane is banked up with cars turning right. Oh, now the lane beside it. Oh now the next (keep in mind that the term “lane” is purely academic. We’re talking about rough lines of vehicles.) No matter, we’ll just rocket over to the left and get past that way. Oh, so is everyone else. Then let’s lean on the horn. Oh, so is everyone else. Cool. The meter ticks over. 

Now we are at the intersection of the Ring Road and Airport Road. They have been building an overpass here for the past few years, which will be great when it is finished, but it is now three or four years overdue apparently. So we are all squeezed into one and a half lanes, which allows three lines of traffic to proceed, or not, as we wait for the lights to change. Most motors are turned off. Many intersections have an electronic board which shows how long until the lights go green. Imagine if we had that in Melbourne; the intersections would become drag strips. But here it works. The reason for the boards is so people can restart their motors in time to move with the green light. 

We’re almost there now. The driver thinks he’s taking us to the airport, because he has no other information. When stating a destination, it is usually best to refer to a well-known land mark further along the route than where we actually want to go. So it is up to us to direct the driver as we get close to your intended destination, so he has time to take appropriate action, like swap lanes. So we tap the driver on the left shoulder and indicate that we want to stop just up the road. He will always be confused, probably due to the language barrier, but with enough instructions and waving of hands we stop at our desired spot. 

A quick check of the meter shows us that we have travelled for Rs36, so we fish four Rs10 notes from our wallet and hand it over with a smile. He smiles because of the lack of a hard time from us, as well as the small tip, and we part new but temporary friends. Our twelve minute dodgem car ride and sweep of street life in this part of Bangalore has cost us $A1.20. 

We are now at the side street that we are going to explore. It doesn’t look much. As a matter of fact you would normally drive past and not even see it. But that’s the point; we are now going to explore the real Bangalore, where the people actually live. We are currently standing on Airport Rd and there are three or four lanes of slow moving, smoke belching, horn blowing traffic oozing ever-so-slowly forward. There is a traffic policeman in his fancy uniform with white gloves and white hat directing traffic and the whole scene is one of semi-controlled chaos. Then we turn the corner. 

Suddenly the noise diminishes. On the right hand side is a trolley selling some sort of hot food. A closer look shows it to be a big wok full of what looks like peanuts. The fellow is constantly stirring and adding what looks like salt to the mixture. Every couple of stirs he taps three times on the side of the dish with his metal stirrer, making a musical, ringing note. This is his call sign, telling all around that his delicacies are here and available for their eating pleasure. Around the wheels of his trolley are a range of children and old people, the children playing various games and the old people sitting on the rocks talking quietly to each other. We move ahead a few steps. 

Next we see on the right an old, old man sitting on the edge of the dry, open drain. He looks about 70. His skin is dark like rich, dark chocolate, but unlike the chocolate he is very wrinkled. His hair is short and grey. He sits and watches the children play. 

One step further and just beside and in front of the old man is a covered stand selling fruit and some vegetables. There are the tiny Lady Finger bananas hanging from a hook and many other unknown fruits. The apples don’t look too good and the oranges are almost unrecognizable. But there are mangoes and some other fruit whose name is beyond us. The stand is doing a reasonable trade, or at least there are a few people there. Behind the stand is another stand selling something that is not immediately obvious. We have been past this stand a number of times and yet we still haven’t worked out what they do. We suspect it might be some sort of local lotto; but that’s a guess. Whatever it is, there are four or five people partaking. 

On the left is a derelict and seemingly abandoned building. We move ahead a few steps. 

On the right is an open shop front where they do pushbike repairs. The fellow is sitting out the front on a dirty, plastic chair working on a rear wheel. The chain is piled on the ground near his feet as he works diligently on the bike. On the left is the derelict building. 

A single line of traffic moves through regularly as the policeman back at the forgotten main road lets a burst of traffic into our road. It is mainly two wheelers with the occasional car. Every now and then a market trolley is pushed through by a skinny, hard working fellow with no shoes, a bandana tied around his head and wearing a sort of loin cloth arrangement. But there is a regular stream of traffic going the other way down the single lane road as drivers try to join the main road. And somehow it all works. We move ahead a few steps. 

