27 – 30 October 2003
BANGALORE: Setting Up in Bangalore
So…time to head to Bangalore-- my final destination. I had no problem with the flight and Jet Airways rocks! My friend here says that all the guys who work on Jet Airways are cute. I only saw women that day, but I will be sure to check it out next time. By the way, here is a photo of a decoration in the airport:
Here is a photo on the way to Bangalore from the plane. I felt like we were so high; higher than normal. So I took a picture because I thought it looked pretty interesting from that height and with the clouds formed like that.
Bangalore, the “Silicon Valley of India” is a city with about 8 million people (well, I have heard estimates at 5 million too, so who knows) with a very nice climate (the first thing anyone said to me when I told them I was moving there was, “Nice weather.”). But more on it later…
Swetha, who helps the USEFI people out in Bangalore, picked me up again at the airport. She was really nice and we went together to the place where I was staying. Before I left for India, my friend Jim in DC told me I should talk to his friends Vani and Manu. Manu is from Bangalore and moved to the U.S. a long time ago. He and Vani got married in India in Bangalore and Jim had gone to the wedding and met some of his friends who live here. Manu and Vani put me in touch with his good friend of the family, Sowmya. We emailed and she said I could stay with her for my first days in Bangalore until I figured out where to situate myself. What a godsend!!!!! Like many Indians, Sowmya lives with her whole family. I stayed with her, her parents and her daughter. They were so kind and generous and really made my life so much easier as a newcomer.
Here is her mom outside of their house. She doesn’t speak much English so we didn’t get to chat much. But she did make wonderful food!
I stayed there from Monday afternoon until Friday afternoon, while I figured out some of the rest of my logistics. I got to meet her incredibly adorable daughter, Nishka. She is just so sweet and precious. She showed me her coin collection, which I was able to add to by giving her some euros I had left over, and all of her schoolwork. Man, they have a lot here. She is 11 and speaks English, Hindi and Kannada, the language of Karnataka, the state in which Bangalore is the capital.
There are 28 states in Indian and 18 major languages, numerous minor ones and thousands of dialects. I happen to love the way Hindi looks. I am sure you have not seen Kannada if you haven’t been to India. It uses a different alphabet and is a Dravidian language (the world’s fourth largest group). The letters are really curly q. Here is a sample:
One of the first things in the order of business was to register as a Foreigner. This must be done within 14 days of arrival and I had already been in India for a week. I made arrangements with Swetha and Mitali (who was now in Bangalore too) to meet at the Police Commissioner’s office, which is where foreigners register. We thought we had all the necessary papers in order because Fulbrighters who came a few weeks back had no problem. But, we were wrong. First we went to the desk where you get the forms. The man there would only give one form to the two of us! Why? We are two different people registering. Hahaha. Foreshadowing of bureaucracy to come. We had to have about 7 different documents and fill out two other forms (one of them in quadruplicate). Ahh! Then we handed them to the man and he told us we were missing letters from our institutes of affiliation. We had had letters from the Fulbright office, but this apparently was not good enough (even though it had been two weeks earlier for the other Fulbrighters).
So, we had to make arrangements with our insititutions and then come back the next day. (I will get back to my institution in the next update). The next day I went back with the necessary letter. Right when I got there it was time for their lunch and they told me to come back in an hour. I pretty much had to laugh b/c you really could not make this crap up. After the hour I went back. There was this British woman screaming about having been told to wait on one line, only to be told to wait on another line, only to be told to go to the desk and get in line after all the others to get the forms to fill out. I felt torn—I completely understood her plight, but she was being extremely rude and making everyone uncomfortable. Anyway, so I had to bring the papers, after being reviewed and signed, to window number 1, where they did something with them and told me to come back at 3 the next day. Ahh!
Next day—met Mitali and her friend, Emily, who is here on an America-India Foundation (AIF) fellowship (they met during study abroad based in Bangalore) for lunch across the street from the commissioner’s office. I should mention that this office, although in the center of town, was quite a hike from where I was staying and this was now day #3 of coming to it. We then went over to get our final documents. Well, Mitali’s was ready and guess what? Mine wasn’t. After waiting about 40 minutes I went to ask what was going on. They said that the head had to sign it first and he hadn’t yet. [Oh, I totally forgot about this part. The first day when we were arguing over having to bring the letters from the institution we went into the big boss’s office. There were about 35 people waiting and somehow we just walked right into his office.] I decided I didn’t feel like waiting for the final documents. I thought maybe I could push the process along so I was going to go directly to the horse’s mouth.
When I walked around the corner to the other room, there were the usual 30-40 people sort of sitting, milling, waiting to be seen by this one man who was the only one with authority to do anything. Mind you-there was another man directly across from him at a table with literally nothing to do but read the newspaper. I learned that he was directly below the boss man. Why couldn’t he do anything? Well, after the man who stands outside of the boss man’s office, basically telling people to sit down and wait for the boss man and then pointing to who is next (the low tech version of taking a number and reading an LCD board, except that curiously some people get in to the office before others who are waiting longer. For example, I don’t think those who were obviously African were getting in before some of the Indians, who probably had to wait till after the westerners. That is something I have noticed here—you get treated differently if you are a westerner. Sometimes it is in a bad way, cheated taking rickshaws or buying goods, getting stared at, etc. I think more often it is a good way (for the westerner)—getting in front of lines, not being expected to follow the norms of the society here, and just getting a little extra done for you in many ways).
