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The Best Indian Cities to Live in
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Posted by :    Jun 25 2005
Which are the best Indian cities to live in? - A Discussion
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Member One-liners on Pet Hates about cities

Currently, there is a great deal of excitement in the way India’s moving forward. We have been holding debates amongst ourselves here at thedesk about the kind of careers and industries in India that will be hot property in the future. Opportunities in areas like Business Intelligence are expected to thrive as growth stretches horizontally. We also felt that higher education for professionals will consolidate further and reinvent in terms of what exactly a business degree or an MS will come to eventually stand for.

One morning some of us got stuck in the middle of a never-ending traffic snarl while on way to office and we thought of an idea. We realized how, despite the growth of newer areas, education and wealth enhancement prospects, our lives are still mired in the cities or places in which we live, love, hate or have connections to. What to study, what career, how to invest etc led us to the inevitable question – do we like where we live?

We decided to talk about them. And in a manner that we hadn’t done before. We let some of our members talk the walk about their favorite / preferred / hated cities in India. And we decided to do that via a teleconference that wired them to each other. It produced an article that was entirely the work of members sitting thousands of miles away. Didn’t we say that bridges connect people anywhere on the earth?! Didn’t we say India was moving forward?

We chose from amongst our members – Ashish Jain from Delhi, Rahul Sinha from Hyderabad, Vidya Swaminathan from Chennai, Nimesh K from Mumbai and Pooja J from Bangalore. We spoke to them on a conference call about what they thought of the city each one of them was from. We then constructed an article based on their views. Their views were reconstructed into an article to suit readability. This is what they had to say.

Ashish Jain: I have been living in Delhi for over twenty-five years now. I did my schooling here and then went to IIT Delhi. I feel Delhi is a unique mix of the black and white. It’s a place where the Delhi-belly coexists with the Delhi-bully. You can have a great outing in the evening if you learn to co-position your khaana, close friends and mellifluous music with the brutal aggression of taxi drivers, permanently irate shopkeepers and the like. I understand my friends on the discussion here will not find it a harmonious place to work in or a place they would bring up their children, but believe me, there is great deal more to the city in terms of the wonderful open spaces it offers, wide roads, better infrastructure, good growth potential than Mumbai, Chennai and Bangalore, good schools for children, lesser time spent traveling to work. I did work in Mumbai few years ago …and don’t ask me where I spent most of my time. Every time someone would call up, I would reply – abhi raste pe hoon – whether going officeward or homeward, that was immaterial! My guess is that the majority of people in Mumbai are neither at office nor in their homes. They are out on the roads and that’s why you find the entire population outdoors most of the time!

Hey! I am supposed to be talking about Delhi, isn’t it! As I said, events in Delhi tend to make it appear bleaker than it is. Delhi has been home for me. It is a melange of people and things that have come here and become a part of its culture. Mughlai, Avadhi, the rich Punjabi food and the English cuisine. The food of Delhi is close to my heart since I grew up eating it each day. Aloo Ka Parathas of course with fresh home made ghee served with a tall glass of Mango Lassi (yogurt based mango drink) is a favourite. The Tandoori chicken, Seekh Kebabs, biryanis (rice and meat dishes), naans etc. are reasons why Delhi is so special. Then there is the butter chicken served at Kake da Dhaba in Connaught Place that coexists harmoniously in the same city with something like the Sikandari Raan made at the Bukhara, which perhaps is the best restaurant in India.

My children study in St Columbas, one of the good schools in the city. I feel the standard of schools in the capital is perhaps better than that of Chennai and Mumbai. I don’t know about Bangalore and Hyderabad though.

