IF YOU come across someone in Silicon Valley wearing a T-shirt screaming: 'Don't Get Bangalored!' don't be surprised. It's official. Bangalored now means losing one's job to outsourcing in India, and more specifically, to Bangalore.
No, Bangalored has not become a legitimate dictionary word, yet, but it is well on its way there. It is being bandied around IT circles, and has been in print for at least a year, from the Bangkok Post to the Times of India . Small wonder then, that websites are selling T-shirts with the inscription 'Don't Get Bangalored!', exploiting and reflecting the sentiments of those who have been laid off in the US because their jobs have been moved to Bangalore. These T-shirts are reportedly selling at $15.99, and in all likelihood, have been made in China, in another ironic act of outsourcing.
Bangalore is only the second city in the world to become a verb, unless you want to consider Lesbos, an island in the Aegean Sea, from where lesbian has come. But then, we are talking of cities and verbs, here. The first one, of course is, shanghaied, meaning to kidnap someone for compulsory service aboard a ship and more broadly, to force someone to do something by fraud or coercion. Getting shanghaied, which was in circulation since 1870, is fast-acquiring a 21st-century meaning, thanks to the US markets being flooded with goods from clothing to toys with 'Made in China' tag.
Coming back to Bangalore, the Garden City of India, now the burgeoning hub of IT parks, at first sight seems an unlikely David to take on the multinational Goliaths of the Silicon Valley. It exudes an old-world charm and life is still a gracious affair here. Its leafy lanes and the laid-back attitude of people belie the image the world has of this IT hub, which has put India on the map.
And how! In an unintended paradox, US presidential hopeful, John Kerry, was caught saying during his election campaign, "I want American cities to be wired like Bangalore." That is what is called a reversal of the cliché.
Not long ago, a joke was making its rounds on the Net. Titled, The Indian Dream, it depicted an imaginary conversation between John and Alex, two Americans in the year 2020, and it went:
Alex: Hi John, why didn't you come yesterday to work?
John: I was at the Indian Embassy for stamping.
John: Yeah, but I managed to get it.
Alex: How long did it take to get it stamped?
John: Oh, it was nasty man, long queue. Bill Gates was in front of me, and they played with him like anything. That's why I got delayed. I went there at two in the morning!
Alex : How long are you going to stay in India?
John: What do you mean, how long? I'll be settling there
Alex: Where? Bangalore?
And so it goes on, parodying a typical conversation between two Indians who would have once given their right arm to get a job in the US. But in a bizarre twist of fate, the joke is turning into reality and the parody is turning itself inside out, as IT professionals in Bangalore are laughing all the way to the bank.
When once, in an interview, I had asked why India? Infosys chief, Narayana Murthy had replied that India had missed the Industrial Revolution, but was ready for the paper pencil revolution because the Indian mind was ideally suited for abstract thinking.
But why Bangalore? The answer lies in another sobriquet the city has acquired for itself – the city of nerds. It attracts brains from all over. Nerds rule here. Geeks are gods.
In the aftermath of tsunami, an amazingly well-informed auto rickshaw driver, while effortlessly negotiating the notorious potholes of the city, held forth eloquently on fault lines, trenches and tectonic plates.
"I watch Discovery and National Geographic Channels," he replied casually when I asked him how he knew so much.
That Bangalore is the capital of geekdom is proved by the number of quizzes held in the city. Trivial pursuit is neither trivial nor a pursuit here. It is a way of life. Quiz-hopping common.
A case in point is one of the quizathons organised by the Karnataka Quiz Association. The same evening, Derek O'Brien was conducting a Biz Quiz for corporate eggheads and B school bright spots at IIM. A special bus was arranged to ferry trivia buffs from one venue to the other, so they could make it for both the events. Only in Bangalore would such a thing happen.
But make no mistake, the city is quite conscious of its many charms. Bangalore preens and struts, unlike Mumbai, which is too caught up in the business of being a big city. Bangaloreans love to live it up.
But for all this, its ugly underbelly is not easy to miss. It is fast becoming the victim of its own success. A dense smog perpetually hangs over this so-called Air Conditioned City, once known for its salubrious climate. It is bursting at the seams with an estimated population of seven million.
Bangalore prides itself in being a haven for IT firms, but the infrastructure is appalling as it has not been able to keep pace with its growth. With public transport system ranging from pathetic to non-existent, fume-spewing auto rickshaws and two wheelers that choke the traffic to a standstill are the only means of getting from one place to another. Thanks to a sudden surge in people's purchasing power, cars have added to the traffic overload.
Not long ago, Wipro's founder, Azim Premji, cried foul and threatened to pull out of Bangalore if things did not improve. Narayana Murthy seconded him.
Despite this, foreign firms continue to set up shop here, and the cost of living has sky-rocketed. With banks and other financial institutions wooing the five-figure-salaried twenty-somethings with soft loans, the price of apartments has touched the stratosphere and threatens to remain there. An artificial scarcity has helped hike house rents to unrealistically high levels.
Mushrooming Business Process Outsourcing, popularly known as call-centres, have provided a lot of youngsters with a means of earning a livelihood. But sadly, these are just jobs, not careers and has triggered blatant consumerism. The McDonald culture has surreptitiously crept in, with many avenues open for spending disposable income. The work-hard-play-hard syndrome and the too-much-too-soon phenomenon has begun to fray the edges of Bangalore's cultural fabric.
Strangely, the lack of infrastructure has not stemmed the inflow of outsourcing jobs, and market gurus prophesy that this is just the beginning. Foreign firms continue to come in droves, hunting for precious wetware – the human brain. Not even the glaring absence of US consular services in the city – despite a large number of people going to and coming from the US – has deterred them. This, perhaps, explains the coining of 'Bangalored'.
In Bangalore, if you see a young woman in a rustling silk sari with a string of jasmine buds twisted into her long plait, don't get fooled by her coy looks. She is, in all probability, an alpha geek on her way to IBM or Oracle. Before you can smell the jasmine, she kickstarts her motorbike and is off, leaving a cloud of dust behind. She is an apt metaphor for the city – a heady combination of beauty and brains. Yes, her take home pay is in the astronomical regions.
Come to think of it, Bangalore, a city of paradoxes, might do one better. Bangalored could also come to mean floored ... fallen for the city, as it continues to attract people from all over.
Pratibha Umashankar is a journalist with Khaleej Times