Sunday, July 13, 2008

Bangalore Galore

Bangalore – Day 1

I’ve been spoiled by my accommodations thus far in India.  In South America, I thought a place was nice enough even though they had exposed wiring in the showers or sunken in beds.  Here, I am in my own room with a TV, private bathroom, and ceiling fan for about $13 a night, and I feel like I’m paying too much for a shithole. Okay, so it is a shithole (the shower consists of cold water taps and a bucket, the door hasn’t been cleaned for about 10 years, I have  “cohabitants,” and generally, its something that might be considered cozy if it were in a mental institution).  But really, what do I expect for $13 a night in a prime location in Bangalore, one of the most expensive cities in India?  I nearly checked into a different hotel that was half the price in a “lively market area” but my instincts were dead set against it.  Plus, even if it is somewhat obnoxious to be in an area that wishes it were Times Square, it seems much safer than the crowded and somewhat seedy city market.  (See Mom, I am being careful!)

My former traveling companions had slightly classier tastes (and perhaps more flexible budgets).  We stayed in lovely places in Rishikesh, Jaipur, and Agra.  Porches with comfy chairs and tables looking over the Himalayan foothills.  Delicately painted ceilings and a rooftop terrace outside our doors.  And a window in which the Taj Mahal was perfectly framed.  But I’m willing to sacrifice a bit of comfort in a city and then be able to splurge a bit later when it matters more.

So here I am down South on my own to pursue the field work portion of my research.  It will be interesting to travel alone for awhile.  I always am so much more observant and reflective when I’m by myself.  I make many more random connections with people along the way.  Even my sense of direction improves markedly.  The downsides are there, of course.  I’m always on my guard and I have to be far more cautious with what I do and where I go.  Plus I’ll miss the company of my lovely friends. 

Large cities in India aren’t quite my cup of tea.  Not that they don’t have amazing things to see and discover, but the traffic and the pollution and the people can be a little too much.  And with the exception of the old and the possible exception of the very new and modern, Indian cities don’t seem to focus much on architectural ascetics.  I’ve been surprised by some of the very hot and trendy areas in Delhi.  They will have amazing and rather pricey restaurants that are gorgeous on the inside, but the outside looks more like a storage center with signs indicated with slot is a restaurant and which is a shop.  The trendy and very pricey areas that do look “nice” on the outside seem to have adopted their design directly from the American suburban shopping malls and movie complexes.  I know I’m being rather critical (I’m on three hours of sleep), but it is just sad to see a culture that has produced such incredible feats of architecture and design either completely ignore it or co-opt Generica.   

I have observed already what a difference some of the pollution control measures put into place in Delhi but not Bangalore have made.  Delhi required all auto-rickshaws and public buses to switch to cleaner burning compressed natural gas instead of diesel.  The roadway air can still get pretty bad, but it is a huge improvement over the air here in Bangalore where nearly everyone still uses diesel or gasoline.  It is so bad that I won’t smoke a cigarette near busy roads because I don’t want to inhale all of the incredibly toxic air too deeply into my lungs.  Yes, laugh if you will.  But I really think that someone could smoke a pack a day in Kansas and still have healthier lungs than someone who just lives in Bangalore. 

Bangalore Day 2 

Bangalore is truly a different kind of India.  The traffic is terrible, but it is a great place for young professionals (Bangalore is the center of the IT boom in India).  There are coffee shops everywhere, with real (aka non-Nescafe) coffee.  Some are very cool (I’m sitting in an outdoor café next to a tree that plunges through the roof).  I just passed one with hookahs!  But it looks like there is an epidemic sweeping the wi-fi services around town.  Everyone says, “not working.” 

And, as my friendly rickshaw driver told me as I asked him about safety and crime in Bangalore, women are respected here.  No one bothers anyone.  According to him, there is no crime and you can walk alone at night (I think I’ll not be following that advice!).  I have noticed a major drop in hassling.  And far less blatant staring.  And when I say, no I don’t want a rickshaw, they seem to actually believe that I mean no I don’t want a rickshaw.  It’s incredible.

But the biggest indicator that you’re not in Delhi anymore… no cows.  Where did they all go?  (I did eat beef at a restaurant last night… it felt kind of naughty.) 

Today I went to the Malavalli Power Plant about 3 hours outside of Bangalore.  It is powered entirely on crop residues (like palm fronds, sugar cane ‘trash,’ and rice husks) and serves as the poster child for a successful model that works symbiotically with the surrounding communities to supply these fuels.  It seems very promising as a way to put unused wastes to use to generate power.  And it provides many much-needed jobs for rural areas.  I am going to pursue it as a case study and try to verify its effectiveness as a way to provide electricity, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and promote rural socioeconomic development.  I’ll be meeting with them again tomorrow to get data and more information on other reports that have been done.  I hope to find out whether what I want to do is redundant or useful.  I’m also meeting with a UNDP sponsored initiative on rural biomass gasification, so that is another potential direction if this dead-ends.  I am just really antsy to get out and start talking with people in rural communities and see how this all really works.  And even though I like Bangalore, I’d love to base myself in a small town for a while. 

Bangalore – Day 4 

As my dearest Indian friend pointed out in my blog comments, India really isn’t a place you can stereotype.  Going from Delhi to Bangalore has shown me how unbelievably true that is.  The culture is so completely different here.  For one, in Delhi, I wore Indian clothes and blended in.  Even below the knee skirts looked a bit risqué. (Only for women, the vast majority of men have adopted Western fashion in its entirety.)  Here, when I where my Punjabi suit, I stick out among jeans and t-shirts, at least in the cafes and trendy districts.  There are saris and Punjabi suits, but mostly on older women.  Although it is somewhat ironic that in Bangalore, there are also many Muslim women who wear full black burkas that only reveal their eyes. 

Men still travel in packs, but they don’t act like dogs eyeing fresh bacon when girls walk by.  Women work in shops and restaurants.  They drive.  They seem to be in control of their lives. 

It feels very different to walk down the street.  I don’t feel like I must put on a stone face and trust no one.  I don’t feel like a target. 

And, I might add, that there is one area in which Americans should look upon their record with shame.  We like to fancy ourselves as a much more progressive, egalitarian, and free society, and we scorn many other countries for their oppression of women.  Yet, India has had a female prime minister.  Forty years ago.  Pakistan has had a female president.  So have Sri Lanka and Bangladesh.   And when a highly qualified women runs for office we devote months and stacks of newspaper space asking, “Is America ready for a female president?” 

The oppression of women is a very real phenomenon.  I wouldn’t change what I said about my experience in Rajasthan.  But I must qualify that and say that this problem is not uniform and there have been many advances in the position of women in many areas of India.   


Srinivasan said...

I currently stay in Bangalore. Read with interest your comparison of Bangalore and Delhi. I am of the opinion that the air pollution in Delhi is much more than Bangalore INSPITE of Delhi going for CNG. However point well taken on the right move towards clear/ alternative fuels.

Anonymous said...

Trisha, Please find yourself a better hotel and send me the bill. Love, Mom

Stephanie Niall said...

Trisha - you have made us sound like complete princesses!!! If your definition of "luxury" extends to hotels that cost $15 per person per night, where plumbing and electricity regularly fail and that are only ever found in the budget section of the Lonely Planet, then princesses we are... But I think the lovely Miss Paris would greatly object to our company (and standards and budgets) sullying her reputation ;)
Steph, Alyssa and Clau