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Bangin' Out In Bangalore

Bangin' Out In Bangalore

July 16, 2010
Barnaby Haszard Morris

Neon lights! Expensive clothes! Women! They're all present on a night out in Bangalore, but something isn't quite right.

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!


37 Comments

  • The080
    By
    The080
    17.10.11 12:15 PM
    Bengaluru, Karnataka, October 13, 2011 /India PRwire/ -- Bangalore's residents seem to have had enough with the increasing influence of the police in their daily activities. A new initiative aptly named "11:31" on Facebook aims to try and unite like minded residents to speak out and make changes. 11:31 aims to bring an end to the 11:30pm deadline in the city as they feel it is hurting tourism, business and the individual freedom. "It's about time that we take charge of the situation, Bangalore has suffered enough under these archaic laws." says Rohit Mukherjee the Founder of the 11:31 Movement. "We need to come together and show the officials that we are serious, we cannot live in a society where the police set our bed-time."

    The problems in Bangalore do not end at just the 11:30pm deadline but recently the city has been enforcing a law banning any dancing or live music at establishments, which has had bangalore's youth on edge about their indivdual freedoms.

    The 11:31 movement is just starting to gather steam on social networks but hopes to soon reach out to lawyers, business owners and the tourism industry to gather support and move forward. For now you can learn more at www.facebook.com/1131pm
  • Barnaby Haszard Morris
    By
    Barnaby Haszard Morris
    28.08.11 02:18 AM
    This sounds awesome, thanks! Will check it out at the earliest.
  • madhu_shala
    By
    madhu_shala
    26.08.11 05:57 PM
    Dear Angela and Barnaby,

    This is on an unrelated note, but I couldn't resist pointing it out.
    Madhu_Shala is not my name, but only my twitter handle, and is meant to be an ode to the magnum opus of the great Hindi poet and writer, Late Shri Harivansh Rai Bachachan (who was the FATHER of the Hindi movie superstar Amitabh Bachchan, though for the wise ones, Amitabh is only the son of the great artist Harivansh Rai Bachchan).

    You can read about Madhushala (The Tavern/The House of Wine in English) here on Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Madhushala

    but what I suggest you do (esp Barnaby, as he has lived in India for long and I assume must be fond of or at least aware about Indian classical music) is hear the musical rendition of Madhushala, recorded in the soulful voice of the great Indian singer Manna Dey (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manna_Dey)here:

    It is a 4 part series on youtube and can guarantee you'd both love the soothing notes and voice (and hopefully want to own a copy of the album)

    Part 1 : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TAPpsLSJvtE

    Part 2: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=N_A29EVM_-c

    Part 3: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qwvxbl5lK4k

    Part 4: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Hi-EVw18UAI

    OH YES, lest I forget, here are the verses (along with commentary) of the album in English:

    http://allpoetry.com/poem/8586937-Madhushala__The_Tavern__-by-Harivansh_Rai_Bachchan
  • Barnaby Haszard Morris
    By
    Barnaby Haszard Morris
    26.08.11 04:18 PM
    Hi Angela, I've been reading your blog today as well - thanks to Madhu! Your posts have a lot of insight, it's like you've lived there for years.

    Thanks for both of your comments. The private parties sound very interesting - if/when I make it back to Bangalore I'll have to check them out.
  • Angela Carson
    By
    Angela Carson
    26.08.11 03:09 PM
    @Madhu, thanks for linking me to this blog. I didn't know it until now and see a couple of other fellow bloggers who have commented here as well.

    In follow-up to the raids that have started happening again (over the past two weeks there were arrests at Coco Bongo and Pebbles -- managers and owners!)...I wrote a blog post on the dance ban, here: http://angelacarson.wordpress.com/2011/08/24/eh-govnor-we-want-to-dance-in-bangalore/
  • Madhu_Shala
    By
    Madhu_Shala
    26.08.11 03:34 AM
    I left Bangalore a couple of years ago and the 11:30 pm curfew was like nightmare for all young people who used to want to have some well-deserved fun after slogging it out at their jobs or colleges.
    I still remember the fateful day in 2005 when the nightlife of the city went for a toss! What a fall from being called the 'pub city' in India, once upon a time!

