Bangalore, when I was young, was a simple, quiet place full of trees and little traffic. Most people walked, and a fortunate few had bicycles. I always enjoyed walking along the Krishnarajendra Road with huge trees. Going from the south of Bangalore (Basavanagudi) to the City Market was therefore always a pleasure. There were some buses running in Bangalore, but most people that I knew did not use them. Bangalore also had wonderful weather. I had not seen a fan at that time. The number of institutions in the city was very small compared to today’s scales. There was only one college in Bangalore, where one could get a science degree of the University of Mysore. We had a small number of private schools and four government high schools in the city. In this Bangalore, I was born nearly 84 years ago.
Teaching in high schools was quite good at that time. My interest in science actually got kindled when I was studying in Acharya Patashala, Bangalore. I did not take part in sports seriously. I participated in debates, writing competitions and some of the literary activities.
Bangalore has changed enormously in the last 25 years or so. I am afraid that it has changed without our being conscious of how fast and how far it has gone. I am amazed by the changes in the shape and size of Bangalore.
There must have been a planning committee and a master plan, but I do not know whether sufficient attention was paid to the way Bangalore was growing. I get frightened even while going in a car when I see huge 40 storied towers just next to the road. I learn that a majority of the flats in the towers are vacant. Bangalore is probably one of the good examples to demonstrate the ill effects of unplanned urbanisation.
Sometimes, I get a feeling that the intellectual and romantic atmosphere of Bangalore of the early days have disappeared. When I was young, I often used to see D.V. Gundappa, Masti, Gopalakrishna Adiga and other scholars. T.P. Kailasam was somebody whom I used to see every few days walking with a cigarette tin in his hands. I do not think that it is possible to see poets and artists walking on the streets of this big city any more. I recall how in the early days I frequently used to attend lectures by distinguished people. The lectures would be in Central College Union, the Institute of World Culture or the Gokhale Institute of Public Affairs.
It is possible that because of the vast population with wide interests in a very large city, it is difficult to preserve and promote the old Bangalore culture. I used to enjoy going to music concerts and theatrical performances. I did this even a few years ago, but today it is extremely difficult to reach the place where the performance occurs, due to traffic. A few weeks ago, my wife wanted to go to her cousin’s house to greet her on her 70th birthday. It took more than two hours to reach the place which is hardly 10 or 12 kilometers from where we live. She just had time to say hello and good bye.
Bangalore has become notorious in the last few years as a garbage city, instead of a garden city. I am not so much worried about the garbage. It can be removed. We can even clean the lakes, but we can never shrink Bangalore city or eliminate the concrete jungle. It is high time that the state government and the society as a whole recognise the danger signals and determine how the city should develop. We may need a god to save Bangalore.
It is unfortunate that as Bangalore grew, the necessary infrastructure, specially transportation, has not kept pace. The only thing that has happened is that every area in Bangalore has its own shopping facilities and one can buy a pin or a refrigerator in one’s neighbourhood. This only shows the amazing success of our business people. Bangalore now has so many schools and colleges. I do not know the exact numbers. I heard that there are more than a 1,000 undergraduate colleges and nearly 60 engineering colleges, but I am afraid that very few of them are of high quality, but some of them are expensive. How come we do not have one undergraduate college comparable to the best in the world! Why not an engineering college like MIT?
There are thousands of professionals in the city today earning good salaries. They should be concerned about making Bangalore a cultural centre with a humane society. Unfortunately, I get the feeling that a large majority of the young professionals get attracted more by money, management and such things. Scholarship and science may not be in their list of priorities. No wonder that in the last several years, the research students from Karnataka who have joined my laboratory are all with a rural background.
I have had occasional dreams when I see my ghost visiting Bangalore 20 or 30 years from now, in search of Lal Bagh and the Indian Institute of Science. Having learnt that Bangalore metro runs through the IISc Campus, I decide to go to Lal Bagh. I do not see Lal Bagh. An old attendant standing there explains how the gardens frequented by nature-loving citizens, do not exist anymore and how powerful people came in their helicopters to take over the gardens to build multi-storied towers in the Centre (named Garden View).
Then I asked about Bugle Rock (a beautiful park amidst the natural rock formations) where I played when I was young. The old man bent his head down and said that all the rocks are lost to quarrying. There may be one or two small ones left. I start walking away in sadness only to see crowded streets with people talking to themselves with their hands waving wildly. People did not seem to look at other people, but somehow they knew how to tunnel between cars, buses and rickshaws. I wake up with a start and tell myself, “This can’t be true”.
Bangalore still has a nice weather. I cannot complain about this, but I would like to see a more friendly and humane Bangalore. Whatever I have expressed earlier may be taken as criticism of Bangalore. I do not mean it be so. I admire Bangalore. It is the science capital of India. It is the IT and biotechnology capital of India. It is also the space capital of India. Bangalore contributes more to the country than it receives. Wherever I go, I am always happy to be back in Bangalore.
The Writer is Eminent scientist, Bharat Ratna recipient
(As told to Mini Tejaswi)