How things change. There was a nationwide bandh called by trade unions on 2nd September, which was also followed in Bengaluru. This city remained unaffected. A bunch of us reached office and exchanged happy stories of “record times” we took to office, the joy of driving on 5th gear and seeing empty roads for a change. A fortnight later, Bengaluru is in shutdown mode and there are no happy stories to be shared of the empty roads.
Bengaluru has built its reputation as a friendly city and the two things that anyone would recall about it is the beautiful weather and insane traffic. Over the last few days, however, the air is filled with smoke while the traffic on the roads has become slightly more sane because more people were staying off the roads in fear and worry.
Empty roads, stores shutdown and limited public movement on the roads is completely uncharacteristic of the city, let alone on a Monday evening during peak traffic time. All of this, for the second time in four days. The reason behind it all, a massive “protest” to establish this claim unequivocally - “Cauvery Nammudu” (Cauvery is ours). Something which, by the looks of it, everyone including the government was unprepared for, let alone an office-going individual such as myself.
Monday came after I assumed the worst was over on Friday which was the first “official” #KarnatakaBandh. There were always fears about how serious this could turn out to be, because Cauvery is always a touchy topic (going as far back as 1892 as I have learnt recently).
Lulled into a false sense of comfort from knowing the city, I assumed public movement wouldn’t be disrupted and ventured out to travel across the city to pick up my sister from the airport (for those who haven’t had the luxury of this commute, it’s a 40-50km drive on an average). Having tried multiple detours in vain, I returned back home a defeated man and asked my sister to spend a few more hours at the airport.
I couldn’t get past some roadblocks by protestors and I came back having witnessed some disturbing scenes of fire and ashes along the route I typically take to office. No harm done to any private vehicles though, just a polite “you shall not pass” comment to send everyone back home. I ventured out again in the evening and realised that the protestors were lesser in number, but they did make it a point to ensure the roads were choked till it way past 6 pm, only then did public life resume to normal.
The weekend that went by was a hectic one with my entire family here celebrating my sister’s wedding reception and fortunately it passed off uneventfully. By Sunday afternoon, I was relieved that all of my family which had visited the city had made their way back to their respective homes – Kerala, Delhi and everywhere else. Fast forward 24 hours to Monday and some of the stories that are trickling in were not what you would normally associate with Bengaluru.
Friends recounted how they saw some popular restaurants being attacked because they originated in Tamil Nadu, buses being burnt because they had TN registration boards and an e-mail from the office HR asking us to remain inside the office till further instructions because of “massive unrest” in the city.
After having heard enough about the media coverage on social media, once home I switched on the news to see what was really happening. To say that the outrage on Twitter was justified would be an understatement. The headlines were purely sensational in nature and trying to point fingers at who was really responsible for the situation, not to mention “non-stop coverage from the ground”.
Why was the media’s first reaction to try and pass off the riots as “politically sponsored” and not try to ease the panic among the families all over the country that were watching, hoping that their loved ones in the city were safe? Why spread panic instead of calm? Were any of these “media outlets” really trying to wonder what the average Bangalorean felt like and showcase what the police force was actually doing?
I personally saw a police van doing the rounds near my home and smiled to myself that if this was the state of what could possibly be a peaceful neighbourhood, they would have definitely taken enough precautions elsewhere. For once, it would have been good of these outlets to think of social responsibility first before going on a witch-hunt.
It was a strange feeling on Monday night, though, to be in a complete lockdown state and remain helpless in the city you called home and always felt happy to be in. I am not a Kannadiga or a Bangalorean, but Bangalore is the city I have felt most comfortable in as an “adult”. Previously, my home was Chennai in Tamil Nadu, the city and state against which protests are directed at most vehemently today. Would I be attacked as well if I revealed my identity to protestors I got stopped by on the road a few days back? I am not really sure and I don’t want to really know either.
Situation is absolutely peaceful in city. #sec144 in force. V dont expect any untoward incident,Strict action wil b takn against miscreants— BengaluruCityPolice (@BlrCityPolice) September 13, 2016
One thing though, I will head into work on Tuesday, if my office remains open. Not because I will change the world through mobile advertising, but because I would like to believe that I will not be caused any harm by the people and other fellow residents of this city, where my home today is.
The irony of it all this, is that less than a year ago, this city shed tears and gathered everything that they could, to come to the aid of the neighbouring state that was reeling under the deluge of the very same thing that they are fighting to keep to themselves today – WATER.
Navin is a BITS, Pilani - IIM, Bangalore almunus. He lived over 20 years in Chennai and is currently based out of Bangalore, working in a start-up. He is a sports "enthusiast" and can talk endlessly on any sport, or so he thinks. He is on Twitter as @madnavin.