The transformation of Bengaluru into a metropolis almost overnight has been aptly captured by contemporary Indian English writers
Over the years, Bengaluru has been bestowed with an assortment of monikers. If it goes by ‘Garden City’ to tourists and geography buffs, it is known as a ‘concrete jungle’ to those who rue the passage of a simpler time marked by ubiquitous greenery. While young entrants to the globalised workforce call it ‘the Silicon Valley of India’, the city’s salubrious weather and leafy locales have established it as a retiree’s haven. What is undeniable, however, is the pride attached to ‘Namma Bengaluru’ — a tag that unifies a city constantly absorbing new identities.
According to a myth, Bengaluru is said to have acquired its name from an incident in which a hungry, wandering king was served boiled beans by a generous woman from the erstwhile town. Overcome by gratitude, the king decided to name the land ‘BendaKaaluru’ or the city of boiled beans.
In conventional history, Bengaluru’s origin dates back to 1537, when the city was founded by Kempegowda, a ruler from the Vijayanagara Empire. The city has since been witness to a rich history spanning the Adil Shahi dynasty, the Wodeyars, the Mughals and the British East India Company. Designated the capital of the erstwhile state of Mysuru in 1947, Bengaluru subsequently became the capital of Karnataka following the State’s formation in 1956. However, the city’s story during the final decades of the 20th century is one of exponential growth.
Writings on Bengaluru in the late 20th century express anxiety about the future of a city that was growing too fast.
In her chapter in the anthology Multiple City (2008), renowned Bengaluru-born artist Pushpamala N. writes, “At the end of the millennium, Bangalore seemed to illustrate the Third World cliché of a small town breaking out with sudden violence into a metropolis”. This overnight transformation of Bengaluru into a metropolis is aptly captured in contemporary Indian English literature rooted in the city.
Scholars and novelists alike agree that the essence of the city was recast by the IT boom triggered in the 1990s. Bengaluru went from being a pleasant, accommodating abode to a city that had expanded beyond its capacity. High-rise buildings, malls, airports, unforgiving traffic and perpetually-in-progress construction projects became symbols of the city’s aggression. With time, commute became daunting, and pedestrian indulgences like street shopping and haggling became rare. In her book The Promise of the Metropolis: Bangalore's Twentieth Century (2005), scholar Janaki Nair describes how ‘the happy commingling of traffic and commerce on the street’ has been replaced with a preference for malls and supermarkets.
The arrival of information technology also came with changes in the city’s cultural make-up. T. J. S. George, writing from the vantage point of someone who has lived in thriving hubs of economic activity — including Hong Kong and erstwhile Bombay — describes Bengaluru as an ‘urban demographic nightmare’ in Askew (2016). In his short biography of the city, the writer links Bengaluru’s newfound modernity and enterprise with the linguistic and cultural conundrums that plague its denizens. Bengaluru’s new economy and burgeoning migrant workforce eventually led to inevitable questions about ‘what was Bangalore’ and ‘who is a Bangalorean’. The only dominant language became that of money.