No Jambu Savari this

The morning’s paper said Bengaluru was "among the fastest growing cities in the world". On inside pages there were glowing accounts of Dasara celebrations, our 400-year-old tradition of Jambu savari, and the 150th anniversary of Sir Visweswariah. Reading all that felt good – and then my day began, with a bus ride, from Majestic to Jayanagar.

I was Jayanagar-bound after a weekend in north Bengaluru, to pay my BESCOM bill for my flat in south Bengaluru, the last date for which was just a day away. Bus no. 2 that I waited for at Majestic (specifically so that I could get off near the BESCOM office) took half an hour to materialise. By the time we neared south Bengaluru it was already past lunchtime, I was hungry and looking forward to paying my bill, getting home and having a bite.

After Lalbagh the bus veered from its usual route (without explanations) bypassing South End, and I had to get off at 4th block terminus, and trudge to the BESCOM office – only to find it all shuttered down, with not a soul in sight. A notice pasted on the shutters said the office was "closed from October 1 to 4th" and was being shifted to 8th block, 45th cross. Which was a long, long way for me. The monthly meter reading in my area (Jayanagar) is taken on the 4th of every month. If the office was being shifted around that time, couldn’t our bills have a rubber stamp or intimation on it, to inform us and give the new address? Why make the public go all the way, only to see the notice pasted on closed shutters?

I took a few desultory steps from 30th cross, towards 45th cross, hungry and weary, when a helpful passerby said I could try paying at the BWSSB counter.  I retraced my steps to the BWSSB counter at the shopping complex, only to find that they don’t handle electricity bills. "Try the old KEB office in 3rd block," someone suggested.

Back to 3rd block, then, to the BESCOM office that was closed down two years ago. The long queue at the computerised counter wasn’t moving. "The man in charge has gone ootakke (for lunch)" said someone. "No idea when he will be back." So could I try feeding in my cheque myself? "He has locked the password and gone," said the man at the head of the queue. It was 2.40 pm, I needed my oota too, so I went home, and returned at 4 PM (praying that he wouldn’t have gone for "coffee" this time…)

He hadn’t, but there were 16 citizens ahead of me, and by the time I paid and turned away, I was nearly collapsing with fatigue. Half a day gone, in paying just one bill.

Why do our service providers treat us with such disdain? Why not inform us, when they drop our bills into our letter boxes?  What happens to elderly citizens, and differently- abled residents, if they have to go from one office to another, just to pay up? Why do BMTC drivers deviate from scheduled routes, causing inconvenience to commuters? "Because the traffic jams at the signal are horrendous," declared one driver, while another said sarcastically, "Ajji, tell me where your house is and I’ll drop you at your doorstep, would that satisfy you?"

Who monitors such gross lack of accountability? Many in the queue at the BESCOM office were grumbling, but not one had thought of reaching or pulling up the higher officials.

I returned home after paying my bill, and sat down to do this column as my deadline was a few hours away. I keyed in three paragraphs – and the power went off, without warning. Load shedding? Not quite, because it was restored two minutes later – but the damage was done, two paragraphs had got deleted before I could save them.

One more "public utility service" that harasses the public, in a city aiming to be a "global metropolis". I have plenty to say on unscheduled shut-downs, which is the height of administrative arrogance and incompetence in a ‘service’ provider. I do have an UPS (which conked out without warning) but my point is – those who can afford to have their own UPS, or generator, or personal cars that lets them escape the indignities and uncertainties of public transport, or servants to go pay their bills, manage nicely, the non-affluent do not.

That’s not democracy, or good governance.  Or progress. And no Jambu savari or musical fountain, or paeans to past glory can make up for the miseries of daily life in namma ooru.

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About Sakuntala Narasimhan 73 Articles
Sakuntala Narasimhan is a Jayanagar based writer, musician and consumer activist.