Friday, July 24, 2009

Nothing Endures but Change!

When Heraclitus, the Greek philosopher (535-475 BC) remarked – “Nothing endures but change”, he left behind a highly important notion that finds place in every walk of our life, in a person’s development from infancy to adulthood, in industry – be it marketing, electronics, finance, agriculture, medicine, in global environment and climate. Rephrase it as “Change is the only constant”; “The only constant is change”; ‘Change alone is unchanging”, we sure would have heard the phrase in most meetings in our workplace, if not explicitly, earlier in our life.

Though change is inevitable and typically a regular feature, we try to resist it with immense effort, only to embrace it half-heartedly later, until it becomes a watertight compartment of our life. In my four and half years stay at Bangalore, mostly restricted to its south east cosmopolitan part, changes I have observed have been minimal, well pronounced of them being- hotter summers, lesser rainfall in May-Aug, more glass buildings/brand stores with aluminium glass composite panels, more tech parks, more bore wells, greater felling of trees, increased traffic with years. Whilst, my myopic exposure to changing urban life leaves me pondering on what the city will be like in 5 to 10 years, for those who are natives of Bangalore, the change over last decade would truly be overwhelming, exponential and nettlesome.

Below is an article, published in Times of India, Bangalore edition, dated 23rd July 2009 on the changing face of Bangalore Cantonment. (I have gotten into this habit of collecting/blogging some good articles I read for any future references). The article can be accessed at and if the link becomes inaccessible one fine day, below is the body of the article written by Anita Rao Kashi.
Changing face of Bangalore Cantonment
Never, ever, try this: toss the question `Is it a good thing that Cantonment has changed over the last few decades?' into the midst of a gathering of old timers, especially residents of Cantonment area. Or do so if you love living dangerously and or if strolling g through a mine-laden battlefield is your idea of fun! The resultant pain, suffering and hand wringing are almost too much to bear.

And yet, Cantonment, or Cantt as it is affectionately called, was set inexorably on the path of change almost from the day it was born, sometime in the beginning of the 19th century. Historically, Cantt has always been the harbinger of transformation: a colonial settlement in the midst of a conservative native population is bound to have wide-ranging consequences. So all the teeth gnashing might seem paradoxical. But the pace of change then was slow and allowed time for everyone to absorb and internalise. In the last couple of decades though, the momentum has dramatically changed, became a runaway rogue engine with a life of its own.
When it was established, the Cantonment covered a vast area encompassing present day Richards Town, Agaram, Koramangala, Langford Town, Cubbon Park, Raj Bhavan, Vidhana Soudha, Millers and Cunningham Roads, Cantonment Station and Palace Grounds. With military precision, houses were arranged in straight parallel lines with the Parade Grounds as the centre of the station's existence, and clear demarcated areas for officers according to rank and the native soldiers. Over the years though, the Cantonment metamorphosed and shed some of the more far flung areas and is now just a segment of its earlier area. But in the last few decades, the change has been so phenomenal that people who haven't seen it for a 10 or 20 years will wonder if they are in the right place.
Unlike some of the other older parts of Bangalore, Cantt has the distinction of reinventing itself the most. The reasons are too many and too complicated. Yes, Malleswaram and Basavanagudi have changed beyond recognition as well, but there are still pockets of old world charm, providing glimpses of what it was and might have been. Yet, nowhere has it been more dramatic, more pronounced than in the Cantonment, large pockets of military presence notwithstanding.

The most obvious, the most recent, and according to some, the most heart wrenching, is probably how the skyline of MG Road has completely changed with the start of work on the Metro project. The massive pillars and girders, the pushed back compound of the Parade Grounds, the absence of the much-loved boulevard, have all contributed to an irreversible surgery on the road. The pleasure of standing near Kumble circle and being able to see almost till the other end of the road at Trinity circle is now lost forever. But long before the Metro arrived, there were plenty of signs that Bangalore's most happening road was getting ready to be botoxed and take on a Manhattanesque mantle. The Bluemoon-Blue Diamond building gave way to a commercial complex as did the EGK building. Plaza theatre became defunct. Elsewhere, on Brigade Road, homegrown brands gave way to global names and the makeover headed towards completion with the arrival of the twin golden arches. And these are just a handful of the changes that have taken place.
In varying degrees, this is the story of much of the Cantt area from Shivajinagar and beyond to Langford town, from Cubbon Park to beyond Ulsoor. And depending on which side of the line you are standing, the list could be a litany of woes, an inevitable path towards development or an exciting modernistic journey. Elgin Mills came down and a classy apartment block rose up in its place; Lido is now an eponymous sprawling mall and the Cash Pharmacy building on St Mark's Road has been replaced with a spic and span giant structure. All along Cunningham Road, Queens Road, Millers Road and scores of other, shiny, glassy commercial buildings have sprouted. And even residential areas have not remained the same. Proof of this are to be seen in each of the many areas that make up Cantonment, but nowhere is it more pronounced than around Ulsoor Lake, where high rise apartment blocks compete with high rise office blocks.
Despite overarching efforts by language fanatics, much of Cantonment continues with a bit of the colonial flavour, the last vestiges actually. Fraser Town, Cox Town, Cooke Town, Richmond Town, Coles Park - the names bring with them Bangalore's association with the past. And yet, in many places, the names are only things that have remained unchanged. Strangely enough, the Bangalorean has clung to them with a fierce zeal: both Residency and Richmond roads were named after war heroes, but nobody even bothers with the new names. On the other hand, citizens have not been so kind to structures. Like fairy tales, once upon a time, this was the area that was famous for British bungalows with extensive servants' quarters, built in classic British and European style, sometimes interspersing Gothic elements with native Mysore styles, and the trademark 'monkey tops'. Today, they have been replaced by towering residential complexes and smart modern houses.
Tree lined avenues and narrow roads, unable to take the burgeoning traffic, have either become larger, or one-ways. Flyovers, underpasses, grade separators abound..... The ancient 5th century BC Greek philosopher Heraclitus famously said "change is the only constant" but old-time Cantonment residents will hardly appreciate his sentiment when applied to their favorite area, though they know in their hearts that it is inevitable.
Whether it is good, bad or indifferent is a subjective issue and there can never be a last word on it. Yet nostalgia is a funny thing.....all of us, even the most ardent change advocates, have been down that lane sometime or the other.

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