Sunday, August 17, 2008

saying goodbye

As is expected with my typical blogging lag (blag? hmmmm), I've been back in the U.S. for a week now, despite cancelled flights, lost luggage, and other misadventures. It's been weird adjusting; obviously I'm happy to see my family, my friends, and my home, but I feel like I've been living in India for a lot longer than two months. I still tend to walk on the left side of the aisle or sidewalk; my first impulse is to say "mail" instead of "email" and sign things with "warm regards" instead of "sincerely"; I've taken to adding cayenne pepper to various American foods because they're just too bland. I sometimes start to say thik hai instead of okay, and when I have online conversations they degenerate into the slang and abbreviations my Indian friends use. The transition from (almost) no white people to (almost) all white people has also been weird; I don't get stared at anymore, and I'm not any kind of minority. People understand me when I talk, and I don't have an American accent because everyone else does too.

However, I haven't had much time to think about it. I've been incredibly busy ever since my plane touched down at midnight Sunday night. There's so much to get ready for fall: the Katzenjammers are coming to my house for beachweek, so my mom is OCD about me cleaning stuff in ADDITION to finding gigs, finishing arrangements, planning rehearsals, and figuring out how the heck I'm going to entertain twelve college students for a week in exciting central PA; I'm hitting garage sales and Walmart for stuff for my apartment in Spelman this fall; I'm still unpacking and organizing everything, and packing again for school; tutoring my little sister and her friends to prepare for the SAT; practicing piano to get ready for a class I'm taking this fall; having lunch with this old friend and that before everyone heads off to college again; working out my finances for the fall with princeton financial aid and signing off on the Charter contract; finding course equivalents and getting approval and figuring out my studying abroad in the spring, because I have to apply for everything as soon as I return to school.

So you can see, there's a lot to do. Being in India was much easier in that respect. However, even standing on its own . . . this was an incredible summer, and one of the best of my life. I gained valuable work experience, traveled around a remarkable country, and made some lifelong friends. I'm extraordinarily grateful for the opportunity I had to do this; I am truly blessed.

I do miss India very much though; I'm surprised at how much I love the country, its culture, and its inhabitants. I'm determined to return someday, whether or not it's anytime soon. I'll close this chapter of my life with an entry in my journal, written on the runway as my plane took off from the Bangalore airport en route to Frankfurt. The prose is overly romanticized and trite, but the sentiment behind it is real. I will return to India someday . . . that's a promise.

Until next time--


After two and a half months in this mysterious, surprising, amazing country, I sit on a runway bound for Germany and then the U.S., contemplating and remembering my time here.

I feel a deep sense of attachment to India, a sort of acknowledgment of the spell it's cast on my life for the past 10 weeks. Although I have no blood connection here, I find myself identifying with-- no, more than identifying with-- truly a part of the Indian culture and lifestyle. I want to know and do and be everything that is India. I am determined to return someday, whether it takes me months, years, or even decades.

Leaving campus for the last time was surprisingly even more difficult than saying goodbye to each individual. I guess the geographic entity represents more than just Infosys; it represents the whole of the experience I've had here, and most of all the people with whom I experienced it and my own immense personal growth that resulted from my interaction with them. I still can't believe it's over; the whirlwind of goodbyes gave no closure to what was the most incredible summer of my life thus far. I'm not ready to return to a world of bland food, pristine and gleaming cities with a minimum of traffic, easy and convenient travel, people who understand me when I talk, and streets that are free of litter and livestock. I feel as though I have just begun to grasp the feel and the tricks to life here. Ironically, today was the first day I was completely confident alone in the city, navigating and speaking and living. I wasn't terribly skilled, but I am learning and enjoying the process. It doesn't seem fair to end it all now.

I will sorely miss this place, this country that burrowed into my heart and rooted there when I was looking the other way. Or perhaps I was fully aware that I was developing an impossible love: love of a country that could not be more different than my own. Perhaps I was setting myself up for this from day one.

All I know is that India has infected me somehow, and whether or not I return anytime soon I will carry a little piece of India with my always. You might find me hovering around a SASA studybreak, criticizing the quality of the free Indian food; sitting at a Hindi language table, confused out of my mind but determined to continue my study; watching a Bollywood movie with (or maybe without) subtitles; listening to the newest A.R. Rahman soundtrack with due appreciation; and in general, giving in to the hold this country now has on me and doing my best to survive until I can return someday.


the gang at mocha, sometime in the middle of the summer

George with student mentors Priya, Preeti, and Anjali

Madhav and me :)

Madhav, Devanshu and Tejas after Tejas's successful presentation

Tejas and me, final goodbyes :(

Sunday, August 3, 2008

the new york of india

sorry for the long wait between posts, but things have been busy around here. Not only has my project started to heat up at work, but unfortunately the goodbyes have started. Since the length of people's projects vary, the interns who arrived at the beginning of June with me have been dropping off one by one, so we've been going to the city a lot for goodbye dinners etc. I'm not looking forward to my own goodbye in less than a week, although I'm excited to go home to see my family for at least a few week before school starts again.

Anyway . . . ever since reading Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts (a book I finished at the beginning of my internship-- I highly recommend it, it's one of the best books I've ever read), I've wanted to visit Bombay, or Mumbai। It's a city with a culture all its own . . . with a population of 13 million (21 million if you count the suburbs), it's the second largest city in the world after Shanghai.

One of my friends from Bombay, when I asked him what I should do when I was there, told me that Bombay wasn't about places or events or touristy sightseeing-- that it was about the feel of the city. I didn't understand until I got there and discovered the reality of Mumbai: a truly international city, and completely different than anything I've experienced in India thus far. It's a city that draws you in, that makes you want to be a part of its thriving, vibrant community. It's attractive to both natives and foreigners alike-- this is the first time this summer where I felt like I could blend in and that I belonged. There were tourists and travelers everywhere, from every country and every possible walk of life, all exploring and wondering and drinking it n: the crazy melting pot that is Bombay.

Bombay is-- I have no more refined way to say it-- cool. It really is the New York of India in many ways, and it's more than just the fact that they are both major tourist destinations. In India, Bombay is viewed as the must-see city. "You've got to go to Bombay," people say. People from Bombay have a sort of automatic popularity/respect, just like people from New York. They talk differently: the Hindi in Bombay has a sort of swagger to it. Even the little I could understand was noticeable.

