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Posts Tagged ‘city’

In the midst of blasts and fireworks across cities …

July 26th, 2008

(I write in the spirit of my words and in submission of myself to my vulnerabilities and to the present …)

One blast here,

One there,

One everywhere.

Today here,

Tomorrow there.

One blast here

And one blast there.

So that is what we, in various parts of the world, have been hearing about in the last two days. And yet, the indifference on my skin remains. It only thickens. But I remain sensitive to more mundane issues that concern me/bother me/sit on my mind/nag me. And what is sitting on my mind as of now, is that beautiful feeling of vulnerability and the thought of what it means to be vulnerable in the city. The feeling of vulnerability is beautiful as of now because I write in the solitude of music, my words and my difficult and vulnerable self, shut off from the noise of the blasts and of the noise of the crowds that existed in my space a while ago.

So we (i.e. me and myself and my difficult self and my vulnerable self) write about vulnerability in a city. As there is no ‘city’ in the sense that we each make our own city and carve our own niches that we eventually call ourselves and city, so also there is no one universal feeling of vulnerability. Let me lay out some of the many vulnerable feelings that I feel from time to time these days:

a). Being woman in a live-in relationship with my boyfriend and a strange battle that has been going on between my mind, my boyfriend and his family;

b). Being somewhat unemployed and attempting to work through meaningful relationships rather than work for money only (and that darn inflation);

c). Taking the courageous risk of getting a house for myself in this city in the middle of my unemployment, an act that I am experiencing as a leap of faith, sometimes a great feeling and sometimes a scary feeling;

d). The destiny of being Muslim at a time when bombs burst in Bangalore and Ahmedabad and who knows where else …;

e). Figuring out the law and rules and regulations concerning various things and various relationships in a city whose language, both spoken and unspoken, I am still figuring out (what if I make mistakes …);

Now, this list might seem little, but then, it is a little too much on some days when I am unable to resist anymore. But hey, hey, this blog post is not about me. It is some kind of a random effort on my part to meander a little here, a little there and get to somewhere …

So, there are these vulnerabilities and on some days, when I feel vulnerable, it is terrible and on some days, that feeling of vulnerability is like the feeling of a warm chocolate melting in my mouth and sweetening my frizzy hair and the skin I wear on my person.

So what does one do when one is vulnerable? And that too vulnerable in a city? Well, well, it is not like I am “alone” here in this city. Despite being well connected, it is that feeling of not knowing the spoken and unspoken language of this city, that makes me feel vulnerable. And what happens when I feel vulnerable? I seek out people! And here is the story of one person that I have sought out in perhaps one of those subtle moments of vulnerability. This post is my account of that person, that person who is one more stranger in the city that I have tried reach myself out to, to hold her hand when she did not mean to extend one, and to express to her that in that moment of losing myself, when I found her, I found myself, that she helped me to hold myself together without even ever meaning to reach out me. I sought her, I reached out to her, and she did what she was expected to do – she responded!!!

So her name is V. She is my hair stylist. Now well, would it not be true for us, somewhat stylist urbane women, to reach out to our beauty parlours when we are dying with all those mad thoughts in our heads and don’t know where to go! Well, I was not in a mad state when I happened to meet V. I was very much sane, saner than what I am now.

I want a hair cut.

She smiles.

I want a hair cut.

She continues to smile.

Err, I need a haircut, where do I sit?

I am busy today.

So I will come in the afternoon.

I am busy then too.

So I will come tomorrow.

I don’t come to the parlour on Thursdays.

So when do I come?

Hang on, I will remove my diary,

and she removes her diary and asks if Friday is okay.

Tis’ okay, but I need a short haircut.

Open your hair. Hmmm … you need it cut in a way that you are able to leave it open. When you tie your hair, you look old.

Uh, well …

Okay, come on Friday, wash your hair before coming.

