On the day I arrived in Bangalore, one Sunday talk show dedicated its entire program to dissecting the question: Is the Bangalore dream dying?
I watched as IT workers debated non-IT workers about everything from congested roads to rising prices in India's "Silicon Plateau," but didn't quite understand the show's premise.
Not until a full 24 hours later, during a literal standstill in traffic -- my driver actually turned off the engine -- that was part of a 90-minute trip to the part of town headquartering dozens of tech companies. This marked my third visit to Bangalore -- all after India's economic liberalization -- and I do not recall traffic ever being so bad.
Granted, this city has just experienced its highest rainfall in several decades, but multiple residents and drivers assured me that Bangalore's infrastructure was being pushed to its limits long before the monsoon, that the the bumpy roads and rising cost of living are simply deepening the divide between industry and government, rich and poor, IT and non-IT.
On Monday morning, just a handful of employees at Wipro, India's third-largest software services provider, could get to work in Electronics City. Even on a good day, the road is "dusty and crammed," said Sachin Mulay, a marketing manager.
He said the company eagerly awaits the construction of a two-tier toll road to ease the commutes of thousands of employees. (To hear Mulay's thoughts on how other cities have been able to capitalize on Bangalore's growth woes, click here.)
Varun Singh, a developer at Wipro, calls what is happening in Bangalore "the IT crush." He said he feels the ire of longtime residents, especially those not in his field.
"They vary from us in their lifestyle, their attitude," said Singh, who earns about $6,000 annually. "We live in style. We want to enjoy. We feel we are not lazy people. Our brain is always working."
Across India, tech industry analysts say salaries are going up quickly because demand for the workers is so high, but they worry about what that means for a country that is supposed to offer a cost advantage. Most agree the trend is most noticeable in Bangalore, where starting salaries can hit five digits (as measured in dollars).
The IT and the non-IT folks find common ground on one thing: Neither side can wait for the proposed highways, the toll roads, the metro system. At a Barista coffee shop today, Mathew and Seema George sought shelter from the rain and sat sipping mugs of tea and coffee. The husband-and wife architect team said they cannot blame IT for the loss of the charming city they once knew, because it has also been responsible for the boom in their business designing homes and office spaces.
And then there are those who say they don't feel they live in a boom town. B.N. Bhaskaral, a truck driver who has lived in Bangalore for 25 years, says he still earns about $100 monthly -- and he says he feels he's been taking more of a loss lately because of high gas prices. When asked about change in Bangalore, the first thing he mentions is how he gets from point A to point B.
"If I need to go here to here," he said, showing a straight line, "I go around to avoid the traffic."
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Tracked on March 17, 2006 09:28 AM