to weave a tale of three cities

Window-shopping for art in St. Germain, Paris

A battle was waged and lost to save a couple of dozen magnificent trees in Sadashivanagar. A clutch of commoners cannot wrest from the state what the state has grasped. Now those trees have been sold cheap and consigned to memory. The fight to save them was spirited, though: women hugged them and wouldn’t let go until the police found a way to pull them away without causing a sexist outrage; men climbed the trees to prevent the buyers from sawing the trunks below. The media made its pitch even as it gathered the news it needs. But the arm of the lawman proved stronger, and the law weighed with the lawmakers. In the meantime our chief minister—who passed the place daily—has fallen, and his pal has taken his place. The spirit of the ruling class is aging to a convenient changeless script and its growing vintage serves the rulers well; the spirit of the middle-class masses is aging badly and is in fact already quite foul, and frothing. So deep is the rift now that the two sides have ceased to come to battle: each has given up on the other, and there is much to worry regarding this truce brought on by hopelessness.

Several times I’ve thought I must flee this unsavory place, but the money I need for the places I seek, I can best make here. I am smitten by two true cities: Paris and New York. (And a little by London, too.) So, then, I have a city a continent, from two continents. What tale can an Indian weave out of these far cities while domiciled in his exasperating hometown? Those two cities are no strangers to Indians, and in New York City my countrymen have cut for themselves a feast-sized slice of the dangling plantain that is Manhattan. What can I perceive of these cities that would excite that wayward reader who has strayed into my lot in the world-wide web?

Nothing, possibly. I spent some days already this year in Paris and New York City and they were a balm to me after a bad time in Bangalore. So in the last weeks I have begun to design my life so I can divide my time between Bangalore and the two of them. Can such a scheme bring happiness to someone so jaded? Perhaps not. Maybe happiness should not be my quest. It might be better to merely experience (as work) two cities that have been deeply loved and lovingly served by leader and commoner in competing proportions.

I read recently Glaeser's The Triumph of the City: Paris before Baron Haussmann wasn't much of a city. New York City was at times diseased, at times corrupt and for a long time decrepit. New York City has lived in the heights and has been in the dumps; defeat and despair and humiliation was repetitious for Paris. And now, none will challenge the respect Parisians command for their knowhow for good living. And anyone can see the creative energy that is squeezed into the island of Manhattan, and unloosed there.

I fell in love with Paris in June, and, as I was departing the city, I heard of Woody Allen's movie and was saddened that many more will begin to romance Paris along with me. I sense a jealousy, which tells me I didn't fall in love with Paris—I’ve been seduced by it, and I cannot bear that there will be others to whom Paris will reveal its river and its buildings, its cafes and its museums, its streets and its bridges, its gardens and its palaces, its art and its buskers, and its fabulous young who court outdoors in the light that plays in its air. And I am surprised that this beauty has chosen to seduce even me, an unremarkable Indian man without the ample means that a life in it demands if that life should be experienced in full, a man lacking the intellect of other men and women to whom it has played muse for centuries, a man from whom fashion and glamor maintain a snob’s distance, a man who cannot tell the subtleties of its wine, a vegetarian man, a man who can eat (from the over four hundred types that Paris offers) only the hard and spiced Gouda cheese, which cheese is not even French. So I’m telling myself to be grateful, and to learn to be deep and broad and big like this great city.

I am thus warmed these rainy days in Bangalore, full of anticipation of my next visit to Paris, which begins 18-August, and the tramping I’ll do in New York City, commencing 4-October.