August 2007 in Bangalore through the eyes of an Englishman

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30/8/2007 - Last Words From India

I'm at the office clearing my desk, and already disconnected at home. There is a farewell lunch for me today and Adia has been invited since she has no remaining facilities - the apartment is pretty much bare. So when I start on September, it will be from some as yet to be determined place in Tanzania. It will be high time then for me to come up with a new panoramic view for my blog header.

So, farewell India, and thank you for many things.

The Regional Bribery Centre.

Waiting for Kiki's visa.

Youthful highwire artist.

26/8/2007 - Beating the Retreat

Only four days to go after today before we take off to Dar Es Salaam, there to place ourselves in the hands of Adia's patron in the Tanzania establishment, who shall be nameless. It's a mystery trip - we've little idea what to expect.

Adia has spent many hours over the last couple of weeks hanging about at the RTO (Regional Transport Office) because her presence was required, though not discernibly necessary. This has been in the course of getting her Honda motor scooter deregistered, and thus capable of being removed from the state of Karnataka - what a performance! There was one piece of the dance that I could at least understand - a check had to be done to see if there were any outstanding tickets against the vehicle. That part took the least time.

Then after several days of this we were told that it was not possible to export motor vehicles from Bangalore at all. We'd have to sell it and buy another one wherever we were going. This, please bear in mind is our personal property, it does not belong to the state of Karnataka, and would certainly cost more than shipping it. Also as an interesting contrast, you can buy a top-of-the-line laptop costing three times what the scooter cost and walk through the airport with it onto a plane without anyone so much as looking at it. Fortunately, the shipping agent managed to find someone in customs who said he would authorize the export, and guess how.

Well that brings me to my next topic. I have christened the RTO the 'Regional Bribery Centre'. This of course is unfair. There is no centre of bribery in India, it is simply a fact of life anywhere that is reached by the tentacles of government. Government is everywhere, since there is far too much of it. Its officials as a rule are completely indifferent to the way in which they or their subordinates perform their work, or the quality of the service they provide. Why? Well because the system is entirely driven by bribery, which is their main source of income. The 'workers' at the lowest level take small bribes that people pay to avoid waiting forever to get a piece of paper that they need, or to dodge traffic fines. These workers in turn pay their bosses for continuity of their job, and their bosses in turn pay their bosses, and so on right up to the top. Getting elected is not about democracy, it's simply about money. How Indian business has created the astonishing economic growth now seen in India is a miracle to me. It is despite the government's every effort to put obstacles in their way - obstacles after all are a source of money. The Indians don't talk about it much, they just shrug and say "This is India".

The apartment is pretty much emptied out, and what is left is going into shipping crates over the next couple of days. I guess after Wednesday we'll be eating out. The fridge and bed will go to their new owners on Thursday morning. We are both champing at the bit to get off.
21/8/2007 - A Dream

I don't dream often, but have done so a couple of times this week. The one last night was particularly strange. Of course, dreams by nature are usually fragmented, and don't progress smoothly from beginning to end. Filling out the gaps, here's the story as best as I can tell.

The Concert at the Cathedral.

That Saturday an unexpectedly large crowd turned up at the cathedral for the music. This may have been because of the novelty of the event - not many concerts start before breakfast - but more likely it was because it was free, and because breakfast was included.

The concert was held in the nave of the cathedral, and was to be played by a small chamber orchestra that none of the guests could recall hearing of before, and directed by a similarly unknown conductor.

The music commenced promptly at seven thirty, as advertised, with an organ prelude and fugue by J. S. Bach while guests were still filing into the nave. Then when the organ work had concluded, and the crowd had settled down, the orchestra played the recent work "Variations on a theme by Haydn" by the fashionable composer Johannes Brahms. The fullness and volume of the sound produced by the orchestra seemed disproportionate to its size, and the playing was of a standard that one might have expected from one of the large, well-funded orchestras of the capital city. The crowd stood awed, listening the the rising crescendos and excitement of the variations as they rose to their splendid climax. When it was over, there was spontaneous applause, even though it had been requested that the audience should remain quiet. When this subsided, it was announced that breakfast would now be server in the cathedral refectory in approximately twenty minutes. The audience dispersed, some directly to the refectory, and others into the grounds of the cathedral where the sunshine was now quite warm.

Among the guests was a demon, whose name remains unknown, appearing in the guise of a gray bearded old man, and in the company of a dark skinned young woman of Moorish or African origin. This was an unusual sight in the city at that time, not just the woman, but the combination of the two was enough to get the attention of the crowd. At first sight the old man appeared to be wearing full evening dress and to be a striking figure of a man for his age. But if you looked at him closely you found that he was wearing a pair of old black working trousers, a plain white shirt without a collar, and an old black suit jacket that did not match the trousers.

