This ain’t no technological breakdown / Oh no, this is the road to hell. Chris Rea.
My wife and I moved to Bangalore from Calcutta 20 years ago. The reasons were not far to seek. The much-vaunted salubrious climate of Bangalore (if you are not prone to allergies), the relatively slower pace of life and a real chance, in troubadour Van Morrison’s words, ‘to smell the sea and feel the sky.’ There is, of course, no sea as far as the eye can see in and around Bangalore, but you could always ‘stop and smell the roses.’ At this point, I must make it clear that even 20 years ago, Bangalore no more resembled a sleepy hill-station than it does today. The tell-tale signs of rapacious progress were all too evident. Everybody wanted to come and live in Bangalore, the trendiest, snazziest El Dorado in India. Friends and relatives from out of town, en route to Ooty or Kody, invariably stopped for a couple of days to shop or ‘hang out’ in Bangalore’s vaunted pub joints.
A quick word about Calcutta. Irony of ironies, since we moved, Calcutta has become a more liveable city than it was during my 40 years’ residence there. Whether this was owing to industries moving out of the city en masse, thereby inversely providing cleaner air or simply better governance, is anybody’s guess. Nevertheless I have to put up with frequent ‘I told you so’ barbs from my friends in the City of Joy who were loath to see us go.
Bangalore isn’t quite the hell hole it is being made out to be. It is worse. In the name of progress and ultimate benefit for our children (and our children’s children), we are being made to pay a heavy price in terms of quality of life. If benefits are ultimately going to accrue, it may very well take the amount of time for our children’s children to make an appearance. Present residents can forget about driving comfortably over flyovers, underground tunnels, clockwork traffic signals, ample parking space and smooth Metro trains ferrying us to the sleek, ultra-modern airport. Or as Yul Brynner said in ‘The King and I’, ‘etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.’
If that somewhat orotund introduction to what was intended to be a frustrated rant on civic conditions in Bangalore went ‘all over the place’, I crave your indulgence. As a writer, I have to spin things out a bit. If I had merely written one short sentence, ‘Bangalore is the pits,’ and key in Finis under it, you would not have been best pleased. It might have been succinct, on point and endorsed Shakespeare’s aphorism of brevity being the soul of wit. On the other hand, my legion of fans (about 5 in number when I last checked), would have looked askance and gone off their morning breakfast. You’ve got to keep the fans happy. If I keep at it, my blog administrators assure me my readership during the coming year could double dramatically to 10! That’s what keeps me going.
So where was I? Yes, the garden city of Bangalore. Some people are beginning to call it the garbage city. All this is most distressing and why are our city slickers getting restless and sending me veiled notes and threats to write something about it? These are of course drawn from those 5 fans I talked about, but they do represent a decent sample size to accurately reflect the grumpy dissatisfaction of a larger section of the populace. I shall now proceed to try and list out some of the typical problems that we tax paying citizens of Bangalore face, day in and day out – with no relief in sight.
Lawless and disorderly. The traffic lights system in our beloved city appears to have a mind of its own. Sometimes it operates automatically, other times the traffic police decide to take matters in hand and keep switching from red to amber to green and back again, as the mood takes them. At certain intersections we wait in our cars for upwards of 7 minutes when, much to our relief, the green light comes on, but in barely 25 seconds it switches back to red again. This could be due to VIP movement, a medical emergency or just the traffic cops deciding things quixotically on the spur of the moment. This arbitrariness has often witnessed drivers going berserk, whizzing through red lights, brazenly driving through ‘No Entry’ roads, driving over footpaths or even the wrong side of the road. It’s literally hell freezing over, if you’re caught up in one of these bottlenecks. I dread to think what happens if a critical patient needs to reach the hospital in double quick time. Chances are he or she will reach his or her heavenly abode much sooner. And forget about drivers using their indicators, because they themselves don’t know which way they will turn.
God save us from two-wheelers. What is it with these two-wheeler terrorists? They appear to have arrogated to themselves the divine right to criss-cross, zig-zag over road dividers, mobile phones hidden under their helmets and the police forever lurking in street corners to accost them with fines, official and unofficial. Nothing deters them. My car side mirror has been repaired six times thanks to two-wheelers yanking them out. Add to this autos, bullock carts, light motor vehicles, jaywalkers, smoke-belching trucks and buses, and you could be walking straight into Dante’s inferno.
No Parking. Where on earth will cars find parking space in Bangalore? Virtually every road is dotted with ‘No Parking’ signs, an injunction that is observed laughably in the breach. All the side roads are thus filled up, and residents merrily hoist sponsored ‘No Parking’ boards in front of their gates which is understandable, but also place obstructive bricks in the common pavement area, which they have no right to do. Pedestrians have no place to walk. In a city like London, pedestrian pavements are much broader than the vehicular roads they abut.
Flyovers, Metros etc. As touched upon briefly, work goes on for an eternity on these flyovers, underground tunnels and Metro rail (between long periods of grinding and masterly inactivity). The pace of work is painfully slow, and almost every other project appears ill-conceived, riddled with legal disputes while self-appointed urban experts write recriminatory reams in the dailies. Net result? We are stuck.
Election preoccupations. The state government seems to be in a perennial state of getting ready for some form of election or by-election. Functionaries are too busy ensuring the elections go off smoothly, round the year. It’s almost as if the elections are an end in themselves. As a result, no one has any time to actually address everyday problems like roads, street lighting and other basic infrastructure needs.
Is there a glimmer of hope in sight? The question is rhetorical.
Footnote: If this piece portrays cops as little more than dummies, fret not. Bangalore’s innovative traffic police have installed giant replicas of themselves all over the city. The purpose is unclear, as the mannequins are not equipped with artificial intelligence. Last heard, a couple of them were found with their dark glasses and white hats missing. If motorists are expected to be fearful of these giant sized cops, I don’t think the objective is being met. However, passers-by and tourists have found a new subject to pose for selfies with.