Suresh Menon

We're getting Bangalored


Some years ago, at the Indian Institute of Science where he was giving a lecture, Britain’s Astronomer Royal Sir Martin Rees signed his book for me. Our Final Century (published in 2003) argues that the human race might not survive this century. Rees signed with: “Hope I am wrong.”

All doomsayers probably feel the same way. Speaking to schoolchildren earlier this year, Azim Premji remarked, “Unless we address the water problem, we’ll have to evacuate Bangalore within the next ten years.” Doubtless, he was telling himself, “Hope I am wrong.”

Civic inertia converts pessimistic doomsayers into hardy realists. Infrastructure, pollution, garbage disposal, traffic, water, electricity, unplanned growth, corruption – any one of these or a combination of them could lead to the collapse of the city. Hope I am wrong, of course.

Each of these problems has its own doomsayers, experts who know what they are talking about; experts who hope they are wrong, but know too much to be too sanguine.

Our lakes are disappearing at an alarming rate. Some which survive are catching fire thanks to pollutants. I live near the Varthur Lake in Whitefield and was chased some days back by the white foam that it spewed as we drove past.

Don’t complain so much, a High Court Judge told us the other day. Justice Raghavendra Chauhan has suggested that had Shah Jahan lived today, he would have built the Taj Mahal in Bangalore. We are lucky in Bangalore, says Justice Chauhan. He may be right. And that’s a frightening thought.

The city is expanding at the rate of 264 square feet of built-up area every minute. And that was just till 2012. Beyond the BBMP limits it is growing much faster, according to the National Remote Sensing Centre. At this rate, it might be difficult to leave the city in some years’ time. Expansion will be faster than the escape velocity. There is a Borgesian novel waiting to be written here.

As there is about the stoicism with which we accept traffic delays, potholes on the road, garbage pile-up, power outages, political indifference. That wonderful expression, SAM (Swalpa Adjust Maadi), is our motto. We are happy to make do with less than what is possible, less than what we pay our taxes for.

It has even changed the tenor of our social discourse. The first few minutes on arriving at any gathering is given over to cursing the commute. The Brits have their weather, we have our traffic. We no longer believe it when someone promises to meet us anywhere in half an hour. Or an hour. Or two hours. Traffic delays rise to keep pace with the time available.

Martin Rees offered a wager on a death toll of a million people due to a single act of terror (or error) by 2023. Likewise, I am willing to bet that Bangalore will see a major exodus in the next 20 years if things continue as they are. Like Rees, I too hope to lose.

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Printable version | Jan 26, 2020 2:12:37 AM |

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