Bangalore is the place where my father nurtured a dream many years ago, she is the place where I learnt to walk but she no more holds my hand, she silently watches me struggle to get to the other side each time I try to wade through like a lost egret. A new wave of restlessness engulfs me as a balloon of black smoke chokes me and pushes me back to the same spot. I wonder why I am unable to take this trodden path that I have walked all my life. How and when did I drift into this muddle of madness without my knowledge?
Back then I grew up in an isolated patch of greenery amidst a thick groove of guava trees, which was regarded as the outskirts of the city, with not many houses around. The only thing I saw in abundance was the open stretch of fields laden with shady trees that nestled rare birds and plants with exotic flowers that drew many butterflies. This atmosphere made me fall in love with her.
A deep crater lay a few feet away from my house where many trees peeped out at me as if I were a stranger. It was also home to many frogs that croaked their heart’s content, the sound echoing in the wilderness through the breeze all night. As a little kid I shuddered at the thought of going anywhere near it, fearing that one slip and I would fall deep into it never to come out again. But each time the cattle walked precariously on those steep slopes, I was amazed at how they disappeared into and reappeared from it. The huge crater and all its mysteries were some kind of a big bang theory to me then.
Grass-covered paths cut across by muddy lanes with tell-tale footprints and bicycle tyre marks led my way to the nearest shop. There was a serene calm often interrupted by the shrill call of Thammaiah — our vegetable vendor — who usually stacked fresh greens along with heaps of tender cucumbers on his bamboo basket that was a permanent accessory to his second-hand Atlas bicycle. ‘Five bunches for five rupees, Amma,’ he would say.
My mother would bargain hard and knock it down to three rupees for six bunches, to which he readily agreed and sat down by the porch for his glass of buttermilk that she usually offered him on a hot afternoon. After gulping it down he would tuck the coins into his pockets and pedal off singing and my mother would proudly carry back her prized deal, only to be stopped by Nirmala Aunty, our talkative neighbour, who enquired about how much she had paid and how thick or tender the bunches were. The question would soon lead to an elaborate discussion about the whole neighbourhood, ranging from the day’s menu to husbands, to the newest thing procured at home, to the nearest festivals, to when Mrs Pai would be returning home, to the next scheduled power cut. The power cut would remind the ladies to hurry up. My mom would quickly press a couple of bunches into Aunty’s hands and rush back to her routine.
Ours was the only house with a telephone connection and a colour television set in the entire area, but it was as if the entire neighbourhood owned it. Nirmala Aunty and a dozen others had given our phone number to their relatives and friends.
It was like a daily ritual to go and call them to attend their respective telephone calls. Most people thanked us, but Nirmala Aunty would lose her cool if we missed calling her even once on a busy day. This was unwarranted liberty she took due to the close proximity of our houses but my mom never minded it.
Sometimes a neighbouring uncle would drop us kids to school on his scooter where some four of us clung to his fat belly from the backseat and another two floated on the footrest in front, but most of the time I walked down alone admiring my surroundings secretly.
On my way back from school I would usually take a short cut that bypassed the main road and was full of thorny shrubs and desolate fields. An open-step well that was big enough to swallow the sky that reflected in it invited my curiosity. Carpeted with mossy walls this spot seemed like paradise for my after-school fishing adventure. A bunch of kids, we were often escorted by my notorious brother. We would bring home our prized catch in a Nandini milk plastic packet as it was the only source of plastic then. Later we converted some glass jar into an aquarium.
These little moments were very refreshing and liberating for me. Although this whole episode sounds scary for me as a parent today, I must say that those days we were completely fearless. I do not know if it was because of innocence, ignorance, luck or sheer destiny as my parents believed, but we were carefree.
My parents were not as over-protective as I am today. Life then was not so hectic. We had a lot of time for each other, playing forever, yet I looked up my homework diary and finished the homework without any assistance lest I should face the ordeal of writing it several times or being shamed in class the next day. There were no online circulars sent to my parents or any parent-teacher meetings scheduled, but I learnt to be responsible.
I still remember the day when I first witnessed the laying of a tar road near my house. Those smooth black surfaces inspired boundless joy and I cycled on them all day long on a hired bicycle.
There was no traffic or dog menace, nor did we worry about strangers. I merrily walked up to school, kicking every stone I found on my way, practicing some hard hopscotch, but never complained because that was how life was or at least that is what I thought then. Occasionally, my father would drop me to school; the pride in that scooter ride was something I have not experienced in a while even with the utmost luxuries of life today.
It rained while the sun shined and shined while it rained while a variety of flowers with vivid hues appeared in full bloom. I wondered why nature was so moody, but rainbows seemed to form when she smiled. I stood there mesmerised beneath the trees marveling at her beauty. Watching the rain seemed magical to me but the icing was when I could recreate this magic by shaking the nearest branch and walked back home all drenched carrying the jute backpack on my head or sometimes by the side of a kind stranger who sheltered us with their broad umbrellas.
