City Planning

Over the last weekend, I set out on a citytrotting expedition back to Bengaluru. Less than 5 days after my semester began, I decided I had had enough of Gujarat, quit, packed a suitcase with my toiletries, and left campus for my mother’s rasam.

You know that’s not true. In reality, what I did leave Gujarat for, was for a surprise birthday party, among other things. The perk of going back was that I got to see my parents again, and I got to eat rasam three times. Or was it twice? No, three times. I missed an opportunity to dine outside, and eat ice-cream, but all in all, a very fulfilling two days was spent at Kannamangala. (The most happening place in Bengaluru)

The surprise party itself was grand, and my aunt pulled it off spectacularly. With my uber-cool aunt and mother, sometimes I wonder whether I missed out on those genes. Other times I chuckle and remind myself I am the coolest of us three (a claim that is undeniably untrue).

Also, I got to meet Arnab Goswami at the airport, which was pretty cool. I was wearing an orange shirt, so in my head I was thinking of all the BJP funding jokes I could think of in under a minute, but, irrespective of your views on the man, he’s done a lot of good journalism. Some bad, but a fair bit of good. And Republic is free to air, which means atleast people get some information for little/no paisas. Had a very enjoyable conversation with him, and while taking a photograph, my inability to keep my hand steady showed. It was rather embarrassing. But I got a nice photo anyway.

Upon take-off, however, as I read Ashlee Vance’s book on Elon Musk (read, read!) and moved to reading Asimov’s Foundation series, I got to see Bengaluru from the air. It’s perhaps the only time I’ve got to see the length of the city. I’m usually asleep on flights, and very rarely have I flown out at a time where light is everpresent. What struck me was a disastrous thought about all the mistakes we’ve made as a species on Planet Earth.

At the cost of progress, we’ve messed up repeatedly. Think of land allotment and land acquistion, or building industries along riverbeds and lakes. Look at the state of public schooling, racial biases, resource crunches, all of which we’ve created for ourselves as a species. There are several more issues, but the worst thought was how pathetic we are at getting cities right.

I think it’s an art – a fine-balance between the rigidity that Boey Kim Cheng describes in this poem (Gandhinagar), and the utter chaos that is a city like Bengaluru. It’s rare to find something that’s bang in the middle. I love namma ooru, but, it’s universally agreed that urbanization messed up the city in more ways than one (though I live in the ubanized part of the city, that didn’t exist 15 years ago).

Then I thought about something.

What would our species look like trying to build society on another planet, right down from scratch? What sort of economic system would we have? What sort of allocations would we prescribe? What sort of governance would exist, should we get to Mars?

I have no answers to these questions, mere counterfactuals.

And that’s a disturbing thought. I mean, is humanity worth saving?

At that very moment, I received, in my hands, a basil pesto mayonnaise tomato cheese sandwich.

Humanity is worth saving after all.



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