Monday, September 15, 2014

The Charm of The Countryside

The IT Park at Cherthala, Kerala, attracts many people who are looking for a rural life, with cheap amenities, and no traffic jams or pollution 

Photo by Mithun Vinod

By Shevlin Sebastian

The 35-year-old woman was agitated. At the security office, at the Info Park, at Cherthala, she insisted she wanted to meet the bosses of the companies. But when she was asked for a specific name, she could not provide any. 

At that moment, Anoop Krishnan, the CEO of a Kuwait-based firm, was passing by. The security called him for help. “When I questioned her, she said she worked as a helper in a textile shop and was looking for a similar job at the park,” says Anoop. “I said that you don’t get those types of jobs. It is linked with computers.”

The woman said, “The government had said that we will all be getting jobs in the park.”

Anoop smiles as he recounts the incident at his air-conditioned office at the park. “Initially, many locals did not know what we were doing here,” he says. “But two years later, they are all supportive.”

Anoop was working in Kuwait when he was asked by his company, Webna Web Solutions, to start a development centre for software. “The directors went to the info parks at Thiruvananthapuram and Kochi, but they liked Cherthala the most. It is green, pollution-free, and seemed calm and quiet.”

Anoop also likes the Info Park. “The main advantage is the absence of traffic jams,” he says. “When I was working in Thiruvananthapuram and Bangalore, I would take anywhere between 45 minutes and two hours to get to work. But in Cherthala, I take 10 minutes to come to work, even though I live 10 kms away. The staff also comes on time.”

There are other advantages, too. At his home town of Pathanamthitta, 65 kms away, tomatoes cost Rs 47 per kilo, but at Cherthala they are selling at Rs 28. “Fish and vegetables are also cheaper,” he says.

Even the rents are affordable. You can get a three bedroom house for Rs 3500 per month. There are employees who have hired a two-storey building for Rs 7000. As for Anoop, he is living in a four-bedroom house, and paying a rent of Rs 5000.

The park, set in an area of 60 acres, is an expanse of green. There are all sorts of trees and flowering plants, as well as a lake. “Once you come here, you will feel happy,” says Anoop. “There is a rural charm. The pace is soothing and relaxing.”

The park has food courts, conference halls, discussion rooms and game zones. There is also a110 kV sub-station, a water treatment plant, storage tanks, internal roads and an effluent treatment plant.

The park has been designed for low-cost operations,” says Info Park CEO Hrishikesh Nair. “It has emerged as a sought-after destination for companies from the Middle East.”

One reason for being sought-after is the rural ambience. “Most of the employees have come from places like Dubai, Bangalore and Thiruvananthapuram so that they can live in a natural environment,” says Deepu Krishnan RK, the CEO and director of the Bahrain-based Voyager IT Solutions.

But there are disadvantages. There is no entertainment, to speak of, nor a nightlife. “We enjoy ourselves on the weekends,” says Jaison Kunjukutty, who has relocated from London, where he was working for a mobile company. “We go to Kochi, which is only 30 kms away, and spend a lot of time in the malls, watch films at the multiplexes and have fast food.”

For Rajesh Gowda (name changed), a Kannadiga from Bangalore, language is a problem. “The people don’t understand Hindi or English,” he says. “But since I know a little bit of Tamil, I am managing.”

Food is also a problem. “The Malayalis use coconut in every dish,” he says. “So I make my own food and use sunflower, instead of coconut oil. Nevertheless, I like it here.” 

Deepu is also happy. In the near future, he will be taking a 5,000 sq. ft. office area, from his present 1700 sq. ft. “Our Fakhro group in Bahrain has 47 companies, so we need a lot of backend staff,” he says. “This is just the beginning of good times.” 

(Sunday Magazine, The New Indian Express, South India and Delhi)

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