My trip to Bangalore, April 2007
In April 2007 I went to Bangalore, India to research my book Bangalored. These are my blog posts from the trip, in chronological order,
and with extra links in some cases.
Sunday, April 08, 2007
Coming up: posts from Bangalore
On Friday I'll be taking off for Bangalore, India, for a week-long stay to research the novel I've been working on for over two years. I have nothing planned except to observe, walk around, and scout locations -- I want to see where my main character lives, where she works, where she shops, where she gets lost in one scene, and so on.
Thanks to the generosity of friends of a friend, I will be staying with some relocated Americans and not at one of the very expensive hotels. That will save me beaucoup bucks and the only downside is that I have several scenes set in one of the expensive hotels.
I'm starting to pack. I've found in the past that this actually raises my level of anxiety, but in this case made me a little calmer. The fact is that Cris and I have been shopping for this trip for almost a year, ever since it looked like I might go to Bangalore last summer.
I will be posting from there, of course. In fact, I may be posting a lot, since it's the hottest time of the year and I plan to lay low during the afternoon. I also may be posting much less than I expect, if I'm unlucky with the frequent power outages I've read about.
In the meantime, for your pleasure:
- Flickr pix tagged with "Bangalore"
- Bangalore Buzz, a news aggregation blog
posted @ 15:31
Tuesday, April 10, 2007
It might not be so bad
I've been monitoring the Bangalore Buzzspot news aggregator blog for some time, long before I thought I would be able to actually go to Bangalore. One of the things I've learned is that this is the hottest period of the year. But according to a post today, something they call "Mango" showers might cool things off soon.
Not only would that be a welcome dip in the heat for everyone, especially me -- having lived in San Francisco for almost 30 years after having grown up in the Midwest and in Texas, I have utterly lost my tolerance for hot weather, especially hot humid weather -- but I write about rain a lot in my novel and it would be good to see whether the city's drainage infrastructure really is as completely messed up as the news I've been reading for two years says it is.
posted @ 16:15
Friday, April 13, 2007
In the battle between taxis and public transit, public transit won today: I waited at Folsom and Cesar Chavez for either a bus or a taxi, and the bus came first, in about 8 minutes. Bus to 24th St. BART, and BART to the airport.
SFO international terminal really nice. Not a hamburger to be had, not that I wanted one, but the sushi is pretty good. Long lines at the coffee stands, which are staffed by bored middle-aged ladies who know nothing about the quick service expected by yuppie business travellers.
Inside security, they have these vending machines for iPods, digital cameras, and their accoutrements. You pick an item using a touch screen, swipe your credit card, and a robotic mechanism zeroes in on your item, coaxes it onto a little elevator, and then delivers it to a chute which opens so you can get your product.
Lots and lots of European languages and accents, which is natural, since my first flight goes to Frankfurt, where I change planes.
posted @ 13:07
Saturday, April 14, 2007
The Frankfurt airport, where I change planes and catch Lufthansa to Bangalore. As one might expect of Germans, the airport is extremely modern, vast, and offers a wide array of every possible service. It's also extensively signed, which is fortunate since to the transit passenger there is no logical layout -- no obvious concourses off a central hub, as in most other airports. In fact, I'm sure there are hubs and concourses, but the whole thing is so vast, and punctuated with escalators, advertising signs, luggage cart vending machines, cafes and shops that you can't get a sense of the layout.
But thanks to the signage I find my gate easily. I also notice the little internet kiosks [picture] -- these steel wedges with screens and keyboards hanging off them. It's two Euros for the first five minutes, another Euro for five minutes after that. Fortunately I have already purchased some water and I have in my pocket 3 euros, so I send a quick email home and check the score of the Giants game from Friday night (where the game has just ended three hours ago, but I'm already 9 hours ahead of San Francisco).
posted @ 10:00
The Frankfurt-Bangalore run
Aboard the second Lufthansa jet, I make conversation with the pretty Indian flight attendant. I'm in the last row of a 747, so I ask "Is it always full?"
"Always," she affirms. "Every day."
She says she has been doing this run for over four years, and it's been packed all the time. In fact, it used to be 7 days a week and now that it's only 5 days a week, it's sure to be even more packed. When I ask if she is from southern India, which is where Bangalore is located, she is momentarily taken aback. "No, no. North India. Dehli. You should be able to tell."
"How does one tell?"
"Northern India people are lighter. Southern are darker. And the face..." She paused, perhaps realizing it was impossible to go on without being pejorative. "You will be able to tell," she said, gesturing at the rapidly filling plane, the Indian passengers of which, it was true, were generally darker-skinned, with less European features.
After this conversation about how full the plane would be, I felt extremely lucky when the boarding finished and the seat next to me was left unfilled. I could use both armrests -- quelle luxe! I slept much more on this leg than on the first one.
posted @ 10:58
Sunday, April 15, 2007
Arrival in Bangalore
Thanks to German efficiency, the flight arrived nearly on time. My first moment in India was on the jetway, which, to my relief, was clean and modern. I'd heard a lot about Bangalore's outmoded airport, a replacement for which is already well underway, and I was ready for pure third-world chaos. But the experience of going through immigration and waiting for baggage was no more onerous than anyplace else, except there were a few mosquitoes. It took a while for the bag to arrive on the carousel, but I was grateful when it swung into view. Then Customs -- they didn't look at me twice before waving me through, bags untouched.
On the other side of the portal I expected lots of people holding signs, but there were only a few. A couple of people asked me if I were going to the Meridien Hotel, which I wasn't, though I write about the Meridien in my book and I intend to swing by to at least get a feeling for the place.
I was looking for Debbie, an American woman who with her companion Charles are my hosts in Bangalore. They are friends of a friend -- or, rather, Charles is an ex-co-worker of an ex-co-worker of mine, Jym. Jym had referred me to the blog of Charles a few months ago when Charles -- a senior software engineer for that fabulously successful American internet search company whose name I'm sure you can guess, but which I will refer to as Ogle -- decided to transfer to their office here. Once I was sure I was coming to Bangalore this spring, I emailed Charles asking for a hotel recommendation, and he invited me to stay with him and Debbie instead.
