Monday, August 04, 2008

The coming of the roads

Hundreds of hoardings across the city state without preamble or explanation: "I believe in Bangalore… because Bangalore is in my DNA."

I can't quarrel with the second part but I'm not sure what we're supposed to be believing in – the metro that's taken longer to build than whole cities have? Or the indiscriminate granting of building permits so that green expanses turn overnight into forests of apartment buildings? Should I worry instead that my long walks yield not one quiet lane in what used to be the city's most picturesque suburb? Should I be glad that the peripheral ring road is almost ready when it means that by this time next year the farmland, eucalyptus groves and wild grass on either side of it will have become "tech parks" and gated communities?

Yesterday, when my Dad and I drove down it to see how far it's come, it was a beautiful, soothing drive. Next month, the goatherd we slowed down for will be honking at us from behind the wheel of a Ford Explorer, having sold his paddock for untold sums to somebody who wants to build an expensive row of identical haciendas called Casa Del Dancing Butterfly.

It's hard to tell what is right and what is wrong. On the one hand, the goatherd deserves his turn at the SUV, the solar water heater, the plasma TV. On the other hand where does it end?

The butterflies have precious little to dance about, but they seem to be doing it anyway in my parents' garden. I'm told they are pests – they lay eggs in the leaves and the caterpillars destroy the plant when they hatch. Perhaps that's why they're dancing. My parents seem to be philosophical about it; there are certainly no pesticides in sight.

But you can't deny the vastly improved public transport and roads. The perceptible lifting of middle-class poverty. The sense of optimism in the vast numbers of young people swarming up and town the tower blocks that could be in any city in the world. The IT kids, the BPO boys and girls, the frequent rags to riches stories that strengthen the ideal of democracy. These children deserve to enjoy their new cars and swanky flats, the Tag Heuer watches, Body Shop lotions and Smirnoff Ice, just as much as the goatherd his own version of prosperity.

Meanwhile, here in this corner of Whitefield - as perhaps in other corners around the city - neighbours still visit each other. Club members still meet to play cards. Long-standing residents like my mom and dad still extract exemplary service from garbage collectors, road workers and policemen through sheer force of personality. The baker, or rather a baker, a butcher and a kebab-maker still greet me as the kid who was sent to the shops with a list by her mother.

Then there was shisha last night, on a rooftop in the rain, two bottles of very drinkable Indian Shiraz, a highly hospitable "sports bar". And three new friends, with easy conversation that felt as if'd known them a long time. Because we're old Bangaloreans and for us, this is still Bangalore, where an impulsive drink on a Sunday evening will always have strangers at the table, included without fuss or ceremony.

Maybe Bangalore now is only in our DNA. The gleaming towers and glittering lights spread out prettily below us belong to another, more hopeful city, a new era called Bengaluru. I want a piece of it myself.

The Coming of the Roads, Peter Paul & Mary, Album: Songs of Conscience & Concern, 1999


Anonymous said...


Anonymous said...

You may not realize Meens, but we actually look forward to more of Bangalore (and your writing in general).. pow away on your keyboard maan and keep it coming!

Ruchi said...


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