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I Didn’t Leave Bangalore Only Because of the Traffic

Bangalore had always been the city of my dreams. It had captured my imagination a very long time ago, right during the innocent days of my childhood itself, long before the IT boom that created the so-called “Silicon Valley” of India and the mindless frenzy of greed and destruction turned it into the fustercluck it is today. Malayalam movies of the late 80s and early 90s like Johnnie Walker and Naduvazhikal played a major role in shaping this perception, portraying the city as the coolest, hippest, most happening place of ultimate freedom, offering the perfect escape from the suffocating social restrictions of Kerala. Even in the minds of most Indians, Bangalore was unlike any other Indian city. It was the naturally air-conditioned city where it was always pleasantly cold and romantically rainy, the city of vast woods, impeccably maintained gardens and wide, clean roads free of any traffic, where everyone was rich and lived in colonial-type houses, dressed up all the time and spoke only in clipped English. It was not as crowded, hot, dirty, expensive, unsafe, suffocating or judgemental, the party city, pub city, the city of rock, the city of technology and engineering and so on. Bangalore was unlike any other place in the world. It was special. The liberal, open-minded, progressive, free-wheeling paradise, the place where you could be anything you wanted without being judged or admonished. You could be yourself. Free. So it was only imperative that it was my destination right after graduation, a decade and a half ago. Oh, and those were the days my friend! The days were a stupor and the nights were endless. There were no Cinderella hour and traffic was light, you still could cross Silk Board without even stopping. You could party your heels off, and party we did! You met a ton of awesome people every day, and socialising and roaming around didn’t even cost much! The outer ring road, still under construction, was a desolate truck highway and a huge dhaba occupied the space where Ecospace stands today. North of KR Puram/Tin Factory didn’t even exist yet. The city was small, it was BTM, JP Nagar, Jayanagar, Banavanagudi, South End, Koramangala, Indiranagar, HAL, and the Pe’tes and the CBD. the company was the tops and the fun, the beer and the music was never-ending. How it was the place to be young! This was my place in the world, I had decided, where I wanted to be. I would live here, build my career here, fall in love here, marry here, have kids here, make my fortune here. Glory was all for me to achieve! Rock on! If there is something else that I would never do, it was leaving Bangalore. There were some things off the mark with the city, but it was only the matter of time before it all sorted itself out like the Great Indian Marriage.

Or that was what I thought. What I didn’t factor in was how much the present can be deceptive as much as the future is unknown. After MBA, which was a bad choice to begin with, I made an even worse choice of landing a sales job with the biggest lala company in the country. It took me a lot of hard work to manage a career change to a software company, but only to commit career suicide soon enough with my next job change. It was 2012-13, around 6 years after I started working and a couple of years into that third move, when it dawned upon me that the sedentary, mundane and learning-less years as a small cog of a vast assembly line of providing support to marketing support at one of the world’s largest technology giants had sheared me off whatever few skills and resources I possessed. As a marketing professional, I had lost all touch with the industry, the people and markets and nobody knew me anymore. As I turned the wrong side of 35, I realised that I was too old and too long gone to be of any conceivable interest to employers. With a battery of failed interviews under my belt, I could almost see “UNEMPLOYABLE” stamped across my resume in large, unfriendly red block letters. So, I had two options now. One was to spit out the soul stuck in my throat and continue at my then-place of employment as a shell hollowed out of anything of purpose, dead inside, ultimately ending up good only to be ingloriously thrown into the trash. I didn’t want to die inside, physically or mentally. (Not to mention that in the five years I spent there, my salary increased by exactly Rs.6200 (no, not yearly, in total). I could otherwise keep looking out for an opening, a new job, hoping for things to get better, inspite all the signs to the contrary. Well, the more I thought about it, it dawned upon me that there was no point in that either. The problem was not finding another job, because the immediately visible problem is seldom the real problem. It was with a sinking heart that I realised that on various levels, staying in Bangalore made no sense anymore. The great city which I had once loved so much had fallen to levels unthinkable.