The crush of people waiting for passengers that I expected inside the airport, I finally found outside the front door. There were dozens of people, standing in the warm evening air after midnight, holding 8 1/2 by 11 white pieces of paper with names on them. [picture] You walk down a ramp with these people pressed against the railing on either side, all holding up these papers which are identical except for the names on them. I tried to scan the signs but I was looking at people more, since I knew what Debbie looked like from the pictures on Charles' blog. And it's a good thing, because if you were really looking for your name among all those signs, it would take you several minutes to scan them closely enough to find your name among them.
But at the bottom of the ramp I found Debbie, and she went off to grab Charles who had apparently been one of the people with a paper sign. And they called their driver, who came up in a small sedan. I had read that it's not uncommon for affluent Americans living in India -- and what American in India on business is not affluent? -- to have constant use of a car and driver, so I wasn't surprised. The guy wrestled my luggage into the trunk, and avoiding a gas tanker that was backing up among the crowd, took off down the road. The parking fee was 60 rupees.
We sped along the night streets of Bangalore. The immediate impression is one of walls on either side of the road, with trees behind the walls. There were streetlights all along the road, and sidewalks, and the roads were just about empty of traffic, since it was almost 1:00 in the morning. We passed a couple of police checkpoints; the driver said he thought they were looking for drunk drivers. We reached their apartment building in the middle of town in less than 15 minutes. Along the way they drew my attention to a big shopping mall called Safia Center, which they live near. But generally I expected to see lots of brights lights and advertising around, and I saw almost none, just streetlights, empty streets, and dark foliage.
We reached an apartment house and the driver honked for the gate to be opened. "The guard sleeps in the basement," Charles said. A guard came and opened the gate, and we drove into a parking garage in the basement and unloaded. Upstairs, they showed me to my room, and then, because it was very late, went to bed.
I stayed up unpacking, showering, and writing. But it's 2:30 a.m. now and I think I can sleep for a while.
(This was written at 2:30 a.m. on 15 April but posted later.)
posted @ 02:30
First [live] post from Bangalore
I'm in a tiny internet access point [picture](called a "cafe" but without a cafe) on the second floor of a building, accessible up a narrow set of stone steps[picture]. The only sign there's internet here is a sign that says ISD.
We're in the center of the city, geographically. The neighborhood is a mixture of fairly recent three and four story buildings and decrepit stone or concrete buildings which date, I'm guessing, from the 40s. There are large shade trees everywhere, though the sun is straight overhead at midday and it's not really possible to walk down the street in the shade.
As I'd seen from pictures, the sidewalks are quite a mixture. In most places they consist of a series of interlocking stones set over a culvert. In some places one or more of these stones is missing. There's a lot of stepping up and down, and a lot of times the whole sidewalk is blocked, either by garbage, or some wares set on the sidewalk, or a vendor having set up shop on the sidewalk, or a big elelctrical or telephone junction box -- you don't walk purposefully down the sidewalk, you meander slowly, watching for obstacles.
It's a little dirty and dusty but not as bad as I feared, partly because there was a thunderstorm a couple of days ago. It might rain again tonight, they say.
I just spent an hour sitting inside a small, dingy shop trying to get a SIM card for my phone.[picture] It took a long time because apparently Sunday is a day when lots of people do their shopping, including activating or putting more minutes on their phones, so the circuits used to activate cards were tied up. While we waited we chatted with an off-duty policeman who had come into the shop to get his Bluetooth headset working with his cell phone. He showed us a little phone video of his new baby daughter. When he saw the business card from Ogle of my host Charles[picture], he said reverently that if there were anything he could do for an Ogle employee, please call him.
So this is my first post from Bangalore. I have actually written other posts but they are on my flash drive, which this computer can't seem to connect to. But eventually I will post them all in order.
It's about 2 pm local time. We're going to take a stroll to another internet cafe. Right now I totally need to be led by the hand, as I am not yet oriented.
posted @ 13:15
After the trip out for the phone card, we stopped in a nearby restaurant or "hotel" -- a lot of the places with a big sign that says "Such-and-Such Hotel" are simply restaurants -- and had dosas and coffee and some mango ice cream. The place had a mid 20th century feel with the little booths and the decor -- like one of those older Chinese restaurants in San Francisco that have been the same for 40 years. The total for the meal was 180 Rs which is about 10 dollars, I think.
It was the heat of the day, so after a short, unsuccessful trip to another internet place, we returned home for naps. Then about sunset, after carefully copying a map of the main streets of the district on a piece of paper, I ventured out alone for the first time.
As I said, the neighborhood is leafy, and has lots of shops. Whatever part of the road that is not lined with a shop has a wall lining the sidewalk (such as it is -- I have already mentioned the tumultuous sidewalks, and that description holds true for just about everyplace. I took, by way of illustration, a picture of a stack of bricks blocking the way. So you go into the street, which alreadyhas people walking down both sides of it. Motorscooters and autorickshaws ("autos") stream by, and in the darkening light the headlights of cars shine on the clouds of exhaust issuing from these vehicles, making it clear what you're breathing every minute. Despite the horrid air, no one wears those gauze masks you see in Japan.
The sidewalks-slash-streets were crowded. I turned down a side street where it seemed that a lot of people were congregating, and at the end of the street there was a large white building that I quickly realized was a mosque. [picture] Men and boys dressed in white or grey Muslim dress -- I don't know what it's called -- were streaming into it. It seemed to have two levels, one slightly above the street, one below. Across the street from it, vendors were selling kufi (those little conical hats), scarves, Islamic literature and other things. As I stood watching the scene, a call to prayer began, amplified by loudspeakers, and the vendors threw tarps over their wares and went inside.
I resumed walking in my original direction as night fell, and eventually, by way of a park that lay along a busy boulevard, came to the beginning of M.G. (Mahatma Gandhi) Road, the Champs Ellyses, as it were, of Bangalore. Along one side are gleaming shops; on the other side is a park. Between the park and the very busy and crowded road -- autos and trucks and cars and motorscooters ripping by, most of them blowing their horns freely -- is a wide sidewalk promenade. This walkway is due to be torn up by immenent construction of a commuter line, and the newspapers are full of complaints from the populace. I guess it is a nice walk, though I'd rather walk in the park itself than on the busy road.
