Vantage point

Sunday, May 11, 2003


Each city has its own characteristic. No two cities are alike. Even twin cities differ in the essential "genetic code" if I may call it that.

I have not travelled as extensively as I would like, but have been to quite a few cities and each one brings out a different side of me. It is based on the way I behave in these cities that I realise how different they are. So I decided to describe all the cities that I have visited in one word. It is mainly, but not entirely, to do with how the city makes me behave.

Pune - Self-righteous. The city seems to have this superiority complex. It arises from its historic, cultural and educational abundance. A true blue Puneite will always hanker to settle down in Pune eventually. He may be living in the posh suburbs of Mumbai or the posh suburbs of California, his plan of life seems to have Pune as the final destination. This self righteousness gives the city its character. The relative safety that women enjoy in Pune, where you will see a girl going home at midnight alone on her scooty, also arises from this self righteousness. The Puneite will feel it beneath him to indulge in eve-teasing. You can make out the city's "attitude" by reading the letters to the editor. I could go on and on about my home, but suffice it to say that while Puneites are full of themselves....... at least they are full of subtsance. Only a Puneite/Punekar will understand that I mean all the above description in a good way. (By the way, for marketing guys, a bit of a tidbit, Pune has 500,000 Sec A & B people, that is 1.5 times Chennai and Kolkatta, and equal to Bangalore. In percentage terms this means about 20% of the population is Sec A & B, probably highest in India.)

Mumbai - Productive. The city realises that it is the economic lifeline of the country. It is so efficient, that it is almost a pleasure living here. The Mumbaikar is helpful and cooperative. You can get a glimpse of this by the way that commuters hanging from the local train will pull in a man running late. In any other city, he might have reached work late. Getting from one place to another is the easiest in Mumbai. Very few people actually are "from" Mumbai. Most have come from outside to work there. Since work is the main motive, it translates into the city's culture as well. People will talk about the poverty and the slum population of this metro, but if they leave their plush living rooms and travel in Dharavi, they will realise that even these slums are more productive than the industrial areas elsewhere. Just like its geographical make up, its mental make up is also very linear. It is a city that works hard, sleeps hard and parties hard. And it seems as if 15 million people are doing it together.

Delhi - Pugnacious. If Mumbai seems like one entity made up of 15 million people, Delhi seems like a battleground with each person fighting against the other. You always have to be on your toes here, whether you are catching a rickshaw, walking on the streets, eating in a restaurant or driving a car. This city has been invaded so many times in history and been a ground for so many battles that it has become combative and untrusting in nature. People are fighting everywhere, right from the bus stop in Mehrauli to the well of the Lok sabha in the parliament. Delhi also seems to have a schizophrenic character. It is almost as if it has two different natures. While one is stangant and rooted in the past, aware of its limitations, but wanting to survive in spite of those. The other seems to be keen to move on with life and make it big, because it has so many advantages on its side. Both natures though, have an edge of pugnaciousness. That is why Delhi has the most trigger happy upper middle class in India.

Bangalore - Optimistic. I lived there only for a week, but the atmosphere exuded optimism. You could literally feel that this is where the twenty first century is gonna arrive(i visited in 1999). The city is having a few teething problems, I hear, but overall it is filled with a surety of the success that lies ahead. You know how an awkward teenager suddenly grows tall, dresses well, speaks well and becomes 'chic'? Bangalore seems to have personified that transformation. It is yet to grow even more elegant, but its confidence in its own future is there for all to see.

Lucknow - Courteous. Because of the UP-Bihar stereotype that most of us carry, I was expecting Lucknow to be a crasser version of Delhi. But I was pleasantly surprised when i lived there. Sure, it is not a sprawling metro with wide avenues and towering flyovers, but the city still has "tehzeeb". Even rickshaw-wallahs arguing will refer to each other as "aap". The average Lucknowi wants to help you out, especially once he realises that you are not from the city. He will be warm, talk to you, and try to help you out in whatever way possible. And if he can't help you, he certainly will not hinder you. The 'crasser than Delhi'-ness that I expected is thankfully limited only to the Vidhan Sabha in Lucknow. Credit its Nawaabi hisory for it, but Lucknow's courteousness pervades every strata of the society. What saddens me is that Lucknow does not seem to be on a path towards growth. It has very few industries to speak of, and so the vibrance that would have added an extra attarctiveness to its nature is missing. Any Lucknowi with an opportunity and ability to settle elsewhere will leave the city pronto (except for Subrata Ray Sahara :-)) and come back only to visit relatives. I feel worried whether Lucknow will be able to maintain its sweetness over the coming years, I certainly hope so.