Saturday, June 04, 2011

Life In A Metro — Urban Blues

In its transition from Garden City to Mall City, Bangalore has lost its identity

When you live close to a city or town of public interest – say Agra or Pondicherry – you invariably end up never going there because the proximity makes you take the place for granted. “Oh, what's the hurry,” you keep telling yourself as the years roll by, while people living thousands of miles away keep coming in hordes to visit the very place.

I came to live in Chennai in early 2001, and it was a good four years before I happened to visit Bangalore, barely 360 km away, and five years before I finally travelled to Pondicherry, just 160 km away. They may say it's better late than never, but in the case of Bangalore, had I delayed my visit by a couple of years, I would have never known what it looked like in its heyday when it was also known as the Air-conditioned City, Garden City and Pensioners' Paradise. I had made it just in time – the reverse metamorphosis of the city, brought about by the IT revolution in the late 1990s, was beginning to be visible but still far from obvious.

As with everything ‘first', the sensations of that maiden trip to Bangalore in June 2005 are still alive. As soon as I stepped onto the station – it was close to noon by then – a cool breeze caressed my face. The portable, invisible air-conditioner was to accompany me throughout my stay. And one evening, when a small group of people had gathered in the balcony of a friend's house for post-dinner conversation, it became so cold that the friend had to dig out all the blankets and shawls she had in her cupboards. This was June, when Chennai was a furnace!

This small group of people, that included me, went pub-hopping every evening. Bangalore took great pride in its pubs – they weren't mere watering holes where people just went to get drunk; they were the symbols of its sophisticated culture where the young rubbed shoulders with the not-so-young to get drunk on music and conversation. The frothy beer was mostly an excuse – and, at times, the catalyst – for the enjoyment. How can I ever forget the sight of young men frenziedly playing the air guitar with their eyes shut as the DJ brought on Led Zeppelin!

June 2011: As I got off the train and walked down the platform on a bright morning, the first thing that struck me was the heat. I waited several minutes for that familiar breeze to brush past my face but none arrived. By the time I reached the parking lot, where a friend was waiting to show off his new car, I found patches of sweat on my shirt. “Next year we are going to buy ACs for our bedrooms. The summers have become quite unbearable here,” the friend told me as he navigated the station traffic. His wife added, “We would have bought them this year itself, but we spent quite a bit on the car.” I hadn't even brought up the weather.

The same evening, I returned to M.G. Road. I found it brutally scarred by the monster called development. It is no longer a place for a stroll, but a cramped pathway where you navigate crowds. And the less said about Brigade Road, once the most fashionable stretch in the city, the better. Today, it is a slightly upscale version of Chennai's Ranganathan Street, where it is impossible to walk without your elbows touching those of total strangers.

The Pensioners' Paradise is today undergoing reconstruction to accommodate the migrant workforce. The green cover is shrinking, the population is exploding. Much of the migrant population has never known the charm of old Bangalore: they are dazzled by its malls and so more malls are coming up. A huge mall is opening shortly on No. 1, M.G. Road – and is most likely to be named after its enviable address.

Later that evening, I made another heartbreaking discovery: the death of Bangalore's nightlife. I was aware that nightclubs now follow a strict 11.30 deadline, but what I didn't know was that many of the popular standalone pubs I had visited during my maiden trip had shut down. In any case, today's Bangalorean hardly has the time to wind down with mugs of beer. After a hard day's work, he has a bigger challenge waiting for him: the long and strenuous drive back home.

Published in The Hindu MetroPlus, June 4, 2011.

19 comments:

Janani Sampath said...

Bengaluru is stifling under its own growth, I guess.

Lakshmi said...

bangalore according to me is dead..forget night life - the city died a long time ago and everyday people are flogging a dead horse - time to write an obituary I suppose

Anonymous said...

I have missed last week's "Saturday spin"...???

Ranjjan Chatterjee said...

Bishi a fantastic blog of a city reformed now in to one of the biggest targeted paradise for the upcomming generation i.e IT/ITES . I love to visit Bengaluru .Hey lets chill out someday at the pub and discuss some very hot topics .

Ranjjan Chatterjee

Soumya said...

A trip down memory lane for me - I spent the first 23 years of my life in B'lore,you see.
Now, with every visit, it seems less and less like home....

Anonymous said...

Lakshmi u are pissing me off all the more..What do you know about bangalore's night life? For all I know you must be from the god forsaken Chennai!!

Anonymous said...