I went down MG Road for a while, then turned on a narrower but just as bustling commercial street, Brigade Road. [picture] There I finally found an internet outlet. But I still haven't been able to upload the entries I wrote on my laptop and am carrying around on a USB drive.
posted @ 21:19
Monday, April 16, 2007
Fast ride to breakfast
The Meridien Hotel figures large in my novel, as a place of assignation. And before I got the offer to stay with people here, I was planning on spending at least a couple nights there for research purposes. Since I'm not doing that, however, I still needed to scope it out to see whether anything I had said about it was accurate.
To get there, I decided to take the standard Bangalore "autocab" or autorickshaw. [picture] These are ubiquitous, whereas actual taxicabs are much rarer. Sure enough, it was easy to flag one down. I had been warned the drivers would try to overcharge me, so I attempted to bargain down from the driver's first offer of 50 rupees to 30. He said 40, and I said all right -- 10 rupees is something like 7 cents, so who cares. As I stood there palavering, three boys bounded up. I had passed them on my way out of the building, and I already recognized them as neighbor boys. One of them attempted to help the driver -- an older gent who looked like he wished he could retire from driving in the insane Bangalore traffic -- understand where I wanted to go. When I settled with the driver on 40 rupees, one of the boys exclaimed, in a tone both delighted and appalled: "Too much!"
"Yeah, I know," I said, climbing into the convenance.
Off we went. Apparently we were going in the opposite direction of commute traffic -- it was about 8:00 a.m. -- because we tore down the street at a pretty good clip. One of the experiences of going anywhere in Bangalore is that it's flat and there are a lot of trees and the road tends to bend a lot, so it's hard to see very far ahead. Basically you just tear down the road.
I was glad to see that one illusion I'd had about the roads -- that they were full of potholes -- was not true. The ride was quick and comfortable.
We arrived opposite the hotel. The driver stopped at the side of a long straight stretch of tree-lined road. Unfortunately there was no safe way across the road. On my side there was a golf course; on the other, the hotel was the first thing that had appeared after a long stretch of wall. I don't know what was on other other side of the wall besides trees, but there is a great deal of land around here that is dedicated to the military, the police, the municipality, etc. In any case the hotel was the only thing along that whole stretch of road.
I was on one side now, the hotel on the other. Between us, four lanes of traffic. Getting halfway across was not a problem, but the commute traffic was in the other lanes, and I had to wait several minutes for a break before scampering across. You have to be a little fearless. On the plus side, there are usually lots of pedestrians the drivers are aware of. Not on this road, however.
I got across and entered the hotel. Very luxe inside -- but the lobby and restaurant was not air-conditioned. I had a continential breakfast that was good, with excellent pastry, and very expensive. If the lads who thought my 40 Rs. auto ride was too much, they would have been apoplectic at the 550 Rs. cost of breakfast.
I made the most of it, then walked back. I had drawn another map to help me in this. The sidewalks were mostly acceptable, though I had to cross some heinous intersections. In my next post I'll describe the traffic.
posted @ 10:36
Whether driver or pedestrian, Bangalore traffic not for faint of heart
Picture a stream of traffic [picture] that is composed of motorbikes, auto rickshaws, cars, trucks and buses, in the following approximate proportions: In one minute, 70 motorbikes, 35 autorickshaws, 25 cars, 5 trucks, 5 buses and the occasional bicycle will pass a given spot. That's about 130 vehicles passing in one minute at about 30 mph. Many of these vehicles are sounding their horns, a free mode of expression here. At a red light (or equivalent), the traffic stops, in a sense. Basically it all tries to jockey for position. The motorbikes push their way to the front so that they form a vanguard. When the traffic policeman stops cross traffic and lets this clot go free, it all starts up, honking and maneuvering and utterly ignoring the concept of lanes. [picture]
And that's at a simple 90-degree intersection where two one-way streets cross. Most of the intersections are doubly, triply or even more complicated. There are some traffic cops, almost no traffic lights, and nothing like a left-turn signal (it would be a right turn here, since they drive on the other side).
Now add pedestrians, who are not only trying to cross the street, but often walking in the street because the sidewalk -- if one exists -- is blocked by construction debris, a beggar, a sleeping dog, a pile of garbage, a cow.
To call it chaos would not be quite fair. It operates fairly well, considering the number of vehicles. I did not see any collisions. Pedestrians, bicycles and other vehicles come that close to being bumped -- but are not.
I have this to say to the entitled cyclists of San Francisco: try riding here for just one hour. Then see how good you have it at home.
posted @ 14:32
When I was trying to research my book using the internet, and before I found Flickr, some of the first photos of Bangalore I was able to find on the web was a series of photographs of the Bangalore neighborhood called Malleswaram (or Mallesvaram -- spellings vary). I latched onto this and made it the location of the apartment house where my main character lives. I did this without knowing anything about the neighborhood, really, except for those photographs. But I had to have a place for my character to call home. One of the main goals of this trip, then, was to see where my character lives -- if possible, to find the apartment house -- and where she works, and to get to know the parts of the city she would traverse from one to the other.
Today I got to Malleswaram for the first time. I got there with Debbie, one of my hosts, in the car which she and her partner have the full use of. They tell me it is pretty standard for overseas employees living in Bangalore to have the use of a car and driver -- a nice Japanese sedan and a driver whose entire job it is to be on call 12 hours a day. Unfortunately the driver either did not know where Malleswaram was, or he could not understand our pronunciation of it. He also had no use for our map -- apparently drivers here do not read maps, or at least that's what Debbie said. It seems a little counter-intuitive but I suppose they simply depend upon their knowledge of the city. In any case, we got to Sampige Road, one of the main north-south streets in Malleswaram, by looking at the map ourselves and telling him to turn left or right.
When we finally got there, we found Sampige Road gratifyingly choked with traffic [picture] -- I say it was gratifying because I talk all the time in my book about the bad traffic, and it was good to see that part come true, even if the roads were amazingly pothole free.
