This being the time we give the old year a decent burial, it also seems an opportune time to visit the graveyard of dead and stillborn ideas. Ideas that our city fathers in their dubious wisdom conceived, announced, and in some cases even initiated, but had no will to follow through. To say it in two words: historic flops.
As I scan the long rows of tombstones I can see some that stretch into the distant past but in the interests of brevity I had better stick to the recent demises. A couple of obituaries are enough to illustrate my point, and you can while away the long winter evenings recalling the rest.
Rhyming with flop is hop, and also top. So, given my predilection for bus travel, let's look at the open-top, hop-on-hop-off buses that two flop show artists – BMTC and a private company – tried to popularise. BMTC crudely sawed off its old double-deckers to create an uncomfortable open-top bus that it hoped would attract tourists by the droves. Tourists firmly stayed away. They did not want to be toasted in the midday sun or bonked on the head by a passing branch. Then a private company tried its luck with gleaming, post-box-red buses that it called HOHO, an acronym that simply cried out to become the butt of jokes. Blue-and-white signboards were erected at the bus stops past which the service would ply, giving a brief history of the neighbourhood. The buses ran empty for days on end. It wasn't just the fare (Rs 300) that repelled passengers. There weren't enough buses you could hop onto, once you'd hopped off them. The flop kings had not grasped the fundamental principle of the service, which was that the tourist who arbitrarily got off at a stop should not, after exploring the area, have to wait endlessly for another bus to roll up. When HOHO buses, for a brief period, began to give children free rides, you knew its days were numbered. And you know what BMTC did to the double-decker converts? They knocked off the top level but built a high roof, and ran the buses on regular routes. You might have spotted a typical specimen with a bulging cranium, looking like it had had brain surgery.
While we're on the subject of buses, new brands are launched with the regularity of seasonal fashion wear. When the Big 10 buses first appeared I was lost in admiration for the design of the logo: the “Big” in Kannada, tilted, reads like the English word. But has anybody any idea where they go? They seem to materialise out of nowhere and vanish down rabbit-holes. Equally perplexing are the ways of the Orange Line and Blue Line buses – buses painted in those colours and pockmarked with white circles. People are not familiar with the peculiar routes they take. And is it my imagination or are there fewer Orange and Blue Line buses these days? I suspect they're being quietly phased out or being given a red coat and slyly introduced into the fleet of regular Volvo buses.
All flop artists think of themselves as magicians. They pluck invisible ideas out of thin air and hope to turn them into elephants with a snap of the fingers. They never think through their pet schemes thoroughly, never conduct even the simplest market survey, and never work out what would actually happen on the ground. For instance, two announcements (by different individuals) followed in quick succession recently. One: cycle-carrying buses. Two: hundreds of cycles offered on rent to decongest inner city roads. Wonderful, says you. No more traffic jams. No more four-wheeled polluters.
Then you pause. And visualise the scene for a moment. Draw a mental circle around the heart of the city. My, that's a mighty big heart. Would cycles for hire be parked in large yards on the fringes of the circle? Where are such spaces to be found? Hey, have you estimated approximately how many can and will cycle? Shouldn't there be a ban, first, on cars entering the heart? Will you force shoppers and office-goers to park their cars next to the cycle yards? Where, pray, is the land for such parking lots? Oh, what about cycle-carrying buses, then? Do they, too, stop at the circumference so that commuters can disembark with their wheels and speed away? Is it even remotely possible to orchestrate such a gigantic operation?
Bureaucrats and politicians who concoct ideas should air them before sceptics and not before their yes-men. They should work out the hows and whys before making announcements. The problem is, their intentions are not always honourable. They draw up plans so that their uncle's daughter's son-in-law gets a contract. So they can feather their own nests. They have to gather as many feathers as they can as quickly as possible, for other cunning birds will soon take their place with their own ideas. A good example is that eternal money-spinner, “city beautification”. Much money is to be made in shiny patchwork, more money in tearing it down to lay cables or make way for a project, and of course, still more in commissioning the new project.
We say, “Leave us to our misery. We'd be grateful if you protect what's left of our battered city. Spare us your bright ideas.”
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