On a particular day when I knew I wasn’t going to be productive, I headed into Bangalore’s central district. I’d been there in passing but never saw it in the way I would have liked. Until then I hadn’t really done any sightseeing and this seemed like the day for it. Bangalore has two nicknames, the Silicon Valley of India and The Garden City. With the latter in mind, I began my day at Cubbon Park. Sitting in the center of Bangalore, it reminded me of most any park. Even on a Wednesday afternoon many people occupied the park, taking walks, sitting on benches, taking photos either of themselves or their friends. The shade of the trees provided welcome relief from the heat of the day as I walked along brick paths and the hard clay ground. While there I realized that most everything about the park can be traced back to the time of the British Raj. The park is named for Robert Cubbon, the longest serving British administrator of the Mysore state (now Karnataka.) The statues in the park are all of people from that time period including a statue of Edward VII the British king from 1901 to 1910. I wondered about the symbolism of the park and what it represented.
I walked from Cubbon Park over to the Karnataka High Court and Vidhana Soudha, the capital building for the state of Karnataka, right next door. I couldn’t get close to either of them. I’ve found a number of fences, walls and barriers throughout Bangalore. Often the walls are topped with barbed wire or large shards of broken glass cemented in place. Some of the wall surround the many military bases in the city, but you can find one surrounding everything from homes to schools to empty lots and public parks. Cubbon Park, Lalbagh, the Indian Institute of Science were all surrounded by either a fence or wall. The Karnataka High Court and the Vidhana Soudha were no different. I walked along the road and snapped a few pictures of each wishing I could get closer. The fences created a sense of distance for me as I looked at the buildings. Fences serve only to keep people out and I wondered who was trying to be kept out of these public institutions. Walking by I spied an open gate to the Karnataka High Court with no security. This was my change to see it I thought. A whistle blew and stopped me almost immediately.
“Where are you going?” I was asked.
“Just looking around.”
The security guard shook his head. Looking around wasn’t allowed. I looked like I didn’t belong there, I didn’t belong there and so I wasn’t supposed to be there. I walked away feeling somewhat perplexed. For public institutions neither the High Court or the Vidhana Soudha were very open to the public. These places were for those who belonged and that clearly didn’t include everybody. It was later explained to me that in order to visit these places you need to request and be issued a pass. They were open, just so long as you had a pass. The symbolism of the fences continued to stick out in my mind despite the explanation.
From the High Court I headed towards MG road, one of the commercial centers of the city. There I found designer stores and malls that took me back to the United States the moment I stepped inside. If you don’t like expensive designer wear, you head to commercial street. When I visited a few weeks ago I found it aptly named. Just as people tried to sell me drums on MG road, I was persuaded into a shop on commercial street. Although commercial street certain won any contest for hustle and bustle. Yet what I found curious on MG road was that the stores were only concentrated along main roads. With a few turns down some minor street I found myself in back allies with regular apartment builds like the ones I’ve seen throughout the city. There seemed to be no downtown, only commercial corridors. After a few hours of walking around I grew hungry and tired of the heat and headed home.
When I set out that day I thought I was journeying into the heart of the city in the way I would head into the downtown of any American city to see what it held there. I realized later that Bangalore doesn’t really have a single downtown or heart of activity. The activity is everywhere. Walk any direction in the city and it won’t take you long to hit a commercial area of some sort. Only the scale of the commercial differs both in price and scale. You can find carts wandering the streets sell fruits and vegetables to a Lamborghini dealership in Bangalore. Some see Bangalore as a global city, a center of wealth, innovation and knowledge and want it to strive to be just that. I don’t know that everyone here shares that vision. Some I think would be happy if the streets were cleaner and the 10% of the city that live in slums had a decent home.
Soon I’ll be leaving Bangalore. I don’t know how a month passed so quickly. I’m saddened that I won’t be able to continue build relationships with the people I’ve met here. They have been so pleasant, kind and intelligent and I wish I could get to know them more if only I had the chance.I was only ever passing through, but I feel as though I got a glimpse of what it’s like to live here. I value the time I’ve been able to spend here, it let me ask many questions and find a few answers too. What lies in the heart of Bangalore? I still haven’t figured that out, but I’ve seen commerce everywhere, barriers I’ve questioned, and the love Bangalorians have for nature and their trees.