I loved playing Lagori, Four Corners, Hide and Seek and Red Blue Green — a game with skipping ropes on the road. We played non-stop without interruption from any motor vehicles.
But slowly things began to change. A few houses trickled in here and there, a few shops appeared from nowhere and even a temple came up overnight.
The toads had to compete with the loudspeakers now as the air was filled with the catchy tunes from competing shrines. Gradually the silence was replaced by sounds of spluttering and honking vehicles.
We learnt new languages and new technologies. Soon the Utility building, which was once the tallest building around, was dwarfed and camouflaged by many similar looking or even taller structures. My school, which I could see from my terrace earlier, was buried by the concrete jungle. In fact I can’t even see the vegetable market two streets from my home because of the vertical spill-over today.
The crater is all levelled up now and a multi-storeyed apartment complex has come up. The smooth black roads where I cycled are battered with the burden of urban slaves.
The street hawker has become cosmopolitan too; he now proudly flaunts his broken multi- lingual skills in his low-waist jeans. Thammaiah has shed the bamboo basket and he calls himself Big Basket.
People throng to Bangalore for greener pastures each year, unknowingly ripping the green out of her, but still she welcomes them all into her cool canopy. I have accepted it all – just as she has. It is not only me adapting to the habitat, even the grasshoppers, squirrels and those mean eyed chameleons that earlier crossed the narrow paths mindlessly are now more careful lest they get crushed under wheels mercilessly.
There are no open fields left now as everything is marked ‘This property belongs to so and so….’ She is a clogged mess I cry but I don’t stop my affair with plastic in shopping malls where I buy what I see and not see what I buy, unlike my parents who planned their quarterly shopping ritual with dedicated jute bags for specific groceries.
Today that jute bag makes me look old fashioned as everything is finely packed. Canned/ boxed food is in vogue. How can I not be in that league? I turn back and notice chaotic vehicles smoking out around me, blurring the sky with devilish grey soot! The signal turns green and I have to rush. It’s been like this for so many years now. My children no more reuse calendars or newspapers to wrap their books, but they are required to craft fresh paper to campaign for a Go Green initiative at school. They never walk to school alone as I escort them everywhere like a guard. Homework is no child’s play as it is mostly for me and Google to figure out; excessive writing home work could even land the school in legal trouble — claims my son’s class teacher.
In this WhatsApp era where emoticons are more explicit than my eyes and Facebook is better than my face; where emotional health improves with the number of Likes, children get angry without ‘Angry Birds’ and clash with parents for ‘Clash Of Clans’, I have to show them a YouTube video of how Lagori is played.
My city has also borne the brunt of the IT bazooka that has replaced everything around me.
Mauled by the mall culture I do not know why and when my green city turned into a garbage city because people then were not so qualified as compared to today’s educated and elite citizens. Today we have coined the word segregation, but back then my parents reused and recycled things without being told.
I already sound like a five hundred year old to many newcomers who come here for a livelihood and have no idea about how I feel about my city.
They refuse to respond well to my language and culture and call me ‘that local’. I am no language fanatic or a rigid native, but it hurts when I realize that under this refusal lies an aloofness that denies my very existence.
Unable to cope with the urbanization I have myself today moved out of Nirmala Aunty’s neighbourhood into this vertical home where neighbours change like seasons and I stand amidst them like a robot in the lift. People ensure that our eyes don’t meet else they might have to flash a plastic smile. In this virtual abode my ceiling is their dance floor and my floor does not belong to me, your loud guffaws and gossips in common-areas are the sole reason my concentration levels are improving, your chimney smoke is my room freshener and I seek solace even in their thumping footsteps and dragging furniture.
I walk these walled paths in the evening convincing myself that I am secure at home – that I don’t have to worry about a chain snatcher when I stand admiring the clear skies outside or about a stalking stranger upon entering my mortgaged territory, which is regarded as elite by maid servants and rikshaw pullers. Nobody knows where I disappear in this maze of steps, floors and foyers.
Gone are those days when I slept on the terrace watching a million stars smile. Gone too are the sparrows. I am now left chasing pigeons out of my balcony, no I am not a racist! Gone are those empty streets and open fields that let my imagination flow.
Go Green! Save the Earth! Stop Global Warming! they cry! But each day a new garbage mound grows and a new apartment building comes up, oblivious to the already over-crowded, concrete jungle. Migrating into this hegemony of buildings and apartments where every patch of land is bequeathed or betrothed to a builder, planting a sapling is a ceremony.
Lakes, fields, grooves all of them are gone. Bengaluru or Bendhakaaluru the place where I was born and bred that used to be the green cradle which drew my forefathers to her.
But today I wonder why she is the chosen one?
This article has originally appeared on the Earthen Lamp Journal