Nimesh K : I think Ashish has strong opinions favouring Delhi. I would disagree with him on almost all counts except what he said in the beginning…i.e. people here will not share his views about Delhi. Yes, Ashish, few actually will! I have been a hard core Mumbai-ite since I shifted here from Bangalore many years ago and despite the travails of travel in the city, there is an element of charm in the city that grows on you. It is especially so in case of outsiders like me who have merged in the cosmopolitan nature of the place easily. I also feel that a place cannot be judged livable by eateries alone! Mumbai is rated as the best place to do work in. People aren’t aggressive in their conduct and behaviour although you will not find tougher professionals anywhere. If there’s any place that defines an emerging India, it is Mumbai. The heterogeneous composition of people, the urge to do well, the mental resilience makes it an interesting place.

In a multi-cultural city like Mumbai, there is enough and more for everyone — single or otherwise — to participate in. There are regular theatres, malls, workshops for children and a bustling life that exhibits the spirit here. Mumbai is clearly the best choice for single women and I find the safety of women a major aspect. I have seen women move about in the wee hours of the night without fear of life and limb. I guess there aren’t many places where you find this kind of a safety net. There may be the odd case here and there but the general feeling of safety is still overwhelming.

The extracurriculars that Mumbai offers are fascinating. Agreed that there are constraints in terms of travel and infrastructure, which nag you everyday, but imagine that here you can combine your work with activities like yoga, aerobics, clubs, art exhibitions etc. There is the Bombay Natural History Society for interested people or you can join the many city adventure clubs and trek the Sahyadri mountain ranges. You think of anything under the sun and Mumbai delivers it for you. People complain about the lack of space for schools but children here develop a kind of confidence that I have not found elsewhere in India. The city extracts a lot from you in terms of sweat and toil but offers you growth like no other place. Why do you think people love the city despite the cribs?

One of the better times to view Mumbai is during monsoons. Despite the conditions that the number of potholes equals the number of people on the road, life in Mumbai doesn’t seem to slow down. Arguably, the best corporate steeplechasers in the world must be the Mumbai office-goers, who practice obstacle races everyday. Imagine the pace they could set if the potholes were missing. It exemplifies the spirit here. I understand that Mumbai has grown in a linear fashion that defies all tenets of city planning. But look at why I would recommend the city for professionals – accessibility to good openings, a thriving market that encourages you, good education for children, good places to live in having developed in Powai, Navi Mumbai, Thane, and elsewhere, positive attitude of the people, safety for women and children and all kinds of add-ons like good food – Malwani, Konkani, Lebanese, Mughlai, Gujju and Rajasthani thalis, Thai, South Indian food, huge one-stop shopping malls etc.

Pooja J : Ashish and Nimesh, I feel, have been overcome by the obsession they have for their cities. I think differently about Bangalore. Over the years, IT has gotten to be so popular that now; Bangalore might be one city of a kind in India where software engineers outnumber other employees! There is no escape from the IT and BPO talk. Wherever you wander, you are likely to hear people talking about Java or .NET. It is almost like an Englishman’s fixation with the weather bulletin! The crowds have increased and there are huge buildings and flyovers everywhere. People are still to learn the basic traffic rules though. The fashion has gone awry. The Brigade Road has morphed from a pretty place to one where obnoxious fashion takes shape.

The real estate market has boomed in the city complemented by the software boom. The growth has not been supported by infrastructure. The result is that Bangalore will soon have the problems that Bombay currently has. I hated the BTS (Bangalore Transport Service) when I studied here. They still have buses with route numbers only in Kannada - which makes it even more difficult to read for everyone. Auto rickshaws still drive crazily without any hold on their speed, meter, direction or diction. I don’t know which ones are worse though – the Delhi ones or the Bangalore whackos. Didn’t like the water there – it was hard. Takes some doing to get used to it.

There are some good things too that I like about the Garden city. Bangaloreans are a hospitable and polite lot. They will try and speak your language even if they cannot do it appropriately. They don’t try and impose themselves upon you. When you work here, there is a great deal of harmony in general at the work place here. You can’t talk about Bangalore without mentioning the pubs. Pecos off Brigade Road is a good pub and a hang-out for all the old-timers. Styx along MG Road is a great deal of fun. Purple Haze on Residency Rd, opp Konark Hotel is one of the favourites among the young guys - the best hard rock music is played here. Guzzlers Inn off Brigade Road is an old pub where you can see F1 motor racing in action. The sore part is that the government has regulated that restaurants should close by 1130 hours, which is disappointing.

