Thursday, December 29, 2005

Further thoughts on India

I've been back from India since Dec 17 and have gotten swept up in holiday activities. A comment from somebody calling him/herself paliopolis today asked if I was back. So, without further ado, here are some thoughts on my trip: My flight to Mumbai eventually pushed away from the gate in Frankfurt at 15:40, just over four hours late. Some of this additional delay was caused by a passenger who had been on the plane from Chicago to Frankfurt but was now missing. Since her checked luggage was not missing, there was understandable concern. Ground staff were paging her through the airport, gate staff were walking the aisles on the plane double-checking and the security teams were minutes away from removing her luggage from the hold – when the missing passenger arrived, strolling back onto the plane laden with bags from the duty free shop. My under-standing of the possible security concern did no transfer to the reality of the situation.

Like every long international flight I’ve taken, this flight showed a real time map of the plane’s position and path. What makes this different on Air India was the periodic disclaimer slide:

Physical features map only.
No political borders depicted.
The plane landed in Mumbai at 3:40 am, India Standard Time. Add immigration, baggage claim, customs, driving to hotel, checking in and minimal unpacking and the end result is that it was nearly 5:30 am before I went to sleep. My wake up call was at 7:30 am.

While in India, a scandal erupted in which some fifteen members of Parliament were caught on camera accepting bribes. That was the headline on Tuesday’s paper. The top story in Wednesday’s paper ran the headline “Netas, babus take sting off spy cameras”. That’s two new fun words: “netas” are politicians and “babus” are bureaucrats. The other fun thing is that the substance of the article was about options for detecting and disabling spy cameras. The message seems to be that the only thing they did wrong was getting caught.

I spent most of the week in meetings -- fascinating meetings, but meetings nonetheless. Still, just being there I got a sense of the vast difference between American and Indian culture. Bangalore has clearly progressed much from the influx of IT activity, but the base infrastructure hasn't kept up. Our hotel was about 10 miles from the office, but we allocated an hour and a half to get there each morning. The food was amazing. I've always liked Indian food and everything I ate there was wonderful.

Bangalore isn't much of a tourist center. I saw one interesting temple and visited a botanic garden (with only one tree in bloom). The best statements of the modern Indian culture were two visuals. The first was a flight attendant dressed in a traditional saree, standing on the tarmac, and punching out a text message on a cell phone. The second was an ad on the back of a bus in Bangalore reading "The first ISO certified saree showroom in Karnataka." I'm not really sure how one certifies a saree showroom.

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