The kings of hard times

Business Standard (16 April 2012)

The best way to savour Bangalore is to be up very early in the morning, almost as daylight breaks. For at that time, come what may, it is beautifully cool. But the good feeling is quickly ruined by what follows – the tales newspapers have been carrying for the last two weeks.

No, I don’t mean the usual crop of bad news from around the world, hand-picked by newspaper people to live up to their own idea of what makes news, after the news channels have done their best to set the tone through the previous day. I mean real news, from close to where you are, affecting real people in the most important aspects of their daily lives.

The first bombs to explode were official admissions that the mathematics and physics question papers for the final pre-university examinations had been leaked. Before this trauma could be absorbed, more unsettling news followed. The papers reported rumours that the entire range of science question papers had been leaked, and those of English too.

If you wanted to find some black humour to relieve your misery, you could have noted the officialese that Indian politicians and newspapers are famous for. The government, it seems, has taken the matter “seriously” (don’t tell me!) and “both” the chief minister and the minister for primary and secondary education (no kidding!) had “maintained” (they didn’t just say it, they were steadfast about it too!) that the “guilty, regardless of their rank, will be punished” (this should put a stop to all loose talk of lack of governance).

When news comes of a terrorist bomb exploding somewhere, you are upset, but the immediate reaction that follows is, thank god anybody I know was not there. But this question paper thing upset people right around you; a dozen children down your very street were affected. Question papers are leaked periodically all around the country but somehow I couldn’t shake off the impression that it was another sign that a once well-run state had fallen on hard times. So I instinctively started looking for an antidote, something to reassure myself that the somewhat idealised image of the city and state I had clung to existed in reality. All you had to do, I told myself, was take the trouble to find it and not go by what the newspapers said.

Then it was that the wife asked if I would like to go along with her to a fashion show organised by the non-governmental organisation with which she had been working until recently. They had done it last year with such aplomb that they were on to making it an annual event.

At fashion designer Prasad Bidapa’s show, “Ramp For Champs”, city celebrities walk the ramp with disadvantaged children being helped by Smile Foundation. He was doing it for nothing; the models who made up the regular fashion show that would follow were donating their fees so that each could support four kids’ education for a year; and what sponsors and celebrities put in would go to Smile.

This would be the second fashion show I would be attending in my life (both by Bidapa). But what was really taking me there was not to ogle models, but to try and sense that flavour of a city which says it has both class and a large heart. And the extra bonus was to feel the air on the hotel rooftop cool quickly after sundown, reminding you that in Bangalore, despite the drought, you didn’t need air-conditioning most of the time.

The show itself was great fun. The self-confidence of the children, who were probably entering a starred hotel for the first time, was remarkable. They were naturals, causing Bidapa to note that one youngster had already picked up ramp walk. The celebrities, who came in various shapes, sizes and ages, were such good sports, unselfconsciously participating in a good cause.

The fact that some of the celebrities did not turn up didn’t seem to matter. The mood of the evening was informal and friendly. Despite so many socialites around, nobody wanted to be seen or be seen with. The stylised walk of the models – who in the regular part of the fashion show sported the casual wear (yes, leather jackets and all) peddled by Harley-Davidson – fitted in comfortably.

When the wife asked on the way back if I got bored, I said it was good right through, including what came last – chilled, crisp, dry white wine.