On the left is the first working building on that side of the road. It is a place that husks and sells coconuts. They have them stacked ever so neatly on the table in front of the establishment, which is made of scrap roofing iron and whatever other materials have come to hand over the years. Behind the work area is home for the proprietor, his wife and three or four children. We try hard not to look too closely, but we do see that the wife is squatting before a fire with a cooking pot on it. There is a small child playing on the swept dirt floor beside her with an older child peeking through the door, sans trousers. Hubby is working at the front husking coconuts and one can only guess that it is the oldest boy who is manning the sales counter. A family at work. 

Meanwhile, as we dodge a speeding two wheeler coming from behind and negotiate the three bicycles coming towards us, we see that on the right is a two story building which has the lower floor half below ground level. There are steep stairs descending from the road to the lower level, where we can see, amongst other shops, a chemist. We know this because it has a green cross on the window and a sign of many languages, the English telling us that this is in fact a “Druggist”. A quick peek through the window indeed shows tightly packed shelves from floor to low ceiling packed with small articles that could be anything, but we presume to be medicinal in nature. At least the lights are bright in that shop. Above this and the other two shops in this group is a narrow verandah in front of darkened rooms that look like they could be dwellings. No sign of life emanates. We move forward four steps. 

On the right there are three women of indeterminate age sitting on their haunches talking. At the same time they are each doing a manual job; one shelling some sort of food, one sewing and the other stringing beads onto string. Children are playing near by, so at least one of the women is of child bearing age. Then we notice that two of them have the beautiful smelling, and beautiful looking, strings of yellow flowers tied in their hair at the back. This takes our eye to what they are wearing. They each have on a beautifully bright coloured sari. I am told that there is subtlety in the naming of the women’s clothing but, as we are insensitive males, we are only able to differentiate between two styles. And what these ladies are wearing comes under the banner of “Sari”. Whatever the name, the outfits are beautiful on these women as they squat beside the road chatting and working. There is goat nearby. We move ahead three steps. 

On the left is a major looking shop, the type of which we got quite used to in Saudi, and I suspect was common in Oz up until the 50’s. It is a general store that sells everything required in a house, from rice and wheat in large sacks stacked neatly out the front, to cleaning equipment and other paraphernalia inside on the many shelves. Basic groceries line the shelves, counters and floor. It is the type of shop where they have things on the shelves that have not been perused by a human eye for over ten years. It is extraordinary what you may find in a shop like this. This one is a quarter of the size they were in Saudi and stocks maybe twice the volume of stuff. I can almost hear the walls groaning as they keep it all contained. We move forward two steps. 

On the right, on the lower level again, is a “Women’s Beauty Parlour”. I thank God, or the half century gone British, for the spelling. This establishment is as big as your second bathroom, but has a manager’s desk, a counter, a hand basin and two seats for becoming-beautiful customers. It also has bright lights. 

We have now travelled thirty metres from the main road, but it is a dim and almost forgotten memory. We are in a different world. We move ahead four steps. 

On the left is a building that used to be two stories. Now it is a skeleton with rubble in front to the edge of the road and the floor of the lower level rooms covered in tumbled down rubble. Who knows what it was or how it came to be like it is. A child pokes his head from behind the front wall. He’s having fun. On the right is a cow eating scraps from between two cars parked awkwardly on the side of the road. No one seems to care, including the two wheelers which negotiate their way around the back end of the cow. We move ahead three steps. 

On the left is another building, this time still standing. The first shop is a pawn broker, but all we can see is a room the size of a large cupboard with a bare counter. The door is open and the light is on, so the business is in business. Beside the pawn broker is a shop selling vegetables. They are stacked in neat piles half in and half out of the shop. There is a fellow of about 30 serving, with his wife with baby on hip just poking her head from behind the curtains behind him. They pass a few words and take a quick look at us. He indicates a tray with grapes stacked neatly on it. We smile and shake our heads. We know we can’t eat any fruit or vegetable that we don’t peel, but he doesn’t know that. On the right we see a three story building that appears to be the dwelling of a rich man. It doesn’t look like apartments, as there is no outside staircase going to the upper level. It has an ornate door, which opens directly on to the road, and ornate windows on each of the levels. There is a brass name plate near the front door, so we presume this is the residence of a doctor or “Advocate”. We move ahead three steps. 

