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HomeOpinionBangalore today is like a shy kid forced to be an extrovert

Bangalore today is like a shy kid forced to be an extrovert

Bangalore, a city where they talk a lot about Artificial Intelligence, is failed by the basic Intelligence of its authorities.

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Let’s do this as a thought experiment: a decade ago, if you asked people to react to the word Bangalore, what kind of images came to mind? A city with tech companies that recruits students from far away engineering colleges of India and accords them the middle-class respectability of an MNC employee? A city with breweries serving beers that go beyond the typical Indian definition of ‘strong’ and ‘light’? A city with such good weather where you don’t need to buy an AC? A city with better music taste where pubs are still untouched by the attack of T-Series remixes?

Now perhaps when you say the word Bangalore, the first word that comes to mind is traffic jams. A city where chopper services are available to take you from the airport to the town. A city which is more dug up than Mohenjo-daro and Harappan sites.

A few weeks back, when it rained heavily in Bangalore, one of the memes arrived, “Bangalore is the city where techies travel to their offices in two hours traffic to create the app which can deliver groceries in 10 minutes.” Another one read: “In Bangalore, a newly engaged couple on their way to the airport broke up as they got a lot of time to understand each other.”

In his book Invisible Cities, Italo Calvino writes, “Cities, like dreams, are made of desires and fears, even if the thread of their discourse is secret, their rules are absurd, their perspectives deceitful, and everything conceals something else.” What does Bangalore conceal and reveal? Is the city’s identity only limited to nightmarish traffic with beautiful weather? A city that is exploding by the stress of hosting the migrant population? If Delhi is defined as a brash city and Mumbai a dream city that never sleeps, how do we define the personality of Bangalore?

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You are the traffic you crib about

Any city can’t be defined merely by inconvenience because cities are also a centre of language, people, culture, food, memories and a shared sense of space that binds them together in a very abstract sense. Many of my local friends from Bangalore hate the consistent cribbing of North Indians about traffic and other city problems. Many, in fact, fondly remember the era when this town was so sleepy and peaceful that some people claim that perhaps R.K. Narayan’s fictional town Malgudi was created by joining the two areas in Bangalore; Basavanagudi and Malleswaram. In his autobiography, R.K. Narayan writes, “As I sat in a room nibbling at my pen and wondering what to write, Malgudi with its little railway station swam into view, all ready-made, with a character called Swaminathan running down the platform. The station had a banyan tree, a station master, and two trains a day, one coming, one going.”

If R.K. Narayan were alive and stayed in Bangalore, he might have created a fictional town sitting in a noisy and overcrowded Third Wave Coffee joint. His lead character Swami would brainstorm about cryptocurrency and Web 3.0 over the cup of sea salt mocha as the slow and reverbed low-fi version of Malgudi Days played in the background.

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The dichotomy

Many believe that one of the adjectives that fit Bangalore is that it is a ‘humble city’. A city that takes pride in the simplicity that also shows in the popular icons that came out from the Karnataka capital. For instance, one of the most humble mascots of the city is Rahul Dravid, who popularised the idea of building the wall way before Donald Trump. Superstar Rajinikanth, also known for his humility, worked as a bus conductor in Bangalore before he entered the cinema and defied the laws of physics through his stunts.

Another humble cricketer Anil Kumble is from Bangalore. One of the defining cricketing images of Anil Kumble is emerging from the pavilion, ready to bowl, his face wrapped in the bandage during a Test match in West Indies. He was due to fly back to Bangalore the following day for the surgery, and said, “At least I can now go home with the thought that I tried my best.” This is the kind of Indian style of ‘work workshop ethics’ that any startup owner would want their employee to follow. Just the way, sometimes, many delivery startups account proudly post pictures of their delivery guys, half-drowned in flood, hustling to deliver the Meghana Biryani to a hungry techie sitting in his jockey boxers inside the apartment in Whitefield.

Founder of Infosys and father-in-law of UK PM Rishi Sunak, Narayana Murthy always took pride in militant humility. Murthy’s humble style inspired many Indians, including Indians who are rich enough, to find a philosophical defence of their miser behaviour in the word ‘austerity’. Productivity-obsessed Murthy said during the pandemic that ‘Indians should work for 60 hours a week for next 2-3 years to revive the economy.’ This had made many Indians angry, even those who till a few years back, might have pasted this as an inspirational quote on their wall. But now, when the concept of ‘chill’ and ‘self-care’ has gained currency in the neo-liberal world, this quote creates a surgical strike on happiness. Bangalore city is also home to the ‘King of Good times’ Vijay Mallya, who doesn’t espouse any kind of humility and believes in living life king-size. In a way, Mallya is antithetical to Murthy.

The point of this argument is that perhaps, there isn’t any single characteristic to define a city, and like any migrant city, Bangalore is also a city of contrasts.

This dichotomy of Bangalore can also be seen through its food culture. Only a search of Brahmin food on Google can give you results of more than 30 restaurants and cafes. India’s Silicon Valley perhaps has not gotten rid of the open display of caste names that denotes the symbols of ‘purity.’ Caste 1.0 exists right under Web 3.0.

But there also lies the contrast. Bangalore is not a city where many take pride in the morality of being a pure vegetarian. This business of purity in food is, however, inadvertently countered by so many steakhouses and cafes in in the city that serve the kinds of meats which may have attracted an uninvited visit of Bajrang Dal if it were in Northern India.

In my latest podcast with Vijeta Kumar, who teaches English at St. Joseph’s College, I asked her why Bangalore doesn’t have a distinct personality like a city like Chennai or Mumbai. She replied, “perhaps it is good that cities don’t have an intrinsic distinct personality because that means that it is unwillingly accommodative of people who come from other cities.”

But despite all such characteristics, it can’t be argued that this beautiful garden city has been converted into an urban nightmare. At the moment, Bangalore is crushing by the weight of its own growth, and no one seems to have any answer to it. A better metaphor for Bangalore city would be a shy kid who is expected to be an extrovert. As if Roger Waters from Pink Floyd is asked to sing a song by Neha Kakkar.

Something about the current Bangalore doesn’t quite fit in, and one couldn’t actually make out the feel of the city. Philosopher Gilles Deleuze wrote about the term ‘any space whatsoever’, which refers to ‘unimportant’ urban space such as a metro, a doctor’s waiting room, or an airport terminal. These aren’t the ‘real’ spaces, and these are more of transit places where one passes between home and work. These are the spaces where individual become depersonalized and doesn’t feel any sense of space. The current state of Banglore is that the entire city feels ‘any space whatsoever.’ A transit space where one feels the experience of the whole city as if one is sitting inside the airport waiting room where the walls are crumbling down, and the television is playing the visuals of moving clouds in the loop.

Bangalore, a city where they talk a lot about Artificial Intelligence, is failed by the basic intelligence of its authorities. Or perhaps the greed of the authorities who are destroying the city in a very humble way.

Anurag is a multimedia artist and host of Anurag Minus Verma Podcast. He tweets @confusedvichar. Views are personal.

(Edited by Anurag Chaubey)

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