Dispatch from India: Thoughts about commuting, cricket and culture

June 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 fourth dispatch are installments from Prindible and Garguilo’s blogs.

Matt Prindible: A chaotic commute

Consider the fact that the largest city I’ve ever lived in is State College, Pa., at a mere 44,000 people. The transition from life in a small, rural college town to an emerging urban supercity that is experiencing growth so fast it threatens to tear the city apart has been one of the most incredible experiences of my life.

Perhaps one of the most exciting things about moving into Bangalore is that right at this moment, while I sit quietly facing my laptop, there are 6.2 million other people in this city doing something.

It’s a drastic understatement to say 6.2 million people are just doing “something” right now. But when you start the think of all the things people can be doing, the simplicity of the statement unravels right into the chaotic nature of this city. These people are not hiding, they’re out and about. They’re walking, driving, riding bikes, cramming into a bus, dodging traffic, running to catch a shuttle, shopping, operating a business, going to work, going to school, talking, laughing, yelling, cooking, eating, cleaning, building a new building, cutting grass, sweeping a sidewalk, arranging piles of fresh mangoes into a pyramid, waiting for a cow to move from the middle of the road, chasing chickens and sometimes just sitting down to relax.

I really wouldn’t be exaggerating if I said that was just what I saw on the way to work this morning. There’s really no other way to describe it -- it makes New York City seem orderly on a level that is just boring.

The majority of the chaos in the city comes from traffic and “driving.” The main highways in the city are no wider than a typical U.S. three-lane highway. However, somehow in India it’s possible to cram cars, bikes, motorcycles, rickshaws and buses into seven or eight “lanes.” I feel I can use the word “lanes” because, actually, there are dashed lines painted on the road. But what these lines actually mean to drivers is beyond my comprehension.

One of my favorite parts of driving is when an inbound lane is congested, the outbound lane (usually less congested) and the surrounding sidewalks instantly become relief for drivers in the inbound lane. There is no second thought, or even a slight hesitation to drive right into oncoming traffic.

Traffic intersections are a real visual and audible treat. I think the best way to visualize this is to imagine an hourglass filled with sand. Flip it over (green light!) and watch thousand of little pieces of colored sand (cars, bikes, motorcycles, rickshaws, and buses) filter in as close as they can to the bottleneck, just waiting to make it out the other side. Add in the fact that the grains of sand in the back really think they can make it all the way to the front by passing through the other grains of sand, and then give them all ridiculous horns, and I think you can start to understand how traffic works here.

All of this culminates into a feeling I’ve never quite felt before. Imagine coming home from work every day tired and mentally exhausted, not because of a long day at the office, but because of the sheer amount of processing and interpretation the brain must do to prepare a chemical and electromagnetic representation of everything happening around you while you travel home from work. Sight and sound are truly overwhelming, but, disappointingly enough, I’m sure with time it will become second nature.

Steve Garguilo: Cricket

I had the chance to take in a cricket match over lunch before I had to go back to work for the afternoon. As much as I've read about the sport, there are still a number of parts I don't understand, but boy was it relaxing. A beautiful day, the sun shining, the cheering and booing and excitement of fans watching a game, it was all very familiar and quite enjoyable. The team I was rooting for didn't pull it out in the end, but I'm starting to get my first taste of this different sport. I've probably only flipped on the TV here two or three times, but each time I've passed cricket matches. Cricket is immensely popular in this part of the world, so I'm trying to keep up.

We did pass M. Chinnaswamy Stadium one day when we were exploring the city, so maybe in the next few weeks we'll get a chance to actually see a professional match. We are starting to solidify our plans for future weekends, though, starting with Mysore likely next week, then Goa, then perhaps Kerala and Delhi, so that we're starting small and continuing to travel further and further from Bangalore. Who knows if these other places of India have more culture shock in store. From what I've been reading, they are certainly different from here, so we'll see.

Getting into politics

One other thing about work that I've started to really enjoy is the shuttle to work. The first few times we took it, I was of course admiring the rickshaws and the honking and the traffic patterns, and the fact they would stop for a cow crossing the road before they'd stop for a human. Now that the initial awe of that has worn off to an extent, I enjoy reading the newspaper and/or talking to some of the other people on the shuttle around me.

Their politics here are quite different, but they also have their pulse on American politics. Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, George W. Bush or even someone like Sylvester Stallone will appear on the newspaper front page daily. In talking to some native people here about what's going on in the U.S., and some of the similarities, we can usually get on the topic of the oil crunch. In the U.S., I know gas prices have really skyrocketed due to the increased demand worldwide, and they're certainly feeling that here as well. Except here, it results in more than a strain on the pocketbook and less driving, it results in death and for some a real inability to carry out common functions.

I've also enjoyed reading their newspaper to see the updates from Bollywood, their version of Hollywood that they take very seriously -- they make more movies than the U.S. does -- and also other general events and happenings. It turns out we missed out on a traditional walk across hot coals in Bangalore by just a couple days, but there's always stuff going on here. Seeing as it's monsoon season, people have an eye on that, but Bangalore isn't really affected. Mumbai is being affected the most right now with flooding, and the U.S. consulate actually issued a warning to U.S. citizens not to visit Mumbai because the manholes being opened could be dangerous. This angered some officials in Mumbai, which has led to a little bit of controversy and a U.S. apology but not a rescinding of the warning.

As we go forward, I'm going to make an attempt to continue to include some of these interesting types of tidbits about how perspectives differ on things and how the people here are reacting to things. I've gotten to know some of the people here fairly well, but am looking forward to getting to know them better so as to get more information and more honest perceptions about events and happenings.

Last Updated March 19, 2009