• | 4:05 pm

Is Bangalore India’s ‘idea’ city?

Bangalore’s traffic provides excellent downtime for entrepreneurs and founders to come up with life-changing ideas

Is Bangalore India’s ‘idea’ city?
[Source photo: Chetan Jha/Press Insider]

Search for India’s start-up capital and two cities come up — Bangalore and Delhi. Recently, there has been some rather unwarranted talk about Delhi pipping Bangalore as the top contender for this position.

I would like to submit that this is just plain wrong. Delhi can never equal Bangalore in the start-up ecosystem for one simple reason — Delhi’s traffic can never be as bad as Bangalore’s.

I can just see all the Mumbaikars shaking their heads, thinking, You poor child. You ain’t seen traffic till you’ve been on Marine Drive during rush hour. Dilliwallahs, too, can offer sturdy competition. We have more VVIPs than you Bangaloreans, they will say. 

You have no idea of how our traffic stalls when a minister goes by. In response to all these claims, we Bangaloreans will just take another bite of our maddur vada and spit-laugh in your faces. Mumbai’s traffic jams are limited to certain locations, Delhi’s to certain times.

However, Bangalore has traffic jams all the time at all locations. Our traffic snarls up for no rhyme or reason. Just like Bangalore has elements of spring, summer, monsoon, and winter all within one day, we also have traffic jams of multiple types at different points during the day. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is our secret sauce for creating ‘unicorns’. 

Yes, you heard me right. We not only have the biggest, hairiest, and the best traffic jams but we also embrace them because they contribute to our start-up ecosystem — they are the reason we have ‘unicorns’, a term coined by venture capitalist Aileen Lee to describe a start-up company which has a value of over $1 billion.

Imagine the average start-up founder sitting in a car in Bangalore. He (or occasionally, she) is en route to a meeting, and traffic is, as always, stalled. So what does he do? He checks his messages, emails, Instagram and then, defeated, looks out of the window to see if the traffic is inching along. 

Exhausted, he stares at the rain trees all around. Eureka! He gets an idea of how to solve the knotty vendor issue. It is a well-known fact that the brain needs downtime in order to come up with creative ideas. 

Newton was half-napping when he discovered gravity. Archimedes was in a bathtub when he came up with the Archimedes’s principle. Bangalore’s traffic provides excellent downtime for entrepreneurs and founders to come up with life-changing ideas. More than Delhi or any other city in India, Bangalore is a city of ideas. I am not the only person saying this. Worthier folks predate me in saying this. 

Technocrat and entrepreneur Nandan Nilekani is not sure whether he came up with the idea of calling Bangalore a ‘city of ideas’, but he is pretty sure he was one of the earliest to do so.

‘Nehru said it before me,’ he admits. 

Jawaharlal Nehru said a lot more during his address at Bangalore’s Vidhana Soudha in July 1962. But essentially, he called Bangalore ‘the city of the future’. 

‘Now Bangalore, in many ways, is unlike the other great cities of India,’ said our late prime minister. 

Most of the other great Indian cities were mired in the past, present, and future, but mostly, the past. 

‘Bangalore, however, presented India a picture of the future, because of the concentration of science, technology, and industries in the public sector here,’ said Nehru. 

That remains unchanged even after 60 years. In his speech, Nehru advises how to preserve the forward-thinking nature of one of India’s ‘most beautiful’ cities. All of this can be read in M. Fazlul Hasan’s excellent book Bangalore through the Centuries.

Nehru saw in Bangalore the existence of two major incentives of good life — civic sense and aesthetic consciousness. You can question whether the latter still exists, now that metro construction, potholed roads, and horrible traffic have changed the aesthetics of this city. But civic action is still strong. 

Protests remain pervasive and citizens queue up to safeguard lakes, trees, and green spaces. ‘In the future, Bangalore may acquire such appellations as “Industrial City”, “Prosperous City” or “Thriving City”,’ said our late prime minister. 

Clearly, Nehru was preaching to the gallery with respect to his monikers for Bangalore. There are other cities in India that can vie for the title of being the most industrial, prosperous or thriving, but when it comes to being an ‘idea city’, Bangalore, I would argue, is peerless. 

This is where Nilekani comes in. Nilekani’s view is similar, but he calls Bangalore a city ‘of ideas’. He said this when I profiled him for Mint Lounge in 2007:

Delhi is mired in the past. It was the seat of some seven different empires all of whom wanted to project power. Mumbai, even today, is India’s seat of commerce, finance, and economy. Bangalore lives for tomorrow. It is about ideas and change, partly because the locals are benign and welcoming towards people from all over the world. Bangaloreans, on the whole, are forward-looking people. Plus, our traffic jams help us ruminate, masticate, digest, and deliver on ideas.

Book cover showing a busy Bangalore view

(This excerpt has been taken with permission from the book ‘Namma Bangalore: The Soul of a Metropolis’, written by Shoba Narayan and published by Rupa Publications.)


Shoba Narayan is the author of five books. She has been a journalist and columnist for 30 years, writing about travel, food, wine, culture, crafts and relationships, for national and international publications. More

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