Bangalore, city of paradox.

Retrospective on the many heritage of a indian modern city.

 Douchan Palacios
 Available Translations: Français

India’s Silicon Valley.

That is definitely the first thing you will hear about it.
Bangalore, with a population of 6, 5 million inhabitants is the capital of the state of Karnataka. It has been able to take advantage of opening of Indian’s economic frontiers during 9O’s and won the race leading to the global market as a pioneer city in the aeronautic, biochemical, computing as well as services industries: those famous call centres (1).
Nowadays this city attracts more and more qualified youth, often willing to change to new professions in order to avail of the highest salaries in India as a result of investment from multinational companies. Since last ten years Bangalore is facing a socio-economical crisis: population explosion, increase in buying power and inflation.
Highly proud of being part of the Indian influence on the world, Bangalore likes to show off as a modern and westernized city simultaneously respectful towards Indian traditional values. Let us consider the auto rickshaw as a constant element throughout the country. By comparison with rest of the country we can try to understand the lifestyle we are to point out: here in Bangalore, the rickshaw driver speaks fluent English, drives with an earphone linked to his mobile and smokes cigarette rather than bidie (2).

A Garrison town.

Under the British rule Bangalore became capital of the state and many industries were established in the city. Since its central situation on the Deccan plateau makes it a strategic place for southern India’s administration, Bangalore was converted into a garrison city with huge cantonments accommodating soldiers and officers, exercise spaces and arms industry besides. All these new areas created around the walled city deeply influenced orientations and imposed constraints in the future development of the city.
Today these lands, still belonging to army, are lying in the guise of forgotten fenced enclaves, across which only trees are pouring. So that one finds downtown the city, between business district and commercial malls, a huge empty space dedicated to military parade (see map). They act as impenetrable pockets surrounded by the road network which daily takes great efforts to avoid them and ensure continuity at urban scale.
Nevertheless, these “pockets” constitute fantastic real estate and landscape opportunities in Bangalore as they still preserve densely wooded spaces, real lungs of the city.

Garden city.

Thus it is precisely the strong qualities of its landscape and climate which have attracted the colonial administration as well as the contemporary leading edge investors to Bangalore. Located at a height of 1000 meters, the Deccan plateau has always avoided the hot summer temperatures and constitutes a perfect site of settlement, in a luxuriant natural environment (3).
From the beginning of the 18th century the British officers have been interested in one of the unique characteristics of the region: a network of “thousand and one lakes”, constellation of semi artificial water bodies communicating with each others through a drain and dam system. These reservoirs were used to harvest rainwater, irrigate cultivation and recharge underground water in self sufficient and sustainable management of natural resources.
The rapid grow of the city has brought about the disappearance of plenty of trees and half of the lakes in Bangalore, all within a span of ten years.

Which heritage?

Consequently the question is: what kind of model Bangalore city is now heading for?
The excessive use of air conditioning, the destruction of natural resources, anarchic urbanization and extreme pollution turn the legendary pleasant weather of the city towards a warmer climate.
Public authorities seem to have resigned from their tasks: irregular waste collection, water shortage, electricity cuts and transport infrastructures in deplorable state. All these lead inhabitants and businesses to develop individual solutions to sustain to their own needs. In this situation how could one imagine a positive return of investments on the city and public services?
Rampant race toward modernity put Bangalore in an ambiguous and paradoxical situation: it seems to have mortgaged its multiple heritages for this dream of techno city, which it seems unable to realize. At present, Bangalore is definitely trapped into an in-between situation offering neither the vivacity of the traditional city nor the efficiency of a modern one.
Life goes on, of course and at all costs, but if Bangalore pretends to be the spearhead of the “Shining India» one wonders how much will India have to pay to achieve its feat of strength at the global scale.

(1)« Bangalore, Silicon Valley à l’indienne » Michel Raffoul, Le Monde Diplomatique, janvier 1997

(2) The vehicle itself is less often decorated than it could be somewhere else, its decoration disappearing as respect for the woman grows, it seems.

(3) "Deccan Traverses : The making of Bangalore’s terrain”. Anuradha Mathur and Dilip Da Cunha, 2006, Rupa&Co editions.

Illustration table:
[1] Bangalore Call centre
[2] Bangalore Cantonments maps (1924).
[3] Typical road along an army land.
[4] Bangalore, view from the Mysore Bank roof. foreground: Karnataka High Court park.
[6] View of a drain in Koramangala area.
[5] Map of lake and drain network before human settlement.
[7] Synthesis map on contemporary situation.
[8] Mysore Bank by Charles Corréa : a building which makes sense in Bangalore. Timelessness expression of its volumes, thin towers in ventilation-shaft-shaped: those concrete pipes facing the horizon are more than gazing away for us, they breathe for us!