David Stairs

Anantapura Road

Demarcating property lines, that most European activity, has taken over the world. When I was a child in the ’50s, the adjoining backyards of my neighborhood were open. I remember running with my friends through the neighborhood like wild horses, viewing the world from an interior point of view unimaginable from the street.

Later, some possessive person, I don’t recall who first, installed a wire fence, and soon others followed. This was the nature of suburbia; if someone paved his driveway, others soon copied. We called it “keeping up with the Joneses.” In my neighborhood, both “improvements” were disappointing for the kids. In one case there was no longer any gravel to play in; in the other the “commons” had been closed.

Such also seems to be largely the case in Bangalore. On my numerous walks through neighborhoods, I’ve encountered nearly every type of fencing material imaginable, and a few that are a little hard to imagine. Some old rural ways, like Anantapura Road north of Yelahanka, were walled on both sides of the street by large property owners. Further from the main Dodballapur Road, the walls end and variety begins.

Some properties are protected by rows of granite slabs, surely a cumbersome, but durable material. Others utilize granite fence posts topped by barbed wire. In some places steel sheets have been installed as a temporary replacement for removed walls, in others chainlink fencing.

I recall seeing “poor mans’ fencing” in Uganda being made from papyrus stalks. The local equivalent in India seems to be split bamboo. It compares favorably to latticework lathing used in American gardens.

In Mending Wall the great American poet Robert Frost wrote:

“Something there is that doesn’t love a wall, That sends the frozen-ground-swell under it, And spills the upper boulders in the sun, And makes gaps even two can pass abreast.”

Although the fences aren’t like Frost’s stone walls, I saw plenty evidence of this along Amantupura Road and elsewhere in Bangalore. And with the Indian middle classes’ rush toward gated communities, there will certainly be more property fragmentation in the future, with all that this portends about continued class division and the growing chasm between haves and have-nots. Personally, I tend to agree with Frost’s quibble toward the end of his poem where he writes, “Before I built a wall I’d ask to know— What I was walling in or walling out…” In a more crowded society perhaps this consideration is not possible. Then again, it seems an excellent question.

David Stairs is the founding editor of Design-Altruism-Project