Want a nightlife? Build temples!

First of all, I’m serious. Second of all, this is not the first time I’m writing on Bangalore’s nightlife (or the lack of it). The last time I wrote about this topic, I had argued that most people in Bangalore are fundamentally illiberal and opposed to extended night life, and official response was just an embodiment of this sentiment. This post is more positive.

I think I have hit upon a solution to create a night life in Bangalore. This is based on my experiences at Amritsar and Ajmer. Both of them were extremely spiritual experiences (no, not that spirit. Alcohol is banned in the vicinity of the main shrines in both  these places). Both places offered fantastic food (again, vegetarian food only in the vicinity of the Golden Temple – but bloody brilliant; and brilliant mutton biryani near the Dargah of HKGN in Ajmer). And most importantly, both towns had a vibrant night life.

I’m not sure if I’ve touched upon this topic earlier, but the fundamental problem with Bangalore not having a night life is that it has never had one. Half of it was a traditional Indian city, and the other half was a rather sleepy cantonment town – which had its share of bars and discotheques, but most of which closed at eight in the evening (even twenty years ago, most of MG Road and Brigade Road would close at eight in the evening). Consequently, the city never did have a lifestyle. Even if you argue that the cantonment side had one, that the “city” side became more dominant after independence meant that whatever night life was there never really developed.

Fundamentally, a town gets a night life if people have some business being outdoors at night. Bombay had its textile mills that ran round the clock. New York was a busy trading port. Pick any city with a reasonable night life and you will find that sometime in its history there would have been a solid reason for people to remain outdoors late in the night. And yes, I’m talking about a solid business reason, not just partying.

The simple fact of the matter is that Bangalore has never had one (for reasons explained above). The situation is slowly changing of course, with many of Bangalore’s BPO and IT shops open through the night to service customers in the new world. Unfortunately, most such companies have insulated themselves from the rest of the city and built their own facilities for food, transportation, etc. Thanks to this, workers in such establishment (no doubt there are several) do not really contribute to the general nocturnal economy of the city. And so the administration can get away with downing shutters at bars and restaurants at 11 pm.

So what needs to be done? As the title of the post suggests, we need to build temples. We need “udbhava murtis” (idols that have sprung up from the ground) to magically spring up in several places in the city (not in the middle of roads of course). Then we need our religious leaders to declare that such murtis are the greatest to have ever existed, and to create a discourse that visiting one such murti will cure one of all past sins (or any such thing that will bring in crowds in large numbers). This needs to be a concerted effort, such that the demand for “darshan” at these murtis become humongous. The demand to see the murtis will be so humongous that the temples that are likely to spring up around them will need to be open round the clock!

And so we will have people visiting these temples late in the night, in the wee hours of the morning. Lots of people at the temple means an  enterprising chaat wallah will find it profitable to set up shop outside these temples. They will be followed by a chai wallah, and then dosa carts will begin to appear. Police will want to read the rule book to these businessmen, but their removal will lead to incurring the wrath of thousands of hungry pilgrims. The police will quietly extract their commissions and let the establishments stay. Then, people will need to get to the temples at wee hours of the morning, so we will have buses running through the night. More people moving around will mean greater “liquidity” in the auto rickshaw market and they will become more affordable at these times.

It will take a while (no good things come easily). But soon the bustling economies around these 24-hour temples will mean that the city will be alive through the night. Laws will have to change, and soon shops will be open through the night. As will be restaurants, and in the course of time bars (no promise on that one; Till very recently even in London bars had to shut at 11pm). And the city will have a night life!

Of course, the road to this liberal utopia is through a religious process. But then, don’t ends sometimes justify the means? And who is to say that an all-powerful deity does not add value to society at large? It will take concerted effort though (these idols need to magically appear in strategic locations, and we need the support of religious leaders to bless such idols – this is easier said than done), but it can be done.

PS: After writing this I realize that I’d written something similar on the Broad Mind a few months ago. Apologies for re-hashing the same idea. But don’t tell me this is not more positive.

Metro Notes

One of the advantages of being jobless is that though you’re poor in terms of money, you’re rich in time. So you have all the time you want to do things that give you random kicks, such as riding the new Bangalore metro on the second day of operation. The reason I chose to go today was that I had to anyway go to the MG Road area on some work, but also that the second day is a good time to see things early, while not getting caught in a mad rush.  My decision to go today was reinforced by a report in today’s paper that while there was much clamouring to get on to the first train yesterday, the second train was half-empty.

The supposedly showpiece MG Road station is not yet complete. You still can’t get to the station from the Plaza theater side, which is the “logical” side to get in if you’ve come to MG Road for shopping or generally hanging out, or even if your office is there. You need to cross over to the parade ground side at the Cauvery signal and then make your way through some narrow barricades before you get to the entrance. You get frisked at the entrance (this might end up being a bottleneck) after which you get to buy tickets. There was a queue of about 10 people when I got there.

There is still scope for the ticket staff to become more efficient, and for people to learn to carry exact change (especially given that you have tickets for Rs. 12, Rs. 14, etc). However, I would imagine that in the long term, most people would end up using a travel card, so the pressure on the counters may actually decrease. One disappointing thing was that they didn’t sell return tickets. I would have to stand in queue again at Indiranagar.

