It was at a packed intersection in Koramangala that the general absurdity of a night out in Bangalore first became apparent. Vikram, our stylish college student friend, was driving Em and I to the MG Road area and its assortment of bars and pubs, blasting an addictive dance track on the stereo, but the music wasn’t going to push us through this red light faster. As we waited for the lights to change, a woman in rags holding a crying child approached the window. “I don’t care if you can’t dance, just wanna see that ass bounce,” bellowed the speaker system as she held her hand out to us, then to her mouth, then to us again. I pushed a ten-rupee note into her hand and wound the window up. She stayed in the same spot as the lights changed and watched us as we pulled away, her flat expression unchanged by our encounter.
That’s Bangalore. On the way from your car to a high-class sushi restaurant, you’ll inevitably step over a homeless man or a puddle of urine in the street. Em and I live in Varkala, and while we’ve been in the metros before and know how different it is, the societal divide still surprises and apalls. Still, Vikram had offered to show us a night on the town and, starved of dance clubs, quality alcohol and (most importantly) anonymity in Varkala, we jumped at the chance to let our hair down in an unfamilar environment.
We met Vikram’s friends Akanksha and Zee at the outdoor lounge in Fuga for a preliminary cigarette or three. The IPL semi-final was on TV, with Royal Challengers Bangalore facing off against Chennai Super Kings. As we waited for our drinks to come, Zee, Akanksha and I tried to explain the specifics of cricket to Em. To her American sensibilities, the whole thing sounded laughable. Vikram made no effort to get her on side; he hated cricket. The alcohol arrived as we extinguished our cigarettes, so we picked up our bottles and headed in to the main bar.
The ambience inside was thankfully not as hellish as the red, backlit corridoor that you had to walk down to get there. We sat down on a set of couches and people-watched. The mood of the place was a kind of attempted exclusivity: accessories that were just a little too showy, voices elocuting just a little too loudly. In general, the men talked and the women listened as they fidgeted, both parties glancing around with regularity. It was almost as if they felt like impostors, like they expected someone to come and tap them on the shoulder any minute and tell them they didn’t belong. Thing was, as the only foreigners in the place, we were the oddest ones out.
The night grew ever stranger. A shaven-headed guy who looked exactly like Nicolas Anelka bought us shots at the bar and said he was a member of the royal family of Oman. I’ll never know whether or not that was the truth. On the dancefloor, the DJ was doing a great job of losing the crowd by trying to show off his ability to stop and start the beat. A cheer went up as the Royal Challengers won their match. Then, just as more people were coming to dance and the vibe in the place was getting more open and relaxed, up came the house lights. 11:30pm. The state-ordered curfew was now in effect, and no amount of insistence to the staff was going to keep the place open – if they did, the police would make sure they lost everything.
Telling the Omani/Anelka lookalike we might meet up later – never gonna happen – our purpose now was to prolong the night as long as was possible. First, we headed down the road to a jam-packed restaurant. I’d usually expect burgers or kebabs; the Indian equivalent was a basket of parathas and chilli chicken, which turned out to be a most agreeable late-night feast. Afterwards, a jaunt to Forum found a juice bar still serving multitudes of mostly male customers thronging in the street in their designer jeans. I had an ice-cream which tasted strange, and ended up chucking most of it in an overflowing bin.
We then sped to the 6-star Leela Palace to see whether the bar was open. It was, but the farcical opulence of the place seemed to have rubbed off on the staff, who were aloof and, bizarrely, flatly refused to fulfil any order we made. One waiter came to our table with a pen and paper, listened as we told him which drinks we wanted, then told us he couldn’t give them to us before walking away. As we looked at each other quizzically, another walked over to us and said it was closing time. Fine, we didn’t need your arbitrary dolphin sculptures and grand pianos anyway. It was time to go home.
There was one last piece of excitement. Vikram felt liberated by the now-empty streets and gunned the Maruti down various four-lane roads, the tyres screeching as he sped around each corner. Flying down one road, I noticed a speed bump ahead. Before I could point out, he said, “Put your seatbelts on, this jump is classic!” I had just clicked mine in when we hit it, flying probably two feet into the air and avoiding the central concrete island by inches. Sparks flew from the back of the car. The exhiliration was more satisfying than the rest of the night combined.
And as the bars, expensive clothes and brand-name perfumes started to fade, the absurdity of it all sunk in with a grin and a moment of reflection. From an admittedly tiny sample size, Bangalore seemed a good few years away from having decent nightlife, but my thoughts turned back to the woman at the red light. Ultimately, it was my good fortune that crap DJs, too-early curfews, bad ice-cream and rude wait staff bore any meaning for me. I promised myself that I would try to appreciate every moment a little more if I ever had an opportunity to hit the town in Bangalore again.
If you live in Bangalore, or have enjoyed a night on the town there, tell me how I’m doing it wrong!
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