We have now reached the little Internet Café where I used to send my emails from when I was in the hotel. This establishment is part of a string of four shops, single level, that have two concrete steps leading up into them. It is three metres wide with a single door leading in. Immediately inside the door is the person running it. He is sitting at a tiny formica table with a plastic chair. He has a run-down radio babbling away in his left ear and a log book in front of him. This is where he jots down the comings and goings of the clientele. Behind him, in a room no bigger than your old bathroom, are six work stations. The three on the left have small cubicles built around them and the three on the right have small partitions, somewhat like the partitions at a TAB betting shop. Each area has its own small screened, old, old PC and keyboard with most of the numbers and letters almost invisible through use. 

But we’re not going in today. We’re exploring. We move ahead five steps. 

On the right we can now see a narrow side laneway. We can’t really call it a road, because it is barely three metres wide from wall to wall, and this includes the drain that runs along the left hand side, just in front of the line of houses. We turn up the lane to see what we can find. 

The lane is primarily packed dirt, but does have some rocks here and there. It has a relatively smooth path through it where the bicycles and two wheelers travel. But there is so much rubble and piles of dirt that it is impossible for cars to travel along. Besides, there is nowhere for cars to park. The houses, or shacks, open directly onto the road. Most of the houses are barely three metres wide and, unlike the rich man’s house back on the “main road” we just left, these houses are all single story. We can hear chickens out the back of the houses. No wait, we can see chickens in the laneway up ahead. We can also see a cow, some goats and a few dogs; all of this while standing in one spot. We move slowly forward, very aware now that we are in an utterly foreign environment. This is where the not-so-well-off Bangalore lives. We are not in a slum, but we are not too far above that now. 

As we progress along the laneway, being careful not to stare into people’s houses, but walking slowly enough that we can see what is going on around us, we get a similar feeling to that we experienced when we turned from the main road into the side street. After turning into the laneway the world changed again and now, as we progress further along, the side street is starting to fade into memory. Along the lane there are men sitting out the front of their houses talking. There are women washing clothes in large buckets of water. There are young girls collecting water from the communal tap in large pots. There are old women sitting close by, staring at the world through silent, watery eyes. There is commerce going on, even in this little outpost, as we realize that the little hole-in-the-wall establishment on our right is actually selling something that is interesting enough to have two fellows, a lady and a number of small children gathered around. We continue to walk slowly along the laneway. 

Up ahead we can see that the laneway narrows. There is a donkey on the right hand side, standing there waiting for instructions. Beyond the donkey are two young boys of about ten years of age playing cricket. Really they are playing hit the ball because there is no room to play cricket even remotely properly, but they are pretending it is cricket. As we walk past we smile and the oldest of the boys says something to us. It is hard to understand what he is saying, so we concentrate harder and ask. He says it again and a glimmer of recognition creeps in. We ask a second time and now we understand what he is saying. He is telling us, with a broad grin on his face, that Ricky Ponting is the best on the Australian team and asking if we have any pictures of the MCG. In this young boy’s little world, cricket is his link to the outside world. 

Bangalore – The One About Ulsoor Lake and Commercial St

May 2005.  

Yesterday I bought the book of maps that I was told about and today I had my first full-on, proper explore. What a difference a map makes. Compared to all the others I’ve seen so far, this map book is brilliant. It is not quite Melways (the map book to have in Melbourne for those who don’t know), but it really is not far from it. So this morning I prepared my trusty pack with water, lunch, snacks, camera, mosquito repellent, sunglasses, reading book (Dan Brown by the way. He writes a pretty good action / thriller / mystery, his best known being The Da Vinci Code), mobile phone, ample money, passport, emergency food; you know, the stuff you throw in a pack, and took off at 10:30. 

