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Last Updated: Monday, 15 December, 2003, 11:05 GMT
Bangalore - better by design

Charles Haviland
BBC correspondent in Bangalore

Cafe in Bangalore
Designer cafe and tea bars have sprung up around the city
Bangalore may now have rivals as India's technological epicentre, but the southern city is basking in a new reputation as its designer capital.

Along with Tallinn in Estonia, Sao Paulo in Brazil and the more predictable London and Paris, Bangalore was one of 12 cities recently named by US magazine Newsweek as the world's top hot spots for design.

It starts with designer drink.

Coffee bars, which have sprung up in many cities where people have got rich quick, abound here.

But they are already being made to look passe by a new concept - the tea bar.

"Infinitea" boasts tables made of tea bushes and a slew of bold new tea concepts.

"We've tried to give a whole New World look to the Old World thing that is tea," says its 24-year-old creator, Gaurav Saria.

The core character as a green city of beautifully laid out gardens and flowering trees is still there
TP Issar, historian

"Besides the effect on the palate, it is visually very appealing."

Cue Enigma on the Rocks - brewed in the fridge and served in a whisky glass to look like scotch.

Or Stupa - fine tea leaves tied together into a bud and placed in a transparent cup.

When water is poured on it slowly blossoms open, looking like a sea anemone.

Gaurav is from Calcutta but chose Bangalore as his springboard because he says it is full of open-minded newcomers - "people from every field of business".

Graduate influx

Across the park, design and fashion guru Prasad Bidapa works out of a cavernous old building, once a dance hall, car showroom and printing press.

He has left its wooden floors untreated and bare.

Tables at Infinitea tea shop in Bangalore
Infinitea tries to appeal to the eye as well as the palate

"I just thought the space was so beautiful, and it's just got a huge amount of soul," he says as his staff quiz a would-be model from Madras.

"Because we rehearse theatre and fashion shows, it never looks the same way twice when you walk in."

Prasad says Bangalore has become India's design capital because many graduates from the National Institute of Design in Gujarat have made their home here.

At the institute's recent awards, more than half the winners were from this city.

Inspiration spans branded clothing to revamped traditional crafts to a home-grown electrical car seen all over town, the Reva, which Prasad says is the answer to urban congestion.

"It zips around very smartly, it comes in fashionable colours - and trust me, you can park it on a dime!"

Old and new

It is in architectural design that Bangalore is evolving most rapidly.

Walking down its main shopping streets, Brigade Road and Mahatma Gandhi Road, you see plate-glass malls interspersed with just a few of the beautiful colonial-era bungalows the city was once famous for.

Some have been lovingly preserved; many others knocked down.

The architectural historian, TP Issar, refuses to wallow in nostalgia.

Restored Art Deco bungalow in Bangalore
A restored Art Deco bungalow - but not all survived the bulldozer

The new buildings, he says, are "modern and good, well constructed. The core character as a green city of beautifully laid out gardens and flowering trees is still there."

But, pointing out that old buildings are often demolished when privately sold, he sounds a warning note.

"Selectively some of that heritage, even though privately owned, has to be kept," he says.

"That can only be done when you set up a body with statutory powers and funding. Apparently that is not an area of top priority in Bangalore yet. Which is a pity."

But he is hopeful that will happen soon.

There are some successful marriages of old with new.

At the hottest new nightclub in town, Spinn, the lounge is lined with dazzling white seating, its bar ingeniously opening on to the courtyard on the other side.

The whole interior is peppered with circular mirrors and luminescent green and red discs, reminiscent of CDs.

Yet on the outside it is still an Art Deco bungalow dating from 1940.

"I wanted to keep it and give it to the public - the teak wood, the high roof and tiles," says owner KR Rajanna.

Nevertheless, Spinn's marriage of old and new is an exception.

Most new buildings come up in the rubble of the old, which prompts mixed feelings among Bangaloreans.

But in a city where many have chosen to come to live, most are happy to endorse it as India's designer capital.


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