Monday, March 05, 2007

Chowdiah -- The Warm Welcome (Too Warm!!)

My wife took me to the Russel Peters show last Tuesday. I say "took me" because she decided to spend one week's salary on the tickets within blink of an eye. I salute her foresight and ability to enjoy what may be called as "once in a lifetime" experience. Had she allowed me to decide, the show was sold out in about 5-10 blinks it normally takes me. In 15 blinks, all 3 shows were sold out--- even the free passes were gone!!!

This chap is a stand-up comedian of Indian origin, born in Canada and cracking up in US. A staple on youtube, this was the first time he visited three Indian cities. All the "cheap downloading bastards" (as he called us) decided to fork over some dough for once, and landed up to watch him live at Chowdiah Memorial in Bangalore. The audience was heavily titled towards 22-25 year olds, which I found odd. It also reminded me that I already belong to a "has been" generation. As my wife reminded me yesterday, "during college" is now a reference to an era 10 years past...!

The show itself was a laugh-riot as expected. What was unexpected was that NONE of the jokes were repeats from other DVDs and snippets we had stolen off the net earlier. It was by and large original and adapted to Indian audiences. That is not to say it lacked any trademark grossness, obscenity or hilarious toilet audio. A friend of ours managed to grab front-seats in another show and make full use of Peters' interactive act. He got himself "picked upon". During our show, we settled for watching him pick on (random?) members of the audience as nothing remained sacred-- their names, race, color, hairstyle, education and pubic hair. It was hilarious to watch it all being ripped apart by the master comedian (no pun intended).

Since this features on my blog hailing the idiosyncrasies of Bangalore, time now to indulge.

Chowdiah is the local equivalent of something like the NCPA auditorium. Just like Rangshankara imagines itself to be the local Prithvi. While RS has managed to emulate Prithvi in spirit, if not in content, the only equivalence Chowdiah shares with NCPA is higher ticket prices!

It shocks us to find, all 4 times that we have been there, everyone sweating it out. The humor in the production is offset by the human comedy dribbling down my neck. The Air-conditioning is either switched on late or pathetically incapable to cool that size of theatre.

We have noticed this peculiar energy-saving "logic" to switch on the AC late and switch it off about 10 minutes BEFORE closing time at numerous multiplexes, theatres and malls in Bangalore. Once upon a time Bangalore was called Garden-city and did not NEED any AC or fans. Wake up, guys, that "once upon a time" was a long LONG time ago!!

The other craziness at Chowdiah is the pedestrian cafeteria and the virtual stampede that a 10 minute interval can cause. RS charges a tenth of the entrance fee (upper end) and yet has such a well-managed and well-maintained cafe.

Thirdly, while the parking seems to be better, the approach and exit roads are a maze of narrow one-way bylanes. How can such a premium venue be tucked away so secretly that not one sign directs us from the main road? Can the government not make a better route to-and-fro considering it hosts the best of international acts and audiences?

I reckon the monopoly position as a large-enough venue and our high threshold for sub-standard quality allow places like Palace Ground and Chowdiah to get away with this "take it or leave it" attitude year after year, performance after performance.

Koramangala - Oasis or the Desert itself?

Moved into a new office today. In the middle of Bangalore's hullaballo-est places-- Koramangala. This used to be at the forefront of IT Boom way back in 90's when an idyllic, faraway village made way for snazzy boxes to house software professionals. Over the years, lanes stayed lanes and drains became lanes. A memorial to greed, near-sight and unplanned progress, Koramangala today is synonymous with pollution, water-logging, traffic snarls and some more traffic snarls. Yet, it continues to play host to some of the best IT companies, funkiest shopping malls, grooviest "north indian" food joints and yummiest ladies in Bangalore. As a happening address, its value cannot be beaten.

The silver lining is the very jazzy office interiors that they came up with. Once inside, the walls and rugs reflect the company colors. Spacious cubicles ensure that some of us walk miles to meet our supervisors. A cool cafeteria and table-tennis table might seem overkill for just 26 guys... but then we plan to become 70+ in a blink. The state-of-the-art lab occupies over 50% office-space and is something we all are mega-proud of. Photos will be uploaded soon.

So far, we cannot dare travel to work in an auto or bus for fear of being held ransom to "double meter, saar". The extortionist auto-drivers and stunt bus-drivers force even eco-conscious commuters to use private transport. The new CM, HD Kumarswamy, is doing some great work in terms of making the roads and infrastructure of Bangalore more human again. Next he *must* focus on multi-level public parking and organizing public-transport. I shudder when I imagine traffic on these crumbling roads by March 2008...

In the past few weeks, we have started noticing many subtle but strong positive changes in Bangalore. More power to him!!

Saturday, March 03, 2007

US Visa -- The Business of Security

I went for my US visa interview to Chennai yesterday. Had heard horror stories of the process earlier. When I complained about Airport hassles when traveling within India, some foreigners had remarked once to me "If you think this is a hassle, wait till you visit a US airport". Gee, I always thought things were very organized and people friendly in the US of A.

The friendliness became apparent in Chennai. It seems one cannot take mobile phones inside the US consulate. Considering one is allowed to take it almost EVERYWHERE else in the world (including Operation Theatres!!) I fail to see the uniqueness of the Consulate security, to excise a mobile phone ban. To make the matters interesting, there is no counter where disallowed items can be checked-in for safe-keeping. The visa-candidate is all sweat and shivers. The answer for this "security consciousness" soon became clear. Right after the cops finish their self-righteous tirade, they offer to keep the cellphone for us at a nearby tea-shop. They even accompanied me to the shop and assured me that the expensive Nokia N series would be returned safely. All this for only Rs.100. If half the 1500 people visiting daily bring one disallowed item, this enterprise earns them a cool 15 Lakh monthly.

No wonder Bush is having a hard time convincing the Iraqis that the Security Forces are there to "free" them. The next thing you know, the high-tech Airport X-ray scans will be available on porn-sites the world over. It is indeed sad to see Security forces make a mockery of the REASON they are there in first place!

It seems in New Delhi, the embassy has a locker to check-in the mobile phones. If a tea-shop can do it, I doubt it takes heavy resources or space to create this system in Chennai and other consulates as well. High time the Chennai consulate became people friendly.