The western sunrise

by Gautam Raja

The nearby village of Varthur has had a Sunday market for as long as I remember. Called a “shandy” by old-time Whitefield residents—a corruption of a local word—it brings in vendors from all the villages around. I remember my brother and I being taken there by my father when we were still young enough to need to hold onto his hands as we wandered among the piles of produce.

I visited it recently for the first time in a couple of decades, and was relieved to find it had the same magic. Driving into Varthur, though, is quite different now. What used to be a beautiful road along the lake is a narrow, two-lane mini-highway, with a big wall on the right blocking the view of the water. On the left, what was paddy fields and trees almost as far as you could see, is now bulldozers, and lorries full of sand filling up the low-lying fields in order to build roads and buildings.

As we entered Varthur, a big black hoarding proudly proclaimed Gunjur (the next village) as “Bangalore’s newest real estate hot spot”. I remember Gunjur as being a distant hamlet that had just one bus route to it, a quiet place with a big tree that we’d sometimes cycle to, or later, merely pass through when taking the back roads into south Bangalore.

But this isn’t merely another nostalgic rant. Whitefield is in trouble. The area has just one main road running through it, with occasional narrow side roads that used to be tracks to villages. Now imagine hundreds of farms suddenly sprouting malls, shops and huge apartment blocks (some with close to a 1,000 flats), and imagine the state of that one feeder road. Imagine all the ancillary businesses that an apartment block generates—from the little eateries frequented by support staff to roadside vegetable vendors. Then imagine all those cars coming out every morning. It’s already an unholy mess, and is just getting worse. There are ten or more huge projects in varying states of completion along a six or seven kilometre stretch. And because the city is advancing so rapidly along its arteries, development has pushed along the old Madras highway and coming towards us from what used to be the rural, non-city side. It’s a pincer grip and there’s no way out.

It’s not just the crowding on the surface, it’s what’s going on underground as well. In the early 1970s, when our farm’s previous owners struck water at 80 feet, the news of this gusher actually appeared in the papers—supposedly the second-highest yeilding in the state. The villagers would tell my father, “When that borewell runs dry, the sun will rise in the west.”

A few months ago, the borewell ran dry. It’s really no surprise… hundreds of borewells dip into the same table, so thirsty that some go down to an amazing 1,600 feet. It’s a very serious issue here, and yet, we see no care taken at all, with people still washing cars with hoses, and leaking pipes and taps everywhere (a fresh water main leaked outside our flats for five days before it was fixed).

The only way to find peace in one’s existence, I’m beginning to realise, is to get political, get apathetic or simply leave (which is another form of apathy, I suppose). It’s too hard otherwise to have the burden of the death of shandys, the dirt of pavements and drip of community taps resting quite so squarely on one’s shoulders. I understand there’s a citizen action group for Whitefield… I’m signing off now to go find them.

First published in Gulf News, April 30, 2013