The First India Scribble
5/2/16 - Bangalore
Late Night-Arrival-From the Car Window
In the interests of full disclosure, this is my second time flying into Banglore (Bengalaru Airport) separated by 3 years. You definitely smell India before adjusting to its visual cues - a warm and sweet musk hanging in humid February night air (perhaps 25 degrees at night).
The warmth quickly turned to cold gulps of air through the open window of a small hatchback racing the freeway from the airport to the city centre (an hour long drive). The hatchback conked out sseveral times: low on oil but high in spirit. There may be no road rules but it isn't anarchic.. instead the traffic dances - a symphony of horns along which each car ebbs and flows in a sea of its peers. It must be nuanced because the very same dancers seamlessly organise themselves into neat lines at the tollway booth.
The freeway signs tell Bangalore's story as an engine of business enterprise. Huge billboards advertising even bigger high-rises and luxury hotels - all welcoming settling businessmen. I gathered from my eldest Uncle that Bangalore is not the domain of only one industry but rather families from many different enterprises quickly fill these mammoth constructions. I think a glance at the paper will enlighten the subject further.
The impressive scale of the tollways quickly gives way to a dusty labyrinth of twisted alleys and colourful flats - all oddly angled, all improbably leaning, all a Lewis Carroll dream. But a more terrifying scene unfolds past ten o clock, all the wrought iron apartment gates shut out an army of stray dogs. And even through the pillow you can hear a fierce chorus of howls as they start scrapping. Like a Baskervillian nightmare, these ferocious hounds turn on each other, baring their diseased fangs. Mostly they roam in argumentative packs, but tonight I glimpsed something closer to a wolf, jet-black and scabbed, staring down a snarling gang of three or four lesser dogs. Its weeping wounds were a real lesson in just how dangerous it can be to combine territorial behaviour with scarcity of food. Luckily I had eaten quite well and quickly slept.
6/2/16 - Bangalore
Morning sounds-the herculean paperboy-nationalism
One thing I always admired about DC was a long enforced municipal law whereby you could only build to a height favourably proportional to the width of the footpath - its purpose was twofold, it stopped the construction of skyscrapers that would block the national monuments from view (the Lincoln Memorial and congressional House of Cards dome were well visible from much farther away than they ordinarily would be) and, secondly, pedestrians could comfortably walk the DC business district on footpaths as wide as car lanes. Waking up in a northern suburb of Bangalore, opposite a huge army barracks and home to many corrupt ministers, I cannot say the same thing. Each lane winds at hairpin width and I'll wager that the wealthy public official is disappointed that their painted gates sit only so far across from the paupers hovel. The narrowness of these lanes makes the customary four or five-story apartments no less imposing than a skyscraper blocking out the sun. And it was over my morning tea on the balcony that I saw a breed of athletic paperboy that only a suburb with these proportions could cultivate. No older than twelve, the boy was expertly balanced on an adult-sized bike that leaned under the weight of this morning's circulation of the national paper. But before I spotted the boy, I was looking up from my tea cup and saw a copy of The Times of India perfectly arc over the fifth story balcony opposite to mine. The velocity was enough that the paper itself knocked on the door before falling on the doormat. The boy went along the alley repeating the same feat as if no height was too great for his herculean pitching arm. And that sums up the six am characters dutifully waking the Bangalore streets - each is a master of their mundane craft. Give that paperboy a sports scholarship and he'd conquer the world - a newspaper champion of the Bangalore north, making a mockery of DC's municipal philosophy with every throw.
It turns out The Times of India is a bloody good daily and the front page reads like a tragic blockbuster - high-speed trains derailing, millionaire actors escaping the law and the capture of ISIS terrorists. Reading the capture of an ISIS-radicalised Bangalore man was very telling of how much better Indian intelligence on the Middle East is in comparison to our own. The paper was not only able to name the ISIS-funded subsidiary that the man was running, but went further and detailed exactly which Syrian suburb this particular arm of ISIS hailed from and gave a country-by-country account of his at-large Indian associate passing from Pakistan through Afghanistan and all the way to Iraq. There are only two possible conclusions to draw, either Australian reporting is subpar on these matters or our intelligence in the region is woeful - both equally as likely.
But it was the very same front page that also introduced the theme that would neatly tie together my day - racial relations. The story of a Tanzanian student being attacked was heavily critical of growing racial tensions between Indians and African students. A wealth of new educational institutions has attracted African students too poor to reside at the centre of Bangalore. Instead, they are settling in the remote southern suburbs, turning them from close-knit villages into an expanse of student housing. The tensions are cultural rather than economic and the villagers are welcoming the revenue from new restaurants and shops built for the student body. Culturally, Indians residing in these remote villages are very conservative and unable to understand the African students who have no knowledge of local customs. To the quiet southern Indians, the African students appear as frighteningly loud and tall partygoers. Of course, the worst behaviours of a handful of these students have been cast as the Indian opinion of the entire African student body - needless to say, these are not the fruits of social cohesion.
I first heard the sounds of Indian nationalism above the bellowing morning vendors carting their fresh produce along the streets. With the Karnataka state elections only one month away, the local conservative candidate had sent a procession of his followers to march the streets. From on top you could see only the outline of the Indian flag stretched across the baseball caps they were all wearing as they chanted nationalistic slogans in rhythm with a line of fierce Indian drummers. They left a trail of voting flyers in their wake in which their beaming leader was pictured alongside twenty other candidates. Noticeably, these northern locals barely reacted to the bombastic display of national pride and I would guess that either the electioneering has been relentless or, and very understandably, they do not need a marching band to remind them of their Indian pride. If the candidate was trying to invigorate civic spirit and attach his name to the feeling of national pride, his parade failed on both counts.
(SIDE NOTE: There is a comment to be made here on a deeper set relationship between intolerance and the brand of Indian nationalism propagated by members of the ruling BJP party, the political background of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The party is appropriating the Hindu religion and national pride to turn its supporters against the minority Muslim and Christian population. Given the national paper dedicates its first three pages to criticising their tactics, the viewpoint is not widely shared and it must be remembered that Hindus have peacefully lived alongside Muslims in India for centuries. The divide is only being realised in deeply nationalistic pockets of India.
Despite his BJP origins, Modi is celebrated for the success of his social reform policies. For instance, his efforts to clean up India have successfully engendered an anti-littering stance across the Indian demographic and so far there has been a 30-40% reduction in littering in Bangalore- the streets are noticeably cleaner than the last time I visited and my cousins warned me that littering would be met with disgust on the streets. Younger Indians are also being incentivised to invent new environmental policies to change India to a clean energy economy. In this sense, Modi's popularity exists separately to his BJP party.)
Yet, I spent the day looking for deadset confirmation that there was no real threat of India succumbing to some kind of Hindu fascism. Admittedly, to foreign eyes, there are no everyday visual cues that outwardly boast the city's political leanings. So instead I took the most immediately apparent symbol that the minorities were doing just fine - my Muslim rickshaw driver. He was on the farther side of the middle aged bracket, smiled at my infant thankyou's and had impeccable knowledge of the alternative routes through Bangalore's busiest districts. Most significantly, he rickshawed fearlessly - aggressively dodging and weaving to outstrip many of the other drivers that had departed alongside us. For now, the very existence of this Indian Muslim road warrior tells me the country is far from a Reich.
....expect a little diatribe on Bangalore coffee culture in my next post.
#diary #writing #India #Bangalore #travel @ellowrites