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July 1, 1999
M D Riti at International Tech Park, Bangalore
The men outnumber women 10 to 1 and the hosts think the party is better off without "overindulgence in liquor"!
Welcome to the month-end, noontime techie bash at the International Technology Park near Bangalore city.
"I'm sorry I can't talk now I've got to dance," says Rathish Wahie, sweat pouring down his fair face and fogging his glasses. "I am a dance addict and never miss an opportunity to get on the floor... Never mind that I have to get back to serious work in an hour and complete an important project assignment... !"
The young engineer from the German multinational SAP Labs is first on the floor and will be the last to leave. That's going to win him the 'Noontime Binger' of the month prize.
On the last Friday of every month, the Park authorities have a dance party during lunch hour, open to everyone working on the 'campus'.
There are now about 1,900 people working for 32 companies in the Tech Park and the average employee age of most companies seems to be over 25.
This is the fourth such party, the brainchild of International Technology Park Corporate Communications Manager Vasantha Kalbagal. In an earlier avatar she used to head the public relations wing of Mudra Communications in Bangalore.
"We thought these guys could loosen up and enjoy themselves besides meeting people working for other companies (at the Tech Park)," explains diminutive but dynamic Kalbagal.
There is music, dance, food but no liquor because everyone has to get back to work for the rest of the afternoon.
The rest of the afternoon?!? Excuse me? Party animals hunt only at night. Don't they?
"We picked lunchtime because the Park is far away from the centre of the city (about 18 km from the central M G Road) and people may not like to stay back for an after-hours party," is Kalbagal's excuse.
Well, this could be a good thing. But it certainly is not coming cheap.
Each party is funded by a corporate sponsor that pays a whopping Rs 50,000 for the privilege of being associated. Intel is sponsoring this one and executive shirt maker Allen Solly sponsored the last one.
Despite this partygoers pay for the food and drink, all non-alcoholic ;-).
So, what does the Park do? It does...
As I walk into the Park exactly at noon, Milestones, a music band that has been doing the hotel circuit in Bangalore for years, is performing for a scant and scattered audience.
A slightly tense Kalbagal quickly whisks us off on a tour of the premises, taking us straight to the 13th floor. The office space on this floor is what they display to prospective buyers.
The huge empty office we see has all the promised connectivity contained within a white board ceiling. Huge windows look on to a panoramic view of the countryside. The 32 companies working out of this facility give the Park an occupancy of 52 per cent.
The entertainment for the afternoon is by Milestones, followed by The Rubber Band, an amateur music group comprising enthusiastic young engineer Prem Harish, who works for the Swiss promoted engineering consultancy and electronics commerce company Bos Calleo, and his college buddies from SIT, Tumkur.
"I think this event is an excellent idea," says the middle-aged Sudhakar Chaudhary who heads the three-month-old Bos Calleo outfit in the Park. "I plan to talk to Park officials to work out how we could increase the fun level of this monthly bash and make it more exciting. My boys and girls really look forward to it because it gives them an opportunity to meet young people from other companies and also enjoy themselves. In my company, we believe in having a lot of parties and fun times."
By the time we return to the ground floor, after a peek into the business centre called the 'Innovator', and the health club with its coffee bar and a gymnasium, at least 200 people have assembled around the band.
But nobody is dancing yet.
The professional master of ceremonies hired by sponsor Intel offers prizes for the first couple on the floor. Nishant Asthana from SAP Labs starts boogieing quite vigorously with a lady friend. He stays around long enough to get a few more dancers going and then vanishes with two tickets to a popular bowling alley.
"I wish they would have this party every fortnight," Asthana tells Rediff as he walks off hurriedly with his friend.
Siemens Semiconductors Director Iyengar Sudarshan informs: "Noon parties of this kind have been stopped in the US now because of problems like overindulgence in liquor." He is happy that "With this kind of sanitised environment, where there is no liquor, I guess there should not be a problem."
Siemens organises two or three picnics a year but no parties, so Sudarshan's engineers, obviously, are starved for this event.
Suddenly, the master of ceremonies cuts the music to announce: "Let's observe a moment of silence for the martyrs of Kargil."
Everyone stands respectfully. The lights on stage go off....
...And they don't come on again. Not even well after the sombre moment has passed.
The first minor power failure has struck the 24-hour uptime International Technology Park.
Frantic officials dash around and triumphantly announce the culprit: An "outside" caterer has plugged in a cable that has caused an earthing failure.
It's now time to work the slowly growing crowd. Right in front is the only group of well-dressed, enthusiastic young women, all employees of the Park authorities.
The single other prominent group of young women belongs to SAP Labs. Priya, dressed in a blue denim shirt, wins the 'Rodeo Queen' prize. Whatever that means!
Even stranger is the blue-white cord phenomenon.
