Friday, November 20, 2009

The red carpet

There is a plantation near Shimoga in Karnataka.  This plantation is owned by an uncle of one of my friends. One night at around midnight, a band of armed Naxalites barged into the plantation and demanded to talk to him. They charged that the workers on the plantation were not being treated properly. The said that the workers were being paid too little. The uncle asked them what they thought the appropriate pay would be. They said that the workers should be paid atleast Rs 100 per day. The uncle then replied that he was prepared to pay Rs 150 per day, and even then he faced difficulties finding workers. And when one was found, he had to be pampered by arranging transportation to and from the plantation. He then asked the Naxalites to send anyone they knew who was looking for work to his plantation. The Naxalites weren't seen again.

I don't know how much of that story is true. But reality wouldn't be far off the mark. I guess such stories show this as a version of paradise to people elsewhere who are prepared to toil for Rs 35 a day. And what would anyone do when told of paradise? Try to go there. And why wouldn't they. The people already there have every reason to prevent more from coming. And then you hear stories of Bangaloreans trying to prevent people from immigrating to Bangalore.

The Bangalore I was born in was a very different place. A sleepy provincial town famed as the Pensioners' Paradise. But the times have changed and how. The Bangalore of today is a very different place and trying hard to keep up with the times. And I believe that is for the best. Cities that failed to change with the times are the ones now under 10 metres of sand. Long forgotten except as footnotes in history textbooks. When people come to a city from far off places, they bring with them their culture, their experiences and their points of view. All this gives a healthy shot in the arm to the locals. It keeps the ideas flowing and the city fresh. Kannada slang would have been considerably poorer without the Tamil influence. Andhra spice made the food that much richer. Those that deny outside influence and experience are the ones that miss out on the party. To enjoy the experiences of other cultures, one must, I believe, have confidence in one's own. People who choose to surround themselves with walls, to exclude others in the name of preserving their own, face stagnation and isolation.

Ruined and empty. And not a soul in sight. Is this what they mean when they talk of dead cities? If so, cities throbbing with people surely aren't dead. Then I suppose reports of Bangalore dying have been greatly exaggerated. It is people that build cities, not the streets and buildings. And I don't think that there would have been any place for the young in the Pensioners' Paradise. I want to live in a place with life, not a place where people come to die. So please, do come to Bangalore. And bring your family and friends too.