Bengaluru – Day Two

Well, I probably have much less to say about yesterday, my second day in India – mostly because much of it was spent in an office.

I woke up feeling pretty well-rested and spent much of the morning in my room, catching up on some writing that I owed a client. By the time I went downstairs for breakfast, the buffet was closed. However, the astoundingly accommodating staff was kind enough to bring me a chocolate chip muffin, white toast, a tiny potato pancake, tea, a delicious spinach/tomato/onion omelet and watermelon juice. It was a perfect start to the day, since I was already thinking that a Western-style breakfast might hit the spot. I ate at a leisurely pace as I read the Times of India. There was a really fascinating article about Indian pop and rock bands recording in their native languages (Bengali, Kannada, Hindi, Punjabi, Urdu, Malayalam) and refusing to cater to the English-speaking market. It got me thinking about the tyranny of the English language, which I always think about when I’m in another country. You know, native English speakers are really fortunate when we travel the world, but one has to wonder about the impact on local culture and heritage when our language begins to supplant far more ancient languages. After all, there’s an afferent/efferent relationship between the words we speak and the thoughts we think, so as our language changes, our thoughts, ideas and even our worldviews can be affected.

At any rate, after breakfast, Mike and I met our driver for the ride out to the office. It took about 45 minutes in the usual insane throng of traffic. While we wove our way through the snarls, I spotted a cow strolling casually in the opposite direction in the other lane – beautiful, graceful, serene and absurd. They’re building an overpass from central Bangalore out to where the technology and industrial parks are, which just might transform the city. Imagine not having to contend with tractors and autorickshaws and cattle in your rush hour commute. Ah, the luxury.

We spent the day at the office and on the beautiful campus of our hosts. It’s an astounding campus with something like 30 different buildings and 7 different food courts, serving foods from all over the world. The campus is home to 30-35,000 employees. The wealth contained within its walls is astounding, compared to the surrounding agricultural community. We had productive meetings and our hosts were a lot of fun to hang out with. For lunch, they got us Domino’s Pizzas. Since they are all vegetarians, they didn’t really know what to order for us carnivores, but we ended up with some very tasty stuff. Picture a basic, personal-size pizza, but with toppings like tandoori chicken, ground lamb, corn, hot red peppers and other unusual treats. Our hosts marveled at our tolerance for Indian spices as I sprinkled additional red pepper flakes on an already zingy slice. At the end of our day, we had the privilege of meeting the company’s CEO. He was very gracious and gave us a lot of his time. In the midst of our conversation, two men dressed as servants came in to offer us tea and coffee. I took some tea, feeling like it might be rude to refuse, but then I felt like an ass when everyone else passed.

Getting out of the office felt like getting out of school, as throngs of employees poured out of the various gates. The average age of the company’s employees is something like 24, which only adds to the college campus feel. Our drive back to the office was positively harrowing, not because it seemed dangerous (though it certainly did, at times), but because it took about twice as long as our mid-day commute had taken. There just didn’t seem to be enough room on the road for all of us. I tried my best to sit back, chat with Mike and not really pay attention to the fact that we weren’t moving. At one point, we passed an extremely busy intersection with roads that forked around a cloverleaf-shaped median. In the median, three cows lay sleeping, without a care in the world. You could tell that they didn’t feel the least bit threatened or disturbed by the roaring chaos swirling around them. Imagine living with a feeling that you were completely protected and insulated from any danger. Can’t do it? Neither can I. But imagine what that might do to your inner sense of peace and fulfillment.

By the time we got back to the hotel, Mike and I both felt spent. We went up to our rooms to freshen up. I had a delightful video chat with my daughter (hooray for the internet), watched a fashion show that was going on in the hotel’s back yard (now I know what all those beautiful models were doing on the previous day) and changed my clothes. I went downstairs to the Irish-themed bar (which only has Indian beer on tap, oddly enough) and ordered a tall Kingfisher. A young American guy seated next to me asked me if I spoke English. I’m not sure why, but I never get pegged as an American when I travel. As it turns out, he’s based in SF, but comes here quite often for the software development work he does for Phillips, which has a captive development shop here. Mike joined us, and the three of us had a semi-interesting chat about our work and about world travel. He was headed from here back to SF, but was planning to spend a vacation weekend in Tokyo on the way. Not a bad life. After he’d had enough to drink to ensure that he passed out, he left Mike and I to our beers. We both wanted a light dinner, so we ordered some really odd spicy wing-type things (I can’t believe the amount of chicken I’ve already consumed on this trip) and some fries, and enjoyed those in addition to the intensely spicy cheese straws. Once the food was gone, we retired to our rooms.

I’m amazed that I’m not sleeping more. I’m sleeping well, but not particularly long. I woke up this morning before my alarm – and before the honking got too intense. Now it has reached a fever pitch.

An observation about honking. In the US, most people honk their horns in anger, frustration or annoyance. Here, however, people seem to use their horns for their original purpose, i.e. to let other drivers know they’re there. When folks are randomly and unpredictably changing lanes and squeezing into impossibly narrow spaces between other vehicles, everyone needs to blow their horns to help other drivers not hit them. This perspective makes the honking a bit more tolerable, especially when you realize that there are actually surprisingly few serious auto accidents. Of course, it helps that you’re rarely able to go faster than about 25mph.

I didn’t have much opportunity to take photos yesterday, but here are a couple I took on campus. The folks who work there call this “the washing machine building.”

Oh, and there’s also a picture I took from the window of my hotel room, showing the fashion show in all its weird glory.

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