I am a software engineer who travels a lot of kilometers, on a fast bike. I wade my way through endless trails of busses, trucks, cars, auto-rickshaws and what not. I spend 50% of my travel at traffic jams and red lights, finding that new shortcut to avoid the next signal is an indispensable thing. So frustrated I am at times that I wind up riding on curbs and footpaths or taking that free left turn which isn’t allowed when a traffic police isn’t around. I live through all the deafening decibels and highly polluted air which gives me whatever little oxygen is left in it. Life in my city has changed. Bangalore as seen by every kid born in the 80’s has changed. It is a gateway to the world and no less than any other metropolis in India..
We grew up in the beautiful Bangalore, one that lived up to to its nick name – the garden city. Back then, the summer temperatures never crossed 30 deg C, black and white computers were still a luxury, space and the defense sectors were the only jobs that were available here. The city woke up and shut down early, the roads were wide and empty – they would turn into playgrounds every evening, the area occupied was vast as it had grown laterally, it never grew skywards. The city’s Public Utility Building on MG road was the tallest. It was green, it was clean and the air wouldn’t choke me to death.
School was 7 km away, we would reach there in 15 minutes. I loved the ride to school in an overcrowded auto-rickshaw. When I look back at the laughing, fighting, kicking and headbutting while riding back and forth, it feels awkwardly humorous. 4’O clock we’d get back home, 4.30 was time to play. We owned the streets, every street was our playground. We’d set up huge rocks that doubled up as stumps in the middle of the streets. Shouting and howling through the next 2 hours, we’d seldom break windows and run away, but the neighbors invariably popped up at our front door very often to talk about the crimes we’d done earlier during the day. At the end, I have wonderful parents, they’d put up with all our nonsense – they said it was all part of growing up, go discover the world.
I miss those times when we gathered to play at 4.30PM sharp, everyday without having to send out a dozen calls/messages. I miss those days when the only vehicle that passed in front of my house was a ISRO bus to drop off scientists. Those days when an 8 bit video game made us gleam and glow. Technology was never around, we went out, we played, we learnt negotiation though interaction. We shared what we owned and we worked our way out of every difficult situation like champions. I still remember the time when we walked/cycled/hitch-hiked 3 kilometers in search of a bigger place. The place was so large and the hill beside it made it like icing on the cake, we were euphoric. We had all grown up, our sixes had gotten bigger, the bowling was faster and we definitely needed a larger goalpost whenever we chose to play football. A larger ground to play was needed and this served us right, we moved on from the streets to here, the streets were no more playable, too small and too much traffic !!
Just as we started to think we finally had the place for ourselves, barricades were erected, our playground was being taken away from us. We found a small opening, sneaked in and continued playing for a few more months, then came the sign boards that said, Danger !! Deep excavation. It made way to the present day ISKCON temple on top of the hill and ISKCON’s Gokulam apartments where we once played football or cricket everyday. By then my friends started getting busy as well, we found a smaller place to accommodate our reduced numbers, those times of not finding enough people to keep the game going had begun. Cycling to this wonderful lake surrounded by forest, was our alternative when we ran out of people to make sizable teams. One fine day, a small apartment sprung up on the bank of the lake. It drained all the water out of it.
The big change was starting to take over completely… we saw the city transforming into a monstrous metro. Disappearing lakes, felled trees, vanishing playgrounds, oversized residential towers and unimaginable traffic was becoming a trend. The IT bubble had bursted, a mass exodus of people from other parts of the country came in to Bangalore, it created 1000s of jobs, the face of the city changed. The people who were employees are now employers to people migrating from the central India, their fortunes have changed. The city now has a skyline, 100+ plus engineering colleges, every second person wants to be an engineer in this city. The kids no more spend time outdoors, its replaced by Xbox and PlayStation, a football field doesn’t exist, we have what’s called FIFA by EA Sports.
What happened my long list of buddies? Well, a dozen of them went abroad, some of them happily married, some of them like me are holding a desk job in the silicon valley of India and a few of them, the brave ones, who followed their hearts got into wildlife conservation, football, theater, art, et all. We still try to catch up every weekend to play football, it often fails even after sending out 100s of messages on whats app. Every playground is long gone, there’s one that’s owned by the government 4-5 kilometers away and there’s still a little futbol left in us.
Here I am, penning this down on yet another ‘social‘ platform, stuck at a very large traffic gridlock. How ironic, ten years back on this very same road we were playing cricket.