How Bangalore became an adjective and a verb

Beyond boundaries

There are some places that have acquired a resonance in history or in international relations due to a special circumstance or association. If Waterloo, Dunkirk, Pearl Harbour belong to days past, ‘The Maastricht treaty,’ ‘The Kyoto protocol,’ ‘The Copenhagen accord’ are examples from the contemporary period where cities get mentioned and those who follow developments in international relations recognise the context. For us, in India, Panipat or Plassey should be familiar names from history, and ‘The Simla agreement,’ ‘The Agra summit’ or the ‘Katcchateevu accord’ should ring a bell to followers of the evolution of our foreign policy.

Bangalore clearly does not fall into this category. If so, why?
Before answering, let us also recognise that among the southern states, Karnataka and Andhra Pradesh do not have the obvious foreign policy fixations that the other two states have. Tamil Nadu has always looked at the developments in Sri Lanka with a special concern. The ethnic and linguistic links, the influx of refugees at points in time and the interests of fishermen makes this natural. The case with Kerala is different. The large migration to the Gulf has created special linkages, though Keralites are found
everywhere abroad like the Gujaratis. Not so with Kannadigas or should I say, not so, so far? But notwithstanding the status of the state, the case of Bangalore is different.
‘Bangalore’ today is more than today’s Bengaluru, a geographical entity. It has become an adjective as in Bangalorean process or a verb as in ‘Bangalored.’ The ultimate confirmation was seen recently in commentaries about how President Obama could not visit the city for all its associations as the world capital of the outsourcing industry.
We do not know whether this theory is right or not, but according to experts, Obama with a fearful eye on the loss of middle-class jobs in America and anxieties about many of these jobs having been shipped to China or India, could not afford to be seen in Bangalore, the epicentre of this phenomenon. Hence our loss in not seeing Michele Obama dance to the tunes of some janapada geete.

How has this transformation of the city’s image come about?
For an answer, I may be allowed to become a little autobiographical and narrate how during my own three decades in diplomacy, the image of Bangalore has changed and how the word itself has acquired a connotation.

The initial ‘B’ in my name does not stand for ‘Bangalore’ though I am a Kannadiga. It stands for ‘Bellur,’ a village near Mysore, from where my ancestors came. But from the time I joined the Indian Foreign Service, somehow it was assumed by my friends that I came from Bangalore, with its then romantic image of a cool climate, a chic cantonment and cosmopolitan crowd.

But living abroad in the 70s and 80s, my city meant little to foreigners, except to specialists involved in science and technology. I remember meeting Russians who knew about our defence industries — HAL, BEL, or Germans who knew about the Indian Institute of Science or the HMT. A different era and a different image, but foreshadowing what was yet to come  emanating from the same foundation.

The big change
The first large migration from Karnataka to anywhere was to the US and it is in the Silicon Valley that beginning in the 90s ‘Bangalore’ first came to be recognised and  marketed. As an Indian Consul General to San Francisco, the heart of the Silicon Valley what I encountered was truly astonishing. At a personal level, I used to meet more persons from Bangalore in a week than what I was used to in my entire three years in other countries.

But going beyond the personal impressions, over the last 15 years as outsourcing and BPOs became house hold words, Bangalore became a brand, first to be admired, then envied and finally feared. This is an issue not limited to the US, anymore. As other countries tried their own luck at establishing a hub for innovation or at a simpler level being successes in the IT industry — recent examples, Manila, Mexico city, Johannesburg — for many of them the model is Bangalore. As foreign relations have acquired a new dimension, the technological, going beyond the traditional components of political, commercial and cultural, the city has come to symbolise this aspect in our own policy.
Meanwhile the debate about the brand ‘Bangalore’ or ‘Bengaluru’ has raged in Karnataka. The two great Murthys, both of whom I greatly admire, have taken sides. The debate is a waste of time, feels Narayana Murthy who himself has become a brand name for India’s meritocracy and excellence. U R Anantha Murthy on the other hand worries about the non-IT and non-shining aspects of the city landscape and has conceptualised the Bangalore-Bengaluru dichotomy, to the delight of sociologists. But it is a safe bet that in the international arena, it will take time for the new name of the city to get the lustre of its hitherto popular name.

That this name is almost mythical, I came to realise, during a strange encounter in the US.

I had gone to give a lecture in a small town in Montana, a remote locale. I had been introduced as the Indian diplomat originally hailing from Bangalore. After the talk, a young American girl, let us call her, Janice, came to talk to me.
“Are you really from Bangaore? How strange?” she asked.
“Yes, but what is so strange?” I asked her.
“Actually, I work at this call centre in Montana. Whenever I take a call to book a flight, some one asks me — what is your real name and when I say ‘Janice,’  they say, “Come on, tell us your real name in India and are you speaking from Bangalore? I don’t know where it is, but so many people think that I am from there. So it is strange to meet someone actually from that place.”

Need I say more about the magic of the name?

(The writer is the Indian Ambassador to Brazil and can be reached at ambassador@indianembassy.org.br)

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