We stayed just north of the famed Colaba district, in probably the shadiest hostel I've ever seen: The Hotel New Bengal, champion of sketchy. This hotel employed approximately 30-40 youngish Indian men who hung out on the stairwells with apparently nothing to do. The hallways were narrow, dark, and winding, and each room had an air-conditioning unit that drained into a water bottle just outside the door (really). Breakfast, the same food each day, was served in a tiny restaurant down the street-- chai, puri, sambar, a banana, toast, and a hardboiled egg. Each time we exited the hotel, we were surrounded by cab drivers vying for our fare, each time with a different excuse as to why we should pay about 5x as much as was necessary. They ranged from "it's dark" to "there are no other cabs around" (Shane's reaction to that was to say "What do you mean?? There are cabs everywhere! Cab! Cab! Cab! Cab!" and to walk out and promptly get another taxi).

However, my personal favorite taxi-driver ridiculousness: "it's raining."


Let me explain. It is currently monsoon season across most of India, which means it's raining a lot. Bangalore has it nice; it rains about an hour each afternoon, which keeps the weather nice and cool and the rest of the day beautiful. Bombay, however, was a constant downpour. It got to the point where it was mildly drizzling (U.S. style "rain") and we would say ah! It's stopped raining! I don't think I have ever been more thoroughly wet in my life than over that weekend. This is why all of my pictures are very gray and dreary.

Now on to the actual events of the trip. To be brief, I'll just list them:

Friday Morning: Elephanta Island. We took an hour-long ferry to the island to see some cool rock-cut temples and caves. And monkeys. We met a cool guy named Gary on the boat, from California.

Friday Afternoon: Tour of Dharavi. Dharavi is the largest slum in India and second-largest in Asia, home to over 1 million people. I was initially hesitant about touring a slum; as a strong advocate of preserving human dignity, I feel very strongly that people are not attractions; people's poverty even less so. My friends convinced me to do it for the sake of "awareness," although I thought to myself that I was already aware that slums existed, that there was poverty in the world. I didn't need this tour.

I couldn't have been more wrong. The lesson I needed was not about the poverty of the slum, but rather its thriving industry and the warmth of its people. Yes, the slum was filthy and crowded, haphazardly winding lanes with bits of wire sticking out everywhere, and alleys barely big enough for an average-sized man to pass through. The people were quite poor. However, this was not abject, streetside poverty. The people in the slum worked hard for their meager living in the various slum industries: plastic recycling, pottery, tanning, baking, textiles, and much more. The children go to school, and the women keep the families and the tiny homes. And despite the bare-faced poverty, I was never asked for a cent, for the first time in India. The people's smiling faces and overall warmth was more than enough to make up for my cold, wet discomfort. Although I was soaked to the bone and ankle-deep in sewage as the skies opened above me, I don't think I have ever felt safer or more contented in all my time here. I am extraordinarily glad I listened to my friends. If you're ever in Bombay, contact Reality Tours and Travels, the agency that guided us around Dharavi. The tours are very sensitive: no photos allowed, and the guides know all the people in the slum and know they don't mind tourists. They also donate 80% of profits to an NGO that works in the slum, and they themselves teach English, photography, and computer classes to the children of Dharavi.

Friday night was at a club called Red Light, courtesy of Kersi's friend Rishabh. It's all about connections in India, especially Bombay, so Rishabh was able to get us into this club. It was a pretty nice place, but very crowded by the end of the night. You could barely move, let alone dance. Also, we had to leave by the back door, through the kitchen of some restaurant, in order to avoid the cops that were waiting outside the front door. Intriguing.

Saturday was shopping. All day. Shopping. Wow. We went to Colaba Causeway, which is crowded with both sidewalk stalls and legit shops on the side. I actually almost bought a trumpet, which I had bargained down to 1300 rupees (about $30), since it was playable and in good condition, but couldn't figure out how to get it back home. Instead, we bargained hard for trinkets and scarves and DVDs and who knows what. For about 6 hours. We also ate lunch at Leopold's, the famed Colaba dive where every tourist MUST go (it's prominently featured in Shantaram, so I'm glad I went).

After shopping we hung out to "see the sunset" from Chowpatty beach (i.e., the sky goes from light gray to dark gray), where we had bhutta and decided what to do for the rest of the night. We settled for dinner and another club called Play, recommended to us by Bombay-dwelling intern friends. However, things took a turn for the worse as one of my friends, George, had to be rushed to the hospital. He'd been feeling sick all day and had a sudden attack of lots of problems-- I'll spare you the details. Anyway, George actually stayed in the hospital for two nights, so that put a bit of a damper over the rest of us as we continued our trip.

We still saw a few more things though; we ate at Swati Snacks, which serves street food that's safe for foreigners (hahaha), then went to visit Haji Ali Mosque. The mosque is at the end of a causeway leading out into the bay, where both the faithful and the curious trudge to and fro for the chance to see inside.

On our way to the airport we stopped at Bandra, where we ate dinner (my birthday!) and visited friends and caught up on the news of the weekend's bombings of Bangalore and Ahmedabad. Don't worry, I'm safe, all my friends are safe too. There were several bombings in Bangalore on July 25 but none were terribly serious; the Ahmedabad blasts were much worse.

The flight home was uneventful, especially compared to the bustling metropolis we had just left. I really liked the city, and I plan to return someday. But for now, I'll settle for writing about it.


Because I'm so late with this entry, I only have four days left in Bangalore! Time has gone by so quickly. I'll try to write another post before I leave, summarizing my internship and my experience in the great, exciting country that is India.

The Taj and the Gateway to India, from the Elephanta Ferry

Mama and baby monkey on Elephanta

Temple on Elephanta

The Dhobi Ghat, world's largest open-air laundry. I had some of my clothes washed there :)

Streets of Bombay

Getting juice outside of Haji Ali mosque

Haji Ali and the long causeway leading to it

Thursday, July 24, 2008

god's own country

I am determined to have this blog up to date before I leave for Bombay in 5 hours.

Last weekend was the trip we'd been waiting for for weeks . . . the Infosys-sponsored trip to Cochin, Kerala. For those of you who don't know, the Indian state of Kerala is known for its incredible scenic beauty and tranquil atmosphere (and its seafood!) We left Infosys campus at about 6:30pm (which, on Indian Standard Time, translated to about 7:15. From there we took two full buses to the central city railway station, where all sixty of us boarded a train bound for Cochin.

