Thursday, April 21, 2005

Walk the sunset boulevard

Walk the sunset boulevard
Deccan Herald

Have a close look at MG Road. It has a story more than the tar on which you zip and the suave stores from where you shop. Walk down the boulevard and the contrast will rip you apart.

Mahatma Gandhi Road - the zero tolerance road and the ‘most pampered’ road of the City has a twin in the boulevard bordering the parade ground. More beautiful and verdant than its commercial sibling, the stretch of pavement from Anil Kumble Circle to the Brigade Road junction would have been a walker’s delight if only it was maintained well.

Right now, we have broken benches, filthy and stinking walkway, open urinals, broken tiles and potholes. While the main road is dotted with upmarket stores, setups and the majority of people from the upper echelons of society, the boulevard is hardly used by the white collared gentry. The people who take shelter on the walkway are ragpickers, beggars and petty vendors with their churmura. In the evenings, some people use the steps to sit and ogle at the road that symbolises the snobbery of the City born yesterday.

“The land has two godfathers; it belongs to the Defence but is supposed to be maintained by the BMP. It can be turned into a lovely sidewalk, with benches and artifacts and can become an artwalk,” says MD, Mysore Minerals and founder of Art Mantram Jija Hari Singh. “That area, along with the Parade Ground is a classic example of civic irresponsibility. The stores on MG Road shamelessly use the Parade Ground as their garbage dump and no one bats an eyelid at them. We have warned the civic authorities several times but to no effect,” says an Army spokesperson.

“The boulevard was a lovely walkway. The deterioration started 10-15 years ago,” says Machendra Pische, managing partner, PN Rao, one of the oldest shops on MG Road. Secretary of Bangalore Traders Association Srinath, says they have made repeated requests to the BMP to maintain the boulevard but nothing significant has happened till now. “At the most they send a gardener to prune the hedges, to avoid traffic problems,” he says. And life goes on, with the pink bougainvillaea at the Anil Kumble Circle, also the entrance of the sidewalk blossoming and cheering people. The inside story remains unattended to and to itself.

Platform for free speech: Gandhi statue

The biggest challenge in today’s wired world perhaps is getting your voice heard. More so in the public domain. The footpath next to the Mahatma Gandhi statute on MG Road has, for some time now, come to symbolise a platform for free speech.

Various protests right from political, social, cultural and otherwise are the order of the day. Be it a hungerstrike, a silent rally for women’s rights, signature campaign for voiceless animals or a teaser for a forthcoming play - it is free for all at one of the busiest City junctions.

Says Suparna Ganguly of Cupa, “This is the most vantage point for any group who wants to be heard.” Many say it is one of the few remaining spaces left to raise a public cry. “In the 80s, there were many places, including Cubbon Park, where people could come together. The only thing available to us now is this footpath,” adds Dona Fernandes of Vimochana.

Architect Jaisim wonders “If the protests can also become a hazard. Can they be to attract media attention, which loves violence for a headline? Or can this be a positive space, a sense of civic awareness to rouse the thoughts of a population, which goes on about its normal life thinking all is well with the world. They take it for granted till a few concerned citizens make it a point.” But “yes” space for a “voice” is important, he states. His thoughts are somewhat echoed by scriptwriter M G Satya of Swades fame, “Government needs to earmark a specific area for such activity. The place in question is not appropriate since it does not allow for public to gather and listen to the protesters. If I want to stop my car and listen to what the protesters are saying, I cannot do it because it will obstruct traffic.” However, for the police the issue is the “nuisance value.” According to a police source, “This is not the right place to hold such protest meetings. A proper area needs to be earmarked for this.” Till then the Mahatma needs to bear it with a grin.


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