LIFE

A towering culture shock

FOR A Bangalorean grown up on a diet of chicken tikka masala, BMTC buses, autorickshaws, and lathi-wielding policemen, Paris is a culture shock. An almost frightening change of pace, a definite knockdown by something called stylised "urbania." Life is one big Eiffel Tower, a dazzling mix of fashion and silky pathways, a super efficient Metro, and pocket-slicing prices.

As Bangalore cries for a Metro Rail, Paris takes a 103-year underground network for granted. Under the labyrinthine metropolis, the Metro works relentlessly. Fast, glitzy, eminently simple, the network transports Parisians in their motley crowds. Missed the last train? Spare two minutes to await the next, just round the bend. Out there, they call it the tube.

Hot, sweltering, merciless, the August sun reigns supreme, touching 43 degrees Celsius. The Eiffel Tower above, nostalgia strikes the Bangalorean. Dreaming of cooler Bangalore, he craves for water. But the price of half-a-litre Evian (that is mineral water for the Parisian) gets his Indian mind ticking. One Euro equals Rs. 53. At two-and-a-half Euros, half a litre costs Rs. 133. Tired of the arithmetic, he settles for a public tap. Now the tap is something rare, as rare as a rich Indian. Hunting nevertheless, the Bangalorean finally spots it in a corner. But the long queue floors him. The bottle-armed army of Frenchmen, Tunisians, Moroccans, Bangladeshis, and Japanese leaves his sweat hang in shock. This international gathering of water guzzlers humbles him. Water, the great leveller, reminds him of the Cauvery!

The French lasses sashay in tandem. Gucci versus Versace, Peugeot against Volvo. Big brands of the big city overwhelm the Bangalorean. Skaters speeding by the silky smooth pavements have him in a tizzy. Potholes and optic fibre cables jutting out of manmade holes are not for Paris.

A towering culture shock

Beware of pickpockets, the signboards warn. Holding onto his dear purse, the Bangalorean looks around. Suspiciously, racist like. In an alien city, the Euro-conscious Pardesi draws into a shell. Oozing richness, the taxi driver in his Mercedes Benz (most taxis are Benz) steals a nap.

The city never sleeps. The sun never sets. Wide-eyed, gulping down the cool public tap water, the Bangalorean gets into chat mode. "This place is pretty expensive. I live on the outskirts, way out, where it is slightly affordable,'' chatters this Chinese immigrant. Flashing a smile, she sports Third Worldly empathy. The Bangalorean just made a friend.

Camera exposed, the Garden Citizen gets clicking. A French policeman (identified by a card) approaches with a friendly warning. "Keep it inside. There are lot of muggers out here.'' Shaken, stirred, the citizen obeys.

In the heart of Paris, the Tunisians spell business. Peddling Eiffel Tower key chains, they sell dreams. Hunting for souvenirs, the tourists crowd around. The Bangalorean clicks the bargain button.

"Four Euros? Too high, an Euro and a half.'' Uninterested, the Tunisian turns away. Midway, he turns back, firing this salvo: "Indian.''

Sprawling, grand, gigantic, the Louvre Museum beckons the historical Bangalorean. Oriental, Egyptian, Greek, Etruscan, Roman Antiquities; Islamic Art, North European sculptures, the Bangalorean's limited Venkatappa Art Gallery vision needs some correction.

Dusk falling, the lights coming alive, night envelopes the city beautiful.

In the sparkle of the dazzling Eiffel Tower lights, the Bangalorean feels humbled. Ambitious Bangalore, with its big city dreams, is far away. The drums of the Parisian celebration have only begun!

By Rasheed Kappan