Indian trains are famous for being crowded, dirty, and smelly (what people call "a real cultural experience"), but except for a healthy dose of cockroaches ours was okay. There were so many interns and InStep staff that we had reserved an entire train car just for ourselves. We traveled in 3-AC, meaning air-conditioned cars with 3 tiers of bunks that folded down into seats. Each compartment had eight bunks, but we fit about fifteen people at one point since no one seemed to want to sleep (although the train ride was thirteen hours long). We were relieved to arrive at Ernakulam Town station at 10:30 the next morning, where more AC buses waited to take us to our hotel.

Our hotel. Wow. The hotel was absolutely amazing. Infosys put us up in the Taj Malabar, a 5-star resort that was right on the harbor. It was kind of a big deal-- think waiters in turbans offering you glasses of papaya juice and jasmine flowers as soon as you walk into the lobby. My friend Nasheeta and I had a room on the top floor, with a great view of the harbor, and of course the furnishing etc was exquisite. We relaxed in our rooms for a few minutes and headed down for brunch (included as part of the conference package Infosys had gotten for us). Delicious food-- Indian food, Western food, and specialties of Kerala-- was served all weekend in a special private dining room.

After lunch we went on a sightseeing tour of the historic parts of Cochin, including an old church, some Chinese fishing nets, and my favorite: Jewtown. There's actually a district in Cochin that's legitimately called Jewtown, which is renowned for its commission-free shopping and a really old synagogue (we weren't allowed in the synagogue because it was Saturday). But still, you don't get to look around and see signs that say "Two Minutes to Jew Town!" in the U.S.

After the sightseeing tour we relaxed at the hotel (or rather, the bar in the hotel lobby) until the "Sunset Cruise," which we turned into a complete dance party on the boat. We sailed around the harbor until dark (it gets dark at about 7pm here in India, have I mentioned that?), waving to fishermen who then danced with us from their boats. A good time was had by all.

From the cruise there was a demonstration on the traditional dance/theater style of Kerala, which I had heard from other interns was quite dull (the other sixty interns went last weekend). So, my friends and I decided to go swimming instead! The pool at the Taj is beautiful and ends only about 10 feet from the water; it actually looks like it feeds directly into the ocean. Two of my Indian friends didn't even know how to swim, but we got them into the water, and by the end of the weekend they were racing each other for short stretches.

Dinner was served in the hotel once more, after which the interns split up. Some people went to go find a club in Cochin, and others decided to try to crash a private wedding party at the hotel. It was apparently going pretty well-- they were pretending to be Australian-- until they got to the bar, at which point they were firmly denied. I preferred to enjoy my five-star penthouse room, watching a movie with some friends, and then hung out in the 24-hour restaurant in the lobby until I was too tired to continue.

After an unwanted 5am wakeup call, courtesy of my friends Madhav and Madhav, we woke up bright and early (not THAT early though) for a journey into the backwaters of Kerala. The backwaters are the most famous part of Kerala-- basically the entire state is a huge delta and there are tons of waterways running in and out of everywhere. You're supposed to take a houseboat and just float along for a few days, relaxing and soaking everything in. However, we took five small canoes through very overgrown, small-channel backwaters. It was beautiful, in a wild sort of way-- the trees seemed almost as if they were choking the small creek, the banks overgrown with bramble bushes, and snakes slithering through the water alongside the boats. It was peaceful, to be sure, but very undeveloped and . . . real, I guess.

Midway through the boat tour we stopped for coconut water-- but this time we actually saw the man climb the tree, pull down the coconut, hack it open with a machete and hand us a straw. Delicious. We also got to see some spice trees growing, and try to climb the coconut trees ourselves (it's harder than it looks!). It was a cool experience.

After the backwaters tour, it was time to say goodbye to our dear Taj. We took another round of swimming and a giant lunch, and then headed to the train station for our 13-hour overnight journey home: just in time for work Monday morning. It was a fun, relaxing, and memorable weekend, and I really appreciate Infosys doing it for us.

Train on the way to Kerala

Cochin harbor, as viewed from our room

Jew town and some jews

Friends on board the sunset cruise

The backwaters of Kerala

Me attempting to climb the coconut tree

mmmm coconut!

Monday, July 14, 2008

Buses, Biryani, Bibles, Bargaining, and Babies-- a weekend in Hyderabad

I’m apologizing in advance for the unforgivable length of this entry.

After a ten-hour, overnight journey (punctuated by one 3am crash that wasn't serious enough to stop for, although we found later that it had spidered the windshield pretty good) on a semi-sleeper bus--seats that recline up to 45 degrees, but no beds--we arrived at the bustling Mahatma Gandhi bus station, where we were immediately accosted by taxi and auto-rickshaw drivers. They wouldn’t let us go easily, especially when they figured out we were having trouble connecting with our taxi driver. We walked around the bus station several times, passing the same shops full of junk, unhygienic food stalls where we feared to stop despite our unhappily empty stomachs, and the crowd of now-predatory-looking taxi drivers.

We eventually located our driver after several calls to the taxi dispatch center, only to discover that he spoke almost no English—an ironic thing to happen on my first weekend trip without someone who spoke Hindi. Trial by fire, I guess—with his tiny bit of English, Faisal’s and my bits of Hindi (mostly Faisal), and the Hindi-English dictionary I’ve taken to carrying almost everywhere, we managed to get where we were going without any major disasters (although the driver did keep attempting to take us back to Infosys campus rather than the palaces, forts and monuments we had planned to see for the morning). Our first stop was the Charminar, Hyderabad’s most famous monument. It literally means Four (char) Minarets (minar), a random structure in a kind of town square that was topped with four towers. It was thoroughly overrated, but worth a look (especially since it’s the figure that goes on most of Hyderabad’s postcards).

After our driver had been driving for a good half hour, we realized that we probably weren’t heading for Chowmahalla palace, the location we had requested. “Infosys?” he said with a puzzled look on his face. No, we explained, Chowmahalla Palace (careful to articulate each syllable because he had somehow gotten “Infosys” out of it the first time). The palace was about 100 yards from the Charminar, and we could have walked rather than taken 45 minutes in a cab. Ah well, such is life.

Chowmahalla Palace was basically a museum and testament to the history of the Nizams, the old rulers of Hyderabad. It was quite interesting, as are many of the historical places I’ve visited, but I can’t help wishing for a better grasp on Indian history in general, as my knowledge is woefully inadequate. It makes it quite difficult to fit together the many different facts that have been crammed into my head over the past 5 weeks—the British, the Moguls, the native tribes, sultans, rajs, all kinds of people and places and invasions and cities.

