Living In India's Most Self-Destructive City
Priya Ramani on the death of Bangalore’s giants and why it’s increasingly easy to make fun of India’s Silicon Valley.
Bangalore reminds me of the Incredible Hulk: He may be a hero in the Marvel universe, but it’s terrifying to watch his pain as he transitions from geek to green beast. And which version would you rather live with?
Driving through Bangalore's streets with the husband has always been a stressful experience—both for him and me. “My god! Look at the carnage,” he will exclaim. He’s always in nostalgia mode, pointing to the shiny showroom that used to be his parents’ friend’s house or the glass skyscraper that was once a favourite dosa haunt under the trees. But these days, even a relative newcomer such as myself finds it difficult to live in India’s most self-destructive city.
We live near a slaughterhouse but the carcasses that make us cringe are the ones that lie mutely by the side of our neighbourhood’s once shady roads. It’s hard to uproot the rain trees, planted decades ago and considered ideal roadside trees because, as author Laeeq Futehally once said, a single tree can provide shade and coolness to a quarter of an acre.
It takes many men and a machine and they must start by attacking the vast canopy—whose branches are often as long as its height, creating a natural tunnel over many of the city’s roads—one limb at a time. “It’s the death of giants…literally,” the husband says with a sigh, about the 1,000 or so trees that are marked to be felled for a suburban rail project.
Felled trees. (Photo: Priya Ramani)
In 2022, the local municipal body gave the go-ahead to for infrastructure projects. Some of these trees have lived for nearly a hundred years on the city’s oldest roads (see and ). Protests against tree-cuttings have , and I’m convinced it’s because these prolonged battles have exhausted residents.
The landscape of India’s Silicon Valley has morphed dramatically these past few decades, its newspaper-reading pensioner vibe summarily pushed away by a new glass and concrete energy and imprisoned within a web of messy telecom wires. When we moved back to his city 10 years ago, one of the first few things the husband did in our new house was to put up a series of six images by Bangalore-based artist Paul Fernandes that showed this dramatic evolution from Garden City to ‘Silly-con’ city.
Paul Fernandes mural at Adda 1522. (Photo: ADDA 1552)
Even Adda 1522, the eatery and bar that just opened, knows it makes business sense to pay homage to a fast-disappearing city. The murals on its walls faithfully recreate Fernandes’ famous sketches of the sleepy town whose residents watched Hollywood films at Plaza Theatre and ate fried ‘spare parts’ with their beer at Dewar’s Bar. At Adda, the menu has an section; the music is what Gen Xers and Boomers heard in college; and you can order your drinks in 30ml or 180 ml quantities. The Bangalore peg, insiders tell me, has always been the real Patiala peg.
As the city is to be the fastest growing Asia-Pacific city in 2023, its predicament even reached the Supreme Court this month. “The warning flagged by the city of Bengaluru needs to be given due attention by the legislature, executive, and policymakers,” the court told representatives from Chandigarh. “It is high time that, before permitting urban development, EIA (environmental impact assessment) of such development needs to be done.”
The court quoted liberally from an India Today cover story titled: Bengaluru—How to Ruin India’s Best City. If you ask me, India has only one real city—and it’s not Bangalore—but the writer of this piece has deep links to the southern city. Nearly 40 years before, he wrote another : Bangalore: The Boom City.
Local news is more practical. If the Times of India has launched a campaign to ‘Un-Jam Bangalore’, the local newspapers are abuzz with ‘positive’ news that the , who has a PhD in traffic management, will miraculously unclog the roads. Some say they are already seeing the effects. Columnists proffer hard truths. “If the several million saplings that were promised to be planted in Bengaluru to offset various infrastructure projects over the past 20 years were added up, the city should be awash in green,” professor and author Harini Nagendra. “Yet the city continues to choke on smog.”
The Hindu newspaper now carries tree obituaries. “Home to several creatures of the wild, the Sarjapur Trees were killed in their prime,” an obit titled ‘In loving memory of our beloved Sarjapur Trees’ reads.
Bangalore’s air quality, though better than Delhi and Hyderabad, has due to traffic, construction and burning garbage, leading to a sharp increase in .
The city’s traffic provides great material for viral videos by out-of-towners. “You guys are stuck in a jalebi (circular maze) of one-ways. You can see your destination but can’t reach,” Hyderabad’s Anuj Guwara , adding that no wonder Bangaloreans who are stuck in traffic for three hours only talk about the city’s weather. Bangalore’s self-destructive streak is also visible in its dug-up roads; and potholes that once inspired an artist to create a video of a space suit-clad man ‘walking on the moon’. Multimedia artist and podcast host Anurag Minus Verma, who visited for a few months the city as “more dug up than Mohenjo-daro and Harappan sites”.
National media took notice of Bangalore’s disfigurement and chaos in September when incessant rains caused two lakes to overflow into the mansions of those who run the city’s biggest companies such as Wipro, Britannia, Big Basket, Jockey and Bjyus, expensive art and pianos and flooding the internet with videos of the city’s fanciest leaving their villas on rescue boats.
Even before the Supreme Court’s late cut about Bangalore, other courts expressed their frustration. In 2019, frequent pothole deaths prompted the Karnataka High Court to that the "right to have roads and footways in a reasonable condition is guaranteed under Article 21" and warned of serious consequences if this wasn’t protected.
“Traffic in Bengaluru is out of proportion and has now become a real challenge. Some serious measures have to be taken, and the movement of the public should not be affected,” the High Court said in 2018 after several pothole deaths.
Yes, for the last three years, Bangalore has the list of deaths caused due to “negligence of civic bodies”. Another feather in our cap.
Priya Ramani is a Bengaluru-based journalist and is on the editorial board of Article-14.com.
The views expressed here are those of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views of BQ Prime or its editorial team.