Dispatch from India: Growing accustomed to life in Bangalore

July 23, 2008

Steve Garguilo, Joel Boucher, Matt Prindible and Larissa Andrejko are rising seniors in Penn State’s College of Information Sciences and Technology. They are spending this summer in Bangalore, India, interning for Honeywell International, a diversified technology and manufacturing corporation. They are blogging about their experiences on the other side of the world. Included in this next dispatch are installments from Boucher and Garguilo’s blogs:

Joel Boucher: Getting somewhere is always an adventure

Going to dinner is always an adventure. Not necessarily the meal, but just getting there. We have become quite accustomed to leaving our hotel, standing on (or in) the road and getting a rickshaw to take us around the city. They are pretty cheap and relatively quick in traffic. Since they are small, they can drive in between cars, squeeze through tight spots and, when necessary, they are not afraid to drive on the sidewalk.

The process normally starts out with us getting to the road, hailing a rickshaw, and trying to tell him where we want to go. Since there is no good postal system here, addresses don't mean anything. You can't tell the driver somewhere very specific, and don’t even try to just tell him the name of the place -- it just won’t work. You have to tell him something general, like a major road name, or a landmark. And then once you get close, you can further direct him. Even if you do manage to tell him where you want to go, and he knows where it is, he might not take you. He might just drive away. If the driver doesn't speak English, he will probably drive away. If the driver doesn't want to take you there, he will just drive away. Yes, the driver just might not want to go that way, and he doesn't have to if he doesn't want to. I would like to see a taxi in New York City try to do something like that.

So far, the trend has been hailing three rickshaws to find one that will take us to where we want to go. I start out saying the street name that the place is on, but the auto drivers had no clue where that intersection was, even though it was a block away from MG Road and Brigade Road (one of the bigger, more active intersections in the city). So, then we had to broaden the circle and moved on to just saying MG Road. The second rickshaw we flagged down didn't want to go that way. So, he just drove off without saying anything. Third time is a charm; this guy said he would take us to MG Road. So, we negotiated a price and made our way to the restaurant.

Steve Garguilo: Haggling and Bollywood

If there's one thing I’ve learned here, it's that you should never pay full price for something you're buying from a small shop or from a vendor on the street. In fact, it is almost insulting, and if not, you're just plain getting ripped off.

As the kind of guy who enjoys bargaining to begin with, I really like doing this, and I always feel good when I get my price. The best bargaining experience to date was when we went out to Commercial Street to actually look at getting some souvenirs and things and stopped in a little place called Khan's "The Culture" that sold a number of different things.

Larissa wanted to buy some saris, so we went in to see what else they had. I noticed a couple of little elephant trinkets that I thought were cool and wanted to pick up a couple with the different symbols. The elephant with the trunk pointing upwards means "good luck," while the elephant with the trunk down means "blessing," and I thought the little statues and actually some simple hand-made envelope openers looked cool. Well, they weren't outrageously expensive or anything to begin with, but I figured that I'd like to try to get an even better deal since it's customary.

About 20 minutes and a lot of laughs later, I left with my price, and I was happy. The guy wanted nothing to do with my offer initially, but I stuck to my guns and got him down. He told me I should stay in Bangalore and that I'm made for this place. I promised him I'd tell all my friends about his shop since he was genuinely a nice guy.

On the way home, our group of four split up into rickshaws -- after bargaining for the price of course -- and started home. After initially passing each other a couple times on the way, it started to get competitive and turned into a race of sorts which was a lot of fun. We weren't going dangerously fast or anything, but you could tell each driver was really trying to get ahead of the other. I was glad that our drivers were genuinely nice guys and were each genuinely having a good time. A lot of the complaints about the city from the locals are that there are too many rickshaw drivers and that a lot of them aren't very nice people, but it’s good to see that not always ring true. The rickshaws themselves are a big source of pollution, and a number of the drivers can be mean and really try to take advantage of their customers, but overall I can't complain, and people really wouldn't be able to get around without them.

Since we’ve only got a few weeks left, we’re hoping to finally take in a Bollywood movie. People here are very proud of Bollywood, and it's a big part of the culture, especially for the "fatafat generation." Fatafat means literally to want things fast, and that is one of the terms used to describe the current generation of young people these days who've grown up in a very westernized society. This generation may be westernized, but they still have deep pride in their Indian heritage, so the Indian Bollywood scene is very popular from the music to the movies.

Many of the TV channels feature Bollywood music and dancing 24/7, and a lot of the music on the radio is Bollywood. The movies are also extremely popular. We're told that we're to expect something that can sometimes be quite long by American film standards, but usually has some type of funny or ridiculous storyline or message depending on the genre of the film. Seeing one should be fun.

  • Matt Prindible (senior, IST), Joel Boucher (senior, SRA) Steve Garguilo (senior, IST), and Larissa Andrejko (senior, SRA), stand in front of India's Taj Mahal.

    IMAGE: Steve Garguilo
Last Updated November 18, 2010