That was the loud glaring siren of an ambulance. I am hearing it for the third time in the last thirty minutes that I am driving through the Coimbatore city. The speeding ambulance makes risky maneuvers in an attempt to save a life and in the process scaring others on the road. Welcome to new Coimbatore.
From what it was earlier to be, a sleepy town with horse driven carts on the roads with hardly any traffic and a cool climate (Coimbatore used to be known as the poor man's Ooty), the city has now grown to be a busy city chocking with people, vehicles and garbage.
Coimbatore is fast growing into a techno-city with a multitude of software companies, industries, mushrooming engineering colleges and modern schools. But this phenomenal growth has come with its own compliments.
Housing prices have escalated to such an extent that a middle class family can afford an own house within its budget only at locations faraway in the outskirts of the city. Those living in the city are either in rented houses, or already owning a property or rich enough to afford a self owned residential property. Gone are the days when people used to talk about houses or flats in the range of 20 or 30 lakh of rupees. Now the housing property rates have happily touched the mighty crore-line.
If one has to take his family to a weekend dinner at a decent hotel in Coimbatore, he better have a minimum of one thousand rupees in his purse. He would be a man of the past if he still believes that he can survive a family dinner with a few hundreds of rupees unless he settles for roadside eateries or hotels unmindful of ambiance or hygiene.
Coimbatore is now rising to be on par with cities like Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore or Chennai. The roads are chocked with vehicles and there are plenty of traffic bottlenecks in the city. It is truly an achievement for the citizens of Coimbatore to experience such a traffic, sometimes taking thirty minutes or so for a transit of just four to five kilometers. As incentives come high levels of ambient noise due to traffic, air pollution, enhanced stress levels. The issue is more pertinent to four wheelers than two wheelers as the two wheelers in the city are more efficient in wading through the traffic and thereby offering terrifying moments to the others.
Coimbatore climate appears to have become more erratic. I hear people often say that this summer is unusually hot - and they say this year after year. I still remember the first time I came to Coimbatore in the late 70s and my bus ride from Coimbatore to Pollachi was absolutely fascinating. The chill weather and constant drizzle made it look like a hill station. The winding road passed through endless coconut farms making it appear green wherever you looked at. Although the pattern of weather has significantly changed, not until a couple of years ago the outskirts of Coimbatore city continued to remain under the cover of lush green plantations. Not any more as of today. The green plantations are fast vanishing, giving way to townships, housing plots and industries.
Come rains, the city comes to a stand still. Traffic stagnates due to flooding of underpasses or chocking and overflowing drains. People curse the monsoon and the inefficient town planning. There could be speculations as to who is responsible for this state of affairs - civic authorities or the not-so-responsible citizens who would dispose off the garbage into the drains. When the rain stops, all is forgotten and life goes on as usual - until the next monsoon. The story repeats itself.
Coimbatore is definitely in the path of progress with plenty of opportunities for growth in terms of infrastructure, availability of resources, facilities for higher education, etc. However, a question that needs to be asked is whether the growth is all-rounded and balanced. From a common man's point of view, does this growth whose byproducts being increased population, high living costs, excessive traffic, higher levels of pollution and so on signify an enhanced quality of living?
For most common citizens like me, city life is like being trapped in a turbulent flow of storm water. We experience hardship, complain, yet live the city life without a choice. However, I believe that there are so many small thoughtful acts in our daily life that can make significant contribution to the manner in which Coimbatore city can make a balanced progress. A definite feasible act to begin with would be to become more responsible in adopting traffic rules. This is a simple act and when everyone follows shall give amazing positive results to the way Coimbatore city emerges. Another feasible contribution can be in the area of waste management. Judicious and limited use of non-biodegradable materials and recycling of waste can do wonders to Coimbatore. A couple of organizations in the city such as ‘Siruthuli’ have taken initiatives towards these objectives. All it takes is to support these organizations and be a part of their programmes.
It appears that every city has a point of reversal. If a city's growth is unbalanced causing obvious damage to certain aspects of city life such as pollution, traffic, hygiene, etc., there could still be a chance for revival if the damages remain under a threshold. The city is then within the point of reversal. In my opinion, Coimbatore city is still within the point of reversal. With all its progress, the chances of reviving Coimbatore city back to its old glory are still bright provided each of the residents of Coimbatore city contributes to the same. Else, more and more ambulance sirens shall become a common feature in the daily routine of the people of Coimbatore and they shall allow themselves to be drowned in the inevitable whirlpool of pollution, congestion, heavy traffic and so on.