We walked around there a little -- this is part of the car-and-driver thing, you say "Let us out here, we will come back in 30 minutes," and the guy just finds somewhere to wait for you. We bought an electric shaver for me, something I badly need since I didn't bring a razor, and walked around the "New Market" [picture] which looked old enough. Lots of flowers and vegetables on display, along with other things -- tropical fish, for instance. I took only a couple of pictures. Then just beyond there we found a Cafe Coffee Day.
Cafe Coffee Day is a chain in Bangalore. This one was the first place I'd been that you could really call air conditioned to American standards. It was slick and modern and had loud music on the stereo. The service was very slow, but because of the A/C it was nice to sit there. [picture]
On the way back I tried to cash some travellers checks. This is not something you can do at just any bank, it turns out. You can really only do it at a foreign exchange place. So after stopping at home, I went back out again, and caught an "auto" (i.e., an autorickshaw) to the tourist center of Brigade Road, and found a Thomas Cook foreign exchange office on Church Street. It was relief to get that taken care of, as I was running low on rupees after having been overcharged for practically everything I've done, including getting the rupees in the first place at San Francisco Int'l Airport.
So I didn't really get a break this afternoon from the heat, aside from the Cafe Coffee Day. There's another one near here (I'm in an internet joint on Brigade Road) and I think I'm going to seek refuge there -- either that or the cinema showing that Bruce Willis - Hallie Berry movie.
posted @ 16:56
Tuesday, April 17, 2007
A friend wanted to know how I'm coping with the heat here. Back in SF whenever it gets over 75, people just freak out. No one has air conditioning at home, for good reason, because there are only 5 days a year when it gets hot. As someone who used to live in the Midwest and in Texas, after 20 years in San Francisco I lost my ability to cope with heat, and I freak out just as badly as anyone.
But it hasn't been so bad here, perhaps because I expected it. Take this morning -- I took a long, hot 45 minute walk before breakfast, because the only place I can find that serves breakfast is a big luxe hotel. When I arrived I was hot and sweaty and had also just walked two miles without anything to eat. But no matter how luxe the hotel is, because I'm a white man they don't even look twice. The big luxe hotel was made for sweaty white men like me, and our business colleagues from around the world. So I had another expensive (for here) continental breakfast. And then, because it was so nice in the air conditioning, sat in the lobby for another hour and read.
But as I was saying, the heat is not killing me. St. Louis in the summer is much, much worse.
posted @ 11:50
I'm sure there's a historical explanation for the very visible presence in Bangalore of military installations. Right in the middle of town there is a "parade ground" consisting of a big rectangle of the red-orange dirt[picture], and across the road there is a zone, taking up several city blocks, with a number of military offices. People in San Francisco might think of the Presidio -- if the Presidio took up the entire area between Mission and Bryant Streets between 3rd and 7th. And there are these military installations, buildings and grounds all over the city. You can't go a mile down the road without seeing one.
Once I am able to post photographs, I will link to pictures I will take in a moment. I see that from the little balcony outside this little internet way station on the second floor of a building (without wi-fi, naturally -- haven't found it yet), I can see over the wall into one of these military compounds.[picture] It consists of a bunch of little stucco buildings that look more like the grounds of a disused California mission than a military base. On the plus side, there are a lot of trees, and I guess they are keeping their very large part of the city from being developed into the sprawling jumble that characterizes the part of the city they don't control.
posted @ 12:30
What's so interesting about this place, on the surface, is the total architectural anarchy. A modern office building next to an older building that is almost entirely obscured by signage, next to a colonial-era house that looks like it is ready to fall down, next to a huge mall, next to a tiny little "milk" stand. (These are little bitty third-world style food shops, barely more than a counter in front of a trailer-sized room full of wares.) And this is merely a description of the street frontage. Between buildings and through gates, you can glimpse other buildings, hovels, offices, yards, lots, houses, shrines, parked cars. You could pick any single block and, given enough access and courage, spend weeks or months exploring its labryinth.
Just to take a small example: in my search for a wireless access point, I found a listing in a restaurant guide of a "Jet Set Cafe" that was, according to the address, quite near. Since it was lunch time, Debbie and I set out to find it. And even though it was literally right around the corner, it turned out to be in a hotel that is behind an office building -- a four-story hotel she hadn't even known was there, and which doesn't even have a sign on the street.
So I could spend an hour or two, or all day, walking -- which means constantly switching from sidewalk to street, dodging vehicles both moving and parked, as well as other pedestrians, all the time trying to take in and grok my surroundings -- and just get the bare surface impression of what's here. In that sense, this trip to research my book is futile. (But it's also true that my main character is someone who spends months here and finally realizes she hasn't even scratched the surface.) Still, the sense of the city and the impressions I'm getting really are valuable. I can now identify so many mistakes I have made in my manuscript, mistakes even someone who (like me) has spent only 72 hours here can see. There's no way I could have known, for example, how out-of-the-way the Meridien Hotel is without trying to get there myself.
Oh, about that wireless access point in the "Jet Set Cafe." The signal was great. But after I logged on and began uploading pix to Flickr, my virus checking software started giving me messages about how it was defeating a certain virus. Finally it said it wanted to restart to complete the virus-defeating action. Clearly the hotel where the Jet Set Cafe is has a virus in its network. So scratch that idea. I was, however, able to upload a few pictures.
posted @ 19:00
The unknown California
Since I went to bed at 8 p.m. the night before (see last entry), of course I woke up at 4:00 a.m. But I definitely felt well rested. I decided to get up and work on my book a little.
When I started this book two and a half years ago, I thought it would go fast. And I guess it would have, if I didn't take it seriously. But while I'm capable of doing something at a pretty-good level, I can't consciously do something mediocre. It's taken me this long to get it to a pretty-good level. And then I thought, well I really ought to go to Bangalore, since most of my book is set there.
I was afraid that coming here would just complicate things, that I would realize that so much of what I have written about the city is just wrong. And that has happened to a certain degree. I really will have to do another rewrite when I get home. But some of what I wrote is accurate. SO it's not like I have to throw everything out.
