Comfortably Numb

Sheila Kumar's Storehouse

Published on: 01/5/13 2:01 PM

Feature: The Silence of the Bangalorean

The (selective) silence of the Bangalorean

The uglification of Bangalore seems well and complete. Our individual and collective
silence has done us in.

As with all such pieces, I open with a set of bulleted incidents that happened in the heart of Bangalore.

Bangalore, mind you, not Bengaluru, because the focus of this article is the quadrant of the erstwhile Cantonment area.


A couple of young women are on MG Road around noon on a Sunday, having met for lunch. As they stroll towards their restaurant, they come across a group of young men, about their age, definitely people like them. One man reaches out and grabs the breast of one of the women.

The feisty kind, she reacts immediately and slaps him. He hits her back. Hard. She raises her arm involuntarily and he hits her again. After which, the men walk on, without a care in the world. There is no cop anywhere around. Passers-by watch silently, avoiding the victim’s eye.

Water problems

Areas like Indiranagar have been buying water for a decade now. Complaints, written and oral, to the area water board office meet with the standard response. After every fourth visit you make, they send a man who takes a less-than-cursory look at the water meter/ lever and pronounces with sagacity that there is an air leak / that you were stupid enough to build your house on a higher elevation so naturally the water flow has stopped/ your water pipes all need replacing and so on and so forth.

Everything but the words that you so desperately want to hear: that this afternoon, for an hour or so, they will open the valves and let some water flow into your sump. Sometimes the man tells you that, too. You wait all afternoon and evening but not a drop falls. So you buy water and factor that into your household expenses. Come summer, the water mafia kicks into operation, so you end up paying double the rate virtually overnight.

Overnight, speed breakers come up on almost every street in your locality. A close look will reveal even to the untrained eye, that these DIY speed breakers are citizen’s initiatives, sharp-edged mounds created just to have motorists avoid your lane and take the next one.

Road rage

The SUV cab (it almost always is a cab) brushes against a BMW and the owners get out. Except, one gets out with a car jack. It’s pretty clear how he intends to settle the matter. Other motorists avert their eyes and wait for the light to change so they can speed away.

Brazen behaviour

As for our so-called leaders, their brazen and unscrupulous behavior happens for just one primary reason: we have allowed it to happen. We have allowed them to treat the Vidhana Soudha like they would their dens at home, to watch porn in all comfort and ease. We have allowed them to let all development slow to a creaking pace. We have allowed them to keep offering largesse to temples while we go without our basic necessities. We have sanctioned all of it.


Rowdyism is percolating, infiltrating into the body civic, the body politic, up, down, sideways, everywhere. Cardholding rowdies hack each other in busy marketplaces. The men in black coats, our saviours in the courts, frequently lose their cool and pick up stones.

Men empty mouthfuls of paan-laced spittle on to young women walking down quiet roads. A couple of expat women I know gave up walking in the park after they noticed young men sitting on stone benches and taking their photographs on their mobile phones.

Garbage pile-up

Garden City to Garbage City, the transformation, the degradation, has been relentless. Today most of our streets are dotted with litter, sometimes a huge stinking pile just beneath a notice on the wall that says ‘Do not dump garbage here.’

We used to have sturdy iron bins at street corners but someone decided to do away with them. We didn’t protest…did we even notice…and so they vanished. In their place came the intermittent garbage men and women. They were supposed to pick up the neatly segregated garbage you left outside your gate. Except, they don’t come more than twice a week.

The Garbage City (and it pains me, as someone who has ‘belonged to’ Bangalore for almost three decades now) has an alter ego, that of Construction City. In most areas, there is endless construction activity going on, iron rods and heaps of sand, bags of cement encroaching on road space.

Constant construction

There is a fine haze of cement and sand dust hovering in the air everywhere. Cement mixers and heavy-duty vehicles manoeuvre their way onto small streets. Mall upon mall comes up and no one talks of mall fatigue. Exclusive luxe apartments offer a swimming pool with each flat, and no one talks of the nearnil water tables in the area. This is zombified building. No prizes for guessing who the zombies are.

Forget the aam admi, we have had our captains of industry gently and not so gently pointing out that good roads are not a luxury but a basic necessity for any growing city. Their words too, have fallen into the Bermuda triangle of indifference, negligence and contempt.

Selective silence

This Bangalorean silence is selective silence. We yell when someone hits our vehicle. We fight with our neighbours on points of encroachment. The more evolved and caring of us protest when trees are mercilessly and unnecessarily cut down. We protest at senseless murders, the withdrawal of our essential rights. But these protests happen in spurts. So those who are smarter than us wait for the protests to die down. After which, it’s back to business as usual for them.

As with all cities that start to bulge at the seams accommodating ‘outsiders’ and becoming what the labelers like to call a ‘melting pot culture,’ something vital is lost in the transformation. In Bangalore, the list of things lost is a long one.

Long gone?

Quiet roads, a quiet people, bicycles, Mom and- Pop stores. The shade of many-branched trees down avenue after avenue. A certain innocence which let young men and women do their own things without always being on the lookout for attack. A disinclination to pull a number on your neighbour, a strong inclination to live and let live.

Have we frittered our assets away in this hitherto lovely city of ours? Can we take back the city? I wonder.

Our silence is selective; we protest only when it affects us directly.

This piece appeared in TALK magazine of 5 Jan 2013.

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Sheila Kumar • January 5, 2013

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