Archive for April, 2002

Bangalore Diary

Monday, April 29th, 2002

Apr 29, 2002

In The Flesh

Roger Waters was about to begin the concert, and the lunatics were on the grass, 30,000 of them, standing, jumping, sitting, screaming. Booze and hash flowed. Bottles appeared out of the crotches of the jeans of technocrats’ wives. My anarchist friend turned to two college kids who had flown in from Mumbai for the show and sniggered: “It’ll all be lip sync, he won’t be singing at all!” “No, no!” they screamed in despair. “Yes, yes, and he’ll be singing only his own songs, no Pink Floyd number!” said the Anarchist, rubbing it in. “Stop, stop!” they whimpered, demoralised. And then Waters came on stage, and the two faithfuls couldn’t cope any more. All they were capable of from then on was an incredulous “F***, man!” every three minutes or so.

The nasty vibrations sent through our ageing hearts by each thud of the bass drum were reminders that though the sun was the same in a relative way, we were older, shorter of breath and many years closer to death than those days spent in a haze of Floyd’s resonant cynicism. We were young, and we thought we were setting the controls for the heart of the sun, but we were actually in the pipeline, filling in time, being welcomed to the machine. As Waters harshly predicted, we traded in cold comfort for change, a walk-on part in the war for a lead role in a cage. And all those people I knew in those years, who, like Syd Barrett, reached for the secret too soon, and were blown away by the steel breeze…. But the Anarchist snarled when he saw me get mushy: “He sings ‘We’ve got famine when we need it, got designer crime, we’ve got Mercedes, we’ve got Porsche, Ferrari and Rolls Royce’”, he sneered. “You think Waters drives a bloody Morris Minor?”

I had spent vast sums of money to make it to the concert, but I felt no regret. About a dozen of us had met in Bangalore the night before and spent 24 regressed but utterly guilt-free hours together, lazing around and listening to all the music that we were steeped in 15 years ago. And when the oh-so-familiar tick-tocks of the alarm clock started and the crowd broke out in wild cheers, I dialled home from my cellphone, and Swagata in Delhi and I in Bangalore listened to Roger Waters playing Time, together. And we knew at that moment, that despite Waters’ worst premonitions, we hadn’t traded in all our heroes for ghosts.

Beauty Spin

There are four cities in India which I am fairly familiar with: Calcutta, Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore. This visit to Bangalore confirmed what I’ve believed for many years: that it’s Bangalore, among these four cities, which has the most beautiful women. When I mentioned this to my friend Veeresh, a man known for unusual theories and exegeses, he came up with one. “This is my funda,” he explained. “Figure out the percentage of women two-wheeler riders at any busy crossing in any city. Multiply this number by two, and you get the ‘female emancipation index’. Bangalore, Chandigarh, Pune and Indore are way above 100, for example. This is directly correlated to how beautiful the girls will be 20 years later.” Sounds like sound logic to me.

Campus Mod Cons

In spite of all the hype and hoopla, Infosys still impresses the first-time visitor. There is a man at the gate of Infosys City who escorts guests to the atrium of the main building. I am early for my appointment, so I sit in a conference room, looking out at the beautifully landscaped 50-acre campus. A steward appears, eager to know if I want beverages, snacks, lunch. I don’t, but I decide to chat with him. “Is that your canteen?” I ask, stupidly, because I can clearly see dozens of people eating inside the building before me. “It’s one of the three food courts we have, sir,” says the steward. “We serve North Indian, South Indian and Chinese food. There are also ice cream and pizza parlours. About 5,000 people work and eat on this campus.” I ask him what a mouse-like device attached to the phone in front of me is. “That is like a speakerphone, sir,” he explains. “Actually we have many hi-tech gadgets in the conference rooms.” He presses a button on a remote, and a screen descends from a slot in the ceiling, covering one wall. Another button pressed, and a projector I had not noticed hanging above my head beams a test slide on the screen. “Very good for presentations,” the steward informs. “Are you sure you don’t want tea or coffee? Biscuits?” This steward, whose name I forgot to ask, convinced me of Infosys’ much-touted culture of excellence more than all those majestic numbers Nandan Nilekani announces at the end of every financial quarter.

Pub Pathos

I know, I know, Bangalore is the pub capital of India—all those happening watering holes with designer ambiences, where everyone’s supposed to go have fun, but I have some questions. Aren’t pubs supposed to be places where you have a drink and chat with friends? Then why do most pubs in Bangalore insist on blaring music so loudly that you can’t hear yourself think? And why are they so dark or psychedelic that you can’t distinguish vodka from rum? A couple of hours in any pub, and you are left dangerously sensorily challenged: hearing-impaired, eyes blinded by normal light, voice lost and throat sore from shouting above the din of the music. And then you’re expected to rave about what a good time you had!

Spent Town

All over Bangalore, you can see the debris from the exploded dotcom bubble. Massive glass-and-steel office buildings that loom forlornly empty, grand apartment complexes with only 10 per cent of the apartments occupied. Many builders have clearly decided to finish construction only when they see an upturn in the economy, so you see a lot of half-completed houses that were supposed to accommodate all those hot dotcom and infotech start-ups. On M.G. Road and Brigade Road, almost every shop is offering 15 to 50 per cent discount on their wares, yet no one seems to be buying anything. Hundreds of people stroll around, window shopping, but no one carries a shopping bag, and the shops are empty. On St Mark’s Road, I come upon an ice-cream vendor from whom, if you buy two cones, you get one free! Can there be stronger proof of an economic recession than ice creams offering freebies in summer?