Brewsky needs a webcam

When I moved from Rajajinagar 2nd Stage to Jayanagar 3rd Block around this time last year, one thing I missed in this part of town was a watering hole like Rajajinagar 2nd Stage’s 1522. It’s a brilliant pub. Not too expensive. Great atmosphere and decor. Great food. And after expansion, not too hard to get a table on weekdays.

Jayanagar missed such a place. You either had “shady bars” or places like Eden Park in 36th Cross which is ok (and has great paneer) but nothing spectacular, or downright teenager hangouts like Gandhi Bazaar’s SoHo. There was no “nice, clean, good to hang out” place like 1522 here.

And then Brewsky happened. It’s a microbrewery, though they didn’t get their brewing license for a long time (the Excise department was apparently having an issue in pricing the licenses). There’s a terrace with great views, and an indoor place (where you go iff there is no room on the terrace), and they make their own beer. And the beer is very good.

The only problem with Brewsky is that their beer menu is not consistent. They experiment frequently with new kinds of beers – which is frankly not a problem, but sometimes the choice can be severely limited. Like when I went there last Wednesday, there were only two kinds of beer available. Four days before that, however, there was the full complement of six. There have been other times in the past when I’ve been there only to find my choice of beer not being available.

What Brewsky needs is a Webcam. Basically the webcam was invented (as the story goes) to check if there was enough coffee in the communal coffee pot – for if you emptied the pot you were also responsible for refilling it. And so people could remotely track how much coffee was there in the pot and make their decision to have coffee based on the level.

What Brewsky needs, similarly, is a public board where they announce what they have on brew on that particular day. Their website sucks big time, but if they revamp that, it is a good place to put that information. So if I know that there are only two beers available, I’ll probably not go. If I want to have their India Pale Ale (which is generally very good) but it is not listed, then I’ll plan on going another day. And so forth.

The question that arises, however, is if Brewsky themselves have an incentive to put this information out. If their stocks are generally not on high, then indicating that there isn’t much variety available might push away customers and lead to low revenues on their fixed cost of real estate and waiters for that particular day. And they might just get overwhelmed with people on days when they have their full complement of beers.

But then if customers are consistently disappointed with their lack of choice, then in the long run they’ll lose such customers permanently. And that is not a good thing. Except for the fact that there is no comparable place in the Jayanagar-JP Nagar area.

Up North

So it’s exactly a year since I moved to the north. North Bangalore that is. For exactly the last one year, I’ve called a place in Rajajinagar 2nd Stage (not to be confused with Rajajinagar 2nd Block) my home. It’s been a roller-coaster ride, I must say. Lots of ups, lots of downs. I must admit a year in I still haven’t settled in completely, and for the record, I’m already plotting a move back south.

The problem with the area where I live is that it is an area of houses built on 30 feet by 40 feet plots. While that itself is not a problem (with an FSI of 1.5, you can build a 1800 square foot house here, which is pretty massive), the problem is that this area was “built” in the early 1970s. Back then, nobody had cars, and given the economic situation nobody aspired to have a car. This, coupled with the smallish plots meant that people didn’t make a provision in their plots to park cars. Again – given the economic situation when this layout was built, it is a perfectly rational decision.

Now, forty years later, with rapid economic growth in the last 20 odd, everybody has a car. And since there’s no space to park them inside the houses, people park them on the streets. So on every street in my locality, you will find cars parked continuously on both sides of the road. Unfortunately people haven’t figured out a protocol of one-ways, so sometimes that leads to traffic deadlocks when cars approach from both sides of the road. Thankfully we are spared of such deadlocks since we live on a road that leads to a dead end (a real dead end, not a “Bangalore dead end”, which is just a T-junction).

Thinking about it, I find the land use here rather suboptimal. Most plots have two-storeyed houses, and given the size of the plots, the plots are fully built. So there is less than five feet space between my window and my neighbour’s – and on Sunday mornings we get woken up because Neighbour Uncle likes to talk loudly on the phone sitting in his porch (the neighbours reconstructed ¬†their house a few years back, so they have a porch to park their car). Essentially there is little privacy.

