Saturday, December 31, 2005

Iron Curtain ??

In the course of a desultory conversation, an elderly neighbour of mine made a startling revelation. In the last 40 years that she had spent in the city of Bangalore, she had been to South Bangalore
(i.e the part of the city that lies to the south of Majestic Talkies) just once.

We live in the Ulsoor locality, a Tamil-dominated area in North-East Bangalore, one of the oldest suburbs in the city. In these parts, it is not uncommon to find quite a few long-time residents who've never gone past the Railway Station!! They've spent all their lives staying within a few kilometers of the Cantonment area.

The same observation can be made with respect to South Bangaloreans
as well. Many residents in the solidly middle-class Kannada-speaking
suburbs of the south have no idea of what Bangalore looks like, to the
north of Vidhana-Soudha. For many of them, Fraser Town is every bit as alien and unfamiliar as Brooklyn.

It's almost as though an Iron-Curtain of some kind lies somewhere
in between the GPO and Chickpet that prevents the unfettered
intercourse between Bangaloreans living on either side of it.

The Iron Curtain is in many ways symbolic of a distinct cultural
difference between the North and the South. The South is predominantly Kannada-speaking, with a pretty high median per-capita income.
The gap between the rich and the poor is not very evident in the

The North, in contrast, is dominated by the minority communities,
largely bacause of its relative proximity to the neighbouring states of
TN and AP. Most of the brick and mortar industries are based in the
north which accounts for the striking disparity between the haves and
the have-nots, the privileged and the under-privileged.

The South is considered by many to be the cultural nerve-center of
Old-Bangalore. Demographically, it is far more homogenous compared
to the North, with a very significant upper-caste presence. Politically,
the South is clearly right-of-centre, almost unfailingly electing a BJP
candidate to the Parliament. The North, on the other hand has always
been a bastion of the Congress Party, thanks in no small measure to
the sizeable working-class.

South bangalore, is a more settled and idyllic region. Some areas have
remained unchanged, demographically at least, for decades. The North
is forever in a state of flux, viewed scornfully by the Southerners,
for providing a haven to arriviste outsiders, who are unfairly blamed
for the sky-rocketing real-estate prices.

It is easy to take this divide for granted. But for me, this is
one of the prime reasons for the state of unrest in Bangalore today.
A somnolent town, which was once a 'Pensioner's Paradise' has been
caught unawares, so to speak. The inexorable tide of progress and
fortuitous circumstances have ensured the growth of the city to
proportions that were unimaginable a few decades ago, but yet this
very tide of progress has marginalised the locals, who find themselves
unequal to the changes that have been wrought on them.

It is the story of an Old city struggling to come to terms with the
New World.


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