[Recently, I had written a small piece for Bangalore Times on the changing life style in Bangalore. It is the first of a series of weekly columns, titled "Home Run", that Bangalore Times will publish on impressions about returning to India by people that have lived abroad. Was fortunate to be able to write the first one!
Thank you Bangalore Times.
Due to space constraints we had to cut short my article. Here below, I have posted the full version. Enjoy Maadi!]
I am nothing special. I am one of those multitude of people that returned to India after a fairly long stint in the US. After spending close to eight years in Salt Lake City, Utah, my family returned to Bengaluru in the year 2000. Life in the US had its own charm, particularly since the city had a small Indian population.
The small community of Indians itself created possibilities. Possibilities that emerged due to the tenuous connection we could establish with things Indian.
Families came together with relative ease, gathering over weekends, organizing cultural events, staging plays, forming music bands, having Dosa parties, doing things that in general threw inhibitions to the wind, bringing us together in a strange way, on one end of the spectrum, to immersing ourselves in the grandeur of the capitalism that was part of every aspect of the American life, on the other.
Long weekends were eagerly awaited, for the long drives they offered to distant places, for the opportunity to visit novel destinations and for the gay abandon with which we could inhale the “freedom” of a country known for its respect for the individual.
But like anything else in life, this too had to pass! There came a time when we had to return to India for various reasons, one among them being the craving to connect back with our roots. For reasons obvious, we decided to get back to Bengaluru. MNCs were starting up, the bubble had still not broken, opportunities were abound, and most of our extended families were here. It was a natural choice.
Ten years hence, when I look back at what we expected it to be and what it turned out to be, the only word that comes to my mind is “metamorphosis”. Life in this city has changed in such unimaginable ways that I won't be surprised if “Bengaluru” is added to the list of synonyms for “change” in the near future.
Somewhere in the middle of the cacophony of our daily life that is made up of harrowing commutes, smelly air and constant conversations that seem to have taken over the calm of the city, lies an inexplicable charm, characteristic only of this city.
If one were to pause and reflect on the phenomenon that is Bengaluru, one would find a fascinating transformation, in many ways surpassing normal expectations. How Bengaluru has changed in the last few decades would probably top the charts in social conversations, and rightly so, since it probably is the only city in India that has gone through not only rapid but also multifaceted change. Just talking about it has the potential to carry a whole evening through.
At the same time, one must note here that change is definitely nothing private to Bengaluru. Change is common to every city of the world, big or small. But what makes it unique for Bengaluru is the speed with which it has changed.
See, there is relative change and absolute change. On both counts, I think Bengaluru stands out – for the speed with which it has transformed. This, in spite of my strong belief based on my living abroad, that fundamentally people are same all around the world. They have similar aspirations, qualms, beliefs and emotions everywhere. But then there is something in the DNA of this city that has made its people adapt at the speed of light and still maintain their bonhomie.
But sadly, unlike the way cities in other countries change, change in Bengaluru seems to have been accompanied by a brash callousness to environment. One wonders, what's it in our collective consciousness that makes us take things for granted!
Still, if we were to have a balanced view, we must not ignore the many positives that have been part of the transformation of our city from Bangalore to Bengaluru.
It would be an interesting exercise to dive deep and take a look at things that have changed about this city.
From changes of the “in your face” kind to those of a subtle nature, the list could be a never ending one. Here's a top 10 list of some very interesting and significant ones.
10. Fragrance, the signature of Bengaluru.
When I first set foot in Bengaluru about 25 years ago, one thing that stood out and is still vivid in memory, is the fragrance of the Sampiges and Malliges that used to pervade the streets of Bengaluru. Coupled with the nip in the early morning air it created a mystic aura about the city. Where gone are those days?
9. Summer, only in a calendar.
I think it was in the Seventies, when I used to visit this city for summer vacation, in my boyhood days. Finding warm sunshine was such a rarity that we used to rush to a sunny spot in the street, like a stream down a gradient. Now it almost feels like we only have two seasons in Bengaluru – Summer and December.
8. Fabric of our youngsters
Unlike now, those were days when children used to actually assemble on the streets to play gilli-danda, gully cricket and the likes. While children getting tied down in front of a TV or a gaming console is not peculiar to this city, I think the global exposure of our people has made it more pronounced a change for us.
7. Green to Gray.
This might be the most obvious one to the extent of being branded a cliché. But this is probably the biggest and most prominent change that this city has gone through – urban development, not just horizontally but also vertically. It almost feels like Beijing, when one drives on our Outer Ring Road, and I am not just talking about the smog!
6. Modern Governance.
Thanks to the efforts of civic bodies like Janagraha, BATF, etc., significant changes have happened in modernization of governance in the city. Bangalore One, BBMP Online are only a few examples of how technology has been adopted in governance. While there is a long way to go, the right first steps have been taken.
5. Traffic that is a miracle.
My boss from the US used to say that people in Bengaluru are Kami Kaze. I couldn't agree with her more. I don't understand what is with us, but we truly drive like our life is in others' hands - what with making right turns from the right side of the road; driving as if our helmets are blinders; staking our right on the wrong side of the road just by turning our high beam on; and generally flouting every law of the land. Forget caring for others, don't we at least have to care for ourselves?
4. Affordability, the mother of all virtues
Like Deepak Chopra says, material abundance makes the journey to success a pleasant one. One of the greatest changes I see in Bangalore is the increase in affordability of our people, leading to a healthy and vibrant economy. Recession? What's that?
3. Civic Sense
Not so pleasant to talk about is the change in civic sense in our city. But, unfortunately, that is reality. It would be actually a relief if only our citizens were more responsible, more civic and more loving of the fellow citizens. Maybe we should start with our neighbors and not bicker about the coconut trees on the other side of the compound.
2. Cosmo Cuisine
Not sure if one will find the peaceful coexistence of the quaint eat outs of Basavangudi and the Macs, KFCs and Pizza Huts in any other city. Fortunate are those whose taste buds are alive and well.
1. Ubiquitous Ashrams
Maybe it is the 2012 effect, but I think the unbelievable number of Ashrams in and around Bangalore is a step in the right direction. It is a known fact that Bangalore is the city with the most number of Ashrams in India. Get set, you meditating types.
Related to all of the above and actually as a result of the above, the other big change that is common in Bengaluru is the ever increasing influx of people from other cities, either by design or by default.
In conclusion, I take comfort in the fact that, in spite of the wide gamut of changes that this city has been through, it has retained the nerve of its fabric, entwined in the sociable nature of its people – the quaintly peaceful type - the quintessence of the “Adjust Maadi” culture of our friendly Bengaluravaru and its salubrious climate – the misty mornings and “Palm Beach” like evenings.