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Globalized Bangalore

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Photo: Max Kim-Bee

Saha’s predicament, in many ways, embodies Bangalore’s new precarious stability—but if his minestrone with pancetta is anything to go by, the city has nothing to worry about. Rich and oily, this is a strapping young soup that revels in its surroundings, holds fast to its Italian heritage, but keeps the greenery to a minimum beneath a coiled plume of pancetta, and respectfully declines to taste like the melancholy bathwater that so many supposedly firstrate minestrones seem to aspire to. Invigorated, I ask Saha about his city.

He shakes his head. "It is the roads," he says sadly. "The roads here in Bangalore, they are very bad."

I’ve been hearing this a lot, and I hear it more after the sun goes down and the Park’s iBAR fills up with young entrepreneurs. I’m perched upon an ottoman when the party lounging next to me, two young women in saris and two young men in polo shirts and spectacles, start comparing notes on their stock portfolios. "It is very good to have a stake in Kingfisher Airlines!" says one of the women, and all four of them throw back their heads and laugh. Their laughter continues, then subsides.

"But Bangalore, it must have a very good international airport," says one of the men, and they all pensively sip their drinks.

"And of course there are the roads," says the other man, eventually, providing what I sense is a familiar coda to the conversation.

Indeed it is this, the quintessentially prosaic issue of "infrastructure," that has slowed Bangalore’s growth from Meteoric! to steady, and upon which may hang the city’s future. The roads in Bangalore are not just bad; they are very bad. Any given 10yard stretch could pass for the Senior Thesis of a conceptualsculpture student who views the very notion of human beings moving from one location to another as a dastardly capitalist plot.

But the state government—Bangalore is state capital of Karnataka—doesn’t care terribly much. Or it does and it doesn’t. AT&T, Dell, and Citibank may have moved whole departments of their companies to India, but those people don’t get to vote. To most Karnatakans, the ones who elect people, this is still a rural state with an agricultural economy, and fixing Bangalore’s roads, understandably, is a relatively low priority to those who rise predawn to plow the clay with iron shares that were old and dull when their grandfathers first laid eyes on them. Work has started, finally, on a truly international airport. But the roads... are still the roads.

One day, I make the trek to the Infosys campus, outside the city, though it’s more of a pilgrimage really. What Dublin owes to Joyce’s Ulysses, Bangalore arguably owes to The World Is Flat, the bestselling 2005 meditation on the new world economy by Thomas L. Friedman, the excitable, walrusmustached oped columnist for the New York Times. In The World Is Flat, Friedman comes to the realization that geography no longer matters, thanks mainly to the Internet and cheap computers, and he comes to this realization in Bangalore. During a visit to the corporate headquarters-slash-pleasure gardens of Infosys, one of India’s top two or three IT behemoths, an executive leans across to him and whispers—I’m quoting—"Tom, the playing field is being leveled."

And Infosys, certainly, is a playing field that’s been leveled within an inch of its life. The place is literally spectacular, a lush green ideal community of watered lawns, PingPong-style amenities, and dominated, like all proper spectacles, by a monstrous glassandsteel pyramid. "Wow," I tell Bani Dhawan, the young woman in a pantsuit giving me a tour. "I guess Thomas L. Friedman wasn’t kidding."

"Oh, Mr. Friedman," she giggles, looking away and tucking a strand of hair behind her ear. "Yes, he was a very nice man."

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