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.