Saturday, April 26, 2014

Letter from Bangalore

IBM has afforded me many opportunities for travel over the past 16 years. Right now I've been in Bangalore for the past week, working closely with my counterparts in the IBM Global Marketing Center. It has been a great experience, and an amazing opportunity to learn more about not just my colleagues across the Pacific and Indian Oceans, but their city and culture.

Describing India from just the viewpoint of Bangalore is like describing the United States by only visiting the San Francisco Bay Area or Chicago. So these observations are limited at best.

The immediate thing that struck me was many similarities to the West. Increased globalization has not only resulted in a lot of similar consumer Brands (cars, electronics, food, etc.), but it has also exposed those of us outside of India to much in Indian culture (Bollywood, Indian-inspired music in lounge and house music, etc.). And the airport is very new, so it looked like any new airport in Europe or North America. So, somewhat sadly, there's a bit of homogenization which dulls the sense of difference.

But look closer, and there was one ubiquitous difference that added to a sense of (pleasant) unbalance and discovery. Everything just blends together here. Traffic blends not only across lanes (lane markers are rather pointless, it seems) but weaves like some tapestry in motion. Busy boulevards act like freeways with no on- or off-ramps, and blend into side streets and driveways. Roads blend into sidewalks (when they exist). I wasn't scared by the utter chaos of the driving. It all just seemed to work, despite itself. New York City is like this - despite its size and unending movement, it just seems to work.

In Bangalore, Building blends into building. Commercial blends into residential into industrial...and back again. There's little differentiation between neighborhoods unless you look REALLY REALLY closely.

English blends into Hindi, whether in the office, on television, on the street. That charmingly reminded me of Montreal, where we would merge French and English seamlessly in conversations, music, on the radio. It's very much similar here.

That mashup quality was what stuck me the most about Bangalore (and I assume, much of India, based on conversations with other friends who've been here). I'm hoping to return and discover a little bit more.

My host and guide from IBM was very generous and took me to a couple of local eateries, drove me around the city to show the layout, and generally helped me do a little exploring. I was also able to do a little exploring on foot today (shooing away the auto taxi riks like aggressive flies) but honestly I was in business meetings so much of the time I wasn't able to do a lot of going off on my own.

Ultimately, the hesitancy I felt was more due to the VERY long travel time. Long legs and extra weight don't make for a pleasant air travel experience, I'm afraid. But once I was here (and the jet lag wore off), I was very happy to be here and able to at least get a sip from the very VERY large and ancient cup that is India.

A nice selfie of the team celebrating a successful week at Toit, a popular afterwork pub.


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