…Wherefore art thou not Bangalore!
Every time I go to Bengaluru on a visit, I return to Sydney with a part of my old Bangalore soul lost in its big smoke.
Born and bred in Bangalore, I migrated to Australia in 1995 (about 22 years ago) and have watched it changing, from the sideline, with mixed feelings of awe and dismay.
I grew up in Bangalore during its halcyon days when it was affectionately called the “Garden City of India”, “Air-conditioned City of India” or “Pensioner’s Paradise”. There was so much of green canopy above Bangalore in those days. The streets were lined with spectacular gulmohar trees in full bloom. Less road traffic and pollution, less population. Life was simple and uncomplicated with no stress. Kahan gaye woh din? Where have those days gone?
So, what has changed in Bengaluru in all those years?
The name, for starters. Bengaluru has shrugged off its colonial Anglicised name, Bangalore, and gone back to its original name, Bengaluru. Fair enough!
The biggest change I have noticed is the rise of the mobile phones and its associated apps! When I left Bangalore for the sunny shores of Sydney, there was no mobile service in India but now every man and his dog seems to have it! This is one item that both and rich and poor can claim to possess. On my last visit, I saw a street beggar checking his mobile phone on his break! Indians have taken to social media and technology as a duck would take to water. Facebook and WhatsApp are now the lifelines for social interaction without which Bengaluru would be paralysed. India is now the largest user of Facebook in the world, having displaced USA. Some would argue that India has far more mobile phones per capita than toilets. Hey! Mobile calls are far more important than nature’s call. LOL.
Bengaluru’s transformation in the last two decades is mainly due to the IT sector, which took off with a bang. Bengaluru is called the “Silicon Valley of India” and every IT company in the world, worth its salt, has a presence here lured by its talent and low-cost operation.
Bengaluru’s population has exploded to 12.3 million today from a modest 4.7 million since my days, in 1995. People from all corners of India and also from foreign countries have migrated to Bengaluru, making it a true metropolis Babel, with so many languages spoken.
Kempegowda, the founder of Bengaluru, had erected four towers in the four corners to mark the boundaries of his town. Now, Bengaluru has grown much beyond those markers and even I feel like an outsider when I visit Bengaluru and have to ask for directions to go to a suburb I have never heard of.
The Public Utility Building on MG Road was the only tall structure sticking out like a sore thumb amongst bungalows, when I was growing up. Now, Bengaluru is littered with high rises which have mushroomed with names such as Whispering Grove or Rolling Meadows in the midst of heavy traffic and slums.
Traffic congestion, noise and air pollution are the big banes in the lives of Bengalurians. In the good old days, cars were few and far between. Fiat and Ambassador ruled the roads with Maruti Suzuki, the upstart, making inroads. Now, the pot-holed roads are groaning under the weights of thousands of cars of every make, model and hue. With rapid growth comes urban problems. Bengaluru’s infrastructure has unfortunately not kept pace with the population and traffic growth. Insufficient roads, dismal urban planning, inadequate public transport, water and power shortages, Namma Metro construction which seems to be never-ending are adding to the woes of daily commute lives.
With incomes and disposable wealth on the rise and goaded by middle class lifestyle aspirations to be satisfied, trendy shopping malls, speciality shops, cafes and restaurants have spawned all over the place compared to the only departmental store, Nilgiris, I had during my growing up days.
The cuisine scene has also changed dramatically. The only foreign cuisine available in the past was the “Indian Chinese” for which I would regularly haunt Rice Bowl on Brigade Road. Nowadays, cuisines from all over the world and cultures are conveniently available.
The desire to mimic “Western” culture seems to be catching on especially with fast food and lifestyles. The greasy tentacles of McDonalds, Pizza Hut, and Dominoes have firmly gripped it in a stranglehold. Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Valentines Day etc which were unheard of two decades ago are all the rage. I won’t be surprised if Thanksgiving Day and Halloween get added to the list. Live-in or pre-marital relationships are on the rise.
But the most painful part for me is to find all the landmarks I grew up around disappear one by one; my parks, playgrounds, shops, cinemas, restaurants, etc have been razed to the ground to give way to skyscrapers, shopping malls, multiplex cinemas, glitzy restaurants etc. It feels like someone is chipping away at my heart, bit by bit. Or maybe I’m just drowning myself silly in nostalgia.
Did you know that Bengaluru has its own Opera House? Built by the British, it still stands on its grounds on Brigade Road. I have seen countless cinemas in it and I was almost born there. LOL. Legend goes that my pregnant mother was watching a show in it when the labour pains started and she had to be rushed off to the nearby hospital.
I am resigned to comforting my aching heart with the thought that there are still pockets of Bengaluru remaining where time has stood still and is untouched by “progress” but with the gentle reminders from the incessant ringing mobile phones around me that these pockets are like inmates on a death row waiting for their day of execution.
Don’t cry for me Bengaluru!