Hariharan Chandrashekar* looks back with misty eyes at a Bangalore that was as he keeps a wary eye on the City she could potentially be. This column is part of the debate at InsideYourCity, the Distinguished Lecture Series. Make time for a lively (and lovely) coaster ride into the past — and the future — with this blog. Register for free — all you’ve to do is click here.
We don’t like to settle for less. We frown when tissue paper is stuffed at the fine dining table instead of cloth napkin. Yet we accept with such alarming equanimity the gross and criminal misdeeds of our Corporators and MLAs and Ministers on things that impact our lives every day.
We demand so much when it comes to the restaurant or the apartment builder or your tailor who delivers a shoddy job, but accept gross negligence without a whimper when it comes to the Govt.
Then there’s the unique identity of a Bangalorean. We carry a curious umbilical with the city. You sit at a station or airport in another city and you look at the faces around. Instinctively you can make out a Bangalorean. You go out of the city tired and disgusted with the city’s traffic and smog and drivers who’ll overtake from the left or jump the signal or hurl abuses when clearly you know he’s wrong; you are relieved you’re getting a break from her; but your longing for her is clear when you step out of a train or aircraft to the salubrious weather, and you know you missed her.
The brutality of public expenditure is enormous, every Bangalorean knows, though he may not understand why, the very numbers that such spends involve. Of course he won’t do anything about it — protest is not in his gene. A shrug of that shoulder with the handkerchief carefully tucked under the crisp clean collar is all he will offer.
Indifference to bus stops and bus routes is the hallmark of every government in the state. The same bus route will merrily offer either too many buses, or way too few. Our Lakes continue to be a mess yet those shameless elected members will display indignation at any charge of negligence Of course it’s not their fault.
A friend says a Govt officer is a cautious beast who first checks out your resilience on a complaint you lodge. How many times will you go back to him on a certain complaint, is the test he puts you through. If you give up after the first or second attempt, he wins.
BBMP got 4000 Cr in 2015, five times over the highest best of 800 Cr. in all of its previous years. Does it ever cross the city dweller’s mind to ask where the money has gone in the last years after the annual budget quadrupled?
Then you know what’s called the George fantasia. Steel bridge. White roads. Black-topping with a technology that guarantees rework even before all contract bills are paid.
No, nothing fazes them or rouses their indignation. Ministers are secure in the knowledge that there’ll of course be no protest. No one who’ll insist on asking. Some Bangaloreans chose — one of those rare times — to be up in arms on the steel bridge to the new airport. The govt scuttled it. But had to keep its ‘promise’ to the contractors who had already ‘taken care’. So the Steel bridge ‘commitment’ was moved quietly to Sivananda Circle. And the good Bangalorean went back to his placid, uncomplaining ways. Everybody knows much as money traded many hands on those contracts but that won’t get anything more than a shrug.
There’s no picture that symbolizes the stoicism of this city’s dweller than of him standing interminably with an umbrella, waiting for the bus that will not show up for hours on end. His unflappability is inspiring.
And the brutality continues unabated. A simple pedestrian bridge at Sophia’s cost 28 Cr. The ‘whitening’ of roads cost enormous loss to commuting traffic and some indecent amounts that you and I don’t care about at all. All we’ll offer is a shrug.
Well. Do we care? Apparently not. Bangalore’s poll percentage has been lower than 50 pc. A voters day is declared a holiday by every govt to help you cast it. If it’s around a weekend, it’s a good excuse for the Bangalorean to take a ride out of the misery of traffic and fall into the hands of greedy resorts that are quick to be wheedled off your salary credits.
And then there’s the sober reminder of what this city was. You touch that sensitive chord in anyone my age, and you’ll have to reach out for a stiff double on the ice.
A team from Singapore chose to visit three model cities in the world in 1976. One of them was Bangalore. A full delegation arrived. They were amazed that a city at near-two million and about 100 Sq km could support herself with just just two large lake & reservoir systems that had sustained the city from 1936. They went around the city of 83 lakes then. They found the airport adequate and functional while their Changi airport was not even built at the time. They saw a bustling economy of five major national public sector undertakings and several state-owned companies doing a great job of managing workers and products. The Mysore Sandal Soap was a great hit with the delegates, one old Bangalorean officer reminisced in a chat with this writer.
That Singapore team went back suitably impressed. Their study of Bangalore was to inspire their Singapore 2010 model! ‘Look at what these 30–35 years since 1976 have offered our city and that theirs!’ laments the ageist bureaucrat.
Five years prior to the visit of this batch of Singaporeans, some time in 1971–72, a stock broker had made home in Bangalore and bought a large stake in a small and old company called United Breweries. Those were days when you walked around Union Circle with your nose held, for the stench of hops and molasses from the UB distillery would hit you. The large banyan tree — where you now have the Marriott — offered shade and an expansive stop for the double decker bus №15 that took you from Shivaji Nagar to City Market, on a ride that never took over 10 minutes. That was 1969.
That stock broker, Vittal Mallya, came up with a bright idea. He had been inspired by things he saw in other parts of the world and proposed to the state government that he’ll build a circular rail system for city commuting. The cost was a piffle — at about 4 or 5 Cr. He offered to do it. He offered to raise the money and build it. The govt turned it down — not because enough ‘service money’ was not paid to a politician (those were still days when corruption had not taken these hydra headed proportions). They turned it down because they didn’t see the need for it. Who will travel in a train in the city? We’re not a Bombay or Madras.
Arcot Srinivasachar street was a leafy broad avenue of trees. ‘Avenue’ embeds in its very meaning trees flanking a road. There’s not a blade of grass on the road that carries the name and where today you’re lucky if you got standing place any part of day 9-to-9.
So what went wrong?
We’ll look at it soon with some further reflections. Watch this space. InsideYourCity will provoke you to think of the City and You, and the chemistry of love and hate you carry between the two of you.