Of course, the book is mainly about the characters and what they do, their feelings and actions, and these do not depend, in large part, on whether or not the roads here are filled with potholes (they aren't, as it turns out). Other things will be fairly easy to fix. My character's assignations had been set at the Meridien Hotel; once I found out that the Meridien is out of the way, I'm changing it to the Oberoi. Other things are more difficult, the things that really depend upon geography, but that's what I came here to find out.
After working on my book some, I went out about 6:30 and took some more pictures[set], and then I went back to the nearby Catholic Church [picture]where there was a mass going on in the local language (I assume). I had already missed the English-language service, which starts at 6:00. Maybe tomorrow, if I'm still on this jet-lagged schedule.
Then I went to breakfast at the Jet Set Cafe (see this entry) which is, as I said, very close to the apartment. The breakfast was not on par with the Oberoi, which is like saying comparing a Day's Inn with the St. Francis Hotel.
I had a surprising interaction with the waiter. He asked where I was from, and I said San Francisco. Everybody knows San Francisco, right? But he didn't seem to know what I was talking about. Finally I said, "San Francisco, California." This evoked a glimmer of recognition. "California..." he said tentatively. "It's in America, right?"
That's not to say he wasn't a really good waiter. He was.
The only trouble was that the bill for breakfast used up all my small bills. And without small bills you can't take an auto -- the drivers don't even have change for a 100 rupee bill, much less a 500 which was all I was left with. So I ended up walking up to the tourist zone on Brigade Road. I was shlepping my laptop so I wound up at a Cafe Coffee Day with -- ta-da! -- wi-fi access. And hopefully they will be able to deal with the 500 rupee bill I am about to give them.
posted @ 22:38
Wednesday, April 18, 2007
Wireless at last, and photos!
Finally found a place with wireless, so I have uploaded a few dozen photos. Enjoy.
posted @ 10:15
Field trip to supermarket, Goethe Institut, power failure
We took the car and driver to another area of the city, which I don't quite know the name of but it's out on this long street called C.M.H. Road. The road goes past a "tank" or reservoir and then immediately skirts this low area where there's some serious third-world poverty. Gradually the land rises and as it does so, the affluence of the surroundings grows, until a couple of miles down the road we were once again in a middle-class area. The Goethe Institut [picture] was out there, and it had an exhibition by the people behind the Blank Noise Project.
Then we went to a supermarket across the way -- a very modern supermarket, it had every modern product and decor. I noticed some other western people there, so the neighborhood must be fairly cosmopolitan, what with the Goethe place and all.
On the way back a few drops of rain fell. I was very excited by this, because rain and floods figure large in my novel. Unfortunately (from my selfish perspective), the rain barely got the windshield wet.
When we got back to the apartment, the power was out. Debbie had told me it had gone out the day before, too, when I was out on Brigade Road eating pizza. (The power flickered at the pizza place, too, but came on in five seconds. I hadn't even been sure it was a power failure until I went out and saw that every single shop had a generator blasting away outside its door -- making the sidewalk even more hot and polluted than it was, something I wasn't sure was possible.) After the rain shower, it was actually a little cooler outside, so we opened the doors to the balcony and sat near them, reading. That was really pleasant.
In early evening I went out again to the little internet place to blog. After the fairly big breakfast and the fairly big lunch I had no desire to eat dinner so after blogging I just walked around some more, and then I finally realized I was really, really tired, so I went to bed about 8:00 pm. I knew this was, more or less, giving in to jet lag and would mean that I would wake up long before dawn. But I felt too sleepy, and after showering I fell right into bed and slept deeply.
I haven't said anything about the shower here. There's no automatic hot water; you have to turn on a little heater on the wall if you want some. But it's so hot outside and the bathroom itself is not air-conditioned, so I have just been showering with the "cold" water (which is cool but not that cold, definitely not as cold as the cold water in SF).
posted @ 10:50
Malleswaram the second time
Today I was finally was able to confront Malleswaram, where my main character (supposedly) lives, live and on foot. I was dropped on Sampige Road and 8th Cross, and in about 90 minutes did a circuit of the neighborhood. Starting down 8th Cross, which turned into Guttahalli Main Road, I encountered a small procession complete with band, fireworks, and flower-bedecked ... uh, I don't know what you would call them. Sort of like parade floats, only I think they have some religious significance and I don't want to be disrespectful. Anyway, there was a wonderful bit of raucous carrying on.[Pictures: here and four others.]
Right around then the batteries in my camera wore out. I brought a bunch of batteries with me, but I have been dumb about remembering to take them with me. But there were all these little bitty shops and stands around, and I managed to buy two AA batteries from an old man. Unfortunately they had almost no juice; I think I might have got one picture with them. A little farther on I tried again, from another shop -- after all, what are the chances that both sets of batteries would be dead? A hundred percent, as it turned out.
So I didn't have a working camera for most of my circumnavigation of Malleswaram, a neighborhood I had originally chosen because it was treesy and was supposed to be traditional. I went through a neighborhood that looked very working class, with lots of Hindu orange banners and red-and-yellow Karnataka* flags. Imagine walking through a Communist neighborhood in Barcelona and you'll get the idea -- little flags and pennants everywhere.
I turned north and walked up the hill, then finally turned west on 15th Cross. There I encountered an amazing site -- a laundry. This was so awesome I made the driver go home by way of the laundry after I had gotten batteries, so I could take some pix (later: here they are). Basically it was a kind of natural bowl, the size of a baseball stadium, filled with hanging wash, and beneath the wash were long tubs of soapy, dirty water with men standing in them beating clothes. There were dozens of people down there working in the heat.
Finally I got back into Malleswaram proper, and at a main street bought a bottle of Coke from one of those little shops. I started to walk off with it, and the guy behind the counter called me back. My 10 rupees did not entitle me to take the bottle with me. So I stood there and drank it. A cold Coke on a hot sweaty day still works.
East of Sampige Road I was finally able to find the Malleswaram I had seen in the pictures two years ago on the internet -- more or less. Nice middle-class houses on either side of peaceful, tree-lined lanes. [pictures] In many cases the houses dating from, I'm guessing, the 50s onward, showed real architectural talent and imagination; for the most part they weren't ostentatious monstrosities, which is one way I knew they hadn't been built in the last ten years. Sorry my camera didn't work!