True her word and true to my time, I landed at the appointed hour and V began the snip trip across my hair. And we spoke. We spoke about my boyfriends and she spoke about how she lived at Bonga, the village which lies at the border of (now) Kolkatta and Bangladesh. I wonder whether the location of her home, along a border, is as coincidental as her present gender state which also lies at the border of male and female. But this was not a poetic coincidence for V alone, because, as I discovered in my conversations with her later, we each navigate the gender border without necessarily having to be in a phsyical state of being transgender. As V mentioned to me towards the end of the snip trip,

There is nothing male and female. It’s all there, at different times in our very lives …

On leaving her parlour after the first snip trip aka hair cut, I asked myself about borders. And then, in the midst of those blasts and fireworks in Bangalore yesterday and Ahmedabad today, I realized that we have all traveled the borders of life and death; we have all been at the border of chance, of fate, of destiny and of luck. And we continue to be …

On my next snip trip, when the vulnerabilities were gripping me and I was on the border of sanity and insanity, I went off to V’s and announced:

This time, I want a crop cut, like those soldiers who have just about enough hair on their heads.

No, you can’t have that. You will look funny. Let me see. We give you some other look.

Okay, then you decide,

I said, handing over my hair and some parts of myself to V in a manner of trusting her. So how many times is it that we can trust strangers in the city? But then, V was someone who I somehow liked a lot, and could hand myself over to. I could not hand myself over in the same way to the agent who was just trying to sell me a house which was built in violation of the city’s bye-laws …

So, I liked that house but it was all violated property V. How could I get it?

Yeah, I have landed into a similar situation. You know that builder took my token money and then, I figured that he had no sanctions. And guess what, he was a Hindu, believing in Lakshmi! He said, ‘Ma, I will never cheat you!’ So I said okay. Then, we had to go through a meandering procedure where I had to register myself as part landholder and we created a document which even the sub-registrar’s office had no mention of in the rule book. But then, we made a new rule and the sub-registrar said, ‘Well, we do it we do it!’

I listened to V and at that time, when the vulnerabilities of getting a place called house/apartment/home were high with all the accompanying vulnerabilities of not knowing the law, the rules, of the possibility of being ‘cheated’ and of managing all this headache of getting a place in midst of not fully knowing the spoken and the unspoken language of this city … aaaaaarrrrrrrrrrggggggggggghhhhhhhhhh. And then, I do not remain the only one who goes through this, I felt as I heard V. What a mad, strange, and bitch that desire is to have a ‘place’!!?!!? V also expressed that bitch of a desire to me when she remembered her days of working at Bandra in Bombay:

Oh, even today, I tell my cousin, don’t remind me of leaving Bombay. I don’t want to remember it at this point in my life when I know I cannot go back and when I cannot any longer hold that regret. You know, when I was working at the saloon in Bandra, the maid there had told me, ‘give me ten thousand rupees, and I will get you a jhopda on the seaface.’ I did not believe her. I said no. She insisted and even said that she would take care of it for me. I said no because who would live among these people? No, no, not me! And ten years later, when I went to the same place, I saw, her jhopda on the seaface was now a full fledged building. Damn me!

So on my next snip trip, V and I chatted less. But I only watched, her untold and undying faith in Lakshmi. She had held on to Lakshmi, and I, without her knowing and without her permission, had held on to her. It felt wonderful. She would take the fragrant smoke in her hand and wrap it around her face. She would start her day and the parlour with this ritual. And then, when her colleague came and removed some cash from her pockets and said that this had come to her today, V calmly said, while holding my hair in her hand,

It’s Friday and it’s Lakshmi. Good sign. Keep it maa.

I don’t have much to say about V at this point in my account. Let’s put it this way that I don’t want to say anything more about her. It would spoil all the warmth that I have nurtured for her in my heart. In a rational’s dictionary, I would be an emotional fool. In my city’s experience, I have just submitted and reached myself out in the comfort of another who has unknowingly helped me find myself.

I don’t know where this relationship with V will go. It may stop right here. It may go further or farther. But the warmth that I have experienced in these few encounters with V, I just want to today communicate that warmth and the good spirit to the present which is experiencing bomb blasts. And I remain optimistic and hopeful, that this warmth and good spirit, will enable us to reach out to one another, knowingly and unknowingly.

This remains my journey from vulnerability, to V, to goodwill, and I guess we all traverse these strange and beautiful paths …

To you I remain, the conduit of words and spirit.