The Auto driver I had was an interesting one. He had no idea where he was going. Fortunately some other drivers gave him directions before we even started, but he must be new to the city because I had to direct him the whole way. Luckily I’m learning where many places are and the general (very general) layout of the roads. We got to my destination with no problems and he was most grateful for me telling him that “this is Bangalore Central”. On the way I saw an hilarious sign on a small, open air butcher shop, with sides of lamb hanging in the sun. It was called “Goodluck Mutton Shop”. I nearly fell out of the Auto when I saw that.  

I used Bangalore Central, one of the better shopping complexes, as my starting point. It is just up the road from MG Road (Mahatma Ghandi Road) and Brigade Road, which are considered to be the centre of the city. Whenever I think of MG Road, I can’t help but think of the track from the 80’s by “The 12th Man”, in which they referred to an Indian cricket player by the name of Mahat Macoat. I was chuckling to myself this afternoon as I wandered along.  

Anyway, my plan of attack today was to start at Bangalore Central and walk to Ulsoor Lake. This is a large lake (maybe 5km around) right next to the centre of the city. According to my new map, there is a picnic area at the lake where I could maybe have lunch. From there I intended walking to Commercial St, where I was a few stories back, then follow my nose after that. 

Well, it all worked a treat. To get to the lake I walked through Ulsoor, a rather fancy part of town similar to Albert Park or South Melbourne. Everything here is just a little bit messy, which is one of the comments Srini and Ram made when they were in Melbourne, but that’s what Ulsoor is like relative to Melbourne. Ulsoor Lake has very real potential to be much more attractive than Albert Park Lake, which wouldn’t be hard according to many people. But unfortunately there are many things that need doing and they don’t seem to get done. Srini and Ram were astounded by how clean, neat and tidy Melbourne is, with everything just right and tickety boo. Bangalore just isn’t like that.  

However, the picnic spot at the lake is a tiny part that is very pleasant indeed. The gardens are the best I have seen in Bangalore, with neatly manicured garden beds and green, soft grass. The trees have been there since the days of British rule and are huge. This small garden is also a very popular spot for young lovers. Here in Bangalore, probably India in general, young people getting together on their own and canoodling is frowned on to the point of banishment. It is just not done in general. So today I was one of maybe three people who were in the garden without a partner of the opposite sex. It was reassuring to see the young couples wispering to each other, sitting close but not doing anything more than hold hands. The couples were everywhere, so it was lucky I was able to find a spare seat in the shade. But I did. And I read my book (remember Dan Brown?). Oh, I also took some photos.  

After I had finished my lunch I consulted my trusty map book, then continued to walk around the lake. I was heading in the general direction of Commercial St. Every step you take along the streets of Bangalore is filled with potential. Look left and you are likely to see something you don’t see in Melbourne. Look right and there is potential for some other point of fascination. But if you don’t look at your feet as well, you have the real potential of breaking your ankle. Bangalore is THE most wheel chair unfriendly place I can imagine. The footpaths are all over the place, if there is one. More often than not I resort to walking on the road. One of the problems, according to the locals, is that there is little co-ordination between the various groups of authorities. So one group digs up the road to put in drainage, followed two weeks later by another group digging up the same stretch of road to fix the telephone lines. But not only that, when they need a driveway into a building, or a side road, the step from the footpath can be so big that venturesome soles have put granite blocks there as stepping stones. The drop can be 60, 70, 80 cm. Wheel chairs are definitely out in Bangalore. The only wheel chair ramp I have seen in the last six weeks is at Bangalore Central today. But the person would need six burly blokes to carry their chair and they to the base of the ramp and then two fine friends to push them up because it is so steep.  

After I turned from the lake and was walking up the road towards Commercial St, I came across two cows sitting on the footpath. This is a common sight, but this time the situation was such that I was able to take some photos. One of the cows was decorated with her horns painted and bells strung around her. Pity about the pile of you-know-what out the back, but that’s part of the package. At that moment I was standing no more than 4 km from the heart of town and there were cows wandering around.  