The main purpose of this jaunt was to find the apartment building where my main character "lives." And I think I have a good candidate. [picture] I want to go back there and evaluate the setting. I did manage to take a picture of it before the batteries ran out. The thing about the building is that it has to be modern and large enough to house all of the 15 Americans that have come over to open the call center for their employer. It has to look suitably modern for that -- and also be in a low spot which can flood in an unexpected downpour.
Waiting for the car to pick me up, I had to deal with three little child beggars. I didn't take their picture, nor did I give them money. They didn't seem to be unhappy about it, though, nor did they seem to be truly frightened of the security guard who shooed them away from time to time. It seemed a little like a game to all of them.
* Karnataka is the Indian state of which Bangalore is the capital. Yeah, a lot of its residents never heard of California either.
posted @ 17:11
Today the power (in local parlance, the "current") went out in mid-afternoon for the third day in a row. That's three out of three weekdays. It stays out for an hour or two and then comes back on -- so far. I expected this when I came; it's all part of the infrastructure challenge. You'd think that a place with a reputation as the tech capital of India would have the power thing figured out by now. Not.
Mid-afternoon is, of course, the hottest part of the day. All you can do is find some shade and hopefully a little breeze and wait it out. All things considered, I'm just glad the power does come back on each time.
posted @ 17:45
Thursday, April 19, 2007
Much quieter day
Today, for the first time, I did not make a long, sweaty walk a large part of the day. In fact, if I had been better able to direct the auto driver to the intersection of Residency Road and Brigade Road, I would hardly have to walk at all. As it was, I walked about ten minutes in the morning heat, and that was enough. I was grateful for the air conditioning, and the wireless connection, of Cafe Coffee Day. I uploaded all the photos I took yesterday, including a set consisting of about 45 pictures along a half mile of Infantry Road around the corner from where I'm staying. I chose it because the combination of buildings in various states of construction, use, and destruction, illustrates better than I have been able to do in words the seeming anarchy of the cityscape. I tried to take a picture of every building in a three or four block stretch, from Main Guard Road to Central Street.
Seeing these, Cris wrote to me: Bangalore looks a lot less frantic than you make it out to be. That's because I took these photos at dawn!
Also, don't miss the pictures of the little procession I happened upon in a neighborhood... the name of which is too complicated for me to quite remember. It's directly east of Malleswaram proper.
Today I have done no exploring. In fact, after my trip to the internet, I got home a little after noon and took a three-hour nap, because I'm going out tonight with some local bloggers. Since I've been crapping out at about 8:00 pm the last few mights, I wanted to be able to stay up later. The side benefit was that when I woke up I had a clear head and was able to work very productively on my book for a couple of hours.
Then the power went out again, so I wasn't able to recharge my laptop battery. So I came back to the little internet place.
posted @ 17:40
Friday, April 20, 2007
Last night Metblogger Anita arranged a meetup at an impressive top-of-office-tower restaurant [picture] on M.G. Road. The restaurant [picture], Ebony, has a terrace outside, and it was nice and cool up there. While my hosts and I waited for Anita and the other metbloggers to show up, several co-workers of my host Charles showed up -- they're all visiting from the Ogle headquarters in California. They took seats at the table to have drinks with us until the metbloggers showed up. Then it began to rain, and while the awning kept the rain off for a while, the rain grew heavier and we moved inside.
Anita IMed Charles saying she was stuck in traffic on account of the rain. And the Ogle people decided to stay put for the same reason. So we started having dinner. I told the Ogle people about my book and its working title, "Dear Prudence." The rain began falling harder and harder, and there were flashes of lightning and rumbles of thunder. Someone said something about the rain and I explained that this wasn't the monsoon but the normal mid-summer rains called the "mango rains."
"Mango Rain," said one of the Ogle people. "That's a better title for your book."
"Hmm," I said dubiously. "It makes it sound kind of like a chick book."
"Well, it's about an American girl, you said, so why not?"
"I like 'Mango Rain' too," said everyone else.
Finally Anita showed up, rather drenched. We had a very nice conversation; I wish it could have been longer, but she had a dinner date elsewhere. So out into the rain she went.
We spent several hours there, leaving at about 11:00 pm. The rain was still falling. Before we left, there was a conversation about dickering with auto drivers. As I've said in previous posts, the auto drivers will sometimes try to overcharge foreigners. So we all agreed 30 rupees* was a fair price for a ride to our neighborhood at this time of night and in this weather.
When we got downstairs it was raining steadily, and there were about 5 autos waiting for fares. The party split up into several groups, as the auto can take only two passengers (especially large Americans, though I've seen more than two Indians in them). I wound up climbing into an auto alone. I told the driver my destination and he said "60 rupees."
"No way," I said, "30." *
"No," he said.
"Okay then," I said, calling his bluff and climbing out. But he wasn't bluffing. So I gave the last auto to the last two Ogle people and just started walking.
I was quickly drenched, but it wasn't uncomfortable. The air was quite warm and the rain wasn't cold. The only real problem was that I'm wearing glasses on this trip and they were covered with water. This is great for my book, I told myself. But after a hundred yards, I flagged down another auto. This time I told the driver my destination and he didn't say anything, nor did he engage the meter. Not sure what I would be expected to pay, I directed him to my corner and got out -- the rain had now slacked off a lot. He still didn't say anything, so I gave him 30 rupees and said thanks and went home.
* Keep in mind what small change we're talking about here. Thirty rupees is like 75 cents.
posted @ 10:45
Back to Malleswaram, this time with batteries
Early this morning I took an auto back to Malleswaram, this time with sufficient batteries for my camera [picture set], and I had the best walk. I explored down 8th Cross Road toward the east and then down Link Road toward (I think) the southeast, although it could have been the southwest... I got a little turned around.
I found a wonderful area of small modern houses that were just great. I went up and down the side streets taking pictures of them. Each one had a design drawn in chalk at the front door, and eventually I happened upon a woman (perhaps a housemaid) making one of these designs. I'll explain how she did it. She had a little metal bowl full of powdered chalk, and she expertly sprinkled it on the pavement, making first a grid of little dots, and then connecting some of the dots with intricate diamond shapes. The designs in front of each house are different, and as far as I can tell, reflect the creativity of whoever is doing it. I think I read somewhere that these designs are like good luck talismans, and are redone every day.
