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Bangalore mixture

Vasant Gokarn  |  New Delhi 

During the last presidential election in the US about 18 months ago, the word "Bangalore" was bandied about quite frequently by the two presidential candidates. The word soon acquired a pejorative connotation, and to be "Bangalored" was to lose one's job to the outsourcing wave that was sweeping America. Bangalore became a metaphor for the perceived ills of globalisation.
This book, however, could not be further away from that perception, despite its title. Instead, it tells the story of foreigners who have made their home in Bangalore and have become part of the city's life""thus, "Bangalored". The author, Eshwar Sundaresan (the blurb is rather economical with his background), claims that the idea of writing this book came to him on a visit to New York. He has certainly followed it up with painstaking research in Bangalore and meetings with a variety of foreigners. This book thus gives a bee's eye view of the city's foreign residents.
It will probably come as a surprise to many that about half of the over 25,000 registered foreigners in India live in Bangalore. The author has been selective in choosing the stars (as he calls them) for his story. He has chosen only first-generation immigrants who have assimilated the local culture and have insightful observations to make on life in the city. He has kept clear of people who have come to this country for religious reasons. The author explores why they came to India in the first place, why they chose Bangalore, how living in the city has affected their lives, and finally, what contribution they have made to life in the city. The stars thus range from a Taekwondo instructor from South Korea to the CEO of a multinational software company, from a Jamaican restaurateur to a Palestinian entrepreneur who has set up educational institutions, from a Dutch writer who has married a local girl to an Englishwoman who has settled in a village just outside the city to devote her life to the revival of the ancient art of stone sculpture.
There are a few stars from the African continent as well, mostly undergraduate students and a few who have stayed on for higher studies. Many had disturbing tales to tell of gratuitous remarks, even insults, from the local public, while travelling in buses or shopping in the markets. This exposes an ugly feature of the Indian mindset in general... We certainly need to increase our cultural bandwidth significantly if we are to project India as an attractive tourist/work destination.
By and large, the picture that emerges is one of people from different continents brought together by a common desire for adventure, curiosity about lives other than their own, and an ability to adjust to local conditions without being judgmental. This is something we in India could learn from them.
There is a capsule of Bangalore's history at the end of the book, which would be of heightened interest to readers who are not familiar with the city. Bangalore has a history of great planners and administrators with vision, like Sir Mark Cubbon in the late 19th century, and Sir Mirza Ismail and Sir Mokshagundam Visweswariah in the first half of the 20th century. This capsule is best read in the context of the rest of the book. History's lessons, it would seem, have been lost.
BANGALORED THE EXPAT STORY
Eshwar Sundaresan
East West Books
Price: Rs 350; Pages: 330

First Published: Wed, June 07 2006. 00:00 IST
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