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Of property, claimed spaces and accessing the city

June 6th, 2008

It is strange to feel a sense of communion with Bangalore city. In recent times, someone mentioned how he found Bangalore to be a flat city while Bombay was a city thick with stories. Perhaps those stories abound in Bangalore too, but I have isolated myself enough not to recognize them. One such story has been surfacing since the last two days and has gotten me thinking, once again, about space, about accessing the city, about urban land, and about the notions and practices of property.

It is indeed strange to feel a sense of communion with this city, this city which has since sometime been labeled as the epitome of fast paced and messy growth. “It is S. M. Krishna’s fault,” I am told, “He has brought the city to be the way it is today. He sold it to the real estate sharks and to the global land developers.” I wonder whether the story of today’s Bangalore is as simple as this. It is rhetorical to even make such a statement, but what needs to be stated is the fact that the story of this city is yet to be told, in all its thickness and richness. The story of this city is not all flat; it is the story of our times. I will try a little now …

So, it is absolutely strange to feel a sense of communion with this mad city called Bangalore. The airport has moved to 40 kms away from the city. The traffic is as bad as it could be. The city’s drains are already overflowing even with the wee bit of heavy showers. What is becoming of this city? That is the plaint with which civil society movements and organizations started in Bangalore, the city which is overflowing and teeming with the good governance and fight-corruption organizations. But that indeed is a flat paradigm of the city. I am confronted with the question of how do I understand and frame the notion and process of change?

Yes, it is indeed strange to feel one with this city, this city that is usually seen as a flat and a doomed-to-fail city. But it is not. It is a city which is at the crossroads of very important trajectories and what defines these trajectories are the contests and conflicts over accessing urban space. I was watching the Majestic area through the windows of the BMTC bus – every nook and corner of Majestic is occupied, legally and illegally. Sometimes, the illegal don’t even know that what they are engaging in is deemed illegal by law and planning. Everyone needs access to space – space, both metaphorically and physically. Booksellers on the footpath, pirated VCDs and pornographic material, bags, shoes, clothes, security services, banking services, pawnbrokers, jewellers, restaurants, hotels, malls at the side of the roadside messiness and occupied spaces – in Bombay they call this cheek by jowl. In Bangalore, I would say that the different times of the city co-exist in Majestic area and beyond. Different groups of people and individuals have occupied space, some nook, some corner, some cranny. And there are occupations and professions that exist in this area which are hidden from the eye but very much located in this geography. Majestic reminds me of a different time in the city. Yes, there are plots on which malls are being constructed in Majestic too and in a few years, the malls will be there unless something drastic happens. But what you see in Majestic is the existence of all kinds of time streams – yesterday, today and tomorrow. That yesterday is not disintegrated from today and tomorrow; it is intimately connected. And that yesterday will be shaped by today and tomorrow just as much as today and tomorrow will be shaped by yesterday. The physicality and the mortality of yesterday may disappear, but yesterday itself cannot disappear. Majestic says this to me as I observe the hectic and frenzied pace of urban space in this part of Bangalore.

As I move from Majestic into Rajajinagar, I am further surprised. Rajajinagar appears much more insular than the Richmond Town area that I live in. It appears that Rajajinagar is living in a time of its own. Photographs of Dr. Rajkumar, the famous cinestar whose death rocked the city, abound in this area. Rajkumar seems absolutely alive and kicking in the spirit of Rajajinagar. Perhaps, his presence even defines the locality of Rajajinagar and marks this space as distinct from other parts of the city. A strong feeling of Kannadiga-ness envelops you if you walk carefully through the area – the sounds, sights, smells, scenes- they strongly remind you that you are in the state of Karnataka of which Bangalore is an important geographical party and symbolic aspect. A subtle sense of the Kannada nation grips you as you walk preceptively, a feeling that is distinct and particular to this area. Now, with the Bangalore Metro expected to run through this area, one will have to wait and watch to see what processes the notions and practices of modernity, locality, community, urbanity, nation and globalization will generate.

