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 Рbut 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.

The Sikh Museum

One of the highlights of Amritsar, which is missed by most mango tourists is the Sikh museum. It is situated on the first floor of the front wing of the Golden Temple complex (just as you enter from the main entrance) and provides fascinating insight into the history and lives of the Sikhs. The English on the labeling is bad, some pictures don’t have English labels at all (not even Hindi; only Gurmukhi stuff) and the museum is mostly made up of paintings rather than artefacts, but it is definitely a must-see.

The most fascinating thing about the history of the Sikhs as depicted in this museum is the gore. As you enter the first hall of the museum (it is basically a series of halls laid end-to-end) and turn left (actually you are supposed to turn right and see the thing anti-clockwise but the signage is so bad I turned left) you see a painting of a guy being sawed. Yes, you read that right, a guy is being sawed. Into half. Laterally. The painting shows two guys with a huge saw sawing this guy from head downwards (at the moment the painting has “captured” the guy has been sawed until his chest) while Guru Tegh Bahadur looks on.

Move on to the next painting and it shows you a guy being boiled alive, again with Guru Tegh Bahadur presiding. Apparently the guy’s death wish was that he looks at the Guru while he is being boiled to death. Again fascinating indeed. Then later, there is this guy (one of the Gurus only I think) who is placed on a hot tawa and burnt to death.

Amit, Aadisht and Gaspode will be especially pleased to see the next part of the museum which shows the mutilation of babies. The story goes that while all the Sikh men of a cerrtain town were away the Mughals attack the town. There are only women and children remaining. They take the kids one by one, cut them up into pieces and string their organs together in the form of garlands and put it around their mothers’ necks. Unmitigated gore wonly.

One can say that the underlying theme of the museum, and maybe of Sikh history, is gore, violence, bloodbath, sacrifice, valour, whatever you call it. There are several paintings (most of these paintings are recent, btw) which depict battlefields and the common theme there is the severed heads and limbs that are lying on the ground. Then there is a series of paintings with Mughal soldiers holding up heads of Sikh men in order to claim their reward.

The last couple of halls of the museum are filled with portraits of recent Sikh leaders and I didn’t really bother to check the details there. At least I can confirm that there wasn’t any gore there. Overall it took me about 45 minutes to cover the museum (of course I read the story beside each and every painting – wherever English text was available) so I might have taken more time than a lot of other visitors. And got absolute strength level fundaes on Sikh history.

I strongly urge you to visit this museum the next time you are in Amritsar. I would advise you to visit this before you visit the langar, else you have a good chance of throwing up – there is so much gore in there. Also, if you are the weak hearted type who cries on the sight of blood, skip the museum altogether.

Amritsar Update

Got back last night after a short 2-day trip to Amritsar. It was an interesting trip, I must say. Got a lot of fodder for blog posts, but unfortunately I seem to have forgotten most of it, and hence this short summary post. I seriously need to buy a dictaphone with speech-to-text capability. I would observe stuff, and quickly construct a blog post in my head. Unfortunately, I can’t write or type on phone as fast as i can think (i can type on comp at the speed of thought which is why i can blog decenly) so all that construction seems to have gone waste.

If at any point of time, I can remember what I was planning to write, I’ll write. Else unfortunately such great thoughts and essays will be lost to humanity. I still kinda remember what i want to write ABOUT – problem is I’ve forgotten the contents of the essay. So I want to write a commentary on the end-of-day proceedings at the wagah border. I want to write about this awesome temple in Amritsar, which among other things features a carving of a cow’s udders, and directly underneath are statues of a snake and a lingam.

I want to write about the magnificent gore of the Sikh museum, and of the magnificent letdown that was the Maharaja Ranjit Singh museum. I want to write about the assembly lines that operate in the langar at the Golden Temple, about the transportation infrastructure in amritsar, about how the Punjoos in Amritsar are very unlike Punjoos elsewhere.

Tangentially, I need to write about the damage to children’s learning of history caused by Hindi textbooks (I was thinking about this when looking at the gore in the Sikh museum). About the magnificent street food of Amritsar. Ok now Ive forgotten the other topics also. This is like ideas literally slipping away from your fingers before you document them.

Traveled both ways on the Swarna Shatabdi. Return trip cost 75 bucks more than onward trip. Don’t know why – maybe it’s because they served dinner. Stayed at Hotel CJ International which is 100m away from the Golden Temple. First time I used Lonely Planet to find a restaurant and it was a bloody good recommendation. Read half of Nilekani’s Imagining India during the trip. Need to blog about that too.