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Bangalore and the American Imagination

My mother was skeptical when I told her I didn’t know if I’d be able to email her from Bangalore. “Isn’t that India’s cybercapital? Shouldn’t you be able to get connectivity anywhere?”

Keep up with the US press, as my mom does, and you’ll probably have the perception that Bangalore is paved with bits. In this, the capital of the international outsourcing movement, you trip over fiberoptic cable laid in the streets and it’s hard to have a conversation over the great sucking sound of US jobs flowing from California to Karnataka.

Or not. Because Bangalore’s an Indian city, and the stylish tech park where Yahoo! keeps a team of programmers isn’t far from the rural camp we stayed at last week, where cows wander in the streets. Most of the time, Bangalore feels very much like cities I’ve been to in Indonesia or East Africa – maybe a little greener, maybe a little cleaner, but still crowded, noisy, busy and polluted. And, while Bangalore has rebranded itself around IT, it’s pretty clear that the vast majority of the people I’ve encountered on the streets or on motorcycle rickshaws aren’t working as computer programmers.

It’s not hard to see how some journalists have written pieces comparing Bangalore to Los Angeles. Have coffee at “Barrista”, an outdoor espresso bar, or dinner at the Park Hotel, where the restaurant “i-t.alia” tries to make a connection between excellent Italian food and the technology industry, and you can easily forget you’re in Southern India. But, unlike in Africa, where expat culture takes place behind high walls, these little pieces of LA bump right up against the other Bangalore, with chai stalls, roadside temples and a five-lane crush of ancient Ambassador cars, rickshaws and countless motorbikes.

I’ve been enjoying these juxtapositions, the global business world alongside the developing world. But now, trying to watch the Patriots put away the Eagles in the Superbowl, I’m wishing that my decidedly developing world hotel had managed to pirate a slightly more reliable ESPN feed. Say one with a picture, for instance. Go Pats!