The Indian novelist Arundhati Roy once commented on the bizarre sight of an Indian worker installing a fibre-optic super-fast broadband cable – by candlelight.
Power – or rather the lack of it – is a fact of life here.
In hotels, hot water is frequently only available between certain hours. In my current hotel, it’s 5am and 8am. At least that gets me out of bed in the morning (if the fan hasn’t stopped in the middle of the night first). Virtually every city has “scheduled” power cuts, even Bangalore’s Electronic City, where all the hi-tech firms have to cut across to alternative generators every day between 2pm and 5pm. And if the generators fail, you might be waiting a long time for that UK Directory Enquiry to be answered.
In restaurants, the lights go out every night on cue around 8pm, normally just as a piece of highly-spiced vegetable is perched precariously on your fork intent on increasing the laundry bill again. You get used to the familiar sound of someone scuttling across the restaurant floor at high speed heading for the alternative generator switch.
There are exceptions. Earlier this week I ended up in a smart cul-de-sac in Bangalore drinking Laphroiag at the house of the CEO of a software company I had arranged to visit. His house was next to many of Karnataka Province’s government ministers’ houses. No power problems there, funnily enough.
Everyone gets used to it, and as with most things in India, it’s just “the way it is”, another of the massive contradictions and contrasts here.
Driving on the road to the mirrored building and manicured lawns of Electronic City, the squalor, deprivation and makeshift housing on both sides of the road is hard to ignore. An elevated super-highway is being built, presumably to mask the sight and smell of the reality of the streets for well-dressed IT professionals on the 45 minute ride from the centre of town.
Probably the most memorable thing from my visit to Electronic City was the word “No”. The guards on the Tech Parks were determined not to let me in to any of the sites, demonstrating a paranoia worthy of the most self-obsessed security man in the UK. They were convinced I was a dodgy journalist.
In fact, I managed to get round this by visiting the Electronic City Association and getting an under-the-table referral to Jacob, the Facilities manager at one of the Tech Parks. Jacob gave me a tour, and I ended up with fantastic views across the area from one of it’s highest buildings, along with a potted history of this cultural phenomenon (interspersed with bizarre homilies to the American evangelist Billy Graham – Jacob was a 7th Day Adventist).
Along with tech parks in Hyderabad, Delhi, and increasingly Chennai, Bangalore is the engine of the service-driven Indian economy.
Electronic City’s emphatic “No” is in stark contrast to the general culture of “Yes” in India that I have so far experienced. Occasionally the continual Yes can be frustrating (especially when it masks a bare-faced lie in an effort to get some of your cash), but overall I know which I prefer.
Finally, thank goodness something positive has come out of the Mumbai terror. England ‘s cricket team is saved from further embarassment, in the One-Day series at least.