Big City Life, Me try fi get by, Pressure nah ease up no matter how hard me try…

It took only a decade after I landed in the Garden City to never go back, that the good old days had vanished without a trace. Bangalore had become as much a city as it was a mess of tens of thousands of single-occupant vehicles clogging every open surface in every direction that wasn’t built up or (increasingly dwindling) vegetation. It took infinite time to get anywhere from anywhere at all times. The air was permanently clouded with construction dust, vehicle exhaust and all kinds of noxious God-knows-what gases and particulates. On a particularly hot day, the soot in the air would mix with sweat and stick to your skin as an oily grime. And those hot days were getting increasingly common as temperatures regularly went above 35 deg C thanks to the mindless destruction of the environment. The “AC city” of yesteryear was only a distant memory. And the water! What were once sparkling lakes of fresh water were now chemical cesspools of toxic foam that spontaneously combusted, smaller water bodies and all greenery were being obliterated in favour of concrete jungle with no checks or balances. Water was becoming (has become) a commodity scarcer than gold. Mounds of garbage, filth and dirt were dumped and burned everywhere, overflowing drains filled streets right in the front of multi-million apartment complexes with raw sewage, fumes from incessantly burning plastic, garbage and trash drew tears from your eyes and chocked your airways. This was no place to bring up a child, and not because of the unspeakably ridiculously atrociously fucked up costs of education but because you would be forced to watch your little one struggle for breath. Evolution did not prepare little human bodies to the effects of inhaling plastic smoke and fucking cement dust. Once you see that or hear that wheezing sound, believe me, you will not care what bloody make-believe hero you are in your air-conditioned bubbleland, you will want to just throw it all away and make it stop. If you don’t, you are just a monster. And let us not get started about the expenses it took for you to live in this dystopian nightmare that it made zero sense anymore. Around 5000 bucks for a weeks’ groceries or a hospital visit? Why would you want to live in such penury in this place just for the sake of surviving, spending endless hours, struggling to travel, struggling to work, to stay healthy, to eat, to breathe, all the while hoping that things will get better which it would inevitably not? Why kill yourself to pay rent or EMIs when there is a place for you elsewhere where life actually could be much better off, only if you could make a string of sacrifices?

I was always mesmerised by the external appearances of the city, as everyone is. But it takes only so much to make you feel that there is something wrong with people swearing by the city’s “upscaleness” when you can clearly see that shit is falling apart all around them. You see them wrapping themselves deep into their make-believe bubbles with their fancy flats and cars and microbreweries and offspring who can speak only English and French but no Indian language (true story), trying hard to convince themselves that they are living “western” lives in this very Indian city of Bengaluru while pretending not to see the crumbling city around them. But for you, you will eventually have enough of fancy bars and eateries and malls and such materialistic trappings that you realise are only hollow pretensions or money suckers or outright mirages that make no difference in your life. You will starting yearning for the real things that will make life easier for you and the little people depending on you. If you are a normal human being, this is when you wish for things like efficient public transport, public services, clean air and clear water, safe surroundings, good parks, drains, footpaths, silence and the peace of mind of every day not being another battle against everything. When you see that none of these is forthcoming and that a majority of people do not give a shit about any of these, but only how gloating about how awesome they are, is when you realise that Bangalore is the Matrix and that you had unwittingly taken the Red pill. You had gotten logged out of the Matrix and dumped into the real world. The make-believe reality that was pulled over your eyes flickers and disappears and is replaced by the reality of the city for all that it is worth, a grey, run-down wasteland of depression, despair, dread and disease, its most obvious offering very poignantly visible against its dark background: a severe lack of a future. The spell was broken. There was only one thing to do now. “If you don’t like a place, leave“, was what I used to tell everyone who complained bitterly about how bad the place was. It was time for me to heed my own advice, to do the one thing I thought I would never do.

