All aboard "the Bangalore Express"

Get your tickets punched for irony on a Lufthansa flight to India.

By Andrew Leonard
Published February 9, 2007 4:54PM (EST)

I have become accustomed to getting my tips on what to read in the San Jose Mercury News from Kamla Bhatt, a writer and podcaster who splits her time between Silicon Valley and India. Today she references an article about "the Bangalore Express," a Lufthansa flight from San Francisco to Frankfurt to Bangalore that is reportedly the fastest, most convenient way to get from here to there, or there to here.

The article is full of mildly amusing color and detail (young engineers and start-up founders sit in the back, executives in the front; people bring lots of business cards). But it's missing some context. There's no mention of the irony that the relationship between Silicon Valley and Bangalore is so close, in large part because the Internet has collapsed distance between the locations, and yet, the ensuing virtualization of the enterprise has increased the need for executives to physically travel from here to there, or there to here. But that's a well-worn irony.

Neither is there any mention of the symbolism of the Bangalore Express in terms of the labor arbitrage wrought by the global economy. Presumably, the rather expensive business class tickets for this Lufthansa flight are affordable precisely because of all the money being saved hiring cheap semiconductor designers in Bangalore instead of expensive ones in Sunnyvale or Mountain View. But that's never been a particularly popular topic in Silicon Valley, at least not among those who do a lot of international flying.

Nine thousand miles on a 24-hour flight can sound like a long trip. The closest I've ever been to Bangalore was to orchestrate sending a Salon reporter there in 2004 for a series on outsourcing. And yet, in the course of writing this blog, I've stumbled across photo-realistic paintings of Bangalorean ruins and picked up hints of how the legacy of both British and Mughal conquest inform the water and linguistic politics of the present. The resources of the Web are facilitating the construction of a Bangalorean memory palace in my head that grows richer and more complex with each day, and leads to the last irony. The more detailed my virtual portrait becomes, the more determined I am to bridge the virtual gap, myself. Gotta get a ticket on the Bangalore Express.

Andrew Leonard

Andrew Leonard is a staff writer at Salon. On Twitter, @koxinga21.

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Globalization How The World Works Silicon Valley