A Bit of Beirut in Bangalore

One of the first things I noticed driving around Bangalore is the way in which all the foreign-owned shops resemble those one would find in Hamra. In particular, the store Vero Modo/Jack Jones, since the time I first moved to Beirut in 2006, multiplied like rabbits along Hamra Street. It isn’t that bad here yet, but here is what one creative genius imagined Hamra Street might look like in the future if things continue at this pace. I hope it is not what is in store for Bangalore.

Below are more photographs of more foreign shops that one can find in Bangalore and in Beirut. Most were taken at high-end malls. The set of interior/night time shots were taken at a place called UB City, which used to be a brewery factory. But it was transformed into this luxury mall that reminds me of Solidere in Beirut a great deal. In some ways it is even worse in the sense that it is structurally inhibiting and challenging for people to just wander in and walk around. Thus, it keeps out people for whom the mall is out of their league. It also reminded me quite a bit of the malls in Las Vegas. Anyone wanting excellent context for the damage that Solidere caused to Beirut society should read Saree Makdisi’s article on the topic. I cannot find a similar kind of analysis of UB City or the gentrification of Bangalore. However, the article below hints at some context:

The current joke is that the only buildings to remain unscathed by the onslaught may be Vidhana Soudha, the building that houses the legislature, and UB City, a complex that is a hideous combination of the Empire State Building and Internet kitsch, built by a liquor baron….

The new IT prosperity has created a young, energetic, educated, and wealthy working class, transforming Bangalore into a consumer’s paradise of shopping malls and office complexes with glass-fronted exteriors. The insatiable demand for “good English” has renewed the anxiety that Kannada may die out in the city.

The scary part of what is written above is not only the bit about gentrification and the way it changes the urban landscape. (I’m reading Sarah Schulman’s brilliant The Gentrification of the Mind at present and offers interesting ways to connect the methods of gentrifying urban and mental landscapes.) I’ve been collecting photographs on Kannada architecture that shows how the outskirts of Bangalore have shifted from village to city; I’ll post those soon. But I am equally worried about the dangers of a people losing their language, especially to the imperial language of English. I saw an interesting film this past weekend that touches on some of these themes. The film, English Vinglish, features a protagonist who is ridiculed by her family for not knowing the English language. Here is a trailer:

My favorite scene in the above clip is when she goes to pick up her American visa and the American sitting behind the counter asks how she’ll survive in the U.S. without knowing English; the retort by his colleague is brilliant (at the end of the clip): “the same way you survive in our country without learning Hindi.”

One last piece of Bangalore that, unfortunately, resembles Beirut. It is the presence of G4S, which I saw this morning for the first time. Here is a bit about what G4S is and why there is a boycott campaign against them:

G4S is a British-Danish private security company that provides services and equipment to Israeli prisons, checkpoints, the Apartheid Wall and the Israeli police.

In 2007, G4S signed a contract with the Israeli Prison Authority to provide security systems and other services for major Israeli prisons. G4S provides systems for the Ketziot and Megiddo prisons, which hold Palestinian political prisoners from occupied Palestinian territory inside Israel. Article 76 of the Fourth Geneva Convention prohibits the transfer of prisoners from occupied territory into the territory of the occupier.

In Beirut I see G4S everywhere from the security at office buildings to friends’ apartments. Here is a bit about their role in Lebanon:

The scale of the work G4S do in Lebanon is unclear, with even Bawab saying he didn’t know exactly what they did in the country. But the head of a rival private security firm says they have “a couple of hundred guys” in the country, and it is not uncommon to see men in clothes with the company’s logo guarding private companies in Beirut’s Hamra.

Al-Akhbar discovered that the firm carried out a security review for the country’s preeminent university, the American University of Beirut. The 60-page confidential document details potential improvements that could be made to security and recommends that G4S operatives take over the running of the university’s security.


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