Tuesday, August 08, 2006

How green was my valley

Someone recently sent me a forward about a young man who was kidnapped on his way back from the Madivala bus stand in the early hours of the morning by guys in a sumo, was robbed, and beaten up before being thrown by the side of the road. The forward ended with a trailing sentence on how the guy didn't know what happened to the two girls who were bound and dumped in the corner of the van.

It could happen to me, it said. And if it does, I should give away all my belongings and save my life. Friends also advised me not to go out after ten in the night lest someone should mug me or worse still, kill me. I appreciate their concern. I really do. I know they mean me well and I know the risk is not as remote as it once was. I also realize that everytime I walk back home late in the night, under a flickering street light waits a criminal whose motive is snugly resting in my leather wallet. I do realize all of this. It's just that all this is not, in a matter of speaking, the bangalorean way of living. I wish, and I know I am expecting too much here, I could live my life like I want to as long as I am sure I am within the confines of the law and etiquette.

Of course, it's presumptuous of me to expect to enjoy pleasures like having a coffee late in the night just after it's rained, watching a movie after six in the evening, or visiting a friend who's just a stone throw away if I want to stay alive AND own a credit card. You can't of course have the cake and eat it too especially when, men who can wield knives and break the law don't enjoy the same luxuries as I do.

"What could we do?", ~A asked as strolled along the shrinking pavement in airport road, negotiating with an ever-increasing pedestrian crowd. A couple of more vendors had cropped up over the week. Flowers, cigarettes, magazines were now giving company to torn slippers and bananas. Oblivious software engineers were talking into their phones unaware of such amenities. It wasn't exactly hot, a word still reserved for afternoons in Madras, but we were sweating and each one was walking within his own smelly aura. It was six in the evening and hence wasn't too risky to walk around. I stood there looking at the sample space around me. There is nothing we could do. The city was nosediving into the abysmal economic divide. Every day, auto drivers watch as the ones in back seats spend hours on the phone talking of nothings, and when the ride ends they could keep the change on top of whatever the faulty meter exaggerated as the fare; he stands in the pavement with his plastic cup and watches a cup of coffee served for fifty rupees; he goes back home and faces an irrepairable reality; He believes it's unfair that he cannot afford a square meal while people enjoy unnecessary luxuries for the same money.

Well, there's poverty everywhere and there are rich men everywhere. That's no excuse. It's not. Nothing is ever a valid excuse for crime. But the magnitude of the divide in Bangalore is not the same as everywhere else. I have not seen too many cities in India. But I have lived in Madras and I have been to Cochin and I can tell you, it's not the same thing. There is a lot of quick, young money in the city. Too much money, too soon, too fast and too few ways to spend it. It's like having a jayalalitha's foster son's marriage every day, in different scales and forms.

From here on, there are too many things to talk about - too many reasons and too many excuses. One could talk about the raped women, the murdered ones, the credit racquets and the cheats in BPO offices. Too many accidents. Too many lives lost too soon.

The day I came to Bangalore, my father said I was a lucky to live in lovely city like this. And in the last two years that I have lived here, I can imagine why he said that. I love it for the same reasons as he does. But now, I love my life a little more. He lived here when he was barely 17 and it must have been in the 1960s, when the city was what it was supposed to be. It had its balance. And somewhere in the last few years, the balance is gone. And so has the character. It's been stretched in all directions, stuffed with people and smoked like a salmon by too many vehicles. The days are getting hotter, the rides longer and lives shorter. The government is trying no doubt to restore the sanity by building more flyovers. But may be it's just a little too late. I hope it's a phase. Every huge city has been through it - remember the broken window syndrome in New york. I see the fly over in airport road and tell myself, when this is complete everything else shall fall in place. Assured, I walk during the day, burn my money in lavishes, and sit inside safe classrooms in the night to listen to someone quote Brando, in 'On the water front' ....

You don't understand. I coulda had class. I coulda been a contender. I coulda been somebody, instead of a bum, which is what I am, let's face it. It was you, Charley.

... and smile to myself at the irony.