Bangalore–Going back to progress


The journey of the Sangam Project has covered the eastern seaboard of Australia and three cities of India. After Delhi and Ahmedabad, the journey concludes down south, in Bangalore.

Bangalore is world famous as India’s global city. The computing giant Infosys helped build the city’s reputation as a centre for digital technologies. Alongside this has grown the ubiquitous supply of ‘business process outsourcing’, particularly call centres.

This may seem an old place to hold a conference about craft and design. Compared to the software boom, craft is sometimes disparaged as a ‘sunset industry’. One of the challenges is to ensure that culture is not left behind in the race for economic growth.

According to locals, the benefits of globalisation don’t seem to have trickled down to life in Bangalore as a city. Its rapid growth has seen high levels of air pollution, destruction of heritage, unrepaired roads, a water crisis and the inevitable traffic chaos. There is little left of what was once the once revered ‘garden city’, lovingly cultivated in the 1930s by Sir  Mirza Ismail, the Dewan of Mysore.

No doubt this cultivation was part of an elite society that drew on the cheap labour of many. Growth offers the promise of upliftment for the majority. But growth itself has proved fickle: outsourcing has been outsourced. The very local companies that emerged to take on overseas business operations are now moving their jobs to countries like the Philippines, where the accents are more US-friendly. (Medhav Gadgil’s article in the Hindu today describes the unsustainable nature of unbridled development and the need for an ‘economy of mutualism’).

It’s easy to get lost when everyone’s in a rush to get somewhere. To have a clear sense of progress, it’s important to remember where you’ve come from. In Samaanata, speakers will be addressing the new prospects for increasing craft’s relevance by using the e-commerce platforms that have emerged over the past five years. These websites promise to re-create the kind of human connection that once used to happen in local craft markets and villages. But we need to think critically about how to make the most of this opportunity, and not succumb to glib marketing.

S0 getting through the traffic in Bangalore for Samaanata will concentrate minds on the win-lose nature of economic growth. Drawing on traditional crafts has the potential for a more sustainable form of progress. These are the kinds of skills that cannot be easily outsourced to other countries in the merry-go-round of globalisation. Craft-design partnerships with countries like Australia has potential to add value to those precious techniques.