Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Changes in Bangalore

The changes I saw in Bangalore

Visiting Bangalore in March of 2010 after nearly 3 years, I saw several noticeable changes.
The city seemed hotter than before. I always wore sweaters till spring years ago when in Bangalore but now in spring of 2010 I needed a fan instead of sweaters!
The time one needed to get from one place to another be it by bus, auto, car or two-wheeler had doubled compared to years ago. I remember it took about 45 minutes to get from Yelahanka to City Market in 1997-98 but now it took nearly two hours for the same ride! Plus it was so full of discomfort with drivers honking, the exhaust fumes in our faces, the long wait at the railway crossing, the swelling in number of all vehicles and people.
There is a huge increase in the number of people, vehicles on the road and consequently there is a huge increase in noise and air pollution in Bangalore. Coming from a relatively quiet place, it initially seems too much to take but I did get used to it in a few days.
Another terrible change I see is the inflation. The prices of all goods and services now are unbelievably high! I feel deeply saddened thinking of my retired relatives and friends, who were once in government service as officers, engineers, professors, etc who are living on pensions which are inadequate for maintaining their previous life styles….they did not even have luxurious life-styles in the past! One of the most depressing things I saw was an aged aunt of mine (in her late 70s), who had worked as a school teacher, working now with nursery kids, to make ends meet. When she told me the cost of onions and tur dhal and asked me how she was expected to pay one hundred rupees for a kilo of tur dhal, I was miserable and speechless. Inflation has devastated many families. The true and complete effects of inflation in damaging families cannot be measured. People usually place the blame at the right door i.e. the government as responsible for the inflation. Yet, they also take out their frustrations on their family members and others who are as much a victim as they are. The person in the family who is in a poorly paying job is blamed or ridiculed, the vendor who sells vegetables or whatever at high rates is yelled at, the servants are yelled at for asking too much salary. The list of people taking out their frustrations on other victims goes on.
I remember that when I was a kid, all of my relatives in the city were at the same level, economically speaking. (those in villages cannot be compared, economically to the ones in the city) Now the economic range of the families and new families (i.e. cousins who now have families of their own) has widened enormously. While many are doing well, especially those who went into the science stream (engineering, medicine and dental), those of us who opted for arts stream and other stream are struggling to just maintain a middle class life style. Siblings and cousins who were at teh same economic level as children are now so wide apart economically, that  it's not funny. (Though the economic differences do not affect the affection we have for each other, we definitly notice it!) It’s not just inflation tearing apart families but other issues such as lack of job opportunities for those with college degrees in science, arts and commerence, lack of job opportunities for those from rural schools and colleges, for those with lesser education. The reservation policy prevents many of us from jobs in government service and in the 80s there were limited jobs in the private sector compared to what Bangalore has today. Apart from reservation, the inability/refusal to pay bribes and the absence of ‘influence’ were two other factors which prevented a few of my friends and cousins from getting decent jobs.
Another hugely sad feature of current day Bangalore is the increase in prostitution and its blatant and obvious presence. Walking in Majestic or Market area, one had to be alert and ‘look out’ for these women. But when I visited in 2010, I found them in large numbers, in broad day light, standing in the middle of the walkway in the city bus-station.
I also saw many many of them on M.G.Road near the metro construction between Kavery and Shankar Nag theatre. I was surprised at their number. When I asked a Bangalorean, I was told that, after the US recession in 2008, many garment factories in Bangalore stopped getting orders from their USA buyers and they had shut down. The women working in these factories were suddenly jobless and many were from villages, with lesser education and no other skills than sewing. These women had been forced to take up this profession in order to survive. To think that some American idiots greed & stupidity brought about recession in USA and the US recession is drastically affecting thousands of young women in Karnataka was depressing. What really burns me up is that most people blame these women for taking up prostitution, treat them like dirt, exploit them, but hardly anyone analyzes why some women take up this degrading profession or try to help them.
One sad consequence of these ills in Bangalore is the decreasing empathy in people. Maybe I am imagining it or maybe it is true of only some people, but there seems to be a definite lack of empathy, sympathy in people. The son who is unemployed, the child who chose to not take the main-stream (in my circle main-stream means computer science, engineering and a few other professional courses like medicine and dental; and every thing else is frowned upon by most parents. Will you believe it, even a nursing degree or a degree in education is looked down upon by the middle-class in Bangalore ! That’s the kind of respect for teaching/teachers or nursing/nurses, middle class snobs have ! )
but to come back to my point about people lacking empathy, when one goes against the main-stream i.e. do something different like study arts, wants to do voluntary work or work in a low paid job but which one is passionate about, the person faces consequences. The family keeps criticizing the person and beg him or her to move to main-stream. The threats sound like this: "No one will marry you. Who wants to marry a school teacher? Why cant you study engineering/ How can you support your wife on your salary? What job will you get with a B.A? Who will offer you a job with your B.Com degree? " The worst one I have heard is this: "You are already dark-skinned. And now you say you do not want tostudy science and you want to study comers? Who will marry you? If you at least take science and study engineering, we can maybe find you some groom."
This lack of empathy and support is seen in many families. I suppose it is a bit better now within the family than it was about 20 years ago. I seem to see a lot of parents quite concerned about their kids and a definite reduction in the kind of pressure they put on their kids. But we still have a long way to go.
But there is a definite decrease in empathy for people outside the family. People seem to be engrossed about their family and it’s problems and seem to think little about the fate of other people. There is a kind of harshness in interactions between people and a definite erosion of trust. Every interaction seems to be a near-confrontation. Interactions with bus-conductors, auto drivers, vegetable-sellers, the people at counters when one goes to pay bills, etc. The hostility to strangers is seen maximum while driving on roads or walking as pedestrians! I sometimes thought that smiling and pleasantness has disappeared so much in Bangalore that when someone smiles at me, I immediately become suspicious and wonder if the smiler is out to con me !
Another major change I saw was that everyone seemed to be carrying a cell phone! I really liked that especially when I saw the vegetables vendors on the roads using mobiles!
This indicates, to me at least, greater communication and accessibility even for people with low incomes which is really good.
I was definitely sad to see the disappearing bungalows of Gandhi Bazaar to be replaced by multi storied buildings. I wonder why builders build these multi-storey buildings and do not make arrangements for water supply to the flats in these buildings. I have heard of horror stories of people who bought these flats in areas like Yelahanka and later discovered that there was poor water supply.
There has been an increasingly poor supply of water and electricity in Bangalore even since I was a kid. But the situation seem to be getting out of control now. While the middle and upper class buy wanter from tankers which arrive at their homes, I feel really sorry for the poor who cannot afford to buy water from these tankers.
Thanks to the absolute shamelessness of politicians who do nothing to improve the conditions of people, the problems of Bangalore continue. I hope that the situation in Bangalore is better when I visit next.
One positive change I saw was the polite behaviour of people in some government offices I visited. I do know that they still do no work unless bribed but it was a relief to see their polite behaviour! But I wonder… a polite corrupt person better than a rude corrupt person? I don’t know!Does the lamb prefer a smiling butcher to a stern butcher?  You tell me!

