As an Indian-American, I’ve always been partial to Bangalore. It seemed to mix the cosmopolitan romanticism that even my suburban town back home lacked with an Indian sensibility that allowed for you to know your neighbors, and know them well, despite being situated in one of the largest cities in the world. During my stays,it was a vibrant, breezy city with dilapidated buildings and impossibly bright steel complexes rubbing up against each other with little impunity.Most of all, it contained that intangible quality of rapid, breakneck change that currently sweeps through all Indian cities. You get the immutable feeling that the city is changing, imperceptibly shifting right before your eyes.
Photo from Flickr
Bangalore, India, Photo from Flickr
I first saw Bangalore when I was eight. I don’t remember all that much about the city itself, save for the fact that my family there took me to Big Bazaar. I was stunned at first by the floors and floors of merchandise—after all, my only hazy memory of India was the Mumbai and Chennai of 2003, replete with small street shops and local stores that sold lychee jelly. I wandered through the floors, trailing after my mother who flitted from one section to another. We left only hours later, when the sun flared over the sky.
Contrast this, then, with the experience I had the last time I was in Bangalore. Big Bazaar had long since ceased to be a big deal, and malls seemed to sprout up with alarming regularity over the years. The landscape of Banaglore vastly changed over six years, and now extraordinarily Western stores dotted the roads. For every tiny store that sold Hide-and-Seek biscuits and Miranda there was a Pizza Hut that sold pizza with paneer and pineapple on it. For a start, I ventured far more into the city with my cousin, locating a small local bookstore that hearkened back to my bookstore back home, along with a Pizza Hut that we often frequented.
Perhaps an experience most illustrative of the sweeping change I have witnessed as Bangalore comes of age is that of my sister’s birthday. We took an auto to a mall a couple of kilometers away, and when we arrived, it loomed before us, it’s shape curving away from the horizon. With car lights winking by and the stores illuminated with harsh fluorescent lighting, I realized that at night, if you were in the right place, Bangalore was utterly indistinguishable from a particularly dazzling street in New York or Chicago.
We entered in the mall, the air conditioning rushing towards us with reckless abandon. There was a large open space allowed you to see dozens of people throughout the mall strolling about, sagging shopping bags in hand. We flitted about from store to store, had some dinner at KFC, and caught an English movie.
It’s simply at this point to assume that Bangalore is transforming into a facsimile of the West, with all its glamor but also its dysfunction. Such an assumption is simply not the case. There’s still old buildings that hearken back to before India’s economic reform, and there’s still brightly colored buildings and temples that are so distinctly Indian that they would appear out of place (for now) in any American city, but coexist with little issue in Bangalore. Bangalore is transforming into the Turkey of Asia, a place where the West and the East intermingle in such a way that we haven’t seen for centuries. The Western elements aren’t necessarily modern, and the Eastern elements aren’t necessarily traditional, but one thing is clear: Bangalore presents the vision for what international cities will look like in twenty years, a place that blends cultures without a fuss.