The return

Coconut vendors on the streets of Jayanagar. Bangalorians must have been involved in such activities for centuries. Will scenes such as this still be a feature of the city twenty years from now?

Coconut vendors on the streets of Jayanagar. Bangalorians must have been involved in such activities for centuries. Will scenes such as this still be a feature of the city twenty years from now?

Early morning Bangalore. I recognise this pattern. Despite having arrived tired and dishevelled from long flights late last evening I was awake early, turning in the sheets and unable to regain my slumbers. After a few minutes trying to delude myself that sleep will return, I accept defeat and decide to make some use of the minutes before others in the building stir. It will take a couple of days to fully adjust, and I have learned from past experience that the best of strategies is simply to give up on any efforts to make a hurried change in my routine, and just let my body dictate action. I suppose each of us has our own experiences and means of dealing with the consequences of changing time zones. So here I am, six in the morning India time, wide eyed and seated at the laptop.

Beyond the bedroom window I can hear the distinctive and instantly recognisable sounds of Jayanagar. Even at this relatively early hour the sounding of car horns, accompanied by the occasional trill of squirrels and the low mumbling of voices on the street punctuates the start of  day. This raucous cacophony will increase as the city shakes off the last vestiges of night and grips the population of this district in another morning of hurly burly motion and Bangalorians wipe the sleep from their eyes and descend for their early morning chai and idlis.

In recent days the monsoon has at times achieved what mere men have become incapable of doing. It has brought sections of the city to a near standstill as the drains, often strangled with the detritus of packaging and other discarded materials, have failed yet again to cope with the excessive quantities of rainwater. I was once told that waterlogging, a phenomena whereby the thoroughfares become flooded forcing pedestrians to wade rather than stride along the streets, is the consequence of British engineering and the installation of English sized drains in ignorance of an Indian monsoon downpour. Is this truly yet another consequence of imperial rule, or does the quanity of street rubbish play a significant role in these matters?

Last night, descending to the runway the sky was ripped with lightening and the heavens roared a welcome as  we returned to this confusing but all-embracing city. At the airport door a smiling face behind a card bearing my name was a welcome sight, as the designated taxi driver approached with a friendly namaskar and the trademark headshake instantly recognisable to anyone who has spent time in this region.

Approaching the city and squinting beyond the taxi windscreen wipers,  pathetic in their efforts to contain the thrashing deluge, I sought the familiar landmarks that mark our progress and road signs that count down the final miles of our journey towards Jayanagar. Bangalore has changed since my first visit in 2000. The comforting small roadside communities of low level housing, shops and temples are being speedily consumed by the heavenward soaring shiny glazed apartments that are lauded on the billboards that dominate the main road into the city from the airport. Luxury in the skies apparently. Will these become new vertical communities fostering the sense of identity that was so evident in the housing they replace? Or will they become so many more of what the American folk singer Pete Seeger described as “little boxes made of ticky-tacky” to which the more affluent members of this city aspire only to find that they no longer know their neighbours? Only time can possibly tell. This is all too often the problem with what we assume to be progress; its impact is unrecognisable and then suddenly it’s too late.

Today will be a day of final preparation, meetings to ensure that the coming weeks of teaching run smoothly and that at least some of the players on the stage have an indication of their intended entrances and exits. Timetables will be once more scrutinised, roles and responsibilities reassessed and the props and resources for teaching will undergo one final check and possible tweeking. This weekend will be a time of coming together with old friends and students, all in anticipation of the events that will occupy the coming days. We approach Monday’s starting line with a jumble of excitement and wonderings – just like infants at Christmas waiting to know what is hidden inside the wrapping paper that is almost within reach.

It feels good to have returned to this whirling, chaotic and mystifying city. Not so much for the jumbled landscape of concrete, glass and neon that have become the trademark of material aspirations in cities across the globe; but more for the privilege of working alongside those people who amidst all this superficial sprawl, are working hard to retain those values espoused by the fathers of the nation, and to include those citizens who live at the edge of those transitory first sightings that provide a surface gloss to Bangalore.

A squirrel calls again from somewhere near my bedroom window, and determined to be heard above the rising crescendo of the city din there is even birdsong, once the listener makes an extra effort and becomes attuned. As Bangalore revs its engine and once more picks up speed, I think of those passengers who have gained a ticket for this headlong dash into the future, but reflect more upon the fate of those who remain as pedestrians in this fast changing city.