It was another get-together dinner (“night party” as the kids fondly call it) with our neighbours. To end a perfect evening, everyone demanded a round of paan. The three of us headed straight for our favourite paanwallah. The guy took our order and then surprisingly requested us to park the car a few dozen feet away, as the police was on patrol. It was an unearthly 10.55 pm and he had to shut shop at sharp 11.
Strange, we thought, but followed his instructions all the same. While we were waiting, there was a suddenly a flurry of activity. All the crates and stuff were pulled in and the shutters slammed down. It was as if some attack had just begun somewhere. We waited and waited and waited.
Meanwhile a police patrol van came and stared at us as if we were all known rowdies. The paanwallah got a few glares too. He came running towards us and requested us to take a round and come in five minutes. We all stared at each other and shrugged our shoulders. I generally wondered in silence why nightlife in Bangalore sucked.
When we came back, just avoiding the patrol van, the paanwallah signaled us to be on the other side of the road at a distance. The shutters surreptitiously came up and a hand gave a plastic packet. The paanwallah came running across the road, turned his back to us looking left and right and handed the packet. We tendered exact change and he ran off without even looking at it. Anyone watching at a distance would have been sure that the packet had drugs or atleast illicit liquor. But we were just having paan, for crying out loud!
The same old story…
Reminded me of the time when, as students, we reached the liquor shop in Viveknagar in Bangalore at exactly 10 pm to find the shop closing. My friend dived and we saw his shoe soles disappearing just as the shutters came down. That was a very dangerous thing to do. A fraction of a second late or a fraction of a centimeter wide and he might have had a few broken bones. (Later, however, we always remembered it as a glorious Mission Impossible type moment.) Minutes later, my friend triumphantly emerged from another door with a bottle. It was as if he had broken some great odds and was really proud of it.
Reminded me of the time when, in Noida with the very same friend, we decided to go and search for dinner at the “unearthly” hour of 10pm. Suddenly in pitch darkness we heard shrill whistling and before we knew it cops surrounded us. “Who are you?” “What are you doing?” “Are you new to this area?” It was a scene straight out of a Bollywood movie where the cops were on the verge of catching some known gangsters.
When we stated our intent, a cop laughed and told us to go home and sleep. There was a daily curfew. Nothing stayed open beyond 930-10pm for safety reasons. Not even dinner. Then I think he relaxed his hand on what looked like a gun. It was difficult to tell as they were wearing shawls to escape the Delhi winters. I guess it was truly a crime for a bachelor to be hungry beyond 10 in this zone. We were too stunned to even play our Hindustan Times press cards, which works so well in the NCR region. The absurdity of it all!
Reminded me of my night shifts at the Hindustan Times in Connaught Place, the heart of Delhi. Bustling with shops and people from all over throughout a day, after 7pm they all started closing one by one. Beyond 8, the centre used to be a circle of darkness and a haven for criminals. When I used to walk from the bus stop to the office, I used to wonder whether this blackness was actually the capital of modern India. At this time, most world cities would just start waking up with their nightlives.
While some cities do have it, why does nightlife in India generally have to be so non-existent?
Once upon a time…
…in socialist India, there were few cars and scooters, few nightclubs and few ways for one to get around even after 9 in the night. No matter how badly he wanted it, the common man couldn’t get a nightlife. Authorities, probably in order to avoid complications and crime, clamped down and enforced all sorts of curfews. It may have made sense at that time. Going by Bollywood movies, everything that operated late was associated with either smuggling or gambling or with criminals or seedy red-light areas. But that era seems more than a lifetime away, even for me who grew up in it.
…people work late, do night shifts, catch flights at odd hours and have enough means of transportation for the night. Satellite TV and the Internet both have given rise to a 24-hour lifestyle. There’s no point in restricting this outside the home. A lot of Indian conservatives still frown upon the “nightlife” concept of discos, pubs, nightclubs, bars and the like. But what logic is there in not allowing shops, restaurants, coffee shops and thelas for 24 hours? Why can’t all multiplexes and movie halls screen movies from midnight to early morning? In the cities, there will always be takers for it.
If anything, it might also prevent crime thanks to the presence of late night crowds. In our country, everything has moved forward except the governments and their sets of archaic rules. This is such an elementary thing and doesn’t even require legislation. Cities can start easing things on their own. But the authorities are still quite comfortable imposing curfews for 7pm, 9pm, 10pm… depending on which area you are in. For what joy? Do they all go home and sleep early?
We have such hectic lifestyles and want to do so much in the day. By imposing deadlines on the things we can do outside at night and hence squeezing the already limited amount of time… just doesn’t make sense.
I wish the authorities got a life and gave us one too.
© Sunil Rajguru