Friday, December 15, 2006

A day at the races

I met a couple from South Africa two weeks ago when I crashed a charity fundraising event put on by the Bangalore Expat Club. They were new to Bangalore, having just arrived from Vietnam three weeks prior, but it was clear they were already at ease in the place they’d be calling home for the next two years. They’re both the savvy traveling type that can relocate from one country to another more effortlessly than I can move from my kitchen to my couch. With such sophistication about them, I was naturally surprised when they invited me to join them at the Bangalore Turf Club for a day of horse races.

When we met at the racecourse the following weekend, we noticed new televisions being installed throughout the club’s ground level. The new televisions were not being installed to upgrade the facilities, but on account of an incident that occurred during a race the day before. After opening with a big lead over the competition, the race’s second favorite horse slowed during the straight before the finish line, apparently after its jockey made several furtive glances back at the distance he had put between himself and the competition. As the lead horse slowed, Hidalgo, a 33-to-1 outsider, passed for the win.

Enraged by the apparent throwing, the crowd reacted by smashing all of the ground floor’s 30 televisions. When they ran out of televisions, the mob went after the jockeys, who had locked themselves in the room for weighing horses. In the 45 minutes before the police arrived, the mob ransacked the jockey room, destroyed betting windows, and generally made a mess of things.

And so here I was walking into the Turf Club the very next day, and it was as if nothing had happened. It was business as usual; the events of the day before had been shrugged off like poor weather. But given the keenness for mob action in Bangalore, I suppose it wasn’t all that unusual either. When buses are involved in traffic accidents, they tend to be set ablaze by angry mobs long before the police arrive. This has happened four times since June; it seems to be something of a civic duty.

Though there were no televisions broken or vehicles burned during my day at the races, I did spill my drink after losing on a horse named Jedi Knight. Hardly newsworthy, but tragic nonetheless.