Sunday, September 30, 2007

The Perpetual Beta

This is the best description of the city of 'Bangalore'. We entered this mode (earlier we were in "why can't it be like this forever?" mode) approximately 7-8 years ago when construction of the first fly-overs of the city were taken up. Since then, you can not go from one point to another point in the city without having to take a 'detour' because of something being 'under-construction'. Then there is the never ending digging... along the road, across the road, some times criss-crossing too. Once the digging is done, we dig again.

Our city is famous for its 'one-way's. The 'one-way'ness is not new to civilizations elsewhere. Its a definite way to stream line traffic. But, our innovation is a paradigm shift by making them dynamic. Mark some streets as one-way only in peak hours. What constitutes as peak hour depends on the location - there is a office peak hour, school peak hour, cinema peak hour, night club peak hour... and so on. Then the next level of innovation is when let it be a 2-way street for only certain class of vehicles. How many time have we seen such boards - "Right Turn only for BMTC buses", "Cars and 2-Wheelers only", "No Entry for Auto-rickshaws"... Has any body stopped and wondered "Why?". We do not stop at that, 6 months into the one-way scheme, you realize that the road should be running the other way... and so reverse the one-way. Perhaps, we are the only city in the world to have a criss-cross junction on top of fly-over. To top that, we manage it without traffic lights. All in all, it must be said that driving in Bangalore expects (if not ensures) an above normal intelligence.

We call the speed breakers are 'humps'. These can be come in various sizes and shapes. Some of them are intentional, while most of them are badly covered up digging jobs [refer above to know about our favorite passion - digging]. The rule of thumb is that, if the road is devoid and pot holes for about 100 meters, then cars can reach dangerous killer break-neck speeds of 40 Kmph. Hence, we need humps (I challenge you to read the previous sentence without laughing). Oh, humps are a status symbol too. Every politician wants one outside his house - bigger the better. The latest innovation is when humps double up as pedestrian crossing. If the hump does not slow you down, may be knocking a few pedestrians will. There is a process we follow to ensure road safety. First we make the road. And then, we measure the danger of speeding (~50Kmph). If a person is brought to ER during a week's traffic, then there is enough danger to warrant a speed breaker. We immediately deploy one. The next day, 3 more will be admitted since there was absolutely no warning about it. Then a week later, we paint it in white stripes. From then, our road becomes totally safe for travel (~30Kmph). Lovely, aint it?

The latest buzz word is 'encroachment'. This is the seen by the establishment as root cause of all problems - traffic, sewage, crime, corruption, bureaucratic inefficiencies and what not. In reality, 'encroachment' is a process where the establishment lets a person have its share of bread. When the person makes a sandwich out of it, the all powerful establishment snatches it away. Its fighting immorality with immorality, hoping that two wrongs make it right... I could go on and on... Bottom line - you are never safe when you make the deal with the devil, for it is in its nature to double cross. In another totally unrelated development, the city has come forward to 'legalize' all 'illegal constructions' at a 'nominal' fee. All the words in quotes scare me. A slight extrapolation on any of those fronts - the results are horrendous.

Next set of complexity of living in Bangalore is that places and roads go by more than one name. Most Bangaloreans would not not be able to tell you where is Gen Thimmiah Road, Field Marshall Cariappa Road, Devaraj Urs Road. But they will be more than happy to tell you how to reach Richmond Road, Residency Road or Race Course Road which are the widely known names of the same roads. There is a building by name "Multi-Storey Building". And at least 5 roads that go by the name "Double Road", 2 junctions that are called "Bhashyam Circle". We have a 80ft and a 100ft road (yes, really they are the names). We have Kasturba (wife of Gandhi) Road that joins Mahatma Gandhi Road and Vittal Mallya (liquor baron) Road. Needless to point out that Mahatma Gandhi Road is has the most number of liquor joints. At the end of the day, amidst all confusions, our friendly neighborhood auto drivers will take you to your destinations any where in the city. No hazzles.

All this makes me feel as if we are guinea pigs. The establishment trying new the beta features to see if it works. They want us to be in a perpetual dream of an Utopian city. Well, however screwed up the present it, I am happy that the dream is still on.

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