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Dodging Traffic And Talking Business In Bangalore

Within a few hours in Bangalore, you can go from wending your way down a dirt road outside a 17th-Century mosque lined with trinket-sellers, barefoot urchins, and men herding sheep in the street, to drinking beer in the walled-off gardens of the old British Bangalore Club, where Winston Churchill used sup. It's not that other cities don't abut rich and poor, extravagant and destitute. But here they're in high relief. And quite literally, nearly crashing into each other.
Within a few hours in Bangalore, you can go from wending your way down a dirt road outside a 17th-Century mosque lined with trinket-sellers, barefoot urchins, and men herding sheep in the street, to drinking beer in the walled-off gardens of the old British Bangalore Club, where Winston Churchill used sup. It's not that other cities don't abut rich and poor, extravagant and destitute. But here they're in high relief. And quite literally, nearly crashing into each other.For entry one in a week-long blog I'll keep of a reporting trip to India: 24 hours on duty and off. I arrived at my hotel at nearly 3 a.m. Sunday after negotiating the chaos of the baggage claim at Bangalore International-a misnomer, really, since the crumbling former industrial airport owned by military plane maker Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. has been pressed into service as an international port of call to accommodate the city's booming technology business. It takes 20 hours to get here from San Francisco, and I've been assured that's the short way. It also means that day's night and night day, which led to breakfast at 3 p.m. They do make a strong pot of coffee here though.

I knew I was on tap to meet some executives from IT outsourcing company Microland in the evening, but I wanted to see Bangalore for myself first. So I hired a taxi driver for two hours for the equivalent of $15-for that price the driver will take you around the city, and wait for you while you walk around and see the sights. But getting around can be an adventure. The poor are on foot, the noveau riche drive new cars, and in between surge city buses, auto rickshaws-smoke-spewing, three-wheeled motorized cabs, taxis, trucks, and ubiquitous motor scooters. The roads-the paved ones-have lines on the blacktop, but that's a formality. Generally, the whole lot lurches forward in an urgent mass. Suresh Iyer, a VP at Microland, compares it to a school of fish. They just know where to go.

Which brings me to the Bangalore Club. Built in 1868, it's the type of woody, Raj-era oasis that that still has a men's only bar, and another tie-required chamber with a giant hookah in the corner. My host, Microland chairman Pradeep Kar, a bearded, casually dressed Indian businessman who used to live in California's Silicon Valley, walks me through the place and tells me about his company's origins as a PC importer, distributor, and network designer. That's partly where the 1,300-person IT outsourcing firm's big contracts with U.S. companies like General Electric and Proctor & Gamble sprang from. Microland got out of the computer distribution business in 1998, but its IT services work persists quite nicely. Like most things in business, high-tech money here didn't suddenly appear here whole cloth. But the juxtapositions resulting from it seem to some residents to have done so.