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popular mutton

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A day in Bangalore, and I’m still in one piece. I think I’m getting a mild jet lag, which is making me sleepy: I’ll fight it for a while, then turn in, with plenty of time for a good sleep before my alarm goes off at 6:30.

On the flight from Dubai I found myself listening to an audio programme about the airline I was using, Emirates. It’s their 21st anniversary as a going concern, and the programme discussed some of their defining features. One that stood out, to my ears, is that they make a point of treating economy class passengers very well.

The flight was absolutely full, and I was lucky not to be bumped, even though I checked in over two hours before departure. It seems everyone else is checking in online, which you can do 24 hours in advance, something I was not aware of. Oh well: the flight was just over three hours, as scheduled, and I can survive the worst seat on the plane – in the middle of a row in the middle of a section. It couldn’t be worse than the Toronto to Edmonton standby seat I had on the now-defunct Canada 3000, with the blubber overflow on my right, and the nonstop electronic Yahtzee gamer on my left.

I didn’t get to experience that, this time around: I was asked to swap seats, so my neighbour could have his wife next to him, and I found myself in a window seat behind a bulkhead, so I had very good legroom. The meal service was excellent, with several advantages over Aer Lingus, starting with metal cutlery and free drinks, though I stuck to fruit juices and coffee. A baby near me couldn’t stop crying during takeoff and landing, but in the air I got to see how the cabin crew fussed over them.

Then, Bangalore. People, people, everywhere, so many people that many have makeweight (and poorly-paid) jobs that could be better performed by machines. Baggage took half an hour to make it the short distance from the plane to the belt, at which point there were people whose job it was to lift help the bags make an awkward transition between two belts, and pick some off, seemingly at random, to move them about ten feet away. There were two people checking passports at the entrance to customs, and two more, in plain sight of the first two, checking them again at the exit.

I have a driver, with a rental car, assigned to me, full-time. The driver, Srinivas, got my name over the phone, and mangled it almost beyond recognition on the sign, which was hard enough to see among the hundreds of other drivers jammed five deep at the exit from the airport. There seemed to be more waiting drivers than arriving passengers.

Then we entered Bangalore traffic, which was refreshingly anarchic. With the high volume of cars and a complete absence of lane discipline, it has nevertheless exhibited a compelling advantage over traffic in Western Europe, as I’ve seen over three rush-hour journeys so far: it moves. Traffic lights are few: occasionally traffic police wander in to the road to smooth the entry of side traffic, but not for long.

When there’s a lane-wide space available, there will soon be a car in it; half a lane accommodates a motorbike. Not a foot goes to waste, and each toot of your horn replaces another driver’s glance in the rear-view mirror, since no such mirrors could cover every angle that every driver needs to cover, on these roads. There is much contactless pushing and shoving, and some scarred vehicles, but no aggravation or rancour that I could detect. We were cut off many times, and did our share of cutting off, offences that would see fists coming out in Dublin, or guns in Los Angeles, but it’s just normal here. The title of this post come from the “Popular Mutton Store” we passed on the way back this evening.

Don’t get me started on the cheesy television here. I have a 2-bedroom “condo” all to myself, which could sleep four comfortably: what must appear unspeakable luxury to a resident of the slums just outside the gate, but which costs less per day than the inexpensive hotel I used on my last trip to London. I’m more than happy with it, but some of the details are amateur. For example, there is a bolster to stop the bedroom door banging against the chest of drawers, but it’s not going to do much good when screwed to the outside of the door, is it? The lighting is inadequate, so dim that I have the notebook screen’s brightness turned down, just so I’m not blinded by glare and can’t see the keyboard. (Edit: the fatigue allowed many grammar errors to survive, which I’m fixing two days later.)

The food is very good so far: a spicy Mysore curry last night, that had the chef coming out to check if I was OK – which I was, very much so. Fresh pineapple juice with that, and this morning an omelette made fresh in front of me, after cereals. I’m getting to like the local coffee – a vicious shot topped off with sweet milk. Lunch was a chicken sandwich and a mutton pakora, and I’m full enough to skip dinner for some of the chocolate and mixed nuts I picked up at Dubai Airport. Bottled water has helped to ensure no adverse reactions so far, though the all-day talking, combined with the pollution, will kill my throat by the weekend, I expect.

This afternoon, by surprise, I was roped in to the ceremonial opening of the local department equivalent to mine in Dublin, and had the honour of being one of the people lighting the Hindu ceremonial 5-wick lamp. It’s not Divali, but it still symbolises knowledge and good luck. (I got photographed, but was spared from giving a speech). The manager is from the Netherlands, and there are a few other Westerners over here, so the ceremony was a mix of cultures: the candles, followed by a ribbon-cutting; a slice of cake that had Winnie-the-Pooh icing, for some reason, with a vegetable samosa on the side.

Just to underline the cultural divide, the paper cake plates were “Swasta” brand, and came in a packet with little swastikas on them, a symbol of good luck here. The last century, as horrible as it has been, is a mere blip in the history of the world: the earth-shaking, culture-defining wars were largely shrugged off here, despite the British Empire. Bangalore is in the process of reverting its name to the historical Bengaluru; the Raj has passed on, as we all will, in time.


Written by brian t

December 11, 2006 at 7:20 pm

Posted in india, work

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