Clearly, what has been most interesting about this form of participant observation across the Western parts of the city is the ways by which people have occupied urban space. At Magadi, as we see the hectic and frenetic construction of an underpass, we also simulataneously note that under the trees, there are people who are making and selling bamboo curtains. At Majestic, one notices fruit-cake kind of constructions that were certainly not planned, but created over time, through various networks of politics, graft, deception, illegality, identity and finance. Rajajinagar abounds with spaces that are known in our parlance as “neeche dukan, upar makaan”, again a form od practice that planning defies as illegal and that is increasingly coming under scrutiny with the construction of the Metro Rail. These are spaces which are being practiced variously and in ways that may not be recognnized by urban planning and law. They exist and yet, there is a strong feeling that runs through a large number of us that eventually, these spaces may be destroyed, taken over, annihilated and subsumed. Urbanity is being conceived as this process of the big fish eating the small and the small eating the smaller. The question is whether the current stream of urbanization requires much more intense attention to the processes that are taking place, irrespective of outcomes, if we are to nuance our understanding of change, growth, future, ‘development’?

As I moved into Nagarbhavi, I noticed that virgin properties which were once rocky lands, are now being constructed over. The pace of construction in the area is tremendous. I realized that the potential construction of the Bangalore Metro Rail around Vijaynagar will lead to property prices rising in and around the interiors of West Bangalore. I recognize that this is one of the ways in which property markets develop. The question that arises is whether the growth of property markets, the conversion of multiply claimed spaces into single ownership and title deeds that can be traded between people ‘legally’, is an irreversible process? Are the trajectories of cities defined? How do we conceive of the future? How does one draw on the past to understand and conceive the future? I begin with these questions and many more …

It is absolutely strange, yet wonderful, to feel a sense of communion with the city. It is an enabler, one that allows you to see the city as an organic entity that has life and is not a determined/controlled mass of space …

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Walking in time

May 16th, 2008

Between now and then,

We walk in time.

I walked in time.

(Half a kilometer),

(On Langford Road).

I walked,

In Time,

Between Time,

In myself,

Between my-selves,

I walked in time.

Sometimes in the Past

I walked.

Sometimes in the Present,

(Present!!!),

Future tense (haha!).

Future tense,

Present:

I walked in time.

(Half a kilometer),

(On Langford Road).

[I walked,

In Time,

Between Time,

In myself,

Between my-selves …]

Making Pictures of Mother Mary and her son Infant Jesus,

(Wondering how people practice their faith,

What do they put their faith into?)

Where is my faith?

Where is my trust?

I walked in time.

Between time.

Within myself,

Between my-selves.

Wondering what faith was all about …

Wondering what I was all about.

Wondering what I am made of,

Wondering what people are made of.

Back in time,

(Just a little bit)

I danced to California Dreaming

I fought

With myself,

Shedding a few tears,

As I sat with complete strangers who were trying to help me pay my electricity bill (haha!)

And I kept fighting with myself,

They were struggling with their machines,

Trying to help me pay my electricity bill,

While I kept fighting with myself

And dancing to California Dreaming

Fighting with myself,

Dancing to California Dreaming

Fighting with myself,

Dancing to California Dreaming

Fighting with myself,

Dancing to California Dreaming

Fighting with myself,

Dancing to California Dreaming

Fighting with myself,

Dancing to California Dreaming

Until the bill was paid

And I cried

And gave in to myself.

I am vulnerable.

Breakable.

Walking in time,

I am vulnerable,

Breakable,

Malleable.

Walking in time,

I danced,

I Cried,

Paid the electricity bill,

Enlightened myself.

As Garth Brooks says, “The greatest conflicts are not between between two people, but between one person and himself.”

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Of politics and positions

April 11th, 2008

I have been following the construction of the Metro in Bangalore and the various kinds of conflicts that have arisen during the construction process. Almost daily, newspapers report of court cases where people are fighting for their right over private property and are unwilling to give up their land for the construction of the Metro. It seems like this is an interesting phase in the trajectory of Bangalore City.

