Bengaluru, India’s answer to Silicon Valley?

I am about to complete 1.5 years in Bengaluru (erstwhile Bangalore) and have been thinking of blogging about my experience/thoughts as someone who has experienced both these regions. Getting the time was the issue. A late Friday evening, with a cup of coffee in place, I feel perfectly in the mood to attempt this. So here goes …

(A) Weather

Weather is, bar none, the biggest advantage Bengaluru has over other Indian cities, in my opinion. That puts Bengaluru weather very similar to Silicon Valley weather. Moderate, year round. As many of my friends have told me, to appreciate the Bengaluru weather, you have to travel to another Indian city and return 🙂 How long such weather conditions will last needs to be seen, as lakes are disappearing fast or they are getting polluted fast. The city is not expanding, it is exploding!

(B) Technological Hub (and number of Corporations)

Again, very similar to San Jose. Though people quote Chennai, Hyderabad, Pune, Delhi-Gurgaon, Kolkata etc., let me mention two facts to illustrate my point:

– In my complex of 1000+ flats, atleast 40% of the population are from North India (I mean North of Mumbai). These are folks who gave up on Delhi, Pune, Mumbai etc. and decided to be based in the South.

– We recently had a batch of new college graduates from IIT-Kharagpur join our company. From a class of around 40 students, apparently 26 headed to Bengaluru.

So, rest of the Indian cities can blow their horns all they want, Bengaluru is the King (and Queen) as far as technical jobs go. A lot of immigrants never move out of Silicon Valley, even though the home prices are ridiculous and the state is in deep trouble with its finances, because of the sheer number of companies in the area. Almost every major corporation has a base in Silicon Valley. Though other places like Boise, Dallas, Chicago suburbs, NY-NJ, Boston, Seattle etc. are supposed to be competitors, based on my visits to these places and analysis, these regions are far from catching up with the valley.

Almost all the big global players, IBM, Oracle, Cisco, LSI, Intel, Accenture, Phillips, Samsung, TI etc. and the Indian giants like Infosys, Wipro, HCL etc. are all based in Bengaluru.

(C) Cosmopolitan Nature

Bengaluru has always been 2-3 steps ahead of the rest of India in terms of, how should I put it, western influence. I mean, very well-spoken people, people who have seen the world and people who have liberal views. Even cab drivers, cafeteria workers, security workers etc. speak a bit of English and are seen to use latest gadgets.

(D) Ethnical Diversity

Hah! Surely a huge similarity between the two regions. San Francisco Bay Area (in general) is one of the most ethnically diverse regions you will see in the World, let alone USA. You name a cuisine, I bet you, a restaurant is available for that cuisine in the Bay Area, and that too run by natives from that country. For example, Korean restaurant run by Koreans.

Similarily, Bengaluru is also very diverse. Please keep in mind that the differences between states in India are much more than the differences between states in USA. You may not find much difference between nearby states (in terms of culture, for example) like Mississippi and Alabama, but consider Kerala and Karnataka. There are a lot of differences, in language, customs, festivals, food etc. In our group (within my company), there are the following states of India represented:

Karnataka
Andhra Pradesh (By far the biggest representation :-))
Tamil Nadu
West bengal
Kerala
Uttar Pradesh
Bihar
Uttarakhand
Gujarat
Maharashtra
Madhya Pradesh
New Delhi
Chhattisgarh
Orissa
Rajasthan
 
That is 15 (of India’s 28 states) being represented in a group of 50-60 people, in one company! Of course, I am aware that in Silicon Valley, the diversity is with respect to Nations. But hey, USA has been free and independent for 236 years and India for only 65 years 🙂
 
Both the regions are very well served by this diversity, as diversity makes these regions an invigorating hotspot of ideas and thoughts.
 
(E) Entrepreneurship/IPOs/StartUps
 
Though not the dominant center in India, Bengaluru has a lot of entrepreneurship activity, like the successful example RedBus. A lot of it has to do with the inflow of young and sharp minds from all over the country. Innovation is one of the biggest reasons for Silicon Valley’s success. There is something in the air, I guess 🙂 It is mind-boggling how many ideas and corporations have been born in the Valley.
 
