Take a meeting

কলিকাতা
The plan was this: three of us would fly into Kolkata to meet with a key business partner, discuss our spiffy new project and sell the partner on working with us. My role: play the guy from  America, the one who flew all the way here,  proving this project is really important. My colleagues, Ashok and Samir,  would do the hard work, explaining the project in bits and bytes. They could shield me from the really hard questions, since  the team we would be meeting with would consist of top flight Ph.D computer scientist types. 
Then Ashok called in sick. And then Samir missed the flight. He immediately sent me a text convincing me not to worry, since he could get on a conference call and handle the tough inquiries over the phone.  No problem, I said. I can wing it with the best of ’em.
I registered at the desk, submitted my laptop for inspection (security is tight in all public buildings: you have to send the serial number of your laptop and all your credentials ahead of time). I received my picture ID and  met my contact inside. We made our way through a labyrinth of narrow hallways to the conference room. 
I set up shop with my laptop as waiters wearing white  gloves served as cookies, tea and Indian coffee. (It appears that Indian coffee is served at about “tea time” across India. It is mixed with an abundance of sugar and served in little paper cups.)
At this  time, a small parade of people began filling the little conference room. It was a room that could comfortably seat about 10 and we had over 30. 
I began the presentation, speaking loudly to be  heard over the distracting din of the air conditioning unit that blasted at full power and sounded like the wind in a blizzard. But things seemed to be going well.  Heads were nodding at each point I made. Then, about half way, a question was posed from the audience.
Before the first questioner finished his inquiry, another had started. And then another. Just when I was about to text Ashok or Samir for a lifeline, I got lucky. They actually started answering each others questions. The inquiry turned into their own little brainstorming session.
This happens a lot in Silicon Valley as well.  But in the Valley it’s a constant game of posturing, showing others that you know more. Here, it was different. I got the sense these guys were really trying to figure things out. Probably because their livelihood depends on it.
One other thing. These guys were generally under 30. The population of Indians under 30 is greater than the entire population of the U.S.

If there is indeed strength in numbers, these guys have the future locked up.

School children (I counted 14) on a field trip

Guards with automatic weapons
at Mumbai Airport. Security is so
tight (after the terrorist attacks)
that you have show your boarding pass
to get off the plane.

Ubiquitous 3-wheel motorized rickshaws. They run on 2-stroke
engines that have to be pull-started and they’re operated
with motorcycle handlebars. Most drivers operate barefoot.

Cuisine choices


Sign in a restaurant:

“We have non-vegetarian choices”

In a conversation with an accommodating colleague, who wanted to make sure I felt at home:

“Hey George, did you get lunch, would you like a burger or something?”

“No, thanks, I’m fine.”
“You sure, no burger?”
“No I’m fine, really. Maybe something to drink.”
“A Coke?”

A nice spot for a picnic

My driver seemed proud of India’s new fleet of F-16’s,
though from what Wikipedia tells me, India has
mostly Mig-29s, dubbed the Baaz,, which is Hindi
for “Hawk.” 

Making friends everywhere I go

I heard a little voice behind me: “Where are you from?”
I turned to see a boy of about 5, peering up with bright eyes and a pleasant smile.
“I’m from the United States,” I said, then adding, “California … do you know where that is?”
He shook his head affirmatively.
“Hold out your hand,” said the boy’s Dad, who was standing nearby, but far enough away to allow the boy some independence.
We shook hands and I asked him his name. It sounded like Sanjev. I told him mine and handed him by business card.
I asked him where he might be going. He told me the name of the city but I didn’t quite catch it.

I wished him a good flight and then said: If you come to California, I will take you to lunch.” He smiled and his Dad chuckled. We said  good-bye and went on our separate ways.

In Today’s India Times

6-year old girl dies after falling into a boiling vat of soup at her school. It is the second such incident recorded
4 workers electrocuted to death and four others sustain serious burns while erecting a statue of a Ganesh idol (don’t know what that is, gotta look it up)  after the statue came into contact with a power line
Four-month-old infant apparently kidnapped from an open rickshaw
Continuing coverage of the Delhi gang-rape (which, of course, has garnered worldwide attention)
And in case you find all that news utterly depressing:

In the “Soulful” Section, headline: “The soul is attracted toward rebirth” (Summary, if you are attracted toward earthly things and feeling unfilled, your karma will carry into the afterlife and you will be inclined to want to return to earth to seek satisfaction. Moral, of course, being to seek the spiritual over the physical world to attain true fulfillment.)

By the numbers

A few facts and figures:
Bangalore population: 10 million
Licensed motorcycles: 3 million
By my count during the week:
Percentage riders wearing helmets: Maybe 20%, usually the driver, rarely the passengers
Most riders on one motorcycle: 4: Dad at the controls, Mom on the back and two kids sandwiched in between
Most riders including animals: 4: Dad at the control, dog on the gas tank between Dad’s arms, Mom in full sari on back riding side saddle and little boy in between Mom and Dad
Number of times tots were standing on the seat, sandwiched in between mom and dad on a motorcycle: 4 or 5
Preferred style of riding for woman in full length saris: side saddle
Traffic lights I observed in the week I was here: 11 (all on the way to the airport)
Accidents: 1
Number of near misses: Too many to count
Number of heart-stopping near misses: At least a dozen
Number of potholes that bottomed out the car: 5 or 6
Number of potholes that bottomed out the undercarriage of the 5-series BWM sedan and required rocking back and forth to get out: 1
Number of times I had to push the car: 0, but it was close
Number of sunny days: 0 (Weather: mild, a little muggy, but overcast the entire time)
Number of cows walking worry-free by McDonald’s and other meat-intensive fast-food joints: 1
Bloody dog fights in the middle of the street: 1

Dead dogs on the side of the road: 2