On hopelessness in the IT capital of India: Bangalore
This post was due a long time. I’ve had various thoughts surrounding the topic for about five years now and this seems to be a good time to log this down.
Whither Bangalore – one could’ve asked this question back in early 2000s when a CM such as S.M. Krishna was in power in the state and be hopeful of things to come. I recall back in 2002 how the infrastructure in the city was beginning to don an outfit never seen before. We were getting decent public toilets, public bus shelters with illuminated maps, etc. The elements of an urban city for a teenager in those days were these and more. There was hope.
What was I doing back then? Taking buses to attend tuition classes at Basavanagudi all the way from Shivajinagar area. It was still possible back then to attend my day school, then take a bus around 4pm and still be on time for the evening tuitions. There were not too many cars back then on the road, two wheelers and public transport were the perceivable majority.
Somewhere something went wrong
Fast forward ten years to say 2012. I moved back to Bangalore from Mumbai thinking Mumbai’s traffic was bad after experiencing a rainy season there. I was mistaken. Politically, the S. M. Krishna kind of politicians are no more. I think we had the worst, most corrupt ages in this decade in the city. The public toilets near bus stands had gone out of maintenance in many places. Certain strongholds continue to have them but are still a minority after having a headstart of nearly ten years. The city municipality had shown multiple instances of high levels of corruption in terms of illegitimate dealings, land records, kickbacks and so on.
Environmentally, the last few summers have been progressively getting warmer. Today, in early November we’re experiencing a mini-summer. The tree cover has drastically reduced, I can actually notice the reduction month-over-month for various oddball reasons in the name of “improvement.”
The city is a cash cow for certain “powers that be” which nobody really is sure who they are. Or I don’t know anybody who does know about it.
The “rent-seeking” economy is huge in this part of the country. You have rich landlords from the 80s who’ve acquired a lot of land in and around this city who’re squeezing the most of it by building the most impractical IT parks or apartments in a very congested area. Take a look at the ORR where the Cessna IT park is. A usual occurence today there is an hour-long wait for cars to simply exit the IT park especially when it has rained outside and maybe more than half the road is unusable.
It might be tempting to attribute certain ills in the city to ignorance rather than malice. Example, the steel-bridge in K.R. Puram that divides that part of the city into two by at least twenty minutes.
There are numerous illegal paying-guest houses in the city for the young and single crowd mostly run by a particular people who don’t even pay taxes and have built flimsy buildings with more than the legally allowed four-storeys.
Real estate in this city is poorly regulated and is a mess. There have been demolitions recently of certain middle-class houses because it allegedly runs on a dysfunctional network of storm drains. While habitual big-money builders get away with the encroachment of areas next to lakes! Digitisation of land-records with modern GIS technology is something this IT capital struggles to do even in 2016.
Almost everything that is done by the governing bodies is with the idea of a cash-cow.
Building or repairing new roads? Make sure they don’t have decent drainage so that a. they’re flooded during the rains and b. they deteriorate in under a year so that a new contract is floated and more kickbacks are received.
Want to register your company or get a VAT certificate? Pay every useless person in the government office at least a few thousand rupees unless you know someone personally to waive this off.
Day to day life
Say you work in an IT company and intend to maintain a decent work-life balance. Maybe put in seven to eight hours at the office. Drive an hour each way because a. the public transport is thin on your route and takes much longer and b. you’re having breathing issues with the air-quality and really need something like a car with a decent activated-charcoal-based air-filter in it.
The hours spent commuting is incomparable to any other activity that one might want to voluntarily participate in. It is a tax. It is something unavoidable for some people. It is something that will have an effect on your work when you drive to work and an effect on your time at home once you drive back home. It is something that determines whether you walk in to work or home with a smile or a disgruntled frown on your face. It is something that regular doses of which contributes to a poor quality of life over the years.
