Girish Karnad Reflects On Bangalore

Until a few decades ago, people came to Bangalore essentially for the horse races. Once the racing season was over, the city emptied out. Bangalore had little else to offer.

Today the racecourse has been moved out of the city—a former chief minister’s dream of erecting a 100-story commercial tower à la Singapore in the course’s place was foiled by public outcry—and Bangalore throbs through the year with no concern for the seasons. Its roads are chock block with traffic, and its hotels crammed. Bangalore started its life as a cantonment built by the British to keep a watchful eye on the nearby princely city of Mysore. It was European in its orientation, with wide roads, bungalows with pillared porticoes, and spired churches where everyone spoke English. And nearby was its “native twin,” Bengaluru, congested and cowed, where the lingua franca was the South Indian language of Kannada. In 1956 the administrative map of India was redrawn on a linguistic basis with each of its nearly 20 languages defining a separate state. And Bangalore found itself the capital of a new Kannada state, at the mercy of political and economic forces it was unprepared for. The first to pour in were bureaucrats who needed offices, houses, and roads to run the new state, their numbers swelled by the philosophy of a socialist economy that led to the setting-up of government-sponsored enterprises, like the telephone and the aeronautical industries. Ancillary enterprises followed, leading to an influx of migrant workers.

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