The Town in the Hills


As I stood on the balcony of my home, I watched as the mist enveloped the town. A pretty sight that in my current existence in Bangalore doesn’t find a parallel in beauty or the sense of calm it brings. Watching the town disappear was in its own morbid way peaceful, but then rabidly, cutting through the mist was the loud sound of incoherent music coming in from the maidan where the tableau from all the temples in the evening would converge for the Dussehra gala. This wasn’t religious or local folk music (of which kind very little exists) but were foot tapping and positively life ending item numbers from a time that has passed most of us; yes the early 2000s and its distressful objectification of women through pointless raunchy songs thrown into what were on many occasions pretty tight scripts. On that we shall debate another day. The mist was in turn enveloped by something baser than the hope for some sun. In its essence, it was a town preparing for its most colorful and loud night. It’s a day when the town in all its vast shapes and sizes comes together to celebrate a night of victory charted many millennia ago, in their own varied interpretations of how the day must be celebrated.
 
Even five years ago the scale of it was fairly tame. It was most becoming of a small town trying hard to rise up to the occasion and in it, lay its charm. As I may begin risking to sound like that city boy refusing to allow his small town to become anything other than what his nostalgia deems right, I do feel a sense of show creeping into the people who make up this town, and it worries me. You know how each of us have this one place in life where we return to the basics. It could be in the not so fancy gym you go to, the chai place near work, the roadside dosa stall you indulge in, the samosa guy at the corner of your street or even the need to skip an Uber for a rickshaw, just for the fresh air (that may be a debatable term in Bangalore). All in all, these are your escapes, your little ways of reminding yourselves of a simpler time. In my case, just five hours away from Bangalore, I have an entire town that does that for me. A town and its people that immediately transports me and allows me to be without my Netflix, television, seamless internet, coffee shops, gyms, Ubers and all the devices that make up my life. That is something that I intend to hold on to with my dear life. But then, I see and realise that the ambitions of the people here are at odds with my sobering plans in life. Here, the arrival of Dominos has everyone excited. The one big café on the outskirts with it’s Café Coffee Day beating vibes is so cool. The music in the streets is hipper, ( is basically Top 40 ) the phones are getting smarter ( the good ol’ Nokias have disappeared ) and there is a general sense of progress or more importantly, ambition in everyone’s eyes. My parents and their friends are fighting for better data speeds from their service providers and wondering why YouTube was slow yesterday evening. They are having angry discussions on why Myntra cannot deliver here and why Amazon is the best. There are arguments on how the Urban Development Authority must protect it’s rights by not encroaching on the farmlands but everyone wants better roads so that the traffic moves better. The traffic! That used to not even be a conversation a few years ago! Where are the good restaurants and cafes, they ask? Where are the better tourists and experiences that they can give them, they ask? In all, there is a desire, probably a need, to be better. They are asking the right questions or atleast the tough ones. The same questions Bangalore asked itself at the dizzy beginnings of its Tech boom. These questions while not so indulgent, are still begging for attention and they aren’t just coming from the young, they are coming from everyone. The lower middle class, the middle class and the upper middle class. You see, the rich and the poor are the minority and their opinions do not really matter anymore. Maybe the government thinks of them, but the people with the tableaus from all the temples, my parents and their friends, the kids of all the locals who have returned from the cities; are all asking the same question, when will things get better and better?
 
And here I am, the local who is only local on his little breaks from the city and forgotten otherwise, wondering, when did it all change? I remember a time when the new super market were the heights of the town’s ambition and the fact that they allowed it to rest there, allowed them to enjoy their visits to the cities close by a lot more. They liked the weather, spoke of the weather and retired to great weather every night. Their tales were of families and weddings and scandals of the domestic nature. The difference in opinion was relegated to the corners and activism was only reserved for protecting a family’s beliefs against another’s. Tourists were a novelty, not a necessary inconvenience. There was less aggression in the air because, maybe, there was lesser hope. And I begin to realize, that I represent an obstacle, in this and many other towns’ progress. My need for nostalgia and it belonging to a specific place in my memory comes in the way of everyone’s collective dream for their town. I, the supposed beacon of hope of my community and people, am the regressive traditionalist that needs removal and in my place there is a requirement for a progressive, yet inclusive tomorrow. My replacement isn’t someone young, just driven and careless enough to want better and in this realization I quietly surrender to a corner and watch this unfold.
 
And then, much like I do back in Bangalore, I again go secretly in search of those little escapes in my little town in the hills; the narrow shortcuts to town, the old super market which was big news back then, the keema dosa that no one cares about anymore, walking up the hills instead of taking a rickshaw…

The Town in the Hills