India-Letters #3: Bangalore Nightlife

May 25, 1999

Dear Friends,

I'm just back from an early dinner. It's been a surprise how
late people typically eat here. Restaurants don't even open
until 7:00 and don't close until 12:30 or so. In fact, many
young people here in Bangalore have dinner after going out
for drinks, rather than vice versa. Which brings me to the
general focus of this letter: what two young foreigners can
do for fun in Bangalore, India after the sun goes down.

I'll take you on some of our explorations and adventures,
and then I have a guest columnist, Meeta Kapadia, who will
share the most successful (and crazy) of our outings.

But first, a little bit about Bangalore.


Bangalore is best known within India for being the country's
unofficial high-tech capital. And true to that moniker, the
city sports many Indian infotech companies (including the
now NASDAQ-traded InfoSys) as well as regional offices for
scores of multinational companies like Oracle, Novell, and
others. Filtering down to everyday life, cybercafes can be
found on nearly every block of the hip Brigade Road area,
and you're bombarded by invitations for web design and
programming classes in newspaper ads, on billboards and on
telephone pole fliers.

This city of 4 1/2 million people is also is a big college town,
with I'm-not-sure-how-many-but-in-the-high-tens-of-thousands
students studying here. Combine the student influence with
the relatively high density of foreigners and IT
professionals with visions of the real Silicon Valley
dancing in their dreams, and you've got the best climate
possible for western style-fun in India.

But as you already know from my previous letters, the whole
city isn't like what I'm going to describe in this message.
The city is a major city in India, with it's pollution,
rich, poor & middle class, it's vegetable markets,
autorickshaws, crazy traffic, cows roaming the streets,
government bureacracy and more.

And like most major cities in India, the most popular form
of entertainment is the movies. And so that's an appropriate
place to start my stories...


The movie listings here break down movies into categories by
language: English (being the "universal" language), Hindi
(the "national" language), Kannada, Tamil, Telegu &
Malayalam (all regional dialects.) Currently showing
English: Psycho (the remake), Disturbing Behavior,
Shakespeare in Love, Patch Adams, & A Bug's Life.

Now, I had seen "Shakespeare in Love" in the States, but
Meeta hadn't yet seen it, so we decided to hit the symphony
theater one evening, where we got balcony tickets for 50
rupees each. Before heading inside, though, our hungry
stomachs commanded us to purchase a piece of corn on the cob
(grilled while we waited with chili powder applied) from a
street vendor and smuggled it inside.

Up a few flights of stairs in a crowd of people with sounds
of Hindi & English flying everywhere. We entered the theater
and showed the usher our ticket (reserved seating at the
movies here!), and found our seats. I took the chance to
look around and found myself in a theater larger than most
back home with 85% of its 1000 seats filled, and in
immaculate condition. Buckets of sand lined the rail between
the front row and the stage & screen. "For putting out
fires," Meeta explained.

We ate our corn during pre-film commercials (delicious!),
and settled in to watch the Oscar-award-winning flick. I was
not too surprised that the nude scenes were edited out, but
when the movie stopped in the middle and the lights came on,
that threw me. Apparently, every movie is shown with an
intermission. Indian-made films, which are made with an
intermission, and foreign films alike.

The audience, made up of a diverse group of Indians, seemed
to love the movie, and were certainly more vocal during the
movie than audiences in the States. A man a few rows up
answered then placed a call on his cell phone during the
second half of the movie.

The endgame of the film, with Gwyneth & the obnoxious
husband heading off to Virginia, reminded me that the US and
India share a common history as colonies of Great Britain.
Our independence came almost two centuries earlier, but it
was interesting to note that my relationship with
Shakespeare's writing could be approximately the same as a
young Bangalorean's.


On the 15-minute walk from my flat to the downtown area, you
pass a small temple, with three shrines open to the outside
air and various people worshipping or tending to the
shrines. The other night, on my way out about 8:00 PM, I saw
watched a drive-by worship take place. A rather chunky
Indian gentleman sped down the street on his motor scooter
(2-wheelers are very popular here) and screeched to a halt
on the right side of the road near the temple. Without
getting off his bike, he lifted his goggles, closed his
eyes, mumbled a few prayers over his sounds of his idling
engine, and then lowered the goggles and sped off. The whole
process took about 90 seconds. Efficient...


Our first Wednesday here, Luke and I decided to test out
this "pub culture" for which Bangalore is renowned
throughout India.  India's other big cities, such as Bombay
and Delhi, host discos where one can go to drink and dance
but only in Bangalore will one find actual pubs where you
can go to meet friends for a drink, watch a World Cup
cricket match with some buddies, or have a beer after
dinner.  So, off we went, down Residency Road where we had
seen a place called "Pub World" several nights back in

When Luke and I entered this fairly crowded place, we were
quickly ushered into the "Families Only" section where we
noticed all the women (and the men in their parties) were
sitting. Our best guess is that this is to avoid any
hassling.  (I'd wager that Indian men aren't as well versed
in pick-up lines here, given that contact with women in kept
to a minimum.)  We sat in the boring family section for
about five minutes before moving to the bar, or "fountain"
as it's called here.