A week ago, a friend told me about how they have formed a group to protect Nanda Road. Nanda Road, located in Jayanagar, is one of the few green roads in the city. According to the plans, a Metro station will appear right at Nanda Road, thereby destroying the road forever. The group out to save Nanda Road consists of residents of the area. Some of my friends in Bangalore who are not from this city, but who have lived in Jayanagar, have also mentioned how they would be keen to protect Nanda Road since it is one of the only few green roads in the city. It seems like people develop affiliations and emotions with a place even if they are not long-time residents of the city. And the city is vested with these forms of affect.

Last week then, I was discussing the Save Nanda Road initiative with a group of journalists. When I mentioned that this group has been formed around Nanda Road, consisting of residents of Jayanagar, one of the journalists remarked, “Ah, this is a middle-class initiative!” and almost rubbished the initiative. I defended weakly stating how people who are not born in Bangalore, who have lived along the road, have memories of the place and some form of emotional attachment and would be willing to protect the road. But she was convinced that this is a middle-class initiative and implied that it did not deserve to be paid attention to.

That evening, I wondered about how we position ourselves around issues of development and politics in the city. Does a progressive line of thinking have to take an anti-middle class stance on issues? Or does urban politics demand an examination of every unique issue before positions can be taken?

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Travel and crossovers …

April 4th, 2008

“Don’t tie your hair up. You look older than your age. What work do you do?” Victory asked me.

“I go to the slums and travel around a lot,” I said.

“With kids you work huh?” Victory asked.

“No, I like to watch how cash circulation and rotation takes place among people in the slums,” I replied.

So here I was (or should I say ‘there I was’), in the saloon, with Victory who eventually, a few hours ago, cut my hair. Victory is neither male nor female. I don’t know what she is. And I cannot care because she is one of those few people who have crossed the biological boundary of male and female. The rest of us travel between these two boundaries psychologically, personally and spiritually.

This morning, as Victory was snipping away my hair, I asked her where she was from.

“Calcutta. Three of my brothers are married there.”

“Ah, my sister is married in Calcutta.”

“Yeah. I was working for 18 years in Bombay. But the problem is that if you do not have a place of your own in Bombay, then it is very difficult. My boss there had a maid. So my boss’s house was a few feet away from the sea and this maid had a little jhopda between my boss’s house and the sea. She told me, ‘pay 10,000 rupees and create a jhopda here, next to mine.’ I said I can’t live amidst these people and flatly refused. Then, a few years ago, I went to Bombay and saw that that jhopda was now a two storey building with proper electricity and water supply.” Victory started laughing as she said this.

“Now, only if you would have listened to her; you would have had become a real estate owner in Bombay. How we don’t take these pieces of advice!”

Victory laughed again. She started sprucing my hair and telling me how to style it and then look wild as I traveled through the slums.

“Yeah, I look wild there anyway. And the men are a tough cookie to talk to.”

“Yeah, they can eye you and you can have a tough time, like those American girls who would come down to Calcutta and join the Mother Teressa foundation to become nuns. They would dress in white sarees and look like satyam shivam sundaram. One of the girls was cornered by the men and my mother turned around to her and told her to go back to her country. We did not see her after a while.”

Victory told me that her home in Calcutta was at Bonga which is the border village between Bangladesh and India.

“At that time, there was no Bangladesh or East Pakistan. We would walk across freely.”

We talked all the while as she went snip-snip at my hair. We spoke of  saloons in Britain and according to her, the British, after the Egyptians, are the best hairdressers because they wear wigs.

“So do men make better hairdressers?” I asked.

“Why do you say so? People say men are better cooks but women are very good with their culinary skills too. There is nothing like men are better than women in certain skills. Both are good. It is like there is no Western or Indian hairstyle. Hairstyle is hairstyle. But you see all these make-up artists in the film industry, like Cory Walia. They are all gay. That is because you need to think in a feminine way to do make-up for women. Like Jackie Shroff can be the ultimate man but he cannot dress up a woman! But society does not accept gay people. There are laws against gay people. I think marriage and family are all personal issues and the government should not interfere in these matters.”

We talked for a while more about Europe being highly Christian and Hitler massacaring the homosexuals during the Holocaust. When she finished, she said it was nice talking to me.