I walked slowly as this gives me the chance to see a lot more. In this case it really is the journey that is important, not the destination. After I turned left and was crossing a bridge, I saw the drainage channel that it was crossing. Oooo, not a pretty sight. It was flowing, because we’ve had some rain recently, but it was rather smelly and full of rubbish. There are people who live in shanty’s along the banks of the drainage channels. I can’t imagine what their life must be like.  

Today was very sunny, so I did what I don’t normally do and wore my sunglasses. They are the blue, reflective type. Don’t you think it’s funny, and it happens at home as well, when people stare at you because they think, because they can’t see your eyes then you can’t see theirs. That happened many times today. An interesting observation is that, once you leave the main tourist routes like MG Road (Mahat Macoat – chuckle chuckle) and Brigade Road, sunglasses are rare in this town. No doubt this is because of the poverty, but even people who appear to be able to afford sunglasses rarely wear them.  

Through Commercial St I did wander (why isn’t that word spelt “WONDER”? And why isn’t wonder spelt “WUNDER”? English is a strange language indeed.), without any great points of interest. I did notice one thing. The Commercial St area is home to a lot of Muslims and Arabic people. The name on the main Mosque, written in Arabic and which I was able to read (blush blush) is Jemmah something-or-other. The name of the street I was in is also Jemmah something or other, the same as the name of the Mosque. That’s how big the Arabic influence is in the area.  

Wander I did continue, past a building site, past more shops, until I got to Infantry Road. Infantry Road is where a lot of the furniture is manufactured and there is shop after shop and workshop after workshop building and selling furniture. It also indicates the influence the British have left behind in a similar way to the influence they have had in Australia. Let me list some of the names, just from that part of town. Keep in mind that the national language is Hindi and the local language is something else. Infantry Rd, Commercial St, Brigade Rd, Dispensary Rd, Hospital Rd, Main Guard Cres, Queens Rd, St Marks Rd, Cunningham Rd, St Johns Rd, Richmond Circle, Millers Rd, to name just a few. Of course there are also many with local names like Mahat Macoat Rd (chuckle chuckle), but the British influence in this town is astonishing to me. At least here they call their major intersections “Circles” rather than “Circuses” as the Brits do. But I think “Circus” would be more applicable here than in ever-so-well-mannered England.  

A wander we will go, still. Now I headed towards Cubbin Park. This is the Bangalore equivalent to the Alexandra Gardens in Melbourne. It is very large, taking up the best part of two city blocks, but is not quite as well cared for as the gardens in Melbourne, But it is very popular, with hundreds or thousands of people making use of the relative peaceful serenity. There are massive old trees in Cubbin Park and squirrels hopping around on the ground below. I don’t know if the squirrels are indigenous or were introduced by the Brits, but there’s plenty of them. What is in Cubbin Park that is not in Hyde Park is a grove of the hugest bamboo I have ever seen. I was walking through it today as a gentle breeze made it sway. What an eerie noise as it creaks and cracks.  

While resting in the park and reading a few pages of book, two fellows came up to me seperately, each with a notepad and pen. I’ve seen this scam before, having fallen for it the first time. They are always young fellows of about 15 years of age. They claim to be deaf and need assistance to buy school books. The time I fell for this, the boy had a printed sheet which stated that he needed Rs1200 for school fees and books. I gave him Rs200 and he said it wasn’t enough. I said it was. This time I kept reading my book and told the first one to go away. He waved the notepad down in my face and I said that I knew he could hear me and that I wasn’t giving him anything. Go away. “You’re not going to give me anything? OK.” and away he went. So much for being deaf. He spoke perfect English. The second one was similar. I just said “No” twice without looking up and he shrugged his shoulders and walked away. Unfortunately, most of the “beggars” are really not genuine, unlike the old lady I spoke about in a previous story. She was genuine.  

