A R C H I V E
India-Letters #1: Getting Here
May 14, 1999 Dear friends, It looks like the sky is about to open up. The lush foilage of the city is blowing around and from my terrace I can look up and see a full cloud cover above Bangalore. It's hard to believe I've only been here since Saturday night. These past six days have been some of the fullest of my life. Before I get into that, though, let me give you some contact information here: Snail mail: Luke Melia No. C-505 Somerset Apts. Midford Gardens No. 18 M.G. Road Bangalore 560001 India E-mail: email@example.com (I check at least once every 24-48 hours) Fax to e-mail: 508-445-1261 (in the US) Phone: 5595297 (country code is 91, city code is 80, so from the U.S., dial 011-91-80-5595297) Time Zone: 10 1/2 hours ahead of E.S.T. It's best to set up a time to call ahead of time via e-mail, as we have no answering machine, voice mail, etc. and the time difference can be a bit awkward. It's not cheap either, so I expect most of you will want to stick to e-mail and that's fine. There are already a lot of stories to tell, and over the next week or so, I'll share them. For now, I'll just tell you a little about getting here, and what I found when I did. NY, USA --> MUMBAI, INDIA After a few rushed but great days in NY, my mom drove me to JFK airport. My stomach was full of fluttering butterflies the likes of which I haven't known since the moment before the lights came up to begin the most nerve-wracking theater production. I was flying Northwest/KLM, and upon checking in I was told that I could not carry on my bag. This is after painstakingly cutting my "stuff" down to one small pack and one large pack. It was a bit frustrating but served to take my mind off being nervous. At the gate, I further distracted myself by helping a woman who spoke only spanish through the boarding process. The experience made me think about what kinds of language issues I'd run into living in India... We flew 7+ hours to Amsterdam, and then I had a four hour layover there. In the very nice Amsterdam airport, I bought a copy of the Lonely Planet's guide to South India. To any of you considering coming to visit, I highly recommend it. The LP guide to India is the traveller's bible; it's even used by Indians travelling within their own country. (see my website for online ordering info) Speaking of Bibles, during my layover I met a family of Christian missionaries coming off a year's stay in an North African country whose name I missed. Their stories were pretty stunning... Then a security interview (my interviewer had spent a bit of time at Jones Beach and we spent most of our time talking about that) and another 7+ hours to India on a half-empty flight that gave me two seats to curl up a sleep. Northwest screwed up my meal again (I had requested vegetarian non-dairy meals and confirmed on the phone twice...) but at least this time they had an extra veg meal from a no-show passenger that they gave me. Finally, landing in Bombay and through customs and baggage retrieval. I was surprised to notice that at no time on my trip did anybody look through my bags or even ask me to turn on the laptop I carried in my carry-on. IN MUMBAI Meeta met me at the airport with her Ragni massa. (paternal grandmother's sister's husband is called a "massa" and his name is Ragni) Wonderful to see her again. I can't really put that part of things into words, so I won't even try, but suffice to say that it's a very happy renunion. We spent two evenings with Ragni and his wife - Gita masi (name is Gita, "masi" works the same way...) at their home in a subburb of Bombay. He has a manufacturing company called Excel Tubes and Cones, making paper tubes and cones for domestic use within India. At his office, I checked in on e-mail with family and got an immediate response from my dad in Atlanta, online with his iMac at 2:37 AM Eastern. Wild! We went walking on the beach that evening, which like many things here, is pretty gaudy. It was a carnival-like atmosphere. The next day their driver took us into the city for a day-and-a-half stay with Meeta's aunt and uncle (I'll skip the names and "relation name-suffixes" for now, but know that there are lots more). Meeta's uncle is a successful architect in Bombay and their small but nice flat is indicative of the crazy real estate market there. As tough as Tokyo and San Francisco. I watched the sun go down over Bombay from Priya Darshan Park, where people of all ages were walking and hanging out. A karate class full of 10 year old kids was going on in one section of the park. Bombay isn't the kind of city that makes you want to live there. More modern and western than most Indian cities, it's also more crowded and polluted. MUMBAI --> BANGALORE We left Friday evening to get our train to Bangalore. Meeta's uncle and her cousin Neerja drove us to Kurla Train Station, which they had never been to. If you are ever traveling out of Bombay, do *not* book a train that leaves from Kurla rather than the central Bombay station. This place could not have been more out of the way and poorly marked... At the train stations here, they have people called "koolies", who you pay to carry your bags for you. Of the four of us (Meeta, her uncle & cousin), I ended up being the one walking with the koolie and our bags. Walking a long way... a long way past the car our seats were in! I couldn't communicate with him and he couldn't with me. The whole thing was pretty frustrating. But the chaos & frustrations gave way to things working out just fine (that happens a lot here), and we boarded the Coimbatore Express 2nd Class AC compartment for the 24-hour trip to Bangalore. It sounds strange, but 2nd Class AC is the best sort of train travel for long trips. 1st class is not air-conditioned. In 2nd AC, you get a blanket and pillow and a berth on the double- or triple-tier bunk setups. If you travel this way (it's much cheaper than flying, and you get to see the countryside), be sure to bring stuff to read and food to eat. You can buy food on the train or at station stops, but it's not a good idea for a foreign stomach. For the last few hours of our trip, our area was invaded by a group of people from a classy Bombay social circle. The talk mostly centered around what U.S. university their son or daughter was attending. We got off the train in Bangalore at the Cantonment station and found Meeta's friend Prakash waiting to meet us as promised. BANGALORE AT LAST Prakash took us home (he lives with his parents and wife Nithya), fed us, and took us to our flat. During that time, we got to know each other. Prakash owns a children's clothing business that produces clothes for export to Europe & the States. He and his wife had an arranged mariage, and seem to get along very well. The day we arrived, he was in the midst of his company's annual warehouse sale, where they make their product available to the local population at great prices. The whole family was helping out, and it was going very well. We reached our flat and were in for a surprise. The place had been described t us as a "three-bedroom, furnished flat with a phone in a great part of the city." Well, it was all true except the "furnished" bit. The flat had a bed, a plastic table & chairs, and a whole lot of dust & dirt. Oh, and there was a dead pigeon in the bathroom. But it was the closest thing I had to calling home right at that moment, and I was pretty excited... That's it for now. I'll write more soon about Bangalore itself and about exactly how one settles into a dirty, unfurnished apartment in a foreign land... Outside in Bangalore, the rustle of the trees is subsiding and the threat of rain seems to have passed for now... My love & best, Luke P.S. If you want on or off this list, or have comments, e-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org.