Bangalore Talkies: Moonwalking at night on city streets

Bengaluru’s streets are like moon craters. Why bother with Mars rovers, Shoba Narayan contends, when you can barely walk on Magadi road?

If you are asthmatic, don’t come to Bangalore.  If you have dust allergies, this ain’t the place for you.  If you have balance issues, be especially careful as you pick your way through the mounds and valleys that have now become common here.

Bangalore’s streets are like moon craters.  Why bother with Mars rovers, I say, when you can barely walk on Magadi road?

Bangalore recently got a new BBMP commissioner, Gaurav Gupta.  He has his work cut out for him. The whole city has been dug up in an effort to “improve” city streets.  For a citizen, this ham-fisted process is the opposite of user-friendly.  They seem to be digging up all the roads in sequence, without finishing the work section by section. As a result, the whole city looks like a MGNREGA exercise gone wrong.  Migrant construction workers sit on sidewalks with their cute children who play on the mounds on gravel, bricks and dirt.  Pedestrians try valiantly to navigate the streets.  Senior citizens have given up walking.  Worst affected are the pushcart fruit vendors who have no option but to share the single lane with honking automobiles.  As for the wandering cows, where have they gone? 

This hits close to home for me because I fractured my big toe on one of these sidewalks. It happened a few months ago, on December 9th– exactly 10 days before my father passed away. 

One moment I was striding along in my white and red Jamdani saree. The next moment, one of the sidewalk tiles tilted like a garbage-can opener.  I fell into the gutter, quite literally. There was blood and tears.  I discovered that my great toe was fractured.  A kind orthopedic doctor in nearby Frazer Town put what is called a buddy-bandage connecting my great toe with my middle toe. I was advised bedrest for the 2 to 3 weeks. Ten days later, on December 19th, my father passed away. 

All through 2020, I had visited my ailing father pretty much every day. But I could not go and visit him during the last 10 days of his life.  I was lying in bed, keeping my foot raised up.  The sequence  of events filled me with guilt and regret until a kind friend told me, “Perhaps your absence was what was needed for your Dad’s soul to release itself from the earth. Because when loved ones hang around, the soul does not want to leave.”

It is something that I think about constantly as I pick my way through my beloved city’s streets. I don’t step on the sidewalk tiles any more.  Instead, I gingerly place one foot forward and then another. Muscle memory they say, lasts longer than other types of memories. This holds true for me.  Every step is a test.  Will I fall into the gutter or not?

The dug up streets are particularly galling because this is Bangalore.  You see, this city has so much going for it.  All the government needs to do is preserve.  The weather is salubrious pretty much all year round.  The people are genteel and largely welcoming.  There is infectious start up energy all around, attracting the young and the curious from all parts of the world.  Bangalore is a land of lakes.  The trees were planted by Hyder Ali and Tipu Sultan.  There are ancient rock engravings right in Hebbal.  Save Maharashtra, this city can hold its own in the sporting element too– we have Dravid, Kumble, Padukone and Bhupathi.  There are wildlife enthusiasts, thanks to access to the Nilgiri Biosphere nearby.  There are conservation scientists like Ullas and Krithi Karanth, and philanthropists like Rohini Nilekani and Azim Premji.  This surfeit of riches is perhaps why it is so galling when the politicians take a perfectly lovely city and mess it up.

At the Bangalore International Centre, which today hosts more programs than the much older India International Centre, the citizenry comes together to talk and bemoan their falling, failing city. Activists stand outside Town Hall and Freedom Park still carrying banners, trying to effect change.  

As for me, I want to join all these protests.  For that, I have to get out of my own street, which I currently cannot, because you see– and you know where I am going with this, right?– it is all dug up.

Sumukhi Suresh ought to do an episode in Pushpavalli about Bangalore’s dug up streets.  Perhaps then, the powers that be will pay attention.

Shoba Narayan is waiting for the dust to clear as she kicks up some dirt, all while trying not to fall into the gutter.