[Reader-list] Of claimed spaces, messy spaces and property markets

Zainab Bawa bawazainab79 at gmail.com
Fri Jun 6 19:10:30 IST 2008

It is strange to feel a sense of communion with Bangalore city. In recent
times, someone mentioned how he found Bangalore to be a flat city while
Bombay was a city thick with stories. Perhaps those stories abound in
Bangalore too, but I have isolated myself enough not to recognize them. One
such story has been surfacing since the last two days and has gotten me
thinking, once again, about space, about accessing the city, about urban
land, and about the notions and practices of property.

It is indeed strange to feel a sense of communion with this city, this city
which has since sometime been labeled as the epitome of fast paced and messy
growth. "It is S. M. Krishna's fault," I am told, "He has brought the city
to be the way it is today. He sold it to the real estate sharks and to the
global land developers." I wonder whether the story of today's Bangalore is
as simple as this. It is rhetorical to even make such a statement, but what
needs to be stated is the fact that the story of this city is yet to be
told, in all its thickness and richness. The story of this city is not all
flat; it is the story of our times. I will try a little now ...

So, it is absolutely strange to feel a sense of communion with this mad city
called Bangalore. The airport has moved to 40 kms away from the city. The
traffic is as bad as it could be. The city's drains are already overflowing
even with the wee bit of heavy showers. What is becoming of this city? That
is the plaint with which civil society movements and organizations started
in Bangalore, the city which is overflowing and teeming with the good
governance and fight-corruption organizations. But that indeed is a flat
paradigm of the city. I am confronted with the question of how do I
understand and frame the notion and process of change?

Yes, it is indeed strange to feel one with this city, this city that is
usually seen as a flat and a doomed-to-fail city. But it is not. It is a
city which is at the crossroads of very important trajectories and what
defines these trajectories are the contests and conflicts over accessing
urban space. I was watching the Majestic area through the windows of the
BMTC bus - every nook and corner of Majestic is occupied, legally and
illegally. Sometimes, the illegal don't even know that what they are
engaging in is deemed illegal by law and planning. Everyone needs access to
space - space, both metaphorically and physically. Booksellers on the
footpath, pirated VCDs and pornographic material, bags, shoes, clothes,
security services, banking services, pawnbrokers, jewellers, restaurants,
hotels, malls at the side of the roadside messiness and occupied spaces - in
Bombay they call this cheek by jowl. In Bangalore, I would say that the
different times of the city co-exist in Majestic area and beyond. Different
groups of people and individuals have occupied space, some nook, some
corner, some cranny. And there are occupations and professions that exist in
this area which are hidden from the eye but very much located in this
geography. Majestic reminds me of a different time in the city. Yes, there
are plots on which malls are being constructed in Majestic too and in a few
years, the malls will be there unless something drastic happens. But what
you see in Majestic is the existence of all kinds of time streams -
yesterday, today and tomorrow. That yesterday is not disintegrated from
today and tomorrow; it is intimately connected. And that yesterday will be
shaped by today and tomorrow just as much as today and tomorrow will be
shaped by yesterday. The physicality and the mortality of yesterday may
disappear, but yesterday itself cannot disappear. Majestic says this to me
as I observe the hectic and frenzied pace of urban space in this part of

As I move from Majestic into Rajajinagar, I am further surprised.
Rajajinagar appears much more insular than the Richmond Town area that I
live in. It appears that Rajajinagar is living in a time of its own.
Photographs of Dr. Rajkumar, the famous cinestar whose death rocked the
city, abound in this area. Rajkumar seems absolutely alive and kicking in
the spirit of Rajajinagar. Perhaps, his presence even defines the locality
of Rajajinagar and marks this space as distinct from other parts of the
city. A strong feeling of Kannadiga-ness envelops you if you walk carefully
through the area - the sounds, sights, smells, scenes- they strongly remind
you that you are in the state of Karnataka of which Bangalore is an
important geographical party and symbolic aspect. A subtle sense of the
Kannada nation grips you as you walk preceptively, a feeling that is
distinct and particular to this area. Now, with the Bangalore Metro expected
to run through this area, one will have to wait and watch to see what
processes the notions and practices of modernity, locality, community,
urbanity, nation and globalization will generate.

Clearly, what has been most interesting about this form of participant
observation across the Western parts of the city is the ways by which people
have occupied urban space. At Magadi, as we see the hectic and frenetic
construction of an underpass, we also simulataneously note that under the
trees, there are people who are making and selling bamboo curtains. At
Majestic, one notices fruit-cake kind of constructions that were certainly
not planned, but created over time, through various networks of politics,
graft, deception, illegality, identity and finance. Rajajinagar abounds with
spaces that are known in our parlance as "neeche dukan, upar makaan", again
a form od practice that planning defies as illegal and that is increasingly
coming under scrutiny with the construction of the Metro Rail. These are
spaces which are being practiced variously and in ways that may not be
recognnized by urban planning and law. They exist and yet, there is a strong
feeling that runs through a large number of us that eventually, these spaces
may be destroyed, taken over, annihilated and subsumed. Urbanity is being
conceived as this process of the big fish eating the small and the small
eating the smaller. The question is whether the current stream of
urbanization requires much more intense attention to the processes that are
taking place, irrespective of outcomes, if we are to nuance our
understanding of change, growth, future, 'development'?

As I moved into Nagarbhavi, I noticed that virgin properties which were once
rocky lands, are now being constructed over. The pace of construction in the
area is tremendous. I realized that the potential construction of the
Bangalore Metro Rail around Vijaynagar will lead to property prices rising
in and around the interiors of West Bangalore. I recognize that this is one
of the ways in which property markets develop. The question that arises is
whether the growth of property markets, the conversion of multiply claimed
spaces into single ownership and title deeds that can be traded between
people 'legally', is an irreversible process? Are the trajectories of cities
defined? How do we conceive of the future? How does one draw on the past to
understand and conceive the future? I begin with these questions and many
more ...

It is absolutely strange, yet wonderful, to feel a sense of communion with
the city. It is an enabler, one that allows you to see the city as an
organic entity that has life and is not a determined/controlled mass of
space ...

Zainab Bawa
Ph.D. Student and Independent Researcher

Between Places ...

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