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Bangalored: death of a dream

A Bangalore bungalow

A bungalow in Bangalore. © Mari Marcel Thekaekara

Once upon a time, possibly around two, definitely three decades ago, Bangalore was a charming little town. It was known as the pensioners’ paradise because it was a tiny town with quaint cottages and pretty bungalows surrounded by lovely gardens. And the weather was perfect.

Everyone knew everyone else on their street and in their neighbourhood. Children played in the gardens and parks and sometimes a cricket match could take place in the middle of a small street because there was so little traffic.

Somewhere in the 1990s, Bangaloreans could be heard complaining that their town was being ruined. Bangalored, in fact. Some people used cruder epithets. The financial experts and economists called it growth. An economic boom. The small, hitherto always sleepy town became the city that never sleeps. Young people worked all-night shifts to compile data for US companies. But they were happy. Employment at last and salaries at higher rates than Bangaloreans had ever heard of before – at least not in India. The sleepy town soon became a bustling city. The IT explosion had arrived. Swamped by alien north Indians, the locals muttered as loud cars, loud music, crass consumerism and a glass and concrete jungle began to take over certain sections of town. Looks like Dubai or Singapore, people wailed. What are they doing to our Bangalore?

And the garbage. Mountains of plastic-filled rubbish piled up at every street corner. Rabid strays became the order of the day. Bins overflowed. No matter how many times a day the cleaners came, they coudn’t cope with the sheer volume of filth. The new Bangaloreans flung out rotting vegetable waste with shopping debris, plastic and packaging. Courier services dumped their daily dose of over-packaged online junk. The once clean, green paradise now smelt of perennially present rotting rubbish. If you closed your eyes you could imagine you were in Bombay or Calcutta. Heat, dust, mosquitoes and garbage. Bangaloreans never, ever, needed fans. Now the new IT cities needed Dubai-like air conditioning. But the brash new Bangaloreans were a different breed. Weekends in Dubai and Singapore and the accompanying shop-till-you-drop craze were part of their DNA. Their newly discovered new-rich identity. They needed to prove they’d arrived. This is growth, prosperity, the galloping economy, the pundits proclaimed. Good for everyone, they insisted.

This year the heatwave brought people to their senses. Gossip had it that Bangalore this summer was hotter in March and April than Bombay or Calcutta. Suddenly I feel a change in the air, albeit a tiny one.

Bangalore announced, to the usual dose of cynical sniggers, that it would soon be a plastic-free city. But soon, small things heralded the change. This time, it seems, they mean business. In the local eating places where Bangaloreans gather for their dosas, idlis and unique South Indian filter coffee, vendors gave their customers a jolt when they declared folks had to bring their own containers for take-aways. No more layers of thin plastic to package the ubiquitous chutney or to bag the sambar (a spicy accompanying lentil curry). Our local eatery was not the only one. Several dosa joints repeated ‘no more plastic’. By order, said the sign pasted on the wall, as argumentative Indians grumbled in vain. Government order. Violators shall be prosecuted. Which shows that when the political powers that be decide to do something, they can. Chennai and Coimbatore solved the water crisis with rainwater harvesting, which ensured that groundwater levels rose. It seemed like a miracle. But it happened. And the decades-long Chennai water crisis was over.

Closer to home, an architects’ firm has bought beautiful earthenware composting pots to separate their degradable material before sending away the rest. That’s a huge step forward.

If Bangalore really goes plastic-free and solves its garbage problem, that would be a Class One miracle. Watch this space for more news! I will definitely keep you posted.

Fingers crossed.

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