Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Nightlife in Bangalore (Again

Bangalore is not the first locale to spring to mind when Partying in Asia is discussed. Okay, ladyboy-bars in Bangkok and full moon parties on Koh San Mui and Wanchai late-nights in Hong Kong and the endless flashing lights of Tokyo, this is a given, in these places you may get trashed and have your pants removed, be roofied, have a great time, tell all your mates. Whatever.

But Bangalore?

You must realize that Bangalore, to its great personal surprise, has come into money. Real money.

Bangalore fashioned itself the Silicon Valley of India somewhere in the nineties, and it is perhaps the primary benifacary of the gobs of money coming India's way, after the IT revolution. You know Bangalore even if you don't think you do. Bangalore is where you tech support calls get fielded when your computer farts out or your blow-dryer explodes, Bangalore is where that man suspiciously named "Mark" tells you in broken English that it is human error and they are not liable. Bangalore is where Westerners go to vent their frustration, the mental punching bag of the developed world, why-in-the-fuck-did-you-sell-me-this-thing. Half of Bangalore lives on Western time, and occupies the same time zones that we do, sleeping during the day and spending the night with their cheap plastic ear pieces in hand, listening to us swear at them about our irritated and incontinent vacumn cleaners. There is even literature surrounding the Call Center slaves - see the poorly written but culturally interesting "One Night at the Call Center" as an example.

The call center boys and girls are, of course, only the middle men, the pieces on the board. There is enormous money in Bangalore, ridiculous amounts of money. Software developers and land developers are drawn here, and so are major hoteliers and finance mavens and skeezy guys who want to Make You a Star, IT pros and network gods and Major Industrial CEOS, they've all taken up residence in the cities ever burgenoing, ever expanding skyscrapers and towers. Infosys is the known deity of Bangalore and its biggest company: the "campus," a little outside of town, has taken on the character of a city unto itself and a fine one at that, full of enormous fountains and creative landscaping.

Bangalore was not expecting this. No one was. Bangalore, before, was a sleepy garden city with a lackadaiscal attitude and a few mid-level Raj administrative centers. When IT and technology settled here, and began to transform it, Bangalore's infrastructure was in no way, shape, or form prepared. Considering the circumstances, it's held up remarkably well - better then Delhi - if you're able to ignore the hour long traffic jams at irrational hours of the day, the continual sound of honking horns from autorickshaws and motorbikes, the festering holes in the sidewalk. All things considered, it is the most pleasant major city in India. Bangalore is trying.

"Someday they'll finish the metro," Bangalore residents will tell you, pointing up at the faded cement snake that now looms over half of downtown, patrolled by bored-looking cops up above everyone else. "Someday we'll have a metro."

Yet I love Bangalore. Came of age here in a way. I guess everyone has a pivotal city, where they did a major part of their growing up, exposed some previously unknown or underutilized part of themselves. I had begun life as a somewhat tragically awkward dork with ADHD and an aggressive streak - I came to Bangalore at 19 as (apparantly) a Hot Girl with a penchant for getting myself invited to private parties. It was all shallow and vapid of course. I knew that then, as much as I know that now. (To some extent. This too a need of all intellectal types with a penchant for hedonism: to provide drinking and fucking in fancy clothes with an idealogical underpinning, a reason. We Were Living the Indian Financial Revolution!).

But still it was something different, a look at an India far removed from the filth and maggoty lepers of the Ghandian India, an India with money and confidence, that Knew that It Was Strong. My memories of those days are a bit conflicted - I was depressed and a bit self destructive, as is not uncommon with 19 year old putzes - but still I had a certain, New York-like sensation that anything was possible, that I really could stay here and find something approximating work, that I really could jet off to Dubai with five of my new best friends if the mood struck me.

