People like to talk about what Bangalore used to be like before the IT boom, before the Indian economy’s growth spurt. And I like to hear about what the city was like in another time. I imagine it was a lot like it is now but with less traffic, pollution, noise and fewer construction sites. I also imagine more trees and bungalows set in scenic gardens. My friend Ranjini told me that when she used to spend her summers in Bangalore as a child with her grandparents, there were no traffic jams and no pollution. She described driving along Bangalore’s tree-lined roads as picturesque. The family used to go on long Sunday drives just for the pleasure of it. Driving in Bangalore today is not very scenic or pleasurable. You don’t venture out on the roads unless you have to, and then you try to avoid rush hour traffic. She also described the beautiful colonial bungalows set in flower-filled gardens which were characteristic of the city at the same. Sadly there are few examples left of these old, charming houses. These have given way to apartment blocks and gated communities with 24-hour security, power back up and unlimited water supply.
Luckily I live in a neighbourhood that still has tree-lined streets and one- or two-storey houses but I can see signs of how it’s been changing over the past few years. Just a few streets away, one road has been completely taken over by apartment buildings and more are being built as I write this. I can understand that many homeowners are tempted to tear down their houses and sacrifice their gardens to build an apartment building which will bring in a very generous income thanks to the city’s property boom. But this trend is ruining the city’s landscape. Does urban planning exist here? I would hope so. But seeing how things are going it makes me wonder. I also suspect that if there are urban planning rules and regulations in place maybe they’re often overlooked by the authorities in exchange for a hefty ‘tip’ from the developers.
Everywhere I go in Bangalore I hear the sounds of hammers, drilling, electric saws. New buildings and additions to existing houses are being built everywhere I look. Construction sites are scattered all over the city. In the space of a few days, houses literally disappear – to be replaced by the skeleton of a new construction which is then built in almost no time at all. Almost every week, while walking through the neighbourhood, I pass yet another 1960’s style bungalow being hacked, hammered and battered by the chisels, picks and hammers of demolition workers smashing windows, breaking down walls and destroying the foundations (and souls) of these old houses that are making way for the new. This demolition work is all done by hand – in India people are still cheaper than machines. The debris is then carried away by peasant women dressed in colourful saris while their children play nearby. I’m fascinated by these women and can’t help but watch as they effortlessly balance heavy metal plates full of the fragments of these old houses on their heads. (They seem to be equally fascinated by me because they often stop in their tracks and stare back at me in curiosity.) Young girls also do this work alongside their mothers. I’ve also seen pregnant women working on construction sites. The workers are brought in by developers from neighbouring villages and sometimes even from other states. They sleep on-site in tents or in the new buildings once the foundations have been laid. In the mornings I see them preparing their breakfast, brushing their teeth, bathing their children. Laundry is strung in the gaps where windows will be. Once the new construction site is complete, they move to another site, another building, another job.