The sheer decline of Bengaluru/Bangalore..

For people who have some association with Bangalore and have spent time in the city in the past, revisiting the city keeps giving them new shocks over its decline. For those living in it for long, have got used to the decline and can only deplore.

Rahul Jacob has a similar story as well. He used to visit the city as his grandparents lived there. He just cannot imagine the decline since then. He begins citing PM Nehru’s words on the city:

In a 1962 speech, presciently said, “Bangalore is a picture of India of the future.” For one vision of this, go to the website of the civic issues organisation,Janaagraha, which is headquartered there. There are a series of animated videos of some of the city’s busiest streets, implausibly featuring cycle paths and car drivers who courteously yield to bicyclists. In this sci-fi world, cars are few and far between, outnumbered by pedestrians taking a stroll in the shade provided by trees that have created a canopy at several points along St Mark’s Road.

Last week, a colleague and I tried to cross this very road on our way to K.C. Das, the Bengali sweet shop. The rutted paths suggested a medieval battlefield where the mud had been churned up by soldiers in chariots engaged in a fight to the finish. The road itself had been the subject of so many simultaneous excavations that it looked like the earth had vomited its innards, to borrow David Pilling’s evocative description in Bending Adversity of villages in Fukushima after the tsunami in 2011. On some stretches, there were giant intestines of coloured rubber that was broadband cable. There was such a furious traffic pile-up that two policemen took command of an intersection to try and direct the flow. My colleague and I cowered behind them so as not to be hit by the oncoming cars.

Even by the standards of the urban dystopias mushrooming around the country, from New Delhi’s world-beating air pollution, which has given its empathetic chief minister a semi-permanent cough, to Mumbai’s Hollywood-famous slums, Bengaluru’s decline is epic. The city I remember from visiting my grandparents there in the seventies – where we occasionally cycled through what seemed like a gigantic botanical garden – is disappearing. Nehru’s speech was made before, of all things, the Bangalore Municipal Corporation. Its current avatar has its strengths. Payment of property taxes, for instance, is done online. But, if Bengaluru’s road-building and pavements are anything to go by, the municipality has been overrun by anarchists. As Praveen Sood put it in the Bangalore Mirror recently, new flyovers and underpasses follow the logic of building a grave and “then looking for a dead body to fit the size of the grave.” As exhibit A, he cites the Richmond Road flyover. It was so poorly conceived that it initially required a traffic light – on the flyover. Then through the innovative use of irregular blocks of stone and barricades, a two-way road was created that crisscrosses the flyover like the letter X. It looks like an invitation to a demolition derby.

There is not just one such flyover but plenty of them. The roads have crazy potholes (blackholes),  dividers made randomly of stones and wherever there are proper driver they are broken for free trespassing. I mean you name the road issues and they are here. The end result is just traffic jams and complete nuisance.

Both mindless planning and lack of planning coexist here and are all over the place. One is perennially stuck in a jam and actually looks forward to India-Pak matches to just go out and get some work in reasonable time. Such is the state of affairs.

The author reflects on how once the pensioners/old age paradise has become hell:

The people you feel really sorry for are the elderly, in what was once called a pensioners’ paradise, and children. Even in an IT capital, only the foolish negotiate Bengaluru’s pavements, which are designed to be an obstacle course, while texting on a smartphone. Not surprisingly, old people trip and injure themselves often. My dentist told me how an elderly patient recently came in covered with blood, needing implants for four front teeth. Traffic, like a river in spate, roars past the Baldwin Girls’ High School. Children must dart between cars to cross the road, often at even more risk because they are not visible to the successive lanes of traffic.

My dentist is a spry fifty-something, but he had fallen himself on his walk home. (He walks because it takes half as long as the 45-minute drive home would.) A pole had been decapitated but a stump of cement was left behind as part of the urban decathlon of endurance the city authorities have created for its citizens. When he complained to a policeman, he sniffed a few times and asked my dentist if he had been drinking. My dentist’s recounting of it made him, his wife and I suffer a laughing fit.

It is easily India’s one of the most if not the most) mismanaged city. The traffic police are rarely there where they should be (clearing and managing traffic) and always there where they shouldn’t be (in easier traffic places harassing passengers with some fine or the other).

Ironically, Bangalore is also the city which has shown maximum economic growth as well amidst large cities. The city was just a sleepy self till IT industry started here. The place got a shock from which it has not been able to recover. It has expanded way beyond its size and the horrendous planning has added icing to the cake. Just to show how economic growth alone does not bring benefits to all. It has to be balanced with all kinds of other things.

The polity and economic experts who cite Bangalore’s IT success for India’s resurgence should also think about the misery it has bestowed on the people living here. Ask people who has lived in Bangalore for years. Most would want to go back to earlier times when growth was lesser and city more peaceful and lovelier to live in.

2 Responses to “The sheer decline of Bengaluru/Bangalore..”

  1. AA Says:

    I recommend reading Rahul Jacob’s article along with this piece on Bangalore from 1983. It makes for a fascinating comparison.

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