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Excursion to Bangalore

How is India's technology hub changing?

April 27, 2003

How is India's technology hub changing?

On the flight from Washington to Frankfurt, eager students wearing Lufthansa buttons dispense laptops to passengers. They urge them to test the fast in-flight access to the Internet the airline now offers.

To the left and right of me, young executives fall into their seats. They take off their shoes, put on socks, switch on their computers — and, wouldn't you know it, start surfing the Internet.

They surf before dinner, they surf after dinner, some are surfing while eating, riveted to their luminous screens. They remain transfixed by their in-flight Internet access — until the plane arrives at 6:30 in the morning.

Haggard after a sleepless night, they straggle to the exit, lugging what looks like more electronic gear. Talk about the worker bees of the 21st century.

Endless lines. First, you have to get past mask-wearing khaki-clad health officials.

They are collecting forms listing passengers arriving from SARS-afflicted countries, including Germany. All passengers file past these controls of doubtful efficacy.

Next, even longer lines. Seated in plywood cubicles, three middle-aged mustachioed officials with grim expressions on their faces are grabbing passports.

One is poring critically over immigration forms, delaying the many passengers whose eyesight does not allow filling out the tiny spaces.

Another is slowly clicking away at some out-of-date computer. The third might be a superannuated trainee.

The sun shines, the traffic is awful. Construction is going on everywhere – office buildings, luxury apartments, houses are rising, drains and fiber optic lines are being dug.

One of the top high-tech companies was clearly beamed up from California by some giant Scotty.

It features elegant glass buildings among manicured lawns, fit young men and women chatting on their way to the library — and free bicycles anyone can use on the premises.

The whole place radiates self-confidence.

Nearby, the Indian Institute of Technology is nestled among shady trees in a vast park, outdoing the magnificent architecture of the British Raj in providing its small studious elite lavish and serene surroundings.

A few kilometers farther, a state-of-the arts factory churns out little cute electric cars, like Easter eggs.

We drive downtown and pass brightly-colored signs. A sampling:

(This is National Road Safety Week)

(This assumes a rate of literacy)


Exam time is looming. We stop at a red light and get to see a family cram in their second-floor kitchen, anxiously surrounding their youngster who is grappling with homework.

Nowhere in Bangalore do we see beggars.

Audrey, so named because her mother saw William Wyler's Roman Holiday shortly before the birth, explains why so few women are wearing saris nowadays: "They are so difficult to keep together – when you go out to a party, you have to sit dainty all evening."

Is this the California of India? Well, wine-making is Bangalore's latest industry, and perfectly drinkable it is, too.

The airport, Saturday night. Once again an endless line. Grumpy elderly mustachioed khaki clerks in plywood pens – surely they clone them.

Nothing is impossible in this high-tech boom town.