Friday, August 19, 2005

Life in Bangalore: Lifestyle

Here is a quote from a recent article in a supplement to Outlook magazine called Right Time: The World's Finest Watches:
Throw in the fact that financing options bring the effective cost of a Rs. 1 lakh watch to within Rs. 4,000 a month, and you're looking at a market size many multiples of 70,000 strong...
Rs. 4,000 a month on a wrist watch. That ought to give an idea of the lifestyle that is possible in India. Given the right income (or the right spending style), nothing is out of reach.

In Bangalore, there are malls big enough to put many in the US to shame, with European, Australian and American stores. There are banks that will give you credit cards and loans and financing options tailored to your needs, whether you're looking to buy a Rs. 1 crore penthouse or a Rs. 1 lakh wrist watch.

There is a whole new kind of telephone directory published by Getit (the Yellow Pages people) and Bharat Sanchar Nigam Ltd. called The Official Consumer & Houseld Yellow Pages advertising everything from washing machines to electronic goods to high-end jewellery and designer clothes.

There are multiplexes where on weekends, the lowest price for a movie ticket is Rs. 150, and one Gold Class movie ticket will set you back Rs. 500 (it includes dinner while you watch a movie). On weekends, it's impossible to get a ticket for the Hindi or English movies, even the Gold class ones, unless you've booked days in advance. And forget about walking in and hoping for a ticket. If you're lucky to find parking for your vehicle in the parking lot, you still may not be able to set foot in the mall itself. The stores are overflowing with people who spill out on to the walkways, escalators, stairs and some even just hang out at the entrances. The malls are so jam-packed, you can easily justify having a separate temperature gauge for mall interiors on weekends.

Almost anyone you come across on any given day has a cell phone. Some have two or three phones with different calling plans for different purposes, one for roaming, one for areas where other phones don't have coverage and one for daily use. There are restaurants where a dinner for two will cost Rs. 1000 and where reservations are still hard to come by.

Then there are restaurants positioned strategically near call centers and BPOs that advertise packed dinners ("why cook when you can take home ready-made dinner?").

And the kids are not far behind. There is a new kind of a top called a bey blade that is all the rage in Bangalore now. Cost: Rs 325. All of N's friends have this bey blade. Nothing fancy, just a plastic top that has a plastic strip that spins the top when you pull it out forcefully. I checked the price of the good old wooden tops (bugris) we used to play with. Cost: Rs. 10.

There are at least 100 television channels that our cable service provides including channels such as Star World (home of Oprah, Desperate Wives, the soaps, etc.), HBO, ESPN, BBC, CNN, CNBC and the Hallmark Channel, and indigenous TV products such as NDTV, Zee TV, etc.

If you live in America and are looking to move to Bangalore, there is nothing you will lack in terms of wordly goods. Grocery stores stock peanut butter, cereals, pancake mixes, toilet paper, Betty Crocker cake mixes, zucchini, red bell peppers, lettuce, cherry tomatoes, asparagus, pasta, pasta sauce, salsa, pesto sauce, chocolate chips for baking. You name it, they have it. It'll cost you, but it's available. In fact, there is nothing that you will need to hoard in your suitcases. I am sure my Australian and European friends will echo this.

New book stores in the style of Borders stock all publishers and authors (else there is always good ol' Amazon). You want branded clothes? Bangalore has them.

If you're in the market to buy a house, there are floor plans and options to match your quirkiest requirements and even some you haven't even thought about (servant's rooms). For a price you can pretend there are no power cuts or water shortages (many new apartmens and communities come with 24 hour water supply and electricity). These houses are not filled with old retired couples who have worked all their lives (they had the misfortune of working in and retiring from the old economy and so cannot afford them), but with young, double-income couples working in the IT sector.

These services and facilities exist because there is a demand for it. These amenities cater, however, not to the entire population of Bangalore, but to less than 5% of its population, most of it comprised of returning NRIs, MNC employees and expats.

The rest of Bangalore lives on as if nothing had changed. Activist groups estimate that 40% of the population would be classified as poor, without access to basic amenities such as water and sanitation. Income figures from the 1991 census data indicate that 24% of the population shares 8% of the income whereas 4% of the population shares 19% of total income. There is no reason to think that this disparity has not widened in the intervening decade.

