City its people maketh

Where in India do you think you would do well and feel good about it?

One of this year’s urban thrillers, Powerplay by Parinda Joshi has its key protagonist, a high flying investment banker mulling over his ill luck in getting a companion for himself, having been on the lookout in all the cities he’s travelled to. However he deals with cognitive dissonance by attributing his failure to a variety of reasons.  His usual grouse against women from Bengaluru is that they are pretentious. Now, one would want to say it’s just a figment of our man’s imagination. I’d say, wish to.

Pop quiz. Quickly list out the three most famous epithets earned by Bengaluru.  Garden city, pub-city, hi-tech city? The latter two seem to be quite an inviting proposition for the uninitiated.  But then, who really is? The city has indeed witnessed a gold rush of sorts, with IT and BPO jobs opening up by the day. And so you have millions of ‘tech’ jobs, with millions of takers and a few more millions at the brink of landing that job. Bengaluru is no California, though the techies would have us believe that the comparison can’t be more appropriate. More on this in a bit. Revisiting the epithets, what’s the idea that you conjure up? A city with countless watering holes, which lets you party hard (but not so hard either), without a care in the world? And going by similar logic, a city that offers a varied choice of dope and women? The October arrest of the gang of six that included internationals , indicates a steady market for stuff. While flesh trade is not institutionalized unlike some other metros, that women are baited and more shockingly, harassed and assaulted is for everyone to feel. Yes, this is the Bengaluru that much of humanity is making a beeline for.

The reaction of the average Bangalore woman to accusations of pretentiousness would surely be militant and defensive.  ‘What the f*c* does he know about Bangalore?’ ‘We make the silicon valley of the east’ ‘We are the most cosmopolitan’  ‘Dude, get a life’ and so on. Mind you, the aforesaid reactions would most likely be in English and not in the vernacular. She’s a fraud analyst for a Canadian outfit, and has seen all of the country but on a map. She’s a mind counsellor who’s at wits end for having to contend with three other counsellors down the same lane she lives in. She’s a fashion designer and crafts clothing for the slim and sickly while praying for some magic cure to her obesity.  She’s a wedding planner, and insists that sangeet and mehndi are the way forward, even for the most conservative South Indian families.  Single and confident, she struts out of her flat that would be happier with some natural light, flags a rickshaw and lands up at the nearest mall. Levi’s jeans, tops from Marks and Spencers, Sketchers sneakers, you get the idea. She talks English, a very beautiful Indian one customized for the woman on the move. ‘He’s so cool and you know he’s a bike freak?’ ‘There’s this guy who comes up and says “you seem to be lost, can i drop you somewhere?” He’s sooo faake you know!’ Quiz them  on news and books, and pat comes ‘ooo, you’re the stud types haan?’

The men are those of substance. Yes, they do consume a lot of it. For the less adventurous, pub hopping with double bellies of suppressed barley water as in a cannon,  wading their fancy motorcycles through the sea of traffic, taking off on ‘long rides’ to Nandi hills, and screaming all over the social network may be the extent of living up the urban life. I used to think of it as a factor of age, but there appears to be this sense of vanity and supposedly urban character across generations.

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One may wonder if all this is indeed peculiar to Bengaluru or a matter of urban Indian preferences today. Yes and no. As the city has progressed from the sleepy old town of yore to a bustling metropolis, there definitely has remained a residue of the classic past. Bangalore has been trying  valiantly to stand its own against the bigger metros like Delhi, Bombay and Chennai with its distinct scientific temperament, and a culture of moderation. Other than the Indian Institute of Science, you have the National Centre for Biological Sciences, the University of Agricultural Sciences and the very popular IIM and IIIT-B. With a truly cosmopolitan DNA, the city is a perennial favourite for international pop and rock acts, and has a vibrant literary circuit. So much of coolth associated with Bengaluru is a derivative of just these things, complemented by a pleasant weather. But a diehard Bangalorean would see that, this is in many ways the very undoing of a beautiful city. IT and ITeS opened the floodgates of employment to scores of hopefuls from across the country. For many of the millions who have now made the city their home, this breeziness attracted them from far. Once in, they mostly found it difficult to blend in with the suave and global outlook and started a subconscious movement of asserting their cultural identity. Here’s how you can see that the average Bangalorean of today wants to be associated with the western urban identity of the city but refuses to acknowledge the real ethos which Bengaluru stood for. And here’s how you  have people who appear more knowledgeable than they are, people who have heard about more music than they have heard to, and who speak English neither for love of the language nor life, but as an adhesive that holds their facilities from coming apart.

As the city has thus metamorphosed, there is little now that sets the city apart from its counterparts across the country. Trade and employment takes people to the farthest reaches of the world. Urban life is now pretty much indistinguishable from city to another. What was said of Bangalore may well be the case with Bombay or Delhi or Pune. It’s an India thing then. This is a veritable indicator of lifestyle priorities of the generation Y. As lifestyle takes precedence over living, there will be a lot more clamour to land a job that pays, be it brain-dead or morally compromising. Shallowness will prevail in the guise of depth, love will continue to go on sale, and many such seemingly unwelcome developments will take centre stage. Funnily enough, my neighbour will probably be ruing the state of the nation, as would his neighbour be too. But then, it is self above nation today. One can only spare time for a thought.

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