Bangalore or Bengaluru was once known for many things, be its idyllic pace of life as a pensioners’ paradise, leafy avenues, rock music, informal culture, the “AC City” weather, and more recently for finding its place on the World map in the past decade as “India’s IT Capital”. But today, the city is mainly known for it’s gridlocked roads bursting with traffic, for jams that stretch for kilometers which have become part and parcel of every Bangalorean’s life today. Ironically, this can be said to be a byproduct of the IT boom and the “on credit ” prosperity that came with it. Here I describe one of those jams, probably one of the most infamous, though it is hardly ever talked about. The jam on the Outer Ring Road, or on the “IT Corridor” that stretches from Marathahalli to Bellandur (Junction with Sarjapur Road).
An Experience to Remember – Never Thought it was This Bad.
I had to go from Nagawara to BTM Layout. Leaving the car at home, I boarded a BMTC Volvo route 500A running from Hebbal to Banashankari along the Outer Ring Road (ORR) via Silk Board, passing through bottlenecks like the KR Puram bridge, Doddanekkundi (EMC2), Marathahalli and the entire IT Corridor till Bellandur, then through Agara and HSR Layout, Silk Board Junction, BTM Layout and Udupi Garden signal. Though I know what lay ahead of me, I hadn’t a clue about how bad it had become in recent times as I usually avoid this stretch like the plague. Still I put a time limit of one and a half hours to cross the stretch of 27 kilometers.
The time was 1640 hours, the pleasant evening sun shining bright and steady. There was a brief 5 minute jam before Hennur Cross but the bus made good time, reaching KR Puram 15 minutes later. At 1705 we reached Doddanekkundi, also known as “Total Mall” in BMTC Volvo traveler’s lingo. Then it started. The jam stretched long before the signal, as employees from the Bagmane Tech Park were pouring out onto the road in cars and buses. 15 minutes was spent stuck here and at 1720 the bus broke free, speeding along the road dodging trucks which were crawling on the inside lane. We reached the mess called Marathahalli ten minutes later. Vehicles were clustered up at the Multiplex junction, half of them trying to take U-turns and the other half trying to go straight all at the same time. As soon as we passed this chaos, the real deal started. Motionless vehicles filled up the road as far as the eye could see, haphazard, muddled up and jam-packed, every centimeter of space bitterly fought for by road warriors. Like a drunk crawling towards the last fallen bottle, we inched forward. There was nothing I could do to pass the time as my laptop battery does not last more than 20 minutes and the phone I had with me was a basic Nokia. So I just sat there, whiling away time adding up digits on the number plates of cars stuck along with us and cursing myself for not bringing a book or magazine along, when I was not escaping into imaginary worlds where I would ride a metro train from Hebbal to BTM, flying above all those stuck cars.
Some 20 agonizing minutes later (like a true Bangalorean, I had lost track of time), we reached Kadubeesanahalli (Horizon College in BMTC lingo), where an underpass under construction crushed four lanes of traffic on each side to one and a half lanes each. The driver expertly slid the bus down into the narrow space at the underpass, neatly cutting off a furiously honking Tata Indigo driven by a tie-d gentleman who was trying to squeeze it into a non-existent gap on the left side. As soon as we reached back at the surface after crawling through the underpass the bus hurtled ahead with great speed, sending a surge of hope up my spine. But like the bright flame of a matchstick bring struck, that surge died down before it was even born. We were met with another immense mass of vehicles spread out on all sides and more joining it every minute from buildings all around us like streams joining a river. The slanting rays of the evening sun played a romantic golden brown light show in the silent bus which was largely the result of all the sand dust in the air outside. This, combined with diesel fumes and cement dust forms a regular part of the diet of people who work and live around this supposedly “high profile” area. As I sat motionless in the motionless bus surrounded by other equally motionless vehicles watching the sun go down over in all its fiery golden glory over posh apartment buildings now colored brown with caked dust, I suddenly felt thankful for not being one of those people who paid more than a crore for those boxes in the dusty sky.
