BENGALURU: Of late, there is a feeling of deja vu among old-timers of Bangalore. The city is looking like its old self, its avatar of the early 2000s. Traffic is (relatively) thin, you need not glare at bumpers for too long at traffic signals, and can actually reach your destination on time. Driving is a pleasure on streets that look suddenly wide and empty, and lush with greenery. Shades of the Garden City are back. The honest old-timer will admit, in her heart of hearts, that she is delighted with this new-old Bengaluru; it is akin to reclaiming the city. The circumstances, though, are none too happy.
An exodus has been happening over the past few months – first it was the stream of walkers, homeless, jobless and hopeless. Now, there is a planned departure: people are winding up rental agreements, shutting businesses, selling homes and leaving. Some are taking a break, moving back into their towns until the pandemic blows over. The city is looking conspicuously empty, having disgorged itself of people who called it home.
They were part of the waves of migrant population which had washed into the city, drawn by the magnet of its irresistible climate and job ecosystem. Skilled and unskilled labour – perhaps the best tech talent, professionals, carpenters, masons – they all came here, as if seeking the Holy Grail. With them came prosperity, and change – some welcome, some not so.
It inspired nostalgic old Bangalore folk to form social media groups and keep memories of their city alive. Of a time when Bengaluru was Bangalore, life was slower and calmer, and the bang hadn’t gone out of Bangalore. Beantown was still full of beans – a cross between old-world agraharas and the graceful Cantonment. It was a content city, happy in its middle-class wealth and innocence, there was no ostentation, no hankering for the bright lights and brands.
Sometime after the century turned, the city set off at a galloping pace, eager to grow up, drop its old identity and morph into a metro. A Cinderella makeover. It shook off its languor and we were put on a roller coaster, willy-nilly, and catapulted into a new world. We were in boomtown, where the streets had got a coating of gold, and gloried in its growth, its multiplexes, villas and cosmo sheen.
The blowback was there too – too much traffic, too much garbage, too many people. Silk Board became a signature meme, and Garbage City a nomenclature… was Bengaluru overdoing the athithi devo bit? Its climate and ‘good people’ (or so we were told) proved to be its undoing, as the influx continued and the city appeared to be heading to critical mass.But with the sudden paradigm shift brought on by a merciless virus, Cinderella appears to have lost her golden slipper. The music has stopped, and the party has ended. It’s time to go home.