August 28, 2009 / 6:20 AM / 10 years ago

Old Bangalore lives on in the middle of the IT boom

BANGALORE (Reuters Life!) - Anyone wondering what the world’s outsourcing hub and India’s information technology center looked like before all the multinationals came rushing in only has to visit Bangalore’s Basavanagudi neighborhood.

With its temples, leafy lanes, bungalows and markets, the area, right in the heart of the skyscrapers and choked roads of downtown, is the last bastion of a traditional way of life that seems to be disappearing in a booming city quickly turning into India’s answer to Silicon Valley.

Basavanagudi derives its name from its Bull Temple, famous for the giant statue of Nandi, the mount of Hindu god Shiva.

Many residents of the neighborhood are determined to maintain their lifestyle and guard their heritage against what some like Anand Iyer call the “American-ization” of Bangalore.

Iyer, who has worked at a government-owned bank in Basavanagudi for the last 20 years, claims he’s never been to a McDonald’s outlet.

Munching on a masala dosa dripping with ghee at a popular neighborhood restaurant, he reminisces about the days when Bangalore was known as a pensioner’s paradise.

“This locality is free of the character-less malls and the night clubs for now,” Iyer says. “You can still get a decent lunch for 40 rupees ($0.80) here.”

Bangalore’s rapid development has brought with it many of the ills of modern city life: snarled traffic, polluted air and apparently endless construction.

But Basavanagudi offers an escape from it all in the form of Bugle Rock Park, a serene, leafy oasis with landscaped slopes and footpaths that are regularly pounded by fitness-seekers.

“It’s an unbelievable contrast,” says Michael Forjahn, an American who works for a multinational IT firm, describing the difference between the towers and luxury shops in the vicinity of his office and the “old-world charm” of where he lives.

“Until I moved to this part of town, I felt that Bangalore was a bit too Western for my liking.”

In two years, Forjahn has learnt to fluently speak the local dialect and celebrates local festivals with enthusiasm, practices not often embraced by many of the city’s Westernised youth.

Bangalore’s past and future are clearly on display at the Lal Bagh botanical gardens, where joggers listening to music on iPods race past pensioners reading newspapers and discussing the poor rains that have plagued India this year.

The 240-acre garden traces its origins to the middle of the 18th century and bears testimony to the city’s former rulers, from Muslim kings to the British, who built a replica of London’s Crystal Palace inside the grounds.

Sitting near a bandstand with a view of the Glass House, 68-year-old retiree Shivananda Adiga is confident Bangalore’s boom will not encroach on Basavanagudi, despite its location.

“Most of the economic activity in the area is conducted by smaller family-run businesses and I don’t see any reason for people to just pack up... no matter how much money the builders and big companies offer,” he said.

Editing by Miral Fahmy

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