The demon walked around the cathedral, surveying the building and the crowd gathered on the wabe at the south side of the building, then he re-entered the cathedral to survey the scene in the refectory, where the breakfast hopefuls were gathered. Already seated at one of the tables there were two nuns, a young sister with a fair face, and from what you could tell, a comely body, sat next to her older companion who was stern faced and angry looking. A young man entered, and exclaimed, "So, ho, where's the bloody breakfast then", at which the older nun screwed up her face and made a tart retort. The demon at this point changed particularly in his appearance to reflect the splendid evening dress, and stepping forward slightly, said "Woman, the sourness of your face is matched only by the sourness of your temper, perhaps you should moderate yourself; the lad meant no harm. But no, I retract, it is your way, and in going ones way the Lord helps them that help themselves." Then he stepped back into the crowd and was lost from sight, converting himself into a breeze or a slight gust of wind that snaked through the crowd and back out to the wabe.

There were gathered among others some young men, students of the arts and sciences, composers, philosophers, mathematicians and physicists. The demon passed between them unseen, and selecting some that he found to have promise, blew his breath in their faces, at which they started, for though they could not see him they felt his breath.

There also, standing close to the great south tower of the cathedral was a solitary sapling oak tree, not long planted. The demon approached it, and swirling his passage around it, caused it to grow at a much accelerated rate. The crowd quickly noticed this, and gathered round in wonder as they watched the sapling change to a tall tree, and then to thicken to a venerable old oak.

This would have been entirely remarkable in itself, but then to cap all expectations, the tree changed its form to that of a large elephant, standing initially with its forelegs and trunk raised to the sky. It was a great beast, reminiscent of those that fought Alexander's men in India, or that Hannibal used in his attack on Rome. Bringing its front legs down to the ground, it turned away from the crowd toward the south tower, where it proceeded to hew at the nearest buttress and the foundations of the tower with its tusks, trunk and its mighty front legs, removing large chunks of masonry with ease.

The demon now materialized, or at least partly so in the form of a man - a labourer in a loincloth - larger than life and somewhat hazy and transparent in appearance. The crowd remained riveted to the spot, now joined by others from within the cathedral. The elephant passed chunks of masonry back to the labourer, who pressed some of them into the turf, and then arranged the others atop, as in an old broken wall of a ruin of some previous building.

The Bishop stood with the others, initially transfixed, but finally sprang to action, not as one would have supposed to object to the apparent destruction of his cathedral, but to aid the beast that must by now have been much taxed by its violent exertions. He ran to the kitchens, and there, using a mixture of prayer, labour, and ingenuity, interspersed with not a few curses unbecoming to a bishop, he attempted to mix a nutritious beverage to quench the beast's thirst and provide it with vigour for its task. Alas, the concoction went amiss, and a dark brown and uncontrollably frothy liquid threatened to take over the kitchen. Aware of this, and thirsty himself, the demon paused in his labour and came to the kitchen where he scooped up a pint glass of the froth. Holding it high he pronounced the words "Health go with thee", and the froth promptly separated into half an inch of creamy white head with a dark - almost black - body below, which the demon immediately quaffed, leaving a line of white froth across his gray beard. Many of the crowd had followed him, and they now set to with glasses, pots, pans, and buckets, collecting the froth and pronouncing the same words. Pans and buckets were brought to the elephant who consumed them gratefully, sucking the liquid up with its trunk and then spraying it into his mouth.

It seemed his labours were now complete, since he paused and stood calmly beside the hole he had made through the buttress and wall into the body of the cathedral. This seemed an architectural impossibility - the tower should surely have fallen - but there it still stood. The demon returned in his guise as labourer, and standing in the hole, with a sweep of his arms applied stone vaulting to the roof of the hole. Then with a second gesture he hung the two great doors of some strange wood that you can see there to this day, now carved with the initials of thousands of lovers and other supplicants.

The demon walked to the ruin wall, and with his finger wrote upon it "Let fools believe that religion has created better men than good fortune or perseverance" in some old runic script that has perplexed scholars since. Then turning to the elephant, he beckoned him back to the place where the tree had stood. There, rising again on his hind legs, and raising his forelegs and trunk to the sky, with one large elephant burp, he was transformed back to the great oak tree now known as the "Old Elephant", though none now know why.

With this, it was as if a spell had been broken. The large crowd still present on the wabe made their way to the refectory, chatting amongst themselves about the music, and what a wonderful spring-like day it was, in the direction of breakfast, as if little had happened. The breakfast had now arrived, and was magnificent. There were great succulent sausages, smoky back bacon that melted in your mouth, eggs cooked in every imaginable way, fried tomatoes and potatoes, fresh bread, toast and marmalade, fruit of all kinds, and alternatives for those too infirm to eat the rich fare or prohibited by their beliefs from doing so. Also for the adventurous there were oysters and glasses of the peculiar black beer that resulted from the bishop's exertions. The old man in the black trousers and jacket sat alone in a corner, eating oysters and drinking the dark beer. His woman talked with the young nun.

