Bangalore: Out of sight, not out of mind

By Nirupama Rajan

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It’s been a little over two months since I left Bangalore (Bengaluru, if you really insist). I’m a whole continent away now – certainly too far from a hot plate of bisi bele bhaath for my liking. I’ve said this even when I lived there, but with this distance between me and the city that for the most part made me who I am, it strikes me more so that it is one that I’m incredibly partial to, even if only by force of habit.

Where I live now in Berlin, life isn’t too difficult to get used to, especially if your knowledge of the German language is enough to ensure you don’t go to bed hungry at night. The buses are on time (as are the people), the streets are clean and there are no power cuts- basically, I’m as spoilt as I can be in 2018. The two months that I’ve been here in Germany may seem like little compared to the twenty-two years I’ve spent in India, but I think I can safely say that whatever little “culture shock” I experienced on first arriving here will probably pale in comparison to what I’m going to face when I get back to India and its Indianness a year from now.

This is not going to be one of those things where I conclude by saying that at the end of the day, my heart is still hanging around in the country of my birth. I’m not really one to pine for the little things. I genuinely believe that the only thing I miss about India is how easy it was to go out and get a packet of Maggi for so little money (don’t blame me- I’m a product of my generation). I’m very happy being where I am today and I’m excited about where I might go from here in the future. Be that as it may, twenty-two years is a long time and it feels longer to think that they were all spent not in one place or school, but many – perhaps even more than what would be considered ideal.

By the time I was seventeen, I’d studied in seven schools in seven different places. From a remote convent school nestled in the hills of Ooty to a regular city school in bustling Coimbatore, from an ‘alternative’ KFI school in Pune to what was then probably the only English-medium school in Cuddalore, and from being in a class of nine students in a fancy boarding school in Chikmagalur to one with over a hundred (requiring teachers to use a microphone within the classroom) in a junior college in Bangalore, I’ve experienced schooling – and consequently, life – across a relatively large portion of the economic and educational spectrum.
If I had the discipline and/or the motivation to, I could write several books with five volumes each on the experiences that each of these episodes held for me. But the point I want to make for now is that despite so many schools and towns and homes and just so much furniture – moving isn’t easy if you do it almost every year, believe me – Bangalore and everything about it stands out for me as one of those things that can actually stand out.

It might take a village to raise a child but those children and the people that raised them play a huge role in shaping the very village itself. Now, I’m certainly not blind to the problems that plague the (somehow) still beautiful city of Bangalore. If anything, I was always screaming my lungs off back then about how we were doing everything wrong. Given half a chance, I still would. Burning lakes, steel flyover, Kaveri riots, wait for it… traffic jams (I’m still traumatised from the one time I was at Silk Board during peak hours) – I’m already exhausted and that’s just the memory of them!

In Berlin, you could lock yourself up in your bedroom for a whole day and you’d still somehow meet people from at least five different countries. The more I interact with all these fascinatingly different people and the more I interact with Indians here from all over India, it becomes clearer to me every day that despite all the previously mentioned misgivings, Bangalore is one of those cities that will stick around in your thoughts for a long, long time after you leave.

It’s the little things as much as it is the whole thing. It’s the feeling I would get when I would force myself out of bed on a Sunday morning and head to Cubbon Park only to find that half the city and their dogs were already there, running around come rain or shine, even if they’d spent most of the previous night in one of the bars dotting every street of the city. It’s the amazingly therapeutic quality of the rusty books and musty aisles of Blossom (the old one, especially) that could calm me down no matter what was happening in my life. The conversations with the owner at Pecos on Church Street until it shut down because of way too many power cuts, the way NICE Road felt under the tires of my scooter at 6 am on a weekend morning, the insanely long queues at Thaaza Thindi because that dosa was worth it and you knew it! It’s how you could mention Marathahalli traffic in casual conversation and only a Bangalorean would understand the hilarity of what you were saying. It’s the fact that I can go on romanticizing it all for a while yet and not regret it the slightest bit.

It’s all these things, but it’s also the bigger things – like the people and just how much they tried to care about everything. I’d always wanted to get rid of my Facebook account and I think the only reason it took me so long was how happy it made me to see that there was an active local community for every little thing, with members trying to improve the overall quality of their lives despite their long hours at work and longer hours on the roads. It was how I realised that Bangalore’s environmental and social problems are as prominent as they are simply because enough of its citizens are involved enough to make a hue and cry over everything that happens. It was the fact that I went to Jayamahal at 3 am on Valentine’s Day 2017 to paint white hearts on the trees to protest the Steel Flyover Project, expecting nobody else to show up so early, only to realise that we were already overstaffed. The problems may keep mounting, but the people keep trying to push back. And that effort by itself is an amazing thing.

