It has been a traumatic few weeks for Bengaluru. The 19 th century German philosopher Nietzsche didn’t say anything about potholes or monsoon disasters, but he gave us the expression ‘Eternal Recurrence’, which applies to Bengaluru’s woes. Potholes are eternal, and flooding is an eternal recurrence.
‘We will fix it by the next monsoon’ ought to be the inscription on the city’s monuments – this has been the motto of the authorities for some decades now, a promise full of promise and nothing else.
There is something almost childlike in their innocence. Every time you wave a rattle at infants, they think it is something new, something they have never seen before. It is the same with the monsoons and city officials. They are surprised every year when it rains that it rains. It would have been charming if it weren’t so insidious.
I suspect if the courts ordered the demolition of structures in the city that ignored building codes, Bengaluru would have fewer buildings than one of its suburbs does now! For there is a second inscription that speaks for the city: SAM, or ‘swalpa adjust maadi’.
Building on the raja kaluvay? SAM. Lakes disappearing? SAM. Concrete jungles on insubstantial foundations? SAM. Somebody always knows someone whose relative has connections and is willing to help out for a small consideration. We are not corrupt, we merely charge a small premium for getting things done.
It was educational watching television news on the sinking of Bengaluru. The biggest worry seemed to be: what would other states/countries think? Anyone who spoke up was, by definition, tarnishing the city’s image. People were getting displaced, their belongings destroyed, and livelihoods wrecked, yet the biggest concern was how the city looked to those outside.
“I saw my CEO being rescued in a boat,” a friend called to say. But what about the non-CEOs, the labourers, migrant workers who didn’t make it to the boats or the news?
As viewers and commentators took in the shots of people who had paid crores to build their homes in posh areas, there was palpable schadenfreude. Pleasure at another person’s misfortune drives many of our television channels. Natural calamity is a great leveller, so is a man-made natural one. It adds fuel to the us-versus-them debate that poisons our airwaves every night. Perhaps it was all George Washington’s fault or Winston Churchill’s — I didn’t wait till the end of the debate.
Television’s focus on the rich and famous, the people who could afford to book themselves into five-star hotels while waiting for the rains to abate, meant that those further down the food chain who suffered and will have to start rebuilding their lives were largely ignored.
Individuals and communities rose to the occasion, rendering help and succour. Suffering brings people together in unexpected ways. Old Bengaluru managed better than the new Bengaluru; there’s a lesson there.
Luckily for all the residents, we have been assured that everything will be fixed by the next monsoon. If not, swalpa adjust maadi.
(Suresh Menon is Contributing Editor, The Hindu)