At its maiden edition of Bangalore Literature Festival, theatre veteran Prakash Belawadi had presented a fitting response to disparaging statements from several panelists that Bengaluru is a city in shambles, and there are countless issues the city continues to battle. The imposing garbage problems being the flavor of the day. Prakash said that Bengaluru is a work-in-progress, as opposed to Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata and Chennai which were built by the British for most part, and the results will be ours to see in a few years from now.
Food for thought indeed. The recent reopening of the MG Road Boulevard got me ruminating on the significance of his line. For me, a city’s heart is always felt by the use of its spaces to extend a very accommodating lap to its denizens. Mumbai and Chennai have a natural advantage with the beaches – you can gaze into the horizon and feel the breeze, without having to spend a rupee. Delhi with its lawns at India gate is all about the rush of being at the seat of power. Bengaluru however has long been a tad too expensive to hangout in. Catching up with friends will almost always have to be at a mall or a coffee shop. There is nary a place to sit and chat up, without running up choke-worthy bills. It is almost like you are charged premium rent for the shop space. Not to forget the cold welcome to those who stray inside solitarily. A coffee shop would necessarily be seated with boisterous gangs of boys, or young couples discovering love, and very rarely a lone ranger with nose buried in his or her laptop. And did I mention closed spaces? I’m not claustrophobic, but what good is it to be deprived of the famed salubrity of the Bangalore weather?
The Boulevard on MG Road, though a revival of the popular promenade of yore , is certainly a panacea of sorts for the 21st century Bengaluru. With Bangaloreans’ disappointment with the short shrift the beauty of the city got in the name of development reaching a crescendo, the BMRCL (Bangalore Metro Rail Corporation)’s efforts in presenting a greener and more vibrant version of the boulevard is truly commendable.
What does the boulevard offer? The overarching theme is art and eco. As you take a lazy stroll along the 450 meter stretch lined with bougainvilleas, you are bound to breathe in a very artistically charged air. So you have R-MAC (Rangoli – Metro Art Centre) and the Rangasthala. The R-MAC includes the necessary art galleries and an auditorium, along with fountains, children’s play area, open market and waterless urinals. The Ranga
sthala, as the name suggests, will be the definitive stage for concerts, plays and other shows. A trip to the boulevard is in order to see for oneself the efforts in place to redeem urban sensibilities.
It won’t be fair to simply regard this revamp of Bengaluru’s prime stretch of land as another avenue for an evening stroll, or, even as a temple of art and humanity. The boulevard is so much about accessibility and inclusivity. Art is not something that stays on top of the average Indian’s mind, and not unjustifiably so. Weekend options for many would mostly alternate between movies, restaurants and shopping. Impressing culture consciousness in the minds of countless is no mean task, and BMRCL has but taken a great first step in that direction.
If we’re one step closer towards a greener and culturally enriched world, we will now be several transactions closer to making Bengaluru a creatively diverse and vibrant marketplace, and a throbbing one at that. Let alone providing a platform to showcase craftsmen’s skills and ware, the boulevard is a veritable source of revenue for students of art schools and presents an opportunity for meaningful living in the city. There have been scores of talented art school graduates who eventually find their way into BPOs or other sundry occupations, thanks to the shrinking mind space for art in the city.
Finally, what kind of baton are we handing over to posterity? They need to inherit the best urban life can offer, and a city without such open spaces of creative expression can hardly qualify to be something worth dying for. Or at the very least, growing up in. The tiled snakes and ladders game that you can play on at the boulevard is a very fine example of how to engage the young crowd in their sub consciousness, with India’s glorious contributions to sport on our planet.
To chisel Bengaluru into a model city might take several generations, optimistically speaking, but flashes of inspired planning like the boulevard on MG Road will sure serve to keep our hopes alive, if anything.