Bangalore, Open Only for Business

From the last row, we watched the hall fill up. Every kind of face came up and took their seat, North Indian faces and South Indian faces and Eastern Indians and Western Indians, and I remarked to my wife: "Not bad for a Farsi film. It's in its second week and it is going full-house." I turned and looked checked her face, to see if she was feeling the same pride in Bangalore as I, pride in belonging to a cosmopolitan city.

She laughed after a moment's pause. "Can't tell," she said. "They must've mistaken this for a heavy business-management film!"

My wife is not shy to declare to me at least once daily: "I'm always right." It's the proud Gowda blood in her. In silence I pondered her jesty remark and searched for truths in it.

At the end of the show we told each other it was a very good film. The Salesman is my wife's first Asghar Farahadi film; I have watched two others of his.

That morning, we'd been with a saleswoman from a realtor company, looking up a posh mock-up apartment of a condominium complex that has sprouted at the edge of the town centre. The mock-up was furnished and ready for life in it right away, if only the saleswoman would allow it. Next to the kitchen (appliances by Miele and such) in a soft-lit room the dining table had thick, rich, and glossy and definitely-not-Indian tableware on it. There wasn't the smell of cooking, of course, but the place was still appetising. The bedrooms and the living room had decks out to a lawn, but in the real building the decks would be high over the twenty-first floor, looking out into dingy Bangalore below. The floors until the twenty-first are for a luxe hotel.

The home shone much like the clear, many-hued eyes of the saleswoman. She didn't push the sale and so she further heightened our interest in the property. I had a question, though: "What kind of people are buying these apartments?"

"We have people from Bombay, from Karnataka, some NRIs, owners of large family-businesses, investment bankers — very fine people have taken our property."

Not a film director, or painter, or writer, or actor.

In the cafes in Bangalore my misfortune has been that the next table is always taken by dour men doing real estate deals. Most times, the scene is of men in starched whites looking on in silence, watching their men tackle potential sellers who're full of doubt that they're being had. Other times, a buyer boasts how he is crowding out a stubborn landowner, and gives every detail on how a hapless someone is being bullied out of a precious possession. I’ve also listened in on deals where all parties are happy with the process and the outcome. Still, they’re all an uninspiring backdrop for one trying to read and write in the cafe, and who'd be happy with just the plain buzz and hum of society.

But there are occasions when some bright-faced youngsters with dark shiny eyes like Mowgli’s have crowded round tables too small for the number of them, and they're tossing startup ideas, and their youthful voices ring out pluck and confidence and hope and knowledge and knowhow. Most startups fail, that's the rule, but there's no fear of failure in those shiny eyes.

I wish to hear folks discussing ideas for a play, for a film, for a book, for a painting or a sculpture or a song. Where in Bangalore are they meeting? Is the literary and cultural output of this flourishing city commensurate with its population of over ten million? We're throwing up more billionaires here than authors of great books.

In the meantime the heat is rising, a consequence of the spurt in construction, and the thick curdling traffic in the streets. Crawling in the streets you realise that it might take some time yet for Bangalore to produce good art and writing, because how can creative output emerge in a place where there's no walking room for the artist? Since the boom in business began, the number of motor vehicles mushroomed and the pavements shrank. Ours is not a city for walkers. As regards me, who cannot say I'm creative, but still needs to walk so as to tend depression in the mind and diabetes in the body, I leave home for a walk at five in the morning. These days there's the smell of sap from the fallen and squished yellow tabebuia, which is not as pleasant as the aromatic honge flowers which lay thick on the streets and lingered there until only a few days ago. There was a good-size moon in the sky this morning, and a steady breeze, but my shirt stuck to my sweating back, the ground below having not yet sloughed off heat from yesterday's sun. Only a few minutes were left for today’s onslaught. Summer is serious this year, it seems.

I'm doing what I can to make Bangalore bearable for myself. I'm reading a big book set in New York — A Little Life, by Hanya Yanagihara.