    From what I hear, people eventually got frustrated and stopped trying to desperately extract fun from visiting these clubs! Now, there's a wide network of people who have taken to private parties/house parties/farmhouse parties for their regular doses of fun and frolic. It had started to happen when I used to live there and is the norm now, I hear! You can read about an expats experience of it here http://angelacarson.wordpress.com/2011/07/01/the-dark-side-of-bangalore%E2%80%99s-after-party-scene/

    PS - You will meet women with their kids at red lights at every city. With time, as the country prospers, this incongruity too, will vanish. Until then, it's a good idea to appreciate things a bit more than we usually would, as you rightly said :)

    PPS - Great news about the proposal to extend 'curfew' to 2 am!
  • Vikram
    By
    Vikram
    07.04.11 12:14 PM
    Also, knowledgeable trendy and adventrous? Hahahaahaa. Epic mate. Epic

    sorry for the double post
  • Vikram
    By
    Vikram
    07.04.11 12:12 PM
    Barns your blog is catching up mate. Good job. Love the timely release of a new read every now and then. Reading this makes me wanna hit town with you again. Make your way here buddy? Hit me up on facebook. Maybe we can figure something out.

    Again. Props on your writing skills.
  • Jenny
    By
    Jenny
    16.03.11 08:36 PM
    Hey Guys !

    There is a New Pub name Lock N' Load opened in Hebbal..bit far from city and Traffic cops...you can enjoy you weekend in completely different atmosphere.This is the only pub in Town with Texan Theme.Try Out !
  • arun
    By
    arun
    29.11.10 05:48 PM
    nice article . i've never been to b'lore . many of my friends have moved there for work . they say its a nice place . good climate . but still i like kerala
  • Billkiss
    By
    Billkiss
    29.11.10 09:46 AM
    My German hubby, who is ‘trapped’ in India, running a family business forwarded this link to me.
    Can’t thank him enough for that.
    What you have written struck a cord instantly… and that’s a rather unusual occurrence, because almost everyone here (or any other city in India) seems to be comfortably numb. Supremely comfortable (especially for Indian standards) and equally numb (how else would they be able to ENJOY life amidst the decay and degeneration???)
    A night or day out in Bangalore just exposes the acute social divide, glaring class barriers, and confused identities.
    The rich trying to fill their hollow hearts with weak, secondhand histrionics and the poor of course doing the same to fill their empty bellies…This cruel juxtaposition further worsened by the absolutely ‘wannabe’, mostly phony offerings of the city, right from its ugly architecture to wonky flyovers…
    I loved your article for many reasons…but the most important reason is that you haven’t blamed your insipid experience on only the early curfew.
    Because it is not about the early curfew…it will never be about the time of the night or day or the corrupt system…
    Want to congratulate you from the bottom of my heart for giving voice to the minority amongst us who wants to peel off the blinkers.
  • Barnaby Haszard Morris
    By
    Barnaby Haszard Morris
    08.10.10 06:10 PM
    Hi PR! Well, you've got the point - such a night throws up all kinds of different emotions, from euphoria to disgust. The same goes for most experiences as a foreigner in India...

    And I did indeed experience it with a Bangalorean, master Vikram who commented just above. He was the perfect host: knowledgable, trendy and adventurous as hell. ;)
  • PR
    By
    PR
    05.10.10 06:57 PM
    Hello Thr,

    Pretty good write up about your experience. But did not really understand your emotions in this...

    You either had a lot of fun or were taken by surprise or made u modest lol!!!

    To see, experience, to sync into Bangalore life... you need to be see experience this with a Bangalorean :)...
  • Barnaby Haszard Morris
    By
    Barnaby Haszard Morris
    27.08.10 07:10 PM
    Awesome of you to stop by, o inspirational one! Now how did I forget the drunk charades? Oh yeah, because you made us consume about five double whisky shots. Each. We definitely acted the wacky firangis that night!

    Interesting that the 2am thing is happening, I must check that out.

    Sorry about not knowing it was a Palio. I see all cars in India as Ambassadors, Tatas or Marutis. 'Streed cred', what is?
  • Vikram
    By
    Vikram
    27.08.10 12:48 PM
    lol, barns, you forgot what that Omani tried to pull on us, u also forgot the drunk charades at home. where u and em got off you tits and me and akanksha were laughing at you white folk
    :D

    more news, bangalore is supposedly gonna be alive till about 2 am in the morning.

    @Maya : no the no dancing thing isn't enforced anymore. that rule was brought out as a last ditch effort against Dance Bars ( mediocre strip clubs kinda joint, lap dances more like ). I would like to disagree with most people here.

    I dont LIKE the night life here, but you know that this city as free as any city in India gets. I mean yea, there is a 12 am curfew in place. but that does NOT mean we stop partying or doing what we want. Just because of these stringent and, to be honest, anal rules, this city is alot more safe than others.

    Like barns said, must look for the silver lining.

    and barns , dude, car was a palio, jeeeez man ur ruining my street cred
    :P


    wonderful article.
  • Maria
    By
    Maria
    26.07.10 08:46 PM
    Bangalore continues to be one of my fav cities. well I am partial to it because I have memories of my first IT job there. Close to 2 years of Comm street shopping, BTM PG stays, Forum hanging out..ah!!! gud ol Blore!!!
    As for the nightlife, well I was a bit behind in that. So cant really comment on that :)
  • Smitha
    By
    Smitha
    26.07.10 04:40 PM
    Hi Barnaby,

    I liked your write up. Pretty modest.
    Have spent a couple of days in Bangalore around 4 years back... Haven't been there off late so this gives a decent insight.