It’s not easy to describe in words, but there is a certain innovative, creative spirit that thrives in Bangalore like nowhere else. The people are always ready to move forward and embrace the new. And it’s not just the start-ups and the infrastructure that are benefiting from this. It’s definitely no secret that Bangalore is currently one of the most progressive cities in India. You can start a conversation about the subtleties and nuances of feminism, gender and ecology, sexual liberation or human rights and fewer people will blink back in confusion than in most parts of the country. Despite the handfuls of naysayers here and there, Bangalore has for the most part always welcomed every kind of perspective and every school of thought. That is what made it one of the most cosmopolitan cities in India in the past and that is what allows it to be progressive today. No wonder it’s so crowded; people flock to the city for good reason.

At the end of the day, I guess what I’m trying to say is that Bangalore is a city with the potential to change you for the better, if you’re willing to let it. I mentioned this at the very beginning, but the city has played a huge role in making me the person I am today. It gave me the freedom to be exactly what I wanted to be because there would always be someone around who understood or at the very least, accepted it. I remember a friend of mine from Kerala once joked, “you don’t meet Mallus; they happen to you.” I say with a happy heart full of fond memories that the same can be said for Bangaloreans and the city they call home.

Cost of living in Bangalore

Cost of living - WHere money goes?I have lived in Bangalore for more than three years now, so I think I have a fair idea on what are the kind of expenses one has to take care during one’s stay in Bangalore and with what frequency. I will just lay out the approx costs I had to bear in these years I was here in Bangalore. This is based on my lifestyle, and the spend on certain heads can change for different people, but the expense heads remain the same.

One Time Spends

  • Deposit – One of the first expenses for the people moving to Bangalore if they want to find a decent place to stay. I had to shell out 20000 rs for deposit as I chose to stay in a shared apartment by SimplyGuest.
  • Home Setup – The approx cost of the setup comes to about 80000 if you optimize the value and manage some second-hand things to have your house fully furnished. I didn’t have this kind of money, so I chose a fully furnished place with SimplyGuest. They took care of everything, and I just had to pay the monthly rent. So, my cost was 0.
Total one-time cost for me = 20000

Monthly Spends

  • Rent + Maintainance – For me, it was 10000 for a sharing room as I was staying in BTM stage 2 very near to silk board and it is a nice serene and calm locality. I am still staying here 🙂
  • Cook – We started with paying 1100 for lunch and dinner but as of today we are paying 1700 for breakfast lunch and dinner and out cook is great and we don’t miss home.
  • Cleaning Maid – This is another 1000 rupees for cleaning of dishes, kitchen, and general housekeeping. This cost is after sharing it with flatmates.
  • Groceries – We don’t put any restrictions on the kind of groceries to order. It generally adds up to 4000 per month.
  • Petrol – I have a field job, and my petrol bills are not reimbursed, so I end up spending about 2500 in petrol or travel cabs in case it’s raining.
  • Bills (Mobile, Misc, etc.) – It adds to about 1500 rupees a month. Can be optimized if someone chose not to have certain things.
  • Weekend Spend – I generally watch a movie every alternate weekend and have food outside on Sunday as our cook is on leave. This adds to about 2500 on food and 2500 on movies
Total Monthly recurring Spend = 25700

Periodic Spends (twice or thrice a year)

  • Small Holiday Trips – I save a bit every month to make sure that I at least have a trip every three months. This amounts to about 10000. This purely depends on your preference. So the yearly spend amounts to about 50000.
  • Tip to Home – I am from Rajasthan, and a return ticket is about 11000, and I travel to the home twice a year. When you go home, there are certain other unavoidable expenses which amount to about 10000 per trip. So, the total yearly expense comes to about 45000.
Total Leasure/ Travel cost per month = 9000
Now, let’s calculate the effective per month expense = 25700+9000 = 34700
Cost of living in bangaloreOver and above this there are other expenses like shopping, nightlife but those things I have left to people as the expenses are very very subjective.
Hope this gives you a fair amount of idea on how much money is needed to survive in a city like Bangalore. I completely agree that a lot of these heads can be optimized and the cost of living can go down significantly but that’s a function of one’s lifestyle which cannot be generalized. So, you can use the heads and change value according to what you think is the fair value and find out your cost of living in Bangalore.
[This is a version submitted by a SimplyGuest tenant as a part of experience sharing campaign on life.simplyguest.com ]

On scooters and long-distance riding

By Nirupama Rajan

On scooters and long-distance riding

The idea of getting out of the city on a weekend for a long ride or drive is a very appealing one for most people. The grey stretches of highway that don’t seem to end even as the sun crawls along from one side of the sky to the other over your head, with only your vehicle for company – that is how I’d like to spend all my holidays. But while cars and motorcycles are usually the favoured modes of transport for such journeys, it’s not too often that you hear of people attempting to do the same thing on scooters.

