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Home is where office isn’t

There is a difference between a city that’s good to work in and one that’s good to live in. In fact, great cities are rarely places that encourage a nose-to-the-grindstone work ethic. Most cities are like the curate’s egg — good in parts, bad in others. The problem is deciding which is the good and which the bad.

Consider Calcutta. Many would say that among its charms are the quaint little bookshops on College Street. But the purveyors of the Best Cities league tables may see that as a negative — lack of adequate educational support infrastructure.

That is why one should take the latest Mercer survey of best cities with a pinch of salt. Indian cities don’t do particularly well. Bangalore fell two places to No. 142. (That’s the top Indian city.) Delhi continued at 145. Mumbai dropped four ranks to 148. Chennai was the only gainer from 153 to 152.

The Mercer survey is, of course, for expats. It is used to calculate how much “hardship allowance” needs to be given to US or European executives when they are posted abroad. Strange is it not that Indians have to be given several times their domestic salary when they are posted to, say, New York. Commuting is killing, schools are killing (literally so) and the cost of living is enough to give anyone a heart attack. But that does not seem to reflect in any surveys.

Mercer’s quality of living factors are set around political and social environment (crime, law and stability), economic environment (currency, exchange regulations, banking services), socio-cultural environment (personal freedom, media censorship), medical and health (hospitals, infectious diseases, destructive animals and insects), schools and education, natural environment (climate, natural disasters), public services, recreation, consumer goods (meat and fish, alcoholic beverages, automobiles), and housing. If you look closely at them, Bangalore and Mumbai need not be so disappointed. Some bees may have done them in or perhaps those stray cows. In the Mercer scheme of things, “destructive animals and insects” rank along with the lack of personal freedoms.

If you want another take on the best cities for careers look at an Indicus Analytics study on the best Indian cities to reside in, earn in or invest in. The four metros — Delhi, Mumbai, Calcutta and Chennai — are nowhere in the picture. The top 10 cities to earn in are Gurgaon, Silvassa, Noida, Faridabad, Rupnagar, Chandigarh, Surat, Bangalore, Gandhinagar and Pune. The top cities to reside in are Kochi, Kozhikode, Shimla, Thiruvananthapuram, Mysore, Goa, Thrissur, Pondicherry, Kannur and Thiruvalur. And the invest in brigade is led by Silvassa, Coimbatore, Ludhiana, Shimla, Noida, Gurgaon, Gandhinagar, Surat, Itanagar and Chandigarh. Meanwhile, an Ernst & Young survey in 2007 puts Delhi on top on the Quality of Life Index, followed by Mumbai and Chennai. Bangalore, the best Indian city according to Mercer, was pushed down to fifth place by Hyderabad.

“Examine these surveys and you will find the top cities doing well,” says Mumbai-based HR consultant Shashi Rao. “My advice to jobseekers has always been that you should first find the best company to work in. Don’t go by lists because the best company depends on the individual. Find the city only after you find the company. And always remember that the really successful make their world; the world doesn’t make them.”

The Princeton Review in its annual ranking of America’s best colleges puts DePauw University and Pennsylvania State University as the best for beer. Ohio University and Randolph-Macon College top the charts for “Lots of hard liquor”. Does that make them good places to go to or bad? The answer, like contact lenses, lies in the eye of the beholder.

TOP TEN

Europe ahead in quality of living

1. Vienna, Austria 108.6

2. Zurich, Switzerland 108

3. Geneva, Switzerland 107.9

4. Vancouver, Canada 107.4

5. Auckland, New Zealand 107.4

6. Düsseldorf, Germany 107.2

7. Munich, Germany 107

8. Frankfurt, Germany 106.8

9. Bern, Switzerland 106.5

10. Sydney, Australia 106.3

Source: Mercer 2009 Quality of Living Survey, New York = 100

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