    This is the 1st post of yours that I get to read and I liked it, so now let me read more :-)
  • maya
    By
    maya
    26.07.10 12:58 PM
    Looks like the all night revelry is now over in Kolkata too... a 2 a.m. curfew has been introduced. :-(

    http://www.telegraphindia.com/1100719/jsp/calcutta/story_12698216.jsp
  • Barnaby Haszard Morris
    By
    Barnaby Haszard Morris
    25.07.10 02:55 PM
    @Sonia: yes, that social divide is always problematic, and I have no easy solutions. Sometimes I wonder whether reporting my experiences of it is irresponsible when I'm doing virtually nothing to help alleviate it.

    @Vinod: thank you. It sounds like I should hang out with you next time I'm in Bangalore!
  • vinod
    By
    vinod
    21.07.10 11:57 AM
    Hi Barnaby,

    Beautifully written, as always. As a Bangalorean, I can say you were doing it all right, though you could have extended it :). As from one of the comments above, an underground liqor shop, buy a bottle, go home with some buddies, lock the doors and windows, turn up the volume, dance and chat till 5 am. Nice!

    It was not always like this. There was a time when clubs, pubs and bars stayed open till 2 am in Bangalore. This 11:30 business is really sad. What to do?

    The picture is not that of Bangalore :)

    Thanks
    Vinod
  • Sonia
    By
    Sonia
    20.07.10 10:37 AM
    Hmm.. never went out clubbing in Bangalore... but I guess it's not one of the things I would go there for if I'm visiting. The beggar thing is true of most places in India. The line between the haves and the have-nots is so wide, the lifestyles so different in the same country, that it'll become difficult to sleep at night if you were to sit and think abt it.
  • Barnaby Haszard Morris
    By
    Barnaby Haszard Morris
    19.07.10 06:31 PM
    @Maya: don't worry, my lips are sealed. And yes, Babu still sways through Funky, though the dreads were gone last I saw. Any one of those guys working there has seen and done more than the rest of us can even imagine.

    @A Singh: The bars on Varkala cliff are unlicensed, so they serve beer in other vessels or wrap the bottles in newspaper so the alcohol isn't obvious.
  • Maya
    By
    Maya
    19.07.10 05:59 PM
    @ A.Singh. Ah, the memories! Two of my favourite places. 8)
  • A Singh
    By
    A Singh
    19.07.10 05:42 PM
    Maya, you are spot on, Kolkata has the best nightlife. Spent a great evening in the clubs of Park Street (Roxy, Sheesha) and called it a night at 3am. The place was still rocking!

    Barnaby, what's the deal in Kerala with getting your beer served in teapots? I thought the waiter had misheard my order and I was getting the afternoon tea...
  • Maya
    By
    Maya
    19.07.10 05:12 PM
    Nooo, I thought I could comment unknown for once if I didn't use my real name or even link to my blog! Can't believe you've "discovered" me. :-o

    Can't wait to read the Varkala article. Is Babu still there at Funk Art? His antics could fill an article alone!!
  • Barnaby Haszard Morris
    By
    Barnaby Haszard Morris
    19.07.10 04:54 PM
    Crazy, Maya, I just discovered your blog yesterday and now realise it's you commenting here. The internet's a funny old place!

    So Kolkata's the place to be, then. As for Varkala, yes, there's definitely an article coming soon about experiences during nights out here. It's a completely different world from anywhere else I've known, and the difference between the cliff/beach and five minutes inland (where I live) always astonishes.
  • Maya
    By
    Maya
    19.07.10 01:07 AM
    Oh, by the way, I lived in Varkala for 8 months a couple of years ago. The way the police would visit the shacks and depart with boxes of beer as bribes was always interesting! :-P
  • Maya
    By
    Maya
    19.07.10 12:57 AM
    Bangalore is the only place in India to have that rule, I think. It got introduced in 2005 to curb wayward western behaviour! ;-) The following article is an interesting read about the matter:

    http://logtk.blogspot.com/2005/11/once-footloose-bangalore-clubs-are-now.html

    In my experience, the only Indian city where you can party hard all night is Kolkata (surprisingly). There's no curfew there. Even Mumbai and Delhi have 1.30 am curfews! :-(
  • Barnaby Haszard Morris
    By
    Barnaby Haszard Morris
    19.07.10 12:40 AM
    Well, we certainly danced in Fuga (if it was in fact Fuga). Perhaps we would've all been escorted away and lobotomised if the police had caught us. Has anyone out there been busted? And is the law similar in other metros?

