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

E-mail: luke@lukemelia.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


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

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.


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.

We went walking on the beach that evening, which like many
things here, is pretty gaudy. It was a carnival-like

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.


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

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


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,

P.S. If you want on or off this list, or have comments,
e-mail me at luke@lukemelia.com.