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.
I took everything out of the section and laid it on the floor in a semi-neat pattern.
I opened up the other section and had a look and a fumble around.
I went back to the first and most likely section. I started cleaning out the various sleeves and pockets in that section.
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.
Another day in India was drawing to a close.