Packets!

The light isn’t flashy. It doesn’t blink either. Nor does it light up the darkness. Literally and figuratively; you can take my word for it. Unless you opt to turn on the flashlight. Which you would invariably do when looking for something under your bed or the settee or inside the bonnet, and not in many places else. But there’s no escaping it. Not a chance. For it contains those precious packets of potion to get your life going. But of course, I’m talking about your dear old latest smartphone, silly!

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The Internet is that potion which you, I and all the denizens of this goddamn planet have crowded under a giant tap to drink greedily from. And the very same potion is now available right by your bedside, in packets. Those little colorful apps without which your life refuses to budge. Right from the word go, right from daybreak! Apps to get you out of bed, to help you exercise, to monitor your pulse, to give you company while you take a dump, to jerk off on, to fix a better meal and snack than yesterday, to give you the headlines of the day, to get you to your office as quickly as possible, to remind you to pick up that gift for the family friend on your way  home, to play a flick you could never catch at the movies, to tell you which cinema is playing the latest blockbuster, to relive memories, and among many other Man Friday roles, to even help you drift off to sleep! And did I mention, to communicate with people? Man Friday is a misnomer, man. Man, woman, and the entire cosmos Sunday through Saturday!

A life in the mercy of those little square packets beckoning you from behind that glossy screen, sitting smugly in the reassuring illumination of the backlight. Which is effectively turning into one measurable in packets.  One hour of ‘me time’, measured praises, contained laughter, love separated from marriage, politically correct humility. Random occurrences but connected by packets. Little ones that lead you to believe  you’re leading a sane life.

Technology does inspire metaphors, sure! And these don’t come in packets, do they?

-Metafore

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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.

Boulevard of urban dreams

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.

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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

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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.

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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.