I picked up and cut loose. In less than six months I had packed up and left Bangalore for good. It was not a walk in the park, but it wasn’t overly difficult too, and on the grand scale of things it almost happened overnight. It took me just three months and change to go from a fully entrenched resident of the city to boarding the train for the final time with no commitments left. All the heavy furniture was sold on Zefo (you should try them, they’re awesome), most appliances went on Olx/Quickr and the remaining were transported to Kerala overnight in the luggage compartments of RS787 and RS788 and in the end an Agarwal truck. And no, there was no plan whatsoever, we left with nothing ahead but only with a belief. It was a long, deep leap into the unknown and an incredibly foolhardy thing to do, but I didn’t care, I just had to get out, I just could not bear to stay anymore. I am not claiming it was a grand success, but even then we don’t regret it, today, not one bit. Long story short, I spent another half a year in the wild before finally landing a decent gig not far from where my parents had converted their life into brick and mortar. It is nothing exemplary, but brings enough worms home to put away and I am in a place where I am actually happy for a bit. We now live a contended life far away from the penury of Bangalore because the competition is far less, the earnings are more and a rupee travels much farther through coconuts than it did through Silicon. I hope it lasts. Kerala is no utopia by any stretch of imagination (hey but for you tourists it definitely is, please do visit), and life here is as hard and raw as it gets, but it is peaceful. It is amazing that what can change once you give up a lot of materialistic pretensions, and for except the occasional flash of frustration (mainly at harthals), life is relatively peaceful now on these southwestern shores.

Well, I always thought leaving would be hard, that the cord that bound me with Bangalore was thick and strong, what with 12 years worth of tangled roots and callused skin. I’ve defended the city against its detractors and spent my own time and money trying to make it better. However, the roots turned out to be only skin deep and all rotten hollow inside, so much so it could be cleaved clean by a single swipe with surprisingly minimal pain, that after a decade and a couple of years of having made it my home, I could just pack up and leave with minimal losses, never to return, not even for a casual visit and still miss nothing. I still remember standing near the row of run-down shops next to Manyata Tech Park late one evening, and amidst the din of vehicles and the air choking-full of exhaust, smoke and dust, telling a friend with a sense of melancholy how even six months ago I would have never even thought of leaving this place. But that is how things change. And when they change, they change you in ways you would’ve never imagined. And there were changes of more than one kind that pushed us to leave, only a part of them being the ills that plague the city. If they were only to blame, this chapter would’ve been only one sentence long: “I left Bangalore because of the traffic and pollution and high living costs“. On long and deep introspection, one realises that there is much more to leaving than what we believe.

Why Do We Leave?

We leave because the reality of the present turns out to be different from our expectations in the past. We leave because returns no longer justify risks, and the environs turn out to be an illusion doing nothing to fulfill our dreams. Bangalore didn’t turn out the way I had expected it to. During the naive years of my youth, I had constructed a mental picture of how I thought the city, and with it my life, would look like in the future. That picture was more or less the Bangalore of the late 1990s, only incremented with new technology and better developed infrastructure (improved public transport, for instance), a city that would look like it were in Europe, only with more Bougainvilleas, Gulmohars and Rain Trees. The portrait also pictured lots of fun, laughter, love, music and friendship, dabbed with colours of a stress-free life. All those years I lived believing that the date on the picture was still somewhere way ahead in the future, or, that things would get better and sorted out very soon, just give it another couple of years, it’ll all be fine. The revelation came out of the blue as I sat looking out of the window of my bus stalled on the chocked Old Airport Road one hot evening during the middle of 2013. It was at this moment I realised that the pictures of expectation and reality would probably never align, the former a Van Gogh and the latter a Michael Kerbow. But still, apart from its infrastructural deficiencies, I could not really put my finger on what was actually wrong with place, though I could feel that something was. It took me another year to figure this out.