The concert recommenced somewhat late, with the audience significantly expanded by rumour and by news of the breakfast. The orchestra, still magnificent beyond its size and reputation played a Brandenburg concerto, Mozart's 40th symphony, and finished, along with the cathedral choir, with Beethoven's heroic 9th symphony. The soloist singers, most of who could barely speak a word of German, were word and note perfect, and came out of the the performance in a state of some shock.

The crowd dispersed in high spirits to the taverns and restaurants of the city, and for many, lunch persisted until bedtime. There was considerable drunkenness and revelry, and many children were conceived that day. Strangely though, the records of the constabulary show that there was not a single instance of fighting or brawling, and no robbery or accident of any kind was reported on that day.

All who had been present on the wabe had no memory of the events there, and it was the public perception that the south entrance to the cathedral, and the "Old Elephant" had always been there. The music, and especially the breakfast, became legend. An Irishman who had been working in the kitchens had watched the bishop's efforts, and he took the idea home and developed it into a rather well known stout.

The old man and his woman were never seen again.

Designer Lunacy.

Mounted corundum crystal.



15/8/2007 - Countdown

Well, we're getting down to the wire now. Another fifteen days to go, and it's off to Tanzania to see what fate awaits us there.

My ribs are still sore. They were doing OK, but then I got a silly little cough that seems to be rather persistent, and that has brought progress to a halt. Also as a warm up for potentially working from home in Tanzania, I've been working from home here. As a consequence I'm not getting enough exercise, and that leaves me feeling a bit slug-like.

The first picture is probably my final tribute to Bangalore traffic management. A zebra crossing that was painted quite recently between two pavements that are blocked from the road by steel barriers. It tells you a lot about the amount of thought that goes into the traffic engineering and enforcement here. I vent about if frequently in conversation, and I'll have a final outburst about it here before we leave.

The driving standards here are abysmal. I can't think of a single traffic regulation that is widely respected. People drive on the wrong side of the road against oncoming traffic and at road junctions; they drive on the sidewalk; they run red lights routinely; they pull out into major roads without so much as a glance at the oncoming traffic; they pass on the left as a matter of preference; traffic lanes are completely ignored, drivers turn right from the left lane and left from the right lane indiscriminately; they completely disregard pedestrian crossings and the rule that pedestrians have the right of way at road junctions; they honk continuously when there is no need to do so; and this list could be extended. The road casualty figures are only tolerable because in the presence of this total indiscipline the traffic is always snarled up and usually at a crawl.

The traffic police stand by and watch this all happen. Recently the 'authorities' have painted a lot of yellow 'don't block the box' grids at major traffic junctions. These immediately fill up with vehicles - mostly the marauding motor cyclists driving mopeds with sewing machine engines and thinking they are the dogs knob who fill every possible space from every possible direction (and I don't mean that from a legality point of view - just each of the 360 degrees). You will see a police officer directing traffic standing in the box among the crowd of vehicles, and I have never yet seen one of them even indicate that they should not be there. Then 10 seconds before the lights change to green, the crowd will take off through the red lights, and the policeman won't even cull a single one of them.

I seriously think that the entire Bangalore traffic police could be disbanded tomorrow and it would make little difference. My recommendation would be that they should all be made to take a traffic regulations test. The three quarters of them who do worst should be sacked. The remaining quarter should then be given motor bikes with radios. Then the traffic fines should be at least quadrupled, and officers should be paid a nominal salary, and a percentage of the fines collected on the spot. Anyone failing to pay an on-the-spot fine should have their vehicle key and the rest of the content of their pockets confiscated, so at least they would be seriously inconvenienced. Three time offenders should lose their license on the spot, and anyone driving without a license should be treated as a felon and locked up as a matter or routine.

OK, that's that off my chest. I shall retire to Tanzania where the driving standards are pretty good.

I finally got Mohammed, our jeweler, to make a mount for my corundum crystal that I can live with. He's also been tempting me with a 10 carat sapphire for some time, and I succumbed to that. From the outside it just looks black, but if you look through it at a light is is in fact a rather magical blue (difficult to photograph, but you have a hint). It's mounted in silver with flash coating of either Osmium or Platinum - I suspect Osmium. I have sworn not to cross his doorstep again before we leave.

The brides were at a Muslim wedding that we attended on Sunday night - quite a large affair. Three matching brides and grooms, and not a drink in sight - not exactly yours truly's idea of a wedding bash, but there you go. Adia has known the family for a few years while she has been in India, and they have been good to her, our attendance was required.

We have the tickets, and Adia has sold most of the furniture. We have to organize it so that on Thursday the 30th the apartment is empty. Some of the things we will take are going by ship, and my computers are going by air freight. Hopefully we can fly with just the things we need to go to Bukoba to see Adia's family again before we move on to look at Arusha. Then we'll have to get busy, and first I'll have to find an Internet connection.

Today is India's Independence Day, so last night was a mini Friday. We went to TGIF to find that Kenyan Steve and his girl friend were there, so we shared a table with them and had a good evening. They and Krishna and Nisha have promised to be among our first visitors in Africa when we have got organized.
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