And then the flight attendants each grabbed an aerosol can with a nozzle pointing straight up — the kind of can you might use to bomb a house for fleas — and they began walking up and down the aisles as a fine mist of some unknown pesticide covered everything — passengers, luggage and all. They did at least advise us — especially those wearing contact lenses — to cover our eyes.
The purser then instructed us to reset our watches to local time, 12 and 1/2 hours ahead. I don’t know of another country that has a timezone set to the half hour.
The hotel had arranged to have a driver to pick me up and so, after going through customs and immigration and guards with automatic weapons, I proceeded to the meeting place to look for the sign with my name on it. Usually there are a dozen drivers with placards, but here there were well over 100. In country of 1.2 billion, I suppose this should have been expected.
I did not see my name anywhere. Several men approached me to offer car service “at a very good price.” I must have looked like an easy mark. But then a man came up to me and said: “Leela Palace?” I said yes, that was my hotel. I was not the only Caucasian getting off that plane so I’m not sure if he had ESP or took a lucky guess that I was the one.
We found our way to the car and began the drive into town. I settled in for what I thought would be a two-hour ride as it was the last time I was here. But the driver, who introduced himself as Patel, laughed and said it would only be a half hour. It was 3 a.m. and there would be no traffic.
Patel drove fast and maneuvered the 7-Series BMW like a pro, dodging delivery vans, potholes and barricades. When the road was straight and open, he kept the vehicle smack dab in the middle of the white lines dividing two lanes. He was very talkative and eager to practice his English. He told me that until a few years ago he knew only Kannada, a local dialect. Since becoming a driver for the hotel, he had learned Hindi (the national language) and then English, all from conversing with his passengers.
I asked why Indians pronounced the name of the city as Bangaluru. I assumed the name was changed back to its original form from the English pronunciation. (Mumbai become Bombay because that was how the English heard it pronounced and has now been returned to its original spelling and pronunciation).
Patel, who said he had only attended school until the fourth grade, gave me the complete history of the area, beginning with a tale as rich as any in Greek mythology. It was filled with deities and spirits, animal gods turning into humans etc. I didn’t catch all of it, because his accent was so thick and I was a little too distracted by his driving. But I got at least got this much:
Bangaluru is the abbreviation of three words that mean “town of boiled beans.” The area was once a vast forest and in the 11th Century a king, while out hunting, got lost in the woods. He was tired and hungry and came upon a dilapidated hut. An old woman was inside. He asked if she could give him something to eat. All she had were some old beans, which she boiled for him. The king was so grateful that he named the town after the incident.
We arrived at the hotel and were met first with a security team who checked the trunk and then scanned the undercarriage of the vehicle with a mirror on a pole, looking for explosives. We made it through the checkpoint and pulled up to the hotel entrance. As I got out of the car in the wee hours of the morning, I was greeted by an army of people. One woman placed a garland of flowers and honeysuckle around my neck. Another anointed my forehead with ash as she said a little prayer, while two men grabbed my bags. They did everything but carry me to my room, which, considering the time of day and the 30-hours of travel, wouldn’t have been refused.