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Saturday, October 2, 2010

Namma Bengaluru!

                       “ Today’s today
                              is tomorrow’s yesterday,
                                   throw not into
                                         the bottomless pit of past
                                                memories of the present,
                                                      for past shapes the future
                                                           and future revisits the past......”

My Bengaluru with all its grace, charm, lush greenery (as compared to other cities) and salubrious - though deteriorating - climate kindles love, admiration and loyalty conjuring up visions of contentment, romance and fantasies. I always say proudly that I was born and brought up in Bengaluru. But a wee-bit of hesitancy creeps in when I try to add in the same breath that I live in Bengaluru! Not because of my failing love for the city but because of its transformation into a characterless, soul-less mess, concrete jungle passing of as a city.

My Bengaluru of the past had earned envious sobriquets like ‘garden city’, ‘air-conditioned city’, ‘pensioners’ paradise’, etc. It had an inspiring and attractive character of love, hospitality, amity and communal harmony. Social and cultural interactions were varied and interesting. The pomp and pageantry associated with the celebration of Ganesha and Ram Navami festivals were to be seen to be believed. The color, gaiety and enthusiasm of Sankranthi are missing now. The enjoyable classical music programs and enlightening Harikathas in the evenings are rare. But the incomparable Ram Navami functions at Fort High School, Chamarajpet hold fort even today. Perhaps among the last remaining religio-cultural links with our hoary past.

Today, Bangaloreans have been swamped by materialism and consumerism. The city has grown way beyond its capacity. The four corner stones erected by Kempe Gowda marking Bengaluru’s boundaries have been engulfed and are part of the city’s center now. They are mere remnants of a by-gone era and objects of nostalgic memories. The present-day old areas of Malleswaram, Chamarajpet and Basavanagudi were prime localities. Jayanagar had just then come off the drawing boards. The City Improvement Trust Board (CITB), now BDA, was proudly flaunting this extension as one of the best in Asia. And unimaginably, one could go and select a site of his/her choice and get it allotted without any fuss or typical bureaucratic delays. No lost files or coffee breaks! My father got an interior site allotted instead of the one facing a main road. People preferred quiet environs and a leisurely life.

Bengaluru’s tryst with the future began in the eighties. It was during R.K.Hegde’s tenure as Chief Minister that Bengaluru started exploding and outsiders flocked the city. The resultant boom was accompanied by an insatiable demand for sites and houses. Unscrupulous real estate developers and housing societies cashed in on the situation much like hungry wolves devouring a fallen prey. The alien and dreadful yuppie culture changed the people and their lifestyles. The infrastructure development has not kept pace with the rapid growth. People are burdened with power and water shortages, traffic-choked roads, ever-increasing pollution and other ills that afflict most unplanned, urban concrete jungles. The crime rate is soaring, notwithstanding the protestations and white-washed statistics dished out by the police.

Sri. R.K.Hegde was also responsible for the industrialization and crass commercialization of Bengaluru. But he showed a lot of interest in preserving greenery. It goes to Hegde’s credit that many tree planting schemes were launched and we must thank him for whatever little greenery we see today. You only have to climb atop any high-rise building, now very common, and look at Bengaluru to enjoy the enthralling sight. Bengaluru South appears greener with lot of coconut trees dotting the area. Yes, coconut trees were a rage then and each proud site-owner had to have at least two of them ignoring the dangers they posed to his house. Many roads were also widened during the eighties. I wept when the majestic, huge trees that lined the (present) K.R.Road from National College to Kuvempu Kalakshetra (the then Sanjaya Theatre) were felled to make way for a double road. Come to think of it, the surveying for K.R.Road south of Netakallappa Circle began during 1975 and the road was laid much later. It is interesting to recollect that once even the Avenue road was open to two-way traffic. Today, you cannot even freely walk along this busy thoroughfare. In the early days autorickshaws were rare. Cycles and jutkas constituted the chief mode of transport. An odd car here and there would draw curious glances. Inexplicably, cycle rickshaws could never make a mark on Bengaluru’s roads. Traffic policemen were rare, in fact, non-existent. For the present, one-way traffic lanes and underpasses and elevated expressways appear to be the only solutions to ever-increasing vehicular-problems. And no viable solutions appear to curtail pollution, not to mention our pathetic traffic sense and road rage.

There were no bland traffic islands then. Circles with decorative grills and color-lighted water fountains and flowering plants lent variety, color and lively contrast to black asphalted road surfaces (before the gates of Lal Bagh, at the Minerva junction (J.C. Road), near Town Hall junction, etc). The only fountains we can see now are near the Kempe Gowda statue (opposite the Corporation offices). Sadly, they are also not operational and nobody seems to care!

Today selfishness, commercial interests and the filth of lucre are blinding us to the slow destruction of Bengaluru. The yuppie Bangalorean has disposable income and disposable morality too! Plastic money has made the yppies crazy. Count the number of posh clubs, elite bars and dance rooms and you can dwell upon the rootless culture that has hijacked the city. The IT BT effect has had it's casualties. The innocent Bangalorean has become extinct!

The malls and huge commercial complexes with gleaming facades, the multi-storeyed apartments, bars, restaurants and dance clubs are all alienating us from a rich and glorious past that some conservatives say is to be treasured and enriched, not to be frittered away. The mushrooming mini-temples on parks and footpaths ominously portend the communal divide and dangers of the insane games of religious one-upmanship indulged in by the hawks in different communities. Gone are the soothing tree-lined boulevards, ubiquitous parks, beautiful blooming mayflower trees, awe-inspiring jacarandas and lilting musical tweets of birds. The parks, natural lakes, wonderful boulevards and even play-grounds are encroached upon with impunity, obviously in connivance with the authorities. The site of Jayanagar Shopping Complex was a sprawling playground. The glory of vibrant childhood life has mysteriously disappeared. Children are no more interested in playing Kabbaddi, Chinni-dandu, Lagori or Ice-spice. Neither do they go outing on cycles to Vasanthapura, Bannerghatta, Ramohalli (Big Banyan Tree) or Hesaraghatta. They are either busy watching television or studying hard to satisfy their parents’ aspirations. The playing children on roads and in open grounds during evenings, their thunderous claps, their smiles and echoing laughter, their childish pranks and the joy of colorful, fun-filled playtime are also among my most cherished memories. The absence of this particularly electrifying aspect in a child’s life in Bengaluru now is indeed depressing and disconcerting. For, today’s children are Bengaluru’s future planners and protectors. What are they learning? Are we leaving for them a city worth living in? Is there hope and promise in their future? I dread the thoughts of later years when Bangaloreans may curse the city without realizing that Bengaluru was once indeed beautiful and lively.

The increasing crime rate trying to steal a march over the rapidly expanding city is a challenge to administrators. The deteriorating infrastructure and lack of maintenance will lead to a collapse. But, the much admired “adjust maadkolli” way of life of the Bangalorean has made him an antique piece in a city flooded with outsiders. The Metro Rail when and if it starts operating is expected to provide relief to harried road users who spend hours trying to wriggle out of traffic snarls. The changing weather and rain pattern is a cause for worry. The inundation of vast tracts of Bengaluru during rains does point to the encroachment of lakes and raja kaluves. But, those who man the city’s infrastructure are busy swallowing monies meant for development.

Surely, urbanization has it’s shortcomings. But how big a price are we paying for progress and development? The answer to that lies buried in the womb of the future!