I am spending the 2008-09 academic year at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) in Bangalore, India. My wife and I are both Fulbright Scholars, a program that enables teachers and researchers to visit foreign countries for academic exchange and to encourage international understanding.
We arrived just past midnight on August 12, 2008, after a flight from Paris. We landed at the brand new Bengaluru International Airport, opened just two months ago. This spacious, gleaming structure is a far cry from the cramped and dingy airport we used last year, where the exit from the airport left you in an utter chaos of hundreds of taxis and small streets.
The signs around the airport highlight the new name for this city of 6.5m people: Bengaluru. As with other cities, such as Mumbai (Bombay) and Chennai (Madras), Bangalore decided last year that it was time to revert to a more traditional (pre-British) name. Apparently, Bengaluru means “city of beans”.
The downside to the new airport is that it is 30km drive, albeit on a new 4- or 6-lane highway, into the city. I was amazed that our taxi driver could fit five of us, 10 suitcases, and 8 carry-on bags. On the other hand, some of these were tied on a roofrack with a rather flimsy-looking rope. When it started to sprinkle, I winced… fortunately, it never rained hard and our luggage was fine.
The highway itself demonstrates some of the contrasts you see in Bangalore. New and well-built, it highlights the new Bangalore, booming with IT jobs and prosperity. But in the darkness of midnight one may be surprised to see donkeys resting on the median strip, untended and untied; or an overloaded agricultural truck, with no lights or warning markers, broken down in the traveling lane. Not that lanes mean anything to a Bangalore driver – in the city, where streets are perpetually jammed, drivers jostle for position wherever possible.
The air is cool, even chilly, as we depart the airport and drive into town. This is the monsoon season, with highs in the 70s and lows in the 60s. It rains nearly every day, sometimes heavily.