It looks like that most people who are really having a good time are wearing an ID card around their necks strung by a blue-white cord. On closer scrutiny, the cards announce that the wearer is a SAP employee.
"I guess we are a bunch of fun-loving people in this company," smile Neela and Rekha, two jeans-clad engineers, chosen as the afternoon's judges in addition to Chaudhary of Bos Calleo.
The Park authorities are announcing prizes that go for best dancers and best dressers. They range from Rs 500 to Rs 750 each.
The wackier contests have prizes for those who can produce the maximum number of plastic cards in their name and anyone wearing a tie with the Intel colours of blue and green, sponsored by Intel, of course.
Another quick reconnaissance of the area is revealing: The men outnumber the women about 10 to 1. Most of the girls are wearing shalwar-kurtas. And most are just sitting around, happily tucking in the food like the three young women from the HR department of the 200-employee MNC Kindle Systems. "We all really look forward to this event," says Danielle D'Costa. Her colleague Sujatha Saha nods in complete agreement.
As for the men, you would be sadly mistaken to think that a software engineer, just out of college, now earning anywhere between Rs 10,000 and Rs 20,000 a month, is a blue jeans clad, Westernised party animal.
The typical young man in evidence here wears synthetic trousers and abhors rock music. "Why aren't you dancing?" we ask one group. "Let them start playing Indipop or film music," is the quick reply.
Another group of seated men, all above 35, are quietly working hard on biryani in foil containers. By now, Milestones is playing such loud music that you cannot hear anyone speak.
Venugopal obligingly holds out his identity card, which describes him as 'senior engineer - electrical' and tells us the name of his company: an engineering consultancy firm Rotary Mec Engineering (India) Private Limited.
Unlike many other companies that work out of the park, Rotary Mec does not regularly host parties, so Venugopal and his colleagues say that they really look forward to the noontime binge.
By now we are eyeing the biryani hungrily and the Park employees whisk us off to lunch.
But the caterer from the nearby suburb of Whitefield loves to throw surprises, mostly unpleasant ones.
They have run out of every kind of food! The next consignment of food, which is cooked in Whitefield, should have arrived but has not.
What was it anyway, we ask sadly? Biryani and rolls, both vegetarian and non-vegetarian, we are told. And fruit chaat, only, the fruit chaatwaalah has not turned up either!
Finally, our hosts track down the missing food. It is growing cold in an auto-rickshaw whose driver is standing on the fringe of the dance floor, amusing himself instead of bringing in the next round of food.
We dash across to the canteen for a quick sandwich and return to the party area to find the floor much fuller.
Milestones has, by then, switched from country and Western to pop. Dominic D'Cruz is at the microphone... Coco Jambo, Sha la la la and Hotel California flow.
By now, it is 1.45 pm. We spot a couple of Swedish visitors to the Park boogieing unabashedly along with some Park employees.
Our attention is drawn to a visibly upset group of young men huddle together with their guitar cases on one side of the hall.
They turn out to be Prem and friends from the Rubber Band who are worried that by the time they go on, the dwindling audience would have vanished completely.
"My friends have obliged me by coming down from various places," says Prem. "This doesn't seem fair to them."
Explains Kalbagal: "They only confirmed their participation yesterday, so we could not have done any better for them."
For some reason, the organisers seem unable or unwilling to cut Milestones short and allow this techie band to go on in what is essentially a techie bash.
Finally, the main prizes for the afternoon are announced. "We are trying for a hat trick," says Nethala Jaiprakash of SAP, who has been dancing non-stop for one and a half hours with friend Wahie and is given a strange prize called 'Sheriff of the Binge,' which apparently goes to the person who has been dancing for the longest period.
"Rathish and I are winning these awards the second time round." The only prize that is not won by SAP engineers goes to Lakshminarayan of Wipro, who is judged 'Best Male Dancer'.
Milestones winds up its act, the audience drifts away reluctantly as do the construction workers from a nearby site who have gathered to investigate the noisy goings-on!
The Rubber Band takes the stage and delights the half a dozen young people who are still on the floor.
We are left wishing they had had a better audience but they still sing and play their hearts out, just as if they were performing before a packed hall.
A remorseful Prem waylays Kalbagal: "I'm sorry if we sounded upset earlier. We had been up all night practising and were very tired. I know you did the best you could by us!"
Finally, it's all over. Both Milestones and the Rubber Band pack up their instruments. Organisers start clearing up the place.
We exchange a few pleasantries with Park CEO Goh Kok Huat who is in charge because of the Park's collaboration and funding from Singapore. Goh Kok Huat is in the coffee shop, sipping a cold coffee shake. Does he think the party was a success and a custom worth continuing? "You should ask Ms Kalbagal," he smiles.
If our random survey of the audience is an indicator, this event is certainly a tradition worth saving.
Bottom line: You know what; the software gang here is trying to have fun... really trying.
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