    On that note, Afshan, forget food - where, and when, do night shift workers go dancing?!
  • Maya
    By
    Maya
    18.07.10 08:43 PM
    And what about the "no dancing" rule? Is it still in existence and how well is that implemented?
  • Afshan Mujawar
    By
    Afshan Mujawar
    17.07.10 11:37 AM
    Well.. the official reason given for the deadline is that it will control crime by keeping people sober:P yeah, I know, its ridiculous but it seems our state gov is convinced that if the deadline is extended, drunk Bangaloreans would swarm the street and wreck havoc. They want people off the street and in their beds well before midnight.

    The conspiracy theory behind it is: Its a fact that a whole lot of liquor shops stay open atleast timm 12:30am. How do they do this? Well, they bribe everyone from the junior police constables to senior officers. A lot restaurants do this too. The amount of money (which is a LOT) changing hands depends on the capacity of the payer and the designation of the reciever.

    Its a shame. Pubs and lounges open doors to business at 7pm, earliest. That gives them a mere 4 hours in which to get as much business as possible. The rush actually starts post 9:30pm, when people have got off work. Its worse for people working night shifts, because, if they dont have someone packing them food from home, they don't have too many options to buy food from outside. Their staple diet ends up becoming 2 minute noodles!

    Speaking about how long the impact of seeing this sad face of humanity goes, I am a little too observant and a wee bit too sensitive to fully overcome the sadness. Although it ends up making me thankful for my own life and though I see the postitive side of things as well, most of the time I just end up feeling sorry for being human.
  • Shoubhik
    By
    Shoubhik
    17.07.10 12:09 AM
    you pretty much summed up the Bangalore nightlife. But instead of buying drinks in a 6-star lounge, you could instill a more adventurous spirit to your nightlife by buying the alcohols from late night underground bars. And then proceed on to make your own nightlife.
  • Barnaby Haszard Morris
    By
    Barnaby Haszard Morris
    16.07.10 11:38 PM
    @magiceye/Sacha - thanks :)

    @Sreesha - yeah I gather from friends that house parties are where the party REALLY is in Bangalore. I wonder if the nightclub district can ever become something the city could boast about...

    @Afshan - ...probably not until that curfew is lifted. What is it for, anyway? What precise reasons were given, and more importantly, what reasons were rumoured but never publicly said? Does anyone know? Anyway, yeah, the exploitation of humans is extraordinary among some of the begging class in India's metros, as you mention in your sad story, and it seems you had a similar reaction to what I did. An honest question: did that reaction fade to be replaced by those same self-interested thoughts that came before them? Mine did, within a day; not forgetting what I'd seen, but pushing it to one side once more as coping with the perceived tribulations of my own life returned to the fore.
  • Afshan Mujawar
    By
    Afshan Mujawar
    16.07.10 06:50 PM
    HA! No, you're not doing anything wrong.. its just this crappy 11pm deadline. I don't get it, whats the point? I remember the first week after I came to Bangalore from Dubai. One day, my hubby and I were watching a late night movie and I suggested we get some KFC home delivered. "They don;t do home delivery here" came the reply. Fine, we'll order some pizza then, I had seen Pizza Hut home delivery ads! "They'll be closed now"

    Closed?? what?? Its only midnight! I protested. Thats how I came to know that 11pm is the bedtime ordered by the state government on all Bangaloreans. No malls, not food outlets.. nothing! It doesn't JUST apply to bars and places serving liquor.

    So yeah, nightlife is is quite sad here.. and don't expect it to change anytime soon. The state government shot down an attempt to extend the deadline to 2am last month:(

    On a more serious note.. what you said about the beggar woman brought back a very queezy feeling I get everytime I see them. I had recounted a particularly disturbing experience on my blog, you can read it when you have the time:

    http://afshanwondering.blogspot.com/2009/03/recession-so-what.html

    Begging is just the softest part of this underlife. Did you know that there are people who rent out their babies and infants on an hourly basis to complete strangers?

    I appreciate you see things the way you do.. not many people care to do that.
  • Sacha
    By
    Sacha
    16.07.10 06:01 PM
    Barnes, the pic surely is'nt Bangalore! Anyways, enjoyed the article!
  • Sreesha
    By
    Sreesha
    16.07.10 03:31 PM
    Sounds like a typical, incomplete night out on the town in Bangalore. Unfortunately you are not doing anything wrong, this is as good as it gets. Maybe like many folks do, you could continue the party at a friends home or farmhouse...but neighbours tend to complain if the evening gets boisterous.
  • magiceye
    By
    magiceye
    16.07.10 09:48 AM
    beautifully narrated and true of most of the metros in india.

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