Saturday, August 13, 2005

What Makes a Community?

A weekly "compact" newspaper called Bangalore BIAS is all set to be launched in Bangalore at the end of this month.

This is what the founders have to say about the purpose of their compact (not really sure what that means, but I'm sure I'll find out):
The time has come to ask, "Whose city is it, anyway?"

Leaving out some of the usual cliches, we could still yearn for a city that used to be,
where there was time and space for libraries, literary debates, science fairs, Sunday beers, bicycles, Karaga, Christmas carols, kadalekaayi parise, jazz evenings, dolls' exhibitions and the grace of it all. In a city of seven million, there should still be that "Island of One Million" that knows what Bangalore was, but more crucially to the point, what it ought to be. We believe this community of one million cares for a lifestyle of grace and charm beyond the transactional logic that threatens to become the sole basis of our civic society.

This is the communiuty that is conscious of a heritage that makes Bangalore the liberal urban space that it derserves to be....It is conscious of the founders of the great legacy of science and technology. It understands there is only one way into the future Bangalore can enjoy its legacy of the city cosmopolitan - by being cosmopolitan.

[.......]

The Bangalore community could well feel that it is now under seige. The City's sensibilities have been invaded by unfamiliar, sometimes unwelcome strains of attitude and affectations. There are new people that now claim to represent Bangalore, but the Bangalore community is justified in feeling unrepresented.

[.......]

The direction and magnitude of the City's growth are not representative of the community's will or aspirations....There is chaos in the streets, panic at homes and
distress in the community.

[......]

But there will be the Bangalore community that will contunue to believe that Bangalore is a City whose future could be magnificent, a natural outcome of
its history and an exemplar of the future cities of the world.

Bangalore Bias looks to speak for and with this community.

I must say, the dichotomy between the Bangalore of 15 years ago and the Bangalore of today is something that you cannot escape. This is one of the things I was going to write about in my Life in Bangalore series in a post titled "Life in Bangalore: Lifestyle" (it's coming Sourin, just taking longer than I expected).

But Bangalore Bias' mission statement raises a question, or two.

First, who or what makes up a city? A city is a living, changing, amorphous creature that cannot be frozen in time and that image taken to be its true representation. "Whose city is it, anyway?" Well, it is the city of every single person living here, whether they landed here yesterday at the airport, bus station or train station and are setting up homes as we speak, or whose families have been living here for generations.

The manifesto continues, "The City's sensibilities have been invaded by unfamiliar, sometimes unwelcome strains of attitudes and affectations". The statement is not specific as to what these strains are or who is doing the invading, but again, the make-up of a city's sensibilities is a factor of the sensibilities of all of it's citizens at any given point in time. The sensibilities of the new comers cannot be discounted in describing a city's flavor.

Ironically, the most striking sensibility of this city has been its arms-open-wide welcome it affords to anyone coming here, whether from Tamil Nadu or Andhra or Maharashtra or America or Africa, whether a menial laborer or a billion-dollar multinational company. This is the sensibility that will take Bangalore to take its place as "an exemplar of the future cities of the world". Just as a community cannot thrive by supressing a portion of its members, so cannot a city thrive by negating the contributions of a portion of its citizenry, newcomers or not.

And these are not small contributions, mind you. The newcomers to this city are, each in his own way, contributing to the financial health of this city. The companies are bringing jobs, jobs are bringing people, people are bringing money that they are spending in the shops and theaters and restaurants, and the money is bringing construction, and more jobs. I dare say that the companies are also driving a lot of the improvements that we are seeing in the city today (Bannerghatta Road being a fine example, perhaps the only one of public-private partnership in Bangalore).

It is this financial health that will encourage people to look beyond their immediate basic necessities and move on to the dolls' exhibitions and jazz festivals and Sunday beers and the lifestyle of "grace" and "charm". And why blame the newcomers for these habits fading away? Why did this "community" of one million let go of that lifestyle in the first place? May be it's because all the old timers, who had property in the heart of Bangalore city, in Charmarajpet and Basavangudi and Gandhi Bazar have sold out to the highest bidder (in bidding wars brought on by the IT boom) and are now living out in what used to be the boonies and find it too far to make it to the dolls' exhibitions.

I do agree that as new people come in, and as a city grows to accomodate them, there is a definite strain on the infrastructure and resources. Moreover, from a newcomer's point of view, as I know from personal experience, it is very difficult to profess knowledge of a community's various concerns within the first few days of moving in. It takes months, even years, to understand the nuances that are at play in any community. There is bound to be that initial period of tension. But once you feel even half comfortable in any sorroundings, you look around, make friends and jump right in. That's human nature. (Why do I feel like I'm writing about my blogging community as well?)

There is no reason to believe that the newcomers do not have an equal interest in having a rounded, complete, fulfilling life in the city they have chosen to make their home. Newcomers also definitely look for signs of welcome. If given half a chance, many of them would do just that, jump right in. They too would like to live a life of grace and charm, I assure you. They too would like to see the infrastructure improved. They too want the crime rate down. They too want fewer accidents, better schools, better transportation, fewer power cuts and water shortages, parks for their children, safe roads, and justice and liberty for all.

When I first heard about this newspaper, I was thrilled. We have Deccan Herald and The Hindu (you said "Times of India?" What is that?), but we could use a paper that would concentrate exclusively on Bangalore and serve as a place where all the citizenry would have a voice, I thought. Then I read the manifesto.

Yes, it is prudent to have a focus, a core clientele you are addressing when you have a product to sell, in Bias' case the "Island of One Million" it seeks to be the voice for in a city of seven million. But does the other 6/7ths deserve to be disparaged in the process?

How fantastic it would have been if, true to Bangalore's sensibilities, it had opened its arms wide and said, "Come, let us build a great city together!"

