Tuesday, November 8, 2016


ASKEW - A Short Biography of Bangalore by T. J. S. George.

I was eager to read this book for two reasons: one, I have been living in Bangalore since January 1965, except for four years during 1973-77 when I was away, and was curious to know how my nearly fifty years of Bangalore is figured in the mind of one of its veteran. Second, I am an admirer of George and his writings, I hardly missed reading his Sunday column in The New Indian Express. Having read the book now I am enriched, enthused and agitated. Such is the power of his writing.

When Kempe Gowda, fabled founder of Bangalore set out to build his dream capital in the 1530s, says George, his mother gave him two instructions: ಕೆರೆಗಳಂ ಕಟ್ಟು, ಮರಗಳಂ ನೆಡು (Build lakes, plant trees) and Gowda promptly made hundred lakes and lined pathways with wide, leafy trees. George traces eloquently how eventually Bangalore became a pensioner's paradise with a salubrious climate, well laid out locality such as Jayanagar, Malleswaram and Basavanagudi with their own unique characteristics, how public sector giants like HAL and HMT came without causing environmental and traffic hazards as they had built their own colony for their employees' residence and work.

George then introduces the horrors of Bangalore that struck: the Whitefield and the Sarjapur monstrosities, unplanned and unbridled, and the fickle nature if IT jobs. George etches them so brilliantly that it leaves us stunned and sad. Crooked politicians, bureaucrats and fixers joined hands in the mela to pocket their loot. Crime, congestions and traffic jams became order of the day. Lakes vanished in large numbers and the few remained are highly polluted thanks to land mafia, trees destroyed in large number too for 'development'(whose?). Several non governmental people who left their lucrative jobs abroad to dedicate themselves to salvage Bangalore, struggled hard to convince and steer the Government to act, although achieved some success to establish a Task Force when a Chief Minister was there but went into cold storage when the next Chief Minster came as he was whispered by the bureaucrat that the credit would go to the predecessor. George also narrates in a most matter of fact way how a thoroughly unproductive and unnecessary projects like National College flyover and Tagore Circle Underpass was undertaken despite public protest just to make money for themselves i.e politicians, bureaucrats and builder nexus.  

George notes poignantly, "It is perhaps woven into the texture  of the human mind to build and enjoy, then to overbuild and suffer, then to collapse and complain, and then to become argumentative about what happened". Yet, it need not be always so although it is invariably so in India. George narrates the cities abroad, some of them he lived there for some tome, like Hong Kong and New York, when they are faced with the modern horrors of cities, they did wake up and redeemed the situation in a most astounding way: by building huge global art, performing art, centres at their outskirts and reclaimed the glory, the 'soul' of the city. "Life begins eternally" George quotes H G Wells. We are nowhere near it, we allowed it to be doomed, like Bombay and Patna, says George.

George illustrates with few case studies how race discrimination against Black 'Africans' practiced in Bangalore which is indeed very distressing and surely a black spot on Bangaloreans.

The most positive, delightful and lip licking part is Bangalore restaurants. George enunciates brilliantly the nature and growth of delicious eateries in Bangalore starting from Udupi Hotels, Brahmins' Coffee Bar, Vidyarthi Bhavan, MTR, Veena Stores to Maiyas, Darshanis, Nammuras, By 2s. In each, George introduces the person involved, the reason behind them,  the struggles and toils including a tragedy of one of them for trying to expose the malpractices and inclusion of harmful chemicals in food by Hoteliers. Equally illuminative is the introduction of literary figures, and performing arts such as Ramanavami Music Festivals and Rangashankara ventures in Bangalore.

Most surprising is the detail life sketches of sensitive, educated and intelligent two sons, one each of the two most successful business magnates of Bangalore. I wonder why they are here. Soon I realised that although they have rich parentage in Bangalore with enormous wealth, they have decided to set up their projects abroad, probably realising the hopelessness of honest business venture here. This is perhaps the omen, a harbinger of things to come in Bangalore.

Bangalore is becoming bad to worse with hardly any attempts to stem the rot by the powers that be. George quotes V Balasubramanian, former additional chief secretary of Karnataka, saying that "water scarcity and contamination will force the government to evacuate half of Bangalore's population by 2023. Bangalore is growing without realising that it is actually dying". George ends up by saying " Bangaloreans are no longer citizens; they are digits, statistics, percentages and fractions for knaves to make profits from. Dawn never comes to the late riser".

The sub title of the book is 'Short Biography of Bangalore' and yet it is very comprehensive and wholesome account thanks to George's extraordinary facility in language that is full of grace, brevity and yet thoroughly evocative. The book is verily a opening of eyes to the problems and prospects of Bangalore.

The book is a must read for all bureaucrats and politicians and 'fixers' in Bangalore so that let them think that they cannot get away with whatever ills they do as people are becoming aware, and must also be read by all citizens of Bangalore so that their awareness can turn into action to force the emergence of leaders who are honest and have caliber to hold the bull by its horns and steer the pathway to the redemption of Bangalore.
 George T J S (2016): Askew - A short Biography of Bangalore. Aleph Book Company, P.119, Rs.299.

No comments: