In the Western world we take it for granted that when we flip a switch, the lights will come on.
A headline in today’s newspaper breathlessly proclaimed that if all goes well, Bangalore, India’s IT capital, could, in two years, enjoy electricity 24/7! It would be, the article said, “a dream come true for Bangaloreans.”
In the Western world we take it for granted that one day, maybe, we’ll meet someone, fall in love and decide all by ourselves that we want to get married (half of which end in divorce.)
In India up to 90 percent of all marriages are arranged. (Only one percent end in divorce – maybe they’re on to something.)
In the Western world we take it for granted that when we enjoy a glass of water, our intestines won’t 24 hours later be pumping out a vile mixture of green liquid and blood.
In India, not so much.
Indians are very polite and gracious people. When you meet with clients in their office you’re always offered water, hot tea or coffee. I always opt for the hot tea, but during one appointment Monday distractedly reached for the water and took a sip.
I realized my mistake immediately, and, predictably, by Tuesday morning was making myself familiar with half the city’s toilets.
This is not only miserable, but expensive, since virtually every nice bathroom in the city has an attendant, who will, with far too much familiarity, watch you vacate your innards, then expect a tip merely because he handed you a towel. (I find this practice irritating enough in a strip club – at least there you have naked women waiting for you on the other side of the door. Here there’s only India waiting on the other side of the door. They should tip me.)
And so it was, violently emptying my bowels, I spent much of my flight from Delhi to Bangalore in the plane’s cramped and smelly bathroom.
We flew Kingfisher Air, one of India’s best (admittedly, the bar’s not set real high here,) and enjoyed learning about Kingfisher’s flamboyant Chairman, Dr. Vijay Mallya. Legend has it that the twice married (taboo in Indian society) father of four “personally interviewed” every single one of the attractive female flight attendants working for the airline. In 2008, during the global financial crises, Kingfisher’s billionaire boss refrained from laying anyone off, even though business slumped. It was said that “Mallya refused to lay anyone off because he’d already laid ON all of them!”
The service aboard Kingfisher is excellent, but between trips to the bathroom I was dying to ask each of the stewardesses if they’d shagged the boss. Soo was not terribly fond of this idea, so I kept my mouth shut, but I swear a couple of them blushed when the chairman’s message was played on the monitors.
During my trip to Bangalore last year I had a driver who was so pushy about trying to get me to buy rugs from his friend’s shop that I finally paid him to shut up about it. Bangalore is a city of eight and half million people, so I took it for granted that I wouldn’t run into him again.
I’ve really got to stop taking things for granted.
As will surprise no one, our hotel managed to dispatch this very same driver to collect us from the airport.
He remembered me, and wisely avoided mention of carpets, but he was quite eager to take us to a “safari place” where, he promised, Soo and I could ride elephants. I agreed to go, if we had time after my meetings, and he cheerily dropped us at our hotel.
Bangalore has an entirely different feel from Delhi and Mumbai. For one thing, there’s much more green in Bangalore, even outside Sri. Chamarajendra Park, the Central Park-like nature preserve in the city’s center, which has the effect of making the place feel much cleaner.
Bangalore, now called Bengalaru, though nobody really calls it that, was founded in the 1500s and now serves as the capital and largest city in the state of Karnataka. It’s busy, crowded, and dirty by Western standards, but it doesn’t feel as chaotic as its two larger sister-cities, and we weren’t once set upon by beggars while stopped in traffic.
Bangalore also has, a mere hour outside of town, the Bannerghatta Biological park, the aforementioned “safari place” to which our driver took us after my meetings.
The term “Biological Park” is in this instance used to describe a concrete wasteland where wretched zoo animals go to die. The cramped, concrete and wire cages holding bears, monkeys and the like were painful to see, and would rightfully be a source of outrage for PETA if located in the US, but at least they offer elephant rides.
Just not today.
Our driver just happened to forget that there was a major Hindu festival going on today, so all elephant rides at Bannerghatta were cancelled.
Our driver managed to remember this only after we’d completed the hour-long drive to the park (he’s paid hourly,) even though we passed through miles of festival-related activities along the way.
The one saving grace was that, like much of the world, anything can be had for a price in India. Soo and I bribed the elephant keeper 500 Rupees (about $12) to let us inside the fence to play with the elephants. We didn’t ride them, but we had a blast.
Exiting the elephant sanctuary we studiously ignored the glares from the throngs of locals who had watched in a sort of resigned fury as the foreign tourists were allowed special privileges. I’m sure I should object to this morally, and without doubt it isn’t fair, but if given the chance again I’d gladly pay the $12 so my wife could pet an elephant.
The world isn’t fair, and to one extent or another, I guess we all take that for granted, too.