After a rest and a read, I left Cubbin Park and made my way along Mahat Macoat Rd to Bangalore Central. I saw something funny there too. I was sitting resting again (it’s a long way from Cubbin Park) when I saw a policeman moving the Autos along. They park in front waiting for customers and can cause quite a blockage. The one in front told the policeman he couldn’t get his Auto started. “See, see” he said as he desperately pulled the starter. The policeman mummbled something to him and moved along. It was now time for me to go home, so I picked up my bag and wandered over to first Auto, the one that couldn’t get it going. I started to talk to the second one, but the first one indicated his. I thought “This’ll be good” and got in, after the obligatory negotiations. He pulled the starter and off we rocketed. It was one of the fastest Auto rides I’ve had. But I thought he couldn’t start it!!!  

That is India as I have seen it. 

Bangalore – The Lost Apartment Key

Today we are back in Bangalore. After watching “The 2nd Best Marigold Hotel” last night, I’m all inspired to try to give you a sense of the wonder, the life and the colour of living in India. It’s a fascinating place. 

A funny thing happened the other night. It certainly wasn’t funny at the time, but in retrospect I suppose it is. 

We had just arrived back at the apartments after leaving work. It was twenty to seven on a Friday evening and I was glad the week was over. I was looking forward to a pleasant evening at home, maybe next door to the shopping centre to check my emails, a movie on TV and then off to bed. 

I came up in the lift to my floor and was outside my door looking in my bag for my keys. I said, I was looking in my bag for my keys …… looking …. in the bag …… Where’s my keys? Put the bag on the floor, calmly open all the zips and calmly look for my keys. You see, the lady who owns the apartment is a fiend for security, almost to the point, in my opinion, of obsession. There are two locks that can be opened with a key from the outside. There is a deadlock which can’t be opened from the outside, but can be locked from the inside requiring a key to unlock it. There’s a story about that lock that I might tell you later. There are also two bolts that can be slid shut and a chain that can be put across. That’s the front door. On the windows there are security grills on every window and each window is lockable. Not only that but each and every bedroom door is lockable with its own key and so are the bathrooms. Of all of these, I only use one lock on the front door when I go out. But could I find that key? Not on your life. And it’s Friday evening. 

I stand there for a moment and stare at the door. What am I going to do? 

I went down in the lift to the ground floor, where there is a security guard permanently stationed, that is except when he is not there. I asked him if he had a spare set of keys to the apartments. He looked at me with no change in expression what-so-ever and without responding. So I asked him again, slowly and calmly, articulating each word carefully, now also motioning with my hand as if I am trying to use a key to unlock a door. He looked at me with a very slight polite smile, but no recognition at all. So I said to him “You’ve got no idea what I am saying, do you!” My very polite guard looked at me with zero change in expression. He didn’t even blink. I wonder what would happen if there was an intruder in my apartment, but I didn’t have the luxury of wondering about that for too long. It was now ten to seven and the light was fading rapidly. 

Just then two young girls came in to the foyer. I asked them if they could speak English. The older of the two pointed to the younger of the two who said chirpilly “Yes, I can.” “Thank God” thought I. I asked this bright, young girl if she could please interpret for me. I told her my dilemma and she kindly related this to the guard. There was a brief exchange, this time with the guard actually joining in, the upshot of which was that he knew nothing and could do nothing. But my kind young helper recommended that I go to the maintenance office, which she proceeded to describe to me how to get to. Very helpful and very grateful; she and me in that order. 

The maintenance office is part of the recreation centre. The recreation centre follows the theme of the three bedrooms, three bathrooms, plus powder room, with marble floors through out apartment. It is four stories tall, has a lift, marble floors, a library, a cards room, a billiards room, squash courts, badminton courts, gymnasium, indoor and outdoor swimming pools, tennis courts – you get the idea. The maintenance office was on the fourth floor. 

As I entered I saw there were three guys in there. One was on the phone and the other two were in conversation. I was in no mood to wait. Fortunately one of them asked if he could help, to which I responded “I certainly hope so.” I explained to him what the situation was and he explained to me that he could help ….. on Monday. The carpenter had gone home for the weekend. He also asked me something that I find incredulous now. He asked me if I had a duplicate set of keys, to which I responded that I wouldn’t be talking to him if I did. He was poh faced, so I don’t think he’s up to speed with Aussie sarcasm. I decided now was the time to get serious, so I pleaded for some help. He relented and told me that he thought there was a key shop down the road, but he wasn’t sure. He gave me some directions and bid me farewell. 

