A crisis of belonging…

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As I walked across the foyer to get to the university canteen, something interesting caught my eye. A few students had put up photographs on the walls, depicting the sorry state of the almost-disappeared Vrishabhavati river in Bangalore, showing images of frothing and comparing it to sewage. I stopped in front of one of the photographs and sighed with despair.Right then, an elderly man walked past me breathing the words “Such a negative depiction of Bangalore.”

I curiously glanced at him and I must have had a smile of snobbish disbelief on my face, as I thought “Who is this man who wouldn’t get the point of this exhibit.”

He looked back at me, smiled and asked “Have you put this up here?”

“No, it must be by some other students, but I think it is a good initiative to raise awareness about an important issue” I said, trying to subtly disagree with his remark.

It was his turn to smile in disbelief “This is the condition of Bangalore, because of other people who come here and pollute our city – Bangalore was never like this- all this has started since 1998. I have been living here all my life, I worked with the Vidhan Soudha for many years, and I can tell you, it’s all these people who work in IT and come from other states, who have made this city uninhabitable during the last two decades.”

 “Who are these ‘other’ people sir?” I asked him. “I am from Uttar Pradesh. Why do you think people like me leave our homes to re-settle in a place thousands of kilometers away? At least in my case, I know I would have stayed back home, if there were opportunities to work and study, like we have in Bangalore. It’s because there are very little opportunities back home that people make these hard choices – are you really blaming all of us for that?”

I could sense his body language stiffen a little bit and I geared-up for some hostility coming my way “Why don’t you people create opportunities in Uttar Pradesh? I am not talking about you specifically, but why do people not stay back in their states and work to develop it? And why do the people who come to live here, not treat the place with respect? Me and my son must breathe this toxic air, we face an acute water shortage, local Kannadiga laborers are not getting jobs because all these other people from other states have encroached Bangalore. As an old Bangalorean, I am just one of many who feels so helpless and frustrated as we see the face of our city changing for worse.”

I couldn’t help but empathize with him partly but I was in no mood to give up yet. “I agree with you sir, Bangalore has many problems – air pollution and water crisis are probably the biggest ones. But all of us are bearing the brunt of it equally, and hence we need to find a solution for it together. While I am here, I want to work towards making this city better and then I also intend to go back and work for the development of Uttar Pradesh. However, this process will take time. So do you meanwhile, want to tell the young and talented people from the so called ‘not-so-developed’ states to stay there and not seek out the opportunities to learn and grow within their own country? And this ‘other’ that you keep referring to – it breaks my heart, sir – when one is referred to as the ‘other’ in one’s country. I don’t know how to respond to that?”

His body language, suddenly softened, he smiled and said “I agree with you and I hope you do go and work for the development of Uttar Pradesh someday. As a fellow Indian, of course I cannot tell you where you can or cannot go in this country. But as a Bangalorean, I am angry because my home is being destroyed. I feel helpless when I remember canopies of trees that have now disappeared to accommodate the growing population of this city – to make the high-rises, the metros and the elevated flyovers. I feel sad when people tell me the weather here is good – because it isn’t anymore. If you go towards Doddaballapur around 7pm in the evening, you will find mist there, that is what Bangalore was like before 1998. It’s all destroyed now. I have some land in Mysore, and I know I will go and live there in a few years because there won’t be much left of Bangalore”

I could have argued with him a little more, given that stretching arguments unnecessarily, happens to be a core skill of mine. But something about what he had just said, had hit home. I could only utter these words “you are right, I wish things were not this bad” We briefly exchanged pleasantries before going our separate ways.

As I walked towards the canteen, the phrase “there won’t be much left of Bangalore” kept repeating in my head. As I looked around I knew most of us, including me perhaps, couldn’t care less. For most of us, this city has an instrumental value – it serves our immediate needs – a job, an education, a lifestyle we like. The day it becomes incapable of doing those things, we will find another land that serves us. And then another, and yet another.

And this is precisely what the biggest crisis of our generation is – the crisis of belonging. We take pride in being digital nomads, our dreams are laden with clouds of wanderlust, our fashion loaded with romantic bohemia, our popular culture celebrates break-ups and our politics thrives on the core values of being an ‘independent’ & ‘free’ individual. We are the boss of ourselves. Our socio-economic system tells us, it is cool to be mobile – here today, there tomorrow – this continent today, another tomorrow. Histories don’t matter, local relationships and ties don’t matter a whole lot either. We are here but we dream of the globe. We could be everywhere because of which we are not really ‘present’ anywhere.

And the pattern is same in every story of crisis, of our times. We are high on a new religion, where market is the temple, consumerism is the priest, celebrities are the gods and the spirit of enterprise is the prayer. Branded goods are the new totems and technology is the new prophet. The planet is merely the ‘supply-chain’ of this religion. 

This culture thrives on non-belonging, on being swift in moving from one fad to the other. We are all fragmented and we seem to love it. There is no consideration for simple facts like even the most basic act needed for living – breathing – is neither ‘independent’ nor ‘free’ of our biophysical reality. We are creatures of interdependence but we are seldom taught, how to live interdependently and symbiotically. To ask people to belong to a place and take care of it like their lives depend on it (and it often does) is unheard of these days…  So even though I told that gentleman, I wish things weren’t this bad, I know if we really wished for a different future, we wouldn’t be so distant from it.


This Rant/Perspective is written by Hansika Singh. You can reach out to her at ecofolkteam@gmail.com

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