19 comments:

gawker said...

Very articulate post. A rapidly developing country like India, where professionals are constantly getting displaced into other cities cannot afford to indulge in xenophobia. Moreover, it is strange and disconcerting to find a newspaper endorsing this narrow minded view, when in fact, it should be speaking out against it. Wouldn't it make more business sense for them as well?

gawker said...

Maybe the name of the newspaper betrays it's intentions. "Bias" isn't really a good word. Most of the times, it signifies prejudice.

Btw I dont know if it's intentional or not, but your Desi Pundit link points to some other Desi Pundit, not the popular one.

Sandeep said...

It's truly sad that denizens of a particular city take a myopic view of the influx. They harp on the "Son-of-the-Soil" attitude and fail to see the greater meaning in unity-amongst-diversity.
And we thought communalism was the worst of our worries??!

Do check out this moron's view on a very simliar aspect; you'll bend over laughing at his cretinous remarks -
http://save-maharashtra.blogspot.com

Eagerly awaiting your views!

Cheers!
P.S - Very well written, I must add!

chappan said...

Sujatha
You'll find these people everywhere the KKK's the Shiv Sainiks or the Aryan Nation skinheads. This reminds me of an anecdote from my college days. A group of us buddies were coming back from a rock concert when a gentleman happened to stop us to ask us for directions to some office building. Our friend, who was the most knowledgeble about that area, voluenteered to give him directions, but started speaking to him in chaste Marathi. The rest of us were taken aback and interruptred him asking him to provide directions in either English or Hindi, because it was quite obvious that the poor chap was new to Bombay and he didnt understand Marathi. To which our friend replied 'Well you are in Maharashtra. So you'd better learn the local language'. Needless to say the rest of us were speechless. He is now in the US and we frequently hear him rant against racial profiling. Whatever goes around...Happy I-day.
Sourin

Sujatha said...

Gawker: Thank you. Couldn't agree more. And yes, I was surprised at the choice of the word "Bias" as well. Even when it could have a postive connotation (such as in parents are biased in favor of their children), it denotes myopia, not seeing the entire picture.

Sandeep: Thanks for visiting and commenting. I'll follow the link you've given me. Thanks for that.

Sourin: Wow, what a ghastly attitude, and Bombayites are supposed to be the friendliest of the lot!

Happy I-day to you as well.:) I went to a flag hoisting for the first time in years. It was cool.

Sujatha said...

Gawker: Thanks for pointing out the wayward link. I fixed it.

Sunil said...

Sujatha.....this was an excellent post. I share many of these views.....

I certainly have been pained at the way Bangalore has changed over the years, but the moment Bangalore stops being the welcoming city which embraces every one who comes in, it will cease to be Bangalore.

I wish the paper had indeed said "come lets continue to build this great city"

Sujatha said...

Sunil: Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Hi Sujatha,

Am a writer myself and though this post is anonymous and not my style, I just wished to say that smeone summed up Bangalore Bias's style in wo pity words: the voice of a 'displaced elite'.It's because some intellectuals are feeling threatened and pressured to take a stance, have an opinion that they have formulated this short-sighted manifesto which is not inclusive and takes a simplistic view about enormously fascinating ideas around cities,culture and their evolution- their loss.

Sujatha said...

Anon: Thanks for visiting and sharing your views.

P Naik said...

Great write-up.. "Mannina Magas" tend to crop up every time a city takes on an excessively cosmopolitan character (meaning: " too many foreigners").. We're noticing the race riots in Sydney, Australia and the slow, but sure unfolding of resentment in cities across the USA. Congratulations to Sujata on a wonderful compendium of Bangalore-life stories. Keep up the great work!

Pramod (Atlanta)

Sujatha said...

Pramod, thanks for visiting and for your comment. I see you haven't started blogging yet. I hope you will soon. Take care, Sujatha.

Anonymous said...

writes that...
Bias in itself is a thorn in the flesh to all the renowned news papers of bangalores yore who commit thmeselves of being bangalore centric but focus on all things apart those concerning bangalore...
In this kind of a market an ex-mom who has immense exp in the liers world has taken up a daring cause to seek the media commends appreciable applause from all those who call themselves bangaloreans at heart....

Sujatha said...

Anon: What is your point?

Anonymous said...

Hi! I am a Bangalore boy myself and like you was out of the country for over a decade and am disappointed at what has become of the city.

Anyway, I write for the Bangalore BIAS myself and don't think the intent of the paper is to exclude "Bangaloreans". Anyway, good to see your comments.

Anonymous said...

Forgot to add my name to the previous posting. I am Anand Adkoli and write the tech page for the Bias.

Sujatha said...

Alok, thank you for your comments. Good to know that exclusion is not the mandate, but we do need to find a better way of co-existing instead of finger pointing.

Mallika said...

Sujatha,

Something along these lines came up on a blog(NeoIndian) that I actually initially discovered via your blog. A seemingly frivolous discussion actually turned more serious. I'd like to see what you think of it when you have a minute. Scroll down to comment #5 in this post:

http://neoindian.org/2009/07/14/return-to-india-myth-5-you-and-your-kids-will-have-lots-of-friends-in-india/

Thanks!
-Mallika

Sujatha said...

Hi Mallika, thanks for pointing me to the link. Just reinforces my thought that in order a city and its people to grow together and harmoniously, the ideal is for the "insiders" and the newcomers to set aside their prejudices. I argued for the former in this post. It is tough for a newcomer to any city, and we deserve all the passes we can get, but we would do well to remember that it's tough on the city and its existing population as well. No easy answers as far as I can see!

So sorry about taking so long to respond, but have been offline almost all of the summer and have just now gotten to responding to comments. Hope you are doing well.

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