(Someone who admired my writing used the words in the title. You know who you are. If you are reading this, thank you for your kind words.)
In a little over two decades of my life, I have lived in three cities for considerable amounts of time and been to many others in the course of my travels. I was too young to remember Madras in detail. Though technically I lived in Mangalore, I lived on campus and my trips to the city do not qualify me to talk about the city. I could write a thesis on Madikeri, but it is not a city. And now Bangalore.
My job as a journalist and living by myself gives me a lot of opportunity to feel the city. As I travel to and from assignments and work and home, I tend to see a lot of people, not often very kind, some plain irritating and most rather amusing in their own ways. One common factor in all the cities I have noticed is the hope that lies behind the facade people wear on their faces, too afraid to reveal their true selves, lest it becomes an impediment in their efforts to fit in.
Cities, especially Bangalore, is the place everyone comes to with big dreams and bigger hopes. I did too and thankfully, my dreams were not hopelessly crushed by reality. I see how blessed I am to be living a dream when I see people around me who could not make it. Their eyes tell haunting tales of despair even as a faint smile plays on their lips, a smile that they take resort in to survive from one day to the next. I have always thought cities as very sad places because it is here that people come, hoping to become something and go on to become just a statistic in a growing population. In smaller towns like Madikeri, it is never so. We always know our places in the town, know our stand in the universe we create for ourselves. The dreams continue but we know it is ok if they are not fulfilled. There is a content in the way we grumble about the weather, about the falling coffee prices, about inflation and about the distant lands.
Not so in cities. There is always the next dream to chase, the next 'thing' to buy and the next thing to learn to fit in. Bangalore always makes me sad, every city does. When I work late in the office and get back in the office cab past midnight, I see people sleeping on the pavements with the sky for a roof and the hard Earth for a bed. Some are still awake when we drive past, playing cards under the street light, drinking cheap liquor or playing with their kids. If I saw them in the daytime..... Well, I wouldn't. These people become invisible with the first ray of light, leave no trace of their make-shift homes as they go in search of the dream that evades them all their lives. Cities are sad places.
But let me tell you. If you could even care to look into the eyes of some of the vendors on the street, the coolies in the railway station or the kids begging at traffic signals, if you look deep enough, you can still see that little flicker of hope of a better existence.
I tend to meet a lot of such hopefuls in my line of work. It is heart renching to see the kind of hope they place in the article you write. For me, it is just a copy, just another byline that will look good in my portfolio but for some of them, it is their only hope where they believe one article will make all the difference in their lives. It will not. The helplessness you feel at your inability to help them in a significant way is probably the worst thing in journalism.
But than, the only thing that gives me hope is the hope I see deep in their eyes. The lives they lead in spite of the death of their dreams, their sheer survival instinct is a reminder to me that life has to go on, that it does. As I walk past the Press Club and peek into Cubbon Park, I see a couple, coyly holding hands and whispering to each other. Just off the corner on M G Road, I see a blind woman selling lottery tickets in a loud sing-song voice. On Magadi Road through which I travel every day on the way to work, I see hundreds of people laughing, haggling, flirting and leading lives. As I hurry past slums, the scene is repeated. As I walk past houses in Vijaynagar, I see the same scenes again.
And herein lies the mysteries of urban life. Cities kill the strongest of dreams but people live on, building upon castles of newer dreams with airs of hope. Cities are sad places but then, if you lift the thin veil of urban behaviour apart, there is hope and joy and laughter too. Civilisation sustains itself, even when men clash.