Bye Bye Bangalore!

02 November 2006 |

Interesting article on renaming the most-talked about city in India, published in NY Times.

You Say Bangalore, They Say Bengalooru
By SARITHA RAI

BANGALORE, India, Nov. 1 — In Boston, San Jose, London or elsewhere, if you were being “Bangalored,” it meant your job was being shipped half a world away to someone who would toil for a tiny fraction of your salary.

Even the local politicians had come to resent the global attention. The commercial focus was westernizing Indian culture too quickly for them. So Wednesday, officials in this city changed its name to Bengalooru, the vernacular original, and the sparks are flying. The change is actually part of a trend in India and a sign of its newfound confidence. As the economy blazes ahead at growth rates of more than 8 percent, the local governments in India are trying to shed the country’s colonial names, adopting local language names instead.

Bombay is now Mumbai, for instance, and Madras has been quietly renamed Chennai. But turning Bangalore into Bengalooru is causing the greatest stir.

It probably does not help that Bengalooru is a shortened version of “Benda Kalooru,” or “city of cooked beans.” The myth goes that a starving warrior king was fed beans by a kind old woman on the very site of this city, which is now the country’s technology hub.

“Bangalore represents a cosmopolitan, multicultural brand,” said Nandan M. Nilekani, chief of Infosys Technologies, the outsourcing company, adding: “It is not prudent to abandon the name of India’s most global city.”

Infosys and its domestic rival Wipro, each with thousands of employees, are among the companies credited with building the city’s brand name around the world. Bangalore is now home to more than 1,000 technology firms, ranging from tiny two-person start-ups to large multinational companies like Intel, Texas Instruments and Cisco Systems. In a teeming city of seven million, the industry employs about 300,000 workers, who are turning into a rising middle-class that is giving rise to some resentment.

U. R. Ananthamurthy, 73, a noted writer in Kannada, the local language, first proposed the name change, suggesting that it would awaken the consciousness of people to the existing inequality.

“In this city, people can study French or Spanish, shop in a fancy supermarket full of goods produced by multinationals, and ride in cabs driven by English-speaking drivers,” said Mr. Ananthamurthy, adding, “But do these people living in ‘Bangalore’ know that there is a ‘Bengalooru’? ”

Young, comparatively well-paid technology workers, many in their 20s, dress in the latest American and European clothing labels, speak in accented English, drive foreign cars and shop in fancy malls. Home prices are shooting up in the city, and in the last couple of years, local newspapers advertise apartments and villas costing more than $1 million.

But the salaries of many of its citizens working in jobs other than in the high-growth sectors have not been keeping up. There is a distinct divide between “people who dress in a certain way, speak in a certain way and drive a certain type of car,” and the rest of the city, Mr. Ananthamurthy said.

Any resentment is natural in an evolving society, said S. Sadagopan, director of a leading technology school, the International Institute of Information Technology, which is based in Bangalore. “When people are not busy creating wealth, it logically follows that they are busy distributing poverty,” he said.

Others are not convinced that a name change can bridge the divide. “Working towards the welfare of the underprivileged ought to be the priority rather than a name change,” said Alexius Collette, chief executive of Philips Innovation Campus.

In the coming year, Philips will employ 2,500 workers in a new facility in the outer fringes of Bangalore. A name change would diminish Bangalore’s international brand value, he said.

Josh Bornstein, a director at the venture capital firm Footprint Ventures, which is based in Bangalore, has been working in the city for three years. “By changing its name,” he said, “will the pressing issues afflicting Bangalore such as clogged roads, bad traffic and an inadequate airport get sorted out?”