City hotels dole out shabby treatment to cyclists

Courteous. Respectful. Almost obsequious. That’s typically the treatment meted out to the well-heeled visitor at the entrance to any of the city’s top-notch hotels. The exaggerated politeness is a sad illustration of the mile-high class barriers that permeate urban society.

The erstwhile Taj Residency makes no bones about the policy of vehicular differentiation it practices. The Leela and Windsor Manor are more discrete: you just get booted by security. Pic: Kanishka Lahiri.

A typical sequence of events is as follows. Mr Cool drives up in a chauffeur-driven BMW. Tinted windows, so dark they must surely be illegal, are rolled down an inch. For a moment the unpleasant outside world sneaks into the plush, pollution-free, noise-free interior. "Sir, for security, can we inspect the trunk". Mr Cool with a regal nod, agrees, though not without a slight mouth-click, making his displeasure known: if not to belittle the security guard, in order to hold his own with the company he keeps within the all important confines of his BMW.

The harried security guy rushes to minimize the delay, and as soon as his business is done, waves the car on with a salute, hoping to somehow compensate for the inconvenience caused.As the BMW gurgles its way over shiny stones in the five-star driveway, the guard is thankful that he escaped without a tongue lashing.

Cut.

An average looking person rides up on a two-wheeler to the same five-star hotel. Not on a Harley Davidson, no, not even on a Pulsar. He is on a humble bicycle (some of the bikes you see on the streets these days are anything but humble, but to an untrained eye, they’re all the same). The point is, this time, there’s no obsequiousness on display of the security guard. A little courtesy perhaps?

At Lido Mall, you get to park with the vegetables. However, it’s free, and it’s on street level, which is a blessing. Pic: Kanishka Lahiri.

It’s fascinating to note the range of reactions that a cyclist provokes from a security guard at the entrance of luxury establishments in the city. In fact, its confined to a narrow band, whose emotion is best illustrated by the universal single syllable exclamation, "Hoy!" that all Indians, language barriers aside, understand all too well. Sometimes it’s accompanied with brandished, threatening stick that tries to send you back to where you came from. In the most benign cases, it’s a frantic oscillation of an outstretched hand: not exactly a wave, but a uniquely Indian way of saying "forget it yaar, there’s no place for you here".

(The guards) have been brainwashed by a system that teaches us that respect needs to be directly proportional to the size of the vehicle you drive, and the opacity of its tinted glass windows.

From here, what happens next, with slight variation, depends on the establishment. At the Taj West End, you’re told (not asked) to dismount and walk your bicycle to the parking area where other cars and motorized bikes are parked.

In fact, the Taj West End in this reporter’s experience, is relatively receptive of cyclists. Though one does wonder why they don’t allow cyclists to go through the security barrier and park somewhere closer to the hotel, at a location visible to all guests, hence lending some credence to much touted corporate mantras of being environmentally sensitive.

But how naive. Most cycles in the city belong to labourers, and those black doodh-wala cycles would look so ugly against the elegant entrance to the main lobby. Now, if only everyone rode Treks and Schwinns, perhaps attitudes might be different.

When compared to the Leela (Airport Road), the West End experience is like a red carpet. This author, along with several other city cyclists have been turned away at the pearly gates of the "7-star" on the laughable pretext of security. One particular incident a few months ago provoked an angry outpouring of opinions among Bangalore’s net-savvy, cycling enthusiasts on blogs and a popular social networking site, forcing an apology from the Leela management. It remains unanswered as to what their current policy is towards cyclists, or what stories remain untold from those without access to twitter.

Steep trek to get out of the cycle parking area at Sigma Mall. The positive is, it’s free. Pic: Kanishka Lahiri.

Similar stories abound at other venues as well. The Chancery on Residency Road refuses entry to cyclists through the "Entry" gate, and forces them to enter through the "Exit" gate, putting them at risk against oncoming traffic. What purpose is served is not clear, since you still end up parking your cycle in the same area that’s been designated for motorbikes.

