First you have to find the number. No 118 118 or easy online directories here. It will take you three or four goes on Google or Yahoo! India to find a number that works. Then you have to explain what you want and who you are — they won’t take an order unless you have a phone number. And language will be a problem, somehow a lot gets lost in translation between English and English over India phones.
Turns out they do have Hawaiian pizzas everywhere though (except the ham is replaced with chicken) and twenty-four minutes later, the doorbell rings and there you have it: steaming hot boxes of globalised goodness.
Bangalore is comfortable with its newfound position on the international map. You’re almost as likely to find a French or Chinese restaurant here as you are in London. You can get good espresso from Coffee Day who have opened up 137 branches across India in the last couple of years. Wifi isn’t a problem — you’ll pay for it, but it works pretty well. Even the street booksellers stock Blink, Seven Habits and Dan Brown on their pavement stalls.
The reason Bangalore is happy with the in-bound side of globalisation is that at least some people are able to pay for it because of the things the city is exporting, which increasingly the West can’t live without. You probably know that many call centres are located here, but it’s much more than that. If you own a non-iPod mp3 player, a Bangalore company called Ittiam probably developed the technology inside it. They also designed the technology behind the headrest screens that you can watch on planes. And they’re not the only Bangalore success.
The story I heard repeatedly was that Bangalore is in the early stages of another boom. The last one was in 2000 (inflated by Y2K) and was promptly followed by a crash, but this one will be more elite than the last one; higher up the value chain particularly focused on research and development of new products and technologies. Most of the global tech firms like Intel, IBM, ARM and Microsoft all have labs here doing work that’s at a similar level of sophistication and secrecy to their labs in the UK or US. And like the glory days of Silicon Valley start-ups, Bangalore is full of start-ups based in anonymous residential areas. It’s just that here there may be a cow wandering down the street outside.
Economically, however, the city is on a knife edge. There are no big banks seriously investing in its future, no large family-owned conglomerates as there are in Kolkata or Mumbai. The state government talks the talk but is basically incompetent. Venture capital is learning as it goes, good with quick-win software companies and just getting into biotech, but it’s not confident with early stage finance that will create world-beating returns over the long term.
And then there’s the Bangalore paradox, that everybody will tell you about. ‘For every 30 kilometres you travel out of the city you go back a century’, as one professor said to me. There is shocking poverty within wi-fi range of the new coffee shops and it gets worse the further you look. India has no discernible practical strategy for poverty alleviation that measures up to the problem. Politicians talk about science and technology for the ‘common man’. But how many of India’s 260 million people who live on less than a dollar a day will get a chance to watch in-flight movies?
I’ve no doubt that Bangalore can create the wealth that it needs to sustain the odd Dominos franchise, but I don’t see any hope of it breaking the cycle of extreme poverty. And if Bangalore, with its international brand and incredible workforce can’t do it, is there anywhere in India that can?