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.

7 Comments so far

  1. rubic_cube (unregistered) on April 2nd, 2006 @ 11:25 am

    Well written. I first came to Bangalore in 1997 and have seen the city change so much that it is as much a shock to me as much it is to anybody who came here in the mid-90s or before. Those days you never required a ceiling fan even in summer. And howadays, we are thinking of installing an air conditioner. Less than 10 years. Even the road driving sense has gone way below any acceptable standards. But, in a sense, this was expected because of the booming consumerism of Bangalore city. Thanks to fat IT pay packets, the disposable income is much higher than normal.
    Same goes with real estate too. Barely does any other city sport such plush residential complexes. People want international standard of living because they have been exposed to such high standards during their trips abroad.

  2. Ravi (unregistered) on April 2nd, 2006 @ 5:01 pm

    Wonderful perspective, Sujatha! Glad to see you here! Cheers, Ravi

  3. Mehak (unregistered) on April 4th, 2006 @ 11:19 am

    I hate the Indian mall culture..
    very valid points u have mentioned i your post…

  4. Abi (unregistered) on April 4th, 2006 @ 5:32 pm

    Nice post!

    Just a quick comment. Beyblades are now available for just 50 to 60 rupees; they are the same ones that went for 300 rupees during the early days (er …, 3 to 6 months ago!) of the beyblade craze among boys.

  5. sujatha (unregistered) on April 6th, 2006 @ 4:41 am

    RC, thank you for your comment. I know what you’re saying. :( It was a great big shock to me as well, but now we’re used to living here and it’s great!

    Ravi, thank you!

    Mehak, thank you.

    Abi, thanks for that info! I’m sure my son would appreciate it.:)

  6. susie (unregistered) on April 12th, 2006 @ 11:03 am

    The info was terrific! My family is going over for about 6 weeks and we have a 9 month old son. Does anyone know if the grocery stores carry jarred baby food? Thanks!

  7. sujatha (unregistered) on April 16th, 2006 @ 9:20 am

    Hi Susie, thanks! Yes, the Gerber jars are available, but as I mentioned in my post, the supply chain is not reliable. I would recommend that you pack enough to last 3 or 4 weeks (and spread them around 2 or 3 suitcases in case one of them gets lost in transit) and within that time, go around enough shops here to buy supplies for the rest of your stay. In the worst case, you can have someone mail the jar food to you if you haven’t found them here in the meantime.

    Good luck! Let me know if you have other questions.

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