(F) Cost of living
 
Ouch! A painful similarity. Just today, the new Indian Diesel price list was published in the newspaper and other than Mumbai (which beat Bengaluru by a few paise) Bengaluru has the most pricey Diesel. Even otherwise, almost all the items are 30-40% more expensive if you buy in one of the famed Bengaluru malls or similar branded stores. Homes (which are almost as expensive as in Silicon Valley!) Restaurants, Hotels, Stores, Movies etc. You name it, it will pinch your pocket.
 
I could almost say the same for the San Francisco Bay Area. Tiny “homes” costing upwards of 1M$, gas prices over 4$ and restaurants picking menu prices out of the hat.
 
(G) Traffic
 
Ouch! Another painful similarity. But Silicon Valley traffic is nothing (I mean NOTHING!) compared to Bengaluru. I read that automobiles on Bengaluru roads are increasing 50+% year to year. If that is true, tell me, which city’s infrastructure (even assuming that city has the most pious and trustworthy politicians/bureaucrats) can keep up with this pace?
 
California roads are one of the worst when compared with other states and it probably has to do with the amount of traffic the roads handle. Keep in mind that California is one of the largest economies in the World (not just USA).
 
(H) Population Density
 
How much is Bengaluru growing? Well, consider this. Chennai almost stood static, when Bengaluru blazed past it to become India’s 4th largest Metro. I predict that at this pace, Kolakata better watch out (Mumbai and Greater Delhi regions are way way ahead at this point). Congestion in Bengaluru is nowhere near that in a global-size city like Mumbai, but it is still very high. Same with Silicon Valley. I will never forget the times when I had to land in SFO (San Francisco International Airport) in the night and I got to see the huge sea of lights from above. In fact there is not a dark spot for miles and miles.
 
(I) Quality of life
 
Though the traffic conditions (during peak hours. Non-peak hours is pretty okay) and the general lower levels of cleanliness (which is a common trait in most non-Western regions) causes some issues, the offices, the flats/homes etc. are roughly on par for the two regions. Though there are other disadvantages in Bengaluru (when compared to Silicon Valley), like mosquitos (mainly outside of Summer), poor air quality, corruption in day-to-day life etc., overall, assuming you earn quite okay, it is possible to have a very good life in Bengaluru.
 
 
Now I wonder if it is just a coincidence that I moved from one region to another region which has so much similarities to the former? 🙂
 
Adios!

An IPL (non-)Experience …

After watching IPL games during the 2011 season and the 2012 season, I had been getting inspired to watch one game live. It helped that I happen to be in one of the cities involved in the IPL, with Vijay Mallya’s Royal Challengers Bangalore as the home team. During the 2011 season, everyone was talking about the quick demise of the IPL. But looking back, the dip in IPL enthusiasm in 2011 was probably due to the World Cup 2011 euphoria and the fact that IPL started right after the World Cup Finals and people were fed up with Cricket. This year, it appears (I could be wrong) that the audience is back. Most of the matches seem to have almost full stadiums.

After multiple rounds of talks with various colleagues, I finally managed to round up 5 other people who also wanted to experience an IPL match. We decided to try for the April 25th match between RCB and Chennai Super Kings (CSK). The earlier match between RCB and CSK was a superhit with RCB scoring 200+ runs (in 20 overs!) and CSK chasing it down and winning with runs off the final ball. We booked our tickets in the McDowells Best View stand (costing 1650 Rupees per ticket) and I noticed that soon after the earlier RCB-CSK match, this stand was sold out. Whereas when I booked our tickets, there were over 160 seats left in this section of the stadium.

The match was at 8PM and it was a very hot and sunny stretch for the few days before the match. The day of the match, at around lunch time, the clouds started gathering and very soon it started raining. We still kept our hopes up and in the rain, drove to a nearby Micro-Brewery (Toits) in Indira Nagar for a round of beer. The beer, though tasty, was not chilled and beer which is not fully chilled is not beer in my opinion. Anyway, it was fun to spent time with colleagues.