Lunch was at the famed Paradise Hotel, recommended by all our friends native to Hyderabad plus a good many others. Hyderabad is famous for its biryani (a dish of steamed rice with vegetables or meat), so that’s what I had for lunch. Delicious, as always, but I have a message for the people of Andhra Pradesh: your food is too spicy. end of story.

Finally, we instructed our driver to take us back to Infosys Campus, where we planned to drop our stuff and freshen up before the evening’s activities. However, our streak of bad luck with cabs (which wasn’t going to die anytime soon) continued and the car broke down twice on the way there. Too hot and tired to do anything active, we waited passively until the driver called one of his buddies to come and pick us up. The whole thing made me really wish I actually spoke Hindi, and although I won’t come anything close to proficient by the time I leave, I’m determined to learn as much as I can.

After being initially denied rooms at the ECC, then finagling our way into an incredibly huge and luxurious room, we set off for my favorite site of the weekend—Golconda Fort. Escaping from a coalition of insistent tour guides, we scrambled up the fort face, eschewing paved sidewalks in favor of dirt paths and old, crumbling rock walls. The fort was huge and definitely the best monument out of the weekend. After we had scaled the fort in less than an hour and made fun of the Moguls who took eight months to do the same thing, we headed down (through a cave full of bats!!!!!!) to an amphitheater-arena-type thing (from which you could see most of the fort) for the “Sound and Lights Show.” It was pretty cool—a well-done (English!) narration of the history of Golconda and its rulers, with different parts of the fort lit up in different colors to emphasize parts of the story. Although it lasted an hour, it was worth it to hear some of the stories behind the vast structure.

Our bad luck with taxis continued as we had to repeatedly call the dispatch to get them to send someone to pick us up at Golconda. Note that all the taxis had been prearranged and booked several days in advance, and should have arrived as scheduled. We finally headed off for dinner with Vignan’s family—Vignan, an intern from Hyderabad, planned out our whole itinerary and invited us to his home in the city (although he wasn’t able to be there that weekend). Vignan’s mother cooked enough for about twenty people, and it was all the four of us could do to try everything on the table. She filled the table with delicious dishes like paneer tikka masala, sambar, coconut rice, vada and curd, mint chutney, papad, and best of all a huge plate of freshly sliced mango. We also got to meet and talk to Vignan’s uncle and grandparents, who shared stories of Hyderabad and India in general.

We retired to the ECC with no further cab mishaps, but of course the next morning’s cab showed up at 7am rather than 8:30. Breakfast was peanut butter sandwiches in the hotel, and from there we went to a church we’d found on the Internet (always the best source for these things . . .) called the Hyderabad Apostolic Christian Assembly. It was actually held in a YWCA (!) in downtown Hyderabad. We were greeted with quizzical looks and warm welcomes from the pastor and worship team, and the service began at precisely 10am (that’s when the power goes on). It was an incredible joy for me—the band, the singers, and familiar songs like How Great is Our God, Here I am to Worship, and even Days of Elijah were heartbreakingly familiar and a comforting reminder of home. Even side-by-side with songs in Tamil, Telegu, and Hindi, those familiar songs of praise were all I needed. The rest of the service was not unlike an African-American Southern Baptist church—endless singing, prayers, testimonies, enthusiastic prayers, and a fiery sermon took the service to about 2 and a half hours. It was quite an experience, and a good reminder that the Church is alive and growing here in India.

We spent the early afternoon at various parks around Hussein Sagar, the big lake in the middle of the city, taking a boat ride to see the giant monolithic Buddha in the center and waiting unsuccessfully for Indian children to vacate the playground swings. A final bout of cab distress led to the agency just letting us keep our cab for the rest of the day, since they were so tired of dealing with us. We took our hard-won cab to Salar Jung Museum, a huge museum full of everything from ancient swords to Italian marble sculptures. We had time only to explore a fraction of the museum before it closed, but I would really like to go back someday as the works it contained were really incredible. Also, on the way into of the museum a lady actually pushed her baby into my arms and asked if I would take a picture with her child. A little weird, but the baby was adorable :)

The remainder of the evening was spent on dinner at the wonderful (NOT!) Hotel Shadab (Lonely Planet, you have failed.) and wandering around pretending to be interested in buying things. In one particularly notable shop, I asked the price (I’m getting quite good at doing that in Hindi these days) of a dupatta that I mildly liked, and the shopkeeper responded with 150. As expected, I immediately shook my head no, so the proprietor countered with “Two hundred.” Double take. I think he sensed my confusion, so he attempted to appease me by offering 250. As the other three shopkeepers started cracking up around us, I gently said “uhh . . . I think you’re going the wrong way.” Perplexed, he said "tell me the right way, I don't know the right way." I shook my head and said "...I'm gonna go find my friends now," leaving the confused man to figure out his failure.

After several other photo requests and aggressive shopkeepers, we headed to the bus station to find our A/C semisleeper, complete with scratchy blankets and an outrageous south Indian movie (movies produced in the south tend to have crazier dancing, more intense fight scenes, impossible stunts, and apparently superhuman actors). After an exhausting day, I fell straight to sleep, and the bus arrived with no crashes or unusual events to Bangalore the next morning. Our bad luck with cabs was finally over-- we found our driver and he took us to Infosys, just in time for work this morning!

Stay tuned, I feel that a very interesting entry is coming later this week.

View from the top of the Charminar

Golconda Fort

The Way to Up.


Shane and Buddha

into the wild

I know I'm hopelessly behind on this blog. Bear with me.

So two weekends ago (July 4-6) a small group of interns decided it'd be a good idea to go visit all those animals India is so famous for. We decided to take a safari into Bandipur National Park, one of India's largest tiger reserves. Since it was close to the major city of Mysore, we bookended our safari journey with some sightseeing there.

My first experience on an Indian train wasn't bad (although it WAS an A/C chair car rather than a famed sleeper car, and I WAS traveling with a majority of South Asians, most of whom knew their way around a train station). The three-hour train ride past with a minimum of delays and we arrived in Mysore on Friday night. After dinner at a nice hotel (that's where the reputable restaurants are in India, it seems), we drove to the famed Mysore DC.