What is the point of all this?

The point is that, just as must be the case with many of the big cities around the world, Bangalore is a city of disparities.

There are days when you can simply forget that you are not in some European or American city.

There are days when you look around and see how much the city has changed in the last 15 years - the city has grown; the pace of construction is nothing less than crazy; traffic is near-impossible to navigate in rush hour (which is pretty much all day except for may be an hour here or there in between) there are homes, shops, and buildings the likes of which I never thought I would see in Bangalore; there are a lot more people, and people from all over the world; there are more slums; and everything is at least 10 times more expensive.

There are days when you realize that all of these changes have benefited not only the engineering and management graduates, but also the workers such as maids, laborers who work at construction sites and on infrastructure projects, and drivers (there is a whole new industry in transporting the call center employees to and from work).

Then there are days when you realize that for a large segment of the population, the malls mean nothing, the grocery stores mean nothing, the bookstores mean nothing, the huge houses mean nothing, the restaurants mean nothing. The whole IT boom means nothing. Except may be a higher cost of living.

There is no judgement associated with this. In Bangalore, this is what it is.


Anonymous said...


yea..need to agree....the IT boom has just increased the cost of living in bangalore..nothin much...

but it did create a lot of secondary jobs...for drivers...the facilities...

the people dont mind spedngin 500 Rs on a amovie...stuff like tat

PS: my blog was printed in bangalore times...august 17th...front page...

PSS: can ya guess which one..


Sourin Rao said...

Outstanding description. Really loved the details that you have provided.
I have been to B'lore twice since my wife is from Blore. Walking along MG Road it seems kids are more westernised than the West. Nothing wrong with that, just my observation.
At airports you can several inter-racial couples, white guy with an Indian gal, which I thought was interesting. It also made me wonder if these couples were in serious relationships or they were just temporary hook-ups ?
Unfortunately I did not get enough time to go around B'lore to form any judgements about the city, but the traffic quagmire, like any growing city, still seems to be an issue. To me, Blore seemed to have the right blend of the old and the contemporary. You are absolutely correct that noveau-riche IT money is evident everywhere.
Cavery, the handicraft joint, seemed a tad overpriced to me, but was doing brisk business. Most of the fat food joints were filled to capacity. It was disgusting to see people waiting in lines for, guess what, entry to KFC. Yikes. While discussing cities someone mentioned that B'lore was the Gay capital of India. Any truth to that ?
Overall it looked like a place where I wouldnt mind living. Thanks Suj, excellent writeup.

Anonymous said...

I had been looking forward for this post of yours on "lifestyle".
Thanks for giving an insight of today's Bangalore. Most of my memories are also from 15 years ago. And I am sure, I would not have been able to experience all of what u have written, in my one month visit.
From past 6 months or more I have been hearing about the two new malls
(forum in kormangalla and the other one on old madras road).
I will forward you blog address to few of my friends who will be interested in your bangalore series.

Sunil said...

absolutely, Sujatha...

The other aspect is that life is now quite difficult for older people. Bangalore used to be a "pentioners paradise"....not any more. It's too expensive.

My own parents are retired, and find costs in Bangalore escalating. My father's old calculations on savings (that he made before retiring some 5 years or so ago) amount to naught now......those calculations (and a comfortable life at Rs. 10000 a month) are history.

FSN 3.0 said...

You seem to paint a nice rosy picture of Bangalore. That's great to see. However what about recent reports that Bangalore as a city is simply un-inhabitable?

The extreme pollution, traffic and bad roads are somethings that I have been hearing about from fellow engineering graduates working over there.

They still tell me its not the same place that we visited back in 2000 (college trip).

Have things really changed that drastically?

Anonymous said...

Interesting post, Sujatha.

Indeed, things are changing, and at an unimaginable pace. It remains to be seen if this economic 'progress' has trickle down effects to the poorest segments of society.

It will eventually. But in the meantime, the disparities are rather ugly.

ecophilo said...

