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The many twists and turns of Bengaluru
Opinion

The many twists and turns of Bengaluru

S.Sivadas

One of the first members of the royalty to have recognised the calibre of an itinerant monk who passed through Mysore was the Maharaja himself. The Rajas of Khetri and of Ramnad had also been not much behind in recognising the potential of this wandering monk. The Mysore royalty was in many ways one of the most progressive and one indication has been the Maharaja’s College that was set up that had some of best faculty in the country. So much so, even the redoubtable Sir Ashutosh Mukherjee, the Calcutta University Vice chancellor, did some cradle snatching by taking away Sir CV Raman and some others to Bengal.

In his travels after Swami Vivekananda became famous, he ran into another visionary, Jamshedji Tata, who also after many travels, through London and Canton, had finally come to India and wanted to start some industries. And one of his dreams was to set up a steel mill in the country and he had approached the Viceroy with this proposal. Lord Curzon, the Viceroy, was so skeptical that he seems to have exclaimed, ‘Indians, wanting to start a steel mill! I will eat every ounce of the steel they produce.’

It was in this state of mind that Tata had run into Swamiji during one of his travels and, as usual, he had mentioned of this dream. The Swamiji was excited. ‘Wonderful,’ he exclaimed and offered a token contribution as benediction. He also told the entrepreneur that along with the steel mill he should also invest in a science institute. One of the outcomes of this encounter has been the setting up of the Indian Institute of Science in Bangalore at the turn of the last century.

Sir CV Raman returned to his old city and along with him came a host of distinguished experts. For good measure, he also set up the Raman Institute. Bengaluru had also the benefit of the visionary M Visweshwarayya for its town planning. Gradually it became the city of gardens, of lakes and a paradise for pensioners. Nearby were small clusters called the ‘perfume city’ and ‘silk city’ and ‘toy city’ that churned out world famous products that had ready markets across the country.

The British had earlier spotted Bangalore’s potential, its salubrious climate, for setting up defence units. The air base at Jallahalli and the army establishments they set up earned for the city the sobriquet of a cantonment town. With its amazing tree cover and well marked roads, it stood out among the other cities of the country. It was no tropical dusty city of wayward traffic and cows at intersections.

Soon true to its martial traditions most of the defence establishments set up after Independence were in Bangalore. Acronyms like HAL, BHEL, BEL, ITI and BHEM were associated with the city. And for a bonus, they all had football teams and one of the best coaches from there was GM Basha who produced a unique style of play called ‘possession football,’ long before Barcelona came with the tika-tika style of play.

In the seventies with the arrival of computers and instrumentation, Bangalore also underwent a slight course correction. From heavy earth movers they shifted to electronics. The Bharat Electronics and Keltron were established there, the pioneers in the new electronic media revolution. Miniaturisation became the new trend and here too the city was in the forefront. More capital and talent flowed from other cities like Mumbai and Chennai and even from abroad. It also became the education hub with the first capitation colleges coming up in the periphery. It was no longer the city of pleasant walks and ice creams at the corner shops, evoked so fondly by RK Narayan.

In the early nineties you still could walk along the lane parallel to MG Road and hear sounds of water flowing and power looms at work. These back alleys were humming with silk weavers plying their trade. There were tiffin outlets and as the matinee crowds poured out of the main avenues they would all crowd those eateries.

In the nineties with the opening up of the economy and the IT revolution, Bengaluru underwent such a transformation that it was unrecognisable. Infosys and Wipro so changed the face of the city that even hardened economists were left speechless. One of them was Thomas Friedman and many ideas for his book, The Earth Is Flat, came from the Bangalore transformation he had witnessed at first hand. The city expanded so dramatically, the population increased correspondingly and all the planning went totally haywire. There were more golf courses than water pipes and drainages and there were more highways and flyovers that lanes and quiet tree-lined avenues that provided such solace. The water bodies slowly shrank in size and became polluted with all the effluents that this city generated. It was no longer the city for pensioners or for  RK Narayan's fans. Its demands for water increased so much these had to be drawn from rivers a hundred miles away.

Naipaul mentions while commenting of RK Narayan's writings that he was surprised by his total neglect of the devastation that Hampi underwent and the havoc that was caused to it. The decline and fall of this empire was not just due to the attacks by the surrounding sultanates, according to one theory. It was due to the wanton destruction of surrounding farmland for the city’s expansion. There are relics of bricks and neatly laid drains in that arid landscape that was once covered with lush paddy fields. The brick structures that are the relics of Harappa also probably tell the same story about their decline due to famine and drought.

Now Bengaluru has expanded so much that its airport is 70 miles away. And the IT pioneer Narayanamurty talks expansively of Lufthansa flights taking off from this city and that agriculture is no longer a viable option and that the country should have an urban population of 70 per cent.

The sectors of the future are the service- the electronics ones. Farming and small manufacturing are no longer on his radar.

It is against this background that the current political turmoil that has been going on in the Karnataka capital for the past one month, and earlier during the electioneering that went on for three months needs to be seen. Lawmakers no longer seem interested in the welfare of the people or the future of the city or even of the state. Like many other cities that had expanded beyond capacity Bengaluru also is affected by all the problems such boom cities face, like pollution, traffic congestion, water scarcity, civic unrest and the periodic elections that bring out the worst in the general public. So, where is the time for these lawmakers who have won hard earned victories to sit down and sort out the pressing problems?