Coming back to Bangalore was then almost intimidating. I knew I had to find a party because To Party was mostly what I did in Bangalore, the only real way of approaching it. Bangalore is no tourist city, after all. Nothing of much historical or artistic import happened here - there's nearby Mysore for that. It's a city designed for those who work there and those who live there, and if it serves them well, it hasn't got much on hand for the idle. Going to a party or two was going to have to be my job. I dreaded it, a little. I had come off two years in New Orleans and had settled into a pleasant lifestyle of low-budget house parties and low budget booze, of 3;00 AM bicycle rides through the Ninth Ward and standing covertly outside night clubs so as not to pay for them. Sparkly disco clubs, beautiful people, and talk of inordinate sums of money had fallen from my life, had mostly ceased to concern me. Why the hell was I back here? Why was I doing this shit again, when I'd obviously grown out of it?

I had known a guy in Bangalore. At the time there were two warring club-organizer types in town, who stuck to different hotels and clubs and possessed their own seperate marketing structures. They battled to see who could get the most attractive butts through the door on a given night, and they carried out this fight via Facebook, SMS, and irritating leaflets handed out at any restaurant, store, or mall deemed adequately hip-and-trendy. There were two layers to any night out in Bangalore, two barriers to cross. First you had to get on the guest list for any party worth a damn - this was usually executed via Facebook or SMS, and was not a particularly difficult procedure if you knew a guy. Extra points for being white, female, and/or not incredibly ugly (exceptions were made). Second was getting to an after party, because the after party was where all the magic actually happened, pool-side negotiations and covert ass grabs and the consumption of Hennessey, all that shit. There's a powerful conservative faction in Bangalore, and clubs are required by law to close up at 11:30. That's when everyone scrambles to tumble into luxury cars and find themselves an after party, a sort of game of musical chairs played with pretty people in comically tiny outfits and shoes. This usually required knowing a guy too, but exceptions could be made if you were charming or pathetic - and the after parties were the doorway to Knowing a Guy in the first place, really knowing a guy.

The hotel was one of the large corporate edifices in Bangalore, set a little outside of town and conveniently on the golf course. I adjusted my dress and worried some. Perhaps I had grown unspeakably hideous in the intervening years. My loose associations with Bangalore might have failed me - an absence of two years is a desperate eternity in club time, enough time to consign me to the museum, a veritable fossil. I paid up the rickshaw man - embarassing, since it looked like everyone else was pulling up in proper cars - and walked inside. Please god let there be someone I know, I thought to myself, please don't let me sit in the corner and tap my feet awkwardly to the bad music please please please.

Saw the Guy I Knew at the entrance, wearing an Ed Hardy shirt and doling out high-fives. He recognized me immediately. "Faaiinnee! You look just the same!" He slapped the guy with the clipboard (there's always a guy with a clipboard) on the shoulder. "Come on in, come on in." I was on the list: I was issued a stamp on my hand and a few handfuls of free drink coupons.

Everyone I met in Bangalore would tell me in tones of wonderment that I looked just the same and hadn't changed a bit. I wondered and still do if I should be offended by this, as if two years was actually meaningless. The dog died and I graduated from college and I made some new friends. That was two years.

The club room was nicely kitted out and designed, as they all are in Nouveau Bangalore. Dark mood lighting and patterns projected in white on the walls, shifting lights, a soundtrack of thumping and relatively generic house music, lots of people (and most of them women) dancing in the shuffling manner of those early to the party. (One thing about Indians, though - when they get going and are in the proper mental state, they can really dance, dance their brans out, put us Westerners to shame. When they feel like it). It was some sort of Ladies Night type event and they had middle-aged women in saris put up in the corner of the room, doing nail polish and mehndi temporary tattoos. Everyone was drinking Red Bull and Vodka, the power drink of Asia, everyone was eying delicately the cocktail snack armada (oh god will I get fat?). They had a teenaged boy wandering around in a sombrero and a Spanish vest, pouring tequila shots.

In other words, standard-issue Bangalore party fare, really. Another night on the subcontinent. I ordered a rum on the rocks and, as I had expected, stood there. I had to break into a conversation, obviously, and I had to do it fast before anyone noticed me and that I was alone, alone and uncool. I edged crab-like around the little clusters of talking people, listening carefully for something - where could I butt in? Where could I make my new best friends?