I love the weather in Bangalore, which is salubrious all year round, with the monsoon wedged between June and October. With the rest of the country experiencing extreme temperatures, I guess Bangalore is the place to be in. You also have the International Technology Park located at Whitefield and it is the country's first and most successful software tech park, acting as a front-line institution for export oriented software units.

From being a garden city Bangalore has become a silicon valley. It is a change that is significant in the context of India’s burgeoning software industry. The life hasn’t changed for the better though. As I said earlier, it resembles a city that is looking tired and weary. I wish they did something about it.

Rahul Sinha : I love Hyderabad. Things have changed - new roads, new buiildings, new companies every now and then and new people but it still has the same charm, the real warmth .. the unhurried attitude. I hope it will never change. That is what is unique about the city. No pretensions unlike a big city.

To say that Charminar is a major landmark in the city is to state the obvious. The great monument is a synonym for Hyderabad and the pivot around which the glory and history of the city have developed. To imagine this 400-year-old city without Charminar is to imagine London without the Big Ben. It was built by Mohammed Quli Qutub Shah in 1591 after he had shifted his capital from Golkonda to Hyderabad. It is a pretty yet colossal structure granite, lime, and mortar.

On the professional front, NASSCOM ranks Hyderabad as the No.1 Destination for BPO. The Vanenburg IT Park is a sprawling landmark in Hyderabad. Built near HITEC City, Hyderabad, Vanenburg IT Park is considered to be one of the best IT parks in India.

Despite its growing corporate clout, Hyderabad lacks quality entrepreneurship. Not that it is short of entrepreneurs. Indeed, among the south India cities, it has probably the largest number of them. But somehow, if you look at level of entrepreneurs here, they have not had the essentials of being in the field. The roaring businesses seem to be moving in the wrong direction. The type of businesses it is attracting are the low-value stuff like call centres and medical transcription which is not the stuff of which true entrepreneurship is made.

In the past, Hyderabad has profited from real estate and agriculture being pumped into areas like granite and aqua culture in an unplanned manner. Myopia has been the bane of Hyderabadi entrepreneurship. Entrepreneurship should be driven by competency and knowledge rather than wealth. There is a lot of floating money in agriculture and real estate in Hyderabad. Such money is being tapped for low-value business entrepreneurship, which is sad. It can be used as venture capital for dynamic start-ups. But the running of these projects should be left to qualified professionals who can think creatively and add value. That is something, which is yet to sink into the minds of the majority of the people here. Hyderabad will see the emergence of businesses with short incubation periods but I guess, the sudden developments over the last few years have left people with little patience to pursue hard-core entrepreneurial efforts. Unless that happens, Hyderabad will remain the B-team of Bangalore.

Yes, Hyderabad is incomplete without Hyderabadi biryani. It is fashionably delicious and the best place to have it. And a must have after Biryani, Khubani-Ka-Meetha and Paan. A great Hyderabadi tradition. The best places to have biryani here are many. Choose between Bawarchi, Paradise, Basera, Azizia, The Nizam Club - if you can find a member to take you there, Banjara Darbar, Narmada & Taj Krishna. If you get a chance try the Andhra biriyani - which they call "Nati Kodi Biriyani'. It’s a spicy one. If u have it along with Guntur Chicken, u will forget the world for a couple of days!

Vidya Swaminathan : The range and pace of change in Chennai in recent years is breathtaking. What was a sleepy, slouching midwife-metropolis in my time is today a city that is as swinging as they come. This is not to say that the old has been abandoned for the new. If you want to see the conventional coexisting with the neo-modern, the Kanchivarams keeping pace with Calvin Kleins, check out Chennai. I apologise for sounding like a travel guide, but when my pals from Mumbai and elsewhere sound like self-appointed representatives (apologise again), I can’t help behaving like one.

