I remember arriving in India for the first time, into New Delhi almost 10 years ago. I would liken it to a bull calf walking into the ring for the first time. A million things hit you; heat, light, shouts, screams, arms, signs, men, women, men, more men, a million people telling what you want and what you need, a million people trying to sell you food and get you into their cab or their friend’s cab, or their uncle’s cab, or their friend’s uncle’s cab.
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Arriving in Bengaluru was nothing like that. If my first arrival in India was like a bull fight, my second was like watching lying dogs in the midday sun. As I walk through the barriers to my right is a very earnest man with a massive bunch of flowers moving constantly from one foot to the other, completely oblivious to our arrival. To the left are two taxi drivers who feebly ask if we would like a taxi and then return to their iPhone 5s (a guess, I obviously don’t know the difference between an iPhone 1 and an iPhone 5, or a Nokia 3310 for that matter) at the first sign of hesitation.
Pretty odd behaviour seeing as it is 4.30 in the morning, we have a trolley full of luggage, pasty white faces and long-haul flight hair and eyes. We casually walk past rows and rows of placid, nonplussed taxi drivers and various other vendors to the car park and request a taxi to the city.
The contrast between getting a cab and the cab journey into town represents well our impressions of Bangalore over the first few weeks. Our taxi driver tears off from the airport like a Formula 1 driver as he weaves from one unfinished road to another over potholes, grass verges, garbage dumping sites, traffic islands and god knows what else. He tears past malls that wouldn’t look out of place in New York, half built buildings on construction sites that have long been deserted, temples from a plethora of religions, pavements filled with people sleeping, people going to work, people going home.
Our bed for our first week here is in the lovely home of Navin and Vinnie, a Bangalorean couple who have travelled the world many times over and like to bring a little bit of the world into their homes by renting out their spare room to people passing through the city. Their home is down a quiet, leafy street separated from the rest of the world by a manned barrier. Winding up wide, comfortable stairs, each level of their small apartment block is immaculately clean and bordered by clay models of peaceful birds. Their home is spacious and tasteful; India with a western touch.
A clear glass panel balances on bolted acacia wood to create their table. Badminton rackets rest next to yoga mats, a massive iPod dock is hidden in the corner whilst traditional Indian artefacts take pride of place on their shelves. Their balcony holds a few chairs and a couple of hanging baskets that skirt uneasily around a massive boxing bag.
This serene place is a nice constant as we explore the city. Bangalore is so contrasting that I am constantly surprised; on their street there are Parisian boutiques, a Japanese spa, an American coffee house and a luxury hotel set back from the bustle of the street by an awesome water feature. But it is also home to Rubbish Corner, a place where people dump rubbish throughout the day until it piles a metre high and two or three metres wide by early evening.
Then come night, a young skinny man and an older, slightly larger man sort through the rubbish and put everything of worth into their cart to sell. The lion’s share of it must be of value to them because every morning Rubbish Corner is almost barren. All of these contrasts of rich and poor are puzzling when you start walking around the city.
Before I came I knew that the booming Indian economy was allowing the rich to become uber-rich, the comfortable to become wealthy and the poor to stay poor and hungry (a massively overly simplified statement but it is what it is). However, as I walk out from our secluded avenue onto the irrepressible noise of the main road, past Rubbish Corner, leaping over massive slabs of broken pavement, which have holes in them the size of my brother’s 42” inch smart TV, in order to get to one of the glitziest malls I have ever seen to get my iced, skinny, white Americano, I realise that I never really got it. I don’t think you really can until you get here. So I suppose my journey to getting it begins.