In Bangalore, the guidebook suggests, be aware of the rickshaw drivers.
Ok, be aware, be aware. I repeat this at the train station, with no clue where the district of cheap hotels and delectable juicy drinks is. I have no choice but the autorickshaw. I take steps to increase my awareness in the back of the rickshaw. Remember: be aware. I begin to tremble under the ambiguity of this statement. Do I open my eyes wider? Do I stare intensely at the driver’s back, hugging my passport and wallet into my body like I’m holding organs into my torso?
Despite my increased awareness, the advice of the guidebook, the suspicious grin the driver makes at every glance at his rearview mirror, and the honking of horns outside that sounds like a calf being torn away from its mother, I begin to phase out in the backseat, dreaming of some fantastical faraway land. Suddenly I realize that no other cars on are around us on the road. He stops in front of a small building—most of it descending deeper underground—that reads: GOVERNMENT SILK EMPORIUM.
“Just go in, have a look.” he tells me.
Allow me a moment to explain these emporiums. One day the government thought it would be a swell idea to replace dynamic local markets with gigantic emporiums of extremely expensive but authenticated stock-piles of India’s treasures. These emporiums are usually in the middle of nowhere, and any rickshaw driver who brings foreigners to these places gets a commission, plus small governmental benefits like tax write-offs (not having to pay any taxes at all), waived requisites (a blind-eye to their lack of a driver’s license] or some other type of governmental protection.
To placate the man, hoping that I would one day get to a hotel, I walk into the emporium, spend ten minutes grumbling to myself, then leave. Minutes later he has taken me to another one. I complain but he keeps saying “just look, just look.” Too enervated to argue, I walk in with the stench of the train still following me, walk around in a haggard daze, and then fall into the back of the rickshaw again.
“Now we go hotel.” I tell him.
“One more shop sir.”
“No!” I plead to him, while in my mind, I am cursing the guidebook for its total lack of specificities. “I give you one hundred rupees, you no take me to another one.” It was three times the fare.
“No, no want money.”
“Two hundred rupees!”
“No, just look, just look.”
No amount of money can compare to the benefits of collaborating with a corrupt government. Instead of giving him the money, I spend it on a sandalwood Ganesh, knowing that the driver will get extra “benefits” if I actually buy something. When I get back in the rickshaw he has a smile on his face as mocking as a crescent moon. But he takes me to the hotel.
In recent times, the name Bangalore has become synonymous with the word outsourcing, and neologisms are spurred in attempts to understand the city—ITocracy and calltopia to name just a few. One out of every three office buildings in India spring up in Bangalore; obesity and diabetes are growing concerns here, where most everywhere else in the country, food and the fear of draught from this year’s disappointing monsoon (about %75 of its average) is of growing concern.
There is no better way to understand this indefinable city than to stay up late, at least until 3am, when the American workday ends, and all those Indians you hear over the phone when calling the Dell computers customer service line are emancipated into the jam-packed pubs, the chaotic night markets and the large strip halls, where, in rooms that look remarkably similar to Korean karaoke rooms, Indian women striptease bellydance on top of men’s laps.
Staying in the Majestic district, I become all too familiar with this nightlife as I realize that the extreme discount I receive on my hotel room has less to do with my own cunning, and much more to due with the fact that the hotel is hardly a hotel at all, but an in-and-out “love hotel.” Harrowing screams from adjacent rooms drown out the lectures of my ipod.
Unable to sleep among the orgasmic cacophony, I take to Mysore, a far more laidback city with a long royal history, rickshaw drivers that do not take you to government emporiums, a nightlife that doesn’t burst through your hotel window in fragmented colors and screams, and a hotel that’s actually a hotel…with a very inviting pillow.