OnPoint by Keith Ng


D18: Like that garage scene from Heroes

It's happened again. Like that time in Madrid, like those times in New York, Hong Kong and even Wellington. Now Bangalore - cosmopolitan, prosperous, benign Bangalore - is the scene of large-scale street violence.

It's time I faced the truth. I am a Horseman of the Apocalypse - the harbinger of civil disorder.

I spend most of Sunday holed up in an internet cafe (again), to finish off another article. I'd picked out a random suburb, away from the hustle and bustle. It was a pleasant afternoon, the street was quiet. Quiet, that is, except for a shiny, deserted shopping mall down the road with its McDonald's and KFC, blaring out obnoxious boyband pap, and the franchise cafe next door, blaring out obnoxious Hindi pop. Sweet, benign Bangalore.

My mind was, however, preoccupied. I'd ate a McAloo Tikki burger from McDonald's the night before, and my mind was boogling at the the sheer range of stories where I could use "McAloo Tikki" as a humourous aside, handy segue, or even as a metaphor that encapsulates the commercialisation of India in one neatly oversimplified little package. Absolute gem.

Two blocks away, that very night, pro-Saddam mobs clashed with police while youths looted and burned stores. 40 people were injured, and an 11-year-old was killed when police fired at the crowd.

In India, two blocks is a world away.

The boundaries of globalisation stop abruptly. Instead of preppy teenagers talking on their flash cellphones, kids are mixing cement and digging ditches for a living. A few of the younger ones lay on shit-lined street beside stray dogs. This is not poverty at its worst - at least these kids have some kind of employment.

Down the road, the suburb is a maze of shops; all, without exception, were closed on Monday. A small group of armed police stood around. Things were very quiet, they said.

Clumps of people gathered on the streets - store owners who were not taking any chances.

Blocks after blocks of shops lay deserted. An occasional heap of ash and half-burnt tires mark the trail.

An abandoned SUV sat on the side of the road. There's a sharp dent in the front of the vehicle. Two neat little domes protude from the cracked windscreen. They're not very big on seat-belts here.

At the crossroads, Saddam's photo feature prominently on a printed billboard. It starts out: "We salute our friend Saddam Hussein..." I glimpsed something about Bush and Blair as we drove past. The billboard was signed by the People's Front of something or other.

While the angry mob has yet to release a statement on the incident, reports are connecting it with the pro-Saddam protests last week, and cites the communist party (the CITU) conference as an additional factor.

On my first day in India, I woke up to find reports about protests (just mildly violent) against Saddam's execution. The in-the-know people I met later in the day told me not to make too much of it - just the usual agitators trying to stir shit up.

Having spend the last week rubbing shoulders with the cream of India's commerical crop in a five-star hotel eating their fancy meals (not that I'm complaining), I can't help but feel that if something is happening beneath the surface here, the people who live in the shiny world above won't know about it.

No one has come forward to claim the 11-year-old's body.

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