Last month, my friend and I (both women) took this up as a challenge and attempted to ride the 600 kilometres from Bangalore to Hyderabad in one day on our Honda Activas. Not only were we successful in getting there, we also rode back all the way after a break of just one day in Hyderabad. And yes, our Activas were perfectly fine, and so were we!

I will be writing a follow-up post on the experiences of this particular trip, but before that, here are a few tips and ideas if you want to attempt something similar on your scooter. Keep in mind that these are just based on my experience as an amateur long-distance rider, and you should definitely talk to someone more experienced if that would make you more comfortable before you attempt to take your scooter out on the big roads.

Prepping your vehicle

This one is pretty basic. Make sure your breaks aren’t loose, and that your tyres aren’t balding or anything. If you use regular air in your tyres, get them emptied and filled with nitrogen. Punctures on highways usually are a result of tyre overheating, and nitrogen is a good way to reduce the chances of this happening. Speaking of punctures, while we faced no such issues on our trip, it is always safer to get a basic puncture kit and learn how to use it. If you’re stranded in the middle of nowhere with no spare wheel or mechanics nearby, it will take a while for you to get any help- and you won’t even be able to reach your destination. Ideally get your scooter serviced a few days before the trip. That way, you will be able to figure out any post-service issues well before you get out onto the road. Make sure all your lights are working well, because you might need them to communicate with your riding partner. Buy some reflective tape if you think you might have to cover some distance in the dark. Finally, make sure you’re carrying at least 1 litre of extra petrol on you; there are often long stretches without any fuel stations and you don’t want to run out in these areas.

Prepping yourself

As far as riding apparel is concerned, I’d recommend wearing layers that aren’t too heavy. That way, you can keep warm in the early hours, remove a couple of layers when the day gets warmer, and put them back on in the evening. Make sure you’re wearing full sleeves and full length pants to prevent sunburns (also, do not compromise on the sunscreen). Wearing a neck warmer (I just wrapped a cotton scarf around my neck) definitely makes dealing with the morning cold easier. Comfortable shoes are obviously advisable. Wear a balaclava, bandanna or something similar under your helmet because you’re going to be wearing it all day and your hair will definitely bear the brunt of that otherwise.

If you think your helmet visor isn’t enough, carry a pair of sunglasses to help with the glare from the sun when it’s in front of you. Hand gloves are a must, in my opinion. Get light ones that won’t get uncomfortably warm, but will still keep the skin on your palms and fingers intact.

Also, scooter seats aren’t exactly engineered for long distance riding. To steer clear of seat burns, I simply placed a cotton cloth folded several times over between me and the seat. You could use towels, dupattas or anything like that.

To be able to really enjoy your ride, you need to be comfortable throughout. And for that, it’s important to know yourself and your body. Everybody has different needs and you should be prepared for these. For example, I know I have weak wrists, and coupled with the lack of cruise control on Activas, I could have had a very tough time riding without wrist support. For someone else, it could be weak knees. So assess yourself and cater to your individual needs. Even if you don’t know what you require, you can always explain your condition to the people at a sports store (I favour Decathlon) and they can help you out.

It can get quite difficult to judge speeds accurately on the highway
Photo by Jake Blucker on Unsplash

With regard to food and water, take high-calorie items that don’t occupy too much space and won’t spoil. Energy drinks, nutrition bars, biscuits and chocolate are good options. Chocolate especially- my bars of Snickers kept me going every time I felt even a little tired. Make sure you have at least 2 litres of water with you, and keep refilling these whenever possible. Equip yourself with sanitizer and tissue (wet or dry) as well- you never know when these will be useful when you’re travelling. Most importantly, carry a well-stocked first aid kit as well as your personal medication, if any. However, store all items under the seat, in front, or figure out a way to secure it to the back of your seat- even if a backpack seems light initially, it can strain your shoulders later on.

Other things to keep in mind on the road:

Scooter engines tend to get overheated with continuous use at high speeds; so it’s recommended that you don’t exceed a speed of 65 km/hr., as much as possible, however tempting it might be to break that rule (on the highway, even if you’re speeding, it can feel like you’re crawling at a snail’s pace) More importantly, stop for about 10 minutes after every 80 minutes or so of riding, at least. Try to take these breaks at fuel stations so that your vehicle can recover in the shade and so can you. Rest your eyes well while there.

