Monday, October 23, 2006

Chronicles of Urban Life

(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.


Niranjan said...

A very good retrospective piece indeed.Ubiquitous feelings of urban ethos have been felt by all, if not, at least in this profession. Only a careful close and verisimilitude observation would fetch these kind of details.Keep it up

Niranjan N Kaggere

Anonymous said...

how could you read my mind, i too wanted to write on this helplessness of scribes. I too felt nervous when those less fortuned asked 'would something positive come up, after your write up?', and when no such expected impact happened i too felt like not to write such items. touching write up

Deepa Bhasthi said...

ah venu! we think alike then! maybe all journalists do, at least those who still think as human beings!

thank you niranjan

Abhishek Upadhyay said...

I had heard lot bout bangalore but I didnt actually like it.Infact Chennai is far better than it.
The traffic is really worst.From my Hotel in Residency to Anand Rao circle it used to take more than 1 hour sometimes!

Thats true many people come with big dreams only to find it crushed at later stage.

I have heard lot bout Madikeri....will definetly visit that place once.

Arun Kottolli said...

Human society and mankind in general has a great affinity towards cities. Right from the ancient times of Indus valley civilization to chinese civilization, the country & its civilization was defined by its cities. For example, one cannot describe UK without talking about London, or US without New York.

It is in human nature to collectively create something - do things together, and cities create the ideal opportunities for people to come togther and enables a collective effort.

The main difference between a urban & rural lifestyle lies in the way humans work. Rural life is often charaterised by individual labor - while urban lifestyle is charaterised by collective work.

It is important to understand the collective nature of humans. It is that behavior which gives people a hope to succeed in a city.

Two years ago, I went around photographing the city, mainly the vendors and road side views. Here in that exercise, I understood what drives people into these cities: It is not luxury, it is not the comfort, it not a easy life. What drives people into cities is the need to colloborate with like minded people and the hope to succeed through colloboration.

Unknown said...

What you see is What you get!

guys, a person like me who stayed in Mumbai for more than 30 yrs and moved to Bangalore, it is a heaven, there are major challenges like trafic, infrastructure etc but believe me mumbai and chennai took decades to grow and mature with support systems and planing, bangalore is just 10 yr old metro...

Shivalingappa said...

Very good blog site i ever read before.. Thanks for making such a contribution...


A.K.Purandare said...

You were found to be playing most correct string.It is reality that city attracts ,pulls,and traps.The colors,Lights,hopes.I dream if i could have set a process where there would have been a healthy flow of population between villages and cities.There would have been a top limit on cities growth and a bottom limit on the village un-growth.I firmly believe villages will keep us human and cities will slowly turn us in robot.Nice writing .Good luck.