There is little of other things also – like open spaces and trees, again a function of the plot sizes. I have a solution for this, but it is going to be hard to implement, and I don’t want to be the ones doing that. Yes, everyone has a plot of land to call their own. But they live in houses that aren’t too large and don’t have much privacy or open spaces or gardens.So I think it would be a profitable enterprise for a real estate developer to buy up the entire area (let’s say about two or three roads at least), merge the sites and build a high rise apartment here with all “facilities”. Even if the realtor were to pay above market rates (necessary since a lot of people wouldn’t want to sell) and compensate the incumbents handsomely in terms of houses, there is profit to be made. But then everyone wants their own “piece of land”.

Notwithstanding any of this, where I live is a great area. It is residential and solidly middle-class, and I can buy just about anything I want within a kilometer of my house. I only need to walk about 100m to catch an auto rickshaw, and it isn’t that hard to get an auto home at any time in the day. The biggest problem I find here, though, is infrastructure.

Malleswaram is a pre-car area. It was built in the 1890s to rehabilitate people from the old city (pete) area following an outbreak of plague. Consequently, the roads aren’t particularly wide. Which ever way I want to get out, I’m faced with narrow roads, and that combined with heavy traffic means travel times to the centre of town and beyond are large. And to make matters worse, Dr. Rajkumar Road (one boundary of “mainstream” Rajajinagar) is a highway, with buses leaving for all parts of Karnataka passing through this road.

I have a habit of living in cusps. My last residence was at the trijunction of Jayanagar, Basavanagudi and Banashankari. This one is on the border of Malleswaram and Rajajinagar. Maybe the next time I move, I should think of going into the “middle” of some area.

How do you control petty crime?

Last Wednesday I saw a chain-snatching live. It was late in the evening and traffic was moving at a snail’s pace on Good Shed Road (formally called TCM Royan Road). I was on my way to the in-laws’ place in Rajajinagar. There was an unusually large number of auto rickshaws on the road (may not be that unusual considering it’s a popular road for getting to the railway station and bus stand). We took about twenty minutes to cover the distance of about a kilometer.

The auto rickshaw in front of my car was close to the kerb. The jam meant it was stationary. There was a boy walking on the pavement, maybe in his early teens. I saw him walk closer to the edge as he approached the auto rickshaw. I saw his hand move swiftly, and then his legs. He was speeding into one of the numerous alleyways that stem off from TCM Royan road. It was clear that he had snatched a gold chain that had been worn by a woman in the auto rickshaw.

One man got off the auto rickshaw and ran after the boy. I don’t think he would’ve made much headway, for the boy had too much of a headstart. Also, the thief had escaped into familiar territory, inhabited by familiar people, some of who might have actually encouraged his crime. The chaser didn’t stand a chance.

Make me wonder how one could control such petty crime. The speed at which it all happened, no one would have been able to “get the face” of the thief. Since it was far from an intersection it is unlikely there would’ve been CCTV cameras. The traffic, the twilight, the crowds on the road and the lack of them on the footpath meant the chances of the crime failing were really low. In the worst case, the owner of the chain would have held on to it and the boy would’ve run away empty handed.

I’m sure the crime would have been reported. A gold chain costs a lot, and the family in the auto rickshaw didn’t look particularly well off. But the case would’ve got buried in the midst of several other similar ones. As long as the thief was careful to not strike too often, which would’ve brought him unnecessary attention, there would be no way he would get caught. And given the geography there was little onlookers could do.

So I wonder once again, how are we supposed to control such petty crime? At this moment, I don’t have an answer.

Making Religion Fun

Having spent the day before Sankranti (pongal) cribbing about how festivals mean so much work and how they are designed especially to create marital discord I was pleasantly surprised to see this amazing religious event on Saturday evening.

I was at the inlaws’ place in Rajajinagar, having spent the day doing two pradakshinas of Bangalore, and visiting some twenty relatives and distributing sugar figures¬† and sesame. And I was taken to the nearby main road (Dr Rajkumar road) to watch the ISKCON chariot festival.

