First came the plague, then pride and then ‘progress’. That quaint, obscure village where rural air refused to settle now wears a façade of inexorable modernity. Long back, behind this façade stood a different kind of past. Ducking under the mystic clouds of nostalgia is perhaps the only way to enjoy it.
The century that has gone by has meticulously morphed Bangalore from a city of ravaged mud forts into a city of ever-changing epithets. In a city that seems to have lost its sense of boundaries, that relentlessly struggles to nurse its newborn images, these self-misleading mud forts evoke only half-repressed sighs.
The winds of change have affected the Bangalore skyline as much as they have wreaked havoc on the ground. A city that was known for its aesthetic beauties sculpted in stone now gapes at the vertical horrors mocking at its have-nots.
The high-rises may hit new heights and clamour for attention, but this is so only in certain pockets of the city where the sloping roofs invite, the monkey-tops wink, the temples and mosques and churches boast, and the slums sigh.
Bangalore’s obsession with heights is as nerve-wracking as the incongruity that pervades it. While certain areas of the city give a pain in the neck, a few other areas struggle to retain the last vestiges of its past. And then there are slums—where the dwellers often smell a faint whiff of opulence only by erecting a shack next to the monstrous apartment blocks.
This is what happens when development becomes directly proportional to the height of the buildings. T P Issar regrets the loss of aesthetics in his book The City Beautiful (1988) and singles out Utility Building on M G Road for criticism: “…then there’s the original sinning’ Utility Building—an abrupt heavenward apparition on the once-controlled building-line of a gracefully dipping and rising M G Road.”
What’s disturbing is the thinking that grandeur and height must co-exist. Bangalore had all the glamour, grandeur and grace decades ago that many are now proud of. But what’s missing now is that sublime patience, that sense of aesthetics.
Maybe, while writing in his book, Issar had a premonition: “In the renewal which every great city is bound to go through and which must happen to Bangalore, one hopes for a revival of the cult of beauty and good manner of architecture.”