Once upon a time in Bangalore (as we knew it)

MADHU GOPINATH RAO writes from New York City: With an undeniable laidback charm, not so long ago, Bangalore was your quaint old south Indian city—a pensioner’s paradise and a garden city.

Misty mornings heralded the start of beautiful, often sunny days. Laden with rich aroma of filter coffee, crisp morning air soon displaced this misty blur. The tune of suprabhata would fill the neighbourhoods from someone’s old transistor radio. Close on the heels of milk and newspaper delivery, the ubiquitous darshinis (eateries) readied their fare for the morning commuters. As the suprabhatas turned to news, a steady stream of traffic would fill the roads and the eateries.

Good Morning Bangalore.

Passing the baton, the short-lived ‘peak hour’ bustle, would lead into a warm mid morning calm. As the postman did his rounds, retirees perused the newspapers on their patios, soaking in the morning’s tender sun. Ladies bartered sugar, coffee and gossip standing across the compound walls in the shade of the omnipresent coconut trees. Selling his interesting wares, a hawker or two would often lead to an emergency session of the street Parliament—cartels formed, deals negotiated, decisions made and the news of a good buy reaching the other end of the street in seconds!

Life was easy. The whistle of the pressure cooker, often the spoiler of such fun, ushered the lunch hour. Fresh cooked anna, saaru, palya would fill the noon air. Bon appetite. Lunch made way for a calmer afternoon good till the kids came running home.

Evenings were never dull either: kids playing at street corners; teenagers chatting away endlessly at the front gates; walks on Sampige or Margosa roads; idyllic meetings of seniors in Jayanagar 4th block complex; savoring pani puri at Ramakrishna Ashram or Seshadripuram; the street market bustle of Malleshwaram 8th cross or Gandhi Bazaar, evenings had their share of simplistic fun before a staple of TV and dinner.

There was much to be happy about in this predictable, chaos free simplicity.

Though a generalization, Bangaloreans have always loved simplicity. They take great pride in their simple happiness pursuits. Simple, polite, family oriented are some qualities that are a commonplace in Karnataka as the Bisi bele baath, kodu bale and akki rotti.

Do not let the unassuming simplicity fool you, for quite a few successful people hail from Bangalore—after all, the software boom did not happen by itself.

Even in the most famous of its sons, Kannadigas have a sense of obeisance to an inner discipline and simplicity. To me, a prime example is Anil Kumble: while playing, he is one of the more grittier and determined cricketers our country has seen (remember his fractured jaw strapped into place by a thick bandage, an injured Kumble, returned to claim Brian Lara‘s wicket in the Windies tour of 2002 ), while off the field, he is possibly the nicest, most unassuming person you will meet. Kannadigas bring that attitude and charm to what they do.

The non-stoic stance, the welcoming nature, beautiful weather, abundance of scientific brainpower and the cost arbitrage to outsource led to a steady flow of traffic—of MNCs and software companies, people who wanted to be in these companies, their vehicles and their baggage in tow (emotional and cultural), made a beeline for Bangalore— cumulatively changing it for ever.

This influx led to the software wave, crowning Bangalore as the numero uno of the Indian software hubs—‘The Silicon Valley of India’. This gold rush had not gone unnoticed and there was a huge stream of people trickling into Bangalore from various parts of India. Local businesses and non-local job aspirants alike benefited from this growth and wealth. Seemed like a win-win situation—till it got out of hand. With the crown and the wealth, came woes: uncontained traffic, soaring real estate prices, failing infrastructure and, last but not the least—a melange of people.

Per reliable estimates, only 30 per cent of Bangalore’s residents speak the local language, Kannada, today. The last decade of IT boom that put Bangalore on the global map, also made it a city dominated by non-localites. There is, of course, no justification for saying that any region of India be inhabited by members of one linguistic community only, in case of Bangalore, the Kannadigas (and all its flavors). But often the reality is too twisted to be framed to such idealistic frameworks.

Very many of the new entrants did not do much to help the situation either. For most parts, they chose to live in their own groups, often not blending with the locals or picking up basics of Kannada ; thanks in part to a lack of need for it and, in part due to a misguided sense of linguistic pride — picking up Kannada tantamounting to reduced allegiance to their mother tongue. When in a new city, there is hardly any bad in seeking people who hail from your hometown—it is almost second nature. The problem started when these groups became vocal and abrasive to the extent that it made the locals feel unwelcome in their localities.

Early 1990s set the stage for the future things to come when the discontentment poured into the streets during the Cauveri water disputes . The water dispute was the last straw and a reason. Violence marred the city. Madras returning the favor, just added to the fire. The tension is very much alive even today and flows in the moment water levels in Cauvery recedes.

Like I have stated, many a times: “Politicians are like diapers—almost always full of crap; if not, it’s just a matter of time.” Among these politicians, Karnataka is blessed with the worst of their ilk. Add to this, the woes of traffic congestion, rising real estate prices, bridges and flyovers built where one was not needed and eventually ending up impeding the traffic flow (after construction dragging on for years), IT czars threatening to walk out on the city and the state.

It was chaos.