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Globalized Bangalore

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Photo: Max Kim-Bee

And on the weekends, what does he do, the British adult man?Where does he go?Anybody?Anybody?"

I should know this one, theoretically, being an adult British man myself. On weekends I generally like to...unwind?I don’t know, actually. It’s a good question.

"He goes up to...?Anybody?The British man, he goes up to...to Scotland!"

Ram, our friendly instructor, knocks on the screen of a filthy old Compaq desktop, where flickers, dimly, a map of the British Isles. They seem very far away, all of a sudden, the British Isles, and in part that’s because they are. I have, for three days, been prowling the rockstrewn, redmud sidewalks of Bangalore, India, and now find myself in a telephone callcenter with curling carpets just to the south and the west of that city’s center. Myself and 12 of the young callcenter operatives of tomorrow are learning the fine points of AngloAmerican culture, so that later on, during our working lives, we can more easily relate to the faceless Westerners whom we’ll be reminding to pay their credit card bills and whose Unforeseen Errors of Type 2 we’ll be trying to probe the mysteries of.

Frankly, though, it was news to me that 80 percent of British insurance claims result directly from soccer hooliganism. I also don’t see how it could have escaped my attention that the standard Western table setting, in America and Britain alike, comprises "a fork and a spoon"; that many Westerners indeed use the same fork and spoon from childhood to death; and that many choose to be laid to rest in the cold, cold ground gripping said beloved items of cutlery in their cold, dead Western hands. I’m not saying it’s a bad idea, necessarily. Just that it doesn’t ring a bell.

"And why?" Ram continues, cocking his head and touching his chin in a gesture of quizzicality not much seen since the days of the Elizabethan stage. "Anybody?Why does he go up to Scotland on the weekend, the British adult man?He goes to Scotland on the weekend...for the wines!" Ram shoots me a wink and caresses his belly in a circular motion. "Mmmmm! Very delicious. Some of the finest wines in the world, they are coming from Scotland!"

This is, of course, not actually the case.

But there is a larger point: nearly a decade after the South Indian city of Bangalore was anointed as the ultimate symbol of globalization and outsourcing, a gleaming beacon pointing the way to a future of frictionless capitalism, its light still flickers like the screen on Ram’s beloved Compaq. The city remains a work in progress, one that reveals the future’s perennial fondness for giving the impression it’s just about to arrive...and then getting called away on other business.

A good place to watch the work progress is from the rooftop patio of Bangalore’s superb Ebony restaurant. My hotel, the Ivory Tower, is just across the way, and I’ve been starting my mornings with the traditional South Indian breakfast of idli and dosas and very strong coffee, gazing out over the chaos of Asia’s fastestgrowing city while being stared at by a team of six waiters who descend en masse anytime I even vaguely look like I might want something. The view over Bangalore is impressive. Most mornings there are two or three separate buildings burning down in different parts of the city and, as if in response, the gleaming stumps of three or four new glassandsteel skyscrapers that you don’t remember seeing yesterday.

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