Disparities in societies cannot be wished away. They go away slowly. Today there are thousands of drivers, cooks, maids, gardners, plumbers and cleaners who are employed by these IT companies (the same boom which you say means nothing)and by the staff of IT companies who would otherwise be unemployed. Benefits trickle down slowly, here or in the US. And if it had not been for progress in the shape of malls, luxurious housing societies many of the NRIs wouldnt even be back.OF course, once they are back, they lament that Bangalore is not the place it once was. No place remains the same, ever. Progress happens in fits and starts and trickles down slowly. There is no example anywhere in the world where the entire society got transformed in the space of a few years.

Sujatha Bagal said...

Anish: Will definitely check it out!

Sourin: Thanks. About MG Road, that was always the case (kids looking westernized there, I mean). I remember, when I was young, going to MG Road meant wearing skirts and pants, no chudidhars.:) About B'lore being the gay capital of India, I don't know.

Rajeshwari: Thanks. Yeah, the malls are the talk of the town here and the place to go on the weekends.

Sunil: I agree. It's especially sad because retired couples prefer apartments because of the 24-hour security, but they just cannot afford the maintenance fees or the prices of these apartments because they worked and retired on the salaries in the old economy.

Fiery: Yes, it is a beautiful place and no, it is not uninhabitable. You just learn to work around them or deal with them. Which big city of the world does not have traffic problems? Even in DC I used to sit in traffic for 45 minutes to go 10 miles. And pollution is nothing compared to LA or Mexico City. Because of all the greenery Bangalore has maintained, pollution is way lower than it could have been.

Ash: The economic benefits do trickle down to the lower segments of society. In many areas of the city, house maids, for instance, are making more definitely because of the IT boom and the returning NRI and expat population. The same case with gardners, drivers. And as I mentioned, there is a whole new industry now with the taxi plying the IT employees to and from work. In a space of a few meters you'll see at least 10 of these taxis.

Neelakanta: Thank you visiting and commenting. I do not disagree with anything you say. In fact, I have mentioned each of your points in my post. I have mentioned the construction and house help economy that has boomed as a result of the IT boom.

But, there is also one segment of the population for whom this does not mean anything. They are the government workers, the teachers (not in the international schools), the railway employees, etc. who are not associated in any way with the IT companies, for whom the cost of living has gone up.

Yes, Bangalore is definitely not the place it once was. But different is not bad.

This post was meant to give a flavor of life in Bangalore now, without being judgemental of any section of the citizenry. And I am most certainly not lamenting.

gawker said...

Pune's the same now. I guess its the same with all the tech towns.

Sujatha Bagal said...

Gawker: haven't been to Pune, but I can totally imagine that being the case.

Anonymous said...

ya guys bangalore is the gay capital here its wasnt say about 7 years ago.. lots of youngsters in the age group of 16-28 are always shifting to bangalore for education or job hunting..they get this new found freedom staying away from home..they live in hostels, paying guests set ups, rent a house and share it.. drugs are easliy available here in corner cigarette shops..they go crazy and get into gay acts too...i just passed out of engineering coll. which has this cool here means drink,drugs, party, sex...i have seen such conservative small town people going completely wild and losing track

Anonymous said...

bangalore is like being in the us? ha ha dream on. i've been here 7 weeks and found that they roll up the sidewalks at 11pm. all the "best" restaurants lack buzz and the food is totally average. i've gone out many a night looking for a good time and found nothing of interest. but, hey, keep trying bangalore.

lots of hot guys here. good luck making anything happen....

Unknown said...

bangalore is a cool city for a person who belongs frm here and for others it is a cool city after 3 or 4 mnths later.but roadsides are very short not a proper space for a person to walk around roadsides normally,people take there vehicles on the footpath that is the biggest problem they don't know what r traffic rules.+

Anonymous said...

7 months in bangalore...most horrible place to be...this place is exactly like the weather here...pleasant but unhealthy and out and out lacks put across by the hindi proverb.."oonchi dukaan feeka pakwan"...have been waiting 7 months to say that...never really chose to come here ...and all my wishes are spent on getting out of here...

Rajesh said...

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Can you reach me on I have many website where i would like you as a Blog Editor and many more. Plz discuss with me..

Rajesh said...

Hi Sujata,
Can you reach me on I have many website where i would like you as a Blog Editor and many more. Plz discuss with me..

88 Lifestyle said...

Hi Suji,

The IT and ITES has detiorated the lifestyle of average indians while increasing their spendable income.People should learn to preserve our indian lifestyle and should not copy the westerners....