The Infosys campus in Mysore is enormous, since it's where the training of all new employees occurs. Each Infosys employee spends about 5 months in Mysore, staying in the vast ECC (hostel/guesthouse) there. The campus contains state-of-the-art classroom facilities (and is building more) and several health clubs, food courts, spacious green lawns, a 4-screen multiplex, and even a bowling alley. It's pretty ridiculous. It kind of makes me want to work full time for Infosys.

Anyway, we spent the night at the Mysore ECC and spent the next morning relaxing over tea and a delicious breakfast at the floating restaurant in the center of campus before the 2-hour drive into the hills to Bandipur (stopping along the way for coconut milk, out of a real coconut whose top was hacked off with a machete before our eyes), where we checked into 4 quaint two-person cottages, complete with hammocks outside. The package we had purchased included several meals, so we took our lunch at the Ghol Ghar (= round circular dining area). The food was humble but good, and we ate our fill before retiring for napping, reading, and chilling in our rooms or hammocks. Tea was served promptly at 4pm, and at 4:30 we all crowded into a single open-topped Jeep for a three-hour safari.

Riding in the jeep was thrilling from the start, as Indian driving habits apparently don't change in the jungle. But the real excitement began once we got into the park. Over the course of three hours, we saw elephants (herds of them! with babies!), deer, peacocks, gaur (indian bull), kingfisher, woodpecker, monkeys, and even heard a leopard growling in the bushes. Although we waited for quite some time, he wouldn't come out (and sadly, we saw no big predators. Tough luck). On the whole, it was quite a cool experience.

After we returned to the camp, we snacked and were shown a truly amazing (cough) wildlife film called "the leopard that changed its spots," about a leopard named Henrietta (!) raised by some guy, and detailing her subsequent return to the wild (and birth of cubs, of which there was plenty of disgustingly cute footage). Whatever. The best part of it was definitely the music, which was an 80s midi soundtrack that sounded like a middle school oboe choir. Dinner at the Ghol Ghar, and then a campfire.

The next day we woke before dawn for tea (or at least, the girls did. The boys wouldn't get up till we pounded on the doors several times) and a trek into the forest. By the way, it's not called "hiking" here, but rather "trekking". good to know. The guide showed us some birds' nests and what were supposed to be leopard prints, but they apparently do that for everyone so I don't think they were real leopard prints. We scaled one of the surrounding mountains (okay, hills) for a spectacular view of the surrounding area, then returned to the campsite to check out and leave our relaxing weekend paradise.

Before we checked out, we did manage to fit in an elephant ride. The elephant's name was Jaiprakash, and I almost didn't ride him but they assured me he was well treated. I really hate stuff like this normally, and probably wouldn't have done it but for the thought of what would happen if I return from India and my friends and family find out that I did not ride an elephant. So I did, although I spent the whole time thinking how boring it must be to go around in circles and get yelled at and kicked in the head by a skinny Indian dude all day.

We took the cabs back to Mysore and lunched on campus, but many found the food unsatisfactory so we pledged to find food somewhere in the city. Our first (and, as it turned out, only) tourist site was the famed Mysore palace. My opinion: gaudy and overrated. However, the exciting part was being able to practice my Hindi. To retrieve our cameras from the lockers where we'd had to deposit them, I approached the clerk and timidly said "tiin camera, bhaiya" (roughly "three cameras, brother/sir"). He looked puzzled for a moment, and I repeated "va tiin camera hai" ("there are three cameras"). His face broke into a wide grin (although I'm sure the hindi was imperfect) and he returned the three cameras to me. I responded with a "shukriya, bhaiya" ("thank you sir") and was on my way, immensely pleased with myself.

I then proceeded to bargain for something I didn't really want, half in Hindi and half in English, and ended up buying it as a souvenir of my triumph (from 75 rupees of junk down to 25, about 50 cents). Fairly skipping with joy, my Indian friends treated me to bhutta, which is a cob of corn that gets peeled, cooked in hot coals, and rubbed with lemon and chili pepper (all in front of you, so you know it's safe)-- delicious. We then went questing for more snacks, especially the famed Mysore Pak (recipe provided at the wiki link) and settled on a somewhat sketchy street food place. My Indian friends assured me it was safe, so I sampled delicious chaat and samosas. In hindsight-- a bad, bad, bad decision. Poor choice. Last week I spent about 36 consecutive hours in my room and couldn't eat anything for about 3 days. Although the source of the food poisoning may have been the even-sketchier place we went to for dinner, which I think had the second-sketchiest toilet I'd seen in India (trust me, I've seen some pretty sketchtastic toilets here).

We had just enough time to see the Mysore Palace lit (the most famous thing in Mysore-- the palace is lit up with thousands of electric lights on Sunday nights from 7-8pm) before catching a train back to Bangalore (this time on the infamous non-AC sleeper). A great weekend, and one of the best I've had so far.

Steve and his coconut

Herd of elephants


Peacock and Peahen

Gaur (Indian Bull). These things are HUGE.

Sunrise from the mountaintop

A glimpse of the lit Mysore Palace

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

All on the 4th (3rd) of July . . .

While I'm laid up in my room with a pretty bad case of food poisoning, I thought, "what better to do than to update my much-neglected blog?" So here you go-- proof that my link to the outside world is still functioning.

The 4th of July comes early in India . . . since so many of us travel on the weekends, we decided to celebrate the 4th of July (Friday) on the 3rd of July (Thursday). One of the American interns, Shane, went all-out to ensure that we had an amazing day. It began with the two of us giving a presentation on American culture and the history of Independence Day (I put together a powerpoint presentation on "American Stereotypes," proving with verifiable statistics that Americans are not generally dumb, fat, ignorant, and eat only ketchup). From there we went to the cricket fields owned by Infosys, where we attempted to play a modified version of baseball with a cricket bat and a tennis ball. Some highlights of the questions/comments while we attempted to explain the differences between cricket and baseball:

"No, you can only run around the bases once. Run in a square."
"Amit, no! Drop the bat and THEN run!"

It was quite entertaining, and a lot of press showed up actually. There was a reporter from InfyTV, the internal news/features show of Infosys, and a couple of photographers from some local newspapers. I'll have to send out the articles they wrote-- they're pretty hilarious and not at all accurate depictions of the day's events.