The event was junior’s birthday party. We painstakingly planned an event of great splendour with no cost spared. Around 50 people who we believed were important in our lives were invited. We looked forward to a memorable day and a great time just like those packed birthday parties we always attended. But what really happened was shattering. Guess how many of those invited turned up? Eighteen. Have you ever had a nightmare when you arrange a great party and no one shows up? There are few worse ways to snub someone. It was on this day it hit home. That “future” date on the picture was now and what was missing from it was the “laughter and friendship” part. I woke up to the reality of how things and people had changed. Many whom I thought mattered in my life had long since sailed past, and I probably ranked very low in their of affairs. We always took extra effort to go to every event we were invited to, but we turned out to be the idiots now as only the cold shoulder was offered in return. You can’t really blame them. The city makes everyone so very busy, and people have to prioritise who they allocate their time to. To gain such mind space of people is hard work. It costs a fuckton of money in the form of meetups and trips and expeditions and food and beverages at the fanciest joints in town, in addition to projecting yourself as someone who they consider worthwhile to spend their time with. It was no longer like the olden times when we were all equals and chilled out the entire day on 100 bucks and drank Old Monk to pass out on the floors of random buildings together. But now, most of those old compatriots who I had shared most of those rocking years had seen the light and left the city or had grown up to be successful posh people, owners of multi-crore properties and fancy cars and motorcycles with diverse interests. They mingled with those who they considered to be more important to keep their standing and image. Gaining their mind space would require you doing all that they did – cars, flats, vacations, the works. Why would they want to associate with someone who travelled in buses and drank at standing bars? It was this when I realised I could not afford friendships anymore as well. But all that is fine, I can’t and won’t insist anyone go out of their way to make me part of their lives, because that wouldn’t be genuine anyway. (And to this date, no one has called, or asked about my absence from the city. The only people who enquired were the Twitter people!) That evening as we stood on the balcony and stared out at the Rain Tree behind our compound, we realised that there was nothing left for us in this city anymore. The decision to ultimately leave was made then and there.

We leave because things, people and surroundings change in a way that we no longer recognise them. Gone was the warm and friendly, level-headed and sensible-natured, chilled Bangalorean who never bothered about your external appearances or possessions, and was replaced by a kind of snobbish upstart megalomaniac who cared only about show-off and cut-throat capitalism. Life in the city had dissolved into a narcissistic spectacle of materialistic hyper-pretentiousness and a frenzy of unceasing oneupmanship. The constant, all-encompassing, all-pervasive worry of every single person seemed to be about how “better” they were “doing” relative to everyone else. The lives of most had simply boiled down to a manic quest for the next better/bigger/flashier/fancier/second/third mostly to stay relevant in their game circles, a kind of bizzare mating dance. Suddenly you were being judged on everything material by people desperately trying to seek validation of their own lives. “You haven’t bought an apartment yet? I have two“, “Still driving that 15 year old car?“, “So, you know there is this plot in Sarjapur that costs ‘only’ two ‘C.R.“, “Both our cars are fully engaged so I am looking for a new SUV to go on weekend trips“, “Really, you only pay Rs.10000 for the playschool?“, “My modular kitchen costed me only 15 lakhs“, “What do you mean you have never been to Bangkok??” and so on went the questions I had to field on a daily basis. I found all this utterly senseless and stupid. I couldn’t understand why people spent so much money buying things that made no sense. Why not take the bus and metro instead of spending on petrol, and save some seventy-five thousand bucks a year, with which you can buy yourself or your kids nice things? And why buy the new, latest car or gadget or anything else at regular intervals when your existing one(s) served the purpose excellently well? Why two lakhs for kindergarten? And of course, the concrete box in the sky. Needless to say, not buying an apartment in Bangalore was the best thing I did in my life, a shining star among the long string of mistakes. I wouldn’t have been able to do what I did if had bought one. It is only when you see yourself falling towards the water that you realise the value of not having a millstone around your neck.

