Saturday, February 20, 2010

Where is the Bengaluru i loved?!

     I was born in Bangalore at just the right time. The timing could not have been better. I just managed to make it here before the gulmohars vanished forever from the roadside. Thankfully, I had a chance to set up a tent under the gulmohar tree on the road-side for 3 consecutive summers, before someone decided that the trees had to go. The vacant site opposite my house was getting all spruced up to welcome a new house on our street. And I remember three Ashok Leyland lorries standing shoulder to shoulder on the street. The roads in the residential areas were THAT wide. Well of course, only until Mrs.Iyer next door decided to dig up a 8x8 plot in front of her gate to plant her rose bushes. And then the guy who was building the new house in the vacant site decided he wanted a larger garage and conveniently replaced his concrete wall with a collapsible grill gate that made enough space for his car to stick it’s butt out into the road without actually putting him into trouble for taking up public space. When people decide to shout at him, all he has to do is to get the grills removed. No wall to pull down, no loss of money. And as long as he could be good friends with his neighbors, no problem either!
    The ancestral house in our village was built on a 5-acre plot. On all sides of the house, endless stretches of paddy fields and groundnut farms welcomed the winds into our compound. Within the compound, the lush garden on all 4 sides was my grandmother’s dream come true. With an open well, a flower-bed spread lavishly on more than an acre of land, people who visited my grandparents’ home, instantly fell in love with it! Well, again, only until Farmer Gibbs( I don’t know the guy’s name) decided to build an unsightly granary to completely block the view on one side  And what’s worse! His entire farmland, over the years, was slowly converted into a rice mill, with tractors milling down our private inroad, throwing up dust into the air and totally spoiling the ambience of the place :(

     If this is the case in a distant village, no prizes for guessing the state of cities like Bangalore. No more tree-lined avenues, no more independent villas and no more parks…Residential roads look like passages now and the main roads are meant for traffic jams and nothing else. Spacious temple compounds have now shrunken to the entrance of the temple, bringing the Gods to the edge of the street. Apartments line the skyline, whatever trees remain, is only because the guy who built the apartment block can put up a “ excellent landscaping” tag in his advertisement and charge an extra 2 lakhs for the feature ..
    What I miss the most though, are the sparrows. Last weekend, I drove down to visit my extended family at a village 3 hours from Bangalore and was so happy to see these little fellows strutting around on the terrace, picking up grains on the parapet wall. But yeah, not in flocks anymore…maximum 5-6 of them…but at least, they are not totally extinct yet...That’s a small consolation.
    Now that the city is totally packed, it’s time for the outskirts to squeeze in. Farmers get handsome amounts to let go of their land. And the entire expanse gets converted into 100 40x60 sites. “Enjoy the serenity, away from the city!” scream the advertisements. And slowly, as we continue to grow as a city, we will see houses here too and we will probably move into wildlife reserves very soon “ Live with the elephants!” would be the next ad in the papers…
    At this rate, the classic Indian dream of Roti, kapda and Makaan will begin to realize. With roti and kapda being almost readily available , the makhaan dream is now becoming true. Soon, each one of us will have a home of our own. One for you, one for your brother, one for your sister and one for your pet dog. And yes, we will have garages that peep into the streets, making our houses look like uneasy pregnants. We will zip around in our fancy cars if the traffic clears up. Life looks perfect.
   But what will be eat?! The farms are gone. We will import grains from some other country which has been sensible enough to retain some of it’s farms. And we will pay 500 rupees for a kilo of rice. And then we will yell at the government for not doing anything about controlling the prices. Voila! We have a plan!
And for some 10 years or so, we will pat our backs as we finally get to live the roti, kapda,makaan dream. Only until the roti and kapda begin to vanish….just like the sparrows did.

   And then the regal Indian will sit in his makhaan and dream about roti and kapda…Politicians will promise you a meal for every vote. Our entire population will go the Mallika Sherawat way and wear a hand-kerchief for a dress…bored of seeing scantily dressed people, Sridevi in a sari becomes a fantasy!
  And then finally, some wise head will decide that enough is enough…He will pull down a few houses to make space for some gulmohar trees…Another guy picks up the trend and razes down his old apartment block to make a farmhouse..People begin to dream of owning their own farm..Old buildings go down, new farms come up…People go back to being farmers…We begin to grow our own food again..And one day, rice prices will go down to Rs.40 per kilo…Roti comes back, and so does kapda…for the next 20 years that is…And after that, people start missing their makhaans…And then the cycle continues…..
The roti,kapda,makhaan dream will remain a dream!

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