It is Friday the 27th of May, 2005 and today is Donna’s last day here. So I have decided to be very clever and show her the enormous contrasts that are to be found in Bangalore. This will be a lasting memory that she takes back to Oz with her.
The morning is taken up with standard stuff, like a late breakfast, nipping next door for some grocery items, showers etc. Then at half past twelve we left the apartment and took an Autorik to The Taj West End Hotel. The Taj West End is the five star hotel where most of the Melbourne staff stays when they visit Bangalore. Like all of the “nice” hotels in Bangalore, it is hideously expensive but, at a stretch, its service justifies its cost – almost.
The Taj West End is across the road from the racecourse, so the landmark that is used for when taking an Autorik to “The Taj”, as us clever dick expats know it as, is “racecourse”. It seems that all of the Autorik drivers know the racecourse. Directly across the road from the main entrance to the racecourse is the entrance to The Taj.
Once you enter the grounds of The Taj you are in glorious tropical gardens, with enormous, old rainforest trees, hanging vines and giant flowering trees. There are even exotic sounding jungle birds in the trees and throughout the extensive gardens. You can hear them making their exotic calls as you stroll around the beautiful ponds along the well-manicured pathways. Also in the gardens is a large gazebo, in which one of the top nightspots in Bangalore for the air kissing “in crowd” to mix and mingle and buy outrageously expensive cocktails sits. This is the “Blue Bar”. Beside the Blue Bar is “Blue Ginger”, a magnificent Vietnamese restaurant, on the edge of the pond which has fountains and exotic lilies. The whole setting is simply superb.
Donna and I had a very laid back and enjoyable lunch. I explained to her why I had left this place until last, being that I wanted her to learn about the real Bangalore before experiencing the five star service which is available anywhere in the world. Donna understood why, but also said that she liked the five star service and wouldn’t have minded having that from the start. I think most people would say the same thing.
Once we had wined, dined and generally supped ourselves silly, we strolled around the gardens and through the hotel, before leaving for Bangalore Central for one last visit. Donna needed to get a top for her mother, or a bag for someone. We wandered out to the road, where the real Bangalore was flowing past with their hand firmly on the hooter, and took an Autorik. I find it quite funny now when I get an Autorik driver who isn’t sure where he is going and I end up directing him. I have learned that much about Bangalore.
Oh, a side story. Last Thursday night Donna and I were at the great steak restaurant that I told you about. A bunch of other people from work had been invited along as well. We were all talking and joking and having a good time and I was talking with a local fellow, one of the managers, whose name I should remember but don’t. He is a wonderful fellow whom everyone in the office admires. Anyway, he was asking about what Donna and I had been up to over the past two weeks and so I rattled off a summary list of where we had been and what we had seen. As I progressed through the list he was surprised at some of the things we had done. It seems that either he didn’t expect westerners to go to some of these places and do some of these things, or generally speaking westerners don’t. Either way he was truly amazed and said so. And then when I told him that we were in Commercial St, a place where the more adventurous western visitor may go to, but usually with a local escort, and I was doing a reasonable job at reading, though not necessarily understanding, an Arabic sign outside a Mosque, he was speechless. When I told him that we had also gone to City Market and Chikpeet he was flabbergasted. He had never known a westerner to go there, ever.
Back to the story.
So, we went to Bangalore Central so Donna could get that last-minute purchase and decided to have one last cup of coffee in the café while there. All of this took about an hour, after which we went back to the ground floor to leave. As we approached the door I looked out and thought that something looked odd. There wasn’t enough light coming through the door from outside. Then I saw why. The sky outside was black, broken every now and then by a burst of thunder and lightening. And the accompanying rain was awesome. It was belting down as if someone had a bucket and was throwing water at the front door. That explained the hundred or so people who were milling around the door. This became a hundred and two.
We stood there for a few minutes, with no change to the turmoil outside. Donna wandered off to have a look at shoes or something. I looked outside. Then I wandered off to find Donna. We repeated this exercise for the next hour, waiting for the world to pull itself together. Finally it did and the many people standing inside began to get brave and risk the weather outside.
When we eventually decided to take the plunge, we girded our loins, made sure all of our bags and things were well gripped, then went looking for an Autorik. Now of course in these conditions an Autorik has the benefit of it being a definite seller’s market, so I was expecting to get ripped off. We saw an Auto going past, carefully negotiating the torrent of water that was flooding down the road, so I took off after it. There were so many people in the front of Bangalore Central wanting Autos that it was a case of the quick and moist, or the slow and wet. Moist seemed better than wet, so action was required.
The driver and I spent 3 seconds negotiating. I said to him “Does the meter work?” He looked at me and asked “Where are you going?” Now usually at this juncture I’d get indignant and insist that the meter works, but common sense tapped me on the shoulder. I told him that we were going to The Forum, which is the landmark for our apartment, and he said “Rs50”. I knew it was a case of take-it-or-leave-it-and-get-wet, so I took it happily. I was actually surprised he hadn’t insisted on Rs100. We climbed into the Auto and arranged ourselves.
The trip home took an hour, when it normally takes less than 15 minutes. The traffic was all over the place. The conditions were awful, with roads flooded, drainage canals flooded, trees down all over the place, two wheelers broken down, cars broken down, trucks broken down. There were ladies wading through knee deep water holding their Saris above the flow. There were many guys wearing plastic bags on their heads to keep their hair dry. Interestingly I did not see a single woman with a plastic bag on her head. Meanwhile, through all of this, the traffic police were huddled under cover somewhere. Many of the traffic lights were out, but the police were not directing traffic. I saw cars traveling through water that they couldn’t possibly know what was underneath, but they drove through fast enough to send up a spray onto all of the vehicles they were driving past, be they push bikes, cars, trucks, two wheelers. We saw cars that had tried the same and gone nose down into a ditch. The whole affair was amazing.
Our driver negotiated through all of this, getting us relatively dryly and safely to our apartment. It was a great effort under very trying circumstances, so I gave him Rs70 instead of the agreed Rs50. He was most thankful and did what I have seen now on a number of occasions. He held the money between his hands and held it up to his forehead and bowed slightly to me in thanks.
Can you imagine a Melbourne taxi driver doing that?
That is India as I, and Donna, have seen it.