Aha. A bunch of youngsters from mostly the USA and Europe, standing over there in their party clothes and looking marginally confused, thinking the same thoughts I did when I first came here - This is India? This is India? I sidled up. I asked The Question, the one all foreigners ask each other.

"So. What are you doing in India?"

"We're with Infosys," one of them replied, a small and very pretty girl who looked Latina. "I'm from San Francisco, she's from New York, he's from France, he's from Nigeria, you know, all over. We're interning for a month or two."

"Fabulous," I said, in my Hi Let's Be Pals voice, "that's really cool." The Second Question. "Do you like India?"

A moment, pause. "It's...different then we expected," the New York girl said. "I mean, better and worse then we'd expected, I guess."

"We're on the Infosys campus, and it is very large. So we do not go to the city so much. It's about 30 minutes away, a long drive." The French guy.

"Ah, but India is interesting," the Nigerian guy said (clad in a Hawaiian shirt). "It is always so interesting."

That's the truth. We chatted for a while - at least I'd established myself with a couple of people. The music sped up and people began dancing less tentatively, the booze was sinking in. I danced with the Nigerian guy - who was pretty good - and the French guy too. I made the aquaintance of a hot and remarkably stoned looking Italian, who was working for a textiles company here. I chatted with a number of young Indian things in extremely tight clothing about the music and how much Justin Bieber sucked. It was raining outside, or had just stopped, and I followed the Infosys crowd to the patio as they smoked cigarettes, and we talked and watched the rain dripping off the banana leaf trees.

11:30; time for the club to clear out, time to shut it down before the cops came in, shouting and waving their bamboo sticks around. This just meant it was time to scramble for an after party. I don't think the Infosys kids knew that this was the game, that no one just *went home* at 11:30. But I was tired, sick of keeping it together. I wanted to go home and surf the internet in my underwear, take off my lipstick. I didn't search for an after party at all. I walked by the lobby and watched everyone else tip-toe in kitten heels to someone's car, but I didn't jump into the fray. I found a rickshaw outside the gates, and we sped home, splashing through endless puddles.

I did okay for not knowing anyone, I guess. When I was younger I viewed the nightlife thing as a competition, a sort of arcade game: how many people can I talk to, how many people can I charm, how many new friends/associates can I leave the evening with? I'd bounce from group to group hyperactively, I'd flash my big white American teeth, I'd cadge free drink after free drink, and flirt massively. That's what the party was for. It was fun.

Now, I don't know anymore. Maybe I got too accustomed to the cheapness in New Orleans, my friends. We'd sit outside on the porch in New Orleans and smoke cigars, swat at mosquitoes, bitch about supply-side economics and foreign warfare. We'd watch a lot of Youtube videos then jump on our bikes to the French Quarter, eat 1.00 truck tacos and stand at the doorways of clubs so they wouldn't charge us admission. You live in New Orleans, you begin to throw away glamour - like anyone ever looked good eating a crawfish. You begin to re-evaluate the notion of the Party, the notion of the competition. (The juxtaposition, too. Grinding poverty in New Orleans and India, and making merry right on top of the squalor, the horror. All of those memories). We spent too much time passing joints by the levee, obviously, the levee where the homeless men would emerge from the bushes and offer us some *real* good shit, where we'd go nuts at 3;00 AM and try to climb the parked barge, sit by our primal little fires and converse. I had been rendered smelly and bohemian. Ruined.

In the rickshaw, I was sad, a little, that it had stopped being fun. At least for now.

Maybe it would be again. And in any case - Bangalore was having fun, India was having fun. The great unwashed were still in the gutter, and the Common Wealth games were going to shit, and the Ayodah judgment was coming down and God knows what would happen, and the monsoon was going to last forever this year - but someone was having fun. Someone was sipping Red Bull and vodka and anticipating something better.

1 comment:

  1. nice article i wish you had more pics throughout your story...