There is a running joke in the stand-up comedy arena about the ridiculous distance between the Bengaluru airport and the city. It’s a joke that has pretty much run itself dry but still keeps cropping up in places — mostly on Linkedin. In the long list of clichés around cities, possibly the third and fourth joke would also feature Bangaluru, either because of its traffic or the many creative methods its citizens use to complain against potholes.
After a point, you can see a pattern and it is one crying out to be taken seriously. The recent flooding of the Bangaluru urban area is no news, but a constant recurrence that can’t be solved overnight. Cities flooding aren’t considered as cataclysmic events because Mumbai’s famous woes with waterlogging have inured us to the sight of floating cars and ravaged basements.
But this is Bengaluru, a city that wants so desperately to impress upon us its greatness, its capacity to breed innovators and visionaries it routinely forgets to address the most basic of problems that also make it unliveable — infrastructure. You’d probably know someone working in Bangalore who is farcically overpaid. It’s what the city is now known for — exorbitant salaries, young entrepreneurs and a life of perpetual hustle.
Famed as the capital of innovation, a dozen startups are birthed and they die in a day in the city and yet, it is human endurance that it challenges the most. No city exists without its problems but Bangalore is unique, because it strains to provide everything but the most basic requirements to live a dignified life. People can earn in crores here, but cannot hitch decent public transport to and fro from their offices.
No expense is spared in making the workplace look swankier than the imagination would permit, but little to no attention is paid to life outside the clunky, imposing interiors of these offices that have seemingly been imported from alternate dimensions. My first brush with the city was to visit a college friend, an entrepreneur — what else — whose startup rented a plush office in the most expensive half of the town. The man himself, however, lived in a 1HK apartment, we Delhites refer to as a Barsaati, that he shared with another man.
He wasn’t lacking in money (co-founder of the company) but only in will to spend it on himself. Hiring good talent, he told me, was all about how ‘cool’ the company workplace and its culture seemed. We slept on the office couch one night, because it really did speak the language of opulence.
A year later the company wound up its operations without so much so making a dime. The Indian startup boom is inspiring, no doubt, but in the race to turn around quick businesses and evaluations an entire city, it seems, has bypassed its own rotten core. A majority of the city’s once famous lakes have disappeared.
Real estate prices have soared and to keep up with the demand of fresh talent, companies have rolled out the red carpet for youngsters who are swimming in money before they can make sense of basic life choices like health, mental well-being, and work-life balance. Every other day you can probably spot a Bangalore based techie share a photo of the cloudy skyline with a screenshot of the mid-twenties temperature that the city sports the year round. This flatulent display of privilege has translated to the kind of ignorance that makes our cities the centre of both, our greatest ideas and problems.
It’s ironic really that a city riling with humbling infrastructural problems can germinate a gazillion app ideas but nothing tangible to solve the horrific transportation problem. Turns out there is no money to be made in real issues or else someone would have pitched something by now. Also, this exemplifies the complexity of trying to solve imaginary problems that maybe do not even exist as opposed to the ones that clearly do.
This is not to say that startups should turn into NGOs and work for the greater good, but what real world ‘problems’ does this age of frantic innovation then purport to solve?In Silicon Valley, the HBO show based on techies trying to run a young company in America, there is a punchline that repeats over the course of multiple seasons. Every time a techpreneur pitches his or her product they end with the disclaimer ‘to make the world a better place’. I’m not sure if the template is imitated in India’s Silicon Valley, but reality on the ground consistently betrays the sense of euphoria this city manoeuvres itself into every time the temperature drops below 25 degrees.
You still possibly can’t go anywhere without worrying about how and when you’ll get there. And this is not about privileged techies who can afford to call it in to work from home from the comfort of their rooms overlooking overcast skies. It’s about the men and women these people send out every day, to carry out services, at the expense of sustainability, health and safety.
Not to mention dignity. The author writes on art and culture, cinema, books, and everything in between. Views expressed are personal.
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