Bangalore's Outer Ring Road after the rains. The once-quiet, small city has exploded into a busy metropolitan. The upcoming Metro is one of the most noticeable changes. (Ayesha Aleem photo)
Ayesha Aleem, a resident of Brookline, is a graduate student at Boston University.
By Ayesha Aleem
On a recent trip back home to Bangalore in southern India, the most noticeable change was the ongoing construction of the Bangalore Metro. The winding, elevated mass-transit rail system that promises to give locals easy transport and greater connectivity is emerging from piles of rubble and gray cement. The state government has tried to keep the construction as unobtrusive as possible. Barricades have been erected on busy roads to streamline traffic and detours have been created to avoid bottlenecks.
But itís hard to keep a 20.5 mile-long, 40-station, $1.2 billion project, serving an area of about 170 square miles, subtle.
Kolkata (known to many as Calcutta), the capital city of the Indian state West Bengal, was the first to get an underground rail system in 1984 followed by the New Delhi Metro in 2002. Kolkata is Indiaís third-largest city with a population of more than 15 million people. New Delhi has a population of almost 16 million people and is Indiaís second-largest city. Comparatively, Bangalore is much smaller: Itís home to about 7 million people.
Bangalore was where the elderly planned to live out their retirement, where the cool afternoon weather was perfect for a nap, and the greatest worry of the people was deciding whether to spend a Sunday evening outside Vidhana Soudha, the building housing state government offices that is bathed in a pretty blue light at night, or Mahatma Gandhi Road, the cityĎs main street. But in the last few years, Bangalore has morphed into a pulsating, expanding, powerful new place, largely because of a thriving technology industry. The roads have become wider, the cars are faster, the incomes are higher. Bangaloreans now shop at multi-level malls instead of stand-alone stores and fly to Malaysia for the weekend instead of driving to Coorg, a district in southern India. The once-small city is growing up. And fast.
Construction of the Bangalore Metro began in 2006. Almost four years later, people are still waiting for Phase 1 of the project to open to the public. This would mean one of two lines of the Metro would become functional. Phase 2 is expected to take even longer. However, the wait is not as agonizing as the changes the structure is bringing to the city.
A few years ago it was possible to walk down Mahatma Gandhi Road during the annual Bangalore Habba, or weeklong celebration of all things Bangalore, when local artists would display photographs and paintings in makeshift tents between the trees. Indiranagarís 100-Feet Road, named for its dimensions, had much more of 100 feet to drive on than the paltry 25 feet available today. The scariest news is of proposals to chop down beautiful old trees at the Lalbagh Botanical Gardens so that the Metro can run right through the space.
Obstacles to change are annoying, of course. Bangalore was heaving under roads that always seemed blocked because of serving more traffic than they could handle. The new international airport opened about 20 miles away from the city center and people needed a way of getting there. In the past few years, Bangalore has grown from a space of about 125 square miles to about 435 square miles. Greater connectivity was essential and the Metro was a logical solution.
But the canopy of trees that once lined M.G. Road from as far back as the 1950s is gone. No more artists will showcase their work on the strip where pedestrians would amble. The roads that once seemed narrow threaten to turn into lanes. The solution will be to build bigger, broader, roads. Four- and six-lane expressways. This means more trees will be sacrificed, many more like those big beautiful ones in the Lalbagh Botanical Gardens.
This is not the Bangalore of our grandparents. Thereís no time for afternoon naps. The Sundays are much shorter, condensed to prepare for upcoming Monday. Now, learning to love this new, bigger, faster, crazier Bangalore begins. Because this is still Bangalore, after all, and it is still home.
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