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The Midnight Bangalore

August 13, 2011

Officially, the city of Bangalore shuts at 11.30 PM. No restaurants, pubs or other establishments are allowed to be open post this deadline.

Cops patrol the roads, forcing stragglers to move on, restaurants to shut and of course, earning their commission from those who want to stay open a little longer.

The small problem with this, though, is that Bangalore is a 24-city. We are the capital (or used to be) of outsourced markets, so there are tons of call centers and BPOs running around the clock. Which means that at least 40 percent of the population is awake at night. And another 40 percent perhaps wrap up work only by 10 PM and barely have time to unwind.

Given the direction the government is headed in, they do not care much about things like ‘unwinding’.

But in India, like many other countries, there is a little space between what the government orders and what actually happens. If you are one of those who are lucky enough to stay awake and out past the Cindrella hour, you see this city morph into something that was not believable in the early 90s.

Though the city does boast of being one of the most expensive ones in India and states that much of its population earns 6 figures incomes, it sadly forgets the population that caters to keeping up this infrastructure. Every person cannot afford a cup of tea at The Leela or one of its equivalents.

The most prominent fixture of these hours is the chaiwalla. They are available at particular street corners, known to every cab driver in the city and many others. He is generally on a cycle with two bags hanging on each side – each holding a vessel/flash containing tea and coffee. He also carries cigarettes and in certain cases, other substances.

The cops know the necessity of these people. They sip the same chai too after all. But they also take a cut of the profits, the ‘fee’ to allow these guys to serve one of the necessities in the city.

Then there are the food carts, a lot more rarer than the tea cycles but equally important. The one that I was familiar with was just near the flyover on the old Airport Road. I could often smell the fresh omelette or some such dish as we drove past him, finishing a long day of work. Cops often shooed him away but how long could they keep him away. Every person who knows where to look finds these places.

The alternative – you need to know the restaurants that stay open past the deadline. I used to be surprised how the cops never came here… there would be a line of cars and enough people for one to think it was the latest club. But I guess hefty fees keep them away. After all, people do need to eat after a heavy clubbing night.

These restaurants even offer car service… you stop near the restaurant and one of the waiters take your order and money and return a few minutes later with your order, all neatly packed in containers. Finding a spot to eat is your problem (more so, since the cops do not appreciate you lounging around in these times of terror).

Shivajinagar food street – the one place that stays open regardless of the season or the political climate. Perhaps it is driven by sheer need of people but there’s always decent food available here. It isn’t pretty to look at and many might be put off by the dingy surroundings but the food is as good as any restaurant in the city.

Some fuel pumps stay open as do remote medical stores. Try getting an aspirin or a pain killer in the city post 10 PM and you’ll learn to stock up on medicines.

Surprisingly, the city does not have a 24-hour tow service or a service that’ll help people with flat tyres. But if you are lucky and a little bold, any passing cab would help you – if you have the nerve to stick your thumb out.

The government is apparently making all efforts to make the city safe. There are road blocks where you are ruthlessly questioned about your papers and asked “why is a girl like you out so late”. Cops are not aware of women working late in the night, I guess, least not beyond a particular set of women. But these blocks and patrols are so marked that you know where is a safe spot and how often cops come around.

Cops do not make me feel particularly safe, especially after some harassing incidents in recent times. But the concept of ‘we try to make Bangalore safe’ continues to be a joke.

The severe lack of after-hours infrastructure drives the city towards creating its own structure.

Public transport still continues to be a joke. No buses post-11.30 PM. Autorickshaws charge an arm and foot to ferry you, and you learn to pray seated in those three-wheeled death traps.

But the roads remain empty, some traffic lights working and most of them blinking amber. You see white cabs zoom past you, reminding you that there are other awake souls like you. Dogs rule the roads, chasing your car or bike like you invaded their territory. You enjoy the empty roads, the peace and hope you are not stopped by a cop to answer ridiculous questions about ‘your purpose on the road’.

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