Most Saturday afternoons, I’m either in the office thinking about the earliest I could get out of work, or somewhere up a hill, driving the wheels off a car on a winding road. Saturdays are monotonous, even for a petrolhead. But not this Saturday. Today, I find myself in Bengaluru in an unnatural situation. I land at Bengaluru airport where the Honda Jazz automatic is waiting for me, and I’ve got one task. Drive to town and party. Life’s tough.
Honestly, there couldn’t be a better way to usher in the weekend, with a car like the Jazz waiting for you in a new city and all evening to explore. Partying isn’t my thing though. I like music, good music, live music, variety in music, yet I’m far from a music connoisseur. And in Bengaluru, I don’t know where to go. Thankfully, there’s one girl who knows, and she summons me to Indiranagar, a suburb in Bengaluru that’s known for its nightlife. Meet Mana Santhanam, the girl with three jobs, the third being moonlighting as a singer. Mana’s day job is of a customisation artist, specifically making some really cool personalised shoes. She also writes and designs websites. As the sun sets, she picks up the microphone and croons with her band, in the IT capital and occasionally in cities across South East Asia. In many ways, Mana embodies the Jazz owner. She has an active and dynamic lifestyle. Exactly the kind of lifestyle that this Honda hatchback would complement. Not to forget that she also has to move around through what is not just the country’s IT capital but also a top contender for India’s traffic jam capitals.
Bengaluru traffic. Sigh. Kids of this generation have been born in traffic. They probably won’t know any better about open roads and short commutes during the daytime. What a world we live in right now. It’s for times like these that automatic gearboxes are made. In the Jazz, that CVT is just perfect. I’ve been told that there will be a lot of driving involved because Mana has a few places on her list that we’d have to visit to give a good representation of the music scene in Bengaluru. In that traffic with a manual ’box, I’d be cursing my luck.
Out of the airport, you get a nice highway to get to the city, and in evening traffic, I was keen to make good use of the paddleshifters, keep the 1.2-litre i-VTEC on the boil to get me to Indiranagar quickly, and the Jazz obliged. Light controls, great suspension, a nice large view of the surroundings through the big greenhouse of the Jazz, the commute was stress free. I particularly like the front seats of the Jazz, well contoured and supportive, which is great over a long drive, and through the broken roads of Bengaluru. The city is getting a major infrastructure overhaul, and that means the roads have had to take a beating. Most developing Indian cities are facing this problem, so it is good that we have a rugged hatchback like theJazz to deal with it. I am here for a fun night, and that should not involve breaking my back. Weaving through the city, we got to Indiranagar almost two hours later and picked up Mana. And she had to break in the bad news first.
“Let’s first go to Brigade road.” Indiranagar may be the hotspot for nightlife in Bengaluru, but it wasn’t always like that. MG road and Brigade road used to be the places to be on a Saturday night, and Blue Frog is just off Brigade road. So Mana was of the idea that we start from there, which meant that I basically had to drive back for about half an hour if the traffic moved and I was lucky. In the last decade when dance bars and discotheques began to fall out of favour (even the non-shady ones), live performances at pubs and restaurants took over to keep everyone entertained. The DJ gained more prominence and while Blue Frog hosts a lot of events at their venue, starting with electronic music and a pint seemed like a fitting way to kick off our Saturday night. Not for me though, I was the designated driver that you always need on a Saturday night. I’d pick driving to drinking any day. Blue Frog had three DJs lined up but I was keen on a short drive around town to give me an idea of where to go when I’m back here another time, before that live act we were to witness later in the night.
The Jazz has been a huge hit for Honda globally. Its predecessor gave us fantastic Japanese engineering coupled with a smooth petrol engine and a slick gearbox. Honda went one up with the next generation Jazz, slipping in the diesel engine too. That’s opened the Jazz up to a wider audience as the car is perfect for a weekend roadtrip with all that space in the cabin and the boot. But what the Jazz essentially is, is a great city car, and its best variant for the city is the one with the automatic gearbox. It makes my life so much simpler driving through Bengaluru’s streets as I don’t have to bother about shifting gears at all. The Sports mode is great for a quick overtaking move and you can always stay in the powerbandwith a tug of the paddle. Cities like Bengaluru need a Jazz, as I was finding out through my evening.
So off Brigade road, you loop past a couple of blocks to get to Hard Rock Cafe, a chain of restaurants you all have heard of. HRC in Bengaluru hosts quite a few gigs every month. American cuisine, some great rock music and away from the chaos of the rest of the city, HRC is the place to go if you want to move away from the chaos. It’s just off MG road, and because the metro line is constructed and the roads are wide, it’s an easier life here. You drive along the metro line for the next few minutes till you reach Trinity circle as the musical tour took us from HRC to Humming Tree in Indiranagar. The quickest way is through the old airport road and then through Defence colony.
“I wish you came a night earlier, Nitro was playing.” Mana is a metal fan and drummer, Chris Adler of the famous metal band, Lamb of God, was playing. We missed this one. Nevertheless, Humming Tree is one of those places you have to go to when in Bengaluru. The live acts are always the most interesting, and every artist that performs here is cherry picked. The best bands play at Humming Tree usually. Humming Tree is a couple of lanes away from B-Flat, our final destination for the night, and Mathangi Jagdish is performing some original numbers.
For those who don’t know Mathangi, or Ma.Ja as she is known famously, she is a vocalist who has lent her voice for legendary composers Ilaiyaraaja and AR Rehman, has performed for Coke Studio and is an accomplished playback singer with over 450 songs to her credit. Guess what, she also sings Jazz. About two years ago, Ma.Ja launched her pet project Bollywood and All That Jazz at B-Flat and she was back for her next launch, this Saturday, called Songversations. We get to B-Flat, and take the elevator to the third floor where the bar is, I open the glass door and I’m welcomed to Georgia On My Mind. You hear Ma.Ja perform a Ray Charles classic and that sums up the musical taste of Bengaluru. There’s something for everyone, from EDM to jazz and even carnatic music, everything has its own place and following here. Metal bands find a great audience too, and just like Sandra, who started as a choir singer, Mana Santhanam is part of The Choral Riff choir.
Musicians collaborate a lot. Bryden-Parth for example, a cross-genre band performs with Mana. Then there’s the Quad, the band Ma.Ja performed with at B-Flat. The Quad (short for Quadruple) has Osi Gomango, one of the most talented bass guitarists in the country, Jeoraj Stanley on drums, Joshua Costa’s magic with the keys and Sanjay Chandrakanth on guitar, team up with Ma.Ja on a set of originals she was performing for the first time at B-Flat. Ma.Ja has written the songs herself and that too in three languages – English, Hindi and Tamil, showing the versatility of the artist.
Speaking of versatility, we get out of B-Flat to just about call it a night. The vibe of Bengaluru was getting to me in a positive way. Its got a nice laid back lifestyle and people who visit the venues that conduct live acts are quite knowledgeable about the genres and the artists. The music is the focus and everything around it blends in beautifully.
After all the jazz and originals we just heard, it was time for one final drive in the Honda Jazz, to the background of some more jazz. The music system in the Jazz is quite nice and because it has such an airy cabin, the musical experience is a lot more pleasing. The roads around midnight are so much better too and we discover that the naturally aspirated engine under the hood is peppy when you want it. Traffic thins down to finally stretch the Honda’s legs and I’m back to the hotel in no time for a good night’s rest after a quick musical tour around town. The variety of music in Bengaluru, access to some fantastic talent and a nice drive to end the day; Saturday couldn’t get any better.