Bangalore, for the world, is the city of promise, a technology hub with hundreds of thousands of skilled, but cheap workers who have tonnes of talent to keep global businesses running. But for a few who live in the southern Indian city or have experienced it closely, the transformation of a sleepy, garden city into a bustling IT centre feels like paradise lost.
Beant Boomtown—Bangalore in the World of Wordsown, 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 7pm or 8pm, 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 money, 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 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. About 425,000 people are employed by the software sector and back-office 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, spiralling living costs and a change in the social fabric of the city—too much, too soon for 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”. But visitors like The New York Times columnist and author Thomas Friedman and US author Jeff Greenwald are anything but pessimistic. They see hope 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.
“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.”
Critic Roy Sinai said the anthology gave sense and soul to a city that has no time for nostalgia: “All the hype about Bangalore offers shards and slivers of impression and perception. This collection of writings provides context, detail and meaning.”