From there we went to La Terrace, the restaurant in the ECC (the hostel where all the interns live), which had prepared an American spread complete with hamburgers (and veggie burgers :) ), corn on the cob, mashed potatoes, pasta salad, and ice cream. Then it was back to the cricket fields to set off some small fireworks. All in all, a great day and one of the best 4th/3rd of July celebrations I've ever had.

Sorry there are no pictures! I'll write about last weekend (a safari trip into a tiger reserve!) as soon as my stomach gets a little happier with me . . .

Sunday, June 29, 2008


...was phenomenal. was amazing. was fantastic. was the best time I've had in a long time.

We had decided a few weeks ago that we absolutely couldn't miss seeing Goa, the beach and party capital of India, and last weekend 16 of us spent a lazy, sunstruck, beach-filled few days at Bogmalo Beach in North Goa. Let's start at the very beginning (a very good place to start . . . shout out to my friends in SC in the State Theater's Sound of Music last weekend!)

8 people took Friday off work and flew down to Goa on Friday afternoon. I, however, am budgeting very carefully after figuring out just how much I was spending (it's easy to spend a lot here because everything is SO cheap). So, I joined the other half of us in taking an overnight sleeper bus from Bangalore to Goa. After a panicky cab ride through Bangalore-- we had to get the ONE slow, safe driver in the ENTIRE city and were terrified that we would miss the bus-- we made it with minutes to spare. The bus was like any other bus, except instead of seats it had cramped, bunked beds. On either side of the aisle there were the equivalent of a set of twin bunk beds, with two people to a bunk. I settled down for the night with my friend Katya, so at least I didn't have to share with a stranger. The bus made bathroom stops every four hours during the night; however, it proved to be quite comfortable and easy to go right to sleep, waking up the next morning in Goa. Not such a bad way to travel, especially at 750 rupees rather than 3000 for a flight!

When we got off the bus in Goa at 11am on Saturday, we were immediately hit by the heat and humidity of the new state. We're definitely spoiled with Bangalore's high altitude and amazing climate. We boarded a cab and were at Manav's house by noon.

About Manav's house . . . it's absolutely beautiful. His parents have a 3-4 story house that's a ten-minute walk from Bogmalo Beach (you can see the Arabian Sea from the rooftop terrace). There were plenty of beds and couches to fit 16 people, and the house is only a few minutes from restaurants, resorts, and of course the beach. As soon as we dumped our stuff, we went to a little place called Claudi's that served Goan specialties in addition to standard Indian fare; Goan cuisine is defined by both its Portuguese heritage and its ready access to fresh seafood. And of course, everywhere there's Kingfisher-- no restaurant is complete without it here, especially in Goa since the guy who owns both the airline and the beer lives in North Goa.

Then to the beach. One of the most beautiful beaches I've ever seen, with palm trees everywhere and beautiful hills and crashing surf. The water wasn't too safe to swim in because it was monsoon season, so of course we went in anyway (but didn't go out too far . . . don't worry, we were safe!) . The beach itself was pretty empty since it's not tourist season, but our presence drew out several of the locals and we were once again called upon for pictures. I have got to learn how to stick with a group, since it's only when I lag behind that people do that to me. Anyway, we lounged around the beach for a while, swimming and reading and sunning, and then back to the house to change for dinner. Most people walked, but I convinced my friend Amit to give me a ride on the back of the motorcycle he had rented for the weekend. That was probably one of the coolest things I did all weekend-- ride a motorcycle through the jungle, hurtling along a path through tall rainforest trees with not a house or another soul in sight.

We all cleaned up for dinner and then headed out in cabs to a small open-air restaurant across from Tito's, the hottest club in Goa. Apparently in peak season (December) you can't get within five blocks of the place with a car, it's so popular. After dinner (about 11pm) we headed to Tito's for dancing and having fun, and it did not disappoint-- its reputation is well-deserved :) The only trouble came when we tried to go walk on the beach . . .

So we went to walk on the beach, and a few people (not heeding the warnings from the rest of the group) decided to dip their toes in the water. Then the trouble started. We were approached by some local policemen and told that you can't be on the beach right now, it's not safe. Which is fine, so we called to the two people who had gone down to the water to come out. But too late, the corrupt and bored policemen had gotten the scent of rich foreign tourists and were not going to come out of it without a bribe in their pockets. As other people (native Indians I guess) streamed out onto the "unsafe" beach, the policemen ignored them and threatened to take us to the station etc etc. The conversation was all conducted in Hindi with me and the other non-Indians a good distance away, so I'm not quite sure what transpired. All I know is that it involved much apologizing, much restrained/disguised exasperation and even some fake crying on the part of the two guys trying to get us out of the whole situation. In the end, they managed to get us away without a bribe or anyone going down to the station, and insist that nothing could possibly have happened and that the guy was just a lowly constable with no power, but it was still a little scary (and makes a good story to tell).

We stayed at Tito's till 3am, then boarded the cabs for the 1.5 hour drive back to the house, where we crammed 16 people into five bedrooms, and slept until the sun woke us the next day at 11am. The next stop was Sunday lunch at Martin's Corner, Goa's most famous restaurant. The restaurant had definitely soaked up the attitude of Goa-- relaxed, laid-back and never in a hurry-- so we spent a good 3 hours enjoying dishes of vindaloo, xacuti, prawns balchao, paneer tikka, and the specialty of Goa, bebinca (a six layer flourless cake with ice cream). After we had digested enough to move again, we headed back to the house to pack and clean, enjoying one last cup of chai on the rooftop terrace before driving to the airport. Although I was sad to leave Goa, I was definitely excited to be back in Bangalore's cool climate and my own room and bed in the ECC. Back to work now, but I'm sure there will be more adventures to come!

The overnight bus

Typical Goa-- Martin's corner and Kingfisher

Ami and Yana, interns from Chennai <3

George and Tejas being bhai, or gangster.