At around 6PM, we walked the short distance to the nearby Metro station. I hadnt travelled in the Bengaluru Metro before. I was very impressed with the facilities and the trains. Since it was raining, while the train was taking its elevated route, we could see the various traffic jams down below. In around 12 minutes, we reached Mahatma Gandhi Road station. It was still raining and the crowds were out in full force for the match. It took us a while to get to Gate No:9 of the Chinnaswamy Stadium. I was surprised to see that everyone, like us, were enthusiastically entering the stadium, though it was raining quite heavily. We were all expecting a match! Talk about optimism.

We were in our seats (chairs, rather), by 7.20PM. The crowd was building up. We had a decent view of the ground and the pitch. Right next to us, a group of CSK fans in yellow T-shirts were present. I saw many kids who must have probably forced their parents to join in as well. Parts of the ground and the pitch itself were covered at this time.

Suddenly, it stopped raining. Within minutes the ground staff started clearing the pitch. The super-soppers came out (two of them) and were doing their job. Within 30 minutes, covers were removed and the ground and pitch were made ready. The players then came out on to the ground to warm up. Virat Kohli, Chris Gayle, Albie Morkel etc. all got huge cheers. We could see Zaheer Khan and Muthiah Muralitharan practicing their bowling. By this time, the crowd was excited and there were lots of cheering going on. We could also see that mobile camera being pulled in all directions for closeup views. When Mahendra Singh Dhoni came out, the stadium erupted into huge cheers. The dude is indeed very popular. And why wouldnt he be, after that majestic (innings and) six off the last ball in the World Cup 2011.

I remarked to my colleague that the rains did a good thing and cooled the air for us (little did I know the jinx this will turn out to be :-)). The toss happened soon after. CSK won the toss and elected to bat first. The match was to start at 9PM now (instead of the original 8PM) and we were told that there would be a full match. Awesome!

At 8.55PM, 5 minutes before CSK openers would have come out to bat, it started to rain again. The covers came back on. We all sat around till 9.45PM and at that point, we collectively decided that the chances of there being a game were very slim as it was still raining and even if the rain had stopped right then and there, the ground staff would have had to get the ground ready again, the players would have had to warm up again and the whole process would have had to be repeated. We managed to get out of the stadium and walk to the Metro station relatively easily (most of the crowd was still waiting in the stadium, hoping for atleast a 5-over game).

The positive things out of this experience:

– Got a peek at the stadium atmosphere

– Got to spent some fun moments with colleagues (at the Micro-Brewery, during the Metro ride, and at the stadium)

– Got back home earlier than expected, on a rainy day.

Is this the end of my IPL watching aspirations? Never! I will try again (and again (and again)) ….

Adios!

100% Secure!!!

What a secure World we live in. There is absolutely no chance for any attacks by “anti-social elements”. We can live, work and play, secure in the knowledge that the Security Guards in our Apartment/Housing Complex, Office or Recreation Facility, will take care of us 100%.

Right?

You wish!!!

Security Guards (atleast from what I have seen so far in Bengaluru) operate based on some ground rules. The rules, not in any particular order of importance, are:

(01) No attacks will happen between 8PM and 8AM.

(02) Checking a vehicle thoroughly means opening the trunk and closing it in 0.002 seconds, even if the trunk is filled with 14 bags.

(03) 8PM to 6AM is a great window to get some quality sleep (They are well aware that doctors advise atleast 7 hours of sound sleep).

Let me elaborate each point.

(01) Whether it is my Apartment Complex or the Technology Park where I work or the Shopping Mall, before 8AM, all cars (and maybe even battle tanks!) are allowed to pass through with not even a cursory glance. Me being an early morning person, gets to see this every single day. Many a time, part of me wants to stop, get out of the car and question the Guard as to why all these random vehicles, including taxis with yellow license plates and with all kinds of stickers on them, are allowed to go through with zero checks. I actually did do it a couple of times. The Guard gave me the vibe that he took my complaint/suggestion very seriously and he even scolded some other guy in my presence. I thought, “Problem Solved!”. Well, the very same earnest (so I thought!) dude repeated the exact same thing the next day.

