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May 12, 2005
Is this it? I need to take a picture. I want a suitable background,' I said plaintively. 'This would look like any pretty photo from America. Don't be silly. This is not the Disney world with a Mickey Mouse logo or Hollywood announcing itself on a hill in capital letters,' said my friend.
We had parked our car. Around us were hectares of verdant parks and acres of car parks all gleaming metal, glaring in the bright sunlight. There were low slung one storied buildings scattered all around us. With glass fronts and clean crew cut looks. They looked anonymous and utterly benign. Once in a while a car would swing past with incredibly young looking guys in smart 'it is a Friday' outfits.
Here and there boards announced ever so discreetly 'Accenture' or 'Ventura', 'E-success' or ' I-solutions.' There was affluence in the air but no signs of stress or striving. I was desperate for proof that we were really in 'the valley.'
What is your mental image of Silicon Valley? I will pardon those who think that it is the name of an extension in Bangalore or a 'layout' to use the Bangalore lingo. In an Edward Said-ian sense we have internalised and Indianised much of the US: the burgers have been Brahminised in Bangalore to vadagers. Images on televison of the Infosys or Wipro campus with its lush green landscapes, bright looking lads in pastel t-shirts, state of the art canteens with designer dosas and to complete the picture, tours for visiting Korean VIPs in golf carts -- all these have created a mental picture of the Silicon Valley as a suburb of Bangalore near Koramangala.
No, I must remind the readers that this -- the Bangalore valley is a derived product though in this virtual age it is difficult to say as to which is the original and what constitutes an imitation.
But let us be clear. Silicon Valley is still in California in the U S of A. What are your images then, your 'window' to this world of Windows? As one of a minority of Bangaloreans, relatively illiterate and uncomfortable with gizmos, my images of Silicon Valley -- this Mecca, Varanasi and Jerusalem combined, of all computer geeks in simple binary terms is -- brainy lads and lasses in bifocals; Bill Gates clones on bicycles; dollar millionaires with beatific smiles etc.
Why? I don't know. Maybe from hearing the talk of a thousand IITians and a million NIITians about their day dreams. From reading about the success of the Sabeer Bhatias and the Vinod Khoslas in a hundred magazines. A valley of milk and honey then, of dollar millionaires and the whole place abuzz with a hummmm sound produced by a trillion computers: koti Compaq shata prabha; the light of a billion Compaqs, to paraphrase the Oppenheimer version of the Bhagavad Gita.
Life never ceases to surprise, all life, but specially life in the foreign service. After all these years of dealing with war and peace, of sweat and tears in remote lands, I am now India's consul general in San Francisco, with all of the Silicon Valley as my backyard, quite literally.
So in my first week I start educating myself. I want to know the ropes. I want to get to see and know Silicon Valley. But where is it?The first thing to realise is that there is no one place called Silicon Valley to go, see, and say -- 'have been there and done that'. There are a handful of places with lovely, evocative names and ambience to match: Santa Clara, Palo Alto, San Jose, Sunnyvale. These are not far from each other, all within driving distance of the iconic Golden Gate bridge on the Pacific Ocean and a seamless web of small park-village-office complexes.
The next thing I understand with a great deal of delight is that Bangalore is as well known here as Silicon Valley is in Bangalore. Name recognition is not a problem. Normally I have never spelt out the 'BS' in my name. However, here I am readily accepted into the community when I say a little untruthfully that the 'B' in my name stands for the great IT hub in India.
These are the first lessons. The operations, the society, the complexity of the economic-technological issues. Getting to know them will be the education of a lifetime, but I am ready to embark on the journey at least knowing that the destination is not a single locale but a cluster, and to use the ultimate Indian description that the Silicon Valley is not a point on the map but a state of mind.
B S Prakash is currently India's Consul General in San Francisco and is trying to decipher the code of the Valley. He can be reached at email@example.com
Illustration: Uttam Ghosh