Beautiful Bogmalo Beach

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

On a cappella, volleyball, and parentheses

So Monday was a very eventful day. I got to work in the late morning (I'm working about 10am-7:30 or 8 now, most of the time) to find my cubicle abuzz with talk about the big game that evening . . . apparently every few months, the PLES Department (Product Lifecycle and Engineering Solutions, my department here) has some kind of sports tournament between the production teams. By production team, I mean a group of about 5-20 people working for a single client, like the Boeing team, the Airbus team, etc. The guys in my cubicle work for Triumph, and although I'm not officially on a team (since I'm doing my own, independent project), they've kind of adopted me. The three guys in my cubicle--Arjun, Rohan, and Parampal) will take me out for coffee, send me funny email forwards, and tell me stories and give me advice on traveling and India in general. I've gotten to know the other members of the team (about 15 guys) a little as well, as our cubicle is sort of a hangout place and there are often 6 or 7 people crowded around Arjun's computer, next to mine. They're mostly between 20 and 30, I think, so it's pretty easy to joke around and hang out with them at work. They also give me samosas sometimes :)

Anyway, for the past week my team has been super intense about this volleyball tournament with practices and strategies and whatnot. They named their team the Incredi-ples, after the Pixar movie. But I thought I would share one of the more hilarious dialogues that went on a few days ago:

Arjun: Do you know how to play volleyball?
Me: Of course I do. In the States, you have to learn it in school, and you sometimes go to other people's houses and play during the summer.
Arjun: you do??? we learned how to play three days ago! (to Rohan, the team captain) Rohan, she knows how to play! She learned it in school!
Rohan (astonished): What? If I had known that I would have put you on our team! You get two extra points for having a girl!!!
Me: (tries really hard not to laugh)

Ah well, I guess engineering is pretty much the same, despite geographical boundaries. Anyway, I agreed to go to the volleyball game, take pictures, and cheer on the team. However, my student mentor Nidhi wanted me to attend another event that evening-- the Stanford a cappella group Raagapella was coming to give a performance, and she was deathly worried that none of the interns would come. Since she knew I was involved with a cappella at school, she made me promise to bring all the other interns.

So at 5:30 pm I dragged a bunch of other interns to the amphitheater (yes, we have one on campus) to hear this random South Asian a cappella group from Stanford, where we were pretty much used as marketing for Infosys (look at the InStep interns! look how young and enthusiastic and diverse they are!) but I didn't mind. The group wasn't bad-- they definitely had their moments-- but mostly it just made me really, really miss Katzenjammers (If any of you are reading this . . . get pumped, because fall is going to be awesome!).

After the concert, I hurried over to the volleyball match, where my team was playing best of three against another team. I caught the last part of the second game, which we won, and all of the third game. It was hard to believe that these guys had learned to play volleyball just three days before the game; from my completely unskilled point of view, they were quite good. I'll let you decide for yourself-- I've included a video below :) But after an intense, close match, they won the game! So they're advancing in the tournament, and I will continue to take pictures and maybe even play, to give them those extra points. hahaha.

The rest of this week has been pretty uneventful, although I am still constantly trying and experiencing new things. Yesterday was our first Bollywood dance workshop, run by the indefatigable Manav, and I'm planning on going to his classes twice a week (we're learning a dance from Naacho! whoa!). Yesterday I went out into the city with a few friends and shopped and bargained along Commercial Street, where I bought a salwaar kameez, altered to fit me exactly (I'm going to wear it to work in a few minutes and it is SO comfortable). We went to dinner at a place called Angeethi, famed for its mango lassi. Although I was unimpressed by the lassi, the food was AMAZING. North Indian food is definitely much better than South Indian food. My new favorite is Navratan Korma, a vegetable dish that means "Nine-jewel Korma" (korma = mild creamy sauce full of vegetables etc), since there are nine different kinds of fruits and vegetables (including pineapple sometimes!). I get really excited about food here (and everywhere, come to think of it).

I also think that I'm overusing parentheses. I'll have to work on that for next time.


My team, excited after the big win

Me and my team

A video of some of the game. My friend and cubicle-mate Arjun is making most of the hits, my other cubicle-mate Rohan is the team captain (the big guy in the front) and my last cubicle-mate, Parampal, is the one doing all the yelling :)

Monday, June 23, 2008

On a multiplicity of monuments -- Delhi/Agra

Last week in a nutshell:
Worked late every night due to limited software licensing and will continue to work till ~7:30 each night. bummerrrrrrr. Went out on Wednesday night to a club called Zero G, which is pretty popular (apparently sometimes visiting Bollywood stars come here when they're in Bangalore). Wednesday night is Bollywood/Punjabi music night so we were all trying to figure out how to dance that way . . . a challenge for me since I can't dance the regular way. right. BUT I am learning, and when I come back I will try out for Naacho (ha).

Also, I found a lizard in my room, caught him in a box, named him Ralph, and carried him outside.

On to the good stuff. This weekend's trip was to Delhi and Agra to do some virtually mandatory sightseeing, including the Taj Mahal. On Friday morning at 1:30am, about 30 interns set off on a bus to the airport (2 hours away) for a 5:45am flight to Indira Gandhi International Airport in Delhi. The flight was delayed by an hour, but we eventually arrived at 9:30 am in Delhi-- tired, grumpy, dirty and ready for a day of sightseeing (not). At the airport, 4 interns from Chennai and 1 intern from Pune joined us to board our 35-seater airconditioned bus, which would quickly become our home away from home (that is, home away from hotel away from Bangalore away from home). We picked up our tour guides, Ashish and Angelina (? I think that was her name but I can't remember), who were absolutely invaluable and stayed with us the entire weekend. Our first stop was the Akshardham Temple (right), built quite recently, which is apparently the largest comprehensive Hindu temple in the world (according to wikipedia). It was huge and quite beautiful-- and clean, a facet that I learned to appreciate as the weekend went on. They didn't allow cameras inside, so I had to be content with a postcard (of which I took a picture, in order to upload for your convenience).

The weather was quite hot, much hotter than Bangalore, so we were all grateful to be able to put on our shoes and head for the bus. Our next stop was a place called Qutub Minar, a giant minaret. Our tour guide was very knowledgeable about the history of each place we visited-- I'll spare you the details and let you read it on the wiki link if you want. But it was p cool-- there was also an iron obelisk in the middle that held some record that I forget. At the left, you can see my friend Steve with Qutub Minar, just to get a sense of the scale (it was enormous).

That was about all we had time for in Delhi that day, as we had to make the 6-hour drive to Agra that night. We stayed at the Howard Park Plaza in Agra, which was actually quite nice and more than I was expecting for the total price of the trip (we paid around 13000 Rupees for the entire tour, including airfare, accommodations, two meals, bus, and tour guide). Exhausted, we all collapsed for the night at around 11pm.