She allowed me to take pictures while she was making the design. [pictures] Unfortunately it was right up against the bumper of a car parked next to the gate, but I was able to take the pictures anyway. I will post them later today my time.
A little later in my walk, I saw a canopy set up in a narrow lane and walked down to investigate. There was a cow in there [picture], and a priest was drawing a design on the forehead of the cow and doing other ritualistic things with, among other objects, a bowl of fire in which I think he was burning incense. A small crowd of onlookers was there, including a photographer who was snapping pictures. I tried to get some pictures but I couldn't really get very close. Then, to my surprise, they coaxed the cow up some steps and onto the narrow walkway leading to the house itself. [picture] The cow and the people disappeared back there.
I had a great time walking around the neighborhood, getting slightly lost and then finding Sampige Road, which I had used as an orientation point on my previous visits. There I bought a couple of calendars to give as souvenirs. With these and a bottle of water in my hands I decided I better head home, so I had another entertaining auto ride back to the neighborhood where I'm staying.
posted @ 11:15
Saturday, April 21, 2007
Socializing through eating
The dinner on Thursday was only the first of a series of celebratory meals. Friday night I took my hosts Debbie and Charles out to dinner at a restaurant of their choice -- the Karavalli seafood restaurant at the Taj Gateway Hotel [picture] on Residency Road.
All three of us piled into an auto for what should be a short 2 km ride, but due to the one-way streets, the trip was actually about three times that distance. That's probably the maximum I would like to ride in an auto with two other people no matter who they are. Two passengers are no problem, three is definitely pushing it.
The meal was super good, but as I am not a gourmet I will leave it to Charles to describe the meal on his blog -- I have the feeling he's going to, as he took pictures of the food. (Yep.)
Charles and Debbie's hospitality was so important to me this trip. Not only did they save me a ton of money on hotels, but they provided me with invaluable local knowledge. Without them, I might never have had the courage to take an auto on my own.
As we were seated and the maitre d' was handing out menus, the power failed. Total darkness for about seven seconds. No one moved or spoke. Then all the lights came back on, whether from a generator or from the main current I don't know. The maitre d' resumed handing us the menus with an unflappable smile, as if it happens every night. Come to think of it, there are probably seasons when it does.
posted @ 01:06
On Saturday morning I walked down to Brigade Road, the center of the tourist district, to cash some travellers checks. I had to wait about 40 minutes before the Thomas Cook office opened, and an Indian guy started talking to me. At first I thought he was just being friendly, but then he began telling me he had an auto nearby and would love to take me to a handicrafts shop for souveniers. I resisted this ploy and finally walked off, telling the guy I was going to get some coffee. But I had to wait outside the Cafe Coffee Day, which was just opening, and before I knew it, there he was again, this time driving his auto. He pulled up and motioned to me with a big grin.
Sighing, I went over to him and said, "Friend, thanks for talking to me, but I'm not getting into your auto." Then I walked off up Brigade Road where, as it happens, autocabs are forbidden.
I cashed my travellers checks and walked up to M.G. Road to get an auto to my next destination, brunch with metblogger Ravi. I had no sooner crossed the road than the guy showed up again. I was supposed to call Ravi so he could give the driver directions to the restaurant on Airport Road where we were to meet. As I was standing trying to give the phone to the driver of the auto I had chosen, the tout sprang up and took it out of my hands and started talking to Ravi. Then he translated the directions at length to the driver whose auto I was going to take.
For this service, I decided to give him 10 rupees (25 cents). But he refused to take it (though he did give me the phone back, of course). "Later we go shopping!" he cried, as I climbed into the other guy's conveyance and puttered away.
posted @ 01:16
Metblogger brunch with Ravi
Metblogger RaviKumar met me at a restaurant out on Airport Road [picture], near the Domlur bus stop, called Shanthi Sagar Hotel. [picture] (As I've written before, "hotels" are often just restaurants.) There he treated me to what he called a traditional Indian breakfast. Imitating my host Charles, I did take a picture of the food. We had something like an idly, and we also had dosas. Really good! He also informed me that local coffee comes from Karnataka state and that I really should take some home, though he added that it requires a certain kind of coffeemaking equipment that I don't have.
I had a fun conversation with Ravi, who was curious about my book and about the impressions I've posted here. [picture] He explained that the cow-blessing scene I encountered in Malleswaram yesterday was a new house blessing. According to him, they actually do lead the cow into the house as part of the ceremony.
Then we went to a huge hotel/mall called the Leela Palace. [picture] This is a so-called 7-star hotel that is truly on the scale of a hotel on the Las Vegas strip. We didn't even get into the hotel part, since the photo exhibit was in the mall. I was amused that when we entered the mall and asked the security guard where the photo exhibit was, he had absolutely no idea what we were talking about, and then I walked twenty feet over to a railing and saw the exhibit directly below us on a lower floor. Security guards are not reliable sources of information in general here, I think.
Also in the mall was the first really nice bookstore I've encountered yet -- the others have been dusty and poorly stocked. And the bookstore had several browsers. I was able to get a map of the city, not that I need it now on my last day here, but for reference purposes as I go back to work on my book.
As a crowning gesture, Ravi led me to one more new experience: a bus ride. This was one of the new Volvo buses [picture] that are air-conditioned and very comfortable and modern; they are also, according to my research, a symbol of the new middle class of IT and BPO workers, and have been attacked in the past. (News story from Oct. 2006.) And in fact, one of the windows of the bus was cracked, as if a stone had been thrown at it.