And what an awesome event that was. While the chariot was some distance away volunteers came around distributing prasada in leaf bowls (donnes). And then there were some ISKCON Akshaya Patra vans that came around doling out yummy juice to all passerby. And then there was a mountain of people. And there were thousands of people lining the roads on either side.

There was a generator van, followed by people who were dancing as they marched along. The atmosphere was electric (pardon the Ravi Shastri-ism) and it was impossible to be not taken by it. I wanted to go join the dancers but there was more work to be done that night (visiting another half a dozen houses distributing sugar figures and sesame) so I stood by.

Then the chariot arrived, being pulled by two long ropes with some fifty people each. It was gender-segregated and the rope towards my side was being pulled by women so I didn’t have the opportunity to touch it (apparently if you touch the rope you get some good karma as it’s as if you’ve pulled the chariot). And volunteers continued to dole out prasada (sweet pongal) and juice.

I must confess I didn’t see the idol. When the chariot neared me, my focus was on catching the sweet packets which a monk seated at the side of the chariot was throwing. I must admit I missed quite a few good chances and let packets of coconut mithai fall into the gutter behind me. But i did manage to catch one, my days patrolling short midwicket in inter-section matches having come to good use.

It was awesome. It was so awesome that even a normally-non-believing me was completely taken by the whole festival. All the gloom of the previous day and tiredness of having driven around the city vanished in that moment.

And it made me wonder why we don’t make our festivals more fun. About why we don’t make religion more fun for people to follow, and instead waste our time and energy in mindless rituals. Thankfully Pinky also shares my thoughts and we’ve decided to celebrate only the fun festivals – where we have fun doing the required work.

But seriously, it would help making our lot more religious if we could let go of some rituals and adopt more of the fun components of festivals. But then people think they get good karma by enduring pain and all that..

Road Widening is NOT the solution

The other day, walking down Dr. Rajkumar Road in Rajajinagar, I saw several signboards on the road, on shopfronts, on buildings, etc. protesting against plans for widening the road. Apparently they want to widen the road and thus want to demolish shops, parts of houses, etc. Looking outside my own apartment building the other day, I saw some numbers written on the compound wall. Digging deeper, I figured that they want to widen the road I live on and hence want to claim part of the apartment land.

Now, the logic behind road widening is not hard to understand – due to increase in traffic, we need more capacity on the roads and hence increasing their width results in increased capacity in terms of vehicles per unit time and so it is a good thing . However, before going headlong into road widening and land acquisition for the purpose, road architecture in the city needs to be studied carefully.

There are two primary reasons why trafffic bottlenecks happen. The more common reason at least in western nations is road capacity. Roads just don’t have the capacity to take more than a certain number of cars per hour and so when more cars want to go that way, it results in pile-ups. The other problem, which I think is more common in India is intersections.

It is going to be a tough problem to model but we should split up roads into segments – one segment for each intersection it is part of, and one segment for each segment between intersections (ok it sounds complicated but I hope you get it). And then, analyzing capacities for these different segments, my hypothesis is that on an average, “capacity” of each intersection is lower than the capacity of road segments between intersections.

Now how does one calculate capacity of intersections? Assume an intersection with traffc coming from all four directions. Suppose traffic approaching the intersection from north sees green light for fifteen seconds a minute. And in each fifteen second interval, 25 cars manage to make it past the intersection. So the capacity of this intersection in this direction becomes 25 cars per minute. I hope you get the drift.

I’m sure there will be some transportation engineers who will have done surveys for this but I don’t have data but I strongly believe that the bigger bottleneck in terms of urban transport infrastructure is intersections rather than road width. Hence widening a road will be of no use unless flyovers/underpasses are built across ALL intersections it goes through (and also through judicious use of road divider). However, looking at the density of our cities, it is likely to prove extremely expensive to get land for the widened roads, flyovers etc.

I don’t see private vehicle transportation as a viable solution for most Indian cities. Existing road space per square kilometer is way too small, and occupation way too dense for it to be profitable to keep widening roads. The faster we invest in rapid public transport systems, the better! I’m sure the costs borne in that direction will be significantly lower than to provide infrastructure to citizens to use their own vehicles.