I am convinced that the food, people, streets, auto drivers, buses, traffic, education in all the metros are pretty much the same. Chennai has what the others have. In fact I love the malls here better. As far as the autos are concerned, there is this joke a friend told me about one gentleman who arrived at the Chennai railway station from Coimbatore. Upon asking an auto driver to ferry him to his destination in the city, he was told, to his horror, that it would cost him Rs700. The gentleman began walking back to the station. The auto driver asks him why he was going back. The harrowed gentleman replied that it would be cheaper for him to return to Coimbatore than ride the auto to his destination in Chennai!

There are only three climates in Chennai -- hot, hotter, and hottest -- so I won't bother you with details of the weather there. You need to settle here and then you done mind it a bother any more. On the Marina promenade there is a long line of statues of medieval Tamil personalities, one of them is Kannagi, the heroine of the classic Silappadikaram (Tale of the Anklet), in a radiant pose as she sets ablaze Madurai with her wrath, holding an anklet aloft. That is a statue, which is a landmark I will never forget.

What continues to strike me about Chennai is its loyalty to ancient traditions, no matter how modernised it has become, and its willingness to spread out in different directions rather than develop into a multi-storeyed concrete mass like Mumbai. You have a city still open to the skies; a green, airy city and one that retains the charm and ethics of olden days. I love the Pongal dish in Chennai. Try it out when you are there. Go to Mahabalipuram and see the many temples in the city. Check out the Vandalur zoo – its good and so is the crocodile park here, which is the only one of its kind in the country. Water is a perennial problem here but things have been better lately.

One of the best things to do in Chennai is to just simply stroll around, do nothing much but soak in the ambience of daily life. In doing so, you will feel alive in a way that you never did before. And if you work here, you will enjoy the serene atmosphere people have here. Quite nice.

thedesk : Well, there were views, counter-views and expressions of all kinds.While Ashish from Delhi was witty and amusingly confrontationist about being belling the bully (we liked it!), Nimesh was enthused about the collective qualities of people that make Mumbai. Pooja was blow hot blow cold about Bangalore but blew us away with her comprehensive observations about the city. Rahul began by professing his love for Hyderabad and ended up assessing rationally what is wrong with the city. That was as natural as it could get. We wish we could have the Guntur chicken right now! And Vidya, you did end up sounding like a travel guide – the one we would love to hear from if we were to visit Chennai.

The amazing part is that they shared similar passions for food – mouthwatering local dishes - which goes to prove that the way to a member’s mind is through his/her stomach, and passions about the driving skills of auto drivers, traffic congestion and the scant regard for the views of other members in the discussion (we like that too….its called competitiveness…and the Indian cricket and hockey teams need lots of that). Seriously, the one factor that was strikingly common was the opinion that everywhere, things had changed – an indicator of growth, consumerism, modern amenities and globalization in India amidst the chaos and lack of planning.

We thank everybody for the time you spared to give your views on your city. It was interesting, entertaining and thought provoking. We will come up with another discussion on Pune, Kolkata, Gurgaon, Ahmedabad and Chandigarh soon. If any member is interested in putting across his/her opinion, please email and we will get in touch with you. You can also post your comments about this discussion below.

Here’s what each said when asked about a quick final take on what they hated in other cities?

Ashish : The traffic in Mumbai sucks. So does the housing and quality of life.

Vidya : I hate the snobbery in all big cities other than Chennai.

Pooja : No comments.

Nimesh : Aggression in cities like Delhi, Chandigarh, which many somehow believe is the way one should conduct.

Rahul : I am not obsessed with hating cities for lack of facility. Mumbai is crowded because people converge. Delhi is silly because that’s mistaken as a virtue. Hyderabad and Chennai are small towns claiming to be metros…so I must ignore them. Bangalore – it’ll soon have all of Mumbai’s problems…

thedesk : Didn’t we say… Fascinating India ?!