When you’re lucky and it hasn’t rained, the roads are somewhat usable. But beware of the users of these roads. I’ve noticed in the past couple of years, the two-wheelers riding the opposite way one one-ways have become a norm now. Even the police do it. There are vehicles parked at inconvenient places slowing everybody else. There are slow goods carriers that hog the right/fast lane everywhere who will not respect your demand for right of way but will expect that you respect theirs even when they’re not going fast or overtaking another vehicle. In fact, I’ve observed the kind of acts most people do on the roads that I’ve become good at expecting the dumb move a road user might make. I would be very pleasantly surprised if a road user doesn’t do what I expected. And this happens extremely rarely. One such incident is when a middle-aged man was riding a bike with rear-view mirrors (9/10 won’t have them) and he was actually using them! That was something I hadn’t seen in years.
Let’s talk about the roads now. The majority of them aren’t flat. You can’t drive with a coffee in your car (I haven’t tried this, but I’m guessing) nearly anywhere in this city. The roads are undulating or riddled with potholes. Undulating because of years of patchwork or improper road engineering. And potholes because the roads don’t have decent drainage to not be damaged by stagnant water. A road that was patched maybe two weeks ago already has potholes now. You buy a fancy sedan and want to drive it in this city? Expect to replace link rods and suspensions prematurely. And when it rains, expect not being able to spot a pothole because of water logging but, hey, at least the two-wheelers have stopped their suicide rides for taking shelter from the rain under those underpasses blocking more than half of the usable road. There have been incidents where potholes at the end of a flyover cause two wheelers to swerve suddenly and then getting hit by heavier vehicles from the back. Pillion riders have mostly died because of that and nobody gets to be blamed but the rider.
Nobody believes in appropriate signage on the roads anywhere. You’ll find very similar accidents on flyover ramps and other places where a road divider shows up out of the blue because there are no reflectors on them to indicate its presence. You’ll be hard pressed to find any lane markings and most of all nothing to indicate that there’s an unscientific speed-breakers ahead of you which would either dent your wheel or cause something even worse.
As a pedestrian, you’re either an idiot or a victim. Idiot because you cross the road when it’s a green signal for vehicles in a road that’s been blocked by inefficiency or a victim because you don’t really have time to cross the road nor does the traffic policeman give you a pedestrian green light. On more residential areas, there are hoardings of various political organisations celebrating their birthdays and what have you blocking the footpaths in many places. As an elderly person, you have to bend even more to go under them or try to walk outside the footpath risking several dangers such as slipping off the footpath or being driven over by a motorist.
About garbage: a garden city once upon a time, now a garbage city. There is a lot of garbage in this city. They’ve run out of villages in the outskirts to dump garbage at. Waste segregation is still a poorly understood and followed topic. Garbage occupies footpaths. Even roads. And of course, most of the famed storm water drains filled with garbage and sewage. The great lakes of Bangalore are literally foaming with chemical effluents from businesses that have paid off the right officials. In areas where gentrification is still in progress, one can find construction debris and teardown debris of older buildings thrown down the street on the sides.
Let’s talk about restaurants now. In areas such as Indiranagar or Koramangala, it’s common to be charged Bay area prices but served one-third the portions. If you cheap out and eat at a smaller eatery, be prepared to hurt your digestive system the following day.
There was a time when I could pursue other activities after work such as attending a gym or some kind of combat training classes. But now one is already quite tired by the time one reaches home there’s no time or energy left to travel to the gym.
Even the Google maps location names are getting worse by the day. Incorrect data confuses all the delivery startups using Google maps data to mark GPS locations with inaccurate and incorrect labels. Today I notice that some smartass has added “5th Phase” to “RBI Layout” and that there’s a “RBI Layout North” now. There’s only one RBI Layout. And there’s an “East Side” for it because two roads belonging to the layout are on the east side of the main roads that divides it. But this actual “East Side” of RBI Layout is labeled as everything but that: Nataraja Layout, Wilson Garden housing colony, even as Arekere which is miles away.
So, yes. Here you are, in the “IT capital” of the country. Paying more taxes than most people on the road each year. Getting nothing of value in return and everything outside of work and home only gets worse year on year. You’re never going to be part of a vote-bank for any political entity. How does it feel? Hopeless? What are you going to do about it?