Saturday, 05 January 2013 

Written by  SHEILA KUMAR

The uglification of Bangalore seems well 
and complete. Our individual and collective 
silence has done us in

As with all such pieces, I open with a set of bulleted incidents that happened
 in the heart of Bangalore. Bangalore, mind you, not Bengaluru, because
the focus of this article is the quadrant of the erstwhile Cantonment area.

A couple of young women are on MG Road around noon on a Sunday,
 having met for lunch. As they stroll towards their restaurant, they come
 across a group of young men, about their age, definitely people like them.
 One of them reaches out and grabs the breasts of one of the women.
The feisty kind, she reacts immediately and slaps him. He hits her back.
 Hard. She raises her arm involuntarily and he hits her again. After which,
 the men walk on, without a care in the world. There is no cop anywhere
 around. Passers-by watch silently, avoiding the victim’s eye.

Areas like Indiranagar have been
buying water for a decade now.
Complaints, written and oral, to
 the area water board office meet
 with the standard response. After
 every fourth visit you make, they
 send a man who takes a
less-than-cursory look at the
 water meter/ lever and pronounce
s with sagacity that there is an air
 leak / that you were stupid enough
to build your house on a higher
 elevation so naturally the water
flow has stopped/ your water pipes
 all need replacing and so on and
so forth. Everything but the words
that you so desperately want to hear:
 that this afternoon, for an hour or so,
 they will open the valves and let some
 water flow into your sump. Sometimes
 the man tells you that, too. You wait
all afternoon and evening but not a drop
 falls. So you buy water and factor that
 into your household expenses. Come summer, the water mafia kicks into operation, so you
 end up paying double the rate virtually overnight.

Overnight, speed breakers come up on almost every street in your locality. A close look
will reveal even to the untrained eye, that these DIY speed breakers are citizen’s initiatives,
 sharp-edged mounds created just to have motorists avoid your lane and take the next one.

The SUV cab (it almost always is a cab) brushes against a BMW and the owners get out.
 Except, one gets out with a car jack. It’s pretty clear how he intends to settle the matter.
 Other motorists avert their eyes and wait for the light to change so they can speed away.

As for our so-called leaders, their brazen and unscrupulous behaviour happens for just
 one primary reason: we have allowed it to happen. We have allowed them to treat the
 Vidhana Soudha like they would their dens at home, to watch porn in all comfort and
 ease. We have allowed them to let all development slow to a creaking pace. We have
 allowed them to keep offering largesse to temples while we go without our basic
necessities. We have sanctioned all of it.

Rowdyism is percolating, infiltrating into the body civic, the body politic, up,
down, sideways, everywhere. Cardholding rowdies hack each other in busy
marketplaces. The men in black coats, our saviours in the courts, frequently
lose their cool and pick up stones. Men empty mouthfuls of paan-laced spittle
on to young women walking down quiet roads. A couple of expat women I know
 gave up walking in the park after they noticed young men sitting on stone benches
 and taking their photographs on their mobile phones.

Garden City to Garbage City, the transformation, the degradation, has been relentless.
Today most of our streets are dotted with litter, sometimes a huge stinking pile just
beneath a notice on the wall that says ‘Do not dump garbage here.’ We used to have
 sturdy iron bins at street corners but someone decided to do away with them. We didn’t
 protest…did we even notice…and so they vanished. In their place came the intermittent
 garbage men and women. They were supposed to pick up the neatly segregated garbage
 you left outside your gate. Except, they don’t come more than twice a week.

The Garbage City (and it pains me, as someone who has ‘belonged to’ Bangalore
for almost three decades now) has an alter ego, that of Construction City. In most
 areas, there is endless construction activity going on, iron rods and heaps of sand,
 bags of cement encroaching on road space. There is a fine haze of cement and
sand dust hovering in the air everywhere. Cement mixers and heavy-duty vehicles
 manoeuvre their way onto small streets. Mall upon mall comes up and no one talks
 of mall fatigue. Exclusive luxe apartments offer a swimming pool with each flat, and
 no one talks of the nearnil water tables in the area. This is zombified building. No prizes
 for guessing who the zombies are.

Forget the aam admi, we have had our captains of industry gently and not so gently
 pointing out that good roads are not a luxury but a basic necessity for any growing
 city. Their words too, have fallen into the Bermuda triangle of indifference,
negligence and contempt.

This Bangalorean silence is selective silence. We yell when someone hits our
vehicle. We fight with our neighbours on points of encroachment. The more
evolved and caring of us protest when trees are mercilessly and unnecessarily
 cut down. We protest at senseless murders, the withdrawal of our essential
 rights. But these protests happen in spurts. So those who are smarter than us
 wait for the protests to die down. After which, it’s back to business as usual
 for them.

As with all cities that start to bulge at the seams accommodating ‘outsiders’ and
becoming what the labelers like to call a ‘melting pot culture,’ something vital is
 lost in the transformation. In Bangalore, the list of things lost is a long one. Quiet
 roads, a quiet people, bicycles, Momand- Pop stores. The shade of many-branched
 trees down avenue after avenue. A certain innocence which let young men
and women do their own things without always being on the lookout for attack.
 A disinclination to pull a number on your neighbour, a strong inclination
to live and let live.

Have we frittered our assets away in this hitherto lovely city of ours? Can we
take back the city? I wonder.

Our silence is selective; we protest only when it affects us directly


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