Thursday, April 26, 2007

Banergatta Road -- U Turn Away from Development

The citizens of Bangalore have adjusted and adapted to a bumpy, by-lane ride to work while swanky fly-overs are built to decongest the main roads. The flyovers take an average of 3 years to be ready. Even in less developed countries they take no more than 6 months, with amazing pre-fab material available nowadays. At the end of these 3 years, at least, the commuter expects an uninterrupted ride. The intersections have been looped and traffic can flow without traffic-lights and crossings.

What remains true is that traffic lights are removed. The crossings, however, remain. On the Banergatta Road stretch there are about 3 flyovers till one reaches the MG Road intersection. Each of them has a provision for U-turns, turning left/right (with help of traffic lights) and skipping the junction (underpass or flyover). The distance between the flyovers is not more than 3-4 km. So far so good.

What comes next is the unique and interesting "Bangalore Logic". Before and after each flyover, people have dug up parts of the median. Trucks, buses, scooters, buffaloes... this "self-service" intersection is used by everyone to make turns. In essence, an arterial road that had 3 intersections (that the flyover fixed) now has 8-12 junctions! To the commuter, the wait for traffic jams to sort out at the junctions has simply multiplied from three years ago. The billions going into building the flyover and years of patient diversions produce only more chaos and longer delays.

The cops and politicians conveniently blame the mess on increase in traffic, influx of migrant software engineers and even rains. Sometimes one can see cops rush there to regulate the traffic jams. But no one ever fines or prevents the drivers from making those dangerous and illegal turns!

For someone who has not been here, even imagining the ludicrousness of the situation will be difficult.

The reason behind this quite simple: people wish to avoid an extra 7-8km round trip for making the U-turn. Cops and politicians seem to avoid antagonizing the locals by enforcing common sense rules. If they did that, traffic would move smoothly in each direction and people making the U turn wouldn't disrupt traffic flow either. As things stand, everyone is happy they can save 3 minutes by turning just before the designated U-turn spot. Everyone is also upset how it takes 30 minutes to cover a 6 minute stretch of road!!! D'Oh

My take is that people never "want" to do the right thing. It is for the enforcement agencies to make sure the right flow is established. They can help by putting proper signage, building good roads and have synchronized traffic lights. Another default accessory to flyovers is pedestrian subways or bridges; no flyover must open without care for the pedestrians, yet these are conspicuously missing even today.

Bombay's Western Express freeway had a similar problem when they first built it. At that time a few school children had to die before we got pedestrian subways and median-control. Do our khadi-clad Gods require the sacrifice Again and again?

All it needs is little bit of "planning". And a whole lot of enforcement. Is that so difficult??

I am sure the citizens of Bangalore will adjust and adapt to a smooth and efficient ride equally well.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Bumpy -- Coming Soon to a Potty Near You

Bumpy is in its 7th month now. The wait for sleepless nights and potty training is all but over. People tell us this is the most sensitive phase and we should take extreme care of Ba and Bumpy. We are going around meeting relatives and friends. Having a gala time playing with lots of kids and listening to excited chatter centred around Bumpy's arrival. That makes Ba happy and I am sure anything that makes Ba happy will make Bumpy grow better!

School Killings -- A Prayer for Innocent Lives

30 kids mowed down in a US college yesterday. My brother left to live the American dream last weekend and my brother-in-law leaves in a few months. Wonder if there is much of a dream left. During the short time I was there, it was not difficult to see why kids would be growing up all nasty and hasty. People seem to be running all the time, chasing their own dreams and outpacing their neighbors'. No one has the time or inclination to talk to each other unless it makes business sense. In such an atmosphere, the kids have nothing more than a TV or iPod or PSP3 to turn to. Kids need attention, guidance and love. They get all of this from savvy marketers. Of course, sometimes, the guidance only guides you to the nearest store. If you cannot afford what's in there, no more love, guidance or attention. Popping the nearest neighbor does seem like the next best thing to do. I remember feeling like killing the bully many times as I grew up. I play-acted movies like "Vaastav" and "Satya" many times in my mind, where all problems are solved by placing a muzzle on the kanpatti-- often without the need to fire a shot. If only all of life were that simple. In reality--and even in those movies--the nice shooter guy ended up dead. Bad dead.

I pray for the families and friends of those who lost their lives in the Virginia Tech massacre. I pray that India decides to remain the boring, cultured country it has been and not want everyone to become Barbie Doll and Gameboy.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

India -- The land of cows, crowds, potholes... and love!!

Did my first US visit last week. Now I can stand up and face the world.

Sadly, by the time I got the chance to visit USA, the "awe" factor has been lost. India has progressed enough for us not to go oooh and aaah when we see a Go-Karting track or a Sports Bar or even super-cheap electronics with nearly-nil warranty. As I would joke, the same factory in China supplies iPod clones to both of us. So why buy in San Jose flea market when I can get the same--probably cheaper-- at Kempegowda's National Market!

The only thing that did awe me, perhaps, were the roads. Something not difficult for India to achieve. Yet, something that does not have national will behind it. My take is that India's progress is purely entrepreneur driven with no strategic direction by our governments. This is unlike China, Vietnam or even the US where a lot of energy goes in creating the right "ambience" for business. In the long run, it takes more than just cheap labour and Rupee-Dollar disparity to sustain success!!

Despite everything being so 'perfect', I did miss the 'human interaction' that is part of life in India. I pray that with all our 'practical thinking' and 'progress', we retain the human element of daily lives. In the US, it seemed to me that people get so comfortable with machines, meeting other fellow beings for any non-profit purpose scares them into hiding in a cave somewhere. Then we need to send in Deepak Chopra and Bikram Yoga to bring them back.

This visit made me appreciate our lives in India a lot more. I thoroughly enjoyed my stay out there. On the other hand, I was surprised to not feel the over-powering desire to migrate which seems to be part of Indian DNA.

All the baingan-lores that form our daily grind, that is what separates us from the Matrix. I wonder, how much longer?