Another change I have seen in Bangalore over many years is the importance people are giving to looks, appearence and grooming ! It is not just the rich or middle-classes. Now nearly all people seem to dye their greying hair, nearly all women do their eye-brows and use some minimum makeup! About 2 decades ago, one could see lots of greying men and women but hardly any now. It is great to see people caring about their appearence but I also miss the greying middle-aged who cared more for 'the important things in life' than looks!
Several people in my village too had started dying their hair and this surprised me. The only time anyone ever bought a hair-dye packet in my village was when they wanted to sell their aged buffalo; they would dye the entire animal's body, hoping that it looks younger if it is blacker and try to sell it as a young one which is capable of yielding lots of milk! I am also thinking of the impact of lead pollution in the water, caused by this Kala Mehendi(Indian hair dye powders have  lead in them) being used by greying Bangaloreans over time.
Some changes which will make a positive difference to life in Bangalore:
If people carried cloth bags when they shop and refuse the plastic bags, there will be less plastic bags, less plastic floating around in gutters, on roads, less plastic pollution.
If people waited instead of trying to over-take while driving  and showed patience and good manners, the traffic jams will clear faster.
If people, stopped using precious drinking water to clean their front yards daily, several thousand buckets of water will be saved.
If people planted a few plants in their houses instead of building on every inch of space in their sites, there would be ground water recharging, some oxygen generation, some greenery, some shade.
If people simplified celebrating festivals or changed the way they celebrated, there would be so many positive impacts. Use of Ganeshas and Gouries without color during Ganesh Chaturti would reduce lead poisoning of water tanks; Not using tinsel to decorate; not using fire-crackers during Deepavali; substituting newspaper to wrap incence sticks, camphor would reduce the plastic papers lying around temples. I know the banning of fire-crackers will have a negative impact on fire-cracker manufacturing units in Sivakasi and other places but I hope they will change their business to something else.
The government and many government employees can do so many things to improve the life of Bangaloreans but as they are shameless corrupt bastards loaded with impunity and not burdened with a conscience, it is a waste of time suggesting anything to them.


Sunil Mallenahalli said...

Hello Sir,

I have gone through your Articles, really nice Articles. Our Bangalore has changed lot in all the sense. As you told leading life for Middle class family members its very difficult.

Kindly send me e-mail notification when you write new Aticles, it will helps me to read. THanks
Sunilkumar MS

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laasya said...

hey, i m laasya, just chanced across this blog. I found your observations about changes in bangalore life v interesting. living on the spot, so to speak, some changes are not that obvious to us! (mostly because the pollution and traffic drowns all others in our grumbles)

well written! :)

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