It was now dark outside. 

As I hadn’t yet had the opportunity to dump my bag and laptop in the apartment, and was about to dash off in a desperate bid to find a key shop, I needed to ditch the bags. My friend, whom I travel to work with, was most likely in his apartment because it was only twenty minutes ago that we parted company. So off I went to give my bags to him for safe keeping. Fortunately he was home and wasn’t going anywhere. I quickly explained my dilemma and he assured me I could leave my bags there and he wasn’t intending going out. I thought “Good. I may be sleeping on your couch.” I took some emergency food from my bag and then took off, my destination being a key shop. 

My experience so far is that Indian people are not really good with maps and estimation of distance. The way it was described to me, the shop was an easy ten minute walk away. But my experience told me it could be anywhere from a five minute walk to an hour’s walk. So I chose to cut my losses and take an Auto. They have a flag-fall of Rs10 (ie 30 Aussie cents), so I thought “What the heck. Live a little.” and jumped in. The directions turned out to be quite good, but when you are there on the ground looking for signs and traffic lights and “circles”, which is a general description of any major intersection, it’s a different story. I rampaged around the general area for ten minutes looking for the damned key shop, asking any likely person if they knew of one in the area. The majority of people I asked could not speak English at all, although some of them did try to help in their own language, probably assuming that desperation brings on a sudden understanding of their words. I eventually found the shop and, as I said earlier, it was pretty much where the fellow had described it, once I could see it. So up I went to talk to them. 

Out of the three people there, it was only the old fellow who could speak some English. I explained my situation to him and he asked where I lived. He started gently shaking his head, so I could sense that I wasn’t going to get any joy. But we continued trying for a few more minutes. He also asked me, amazingly, if I had a duplicate key. Having already been asked this twenty minutes earlier, I wasn’t quite so dumbfounded, so I just smiled and said “No”. Is it just me or …..? Finally he announced nice and clearly that they don’t do house calls, point blank. I slumped. I asked him if he could recommend another shop and together they described one back the way I had come, but beyond the apartments. This wasn’t looking good. It was now seven thirty and my normal time for my evening medication is before 7pm. 

I went back down to the road and started heading back the way I had come. I needed to cross the road to get an Auto, but now the traffic was like slow moving ooze. I managed to get half way across before the onslaught of traffic on the other side stopped my progress. Then the next pulse came on my side of the road and I was stuck in the middle. This was quite a scary spot to be and the white gloved and hatted traffic policeman standing on the curb directly opposite me couldn’t care less. I was on my own in the middle of all of this traffic. 

After some heart stopping moments I made it to the other side. Now to get an Auto. Why is it that when you don’t want one they’re every where, but when you do need one they are no where to be seen? I walked at a rapid clip for almost 2 km before I managed to get one just outside the apartments. Off we went. Now I had no idea where we were going except for the name of a temple. The driver didn’t recognise the name, but at least he knew I was looking for a temple on this main road. We drove for what seemed like a long time, deviating from the main road because it splits into two one way sections. I was able to remind the driver that I needed to be back on the other bit and he dutifully took me there. By now we were some distance from the apartment but I was in a desperate situation and needed to keep pursuing a key shop. 

Where we were now was basically a large intersection with shops on every corner. The atmosphere was very similar to Queen Vic market (Melbourne) on a busy, busy Saturday morning, but of course this was a standard Friday night. I tried the corner I was on, going to any and all likely looking shops and seeking anyone who could speak English. Finally I found a young boy of about ten who could, and he told me that the shop I was wanting was “over there by the tree”, pointing in the general direction of the other side of the road, “but it’s no use because Mr (un-pronouncable) has gone home to his family”. I thanked the young boy and headed off to the other side of the road. This time I had the benefit of traffic lights to help me, but I still managed to almost get skittled. 