(02) “Checking a vehicle thoroughly” = “Creating a world record in how quickly you can open and shut the trunk”! In my previous company, atleast occasionally, they used sniffer dogs. But in most of the other places, I guess the Security Guards have very sensitive noses. Also, there seems to be an inherent assumption that only the trunk will be used to transport dangerous objects. If I have an empty trunk, but filled backseat (with 7 loaded bags), my car is still considered very secure! Also, office bags are never checked on the way in. Here the ground rule being followed is that if dangerous object has to be transferred into a building, office bags will never be used.

(03) I feel that it is unreasonable to expect Security Guards, who probably work in the morning shift as well, to stay awake through the night. Also, they are being paid pittance. To me it seems like the Security Agencies milk the Corporations/Complexes and give a very small percentage to the Guards themselves. Most of the time, the sleeping guard wakes up when I walk in, and atleast quickly arrange his uniform and hair and has an embarrassed expression on his face. But occasionally, I have seen the Guard wake up and have a “What the -bleep-???” expression on his face, and calmly going back to sleep. I cant say I fully blame him.

In my opinion, this entire Security Industry is a sham. If someone, remotely intelligent, wants to do harm, he/she can find 1029755 ways to break the “Security Barrier”. No kidding …

Adios!

Diwali/Deepavali – Sounds and Colors …

Got to experience Diwali after a long time. Though Diwali was on October 26th, I could hear fireworks through that entire weekend as well. Some of the major establishments had such huge ones, which went up and blasted into many smaller ones. It was fun to watch. Personally, I am not a big fan of the noisier ones like that “green color cubes”. The blasts always manage to startle me, even if I am looking at it being lighted! Indian cities are definitely not the place for people who just hate noisy crackers, for people light them up almost throughout the night.

Kids had fun and my son even managed to touch a burning ember and burn himself. He said he liked the “red glow” and wanted to touch it. Hope he learned a good lesson and will remember it in future.

We went with a friend to Hosur (Tamilnadu) to purchase the fireworks/crackers. Almost every store there was selling fireworks, some with steep 70-90% discounts from the M.R.P. I was amazed at the variety available. I noticed that almost all the fireworks were made in Sivakasi. Seems like Sivakasi is the “Firework Capital” of South India.

The only bad part about the Diwali week was Ra.One! What a letdown it was …

3-Month Anniversary in Bengaluru …

Finished 3 months in Bengaluru and fast approaching the 100-day anniversary. Thought it is a good time to Blog about some of the experiences.

(A) Health

Overall, we have been doing quite okay. Each of us have had a minor ailment, with varying degrees of recovery speed. I got the worst of it. I had a 5-day stretch of cough/fever/throat-ache/cold and my cough still has not subsided, after almost 1 month! Hope it is not the precursor to some long-term ailment. The weather, though much better than most of the Indian cities, is tarnished by the ever-present dust and pollution. Pollution is one thing, why, even San Francisco Bay Area is suffering from it, but all the dust from the crazy construction adds another dimension. Though real-estate is supposed to be in a lull, it does not seem that way from all the construction.

(B) Security

Once, I noticed a Guard who had a bit too much to eat at lunch and was snoring away at his desk. His comrades, instead of waking him up, were standing around and laughing at him. Though it was funny to see, it wont really be that funny when some incident happens. But then, whom to blame here? Just random guys, with minimal training, and who barely look strong enough to talk, let alone physically overcome criminals and thieves, are being paraded as Security. The “Sign-In Procedure” at all complexes is a joke. A couple of days back, I signed in with total random data (Name, Phone Number etc.) in totally illegible handwriting (I myself could not read it!) and I was let in with a warm welcoming smile! So much for the security.

