Bouquets and brickbats for Bangalore

Inspite of many problems, the city continues to draw people from outside. Shivani Shah talks to some recent and not-so-recent newcomers to find out why they came and what they feel about the city.

Civilisations have seen the rise and fall of great empires and cities. In the times of yore, areas of mass congregation were seen mainly in close proximity to water bodies – oceans and rivers, which made navigation and trade and communication possible, like the Harappan civilisation. In recent times though, with the advancement of technology and communication, a completely a different set of factors determine why people move from one city to another.

Every large city has distinct characteristics that set it apart from any other concrete jungle no matter how uniform they may seem otherwise. On the face of it, the reasons that brings people to a city may be more or less the same – opportunities, marriage, education and so on. But for those wanting to settle down in a city, perhaps it is a permutation of characteristic traits at work. What is it then that attracts people to Bangalore, or Bengaluru, and sets it apart from any other metro?

This ‘City of Gardens’ was once replete with green patches and dotted with lakes. In fact, even about 10 years ago – the city was seen as a ‘pensioner’s paradise’. “A little green town” says Namita Rajnikant, mother of a three-year-old and a business manager at a global consulting firm who moved into Bangalore around the time. Work opportunities brought her here then, and over time she has seen the city rapidly undergo change.

In the very recent past, this has given way to concretisation and the emergence of one of the biggest IT cities in the world. “Now you can feel the hustle and bustle,” says Namita. On the development front as it were, it seems like a welcome change to some. “The city has created a platform for people who are new to the city… there are cafes, theatre has come up in a big way. Look at Rangashankara for example. People have quite willingly accepted these changes, which has not only benefited individuals but also the city as a whole,” Namita adds.

Yet, not everyone would agree.

“Friendly? Or accepting? Just the contrary, in fact,” says Veerashri Chitale, a fashion designer. Like others, Veerashri came here following her career. “It’s great how despite the crazy pace of development, they (the authorities) have managed to keep the city clean and green. But unfortunately, that wouldn’t make me stick around here if I had a choice. For all that it has to offer, it lacks basic amenities… the traffic is a tragic situation, the buses are in a shoddy state, electricity, water… you name it,” she adds as switches TV channels, something she enjoys after a hard days work.

Setting up her apartment in this busier part of the city (Indiranagar) came with a whole load of experiences. Veerashri feels after having lived in other cities, the willingness of people here to accept newcomers is completely absent. “When a city develops, some of this is inevitable, but beyond a point there needs to be some planning if you are expecting to be attracting people to a place.” She concludes her “bouquets and brickbats” before breaking into her usual chirpy self, that fits well into her profession that involves designing clothes and knick-knacks for little ones.

I ruminate over this on an autorickshaw ride… and suddenly realise the ease with which the driver bursts into Hindi. Quite promptly stare onto the driver’s details pinned behind his seat before questioning him about what got him here and what really he likes about the city. “Idhar to gaadi thik se nahin chalata hain, par thik hain rickshaw chalane mein kuch kamai ho jati hai,” (No one drives properly here, but I can earn a little something with my rickshaw). Lakshmi Prasad grins. He has been here just over a year. And if you are one of those who depend on autos, you’ll know precisely what he means.

It’s difficult to find anyone who’d disagree on these pitfalls, but Puneet Sayal, a lead designer at a major software firm feels otherwise. He came here some four years ago and has grown to love the city. “Yes, people are not always friendly, but that’s probably because I am meeting all the very wrong people. But then over time we tend to insulate ourselves from that which is unpleasant or avoidable.” Sayal has an easy-going approach, and he seems the ‘adjust maadi’ type. “If you ask me, it’s quite the same everywhere, things don’t get much better, so you just make the most of the place and the situation.” That probably is why he has settled here in this city of opportunity.

Parag Shah, CEO at a technology firm, moved in with his wife Sujata and children for the very same reason – ‘Opportunity’. “Travelling has become a big concern, the traffic is insane and the cost of living has gone up tremendously, otherwise it’s a nice cosmopolitan city with people concerned with their own affairs. That’s something I really appreciate, people not being nosy.” (Shah is comparing Bangalore to smaller towns like Ahmedabad). He takes a deep breath as he is settles comfortably on his sofa on a beautiful Saturday afternoon, smiles and adds, “And the weather of course, who doesn’t like that?”

Sujata on the other hand tells me how the city was a laid back, sleep-by-nine place that has undergone tremendous change. Now driving at late nights is not just as safe, she squirms in her pretty Fab India attire looking in the distant and thinking of the days when she would hop into a car to go out pubbing. “We moved in here just a few years back (2001) and within this short span, we’ve lost a number of lakes in Jayanagar alone. Land sharks have taken over the lakes, illicit construction is proliferating.”

Sujata is aware of the impacts. She notes that the water table has gone down drastically the city can no longer meet the water requirements of a rapidly growing population. She remembers how two or three years ago, when the water levels in the Cauvery had gone down significantly, there was a concern as to where the water should be directed, since both agriculture and the city require it. She worries about the green lungs like Cubbon Park that has roads running right through it, and efforts needed to revive lakes or replant trees. “We’re going to be in for some big trouble,” her face contorts as her background in architecture explains it all.

You’d agree if you had seen the construction of the Mysore road and the ongoing widening on NH-7. Old trees, new ones all under the blow of the axe. Trees are hacked and not uprooted in a way that they could be replanted. Widening seems to be a booming business, albeit a short-term one. I understand from the workers employed in widening, that fuelwood from the cut trees is an added advantage..

It appears as though the city has grown at too rapid a pace. Crime rate has gone up drastically and safety is a big concern. Some restaurants prefer to close early and shopkeepers express their woes over having to give up their little showcases. “I’ve had some terrible first hand experiences while setting up the Bandhej saree shop at Indira Nagar, on the 100 feet road,” says Sujata. Namita feels no different, for she no longer feels safe to take cabs in the wee hours of the morning. There is a perceptible feeling of uneasiness. There are also worries about goons lurking to get their hands on prime property.

Such concerns are held by a wider range of citizens than it would appear. Raj, an expressive potter says, “That’s one reason I prefer selling pots and little urns on carts even though it requires a lot of legwork.” He has not setup a shop in part to avoid the growing expenses of land labour. “But then it’s not like I can drop everything and leave. I’ve come here with the responsibility of having to send back money to my family in Dharwad,” says Raj, on the way to Ulsoor.

And for those who haven’t borne the brunt of the change, the writing is on the wall, quite literally. City walls carry angry messages that read “Stop the crime and land mafia”, “No to SEZs”, “Garbage and dogs have become a menace” amongst others. And everyone wants to “Save Bangalore” from the current direction in which it is moving. “A struggle to move on, while holding onto the past,” in Namita’s words, something strangely nice about it…

In the process of this transformation Bangalore appears to have gained as much as has been lost it. As a newcomer to the city, I speak to those like myself to get a sense of what this city has to offer, and in nooks and crannies, I look for my own niche.

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