So here I was, or there I was, or somewhere in between, in this city where I feel lost and found at various points in time. At one point in time, I was looking for those thrilling and exciting experiences in the city which would get me to write. In my mind, that distinction between the exciting everyday and the mundane everyday was clearly drawn up. But here I am, discovering people and drawing myself into encounters and interactions. Here I am, somewhere, traveling through people, their minds, my mind and myself. And there are crossovers, at each moment …

I am still finding myself …

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Strangers. Cacophony. Crowds. Making sense. Making space. Making place …

March 7th, 2008

Today started off as a mediocre day. But I have to post and therefore, here is the attempt (while listening to Art Company’s Suzanna, I’m crazy lovin’ you!).

So we were all waiting at the K. H. Road bus stop, waiting for our respective buses to arrive, so that we could reach our respective destinations. The 360 series buses were plenty. Two women at the bus stop were speaking in Kannada. Seemed like working women, belonging to middle working classes. I was watching them and assessing my own condition of immobility. These days, I have been largely at home, trying hopelessly to get somewhere with the Ph.D. The feeling of immobility strikes in these times when even with the desire of wanting to go out somewhere, I am unable to get myself to move. So here are these women, who are mobile everyday, who get out into the city to reach their places of work. Are they also immobile despite their ability and compulsion to move every single day? Are they mobile and simultaneously immobile, both conditions produced by routine? What kind of comforts does routine provide us? What securities does routine grant us? I found it interesting that I encounter these random strangers on the bus stop, for a few minutes, in that moment of all of us waiting for buses, and then I start trying to understand my situation vis-a-vis their situation. How often does that happen to all of us?

So here are these two women, waiting at the bus, for buses to arrive. They seem middle-class, workingwomen. Perhaps Bangloreans for a long time. And the buses that arrive are of the 360 series. All these buses are bound for Electronic City. One of the two of the women complains, “what is this? all these buses going to Electronics City? It is holiday season. Therefore there are fewer buses for our destination in the evenings.” Her irritation appeared as a matter of fact, as a matter of acceptance that work patterns and therefore routines in Bangalore have changed and some crowds will be serviced more than others owing to the economic changes in this city. I am entirely unsure if she was complaining of the distinction between IT and non-IT crowds, that distinction which is being emphasized off late in order to comprehend the pathologies of this city. Would it make a difference to our cognition of the city and its conditions if we view IT as just another economy? What is this IT imaginary? Why does it have to feature in our attempt to make sense of this city, its cacophony, its, spatiality and the place?

So here we are, the two workingwomen and myself (in addition to the others), waiting for our buses to arrive. Mine comes and I wonder if it is their’s too. But I could not bother to see. I got into number 13. I don’t know what became of those two women. But for that moment of waiting for the bus, I ended up entering their lives and achieving that moment of solidarity with them, sharing the same irritations (including the idiocy of a bus driver honking to glory at the bus before him, knowing fully well that there are passengers getting into that bus and there is no space on the road to maneuver).

Inside the bus was another world, another space. A woman conductor keen to ensure that all passengers had purchased tickets. The bus was jam packed. Two Muslim women were sitting in the absolute front seat. A blind man got into the bus and stood near the absolute front seat. The Muslim women were being persuaded to give up one of their seats for the blind man. The Muslim women fought back stating that the blind man should not have gotten into the ladies section. The blind man was blind to all this cacophony. He managed to make place to stand in a manner where he would face least hindrance and disturbance. The others continued the for and against argument for him. He had made his place.

After a point, I had also managed to make my place in the crowd. The bus got more crowded and then it became emptier. Women continued to stand at the door, out of a sense of insecurity that moving inside would mean locking themselves up with each other into a crowd and then making it impossible for themselves to get out when their stop arrives. That insecurity was also compelling me to stand near the door. But I could not afford to hold on there.

At Siddhapura, a woman entered the bus with her baby boy in one arm and her daughter by her side. The daughter must have been about 4 years old. The woman was trying to make her place. I felt very sorry for her, given the baby in her arms, the crowd in the bus and how was she managing to hold on despite all this madness? Her little girl stood in the middle. My stop was arriving. The conductor was right there. I asked the conductor to move so that I could get off. The conductor kept telling everyone, “swalpa jaaga kodi” but that was not making any difference. The crowds continued to stick there. I had to get off! I tried hard to manage my way without harming the little girl. Eventually, I had no choice but to crush her to make my way out. And then I had to shout at the women at the door to get off the bus so that I could get off.

