Recently, Chennai saw a furor when multiplexes in that city tried to ban entry of people wearing lungi (the traditional garment worn by men across southern India ). This surely was a symbol of the ne0-elitism wave in our country. I faced a similar scenario during one of my assignments. But it had nothing to do with a lungi (my dad wears it, but I have never worn it). It had to do with something that most young men in this country consider it their prized possession: A bike, a two-wheeler… my dear old scooter.
ITC Royal Gardenia, the new 5-star luxury hotel in Bangalore city, was host to a Black Tie event on last Saturday night. My office had assigned me to cover this as a page3 event. I had called up one of the socialites who was to be present there and he had asked me to be there by 8:15 p.m. I reached the main gate of Royal Gardenia on time, thanks to my scooter (A Honda Activa). The security guard at the main gate informed me to enter through a different gate – Gate number 5 – as the main gate was only for cars and not for two-wheelers. I said ‘ok’, and went in search of this gate and found it to be the back gate of the hotel (Hmmm.. never mind. not an issue). This was where it all began.
As a normal procedure in any hotel, I had to get off for security check. I was more than happy to have my camera bags searched, be frisked and be questioned. I informed them that I was from a newspaper and had been invited to cover a Black Tie event at the hotel, and then showed them my ID and my camera bag. They called up some place inside the hotel to find out if there was a party happening and/or to let me through. To my surprise, the guards got no confirmation of any event inside (Strike 1 !). I then called up the socialite who I had spoken to earlier about the event. He gave me the same information about the event happening close to lobby. When he understood the situation, he said he’ll ask someone from the hotel to escort me in. I waited, so did the guards. Meanwhile, the employees and contractors of Hotel kept entering and leaving the premises through the gate I was waiting at. After some time I received a call from a hotel staff who identified himself as the coördinator for the event. He asked me to walk in through the lobby to get into the place where the party was happening. I had to repeat and tell that I was far away from the lobby and the main-gate: I was at the back gate. He asked me if it was possible for me to get back to the main entry. I said I can’t! because I was on a scooter! and if he didn’t know, ‘his hotel’ did not allow any man or woman to enter main gate on a scooter! (Strike 2 !!)
Finally, an employee from the hotel came panting to the gate to tell the guards I wasn’t lying! and I wasn’t a terrorist on a scooter! The guards said ‘ok’, but few formalities…
This was it… After entering details in a register like a visitor to any office, I was given a badge to wear (Yes, you read it correctly, a badge). The badge said, CONTRACTOR! Was I a contract employee of ITC Royal Gardenia? Why would anyone invited to the hotel or even any genuine visitor to a hotel be made to wear a badge, and that too a badge called a contractor? (Any answers?) (Strike 3 !!!). It didn’t end here. I was given a sheet of paper to list out all the items in my possession, probably if I were to steal a spoon or two, or maybe a faucet from the restroom of the hotel, then I could be easily caught at the exit, as it wouldn’t have been mentioned in the list of things I was carrying inside. Else, I don’t see a reason, as no terrorist entering a hotel will declare two grenades, three AK 47s, and a rocket launcher! The hotel staff gave me a smile and he didn’t know what to say about this (Strike 4!!!!). I wrote about my camera, flash, and lenses, then I asked him “Should I list out my phone too (just to make sure that I couldn’t steal a second phone!)?”.
The hotel employee escorted me to basement parking lot. Then he took me through series of doors and stairways to quickly reach the party just before it got over (I thank him at least for this). I stood there shooting photographs of familiar faces who didn’t say a word to me about that huge ‘Contractor’ badge pinned to me Shirt. For fifteen minutes, I was standing there wondering if I were a plumber hired by the hotel or somebody invited to cover an event. I was neither of the two. It didn’t matter what my job, profession, age or business in the hotel was. Ultimately it boils down to the fact that ‘I was a man on a scooter‘. And I was to be intimidated, humiliated and made to feel that being on a scooter was being the new untouchable.
Isn’t it an irony that the very place that gives you a hostile atmosphere is actually known for hospitality business?
My dad always asks me to drive our Hyundai i10. I have flatly refused because I hate driving in Bangalore traffic and would end up late on all the assignments. But I guess, for the first time I am wondering whether I should start driving our car again, just to ensure extra wheels will give me the respect which every man deserves. these days respect doesn’t seem to be given for people’s talents.
Where are we heading to? In Bangalore, the elitism divide seems to be heading to public spaces too. There is a move by the government to regulate entry to places like cubbon park and lal bagh through electronic ID cards which come at a price and is supposedly regulated by a highly restrictive application process.