The billboards are a blur as the Ola cab I am on moves smoothly on the inner ring road that encircles Bangalore. I am on my way to meet a friend. One I only know by pictures and words. The string of red tail lights indicate a traffic light. I brace for the jerk as the car slows and grinds to a halt. The driver turns the ignition off and I feel suspended in some sort of a timeless bubble. All around me are vehicles honking, revving and in a hurry to get somewhere. Hawkers weave in and out thrusting their goods at unblinking glass windows. I watch, disinterested. A lady with a baby knocks on my window and I turn away, apathetic. I feel guilt and annoyance at being forced to confront my privilege.
All around me are signs of progress. The metro that snakes its way through the middle of the town, the pillars dividing once loved main thoroughfares into narrow two lane roads. The sign boards are haunting and familiar, hidden in between massive high rises. The Kannada name boards are few and far in between. Everyone I see is smartly dressed, clutching branded purses and cell phones. I watch, envious.
The car moves and I see the things that have not changed. The crowded buses, the overflowing dumpsters, the cows along the side of the road, Puddles from an earlier rain, dog poop. I see weary women clutching handbags jostling to get into buses and trains. I see the alertness as yet another gets into a cab and sits on edge.
I reach the cafe I am supposed to be at and walk inside. It is homey, the sounds muted and the area spacious. I grab a menu and check email while waiting. Mosquitos buzz around me. I see couples enter and leave. I see groups of men and women take selfies just outside the door. I see smiles, laughter and friendship.
A polite man asks if I am ready to order and I ask for him to wait. The menu is upscale and the prices nothing like the past. It occurs to me all of Bangalore has a new veneer. A shiny coat over the old city. Yet, at its heart it is still a small town struggling to keep up with the massive influx of people in love with its weather and cosmopolitan outlook.
My friend arrives and we meet like long lost friends. A warm hug, plenty of conversation, hot coffee and cold sandwiches. We sit there for a good while before we step out. As we take a selfie outside, I realize I am wearing a veneer too.