Leading Edge: No roads lead to Bangalore

Sunday Times


TELFORD VICE, Nagpur

SOMETHING was missing from the moment, something significant that had pounced with impunity in darkness and in broad daylight and pounced whenever we had ventured out in Bangalore.

A few more smooth seconds later, the glorious truth popped up like a genie from a rubbed lamp: there were no potholes on this stretch of street, tar so comparatively pristine it could have been on a planet in a galaxy far, far away.

It wasn’t. It was in Bangalore. WTF?

For the first time in a week and more of drizzly days and nights, the world was a serene place it had not been whenever disbelief had to be suspended so that the rutted rumours that are roads in Bangalore could be taken seriously for what they were not.

Two jokes Bangaloreans tell against their vibrant city of warm, friendly people, many good restaurants, and a youthful zest for life: when the hooter on a car, truck, tuk-tuk or motorbike wears out from incessant use, the useless vehicle is promptly sold for scrap. And: there are no potholes in the city’s roads. Instead, there are roads in the potholes.

This wouldn’t be so odd if Bangalore was some backwater and not India’s most modern city, the clicking heart of the country’s booming IT industry and home to every other call centre in the world. But, man, the roads …

The roads in Mumbai, where SA played a warm-up match before the test series, are fine.

The roads in Mohali, scene of the first test, and the surrounding planned city of Chandigarh – designed by Le Corbusier, nogal – are better than fine.

The roads in Nagpur, where the third test starts on Wednesday, are not as good. During the 2011 World Cup, one diminutive SA reporter stumbled into a kerbside crater there and promptly found themselves almost at eye level with the surrounding tarmac even though they were standing straight up.

But that’s better than Bangalore, where under every pothole lurks another pothole and below that another. You want asphalt? Try Chandigarh.

You won’t find much empathy in this space for cricket’s elite players, who are paid too much to travel the world and muck about with bats and balls while others spend their lives working proper jobs.

But however posh your hotel and however luxurious your transport, if you’re in Bangalore at some point you are going to have to take on the mad traffic and the monsters that lurk where roads should be. Sterkte, fellas.

Similarly, for all the leaps and bounds India has made as an ancient and rich but developing country, it remains the most foreign of cricket’s major countries to teams like SA.

Just as there is nothing exotic about touring England or Australia, there is nothing ordinary about India.

The Indian Premier League has helped take the edge off the alienation for a chosen few, while those who step out of the tour bubble will share roadside eating houses with sharp-elbowed locals and the odd scurrying rat.

But step out they must. Because how do you know what smooth is if you’ve never had it rough? For a proud team who are 1-0 down in the series, that’s a powerful lesson.

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