If you live within three km of South End circle, you have good news – you can throw away your wall clocks and wrist-watches, for the city administration has now put in place for you a fancy timekeeper, a 61 foot high ‘sky-kissing’, ambara chumbana clock tower at the traffic intersection that chimes out the hour, every hour.
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With elections approaching, perhaps those sitting in decision-making kursis felt that just as the rural raitaru have been promised free electricity and other handouts, we the educated urban citizens too needed some goodies and gifts, so that we do not feel left out. And what better gift, than a showpiece clock tower, since we do not need fertilisers or subsidised pesticides or electricity to irrigate our fields?
Costing all of Rs 90 lakh, this showpiece — the state’s tallest clock — is meant to make life sweeter for us. Visually and aurally. It not only chimes out the hours but even changes colour through the week — if it is yellow, it must be Thursday, so you can throw away your new calendars too.
Step a few metres to the south and north of this intersection, and you have rubble strewn all along the roads and pavements, thanks to the Metro line work that has been going on around South End for some years now, turning the once-green-and-pastoral-and-peaceful neigbourhood into one massive dust bowl. (There used to be so much open space and greenery around South End when I was a new bride, five decades ago, that it used to look desolate).
Take a poll today, and you will find that the incidence of respiratory ailments among residents here has shot up significantly over the last three years since the Metro construction began, but now a chiming public clock can take our minds off our asthma and coughs. Ninety lakhs is perhaps a small price to pay, for such public diversions, almost a son-e’lumiere, sound and light show, like they have in Paris and London.
Paris reminds me — remember the French queen Mary Antoinette, who said, when told that the janata were unhappy because they had no bread to eat, "Let ‘em eat cake" ? She was beheaded for her insensitivity. But that was in the bad old days of monarchy. We are a modern democracy, where governance is "by the people, for the people, of the people" as we all learned from our social studies textbooks in school.
Ah, the people — that reminds me again, where were the people for whom this swanky clock tower has been put up using taxpayers’ money? The Residents Welfare Associations (RWA) of the area were not invited to the inauguration ceremony on Saturday February 23, forget about their being consulted on the clock project before it was undertaken.
Getting them on board for deciding what they would want, could cause hassles, you see — RWAs have a way of raising uncomfortable questions, like "If you have Rs 90 lakhs to spend, why don’t you use it to improve the pavements in these blocks, repair the potholes, and remove rotting rubbish from the roadside and install garbage bins?"
These ‘concerned citizens’ do not understand the value and importance of ‘image’. A city that can boast of the tallest clock in the state acquires an image, people will come from all over to see and marvel over this structure that the state government has put up, even tourists will flock to see it after they have done the mandatory tours of Lalbagh and the Bull temple.
As for garbage and potholes, they are always there, why not help people take their minds off such dreary dimensions of their daily lives, by giving them something new, something fancy? Like cake, instead of bread.
As BJP leader Ananthakumar put it at the inaugural function, the tall clock tower is proof that we have "development 24X7" — and the hourly chimes will be a constant reminder of that fact (never mind if those chimes disturb the concentration of a child preparing for the forthcoming annual examinations, or the sleep of an exhausted senior citizen having a siesta.) And never mind if the 20 second conch sound that the clock makes hourly, is seen as a "nuisance" by some residents. Conch, you see, is part of our ancient rituals of Hindu prayers, and reviving our heritage and traditional customs is what development is all about, at least the way the ruling party sees it.
The clock also gives us something more to divert ourselves with – you can have fun placing bets about how long the chimes will work, how soon the ‘daily colours’ will stop functioning, when the first breakdown is likely to be. All this fun and diversion, for just Rs 90 lakhs. Good value for money, wouldn’t you say? Filling potholes with that amount, or providing garbage bins, doesn’t have the same glamour and diversionary value, right ?
I live within three km of South End. And I hate the sound of conches, somehow it reminds me of gloomy, sad observances; its cadences carry a dimension of desolation, perhaps because of a childhood association with a visit to a temple where a bull was being prepared for butchering, to the accompaniment of the blowing of conches. I don’t particularly look forward to the sound of the conch from this modern clock tower — except that mercifully, in the pervasive din that the traffic around South End raises, the sound of the conch doesn’t reach me indoors.
And as they tell me, at the police station and corporation offices, as a senior citizen I am "better off staying indoors." That’s Bengaluru for you, in the twenty first century…⊕