Safely on the other side of the road I scanned every shop. I walked up one way, until I ran out of shops. Then I walked up the other way, until I was so far from the temple that it couldn’t be the place. Oh the temple, by the way, is a rather non-descript building of definite Indian appearance, but obviously a very important place to the local people. It looks like we might expect, but is no where near the luxuriant temples we have all seen in pictures. This was your basic, suburban Salvation Army style temple. 

It was time to branch out, keeping in mind that the description of things can vary radically from reality, especially when the language barrier is a very real factor. So I headed up a side street. Now for those of you who read last week’s story (which I haven’t actually sent yet. I’m sending it tonight.), you will know that when you go up a side street the vista changes almost immediately. Well so it did again. But now I wasn’t here being adventurous; I wasn’t even being inquisitive. I was being desperate and I do desperate quite well I think. I flopped this way and I flopped that way, looking for any shop that even pretended to do keys. None to be seen. So I started stopping people in the street, looking for that one person who could speak English. 

I finally found him. 

He was a Prince look-a-like, and I don’t mean Charles. This guy could have stepped on the stage anywhere in the world and have them fooled. But all I cared about was that he spoke English AND seemed to be knowledgeable about key shops. “Yes, it’s over there on the other side of the road. See it?” Well, no actually, and that was where I was ten minutes ago. “Thank-you” says me, as my heart slows. Sigh. 

Across the road we go. Desperate times call for desperate actions. 

A close inspection of every shop on this section of the road found nothing. The closest I found was a shop that sells house paint. So I took off up a side road, experienced the same sensation of stepping into a different world, found nothing resembling a key shop and finally realized, at twenty to eight, that I wasn’t going to find a key shop tonight. What to do? 

I crossed the road again, this time with the benefit of the lights, which really meant I had a policeman watching if I did get hit, and nabbed the first Auto I came to. He must have seen it in my face because when I asked him to take me to The Forum, he straight away said “Rs20” and just looked at me. It’s a Rs10 trip but he could sense I was not in a good bargaining position. I agreed, jumped in and off we went. Ten minutes later I was back in my friend’s apartment. 

Friend – “How’d you go? It doesn’t look good.” 

Me – “Ahh, no, it’s not. I couldn’t find a shop that was prepared to come and help.” 

Friend – Blank look of expectation. 

Me – “I think I’m going to have to break the door down.” 

Friend, springing to life – “Really? That’s a bit drastic, don’t you think?” 

Me, reminding friend of my health considerations – “I don’t have any choice.” 

Friend – “Hmmm. Do you think you can break it down?” 

Me – “I have to try. I’ve looked right through my bag and I can’t find the damned keys, but I’ll look one more time, just in case.” 

Friend, looking on with mild hope in eyes. 

I opened all the zips in my bag, which is my trusty backpack that I’ve had with me since my early, heady days in Saudi Arabia, and which has travelled with me now on three continents. 

No keys. 

I took everything out of the section and laid it on the floor in a semi-neat pattern. 

No keys. 

I opened up the other section and had a look and a fumble around. 

No keys. 

I went back to the first and most likely section. I started cleaning out the various sleeves and pockets in that section. 

No keys. 

I was almost finished taking every single thing out of the pockets and sleeves when ……. I felt something touch the tip of my finger. I glanced at my friend, whose stance and facial expression hadn’t changed at all in the past two minutes. He continued to look. I shifted my eyes back to my bag and wedged my fingers further into the sleeve. I felt something. No matter what it was, it had to come out and be laid on the floor in the neat pile I was creating. So I stretched my fingers and manipulated the sleeve. I could grasp it now. I pulled it out of the sleeve and looked in astonished bewilderment at the apartment keys, lying there in my hand. They had fallen into the bloody sleeve when I dropped them in the bag in the morning. 

It was 8 pm and I had my keys. 

I was over joyed, but under whelmed. 

I was furious at myself. 

I needed to go home to my apartment. 

Thank-you Sprouts. 

Another day in India was drawing to a close.