Sunday, October 31, 2004

We are being Bangalored too

We are being Bangalored too
Deccan Herald

Cars, cell phones, watches, works of art, holidays abroad – the snob’s traditional topics of conversation at Page 3 Parties no longer validate his existence the way they used to. The hottest topic currently in the mine-is-bigger-than-yours genre is potholes. There are people who live in streets that have no potholes who are contemplating a shift in residence so they do not get left out of the conversation.

I heard a whisky-and-soda say recently, “There are 14 potholes on my street” only to slink away moments later when a gin-and-tonic responded with, “That’s nothing. My street has 21.” From Pensioners Paradise to Silicon Valley to Pothole Passion our city has come a long way.

There is some dispute over the number of potholes in Bangalore. Media reports put it at around 60,000 city officials say it is 16,000. If one were to go by the punishment meted out by the Mayor to engineers who ‘ignored’ potholes in their area, then the number is just seven. He may be right – the rest are all craters.
Everybody blames everybody else.

The alacrity with which the various agencies – electricity, telephone, Bangalore Mahanagara Palike, water and sewage – dig up our roads without remembering to put everything back suggests they should be taken to the Sathyamangalam forests to dig up the hidden treasures of the Late Veerappan.

I have been following with great interest the road-laying technique near my residence. First they chop off the trees on either side and leave them dangerously inclined towards the road so that vehicles have to take a diversion.

A few days later (after people from far and near help themselves to the remains) the trees disappear. Then the pavements are dug up in the cause of road widening. The road to good intentions is paved with hell. Next comes the laying of one half of the road during which time vehicles can use only the other half.
Finally the road, long and unbroken, is fully laid. Now comes the fun part. The centre portion is dug up to install a median. Now we have a long broken road divided by a long unbroken median.

Then someone remembers that the median needs regular breaks. It is difficult to say which is more fun – breaking the fully-built road or the fully-built median. Then there is the matter of rounding off the edges of the median. So the roads in the gaps have to be done again.

Soon the rains arrive (catching everyone by surprise because it only rains around this time every year) and there are more craters on this stretch of road than on a similar stretch anywhere else including the moon.

It’s a small step for man but a giant leap for vehicles every time they hit one.
The Engineer-in-chief of the BMP has airily dismissed the potholes everywhere saying “it is just like a cough or a common cold” Nothing to worry about; just take a couple of aspirins and call him in the morning. The Mayor is cuter still. “We cannot cover the entire city in umbrellas” he says, thus instantly raising the level of the debate. Next time you see a portion of our city covered by umbrellas it means our beloved Mayor has been at work.

If you can’t fix it, define it, is the Engineer’s motto. Bangalore has low pothole density (LPD) he says almost apologetically.

This means there are fewer than five potholes per square kilometre. If you want to graduate to high pothole density (HPD) then you need more than ten potholes per square kilometer he says, throwing a challenge to his men. A challenge, I am happy to say, these sturdy chaps take on wholeheartedly.

But the math doesn’t make sense. The BMP looks after a city whose area is 225 square kilometers. We have either 60,000 potholes or 16,000 (depending on whether you believe the media or the officials). That means we have either 266 potholes per square kilometre or 71 potholes. We need to look beyond mere ‘high’ density. Intense. Concentrated. Extreme. Super. Unbelievable.

These look weak too. We need a new word. Pothole poetry has all the tragedy of lost love if not lost axles and wheels. Ours is not a city with too many potholes; ours is a pothole with too little city.

In the United States, John Kerry’s supporters walk around with ‘I Have Been Bangalored’ on their T-shirts in protest against the outsourcing of jobs. In Bangalore ‘I Have Been Potholed’ is the more appropriate.

The writer is a reputed journalist and is former editor of the New Indian Express


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