The Slow Death of the Old India

Image  Credit; Samir Kelekar
When I first came to Bangalore in 1996, Brigade road was a happening place. Bangalore was then known as the pub city and pubs such as the famous space station clone Nasa were the talk of not just the town but of young urban youth. On my way home from work I used to pass by Brigade Road and rake in what was the new India.  In that new India, however, there was also a place for the urban poor who used to sweat it out to make ends.
I remember the guy who used to help park two wheelers of people stopping by, adjusting other two wheelers so that as many could fit in the small space available. He would also be the only guy who would know how to manoeuvre take your two wheeler out when you were ready to leave. Out of sheer courtesy one would give him two rupees as tip. He wouldn't mind if you didn't pay him. 
I also remember another guy who used to sell goggles standing on the pavement of Brigade Road. He had a small space. Just a wire on the wall to hang up his 'goggle wares'. As I purchased one or two Ray Ban look-a-likes from him — it was a craze in those days to speed on bikes wearing goggles to impress girls — he became friends with me.
Brigade Road also had some thriving night life. There used to be these bars where women used to sing Hindi songs of your choice. A man used to be also around who used to double up as a singer and a 'co-ordinator'. His job was also ensure that customers did not cross limits. Old soulful Hindi songs were the flavour of the season and I remember visiting with friends and asking for my favourite farmaiish (request) ‘ Naina barse’ by Lata (Mangeshkar) a number of times. There was a certain Indian-ness to the whole thing for want of better words. Hindi was the language used and after a second visit, you would be recognised and welcomed; they would be friendly but it was all within limits. At shutters down time, when the bar was closing, the men would ensure that the women were dropped home. I suppose the auto drivers were also regulars.
As Bangalore became internationalised and morphed into the IT capital of India — and slowly the outsourcing capital of the world– things changed. 2001 and the dot com bust was the turning point. 
Malls suddenly shaped the landscape, as one by one, the old buildings on Brigade Road were demolished to make way for the glass and steel swanky look. Rents sky-rocketed so only the Van Heusens and the KFCs could afford them. Indian restaurants got replaced by high end lounge bars.
One day I saw the same  'in-charge of' parking guy all ruffled while he was begging for 10 rupees. I asked him what had happened. He said that the parking is now managed by high end contractors who outbid each other to win the parking bids. Old men like him are no more needed. The parking man now gives you a smart receipt. In some places it is automated parking meters for cars. Convenience is the name of the game and our man is an inconvenience; also an eye sore and a nuisance.
A few days later I bumped into my friend who used to sell goggles. He also was begging for money. When I asked him what happened, his story was similar. He said police chase me off now. He had lost his space. The 'Arrows' and the 'Van Heusens' didn't want him among their midst. To make things worse, our man was sick.  He had varicose veins probably due to long hours of standing  in one place. He didn't have the money for the surgery the hospital had suggested.
As Bangalore moves upwards to become one of the top cities of the world you have no space here if you can't look like, fit in or give what the high-end market wants. The old India is dying. Suicide probably is the only recourse for many.

(The author is a techie and an activist)

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