Tales of two cities: Bangalore vs. Gurgaon

On a recent visit back to Bangalore that happened after one and half years of living in Gurgaon, most of my friends wanted to find out, “How is it living in Gurgaon?, How is it different from Bangalore?”. Now this may seem like an odd question to some, esp. non-Indians living with a perception of a stereotypical India as a single entity. But within India, its a perfectly reasonable question. Because every city here has its own story that is created by its history, cultured by its people and shaped by its governments. So here’s my analysis of the two cities, if nothing else, for the benefit of my expat brethren, who want to flock to them like bees to honey, as well as for the fact that there’s much to talk about, by the way of compare and contrast.

Full meal: Because life is more than a box of chocolates in Bengalooru

A disclaimer before describing Bangalore (aka Bengalooru) is that it was almost a retirement colony until the world discovered its prowess as an IT mecca. Therefore, today Bangalore is the confluence of the extremes…young and old, modern and traditional, pubs and temples, yet surprisingly its intermingling has not resulted in a confused state of affairs, except for certain cases where city-politics and localism is involved. The city even has its own slogan: “Namma Bengalooru” (i.e. Our Bangalore) to inject harmony amongst its contrasting populace. Yet the hypocrisy somewhere creeps in when it is cited as Bangalore to the outside world, while being referred to as Bengalooru, in front of localities. The city is used by money-minting, pub-going, eternally young IT professionals while ruled by vermilion-dotted, kannad-speaking, old conservatives; each group sticking to its designated roles to avoid conflict. The old-school men and women here focus on real-estate and gold jewellery respectively and swear by their “full meal”: a conglomeration of South Indian delicacies which when coalesced and devoured sequentially with rice provides for a complete gastronomic experience, while the neo-Bangaloreans talk about start-ups and organic-living as a means of asserting their identity. And on a special mention for the local autowallahs (rickshaw drivers) and cabbies, it would be surprising if they don’t take you for a ride if you are fair-skinned and only speak in Hindi. Old prejudices die hard. But whatever little Bangalore loses on these grounds, it gains in terms of its weather. Have you ever experienced “weather paradise” in this world? Well, its either here or Hawaii. Only of course, the good weather when combined with pollutants create an allergen abode..but then what good is “Allegra” for?

Gurgaon, on the other hand, is a haven for the new and the hip. From the metro to the malls, its as if its residents want to escape anything that is old and past. Unlike Bangalore, which is intertwined with its old roots, Gurgaon has barricaded its old city into oblivion. People here have no qualms about shedding inhibitions and traditions. Mother-in-laws shed their sarees to don designer salwar-kameez, and daughter-in-laws shed their designer salwar-kameez for branded jeans and shorts. (Needless to say, the word “designer” has a new meaning and place in your life here. For if you don’t oblige to “designer devta”, you’ll be an outcast.). Just like their lifestyle is designer, their food is “tandoori”, everything from rotis to chicken. You can even get “tandoori tadka” on Chinese, if required and much to the chef’s delight.  People do work hard here, but they “play” harder. Golf clubs and imported cars cater to men’s fancies while salons and solitaires offer respite to women’s existentialism. And while Bangaloreans can think like Americans, Gurgaonites can talk like them; no wonder Bangalore got IT, whereas Gurgaon picked up the call center business during the outsourcing boom. Compared to Bangalore though, you get the perception that the systems (and their workarounds such as 100% power backup) are more efficient here, infrastructure more sufficient, and education more accessible. But weather wise, if Bangalore weather is to die for, Gurgaon weather would make you die (well, at least cry). And you might run into trouble with the autowallahs/cabbies over here as well, if you are fair-skinned (of a  fairer sex variety) but cannot speak in Hindi. Not for any racial bias this time, but for your own safety.

Topographically as well, both the cities have interesting facets of their own. Gurgaon is on a mission to mark its territory vertically, while Bangalore wants to expand its reach horizontally. If one were to spatially relate the cities, Gurgaon could be extrapolated as “Dubai in a village”, while Bangalore would be “a Mumbai done sunny-side up”.  Which brings me to the only common denominator across the two cities: Traffic (here again, while the effect is the same, the cause quite different)..one jams due to narrow roads and the other because of high-rises. 