At 6am the next day we headed off for the Taj Mahal, the biggest site in Agra and pretty much the only reason people go there (there's not much else to see). However, we were rewarded for our early rising-- had we gone any later, the entire complex would have been closed due to a visit from the president of Syria (?!?!). It was beautiful; some of the marble work is absolutely exquisite. However, in the words of my friend Sasha: "you can't forget that there's a dead body in there." Too true :) We stayed at the Taj for about an hour and a half, took way too many pictures, and headed back to the hotel for breakfast at about 8:30. Our next stop was actually my favorite of the entire weekend-- we went to a marble factory, where they showed us how works like the Taj (but mostly smaller things like plates, vases, sculptures, and other artwork) are made. Each piece is hand-inlaid with semi-precious stones like lapis lazuli, turquoise, and garnet, and some of the pieces are absolutely beautiful. They didn't allow photography or else I would definitely have taken pictures. Only the lack of cash in my wallet prevented me from buying their entire stock; when I am rich and famous I will go back and do just that.

Our next stop was the Agra Fort, where Mogul emperors of India lived and quartered soldiers (picture at right is my friend Jon responding to the prompt: "make a fort face"). This was where the picture taking really got out of hand (by which I mean random Indians coming and asking to take pictures with me). It was bad at the Taj, but at the fort I seriously could not walk more than 15 feet without getting asked for a picture. Sometimes people even chased me down if I tried to walk away quickly. We also got videoed this time. What a weird feeling . . . maybe I shouldn't be rich and famous.

Last stop for the day was Fatehpur Sikri, a palace complex built by Akbar I think? It was basically old stone ruins with a great view of Agra, and also a pretty famous shrine absolutely covered with flies, stray dogs, and aggressive hawkers. Not my favorite site of the day, but maybe I was just tired. We drove back to the hotel at about 7pm, just in time to go out for NORTH indian food . . . which is SO much better than South Indian food. My new favorite: Navratan Korma. DELICIOUS.

The next day we were up early for the drive back to Delhi. We did some drive by sightseeing including the Lotus Temple and the Gateway to India, a big arch that looks like L'Arc de Triomphe in Paris (both are pictured at the end). We stopped at an open market for about an hour, which was crowded and crazy and awesome. Didn't buy anything but I'm determined to find one in Bangalore to test my bargaining skills.

We took a 7:30pm flight back to Bangalore and arrived at the ECC by 12:30am on Monday morning, where we all crashed and were up for work the next morning. I'll update again soon but I've got to run to work!

On being a tourist (attraction) -- Pondicherry

I am so behind on this blog it's not even funny. Seriously. So much has happened in the past week! Let's start with the end of last weekend . . .

We woke up early Sunday morning to take our bus to Pondicherry, stopping on the way at Mahabalipuran, an absolutely amazing collection of beautiful ancient temples and carvings (see left). There were hawkers absolutely everywhere, trying to sell us things but also willing to laugh and joke with us when we clearly weren't buying.

To the right is a bunch of interns holding up my current favorite stone formation: Krishna's Butter Ball. I kid you not. Krishna is definitely my favorite Hindu figure-- he plays the flute, fights snakes, and apparently loves butter. Not to mention he's blue, and therefore all-around awesome. Apparently the British tried to tip it over and couldn't, not even with seven elephants. Or nine, or ten, depending on which tour guide you talk to.

After Mahabalipuram, we went on to Pondicherry. Pondicherry is a former French colony, which is now officially named Puducherry. Which I think is hilarious, because it's role-reversal linguistic corruption (i.e. Bangalore is an English corruption of Bengaluru, the city's original name, whereas Puducherry is an Indian corruption of Pondicherry). Over the course of the day, I got my first real experience of being a human tourist attraction. Hundreds of Indian people (themselves tourists, coming to Pondicherry to enjoy its beaches and European flavor) stopped to stare at the parade of foreigners. Many stopped to take pictures; some were subtle, posing for pictures with us in the background, but others just walked up to us and asked to take pictures with us (some didn't even ask). It was probably the weirdest cultural disconnect I've had so far in India.

The beaches were pretty rocky and not good for swimming (see pic of Manav at left), but the promenade itself was nice. We decided to eat lunch at a little cafe that was outdoors-- no air conditioning, but great ambiance. Or so we thought.

We sat down and were looking at the French-influenced menu, which actually looked pretty good, when we looked into the courtyard and saw a couple of men scuffling with a teenage boy, who broke away and jumped over the fence while the men chased him with sticks. That's odd, we thought. And yet we didn't think to switch restaurants. We wait and wait and wait until finally someone goes to talk to the waiter, who explains rather grumpily in poor English that sorry, we were dealing with some trouble outside and could we please write down our orders. That's odd, we thought again, and were beginning to have some misgivings about our charming cafe. We wrote down the orders of about twelve people on a napkin and gave it to one of the grumpy waiters, noticing that at the moment we were the only patrons. That's odd, we thought, and seriously considered moving. HOWEVER, much to our (later) dismay, we remained at the cafe. We had to write down or order two more times, wait approximately seven months for our food to come, were told (after most people had gotten their food) that they did not have dishes x, y, and z; we were improperly billed, verbally abused by waiters, and remained free of any sort of service whatsoever. It was actually quite amusing in hindsight . . . at one point every male at the table went into the interior of the cafe to yell at the staff. Even Manav, the most even-tempered person I've ever met, was literally trembling with fury. You can see how Kersi and Steve felt about the cafe -->

After our wonderful cultural experience-- actually, exactly the opposite of any experience I've had here; usually people are extraordinarily warm and friendly--we walked around Pondicherry, bargained with hawkers, bought baguettes and cheese and fruit for dinner, and boarded the bus home. There's no national highway between Pondicherry and Bangalore, so we passed through many villages and back country areas on what was without a doubt the worst road I have EVER been on. Kind of like being on a roller coaster, actually. For seven hours. But we returned home safely, just in time to wake up for work the next day!

Oh, I also saw my first Bollywood movie(s) on the bus: Om Shanti Om, which is apparently really good (although it was so complicated and bizzare I needed an Indian to narrate the plot, despite having English subtitles), and a movie called Krrish, which is apparently really terrible even by Indian standards (although I quite enjoyed it, seeing as I fell asleep for an hour in the middle, woke up and realized the plot had moved nowhere and they were STILL SINGING AND DANCING and I hadn't missed anything).

Wow. Okay, there's tons more to write about but I've got to go grab some sleep before work tomorrow. I'll end this entry with pics of the beach and wedding in Chennai . . . enjoy!