Sunday, September 12, 2010

The Decay of Cities

Would I prefer to live in Bombay or Manali or Auroville? This question (with a variation in the specific cities tossed your way, skyscrapers and all) has been posed often and dealt with more frequently. Everyone agrees that Bangalore, Madras and New Delhi are excellent places to live in because the quality of life is much better. "You get everything there", I often here. Bombay was always such a promised land "as long as you can find a decent house". These are places where a child can be assured excellent education, wives can find the best malls and salons, husbands can find the best jobs and so on. Cities attract growth and infect prosperity into neighbouring localities.

The growth we see is primarily in the concentration of commercial establishments (malls, companies, hotels etc.) and not in the holistic sense of the word. It seems as if growth can only be inferred if there are establishments providing employment opportunities and/or monetary transactions. There is growth only if the geographical entity has more options and a variety of avenues for entertainment. More multiplexes, international schools, MNCs, high-rises, multi-cuisine restaurants, fashion shows, F1 tracks, bowling alleys, BPOs and **llyWood, the more likely are we to consider those cities as growing. The fact that the economic divide is ever-widening implying that the rich are getting richer and the poor, poorer, that basic amenities are ill-provided (so what if they are worse in towns and villages?), that the crime rate is increasing, that the pollution level is chokingly high, that food prices are unbearable, alcohol consumption high, diseases high and accommodation is ever so hard to find has no telling on our definition of "growth".

Would I rather stay in a decent place, where the morning air is clear and filled with bird calls? Where food is seasonal and available at very reasonable prices? Where people are honest and care more about helping each other than making a quick buck? Where people are not in a hurry to over-achieve their neighbour? Where there is plenty of open space where children play through the evening? Where it is absolutely fine to make enough money to feed your family and a little more? Where the greenery surrounding me is revered and maintained? How difficult would it be for me to setup a shop there and provide employment to a few others so that we can all be productive without being obnoxiously differing in our economic status?

Why would I struggle and strive in a place where I need to live through power cuts, polluted roads, poor drainage systems, overwhelming concrete, petty politics, magnified prices for basic commodities (and I was stupid enough to believe that we were living in a shortage till I read the recent agricultural and financial reports) and fearing the criminals that lurk in the dark?

What do I lose out by boycotting the cities (oh! we can't repair the damage done. Trust me! It is simply not possible)? Accessibility, conveyance, connectivity (telephone/Internet), material delights (gadgets, latest books, fashion), culinary experiences (multi-cuisine restaurants, coffee shops), entertainment (bowling alleys, pubs, discos, movie halls), medical facilities (no super-specialty hospitals) and certain other things which we have come to believe that we must have because "we are worth it". What do I get in exchange? Fresh air, fresh seasonal food, simple people, simple facilities, slower sustainable life, lesser information overload, simpler joys, open spaces for children to play in, lower cost of living and a much better overall health. Though the disadvantages make it seem like non-cities resemble life in the Andamans, things aren't that bad. I have been to places (which are also decaying, though very slowly) where most of the above can be availed though with a little extra effort. 

The point remains that quality of life is not about the various things I can buy but about not having to buy things to make me feel that my life is good enough.


  1. Anonymous4:32 PM

    Couldn't agree more to it.. have been thinking about it since long.. very well put in words

  2. Parvati8:26 AM

    Nothing can replace a city's wide range of understanding, knowledge and interest in various fields of activity and thought of man and this world; the intellectual capacity and dependence on reason and rationality are most certainly and well nigh spontaneously, of a higher quality in the city.

    The country accommodates a simpler nature, with less urgency regarding mind and its interests and preoccupations, the city is not all triteness and malls, I breathe definitely an air throbbing with a greater awareness about infinite things as compared to the linear, narrow and traditional, bordering on even gross levels of unilateral parochialism, violence, domination and an unequal treatment of men and women, people of different religions etc.

    The city is the place of freedom to just be oneself, the country offers a physical liberation in nature. The palpable suffering in the city is of the body in the claustrophobia of crowds and pollution, and in the country my mind and psychology feel cloistered.

  3. Dear A,
    Thanks. :-) A name would be nice...

    Dear P,
    On one hand I have the variety and urbaneness of cities and on the other, the sweet simplicity of non-cities. What would I choose? Perhaps the latter. I don't think the mind and psychology need suffer in non-cities. Mind you, great artists and thinkers have thrived in non-cities. With the knowledge and intelligence comes pettiness and cunning. Would I want that? With knowledge comes distrust. Would I want that? With knowledge comes greed to want more because one is capable of having more. Would I want that? I can only recall the Tao Te Ching here:
    Not exalting the talented prevents rivalry.
    Not valuing goods that are hard to obtain
    prevents stealing.
    Not displaying desirable things
    prevents confusion of the heart.

    Therefore, the True Person governs
    by emptying the heart of desire
    and filling the belly with food,
    weakening ambitions and strengthening bones.

    If the people are simple and free from desire,
    then the clever ones never dare to interfere.

    Practise action without striving
    and all will be in order.