Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Running Away From Banglore? Wrong Way Then!

Times of India publishes a lead article by one Janaki Nair - ‘Let’s Not Go The Banglore Way’ ( This is one of those less useful articles where the collateral damage is more serious than the main contention which is less of a dispute. Janaki Nair is incorrectly painting the picture that beneath the prosperity of Banglore, there is the cost of lost social fabric. It is nobody’s case to say that Kolkata should prosper while creating the Banglore like problems. As the author rightly says, Kolkata should develop economically while avoiding the issues which are faced by Banglore. But instead of articulating reasonably clear solutions about how to avoid Banglore type gridlock, the author is inherently implying two wrong propositions:
- Casualty of Banglore prosperity is it’s social life and
- Kolkata has something of a romantic social life which it is embarking to toss over the Hugali bridge into the Ganges.

First, let us start with the picture of Kolkata which Jananki Nair paints. What is so romantic about that picture? Does she mean to say Banglore is full of arrogant ‘bus conductors’? One rape and murder of a call center worker does not make Banglore worse than Mumbai, Pune, Hyderabad, Gurgaon or even Kolkatta? Does the author want others to start pulling skeletons from Kolkata’s law and order ‘almari’? For too long Kolkata intellectuals have been simply infatuated with Bengali sensibility and their perceived notions of social harmony or should I dare to say cultural superiority? It is not the case to deny existence of such a relative peaceful social order in Kolkata, but what is the point in celebrating ‘social magnificence’ when the poverty and economic degradation is all over the place? It simply reminds the picture of an old upper stratum Zaminder living in a dilapidated palace with long past glory, as they portray so well in Bengali novels and movies… And by the way to match the cultural highbrow of Kolkata (and not of Calcutta); Banglore is going to rename itself as Bangaluru. So that should not give any bragging rights to Mumbai, Kolkata and Chennai only; least anyone fingers the colonial hangover of Bangalore residents.

Seriously, since when Indian cities started to be repository of great cultural stores of millenniums so that economic development and poverty alleviation becomes an impediment in preserving the social and cultural legacy of these cities? Or are we finding the virtues of social order, social peace and cultural richness when the raw growth is coming because of Global Capitalism which Leftist would love to call as predatory cowboy style economy? Anyways…

Next, what is really Banglore’s problem? Basically people are complaining about the infrastructure. No one is saying that people in Banglore do not know how to enjoy life or that they are not enjoying. As you can see, the place is brimming with life and people are having fun. People from many states and countries have come there and enjoy the life in Banglore. It may be expensive but many can pay. Neither does it mean people should stop complaining about the infrastructure bottlenecks nor does it mean prosperity is coming at the cost of social harmony.

I have lived for past five years in a city which is routinely rated as one of the safest place in USA for it’s size (population million or over) – San Jose, California. But it is the same place which was one of the worst in early 90s, heavily infested by serious crimes. Nobody used to go to the downtown. Now you see couples, kids and everyone. But the city does not have any glamour or mojo of rich and famous northern neighbors like Palo Alto (Stanford Univ. town) or Mountain View (birth place of Netscape and the current residence of Google) and yet it has reasonable social life beyond Tech, VCs and startups. One enjoys this low key cultural life and apparently that is the fact which most people like about San Jose. It is the place which has around 100,000 Vietnamese (largest concentration after Oklahoma city); 300,000 Hispanics; 100,000 Chinese and 50,000 Indians. The city is one of the most diverse ethnically in America. Yet people enjoy life while living through prosperity, deep recessions and chronic job losses due to outsourcing to Banglore. (But bus conductors over here may not be as polite and considerate as cultured Kolkata; they simply try to run buses on time without strike.)

The point is let us not confuse economic prosperity of a city with the social structure or harmony. These are not mutually exclusive so the beloved Kolkata has to make a choice here. On the contrary if history is any guide, prosperity is boon to high culture. If you ask, most Kolkata residence would love to have the ‘problems of plenty’ of Banglore. It will be only few misguided Ivory tower intellectuals like Janaki Nair who want to undertake the intellectual Jihad to preserve the Bhadra Lok Bengali sensibility amidst Kolkata style destitution and keep on singing the praise of now defunct Public Sector. May be the new gilded age of Kolkata is around the corner when it embraces the spirit of entrepreneurship and capitalism.

Janaki Nair, move aside and make place for jobs coming to ‘Aam Janata’ in this New Age India.

Umesh Patil
San Jose, CA 95111
December 27, 2005.

1 comment:

Harish N Jeyavel said...

I went through Janaki Nair's article, If that was to be a question, I had to face in an examination, I wouldn't hesitate to slip in your response as the answer!

If people are getting Bangalored, far more number of people are getting Bengalured! America and Britain are wonderful places, but the world doesn't begin and end there. Hasn't she heard of China, France, Germany, Russia, Brazil, Not to mention a lot of Indians are getting Bengalured.

Nair goes on to say, "It is as if the ride to economic prosperity has dried up not only the tanks and other water bodies that were a unique feature of the city, but also ideas about citizenship, urban values,or community spirit."

Now its corrupt official's greed for illegal economic prosperity which is responsible for drying up the lakes and as far as Bangalore's idea about citizenship, urban values, or community spirit is concerned, Nair needs to get in touch with her friends in Bangalore. Visiting Bangalore is never a bad idea!

This is purely my opinion and only concerns the reference to Bangalore in the article, I do agree that there are issues to be dealt with. I wouldn't like to comment on rest of the article, you have done a good job there!

Coming to Bangalore, I'd like to see Bangalore have a lot of outside people and lets face it unlike US, we simply are not going to have plumbers and drivers of foreign origin, there is too much competition here. But its this diverse people in many industries, who bring this cosmopolitan culture. As you say in your article, "...yet it has reasonable social life beyond Tech, VCs and startups", Bangalore hopefully has this but we still have a long way to go isn't it?

Actually this is somewhat I intended to ask you in the earlier mail some time back, Does this city has the potential to host have some more diversity, only this time, preferably people from outside India and not necessarily people of Indian origin? say in 20-25 years? Now that would be a true global city!