Tuesday, 14 August 2007

The many faces of Bangalore

Every city has its glam and gritty sides but Bangalore, more than others, is full of heart-wrenching contrasts. Poverty thrives at its main traffic junctions. How many times have you rolled up your car windows so those grubby-fingered children can't get close or whine in your ear? How many times have you quickened your step so those very same kids won't touch you? I've done it myself - pretended to be deaf, dumb and blind while a human version of a Raggedy Anne, babe in her arms, stood outside my window and launched into an irritating and piteous drone.

The traffic junctions -- residency road, m g road, manipal centre junction, cubbon road, especially -- are also a breeding ground for another kind of desperation -- the kind that provides a service for which there is immense demand. This service is put on show every evening and you cannot miss it. The service providers are too visible for that: their red lipsticks, bared cleavages and heavily made up faces, are unmistakable. How many times have you walked past one of them and pretended you didn't see the way your male friend stared at them open mouthed. I for one am fascinated by a woman who so flagrantly displays her wares, a woman who looks so boldly at you that you look away, embarrassed. Some of these women are extremely beautiful and well-proportioned. Why, they could be models. So I wonder, they do this for money, but who are they when they are not walking the streets? Are they models? Maids, office workers? Typists? Obviously, they too want the money to live well -- shop in the malls, buy the best brands, walk around with 'branded' shopping bags? Who can blame them, really.

Poverty, in a different form, also surrounds us. And it is a side of Bangalore, we'd rather not know. The other day, while walking on Magrath road, I saw something I couldn't blind myself to. A manhole had become blocked and the stench was unbearable. Workers from the BBMP had the unenviable task of cleaning it up. As I walked past, a BBMP man, stripped to his undershorts, was in the manhole, scooping out whatever had caused the plug. And my first thought was: "Oh god, what a thing to see, first thing in the morning". I was disgusted -- at what was happening, at what I felt.

That hapless man, skinny to the point of malnutrition, had no gloves, no protection, nothing to prevent him from dying of the noxious fumes and filth he was seeped in. Yet he was doing his job as best as he could -- sweeping up our crap. People like him
clean up our dirt. It's just that we wish they'd remain invisible while doing it.