The crawl continued for another 30 minutes as we painstakingly waded forward through the sea of vehicles. We passed beneath skeletons of two under-construction flyovers, the bottlenecks here again squeezing five lanes of traffic into one and a half lanes, roads which looked like a minefield after a war. The driver pushed forward with great agility, nimbly handling the huge bus as it were a Scooty Pep, pushing it through gaps with ease, denying overzealous drivers trying to squeeze in from all sides. It was pure insanity all around us it was, a carnival of lawlessness with cars stalling, people honking, flashing lights, breaking hard, driving whichever way they want, trying to take left, right and U-turns, falling into potholes and fighting steering-and-transmission to get ahead of the other guy. Bikers danced their way through openings. After a lot of crawling, we finally reached Bellandur and were in the clear, a full hour and a mind-blowing four kilometers after passing Marathahalli! But there was no reason to celebrate as there was a long way to go, the notorious Silk Board Junction still to be crossed. We arrived there 10 minutes later, joining the sea of red tail-lamp lights stretching back from signal. Surprisingly, the wait lasted only 10 minutes and we escaped by a hair-breadth, shooting through the signal just as it was turning amber! The stop-and-go journey continued through the clogged “100 feet Ring Road” stretch through BTM Layout for 20 minutes till we stopped for good at the Udupi Garden signal. I sat staring at headlights of cars stuck in the opposite direction, waiting out the final minutes to my destination. When the bus finally pulled up to the Jayadeva bus stop it was 1920, exactly two hours and thirty minutes since my epic journey started. I got up from my seat despite the protests from my back, did some stretching exercises and got off the bus, saying goodbye to KA01FA2020, BMTC Volvo 8400 running 500A with teary eyes… On rubbery legs, I walked towards a tea shop.
Public Transportation, Rights, Duties and So On.
The Outer Ring Road (ORR) as the name says was envisaged to form a ring around the city so that traffic bypasses the core areas thereby ridding the city of traffic. But before it was even completed, the ever-expanding city swallowed it and today it is almost an arterial road lined with residential areas, industries, apartments and of course, IT companies. I still remember when the ORR on the Bellandur – Marathahlli stretch was a major trucking road with lots of dhabas along it. The road was comparatively empty, dusty (not as much as it is now) and a delight to drive on. All this was just 8 years ago. All that changed almost overnight, in the blink of an eye. A gazillion apartment buildings 10-12 stories high sprang up on the western side of the road with around 10,000 homes at present and IT parks set up on the eastern side, providing employment for some three Lakh people. This was closely followed by malls and hotels turning it into a concrete jungle and in my opinion, the worst place in Bangalore. All this while, nearby “IT circuits” like Marathahalli, ITPL/Whitefield and Sarjapur Road were also booming, adding to the chaos.
Any city, state or country needs jobs to prosper. This outrage is not about the IT boom or anything else, it is about one’s duties to the city and nation. It is true that in our country with its bureaucratic mazes, flyovers take forever to get completed and roads are not maintained. But shouldn’t we also do our bit? People complain about traffic, roads and so on, their rights, while conveniently forgetting about their duties like clearing the city’s roads of traffic by taking public transport. This not only helps them and also lessens the nation’s dependence on imported oil but hell no! Everyone on the IT stretch take their cars to work, even if they live 5 minutes away and even though there are innumerable buses available every minute. Why? Because, the thankless, self-important and entitled middle-class who believe that their life is a never-ending quest to show how better they are than the next guy do not believe in things like caring for their surroundings and other people. Own a car? Show the World! Flaunt it! Hell yeah! “I go to office in my own car, unlike you losers who take the bus!” “Only car-less poor people travel by bus“. They curse everyone else but themselves for all the mess that they create. And in addition to this, they believe that public transport is actually a problem because buses take up the space on roads they could’ve driven on! How retarded can people get? People seemed to be strangely contended sitting in their literal and metaphoric metallic bubbles wasting their time away looking at the rear ends of cars in front of them, oblivious to the mess that they themselves are creating and curse everyone else for it! And I certainly say that people deserve the traffic mess that they themselves create. But why make others suffer for it? Give something back to the city that gives you your bread. No? You have the blessings of my middle finger.