UB City security guards are a picture of comic confusion when faced with the question of what to do with a cyclist customer. F&Bs, a restaurant off St Marks Road, makes you park your cycle in a basement that stinks, and is overflowing with water, while cars get to park right in front of the restaurant.

Museum Inn on Church Street has cycle parking, but good luck extricating your bike from the entangled mass of metal that is the cramped space at the end of an evening. Most city malls have designated cycle parking, aimed at the dozens of employees who cycle to work. But more often than not, these are in the dankest, darkest, and most inaccessible parts of the parking structure.

Cycle parking at Sigma Mall is in the deepest, darkest corner of the basement. The well lit car parking area is a stark contrast. Pic: Kanishka Lahiri.

A troubling aspect of the Leela debate which took place almost entirely online is that a small number of netizens, offended by the socially divisive treatment meted out by the Leela, were quite easily able to extract an apology and force a policy rethink from the Leela management.

One wonders how many thousands of cyclists, who have no access to the internet, or aren’t otherwise equipped to make their opinions reach the headlines, silently suffer the indignity of being at the bottom of the caste system of Bangalore traffic. It’s also hard to blame the security guards for their attitude. They have been brainwashed by a system that teaches us that respect needs to be directly proportional to the size of the vehicle you drive, and the opacity of its tinted glass windows. Where courtesy crosses the line into obsequiousness, it’s almost certainly driven by fear rather than respect.

Chances that a powerful person, the sort who could get you into trouble with your employer, would ride up on a bicycle are so minute, that it gives you enough wiggle room to throw your weight around a little bit.

It’s time for facilities management teams across the city, as well as civic authorities to recognize that commercial and residential spaces that offer any kind of parking, should provide clean, safe, and free bicycle parking.

It’s also time for cyclists who have the opportunity to be heard, to make demands on behalf of all cyclists (not just those who frequent luxury hotels), to make Bangalore a more cyclist friendly city.

It would be a powerful green statement from 5-star hotels if they provided a conspicuous bicycle parking rack at their entrances (for use by both employees and customers). It would not only go a long way in demonstrating their commitment to the environment and this city; it would also help in a tiny way, rectify the disturbingly discriminatory way our society views its members based on the form of transport they use.

7 Comments

  1. Private properties like Hotels (whatever star rating) are not obligated to entertain anyone and everyone with a wish to use its facilities. Why should they allow you? Like everyone, I think you should also protest on a Sunday morning in front of the Gandhi statue and take it from there.

  2. In your enthusiasm to make a case for cyclists, you’ve made it seem as if anyone driving a BMW has got to be uncourteous and arrongant. Is that fair, I wonder.

  3. Taking forward from Chandrakanth, the Vivanta noticeboard reminded me of the movie Mard with Amitabh Bachchan where the Brits put a board, ‘No dogs and Indians allowed’

  4. Extremely sad. While one sees where they’re coming from, but the fact that most of these orgs are not ready to break the mould if just for the publicity is quite disheartening. And this is for the Tatas, arguably amongst the more enlightened groups in the country.

    Otoh, it just spells out the priorities and choices we as a species have picked. We’re pretty much ready to kill ourselves, and definitely ready to sacrifice future generations, for a little bit of what we see as convenience.

  5. My only experience with 5 star cycle parking was at the ITC Gardenia. I was asked to park in a dark dingy place in the basement with no place to secure my bicycle. So, I came back to the swank portico, stood my ground and parked my bicycle right next to entrance. Though it took a while, ITC to their credit let it happen. I did follow up with a written complaint which was eventually answered. But, my bicycle is no doodh-wala type. And I make it a point to wear riding gear – cycling shorts, jersey, helment and gloves. That makes a whale of difference in attitude from pedestrians, fellow motorists and security personnel at various buildings/malls/hotels etc.

  6. Thanx Kanishka for the well researched article. It is apartheid of a different kind. the britishers snobbery is left out in these remnants. Hope the authorities wake up and provide equal treatment if not more to the cyclists. I would prefer a higher treatment because, cyclists cause no harm to fellow citizens.
    chandrakant

  7. Tks. for this brilliant and hard hitting piece, Kanishka. Most apartment complexes (large or small) are similar – even if you own a flat there!

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