Friday, April 03, 2015

Bangalore vs The North Indians


Bangalore, we've reached a point of inflection of sorts. More roads are resembling the infamous Silk Board junction and Whitefield's narrow, horror of a road. We are already paying more money for water than any other city in India, with a lot of us not getting enough to live the life of dignity which we did just over a decade ago. Pollution is sickening quite literally and while the number of automobiles infesting the city with smoke are increasing, the cost of transport and everything else is rising quite sharply.
I say 'WE' because I've come to see this city as my own. Perhaps closer to me than Allahabad, a place where I was born and spent my childhood. I've been in Bangalore for over 6 years now, I do not speak Kannada and yes, I am a north Indian. The reason why I don't speak Kannada is not because I'm a north Indian snob who dislikes the south culture and expects the whole world to speak Hindi. On the contrary, I prefer these parts of the country over the parts I lived the first two decades of my life in. I do not speak the language because the people here always spoke to me in English or Hindi. I saw the average Bangalorean take pride in the fact that she could speak the language of a land she had never visited. For years I've fought battles on social media claiming Bangalore to be the best city in India and in each of those battles the one thing that was uncontested always, was how welcoming Bangalore was.
Now, things are changing. As always, humor is leading the way - “boxer shorts is the national dress of BTM layout”, “Koramangala is Amit Pradesh”, “Maruthi Nagar is the mini-Gulf” (jokes that I have indulged in too). But, in this humor things are taking an ugly turn when a friend suggests that we build a mega wall to keep the north Indians outside and have snipers guarding it!
Just a few years ago not speaking the language was a problem only if I got into a street fight with an auto driver but now, to quote a colleague, “it is a touchy subject”. The major reason for the war against South Indians, Gujaratis, Biharis, UP walas in Mumbai was economic – the local workforce was without jobs while the more skilled immigrants were taking a bigger piece of the pie. Sadly, in Bangalore the language subject has become touchy with comparatively lesser evils like traffic congestion and the naivety of the North Indian to demand 'paneer butter masala' at MTR!
The 'true Bangalorean' who complains about North Indians invading the good old Bangalore also tells me how Koramangala was not a part of Bangalore, BTM was a jungle where young women were discouraged from venturing out into at night and Whitefield was a place where one went for a day trip. As a North Indian who eats meat, smokes a cigarette or two once in a while, drinks alcohol and has friends who are women, my chances of 'invading' the good parts of Bangalore – Jayanagar, Baswangudi, Banashankari and the like – are minimal from the start in any case so I don't see much of a point in the complains. The fact that the center of the city (and the center of the city's action) has moved away from old parts of Bangalore is understandable.
I think the disagreement is not between Bangalore and the North Indians, the disagreement is between the old Bangalore and her ways and the new generation of a cosmopolitan city. It is easy to draw inferences from the surface of a situation when a problem crops up. North Indian invasion is not a problem for Bangalore, the poor infrastructure is! Immigration from other parts of the country (and world?) is an inevitability. The real culprits of this situation are the administrators, corporators and politicians who have failed to provide Bangalore with an infrastructure that could match the rate of growth! The question we should be asking is not why a North Indian does not speak the local language, the question is why the airport is 40+ kilometers away from the city when there is enough land between the airport and the city, why is the metro taking so much time to become functional and why is the water tanker mafia being allowed to take the city for a ride.
It is easy to be tolerant when everything is perfect. If an immigrant comes along and gives me business, there is no greatness in 'accepting' the outsider. It's when the presence of an outsider creates inconveniences that racial tolerance comes into picture. When Mumbai drives out thousands of South Indians and when Bangalore starts to expect one to learn the local language, they are both driven by the same racial discriminatory thought. Tolerance then is a mere affectation, and not so covert one either, especially when the 'tolerant' neighbor tells you, "we have allowed everyone to come to Bangalore" in a country where one of the reasons the current government got a landslide victory was opposition of Article 370 that gives special status to the state of J&K.

This could just be dismissed as an empty rant and nothing would make me happier if most of you do that. It would mean that the 'problem' that I'm seeing is in very select circles and most part of Bangalore is just like the group of men and women I met yesterday – in their late 60s-70s, speaking to each other in English who had traveled from South Bangalore to Indira Nagar to eat a Bengali keema roll at Chakum-Chukum with their families.