It was after 2 in the morning of a Saturday night and MG Road was deserted except for the stray reveler straggling home, like yours truly. The odd auto cruised past with the driver scanning the likely marks.
I was tired and had a deep buzz going. A little nagging voice of good sense somewhere deep inside my head kept telling me that I should go home and sleep. Fair enough, I thought – it had not been a bad Saturday at all!
That’s when this autorickshaw drew up alongside me with a seemingly customer-friendly bandy at the wheel. He explained how he had not had any decent “savari” (fare) the whole day long and how I could pay him anything that I felt was reasonable. This is a standard ploy in Madras but rather rare in Bangalore. He seemed nice enough so I said “ok” and got in.
We were cruising comfortably along MG Road when just outside the Hotel Oberoi, he most politely asked me if I had enough cigarettes for the rest of the evening. When I checked my pack, true enough, I was down to my last 3 or so. I told him yes I needed cigarettes. By this time we had pulled up at a mobile (cycle mounted) teashop.
This hawker and a few dozen others like him are a standard feature at certain prominent spots in the deserted night streets of Bangalore. They sell cigarettes and miniscule plastic cups of hot, sweet tea dispensed from stainless steel containers. All types - from cops to BPO employees to vagrants - make pit stops at these “stalls” and move on.
Asif, the auto bandy, requested me to remain seated in the auto while he went to fetch my cigarettes. We set off again. After a couple of hundred meters, halfway home, just before turning off towards Ulsoor he casually asked me if I felt like one last beer for the evening. I asked him back where we might find beer at 3 in the morning. He replied that there were “places”.
I was intrigued, so I said yes I would have a beer. He made a U-turn and we went all the way back up MG Road and then down some side streets to the corner of Brigade Road. Again Asif ensured that I got "drive-by" service. A lukewarm Kingfisher and a plastic cup were delivered to the auto and the bottle was opened.
As I sat in the auto in a deserted side street sipping my beer , Asif solicitously asked if I were hungry.
On a whim I said I wouldn’t mind a nice mutton biriyani. Pat came the reply that sure it was possible - Sivaji Nagar mutton biriyani was the best in class.
And we set off again through some beautiful deserted neighborhoods dotted with lovely buildings of great character. The sodium vapor light and the still silence gave the streets an unreal feel - as if we were scooting through an abandoned film set.
There are still many, many delightful corners of Bangalore that haven’t morphed into grotesque steel, glass and concrete barrios. The steroidal IT/BPO wave of affluence might wash them away as yet but I’m hoping for the best.
We turned some tight corners and suddenly found ourselves in a street lined with restaurants. There was lively movement on the street. Many of the restaurants were downing their shutters – it was after 3 AM – but a few were still open. Asif enquired in two or three about the quality and freshness of their mutton biriyani before choosing one.
We gorged on fairly good biriyani accompanied by some superlative mutton bone soup. After a round of pleasantries with the man behind the cash counter (galla potti) we headed back towards MG Road.
On the way, on Cubbon Road I think, I made Asif stop the auto to photograph some ancient cannons. An insomniac military guard challenged us and after a half hearted interrogation he bid us goodbye.
It was 4 or so before Asif finally dropped me home. What started off as a fifteen minute, five kilometer trip home had somehow transformed into a two hour, twenty kilometer jaunt.
A couple of days ago when I called Asif on the number he had given me, the first thing he asked was if I had eaten….a truly solicitous bandy, if ever there was one!
If you are in Bangalore sometime and want to go on a fun auto ride, just give me a shout and I’ll give you his number.