Musings of a lifelong Bangalore dweller/lover about the transformation of this leafy, laid-back, bungalow-ed cosmopolitan city into a global technology capital.
Well, I’m a local – a true-blue Bangalorean. I’ve lived here all my life. When I tell people this, there’s a smidgen of surprise because this is a bit of a rarity in a city that has grown so dizzyingly, especially in the last two decades. Much has been written about the transformation of this leafy, laid-back, bungalow-ed cosmopolitan city into a global technology capital. Winds of change have swept through rapidly, leaving many of us stunned by these changes.
The 2000s were an exciting time to be a young adult in Bangalore. I’d just finished college and begun working. As an independent adult a whole new world opened up to me. It was a heady feeling – this mix of newfound freedom, hope and the beginning of many things in my life and in the city. The IT boom was underway and led to many other booms. The multicultural, young, urban population in Bangalore made it an ideal city to experiment in. From new companies, services and stores to cafés, nightlife and live music, Bangalore had it all! There were so many great places that opened in the city: we loved hanging out at Java City, a new café that had a live jazz band on Sunday evenings; Windsor Pub (which was, in my opinion, the original gastro-pub years before the phrase made an appearance) was another hangout we loved. They served chilled draught beer, played classic rock and the food was fantastic. We’d go dancing, pubbing and shopping on the weekends to both the upscale, new places and our old favourites. The two co-existed peaceably for a few years. I lived in Richards Town which was, usually, 15 minutes away from wherever I had to be. Distances were not an obstacle and one could pack in quite a bit on the weekends. Besides, the Ooru was a relatively safe city for a woman, so I lived it up.
However, the city and its demographics continued to change. The real estate of the city developed fast and haphazardly. Single screen theatres, old bungalows and places I loved were razed. I moved from Richards Town to the suburbs and I wasn’t just 15 minutes away from where I needed to be anymore. Traffic became (and still is) a nightmare. Short distances would take a disproportionately long time to navigate. Going out on weekends was no fun anymore! When the metro was built right across M.G. Road and the boulevard that I’d walked on so many times all but disappeared, I began to feel a deep sense of loss and displacement, even though I still had family and friends all over the city. I missed the pretty city that I grew up in. I spent a few years bemoaning the destruction and closing of places like Victoria, Casa Piccola, Rex Theatre and India Coffee House. Every time I passed by the locations where these places stood, I’d feel a tinge of sadness. The grown-ups in my family were stoic about these changes, they handled it so much better than I did.
However, progress is a double-edged sword and not everything that has come with it is unwelcome. I love Uber, Foodhall, our swanky airport and UB City with its grand staircase and alfresco restaurants. I love my espressos, made by top-of-the-line Italian machines, with a perfect layer of crema, but I also love my filter coffee with its layer of frothy bubbles, handmade by pouring coffee from a height. Masala dosa and sushi coexist in this city of contrasts. Luckily for me I can have either whenever I want to. I still greet certain people with the quintessential “coffee aaytha?” (“have you had coffee?”); it feels homey and comforting. Many of my favourite haunts continue to thrive – Koshy’s, Eloor Library, Blossom Bookstore, Airlines Hotel, Cubbon Park and Thom’s Bakery. I am immensely grateful to these institutions for remaining unchanged in a city that has changed too much.
Love in Cubbon Park – a story walk organised by the Aravani Art Project supported by the India Foundation for the Arts under the Bangalore 560 grant in collaboration with Avril Stormy Unger. Photo Credit: Shreya Chitre
With age comes wisdom, or in my case, a graceful acceptance. Like this gorgeous city that is always in a state of flux, yet has embraced all the different people living in it, I too have finally made peace. Friendly faces which light up in mutual recognition still dot the city – an old waiter, a school teacher, a store owner or an ex-neighbour. The sight of a familiar church, a house and sometimes even a tree, unleash a multitude of memories. While these chance encounters always lift my spirits, I don’t yearn for them like I used to. I have come to the realisation that home, for me, is more than a physical place, people and memories. It is also a feeling that I hold inside and take with me wherever I am.
Smitha Roy is a communications professional. An avid reader, coffee-drinker and occasional baker. When her head isn’t buried in a book, she’s busy inventing excuses to avoid exercising.