B'lore swings between hope and despair

Updated on May 16, 2007 03:29 PM IST
For the world, Bangalore is the city of promise, a technology hub with skilled people who keep global businesses running. But for a few who live in the city, the transformation of a sleepy, garden city into a bustling IT centre feels like a paradise lost.
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Reuters | By, Bangalore

Bangalore, for the world, is the city of promise, a technology hub with hundreds of thousands of skilled but cheap workers who have tons of talent to keep global businesses running and help shape their future.

But for a few who live in the city or have experienced it closely, the transformation of a sleepy, garden city into a bustling IT centre feels like paradise lost.

"Beantown Boomtown - Bangalore in the World of Words", an anthology of essays, fiction and biographical sketches, has sought to capture this contrast between the city of the future and the passing of India's suburban utopia.

While the words of well-known Indian and foreign writers are sprinkled with hope about the city, a strong sense of angst and grief over its new face and a fond longing for the old dominate.

A city that not too long ago went to sleep by 7 or 8 pm but now has hundreds of thousands of people starting their day working at call centres to match daylight on the other side of the world.

A pleasant city of gardens and lakes that is now notorious for its choked roads, polluted air and noisy neighbourhoods.

And a cosmopolitan city that knew its art, culture, music and manners but is now wrestling with a migration wave of young IT workers with loaded wallets but little sense of belonging.


"The growth of the health of a city does not depend merely on its per capita income or its infrastructure," writes Shashi Deshpande, a well-known Indian English novelist and a veteran Bangalorean.

"There is something more that makes a city a living and vital force. Can one call this its soul?" she asks. "If so, Bangalore is rapidly losing its soul."

Deshpande blames this on what she says is the extremely rapid change in Bangalore, and warns that this could cut the city off from its past, make it an "amnesiac city".

Change has certainly been rapid for Bangalore, home to 6.5 million people.

Until the early 1990s, the city was more famous as a "Pensioners' Paradise", known for its temperate weather and sought after for its educational institutions, jobs in staid state-run firms and its British-style pubs.

India's economic reforms that began in the early 1990s, the emergence of the computer software industry, the arrival of the Internet, easier availability of funds, combined with the world discovering how cheap IT engineers were in Bangalore, triggered a tech rush that shows no signs of abating.

In the process, a city with a few dozen IT firms is today home to more than 1,500, including most global leaders.

About 425,000 people are employed by the software sector and backoffice firms and tens of thousands of new jobs are being created every year. A decade ago, there were less than 50,000.

The result: overcrowding, infrastructure shortages, spiraling costs of living and a change in the social fabric of the city - too much, too soon for typically inefficient and short-sighted Indian politicians and bureaucrats to cope with.


N Kalyan Raman, a tech professional-turned-writer, says Bangalore seems to be sinking "deeper into chaos and disintegration" and could end up as a "city without direction" instead of a modern, well-equipped, functioning metropolis.

But visitors to Bangalore, like New York Times columnist and author Thomas Friedman and US author Jeff Greenwald are anything but pessimistic.

They see hope and salvation in the gleaming glass-fronted office towers, behind which young Indians take on Western names, and for instance, answer calls to help lines to trace missing airline baggage in Texas.

But by living in India rather than the West, they don't need to struggle to find rice and curry for dinner and don't end up settling for coleslaw and cold beef, Friedman quotes a Bangalore call centre employee as saying.

"This is not your typical Indian city," writes Greenwald. "Sacred cows do wander the streets, grazing on weeds and vegetable peels, but grazing as well are Oracle, Hewlett-Packard and Toshiba."

"Bangalore is India's first true middle-class enclave, a hard-wired, tree-shaded urbania with its tail in an autorickshaw and a Pentium chip on its shoulder."

Critic Roy Sinai said the anthology was engaging and gave sense and soul to a city that has no time for nostalgia.

"It's a stream of consciousness about a city which has no river to anchor its memories and history in," he wrote in the Indian weekly Tehelka.

"All the hype about Bangalore offers shards and slivers of impression and perception. This collection of writings provides context, detail and meaning."

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