Banged Up In Bangalore

(Well, not “banged up” exactly. More like “beaten down” by low calories and a bumpy flight.)

Arrrgh. Last night in Chennai I wrote a long blog post, then my internet time ran out just as I pressed the upload button. And so the post was lost. Arrrgh.

Today I am in Bangalore. A funny thing happens when I travel alone: I sometimes forget to eat. So once again, I engaged in a 30 hour fast, though this time unplanned, and this time the fast included a lack of water. So by the time I managed to get some food and fluids into me, a few hours ago, I had developed a raging migraine. Two codeine pills later and I’m flying high.

In this weakened and stoned condition, I set out at 2:AM into the Bangalorean night to meet my friend Kelli F. who is in town from Kenya and is heading back right away. It’s quite a surreal experience, being pharmacologically affected in the wee hours of the morning on the abandoned streets of a completely unfamiliar Indian city.

So far I can report the following: Bangalore is the most Western and organized of all Indian cities, due mostly to its great IT wealth. I’ve read that this wealth has yet to “trickle down” to the underclass, but so far the underclass is being kept well hidden from me in this city, unlike in Bombay and Delhi. This wealth also manifests as increased cost, and indeed I have chosen to splurge on a very comfortable Western-style hotel room for $30 per night –exorbitant by Indian standards. It’s such an accesible city, by Western standards, that my American uncle and aunt have charged me with the task of investigating condos to purchase here.

Despite this Westernization, Bangalore is without a doubt an Indian city. In fact Kelli informs me that I just missed a large riot –a very Indian thing– by Muslims against the famous Danish cartoons. Damn, I wish I could have seen that.

I will report more on Bangalore tomorrow. Right now, though, I’d like to mention something about the Indian film industry. I don’t know a lot about Bollywood, and even less about its Tamil counterpart, “Kollywood” (in Chennai). Mehta’s masterpiece and valuable travel resource, Maximum City has a lot to offer on this topic, showing how much the Bombay film industry is tied to sex, death and crime, but I personally have no access to such a world. But, to be clear, I really know nothing about it.

I do know, however, that it’s big news here that Bollywood icon Salman Khan has just been sentenced to one year in prison for poaching a deer. (Yet I still see Salman on TV commercials literally, hilariously and unironically showing his ass.) And I know that Sanjay Dutt spent two years in prison for his role in the Bombay terror bombings, which had to do with Dutt’s seemingly puerile obsession with guns.

In short, I know that the Indian film sensibility is linked to the diktat of youth I discussed earlier, in which values are increasingly being filtered through an adolescent prism. Thus it’s not surprising that the adolescent trappings of American culture (its sexuality and machismo) have been embraced by Indians, but not its more subtle and valuable aspects (freedom, growth, etc). As a result, the upcoming Indian version of “Fight Club” is just about some guys who join a club to fight, with none of the societal and psychological depth of the American original: Bollywood has missed the point. Or maybe the increasingly young Bollywood audience is incapable of getting the point.

Now, India does produce many deep and thoughtful works of art, including great “art house” films. But they are drowned out by the noise of shallow, self-obsessed Bollywood gods who dominate the media to an extent even lifelong LA residents would find surprising. In a 10 minute spread of time on TV, for example, you will see 6 commercials, all featuring the same 3 actors. I’ve never seen their films, nor would I want to, but I now know a great deal about Bollywood stars John Abraham and Karishma Kapoor, simply by having their faces and innocuous opinions thrust upon me from every TV screen, newspaper, radio and magazine. But back to the youth diktat thing…

It is, as I think I’ve said earlier, as if the predominant goal of the Indian male is to channel Sylvester Stallone circa 1983: a strictly simplistic and juvenile interpretation of manliness.

This juvenility is further expressed (I gather from much of South Asian film, poetry and conversations I’ve had with locals) in attitudes toward love and relationships. The “pie in the sky” version of love, as is typically understood by teenagers, is the prevailing version, reinforced by films. Missing are the complications of personalities, subtleties in communication and so forth. Of course, this also has to do with the lack of (romantic) relationship experience most Indians have, relative to their Western counterparts in the same age groups. As so-called love matches (as opposed to arranged marriages) and Western style dating are becoming more common, my observation takes on greater import.

The diktat of youth is manifesting across many social spectra, it seems. Ironic in a nation known for its ancientness, no?