Why Bengaluru’s traffic makes it the startup capital of India?
Do a search on India’s startup capital and two cities come up: Bengaluru and Delhi
Do a search on India’s startup capital and two cities come up: Bengaluru and Delhi. Recently, there is some rather unwarranted talk about Delhi pipping Bengaluru as the top contender for this position. I would like to submit that this is just plain wrong. Delhi can never equal Bengaluru in the startup ecosystem for one simple reason: Delhi’s traffic can never be as bad as Bengaluru’s.
I can just see all the Mumbaikars shaking their heads thinking, “You poor child. You ain’t seen traffic till you’ve been on Marine Drive during rush hour.”
Dilliwallahs too can offer sturdy competition. We have more VVIPs than you Bengalureans, they will say. You have no idea of how our traffic stalls when a minister goes by.
To all these claims, we Bengalureans will just take another bite of our Maddur Vada and spit-laugh in your faces. Mumbai’s jams are contained to certain locations, Delhi’s to certain times. Bengaluru has traffic jams all the time at all locations. Our traffic snarls are for no rhyme or reason. Just like Bengaluru has spring, summer, monsoon, and winter, all within one day, we have traffic jams all the way from Sarjapur to Yelahanka, from Marathahalli to Whitefield. And that, ladies and gentlemen is our secret sauce for creating unicorns. Yes, you heard me right. We not only have the biggest and the hairiest and the best traffic jams. We embrace them because they contribute to our startup ecosystem. They are the reason we have unicorns, a term coined by Aileen Lee.
How is that, you ask. In response, I quote Steven Spielberg who famously said in a Time magazine cover story, “I dream for a living.”
Imagine the average startup founder sitting in a car in Bengaluru. He (or occasionally she) is en route to a meeting and traffic is, as always stalled. So what does he do? He checks his messages, emails, Instagram, and then looks out defeated, to see if the traffic is inching along. Exhausted, he stares at the rain trees all around. Eureka, he gets an idea of how to solve the knotty vendor issue.
It is a well-known fact that the brain needs downtime in order to come up with creative ideas. Newton was semi-napping when he discovered gravity. Archimedes was in a bathtub when he came up with his namesake principle. Bengaluru’s traffic provides excellent downtime for entrepreneurs and founders to come up with lifechanging ideas.
More than Delhi, more than any other city in India, Bengaluru is a city of ideas. I am not the only person saying this. Worthier folks predate me.
Nandan Nilekani is not sure whether he came up with the idea of calling Bengaluru a “city of ideas,” but he is pretty sure he is one of the earliest. “Nehru said it before me,” he admits.
Nehru said a lot more during his address at Bengaluru’s Vidhana Soudha in July 1962. But essentially, he called Bengaluru, the city of the future.
“Now Bangalore, in many ways, is unlike the other great cities of India,” said our late prime minister. Most of the other great Indian cities were mired in the past, present, and future, but mostly the past. “Bangalore however presented India a picture of the future, because of the concentration of science, technology and industries in the public sector here,” said Nehru.
That remains unchanged even after 60 years. In his speech, Nehru goes on to give advice on how to preserve the forward-thinking nature of one of India’s “most beautiful” cities. All this can be read in M Fazlul Hasan’s excellent book, “Bangalore through the centuries.”
Nehru saw in Bengaluru, the existence of the two major incentives of good life: civic sense and aesthetic consciousness. You can question whether the latter still exists, now that metro construction, potholed roads and horrible traffic have changed the aesthetics of this city. But civic action is still strong. Protests remain pervasive and citizens queue up to safeguard lakes, trees and green spaces.
“In the future, Bangalore may acquire such appellations as “Industrial City,” or “Prosperous City,” or “Thriving City,” said our late prime minister.
Clearly, Nehru was speaking to the gallery with respect to his monikers for Bengaluru. There are other cities in India that can vie for the title of being industrial, prosperous, or thriving. But with respect to being an idea city, Bengaluru, I would argue is peerless. Which is where Nilekani comes in.
Nilekani’s view is similar but he calls Bengaluru a “city of ideas.” He said this when I profiled him for Mint Lounge in 2007 and he repeated it recently.
“Delhi is mired in the past,” he said matter-of-factly. “It was the seat of some seven different empires all of whom wanted to project power. Mumbai, even today, is India’s seat of commerce, finance, and economy. Bangalore lives for tomorrow. It is about ideas and change, partly because the locals are benign and welcoming towards people from all over the world. Bangaloreans, on the whole, are forward-looking people.”
Plus we have our traffic jams to help us ruminate, masticate, digest and deliver on ideas.
(Shoba Narayan is Bengaluru-based award-winning author. She is also a freelance contributor who writes about art, food, fashion and travel for a number of publications.)