(C) Ease of life

When we decided to move back, one common theme within the comments we received from friends (outside of India) was that “Life will be so easy”. Now when I look back at the 3 months gone by, yes, there are many elements of life in India which is easy. Full-time maids, drivers, cooks etc. are readily available. The problem is with the “quality of work” and “work ethics”. It is almost non-exisistent. I had earlier blogged about our driver experience. We had a similar bad experience with a cook. The talkative lady (a Tamilian), bargained for as high a salary as she could get. The negotiations went on for a week. Finally when the terms were all settled and she started to come for work, she started bargaining for a higher wage the very 1st day. To boot, she picked a fight with our Kannadiga maid by passing unnecessary comments. I.e. She wont do quality work and wont allow others to do so as well 🙂 The entire crowd has a basic mantra “IT == High-Tech == Unlimited Funds”. No longer are products priced as per the cost of services/development. Products are priced as per the deemed buying capacity of the buyer. For example, if the cost of making a bed-sheet is 100 Rupees and the price a well-earning buyer can afford is 1000 Rupees, the bed-sheet price is closer to 1000 than 100.

Services like Car Wash, Milk/Newspaper Delivery, At-Home Repairs etc. does make life quite easy.

Hey, we have my Bank’s ATM right in the Complex!

(On a different note: I love vitrified tiles!)

(D) Newspaper

Hah! I never imagined that I will take a step back (from “Digital Age”) and start enjoying newspaper again. Well, that is exactly what has happened. I have been poring through the Times Of India every single day. I am still catching up on the local landscape, politics etc. Though Times Of India (TOI) does have an element of “Tabloid” to it, it does have serious opinion pieces and articles. The summary is that it has something for everyone. I would think that “The Hindu”, “Deccan Herald” are all similar …

(E) Young Brigade

Lot of the 18-25 year olds work in various stores and the services industry. The positive is that they are very energetic and speak English quite well. The negative is that occasionally, you come across people not really trained for the job. I have grappled with enough jokers in AT&T, Comcast, BofA etc. to complain much 🙂

(F) A very bad day

A month back, I had a double-whammy when my 3-month-old car started giving engine trouble (Engine light!) and my 1-week-old GPS conked out, on the very same trip (Which was a “dangerous and spine-tingling” ride to IIM from Marathahalli). Luckily, the Pratham Motors guys, who have a very efficient Lead Manager, made the fixes quickly and now it is quite okay. But overall, it doesnt look like Indian companies have cracked the Automatic puzzle a 100%. But then, when only 2-3% buyers opt for Automatic, it is understandable.

(G) Customer Service

As I have mentioned elsewhere in my Social World, so far, I have not had any real bad experiences. The only glitch was my interactions with MapMyIndia guys regarding the GPS trouble mentioned above. But there again, Bimal Autos, who also had a very efficient and responsible Lead Manager, helped me out and convinced the MapMyIndia guys that when a product with 1-year Warranty conks out in the very 1st week, it is best not to hassle the customer with all the “couriering of the system to Delhi” and other such logistics.

(H) Restaurants

By now, I have this huge (and still developing) list of restaurants to try over here. We managed to try out a few and are quite happy with the experiences. I will Blog about Cuisine/Food/Restaurants separately. Though the food is much pricier than before, most of the recommendations have been good.

(I) First traffic violation

Got my first “ticket” a few weeks back, when I supposedly took an illegal U-turn. I thought I had decent eyesight and could detect a “No U-Turn” sign pretty well. Well, apparently not. The “Cop” (not sure if I can call that 16-year-old kid a “Cop” with a straight face) asked for 100 Rupees. When I did not have the entire money (Now you all know how much of a pauper I really am) and when I gave him all my coins and 5/10 Rupee notes, he got pissed and asked me to go and meet his “Boss”. What really saved me was one other 10 Rupee note which I had deep in my pocket. Apparently, the “Boss” allows drivers to go scot-free if you can hit the minimum bench-mark of 57 Rupees. Remember the number: Minimum Bench-Mark = 57 Rupees, in Bengaluru …

Adios …

Kolar Gold Fields (KGF)

We went for a really enjoyable weekend trip to Bangarapet in May. We stayed at a place called Morrit Farms. Since the trip was right after the driver fiasco, I was real glad that my friend offered a ride to KGF. The road we took was quite bad, though the area was quite beautiful, with a lot of farms on the way. Also, his vehicle, an SUV, was made for such a journey. A point to note as and when I buy my vehicle. (During the ride, we had our first taste of Karachi Bakery biscuits and it was amazing. Note to self: Next time you visit Hyderabad, but a truck-load!).

