Tech & Work

Closing time for Bangalore's nightlife

Police wet blanket stifles tech firms…

Bangalore authorities have introduced a deeply unpopular curfew for the city's traditionally bustling nightlife. Could this Cinderella Rule actually end up shutting out tech firms, asks Saritha Rai.

Step into the Hard Rock Café in downtown Bangalore at around 11pm and order a beer or some wine. Chances are you will not be served.

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Instead, you might be offered a shooter. That's because you'll probably down it quickly whereas you might linger over wine or beer past 11.30pm, the official closing time for the city's clubs, wine bars, pubs and restaurants.

Bangalore, India's technology hub and its worldwide brand for globalisation, isn't so happening these days. City authorities have decreed that pubs, bars and restaurants close for business half an hour before midnight.

Hundreds of call centres and outsourcing companies in the city work a 24/7 cycle. But their workers have limited nightlife options because of this 'Cinderella Rule'.

It's a real mood dampener for many in this lively city. The new police chief is stringently enforcing the deadline, saying it helps maintain law and order and keeps crime in check.

Under the rule, live performances by bands are now banned. So is dancing in clubs and discotheques. Karaoke nights at pubs and clubs, where the city's wannabe singers gathered to make some noise, have ended. The police have even ruled that club or bars keep music low.

Residents of Bangalore are livid. Sudeep Aditya, 20, who heads an in-game advertising software start-up called Esswon, says the Cinderella Rule is the bane of his social life. Bangalore is a progressive, global city but by late in the evening it sucks, says Aditya.

He and his friends get together in each other's homes these days, or just leave the city. Aditya's out-of-town friends or work visitors who expect to enjoy themselves in a lively city find the evenings tame.

The night scene in Bangalore is a big let-down, says Dhiraj Pai, a manager at the Hard Rock Café. The police dictate that the café cannot showcase live rock bands. Their DJ cannot spin his stuff or pump up the volume. Instead, there is piped music.

In many pubs, when young couples spontaneously start to shake a leg to the music or even rock in their seats, the bouncers are called in to calm them down.

Pai says the regressive rules surprise guests. One came up to him and said, "What next? You'll tell me to stop holding my wife's hand?"

Many of Bangalore's workers, especially those who work in technology firms and call centres, finish late. Shyam Dev, 27, is a telecoms network engineer for Nokia-Siemens. Dev says the party scene at the pubs and bars is "sad".

When he and his friends, all die-hard rock fans, hit their favourite pubs like Purple Haze or Legends of Rock, they are hustled out at 11pm. "The lights go off, the music stops, the bar is closed and there is nothing left to do," he says.

On a recent evening, Dev and his colleagues were busy with maintenance work for their customer, Vodafone, and finished after 1am. After a hard day's work, the team craved for a drink but could not even find a restaurant open for food.

Will the restrictions in Bangalore turn multinational companies away? After all, many of them choose Bangalore not just for its talent and its weather but also for its global, liberal feel. Possibly.

But the argument that severe social restrictions may put off investors is cutting no ice with the government.

To fight the rule and its enforcement, agitated residents, out-of-work DJs and musicians have launched a campaign called Bangalore Bleeding, or to use the city's changed local name, Bengaluru Bleeding.

The protests turned public last week when writers and musicians took to the street demanding a stop to the attack on the freedom of expression.

The next time you dial tech support or some 24-hour helpline and reach Bangalore, spare a thought for the city's thousands of 20-somethings.

They work hard sorting out the glitches in systems and hand-holding people around the world. Yet, late in the evening, after a hard day's work, they have no place to play.

Bangalore's authorities and its police seem to intent on taking the bang out of Bangalore.

About Saritha Rai

Saritha Rai is an India-based journalist and commentator who covers technology, business and society from her ringside seat in Bangalore.

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