So whats my take? Well, if you want the best of both worlds(err..cities in this case), then move to Ahmedabad.

ps. If its not apparent to some, the unwarranted bias could be a result of the writer being originally from Ahmedabad.

Viva la Goa

I’ve been to Goa before..but it has been for work conferences that invariably happen in the posh resorts of South Goa. So our impromptu plans to go to North Goa for the Good Friday weekend created much excitement. And true to my belief, both North and South Goa offer a very different experience. While South Goa is swanky and secluded, North Goa has character.

Of course, for a Gurgaonite, the weather is the first thing that puts you at ease (or shall we say, the holiday mood). There is surely something in the air. And couple that with the lush green foliage and the Arabian sea playing hide-and-seek with your sight, you already starting to have pleasant thoughts of the days to follow.

I couldnt fail but to notice the portugese influence during our long ride to the hotel. (Btw, they really need to figure out a better location for the airport, it really is in the middle of nowhere, at least from a tourist’s point of view)…Portuguese style churches and houses sprawled across ghettos of palm trees and pasturelands. But what portuguese..it appears that the russians are trying to conquer Goa these days. Every other road sign we saw had a Russian translated footnote.

One hour later we reach the destination. After oogling over our resort and a customary dip in the pool, we headed to the world-famous “Tito’s lane” in Calungate. Just for the dance-challenged and similar nerdy clan, Titos is not just a nightclub..its a cult in its own right, with followers across the globe. But with a child in arm and no dancing shoes on our feet, we decided to settle for an equally uber-cool joint across the street called “Fiesta”..(based on a reliable recommendation). With an ambience so romantic, and food that transpose you to the hole-in-the-wall eateries in Rome, needless to say, we had a great evening.

The second day was spent in kid-friendly beachy stuff: sunbathing at Candolim beach, Dolphin-watching cruising at Sinquerim beach, sight-seeing at Fort Aguada, alongwith tasting local cuisine at The Plaintain Leaf, drinks at the Fort Aguada Taj followed by another lovely italian dinner at Mamma Mias. (What to do? My kid has an insatiable appetite for pasta!). Btw, one thing I have to give it to the Goans, they know how to do their food and drinks right. All the meals were a pleasure-trip for our taste buds so far.

The next day was reserved for water-sports. So Baga Beach it was! Where else can you get a combo deal (includes para-sailing, banana-boat ride, sea-tubing) under Rs. 1000? Btw, dont think you were ripped off if you’ve paid twice the amount for similar stuff before. This is the Gujju group negotiation skills put into use..i.e. we could only pull it off bcos we were in the company of another Gujju family..Pls. dont attempt such bargaining unless you’re a group of Gujjus or can fake looking like one!

But I digress. Anywho, for the thrill-seekers, I recommend the banana-boat ride. This is where you are seated on a banana-shaped inflated log that is being tied to a motorboat. Once you are in the middle of the sea getting zoomed at ~80km/hr, they decide to invert the log, toppling you into the sea. Sheer Adrenalin-rush!

By now, if you’ve started wondering, ‘But isnt that what most beach destinations offer?’, you’re probably justified in your thinking. But let me tell you whats so strikingly different about Goa. Its the commingling of cultures at every level. Luxurious five star hotels co-exist harmoniously with roadside shacks. There are equal number of temples to visit as there are churches. Konkani lyrics jam melodiously with Western beats to create mesmerizing Goan music. And Goan people that have portuguese surnames, speak Konkani, follow Hindu traditions but are stark Catholics.

And finally, want to leave you with some “Only in Goa” sights/experiences:
Bitches on the beach (this is quite literally..pls refer to my FB potos for evidence.),
Bouncers on Blackberrys,
Waiters in the water,
The most stylish beach wear hanging on cheap roadside manacins,
Prisoners living in a fort (that too with a sea-facing view),
Petrol getting sold in Bisleri bottles (Recycling, the Goan way),
And last but not the least, the Goan airport security check…its really is a “lifetime” experience…Let me just leave it at that!

So Viva la Goa! Its guaranteed to show you something you’ve never seen before.