Why Bangalore’s growth as a knowledge economy is sustainable

Infosys co-founder Nandan Nilekani who is currently the chairman of UIDAI, has highlighted the importance of learning the English language in various intellectual forums. As a journalist, I have seen, heard and met Nandan from close quarters on several occasions. Nandan has often admitted that he is born with a golden spoon. He has had the opportunity to study in the best schools and colleges and things fell in place for him. He is the urban, fortunate and smart Bangalore boy who speaks good English and understands technology.

But Bangalore is far more diverse than a single Nandan Nilekani. There are thousands and lakhs of people living in the same city who struggle to earn their daily meal. Then, how is Bangalore’s knowledge economy sustainable? I boldly say, it is, because I observe a huge optimism and confidence in the “other” side of Bangalore too – the side that has always lived in the dark and struggled to make ends meet. This part of Bangalore does not attend Nandan’s intellectual forums but surprisingly, his thoughts have managed to trickle down the bottom of the pyramid.

I am sharing three separate instances that I have experienced first-hand and which reflects the optimism I just stated. Few days ago, I had gone to buy vegetables from a road-side vegetable vendor near my house in Hosa Road junction. Unlike the more cosmopolitan localities in Bangalore such as Kormanagala and Indiranagar, the shop owners and vendors in this part of the city, do not speak or understand either English or Hindi. But given its close proximity to Electronic City – Bangalore’s IT hub, the area is fast being occupied by people from across India (and the world). So, this is what I experienced. As I went to buy the vegetables, a young girl (probably around 7th standard) sat beside the vegetable vendor and communicated with me in good English as she helped her father sell the vegetables to people like me who do not understand Kannada. The vegetable vendor has been quick to realise the importance of English in a place like Bangalore and ensured his daughter learns the global language.

Sometime back, an auto rickshaw driver demanded some extra money from me. When I asked him the reason for his extra demand, he told me that he wants to send his son to English medium school and make him work on a “computer” job. I understood he aspired to make his son a software engineer. Though I do not support auto drivers demanding extra money over the meter, the point I am appreciating is his desire to educate his son.

Today, as I was coming to office in a BMTC bus, a young boy in school uniform sat beside me. I promptly began a conversation with him, hoping to spend my time in the long and tiresome bus journey from Hosa Road to Brigade Road. I obviously spoke to him in English and again, he replied to me in fluent English. He studied in 7th standard in an International school. As I kept on asking him more, he told me that his father had passed away and his mother goes to work in various households to earn money. Hats off to the mother who is struggling to give the best education to his son.

The above three instances I have observed in Bangalore is a reflection of how the “other” Bangalore is beginning to think. Bangalore today is one of the most developed places in the world in terms of knowledge in general and technology in particular. Technology is a global phenomenon that needs a global language. Bangalore is already at the forefront of it, and thanks to all those vegetable vendors, auto drivers, and mothers who are willing to make the growth sustainable and inclusive.