I did not feel bad about crushing the girl after a point. This is not a survival in the city kind of narrative. It is just acknowledgment of the conditions that we live in from time to time. At some times, we enter into the lives of absolute strangers to feel some ground in the city. We enter their lives without their permission, through our minds and imaginations. And then, at some times, we navigate in aggressive and violent ways in order to make our own spaces. Sometimes we just end up making space, unknowingly

(And there is no end to this post)

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Of Vulnerabilities (Notes from Rangshankara Cafe and my home …)

February 24th, 2008

So,

How do you kill time?

How do you appear busy?

How do you pretend you know when you do not know?

What are these vulnerabilities?

My current experience of Bangalore oscillates between vulnerability and feeling in control. The perception of immobility makes me feel disempowered, vulnerable.

How does one become mobile in a city? As I ponder over my own experiences in Bangalore, I recognize that mobility is not merely a matter of having a good public transport infrastructure. Surely, having a good public transport system matters. And it matters most when autofares are so exorbitant. But what also matters, as a woman, is whether you feel secure in a city. That sense of security is what enables mobility.

What provides a sense of security? Immediately what comes to my mind is the provision of adequate street lighting. The other night, when I was walking on Hosur Road, the patches where there were street lights seemed a relief to walk on. Where there was no street lighting, I felt a tremendous sense of fear that someone would stick his hand out from the Army Military School compound and grab me. Moreover, the movement of traffic on Hosur Road provided me with a sense of comfort. The fact that there were so many vehicles moving on the road, besides me, was a feeling of reassurance. At the same time, when bicycles and motorcycles moved too close to me, I would have to move away from the edges of the footpath and walk a bit inside. This is because of the fear that some of the riders would want to touch me, grab me.

The lack of vibrancy on the streets is somewhat discomforting and irritating. It feels like this city is absolutely flat. But coming back to the experience of vulnerability, I feel another factor that produces this feeling is the inability to trust people and constantly having to ask auto drivers, vegetable vendors, paanwallahs, etc. to explain how they arrived at the figure that they are quoting. It is this feeling that everybody is out to cheat you and that you have to have your defenses on, all the time. It gives this feeling of tiredness if I have to keep my defenses on me all the time. It is as if I am defending myself, instead of living.

I was writing these words in the cafe of Rangshankara auditorium . I was alone there, waiting for the gong to go so that I would move into the theater. I did not know anyone in the cafe. As I stepped into the cafe, I felt vulnerable.

How am I going to kill time?

What am I going to do that appears as if I am doing something meaningful and not occupying space without eating or drinking anything other than a cup of tea?

At that moment, what struck me was that the city is the experience of encounters, encounters of all kinds. Until now, I encountered the director of a play that was a visceral experience. I encountered a man sitting next to me in the auditorium who had a synopsis of the play which I asked him if I could borrow to see. I encountered another man sitting next to me who was being hit by the severe lighting and was covering himself to prevent the glare. I encountered people in the audiences who I never spoke to, but who spoke to the director, many of them stating that they did not understand the play. I encountered the director saying that his play was open for audiences to interpret. I encountered an auto driver who allowed me to take photos of the advertising on his auto. I encountered a man at the bus stop who I thought was trying to make a pass at me, but who probably was as much waiting for the bus as I was. I encountered the bus, the bus driver, the passengers in the bus, the man and woman sitting behind me who wanted to travel to the next stop without paying the extra fare. I encountered the grocer from who I buy vegetables. I encountered the shop keeper from who I purchase provisions and who was angry with a bunch of North Indian men who seemed like labour class. These men were agitating about the shopkeeper not giving a receipt for the purchases. Another one of them was fighting with the shopkeeper for not giving back the change money and the shopkeeper in turn irritatedly saying he had given the money and now if he does not give then what happens?

I guess it is the search for the extraordinary that prevents me from noticing these absolutely mundane encounters. Perhaps, I have to have an encounter with myself in order to understand myself in this city …

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