I appreciated Ravi's time and conversation so much. Thanks Ravi! (Update: Ravi later interviewed me by email.)
posted @ 01:32
Cars and drivers
After I got home from brunch with Ravi, I finished packing and my hosts called a taxi -- a real taxicab, not an autocab. This is a good time to explain the whole thing, which I have alluded to before during the week, of having a car and driver. Most Americans who are here with an American company are given, as a perk, a dedicated car and driver. My hosts' arrangement may be typical: they have use of the car and driver 12 hours a day, 6 days a week, and they can shift the guy's schedule according to their needs. For example, when they picked me up from the airport*, they had arranged for the guy to work late on Saturday night (and it was really late -- after midnight -- when his day finally ended.) The driver is on call throughout his workday, which usually starts when he picks you up in the morning to take you to work. In the case of my hosts, the guy gives Charles a ride to work in the morning, then is on call throughout the day for him or his partner Debbie for errands and shopping. That's how, for example, we got to Malleswaram the first two times I went.
You can also get a taxi to perform the same function. Besides taking me to the airport late in the evening, there were several errands my hosts wanted to do, including going to a place called the Cash Pharmacy, where you can buy more than you might expect over the counter. Here's me and Debbie waiting outside while they fill the order.
Having a car (air-conditioned!) and driver is extremely convenient, even posh. And it may strike an American as being somewhat ostentatious. But you get over that pretty quickly.
How can companies afford it? I don't know the economics, but as my host pointed out, in countries like India with large pools of poor people, there is a bias toward choosing the more labor-intensive solution from the available options. (The opposite is true of many developed countries, which is why almost everyone who does menial labor in the U.S. is an illegal laborer from another country.) As for the taxi, it cost something like 2200 Rs. for 8 hours -- that's like $57. And as with the dedicated driver (who had the day off), when we went into a shop or restaurant, the guys just waits for you around the corner or across the street.
What do the drivers do when waiting? Charles' photo shows them playing an improvised game of chance.
* If you've been following my posts, you might not have seen that one, which I wrote after I arrived but did not get a chance to post until last night.
posted @ 21:00
The final afternoon and evening
As I wrote in my last post, we spent my last day driving around doing some errands. We visited a large, well-stocked (albeit somewhat disorganized) bookstore on M.G. Road where I got a couple of souvenirs, had coffee at a place called 92 degrees [picture], and got pulled over by a traffic cop. [picture] (Our fault: we had told the driver to drive down what turned out to be a one-day street. We got out and handled the matter in a manner you might guess.)
Then we drove through a neighborhood called Chickpete. This is the oldest part of Bangalore, so it is a highly intense, extremely crowded commercial area. Take everything I've said about the traffic, congestion, noise, pollution and general ruckus, and square it -- that's Chickpete. We merely had our driver drive up the main drag. It was late in the day and I decided I did not want to experience it on foot, so I took photos only from the car, and most of them didn't turn out so hot. This is the best one. For better and more varied photos, look on Flickr for photos tagged Chickpet (which seems to be the preferred local spelling, through it says Chickpete on my map). Here is a good one.
Finally we went to a restaurant on C.H.M Road called Shiok [picture] which had a mix of Asian cuisines. A couple of my host's co-workers from Ogle, who had joined us on Thursday, also came. Charles had met the restaurant owner in an online foodie discussion forum, and had visited many times, so we got VIP treatment. Very nice ambiance with high quality food -- a great place to relax from the pressured and bustling experience of Bangalore.
And after that it was off to the airport.
One last round of thanks to my wonderful hosts Charles and Debbie.
posted @ 23:00
Sunday, April 22, 2007
Escape from Bangalore
Writing from the Frankfurt airport on Sunday morning German time and Sunday night Bangalore time.
I will go back and blog about my last afternoon and evening in Bangalore but I want to describe the truly third-world conditions at the Bangalore departure terminal.
Like most international airports, the departure scene in Bangalore was somewhat of a clusterfuck, with a United Nations of thousands of departing passengers all being forced through the same bottlenecks. Narita in Tokyo is no better, so I have no complaint there. And I had already known that the departure waiting area was bare-bones. Passengers are fortunate to have a coffee stand that stays open, as nearly as I could determine, all night.
No, what was truly bizzare was that when a heavy cloudburst hit the airport, the ceiling started leaking. Streams of water poured down onto the floor and then into some strategically placed buckets, right among the seats where people were exhaustedly waiting. Because flights were delayed due to the weather, all we could do was stand and watch the filthy water filling up the buckets as mosquitoes buzzed us. One of the buckets was nearly full -- it was at least 7 gallons -- before we were allowed to board our flight, about 90 minutes late, so I never got to find out what the staff´s response would be to the overflow.
Someone with a European accent who was watching the leak said to me philosophically, "Well, it rains all over the world."
"Yes," I said, "but usually not inside the airport terminal."
Update: Read this news story on the rain that night and its effects.
posted @ 10:20
Now that I'm home, I was finally able to post a few posts I wrote en route to Bangalore and just after arriving: here and the two posts following chronologically. I have also written two additional posts about my last day in Bangalore: here and following (chronologically).
I have also posted all my photos from Bangalore now.
San Francisco is so wonderfully cool! Right now at 11:05 pm -- 52 degrees F. (11 C.).
posted @ 23:00
Tuesday, April 24, 2007
Clawing my way back
I've been back home for... what... about 36 hours now. I felt pretty good the first day, a little worse yesterday, and today I woke up with a headache. So all reports I'm entirely chipper and am not experiencing jet lag are probably exaggerations.
I sure can't complain about the weather. Yesterday was stunning here -- sunny, cool, just beautiful. The kind of day tourists curse because they thought it would be nice and warm in California, and they go out and buy cheap fleecewear with SAN FRANCISCO printed on it in a bad font.
The trip was excellent for my book. Not only did I answer most of the research questions I needed to investigate, but I was able to do some thinking about several problems, unrelated to setting, which I have been struggling with for most of the project -- things about character, motivation, structure. (You'd think that almost two and a half years into the project I would have figured that stuff out, but I'm unusually dumb about many of the basic conventions of literature. Maybe I should have gotten a lit degree instead of a film criticism degree.) Now what I need to do is continue the momentum. I'm going to work all day Saturday, assuming I'm coherent by then.
Thanks to all friends and readers who followed my posts, commented, linked, and generally supported me.
posted @ 07:23
last updated 6 Jul 07
copyright 2007 Mark Pritchard, Bernal Heights, San Francisco