Anyway, the man outside the door told me to sit. I knew there was nothing good to come out of sitting so I sort of stood and kept making myself known. Well, he directed me to someone who then went looking for someone else. He left the big room, then came back, traversed, and went to another room. He then spoke to someone else and left for a while. When he came back he pointed me to this man sitting at a long table with a stack of papers in front of him. There were many of these men and it wasn’t until now that I realized they were government workers. The room is a big hall and there are rows of tables. The first table is where people were waiting for the boss man. Then there were seats all around for the waiters. If you moved into the room a bit farther you hit the workers. Well, I went to one of these paper pushers (I wouldn’t normally use that word, but this was literally what they were). He apparently was the one who dealt with the U.S. foreigners. I only knew this b/c it was the only word I could make out from all of this conversations between various men trying to figure out who I should be directed toward. Wound up it didn’t help very much to get to him b/c he said the paper wasn’t signed yet.
I don’t remember who, but someone directed me to someone else and I wound up in chair next to Mr. (or I should say Sri) 2nd in-command-but–with-absolutely-nothing-to-do (who I mentioned already). I felt bad for the poor guy. I think he actually wanted something to do, as he sort of called me over and got busy calling the workers over to find out what was going on for me. I thought I had hit gold! But, I was too quick to judge. Like I said, he was 2nd in command and I guess that meant close to nothing. I am not exactly sure though. He did sign my paper and kept calling all these people over to check on it, but they all kept saying it wasn’t done. AHHH! He was very friendly trying to chat and find out where I was from and what I was doing here in a chit chat sort of way. After all, I was sitting there for a while waiting to get my papers. Well, finally I started to get annoyed and let him know it. He once again called someone over. This guy said that it had already been sent over to the first room I was in. What? When? Why didn’t they tell me?? The funny thing was that I am sure walking over to this office was of no use. I was there for an hour anyway and I would have probably had the same result either way. At least it gave me this story to relay, right? When they talk about Indian bureaucracy –they were not kidding. I had expected it, so I was relatively calm, but it is truly ridiculous. Actually, I wasn’t planning on telling this story, but it just sort of came out. One question I would have liked to have the answer to is whether these people were really trying to help me or whether they just wanted to appease me so they kept passing the buck and sending me to someone else, just to keep me busy and away from them.
I was so desperate to take a photo of this room, but when I took one of the room where I got the actual papers (I was trying to capture this counter with glass separating you from the workers and divided into about 5 different windows. There were about 3 men behind each window. Hahaha. What were they all doing?) they told me I was not allowed and I had this feeling I would get in trouble. So here is the photo, but it is pretty pointless b/c you can’t tell. Plus, this room was recently redone so it looks pretty modern and organized. The other room is not really the same.
At the end, I finally had my residency permit. Hooray!
The other business I had to take care of was getting a phone (I got Hutch, which is India’s “Orange”, and it doesn’t work in my room b/c I am sort of in the basement right now or at CKS, my work. Great!) and a blow dryer (paid way too much for it, but what can you do) and figure out about housing. When I went to IIMB, my institution, I found out that they had a room for me so I figured I would go there first for a bit at least just so I could get settled and didn’t overstay my welcome at Sowmya’s. Again, more about IIMB later…
The second day in Bangalore it was Nishka’s birthday so we had a party at the house at night and relatives came over. Sowmya’s mom cooked special food, including meat (they are not vegetarians) and I got dressed up in one of her outfits. She put a bindi on me too. One thing I noticed that was different is that they cut the cake first (well at least they did this time) and the birthday person feeds a piece to family members and they to her/him. A photo:
I also went to Commercial Street and MG Road, two main streets with shopping. I bought a white shirt with Kashmiri embroidery. Here is a photo of Commercial Street, one of the store that sold all goods from Kashmir--look at those rugs! (the man at the store was really nice to me. I went upstairs when they were breaking fast--it is Ramadan) and offered me food), and another of MG (Mohatma Ghandi) Road, but the street photos don't look that lively:
So, that was most of my first week. I was so happy to get to know Sowmya and her family. Not only did they look after me and answer my questions and feed me, but being with them gave me a chance to live with an Indian family for a bit. I think I learned more there in a few days then many who are here for a while, with limited exposure to day-to-day Indian life, do in months. Sowmya and I stayed up late every night talking about things and she told me about Indian culture, etc. The only thing that was bad about it is that the area that they live is called Padmanabhanagar. I would say try saying that 5 times fast, but really just trying saying it one time slow.
More about Bangalore and IIMB, etc. next time.