You have escalators only for going up, and you have to take the stairs when you exit the station. I don’t know if this is a method to cut costs or lead-time, but it would be a letdown if you had to take the stairs down each time, especially since the stairs were a major bottleneck in exiting the station when I disembarked from MG Road on the return journey. Another bottleneck while exiting at MG Road was the turnstiles. On your way in, the ticket booths are the bottlenecks so the turnstiles are free. Not so on the way out. However, I don’t see much scope for putting more turnstiles there so I don’t know how the metro will cope with increased demand.

The train is quite small (3 bogies long) but I’m told it’ll be increased to 6 soon. Maybe the train wasn’t as full as expected but I found the temperature in the train too cold on the way to Indiranagar (it was ok on the return journey when the train was full).  The indiranagar station was incredibly convenient and not crowded at all. Entry, exit, ticket purchase and turnstiles were all extremely smooth, and the view from the station platform is stunning, especially towards the ulsoor side. Speaking of views from trains, the metro has now given scope for a new set of hoardings for the city. These hoardings can be put up at the “metro level” along the metro line. I’d be surprised if no businessman were to take this opportunity.

The train itself doesn’t move too fast, especially since there are so many curves on the route. On the straight MG Road stretch, however, the train moves well at a faster rate. The announcements on the train still need some work. The grammar of the Kannada announcements is atrocious, and the funniest bit is when they try and explain “mind the gap” in Kannada and Hindi. The hindi announcements also carry a very strong Kannadiga accent.

There are some other measures that the metro corporation has taken in order to get people acquainted with the metro. There is usually an officer standing at the turnstiles who tells you how you should swipe (on entry) or deposit (on exit) your token. Then, there are security guards at the platform itself who make sure passengers are standing back when the trains arrive, and that they are not blocking the doors when it’s closing.

The journey from MG Road to Indiranagar was extremely quick and painless. I believe that the metro has already demonstrated its ability in making the city smaller, and I can now only hope that the full stretch of the metro (including the underground stretch at Majestic) gets completed fast. I can’t wait for the day when I take a short walk to the Jayanagar metro station and do two quick journeys to reach MG Road or Indirangar easily, safely and painlessly.

The Jayanagar Problem

I don’t know why there are no good mid-to-high end restaurants in the Jayanagar-Basavanagudi area. Ok I must admit there are a few that are quite good – Chung Wah Opus (run by the Kamats of Yatri Nivas fame) and Banjara come to mind, but there aren’t too many. What bothers me more is the profusion of positively bad mid-to-high end restaurants – Presto (Yediyur circle), Cable Car (inner ring road, near Raghavendra Swami temple), Baron’s Inn (9th Main 40th Cross) come to mind.

There are several other reasons as to why I won’t move out of this part of town (except maybe to Kathriguppe, where I own a house – and that area I must say is now quite well served in terms of restaurants) , but it is a big problem for us when we want to go out to a decent place for dinner and are in no mood to drive. One such occasion was last Friday and we ended up walking to Hotel La Marvella at South End Circle, which had an extremely awful lounge and fairly decent north indian food at the not-too-bad rooftop restaurant. Still, there was something missing (which I can’t describe here) which meant the experience wasn’t particularly fulfilling.

One thing to note is that this part of town is home to a lower proportion of upper middle class immigrants compared to other parts of town. Also, the fact that the growth in the mid-to-high-end restaurant industry in Bangalore is largely correlated with the growth in upper middle class immigrant population (read: the IT boom) lends credence to this line of thought.

Then, there might be people who argue that these are “traditionally traditional areas” so people won’t eat out much, and won’t spend much when eating out, and don’t look for diversity in cuisine and all that. But the fact that in recent times KFC has opened a few branches in this part of town (“few” is important – because it’s clearly been successful) refutes this argument.

I don’t have too many other ideas about why this is the case. If you do, plis to be enlightening me.

Barista Update

The Barista at Barton Center on MG Road has suddenly become so much more bearable, as they have turned down the volume of their music to a level such that you can actually have conversation without shouting. On a related note, it seems much easier to find tables there compared to earlier (yesterday we walked in around 6 and found several tables empty; earlier there would be a long wait at that time).

On yet another related note, they seem to have done something about the pricing. It’s friggin’ expensive now (70 bucks for a small cappuccino?) but I think they’ve gotten it right. There is obvious value in the restaurant as shown by the long waiting lines that used to be there earlier, and the restaurant is now simply monetizing that value rather than using artificial means (loud music) to chase people away.

As a former revenue management professional (damn; that sounds so corporate whoreish) I’m happy they are doing what a coffee shop like them is supposed to do – providing excellent environment for long conversations and chilled out afternoons, and actually charging for what it’s worth.

The earlier method was so cheap and country – they were clearly underpriced because of which there was overcrowding and they weren’t able to meet demand and had to use other measures such as playing loud godawful music to keep the crowd rotating.

Two thumbs up to Barista’s new pricing and music policy!