To India and Back

We recently returned from India, after a three and half week vacation. It was after two and half years we were setting foot on our ‘motherland’, and on our way in I was assailed by doubts about how my perception of India may have been altered by our stay abroad.

It turned out that India was just as it always had been… like India. Back in the familiar surroundings of Bangalore, one felt there really was no gap at all – it was as if I had always been there. Then, the thought that I had even nurtured the possibility of things being otherwise made me feel foolish.

There were changes, yes, but nothing that was out of India’s character. India was growing, progressing, struggling with issues that come with growth and progress, and finding its own unique ways of resolving these issues.

Among of the different complaints I had heard from expatriates returning to the country for a brief vacation, the ones most frequently encountered were related to traffic and pollution. It appeared to me a case of misplaced comparison – these people were probably comparing the traffic and pollutions levels in India with those in the west and concluding that these had increased to unbearable levels back home ( at least in Bangalore, they said ).

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I found that traffic congestion and pollution levels were more or less what they were around 2 and half years back, when I had seen Bangalore last. What was new in Bangalore was an initiative from the Bangalore Development Authority to construct flyovers in select areas – something that should have started a few years earlier, but clearly welcome at least now. These constructions had, in places, made the traffic situation worse, and BDA had erected boards displaying the reassurance “Bear with temporary inconvenience now, and reap permanent benefits later”. ‘Temporary’, of course, conveyed no definite timeframe.

A welcome addition to the city : Baristas. These coffee houses offered a concept common in Europe but unique back home : a cup of coffee for unlimited time at the cafe. The Baristas on St.Marks Road – introduced to us by Ashwin – turned out to be a place frequented by the younger generation of the city : some were chatting away as usual, a couple of girls were playing scrabble, a group of boys and girls were slouched on the sofa – almost on top of each other, it seemed – and treating the place like the drawing room of their house, another girl was writing something into her notebook…. you get the picture. They also served coffee, and the Cappuccino I had was among the better ones I had tasted. Ashwin said he came to the place – which was a 10 min walk from his office and next to his music school where he took Piano lessons – a few times every week, and at times did his music homework, which included composing pieces, sipping a cup of coffee or an ice tea there. I now have a nice story ready for the day Ash becomes a famous composer : “Making music at Baristas” goes the heading. I envy Ashwin and all those who have access to a place like that.

Shopping was fun. Everything was clearly more expensive than it had been back when were there, but we couldn’t help dividing the amount on the tags by a factor of 50 and feeling good about the price in Euros we were shelling down. Clothes and books were our main items, and we picked these in plenty. ( Among the books purchased were a few collections of R.K.Narayan’s works, an anthology of Indian literature edited by Amit Choudhury, a new translation of The Ramayana published by Penguin, the complete set of Tintin comics, “White Mughals” a work on 18th century India by William Darymple and a couple of others I cannot remember offhand. So I now have a handful more of books on the ever-increasing ‘to be read’ list ).

Travel in India was…Oh ! Wife’s calling. Must stop here. Will continue in my next entry….

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