"Bangalore Calling": IT Enclaves vs. the Rest of the City

Bangalore Calling is a series of linked stories which provides a fictionalised account of the Indian outsourcing industry. Published in 2011, this is based on real-life research into three call centres, monitoring hundreds of telephone calls. Kathryn Cave catches up with author, Brinda S. Narayan to discover her views on Indian outsourcing and how it impacts the local culture on the ground.

“A lot of people work night shifts in Bangalore; IT people, BPO people or call centre people returning home at 2am or 3am,” Brinda S Narayan tells me over the phone. This is little surprise. However, what was a surprise to Narayan, who grew up in Bangalore herself, was the sheer volume of parents who felt they had to wait up for their grown up kids to come home.

“A large number of mothers and fathers [I spoke to whilst I was doing my research] said, ‘Oh I have to get up at 3am and I have to open the door for [my son or daughter], heat up dinner, keep them company and chat with them.’  So I said, ‘why don’t you just give them a key?’ And they were really appalled that I was asking them that question.”

This neatly highlights one of the many social peculiarities of India. “They [these parents] are completely disrupting their own sleep cycles because they don’t want to miss out on the contact [with their children],” explains Narayan “[But] what I realised is that these families are really buffering the effect of these different time zones [many young Indians are working in]. This helps the companies because it is not easy to keep people working at very odd times, because they would lose social contact with the community.”

India has always been a fractured society, but Narayan believes some of its core recent divisions arise from the influence of foreign organisations and the influx of IT. “If you visit Bangalore and you go into these IT complexes they’re very different from the city outside the complex,” Narayan tells me. “It is almost like you’re entering a very different world. You might be going into Singapore, yet you come out and there are all these pot holes across the street [and people living in slums]. It is not equal between those inside the concrete complex who are very well paid and public roads are almost falling apart. There is a very stark divide in the city today.”

However, Narayan is keen to stress that these jobs have created many advantages for people. “[The problem is] the movement is not fast enough for many people and there are a large number who are being left behind.”  There are numerous contradictions throughout the country, with many good things going hand-in-hand with slightly negative things. A good example of this is both the preservation and loss of local medical knowledge, farming practices and languages.

Narayan points to a recent linguistic survey. This recorded  there are currently 780 languages in India, but that nearly 250 have died out over the last 50 years.  On the one side, this is partly down to globalisation. On the other side, many languages are being kept alive through online communities. This can be seen as a paradox endemic throughout the country.  

In the West the media is awash with stories about the terrible state of the Indian economy, but most Indians on the ground seem fairly positive.  Last year IDG Connect published a report which showed 57% of local Indians surveyed do not think India is failing. “I guess the economy will eventually revive,” Narayan tells me. “[But above all] we have a lot of infrastructure issues that we need to fix. Social issues in India, such as access to education and healthcare, worry a lot of people [here]. I am optimistic about the country. [But] we need to temper growth with attention to the other people who are not benefitting. The biggest issue is: how do we handle all the various voices that have different demands?”

“I think there has been a rapid growth of new, innovative enterprises over the last five years,” Narayan explains: “I’m sure many of them are failing as well, but there has been a shift and I personally know of many people who are trying to run their own businesses.” These changes are resulting in a lot of cultural activities that “weren’t here ten years ago” and a “mushrooming” in the arts.

Overall Narayan believes the changes in Bangalore specifically, and India generally, are both good and bad. As she concludes: “Bangalore is a vibrant place, there is a lot going on… the only problem is you can’t get to most places because the traffic is so bad. You need to be determined to get there,” she laughs “and you also need lots of time. The infrastructure is the bottle neck here.”


By Kathryn Cave, Editor, IDG Connect


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