The point is that the Bangalore I believed to exist was not this, Bangalore had become more like Delhi. There were maybe four or five people in the city (you know who you are) with whom I could have a decent conversation without devolving into a ridiculously self-centered parade of vainglory proclaiming work achievements, possessions, jaunts, conquests or other assorted rich people shit of brands and exotic destinations and so on. In all these circumstances, another job in another fancy building would not really mean anything but only doing more of the same thing at a faster pace, upping the madness another notch while everything else got worse, sinking ever faster into the quicksand. It meant succumbing to peer pressure and joining the large hoardes of slaves and spend whatever you earned and then some on flats to cars and gadgets and trips and whatnot, and broadcast said achievements on social media at regular intervals. Then you will be deemed “successful” by the world and allowed entry to very privileged fakery clubs where you will have to put up even more fakery to survive. The hill would only get steeper and taller at twice the speed you climbed it. What was the point of such a life? Unto what was its purpose? What was it worth? Does it have a future? What would you give your children? How long would it be before you could not run anymore and fell over and died of sheer exhaustion? And you can’t just ignore everything and carry on on your own because once you are past a certain age, you have no choice but to join the arena of the cutthroat perception Hunger Games if you would want to keep your job and continue living in the city.

We have shunned nature, stunted it out of our lives for some grimy joy of being enclosed in a metal bubble on four wheels, within concrete walls or in our own egotistical cocoons.

This is why we leave. We leave when we realise that staying will probably kill your sanity first and yourself later. This is why I left. Many people keep wondering why I abandoned what they think to be such a good life, “Wow, Bangalore life, man!“, as if I left Shangri-La for Shakur Basti. They ask me if missed the lights and the conveniences and the freedoms and the great consumerist trappings of the big city. I tell them that the shiny things are mirages that only hide suffering, massive facades that keeps moving farther and farther away as you approach them. The much-touted freedom is yet another scam, attainable only if you sign away your life to be an indentured slave to the “perception trap”. I tell them that in the end, the only thing that really matters and exists is what makes your life and the lives of those close to you easier, happier and better, and not some grand abstraction that may or may not exist. There are many thousands of people who want to quit but are way too invested into the life and lights of the big city, so hopelessly dependent on the Matrix, that they would die if disconnected from it. “But what after we leave? What will we do there?” I was one of those too, “Should I leave Bangalore?” was what I always asked myself, but as it is with most of things, only us can answer the questions we ask ourselves. I just quit and it worked out. I don’t miss the city or its flashy things. But It took courage to move on, because it meant discarding the years I spent in the city, the prime years of my life, that defined and moulded me into what I am. I cannot wish those years away like some easily forgettable dream. I found love and heartbreak, laughter and tears and music and dreams in the city, and I will cherish those memories as long as I live, though they sometimes weigh upon me like a wet blanket. But still, there will be no going back. There will never again be that Bangalore of old, of innocent laughter and unbridled happiness, and there are way too many memories out there that it would break my heart. Yes, there are many tens of thousands of people who are living happy and contended lives in the city and will disagree to every word I have said here. For every one his own, I made a decision to not stick to something that would make my short life miserable and I do not regret that choice I’ve made. Still, sometimes, when the night is quiet and the stars shine still and bright in the sky, I feel like I can hear faint music and laughter floating in over the mountains, remnants from happier times and places a long time ago that now seem a lifetime away.

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Abhi Abhinand

Vadakkus,In which city are u now in Kerala?Yeah Bangalore has changed to Bengaluru.It is losing the charm that it had once.How was your love and hate relationship with kannadigas?From my peers, The relationship between KLand KA are sour.

John Doe

Bangalore is so artificial. Locals are disappearing slowly. NRI Kannadigas simply buy properties and rent out and know nothing about their own city turning different. I feel the excessive materialistic culture, heavy immigration, infra development unable to catch up to the pace of immigrant inflows. But guess what. India will never develop any new city and certainly not another one in Karnataka. Politicians are making a lot of money. I read a lot of news about crimes. Bangalore is going to be a run down place full of concrete gardens, warm smoke out of vehicles. crimes, choking life with traffic. The one problem I have with Bangalore that is probably not seen in Hyderabad, Chennai or even Mumbai is that people like to show off and value their prestige, lifestyle etc more than their own intrinsic value. That is what has really killed the city more than anything else.

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