Saturday, February 10, 2007

The Last of the Bangaloreans

2nd November '06:

I lived the past nine years of my life in a city, which, officially, ceased to exist from yesterday. Strange.

I remember my arrival in Bangalore; it was a lovely evening (our train having arrived four hours later than scheduled). I was only nine years old, but I still remember that it was quite pleasant for a June evening, having just escaped the furnaces of Madras (now Chennai) and Delhi (which, come to think of it, might become 'Dilli' any day now). In nine years I saw, heard and felt much of the city, at the same time growing up and being shaped by silent forces at home, at school and on the streets. All this time it never bothered me that I was in a city called Bangalore; what mattered was the feeling of being in the city itself. Clean roads, lush greenery and a quaint lifestyle in the quiet suburbs form my first recollections of Bangalore nine years ago. 'Pensioners' Paradise', 'Garden City', 'Silicon Valley of India' and 'Pub City', all living side by side, in perfect harmony. That, statistically, was the Bangalore of three million people, while today, it's a city of six million, and things sure have changed.

Chocked roads, polluted air and fast disappearing greenery, coupled with spiraling crime rates are what the media today uses to describe the Bangalore of today. I don't know how much of that is true and how much propaganda, but one look at Bangalore and one can feel that there is something wrong. I don't intend to scrutinize government policies and development projects (or the lack of them) to point out to the root of these myriad problems ailing the city. They are simply too complicated. But when you are gnashing your teeth in hour long traffic jams in a city that is the economic sensation of the world, you wonder what went wrong. A long overdue international airport (replacing the bus adda look-alike terminals of today), an always just-about-to-start-but-never-quite-starting metro rail project, and sometimes even basic amenities like drinking water and electricity are the pitiable demands of a city that is the pioneer of the new economic boom of this country. It is a time when everyone in Bangalore is frustrated with the lack of progress and wants change. And there was change. The government decided to gift the city something they believed it needed the most: a new name, Bengalooru. Thank you very much.

I don't intend to argue with the leading minds of the day who thought this over and decided the change to be necessary. I believe, in my little scope of thought, that in rewriting history, in going backwards, there is nothing we gain. It is high time for us to broaden our minds, discard our colonial baggage and accept what happened as a learning experience in retrospect. In this regard, it is not the matter of whether we call it Bangalore or Bengalooru; it is what we are doing to it. After all, we can't complain over the change, since most Kannada speaking inhabitants have always called it Bengalooru. But I wonder how many of the educated English-speaking urbane 'Bangaloreans' will have the courage and confidence to speak of their new identity as 'Bengaloorians' without smirking and adding how 'ridiculous' it sounds. They are perhaps the same people who would buy Nike and go to McDonalds, even if their Indian alternatives were cheaper, better and healthier.

Yet all this is frankly much ado about nothing. Mindsets will change, or be changed, and one can yet imagine a future where traveling from M.G. Road to Majestic in a plush AC metro coach in ten minutes would be a reality. But please forgive those of the generation like mine, which grew up in the Bangalorean identity, if ever they accidentally blurt out 'Bangalore' while going back to their roots. Maybe this transition would not be as hard-hitting as the partition of India during independence, when similarly the change of a name was a matter of identity, but I still cannot say for sure if I may not feel a bit betrayed at the prospect.

And of course, I wonder if the American workers' nightmare would now like the sound of being 'bengaloored'.