Morrit package includes food, which made it convenient and the staff tried to accommodate our various requests as much as possible. There were glitches, like A/Cs not working. But after an eventful day, I didnt care much about the A/C and anyway, I am not a fan of A/Cs. My friends had packed enough beer to feed entire Bangarapet (!) and I am not kidding when I say that the only fluids (well, almost) we had during the trip was Beer. No wonder KingFisher brand is doing so well.

While playing cricket in their cricket nets, I made the mistake of attempting a caught & bowled and jammed my finger pretty hard. It was pure agony. The pain hasnt gone, after 1 month. No more fielding heroics while playing cricket. I had it checked by a Doctor who claims it is a micro-fracture and should heal by itself. Well, I sure hope so. I also managed to squeeze in a little bit of Badminton with the girls. I havent touched a Badminton racket since B-Tech days and it sure felt strange. I did start feeling more and more comfortable and if only I was interested in the game, I could work on improving it. But Badminton is not my thing nowadays.

Since all of us have daughters of roughly the same age, they had a blast. My friends happened to know a former resident of Bangarapet and he even gave us a guided tour of the place. It was great to get some insights from a person who actually grew up in the place. We visited a few of the mines, his former home (almost in the same condition they left it!), a local school etc.

In the evening, we visited Kotilingeswara Temple, the one with 1 Crore (almost) Shiva Lingams. No photos are allowed inside the temple and my clandestine efforts at snapping some pictures were futile as the poor lighting required flash and I dared not use the flash. All the pictures look like some UFO pictures. It was amazing to see rows and rows of Shiva Lingams and it seems the Temple already has 90 Lakhs of them!

Once we get our feet under us, we plan to do more such trips in the future. Looks like the Bengaluru crowd has given a shot in the arm to Karnataka Tourism.

Four weeks in Bengaluru …

Last week, I was busy with the sudden and unexpected responsibility of tackling the big bad wolf (a.k.a Bengaluru Traffic) and hence other than the Horror Movie post, I could not do much.

I have been driving 10 days for all kinds of errands and purposes. So far, mostly due to pure luck, nothing has happened. This gives me confidence that I did the right thing by firing that Driver, who despite getting prime payment and despite being reminded about safety over and over, gave me 4 accidents in 14 days. Granted, it is not a tough bench-mark, but something tells me that I can do better than that 🙂

(01) Bellandur Lake

A huge lake in a relatively peaceful part of the city. But the problem is the pollution and mosquitos. Largely due to some major factories spewing chemicals, the lake has foam and froth! It is almost as if someone has dumped a truck-load of Vim into the lake. I am told that almost all the lakes in Bengaluru (500+) are in this sorry state. When is the state (and the city) going to realize all this and take action?

(02) 360 degree neck motion:

I realized that it is good to have the capability of turning your head 360 degrees while driving here. You never know from which direction a motorcycle or cycle or cow or pedestrian will come. A couple of pesky neck-bones are preventing the full 360 motion. I need to work on that.

Of course, I am exaggerating a bit here. A few more weeks and I am hoping to get a good feel for driving on the city roads. I recently bought an amazingly accurate (considering that the city roads keep changing its shape, form and locations regularly) GPS. It is my trusted partner for longer trips. Else, I am finding myself getting more and more familiar with the localities.

(03) Airtel:

So far, Airtel has been giving excellent customer service and I am very impressed with their promptness. If only all the others were similar. Though the Internet speed is nowhere close to the advertized speed, it is quite good. Hey, same was the case with Comcast and AT&T in US. What they advertize and what is provided have only a passing relation.

I get bombarded by various Installation Experts for various items we have purchased. Most of them are quite responsible, arrive roughly on time and do their job efficiently. Almost all of them are young guys who have mobile phones and can speak English.

We plan to celebrate our 1-Month Anniversary on June 8th … 🙂

Adios …