The Resource Curse
The above word from Amitav Ghosh resonated with me several times in the last few days. Ghosh uses nutmeg as a metaphor in his book, “The Nutmeg’s Curse”, to address a more significant point on the ecological crisis. The book starts with VOC(The Dutch East India Company) imposing a monopoly on Bandas, a tiny archipelago in Indonesia, in 1621. The Dutch exterminated the indigenous population from the island in about five years for “nutmeg”. Similar was the fate of another neighbouring island, Maluku. Unlike nutmeg, this island had an abundance of cloves.
Ghosh, in his book, ‘The Nutmeg’s Curse.’ reiterates the occurrence of ‘Resource Curse’ again and again. There is enough historical evidence to show that resource-rich countries come under fire, and abundant evidence supports the theory. Any Indian student would know the stories of Mohammad Ghazni and Mohammad Gori and other invaders who plundered India for riches.
I want to look at the invasion of Bangalore using the lenses suggested by Dr Ghosh. Bangalore was a ‘sleeping beauty’ in the 1980s. It was a tourist destination and a pensioner’s paradise known as the “Garden City of India”. Looking at the talent resource, several IT companies flocked to the city. In 1985, Texas Instruments set up an R&D centre, becoming the first global technology company to set up such a facility. Soon, other tech companies followed, transforming Bangalore into India’s Silicon Valley, as it is known today. The primary resource here is the abundance of IT professionals and beautiful weather — one can experience three seasons on a single day.
What has happened to the city after the IT onslaught? I am unable to enjoy simple things in life. The bicycle was my mode of transport in the 1980s. I went to lunch on my bike and visited friends and relatives, and the cycle ride between KH Road and Rajajinagar would take twenty minutes. Fresh air and exercise kept me healthy. It was a pleasure to stroll on the sidewalks in the city. Sidewalks have vanished in several parts of the town now. My favourite used-book stalls on MG Road and Brigade Road no longer exist. It is impossible to walk in Bangalore even if they live as I invite death with two-wheelers whizzing past this precious pedestrian real estate.
The city is known for excellent filter coffee. For Rs 10, I would get piping hot coffee in a stainless steel tumbler. The small roadside restaurants which offered the beverage have vanished along with steel tumblers. India Coffee House on MG Road was the breakfast joint on Sunday morning. Plaza would be my next halt to watch an English movie after a sumptuous breakfast. I would go to Woodlands or Tiffanys in the first week of the month. Several bespoke restaurants such as Airlines hotel, Sapna and Nilgiris Dairy Farm, known for Masla Dosa and Rava Idli, are not there now. The Chinese restaurant called ‘ The Chinese’ was very famous for Chinese food has changed several hands.
All my favourite movie theatres in the Majestic area have disappeared. The “Imperial” theatre near Brigade Road has become Samsung office now. I do not remember spending more than Rs 20 for a ticket for a movie those days against Rs 200 in the current multiplex format. I carried snacks and water and enjoyed the movie.
IT industry has brought in several changes to the city. The population has increased from 2.5 Million to a staggering 13.5 Million in thirty years, bringing in new challenges — heavy traffic congestion, poor solid waste management, stray dogs, and pollution. While the IT industry provided several new jobs, the cost of living has also increased considerably. Uncertainty looms large when I walk out of the house.
In 1985, when someone asked me to describe Bangalore in one sentence, I responded: The city is lively, cosmopolitan, charming, bustling, people-friendly and welcoming.
In 2020, my response was very different: You will hit a garbage pile or an IT professional if you throw a stone.
The ‘ resource curse’ has kicked in.