4 April 2010

'Bangalore-iyat'

I got ‘Bangalored’ sometime in May 2008. As is the case with moving to any big city, I have been trying to come in terms with the city and its populace. The biggest challenge in any Indian city is probably finding your own personal space especially when the concept of personal space is gradually getting obsolete in these over-crowded times.

To most non-South Indians, Bangalore has long been known for its balmy weather – neither scorching heat nor shivering winters irrespective of the time of the year. And yes, it has IISc, HAL, ISRO and a host of other R&D institutions and public sector units of the country which gave it an aura of academics and scholarship in the realms of science and technology. This was much unlike the baniya-like nature of many north Indian cities.

Within first few weeks in the city I realized that this city used to be very different from other Indian metros. It was neither not too small to be called a sleepy small town where everybody knows everybody neither too big like the megalopolises of Bombay or Delhi. And I am sure Bangalore was a beautiful city to live in, offering everything to live an idyllic urban Indian life – till IT screwed it up. This city was never meant for the scale of human migration it has witnessed in the past 2 decades or so. Cities like Bombay have been historically a city populated and built by migrants. That was never the case with Bangalore.

Moreover, the migration in Bangalore has been primarily of the educated professionals seeking white collar jobs in contrast to, say that of Bombay where the first wave of migrants constituted mainly the mill workers of central Bombay. Of course, with every white collar job you have a set of jobs like maid servant, cook, driver etc. created which in turn results in further migration and even more strain on the city.

Coming to what IT has done to Bangalore. The weather of Bangalore is no longer the same which old timers reminisce with a hint of nostalgia. The humidity is at times as bad as Bombay and heat as scorching as Pune if not Delhi. The infrastructure is creaking under the strain of development. Still, after living in about half-a-dozen Indian cities, I can say with reasonable certainty that the civic authorities of Bangalore are much ahead of their counterparts in other Indian metros. As it is generally accepted, corruption is much lesser in Southern India as compared to the rest of India.

After moving to Bangalore, I went through the now-familiar chain of events following my move to any new environment (What they call ‘getting out of comfort zone’) – confusion and bewilderment, repulsiveness and denial, frustration (I-will-leave-this-city-in-another-6-months), acceptance and finally, adaptation. On my very first weekend, I went to MG Road to meet a school friend and to me, the first sight of MG Road/Brigade Road was an anti-climax after all that I had heard about these two places from my buddies in the IT fraternity. Although I never really thought this would be the case, there are quite a few things which I love about Bangalore:

1) The well manicured BBMP gardens in almost all the localities. Bangalore is the first city I have seen where municipality maintains such beautiful gardens. In most of the Indian cities, the ‘uddyaans’ maintained by the municipality, often named after prominent Indian freedom fighters, are in pitiable conditions.
2) The filter kapi in any of the darshinis.
3) The weather is still better than any other Indian city I have lived in.
4) Watching plays on a regular basis at Ranga-Shankara – It’s much more affordable than The Prithvi at Bombay and it’s very close to my place.
5) Gradually and increasingly, the public transport system which I rate next only to Bombay. (Delhi Metro was in its nascent stages when I left Delhi).
6) Just like any other Indian city i.e. Fort of Bombay, Chowringhee of Calcutta, I love the heart of the city which still has some colonial hangover.
Then, of course there are things which I dislike about Bangalore. The first in that list is of course the auto drivers. I share this opinion with many non-natives – most of them are rude, belligerent crooks, in the look-out for easy money assisted by sloth and laziness but not interested in eking out an honourable living. I know that Chennai’s auto-wallahs are worse but that doesn’t make Bangalore's better.
Next will of course, be food. In spite of all the tom-tomming about Bangalore’s cosmposlitan nature, there are very few places in Bangalore where you get good North Indian foods. Yes, there are Bhaiyyas selling chats and samosas in Koramangala and you get good maaru sweets in Jayanagar, but then I have had Aloo Parathas with curry leaves in them.

Surprisingly, I don’t find the much-touted pubs of Bangalore particularly attractive. Except for a select few, I find most of them to be over-priced, snobbish establishments catering to the nouveae riche of the city offering little value-for-money. Again it’s courtesy to the disposable income of the yuppies that such pubs are thriving and making money.

Then, there is the much talked about traffic congestion – yes, we all have heard that it is bad but it’s worse when you experience it first hand. Pretty much in the same way, like crowded second class compartments of Bombay locals – you go there with a mental picture of how bad it can be and it turns out to be worse. Traffic snarls are a given in Bangalore, especially in the IT corridor, which is essentially the South Bangalore.
And like many people of Bangalore, I too believe that building more fly-overs and under-passes is not a panacea to this problem. The solution probably lies in building a viable, economical and practical public transport system.

Lastly, it’s the Night life. Not the kind promoted by The Times of India – pubs to be open till the wee hours of morning etc. For me Night Life is shops, especially eateries being open till 12 in the night, streets not getting deserted after 10:30 pm, availability of public transport even after 11:00 pm.

And yes, the language does exasperates me at times. But then I have never made a conscious effort to learn Kannada. So the mistake is entirely mine. However, as my past experience with many Indian and foreign languages have proven that I am linguistically challenged, I have taken solace in the fact that you can pretty much get around with Hindi and English in most big Indian cities except probably Chennai.

All said and done, I have pretty much come in terms with the city – the traffic, the incomprehensibility, the sheer fact of being an ‘outsider’ and of course, the autowallahs.

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