Indian cities don’t get a great press from the travellers’ bibles (Rough Guide and the ubiquitous Lonely Planet). When they write “Most people stay just long enough in Bangalore to catch a train to their next stop”, you know they really mean they think it’s a dump.
I have a different view. I loved Mumbai, and am really enjoying walking through Bangalore which is exciting, stimulating and fascinating in the way that cities can be. The hawkers, the tuk-tuk drivers, the mainstream western brands pushing their version of happiness coexisting with tiny stalls selling what they can to make a buck, the sounds and the smells of millions of people going about their business – all of these make for a rich and rewarding view of a rapidly changing India.
For instance, getting a ticket for the England v India cricket game introduced me to the bizarre economics that can develop in any city.
The game was sold out by the time I arrived in Bangalore. A single taxi ride for all of 100 yards found a “cousin” who could provide me with a ticket on the “black”. The usual bargaining commenced (I was asked 2000 rupees for a 200 rupee ticket and offered 500), this time with a lot of laughter and banter and a gathering crowd. Neither of us would budge.
Suddenly the man took me aside, and started drawing with his finger in the dirt. “OK. You offer 5-0-0 and I say 2-0-0-0. I have deal for you. I give you for 0”. Nothing is ever for “0” in India, so i got him to explain the details of the deal:
In exchange for a ticket for “0”, I had to go to 5 shops with his brother, a taxi-driver, staying in each for at least 5 minutes. I had to buy nothing, and he explained that I should tell the shop-keepers that my wife was in the hotel, and that she made all the decisions, so I couldn’t buy any carpets.
Still uncomfortable that this made any economic sense for any of us, I probed further. It transpires that each shop owner would give the taxi-driver a 300-rupee gas coupon for every foreigner brought to his door. Ah. The beauty of a regulated system. So I was paying nothing, so that he could get gas coupons on one black market, so that I could get a ticket on another black market. Nice!
It was all working beautifully. After a fun Saturday night out with two Australian girls, I was all set for a cracking day-night game yesterday.
Cyclone Khaimuk (passing over neighbouring Andhra Pradesh and clearly not a cricket lover) had other ideas, bringing rain that reduced the game to 22 overs a side. The game was still a remarkable experience. The ear-splitting reception for Sachin Tendulkar opening the batting for India was rivalled only by the eerie quiet as he departed not long afterwards. I made friends with 10 or so Indians during the breaks in play, and was made to feel hugely welcome amidst the madness. At times the noise was indescribable. One of the most remarkable sights was the two industrious separate mopping up efforts after two heavy downpours. They know how to do full employment here. England lost despite some great cricket and one of the biggest sixes anyone at the ground had seen from Freddie Flintoff. He nearly cleared the ground.
The night ended, bizarrely, with a baying crowd asking for my “autograph”. I went with the flow. God knows where they will end up.
Finally, just to confirm – I did get my money from the scooterman Shastri in the end. Wonders will never cease. Toodle pip!