Apart from almost always having functional washrooms, an added bonus is that you can get a lot of information about the route ahead, the nearest restaurants or towns and such from the employees at the petrol stations.

Even if you don’t want to plan out the nitty-gritties and want to just “go with the flow”, I would still recommend that you note down the names of the major towns en route and their distances, especially if it’s your first time. This can come in handy to figure out your food breaks, as well as to handle unforeseen emergencies.

Be careful when you overtake vehicles or when vehicles are overtaking you. It can get quite difficult to judge speeds accurately on the highway- and this is especially true for cars, but also for speeding trucks. Trucks in particular can be quite troublesome at night because several of them don’t use quality reflective tape and you don’t realise their presence until they’re right in front of you. While on the subject, avoid riding in the dark as much as possible. If there’s no other way, be alert (keep in mind that if you’ve been riding all day, this can be quite a challenge), reduce your speed and ride straight. Align yourself by watching out for the markings on the sides of the road.

Being aware of the sounds and smells coming from your vehicle can help you figure out if something goes wrong. Ride with your visor down as much as possible, and if it gets covered with insects around the late evening, you’ll only make it worse by trying to wipe it with your hands. Stop somewhere, and clean it with tissue and water. Be watchful for people trailing you – unfortunately, this is quite commonplace if you’re a woman rider in India (speaking from my experience as well as others’). There are emergency phone booths at very regular intervals on the highway, and it would also be sensible to make note of the emergency numbers listed on the boards en route. Once you reach your destination, it can be quite difficult to suddenly adjust to the traffic and the lower travel speeds, so be alert and ride with extra care.

If this is your first time, get somebody else to come with you (for safety and for company). Ride on separate vehicles though, preferably. Keep hydrated and calm, and follow lane discipline along with all the other traffic rules out there.

Honestly, motorcycles are definitely more comfortable for such long journeys, but if you can’t get hold of one, having only a scooter shouldn’t stop you – your vehicle is capable of more than you think! At the end of the day, it’s perfectly alright if you don’t make it your destination. Your safety is your highest priority; you can always stop at the nearest town if you’re tired or if it gets too dark, and start your journey again the next day.

Feel free to contact me if you have any questions on this subject; if I can’t answer them, I’ll direct you to someone with more expertise. Be safe, and happy riding!

House Party this Weekend ?

House Party

Living in Bangalore means engaging in house parties. Whether voluntarily or out of sheer peer pressure, every Bangalorean is bound to host a house party at some point during their time in the city. I have organized parties at home about 3-4 times in the last two years here.

Every party you host will feature one or more of several characters including but not limited to Quiet-Corner-Buff, Music-Buff, Drunkard, Story-Man, Designated-Driver, Gaming-Guy, Maker (of drinks or smokes) and so on. Each of them has a unique role to play in making the party a hit. The Maker, for instance, sets the mood. The Story-Man keeps the night interesting as it progresses. The Music-Buff will take care of the ambiance, and the Designated-Driver ensures that everyone has a safe and pleasant time even after the party.

But while this may be all fun and frolic, hosting house parties brings with it plenty of challenges, especially if you are a bachelor like me, and there are several things you must take care of before you let all your ‘kaminey’ friends into your house. As a host and as a resident in a shared space, you need to show your friends a good time and keep the house safe simultaneously. While this may mean more work for you for a few days before the party, remember that it’s all for a good cause!

So here are a few things to keep in mind when you decide to host a house party:

  • Keep good speakers and an even better playlist on hand to set the right party ambiance.
  • Place a mattress, carpet or cushions in empty spaces around your house, so your guests have plenty of places to sit and chill.
  • Make sure you have enough food and drink to last the night.
  • Keep a shoe-rack outside your door to encourage people not to bring their footwear inside.
  • Keep lined dustbins in every room to minimize trash on the floor.
  • Ensure that you have doormats in every room as well.
  • As there are food and drink everywhere, it makes sense to leave plenty of napkins and newspaper around to minimize damage control after the party.
  • If any area is out-of-bounds to guests, make sure to lock it beforehand as you can’t prevent people from moving around once the party kicks off.
  • Most guests typically bring along people that you may not know, so keep all your valuables safely tucked away before the party.

As the night progresses, your guests will slowly settle into their roles and carve their space for themselves. As long as you’ve taken all the necessary precautions and stocked your house with enough food and drink for everyone present, sit back, relax, and let the party take its course- you never know just how exciting your night could turn out! Remember, however, that most often, the host ends up having to drive everyone back home safe and sound- so be prepared for that. But otherwise, this is your party too, so go ahead and have a great time!

What do you think is your house party character? Are you a Story-Man or more of a Gaming-Guy?

Let us know in the comments!