Eveey city has undergone a change and not just bangalore. Population explosion owing to its appeal as a cosmopolitan IT hub and ofcourse worsening traffic. I was a regular visitor until a couple of years ago. But last year a trip with a dear friend of mine brought back superb memories. It was hot and not humid. Nightlife as sexy as ever which was a refreshing change from chennai. Unusually the DJ visits chennai often and I found myself cross with him for not making it as interesting. The pub was sutra and in one of the best hotels. You must realize that there were happening discos in chennai itself much before your migration that were a pride. Once teenyboppers took ovwr the rest movwd on to star hotels. Same way bangalore's pride was to walk in commercial street or be seen im your best attire during evenings and be spotted at pubworld or nasa. Today UB city is a hangout. Also concerts still happen. Themes are followed in small restos where you are seated next to strangers just so you can hook up. Leela has the most sought after brunch. I spotted sanjay khan discussing a script in oberoi. Aerosmith and bryan adams chose bangalore over chennai. Japanese cuisine has taken over big time. Ambience in most restos are unbeatable. It houses two of the best spas in the south includong jindal. One should die if they have not eaten at MTR tiffin house. Embrace change if you can to feel less remorseful. When you go knowing what to do and expect, you will be less disappointed. Chennai is my haven and my life but bangalore or any city is looked upon with great memories and embraced gracefully when homework is well done. When favts are distorted ans the only experience is based on one book wonders of travel writing, every cit will be like the mundane wife instead of the alluring mistress. Readers, again our author kicks us in the butt wirh his version of the garden city while he upheld kolkatta rather unfairly. Speak up and argue with him instead of blindly following faith. He is as new as any of us.

Anonymous said...

The only people who like Bangalore nowadays are the ones who are heavily invested in Bangalore real estate.

Most of the old Bangaloreans have moved to Mysore, which still retains a semblance of sanity.

Bangalore has become a selfish, heartless and ugly city which retains only one human trait : greed.

Anonymous said...

everything said and done,its not the investment in real estate that makes one love bangalore.its the city with its aura with its BEST weather that makes it stand apart.and what was the talk about it getting hotter,in fact the temperature never rose above 36 degree even in the peak of summer.and the greed is not of the city its all these non bangaloreans who cant stop settling down here that are a cause of problem.

Sudeep said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

From coeur de lion to sudeep with love:
I wonder if you have travelled at all? I merely found it a slightly unwarranted jab at bangalore when the authour takes great pride in his kanpur and bengali roots. I only said do your homework well. I also gave a valid account. I could write pages but just dont have the time. It's always nice when a blog is argued upon with genuine facts. Sometimes you need to look at a city beyond its pub culture and see why the focus has shifted. Chennai , my own city has a worse curfew. You need to explore some ordinary places to feel the real warmth instead of analysing weather. Every city has undergone climateric chsnges. For that blame population explosion and migration,pollution with emission of toxins,warped ozone layers and slaying the green belt. Its raining in chennai during peak summer. This was not the case few years ago. Atleast not heavy. I also noticed that you have not personally commented or contributed to the blog. You have only managed to whip out another lecture from me. Annonymity is the cloak I need till I start a blog myself. My charm would diminish if I were to unleash skills on another's page space. BG is really good and its a tough job to keep up. Sudeep, am not a lion but a lioness. Take care.

Janani Sampath said...

Sudeep: i can't help agree... well said.

Sudeep said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

Hey sudeep. Peace. Curiosity got the better of me. Saw your picture and the blogs you follow. You are a replica of Bish, a fuller version if I may say so. I take your comments in the right spirit. Although I may retract my final statement of "dont keep kissing upto BG", I am wondering if everyone is going to hail kolkatta as the number one city? And if everyone else in India is dumb except bengali. It's true that bangalore has changed, especially since the author went specifically looking for a breeze, short skirts and nightlife. Cmon guys, chill. I am allowed to joke a bit. But look beyond that. How else did you think I changed my mind about a dirty overcrowded stinking howrah-fied kolkatta to a calm, charming, intellectually driven city satisfying my palate as well as the mind? Look beyond and embrace. Sudeep ji: I love the words you use. BG: Peace. Next time you will not denounce or compare unfairly. I like you. And the rest, especially Ms.Janani, I laud you for your incessant devotion to BG. Wont provoke you again.

Janani Sampath said...

@ anonymous: you might want to know readers are devoted to any writer who is honest and wears a 'I don't care attitude' and continues to write...
and in case you have begun a blog pls drop in the URL.. would love to read ur writing..:)

cheers and peace

JS

Bishwanath Ghosh said...

Dear Anonymous: Please don't clutter my comment-box and inbox with inanity. Please re-read your convoluted comments: are they even remotely relevant to what I have written?

Anonymous said...

hello,
Mr Ghosh I truly admire your writing.
however,the best piece produced is when you tell about everyday things in an extraordinary manner.Idlis for instance.It lingers and now i think of this post everytime i have idlis-hot or cold!
or your post on how the supermarket culture has invaded our lives.
ordinary things that attract no attention until the writer in you brings us to notice it...
also i would love to have some tips on creative writing;the one post that asked to use simple words like 'theft'instead of 'heist'.

please Mr Ghosh?

Anonymous said...

I would first save the DVDs of Basu Chatterjee's films. Why so? Wait for the next post -- if you still want to.

you never told.

Udaya said...

It's not only Bangalore, but cities like Hyderabad too. In the last 6 years I have been here, I have seen the place transform before my eyes and over night! Sometimes, (since hyd municipal corporation insists on blue covers for construction sites unroll they're complete) its a shock to see new buildings suddenly standing on an often traversed street//road. But I for one, like this development.. I know change hurts but it has made the city so open to new people and who doesn't like meeting new people? Coming from Delhi, I think change brings hyd closet to home for me.. The growing pace of city life et al