Wednesday, December 29, 2004

Small town vs. mega city

Small town vs. mega city
The Hindu

The new wannabe shapers of the city are trying to synthesise a Bangalore identity with manicured landscapes of commerce, culture, and opinion

When we say `new residents', we all probably mean people who can and will occupy proper residences in the city.

ACCORDING TO a `global' observer, meaning another U.S. strategic expert who has visited our blighted metropolis, the city is growing by "an estimated 3,700 per week". The way these Americans get it all in figures is really impressive, although it could be quite another game to reckon with the authority of it. This observer didn't quote sources and neither will I, but the exercise here is to find a match between that number and the 800 vehicles that are apparently added to the city roads everyday.

When we say "new residents", we all probably mean and understand that these are people who can and will occupy proper residences in the city. Surely nobody is counting all those construction workers and coolies that are crowding the place all over. There is, however, another bit of statistics I found on the Net declaring: "In Bangalore, more than 800 slums give shelter to the approximately 1.5 million people!" So somebody counted.

New vehicles

Anyway, you will agree, almost none of those that occupy the 800 slums will be buying any of those 800 vehicles that are supposedly being driven out of showrooms everyday, or 5,600 every week. So, I am arguing, these 3,700 new residents are buying a substantial proportion of those 5,600 new vehicles. And whatever is left over is being bought by the new arrivals' well-to-do peers already resident in the city that are either buying the additional vehicle or replacing the old one.

It is not to demean other industries and services in the city, but the real growth of high-value jobs are in which sector you know. I am leaving the two-wheelers out of it, because they are not part of this theme. We are talking here of the smart builders of the new economy, who, after they have just "relocated" to the city, having secured the new residence, that new vehicle and, for their children possibly, admissions to new schools, encounter a problem: what is there to do in Bangalore?

It is all very well to talk about Pub City and Fun City, but it all happens in this poor apology of a downtown, a very long way off from the workplace that gets longer by the day with every additional vehicle they buy. There is also the problem of getting the right company to band with, because not everybody "rocks" and it seems the same lousy gang is to be found in every party. This, of course, is a phenomenon that most "outsiders" in the city are familiar with: there are six— and-a-half interesting people in the city and they all know each other.

"Bangalore is really a small town."

Not really. Bangalore actually comprises many small towns, each complete with its own code and inhabitants, living for generations within its own tradition; secure, even dormant and indifferent to the others. The small towns of Bangalore were not merely geographic entities, although it is still possible to identify a Cantonment culture, the Tamil-speaking Brahmins of Malleswaram, Shetty community of Visveswarapuram and the North Indian business communities of Gandhinagar, to cite examples. The small towns were layered over each other, gently engaging when in contact, celebrating Durga Puja or Onam, accepting the "different-ness." Even the mingling of these small towns in the later-developed areas of Jayanagar or J.P. Nagar did not threaten these identities.

It is very true, as many of the above-mentioned `observers' mention, that there are few public spaces in Bangalore — monuments, markets or institutions — that integrate a "Bangalore identity," "a unifying imageability". But the Ramotsavas and the more gentle Ganesha festivals with concerts of classical and light music expressed and established unique culture; Kadlekaayi Parishe, St. Mary's Feast, Harohara Jatre, Bangalore Karaga and Banashankari Jatre held on to their traditions; in this very season, people of all communities went out singing carols on the streets; So many more, different towns, different mores, but it all made Bangalore.


It was the implicit acceptance of the "different-ness" that allowed people to be born in Bangalore and live their whole lives knowing only the languages they spoke in their homes and neighbourhoods, without any sense of alienation. But the commercial growth of Bangalore in the Nineties, a bewildering rearrangement of priorities and powers, has dislocated the cornerstones of these identities.

The new wannabe shapers of the city are trying to synthesise a Bangalore identity with manicured landscapes of commerce, culture, and opinion. The small towns of Bangalore resent it and visibly. The protest went unacknowledged for far too long. Where it has become too evident, it is being misunderstood. The lack of discernment is so obvious when sections in the media lament that "Bangalore is losing out to Chennai, Hyderabad" on the business pages, but cry for a "stop to uncontrolled growth" on the city pages.

Every city has its insiders, "critical insiders," as writer U.R. Ananthamurthy terms them. The critical insiders of Bangalore, the hardy ones, continue to inhabit its small towns. For outsiders, who have arrived to the unprecedented din and dirtiness of this new Bangalore, the appropriate question is not "what to do in Bangalore?" It perhaps should be "what to do in which Bangalore?" If only we could allow all of them to thrive, in their little ways. Some cities can do without "big" icons — monuments or celebrities.


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