A note about Bangalore pubs... themes seem to be the thing
here. We had stopped in at another place called NASA a
couple of days before. "Out of this world"  begins to
describe the corniness of the sci-fi theme, complete with
neon, and rocket-shaped table stands!  There, too, Luke and
I had to sit in the "Families Only" section. (Can you tell
I'm a little bitter about this?) Anyway, Pub World also had
its share of themes, four of them! There was an English pub
setting for the families, a German-feel "Der Keller", 
downtown Manhattan, and a Wild West section for men-only. 
We stuck to the fountain.

A television screen was showing a pre-World Cup cricket game
(we already had a sense of the excitement about cricket
here) and, watching, Luke and I couldn't make heads or tails
out of the game. Luke leaned over and asked a young,
hip-looking man whether he could explain them to us. Before
we knew it, we were talking, laughing, and sharing a pitcher
of beer with Aji and his friends J.P. and Meghna, three
college students in Bangalore from various places around
India and the Middle East. Our first friends in town.

We drilled them on the scene here: what were the fun pubs
and good places to eat, and soon enough, we found ourselves
accepting their invitation to go dancing that evening at a
place called "The Club Inferno" or "The Club" for short. But
first, there was something we were forgetting. Ah, yes,

10:30 pm and we walk with our new friends to their favorite
restaurant in town, The Hotel Imperial.  Kind of a divey
place with stained tablecloths (the waiter cleared the
freshly-dined-at table where we sat down, took the
tablecloth to the corner, shook it off, and returned it with
a grin) and four floors of tables, packed with people.  The
food turned out to be completely dee-lish and totally
affordable. The five of us ate for around Rs. 100 (US$2.50).
 We've been there again two times since that night!

After dinner, we met up with J.P.'s friends, Marie (the
girlfriend of the DJ of The Club) and Vishal, and off we
went.  The Club is located about 14 Kilometers outside of
town and Aji told us that weekend nights see over a thousand
people in attendance. They even hold "raindances" every so
often which simulate the monsoon rains and draw even larger
crowds of young Indians and foreigners. Tonight, a
Wednesday, would likely only be a few hundred.

For Rs. 150/head, you get a two-story discoteque, an
outdoor, lit, street-style basketball court, a swimming
pool, and a restaurant, plus coupons good for drink and
food... I'd never seen any club like this even in the
States!  By this time, it was around 1 AM and the place was
starting to fill up.

The DJs change music from hip-hop, dance mixes, rave, and
R&B at fixed hourly designations. When we weren't dancing,
we headed out to the basketball court. Luke swears he had
even more fun playing pick-up basketball than dancing! 
Finally, around 5am, the DJs played their last song
(Madonna's "Holiday"), and we headed home. The sun was
rising and our guard, eyeing us a little warily, opened the
gate so we could come home and collapse. After that fun and
exhausting adventure, I can only wonder what else this crazy
city has in store for us!

-- Meeta Kapadia, Special Correspondent


I got a surprise when several of the local pubs that we were
now familiar with, at least in name, showed up in this
morning's newspaper (Times of India, Bangalore City Edition,
24 MAY 1999). I'll type out the short article, because I'm
not sure I could really explain it otherwise...

***Police arrest 43 during raids
--Crime Correspondent
Bangalore: The city police, in simultaneous late night raids
across many live bands, arrested 43 persons including 27
women on Saturday. The raids were carried out at Blue Fox,
Princess, Black Cadillac, Melody, Friend's Home and other
prominent places. Police said these places were serving
liquor and allowed women to sing in gross violation of
excise laws.


Not all of you may be interested in this, but I'd betray my
excitement were I not to mention it. We ate at a restaurant
called Shogun the other night, that featured bean curd on
the menu. I hadn't seen tofu in any store or market since
I've been here, so tipped the waiter extremely well and
asked him how I could get some. The restaurant is supplied
by a Chinese man living in Bangalore. I've got a phone
number and the good will of the waiter, so we'll see what
happens. My fingers are crossed...


We stopped back into Pub World a few nights back, and ran
into Marie, J.P. and Vishal and a fourth friend of theirs.
It's exciting to get a bit of a social circle going here. We
even met two more people: two engineering students from
Madras, in town by the 6-hour bus for the weekend. I had an
interesting exchange with one of them, Sundar. I'll leave
out the 'What's and repeated phrases stemming from the loud
music and vastly different versions of English we were
speaking. Here's how it went:

Sundar:  Do you plan on coming to Madras?
  Luke:  Yes, I'd like to.
Sundar:  If you come, come to the zoo. It's about 15 km outside of the city.
  Luke:  OK...
Sundar:  I live there.
  Luke:  You live in the zoo?
Sundar:  In a corner of it.
  Luke:  I see.
Sundar:  It's a great zoo. One of the best in all of Asia. If you come,
         ask for me, and I'll show you around.

At this point, he took out a business card and showed that
his father was the Deputy Conservator of Forests for the
zoo. As a result, he lived at the zoo...


That's it for now. This may be a little light on traditional
Indian culture for some of you, but we'll get back to that.
Your thoughts, replies and feedback is a great part of
checking e-mail, so keep those responses coming.

All my best,