December 10, 2015

I was in Bangalore, India, the Silicon Valley of India, when I realized that the world was flat. Thomas Friedman

I have no idea what exactly that above quote by New York Times journalist Thomas Friedman means in its original context. But it is simply the most interesting quote I could find about Bangalore, and I even did a google search for “Interesting quotes about Bangalore”, which should tell you something essential about Bangalore. Something else that should inform you about this South Indian city is the following piece of information. Bangalore has one of the highest concentrations of engineering colleges in India. India. LAND OF ENGINEERING COLLEGES. Chew on that for a moment.

This is not to say that Bangalore isn’t a nice place. In fact, it’s fantastic, it’s a great place to live, which is why so many people are moving there. Known as the Silicon Valley of India, the place has terrible cell service (is there anything more Indian than that? Maybe a coconut filled with rice and turmeric sitting on a tiger who is chasing an elephant around the Taj Mahal. But probably not), a plethora of IT companies, a temperate climate venturing towards the chilly, at least, by most Indian standards, and a sprawling geography. Sound familiar, San Fransisco? Of course, the influx of new people has caused conflicts with the local population, Karnataka natives who view non-Kannada speaking outsiders as the people forcing prices to go up and overflowing their city. They aren’t technically wrong, in fact, Bangalore is growing so quickly that it has some serious infrastructure issues, and the two most visible are traffic, which is abominable, and garbage, which is insane. Look, most cities have garbage all over the world. Some cities handle it well, some handle it badly, but Bangalore is hardly handling it at all. The nightly garbage fires barely scratch the surface of Bangalore’s waste problem, and unlike Mumbai, whose massive poverty-stricken population means that people are constantly picking through trash to find anything of value in its smelly depths, in Bangalore the major sorters of garbage which I saw on my brief sojourn there this past weekend seem to be cows. Yes, you heard that right (heard or herd? Bahahahaha tip the bartender, folks!) cows.

If goats are everywhere in Mumbai (and they ARE, no wonder Mr. India wanted to move here, it’s all goat all the time in this place) than cows are everywhere in Bangalore. Walking around, rooting through trash, wandering through roads, blocking the already obscenely bad traffic, generally being cows all over the place. They seem to wander without supervision, which is surprising. After all, cows are valuable, not just religiously but in every way, their milk sustains many families. A cow can be the difference between poverty and prosperity. So why are they just wandering about Bangalore like middle-aged British ladies on vacation in Southern Spain? Look, I have spent a very limited time with cows. I can’t say I know the animal well. I’ve milked them a few times, I think they are pretty, I want them to have as much freedom as they desire and I respect those that worship them. I believe cows have many strengths and virtues, but as far as I know, they don’t possess an internal GPS. But hey, maybe the do. If any city is the right mix of high-tech and low tech to give cows tracking devices, it’s probably Bangalore.

So why was I in Bangalore, you might be asking yourself, once you are over the cow thing? Two reasons, essentially. One, my friend Emily was speaking at the Bangalore Literature Festival (US readers, pick up her book here, Indian readers grab the kindle edition here or wait for the book release sometime soon!) and two, my sister-in-law and her family have recently moved to Bangalore. While the kids find the city dirty (see the garbage problem earlier) and the whole family finds it quite cold, they are adjusting well and enjoying the differences that South India has to offer. I personally adored the weather in Bangalore, high of 80 at most during the day, with gloriously cool nights in the 60s. My niece asked me why I didn’t feel the cold and when explaining that I was magic didn’t fly (she’s 11, and I had no other powers to demonstrate) I explained that I am from a cooler place and used to it. The idea that anything could be cooler than Bangalore was an upsetting revelation to her, so we moved on to which Bath and Body Works products she wants most, because it seems that no matter where you are 11-year-old girls are the same.

I wouldn’t say I got to see much of Bangalore, but then, to be fair, there doesn’t seem to be all that much to see other than the city itself. Bangalore is described in my Indian guide-book as a city “well worth missing” in the otherwise interesting state of Karnataka. There are some gardens, a handful of museums, and some excellent food, but otherwise, it’s known by all as a city better to live in than to visit. But I can see why people do want to live in Bangalore. It might have issues, but it also has opportunities. Cabs are expensive, but rent is cheap. The city might not be filled with tourist attractions, but it is a place where people can live comfortably, at least, based on my limited view over the weekend. After all, the cows sure seem to like it.


The way I saw most of Bangalore, through a car window. It’s a spread out city, and it looks like Mumbai or Kolkata except the vegetation is slightly more on the evergreen scale and the script of Kannada is different, and, I think, quite pretty. It’s sort of a plump cheerful script, don’t you think? My sister-in-law doesn’t understand a word of it, and just laughed when I said I liked it.


I found this candy colored temple down a side street in my search for jersey fabric, for which I heard Bangalore was famous. I didn’t find any, but the wandering was good in and of itself.


A familiar Bangalore sight. Traffic as far as the eye can see.


Commute by cow.


See? Isn’t the script so pretty? It’s like plump moustaches!


Having leaves on the tree is apparently not enough for this city, you have to paint them on the bark, too.


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