Wednesday, March 27, 2013

A belt in Bangalore

There is light at the end of the tunnel for India, but it's that of an oncoming train which will run them over. Navot Singh Sidhu

One would think in a country of skinny men Richard could find a belt. He's been holding his khaki pants up with one hand, navigating everything else with the other. Falling-down pants inspire concentration I must say; all the surroundings fade into insignificance when impending exposure of your behind looms ahead.

Happy ending; oh, these awful puns: he found a 34 incher in the Bangalore airport; two colors no less - a reversible; and now he sits contentedly next to me on the short plane ride, pants secure, looking forward to walking around Goa, both hands free to gesture and negotiate. The Bangalore airport incidentally is newish, modern and very like a Western airport.

Bangalore has a few decent looking areas...if you're driving by rapidly and don't look too closely.  "Good enough for a galloping horse at midnight" as they say. On foot it's another matter as we found when we walked to a restaurant .6 miles from our hotel. Exit the beautiful, air-conditioned, squeaky-clean hotel, turn left and bam...the horse ain't galloping and you are surrounded by broken sidewalks littered with various detritus, the most unnerving for sandal wearers being the huge shards of glass. We picked our way past a newspaper/rag hovel crafted by street sleepers, mobs of young stylish men hanging out on street corners, revelers spilling out from noisy clubs or food kiosks, fast moving things in the shadows. Take your choice: eyes down on the disgusting garbage strewn walkway (to prevent slipping on some half-rotted thing or another) or eyes ahead watching the astonishing traffic while the sidewalk stops abruptly then starts again.

Pedestrians do not have a right of way. Lane lines are purely decorative and always ignored.  When entering a busy road from a side street drivers do not stop to check for oncoming traffic or pedestrians. They hit the horn and drive into the flow of traffic. All pavement appears to be fair game (including the so-called pedestrian walkways), left turn lanes from the right side of road are acceptable - you just don't stand a chance on foot. Forward movement at all costs is the name of the game. Above the fray is the constant HORN honking used to indicate your approach, your displeasure with someone’s speed or road position or to simply announce that you are coming and all should be alert. They should sell pedestrian horns....maybe they do.

No wonder Indians do so well in the US. Most of them use buses to get around and the buses are overcrowded and mortally dangerous, rocketing along the potholed mazes of asphalt called roads. At incredibly high speed they blast by; you catch the eyes of the passengers banging around inside hanging on for dear life. To survive the buses in India, you must develop a kind of courage we can barely imagine.

Clinging to Richard's arm I wobbled along with only a couple of near tumbles. Now that his pants are staying up on their own, he can use his arm to hold me up instead. Deborah and Zouzou trudged along behind, always game, never complaining although I heard a gasp as Zouzou experienced a near miss from a turning auto rickshaw .

The restaurant, My Only Place,  turned out to be very good; we placed our orders ten minutes after arrival and an hour later, just as we were ready to give up, the food arrived. The steaks were splendid (we needed a break from Indian food) and worth the wait - an hour is pretty well the standard here. Even so, and even though we're all talkers, the pre-dinner conversation lagged as hunger gnawed and travel exhaustion set in. We've learned to ask for the bill as soon as the food arrives or another thirty minute wait will ensue.

Not exactly "Behind the Beautiful Forevers", but similarly the billboard adverts for opulent apartments rise from steaming garbage heaps in Bangalore. Real estate values are sky-rocketing because of the multitude of IT companies, software companies and call centers. Hoards of people have moved in from villages to work on construction projects. The population is skyrocketing; the infrastructure (really a stretch) lags so far behind that catching up appears impossible.

Do I sound like an ugly American? I'm reminded again by this experience how much we take for granted: our clean and tidy streets; the sidewalk on Main in Fallbrook, toilets that flush and reliable electricity; trash collection and the SPCA; fast food and safe drinking water.


  1. Thank heaven there was no exposure. How embarrassing would that be!!!! It sure doesn't sound like a very nice place but I guess we knew a little of that from the book. Looking forward to hearing about the good parts.

  2. Ha. Very funny about the belt. But not so funny about the restaurant. An hour's wait! Maybe they were Hindus and didn't have any steaks in their freezer. Had to get them down the street.