Listening to the Prime Minister’s speech today from the ramparts of the Red Fort, one would definitely share the sense of pride for the nation. He envisions a new, resurgent India by the time India celebrates the centenary of its independence in 2047. He urged the youth to dedicate the next 25 years of their lives to the country’s development. I personally felt it was a much need impetus to India towards becoming a Vishwa Guru.
But that also made me wonder about my city Belagavi- a place I refused to leave despite numerous opportunities elsewhere, where my parents were born and lived, my hometown for the past 47 years, no less. The small Belagavi of yore has today turned vibrant and bright.
My early memories of the city are of traveling in a city bus that showed up once in 45 minutes from Shahapur to the city. A bus was parked behind my school (St. Joseph’s) and a tiny me ran to catch the only bus available and of walking home from Goods Shed road whenever I missed the bus. Watching films at a handful of theatres like Nartaki, Arun, Kapeel and Radio with minimal facilities but enjoyable nonetheless. Of visiting the Shivaji garden almost every week, the Military Mahadev temple for school picnics, and the occasional visit to the Animals park in Budhwar Peth.
That unmissable Tuesday visit to Chaya café (now no more, at Khade Bazar) or Suvarn Mandir for Dosas. The recurrent visit to the vegetable market for fresh veggies all year long. We didn’t own a fan till 1980, the TV came when I was 9 years old in 1984 and the fridge came only in 1989 when the heat became unbearable and my first computer was in 1995 in my final year of college with a dial-up internet connection. It’s amusing to realize that buying these gadgets had become the talk of the neighborhood back then. My father’s first Fiat in 1988 was a luxury for us and I reveled in it and the Luna that he bought for me has been out of production for over a decade now.
As I reminisce about the past 47 years, I find that the city has changed its façade but beneath it, nothing much has changed. More so the people and the warmth. The good thing that impacts my daily life is the railway over-bridge. I have spent thousands of hours waiting at the railway gate since childhood. The roads have become wider and better (concrete roads in many parts). The city got its own share of malls, eateries and branded showrooms, for which I had to travel to big cities otherwise.
Then I wonder if my life is still the same as it was almost four decades ago though much seems to have changed. I still buy groceries and vegetables from the same vendors. We all have had the same tailors and laundry men, the same milk and newspaper vendors for decades. We know many people in the city and meet them on a daily basis since childhood. But what brought us here cannot take us further. In the years to come would expect more from us and from the govt.
Our kids still have to travel out for pursuing courses in arts, humanities, languages, film/advertising and the digital world. The culture-scape is still limited to a few sporadic events happening in the city that does not have a full-fledged art gallery, museum, or theatres for plays. The open spaces in the city center have been occupied long ago and roads are crowded with two-wheelers because of poor public transport even today. Then we lament that our kids leave the city for better prospects. What would we expect them to do? Our kids are not aware of our heritage structures and historic figures.
Belagavi has grown majorly in bits and pieces that appear like a quilt. The patterns really don’t meet the needs of the people. Good cities of the future would be thriving places where people can move unhindered, where kids would find stimulating environments, where nature would flourish and where opportunities are created.
The cities of the future would be developed keeping the people at the center and the future problems of climate change in mind. The architecture, the public spaces and water bodies need to be mindfully built, preserved and sustained. As tall buildings come up that occupies less space but accommodate thousands of people, the stress on urban infrastructure will become huge. The traffic jams have become frequent. The water supply is once a week. The waste bins are overflowing. Every monsoon, our roads and low-lying areas are getting inundated because of clogged drains.
We cannot put the entire onus on the government and administration. It is amusing to read complaints that the civic authorities did not clean the streets and pick up the garbage. Why did we strew so much garbage everywhere rather than depositing it in assigned bins?
Belagavi roads have become risky for two reasons- heavy vehicles and people who constantly spit. It’s a menace that needs to be addressed along the lines of what Kolhapur did against spitting in public.
I have taught at an MBA college for 12 years and experienced first-hand the low levels of ambition among the city’s students who thrive and succeed once they leave the city and migrate to bigger ones. Why does this happen? We can’t just say ‘We are like that only’ and carry on with our lives; rather, we need to introspect.
Town planning, civic infrastructure, cultural avenues, public spaces, sports centers, public transport, safe roads, traffic management and clean air are hallmarks of a good thriving city.
Belagavi needs a multi-pronged strategy to develop to its full potential. Govt. initiatives definitely help, but citizens’ participation also matters. Until that happens, we will remain as we are even at the nation’s centenary with a couple of more bridges and some more tall buildings.