Retroblog – first day in India

A flashback to our sabbatical in India.

As I mentioned a few days ago, I will occasionally post some flashbacks to some favorite old trips and events. I’ll start with our sabbatical in India: we lived in Bangalore from August 2008 through May 2009, at the Indian Institute of Science. Our first day was full of logistics, and great anticipation – and a good background for the retroblogs to come.

First day

Our first day was focused on key logistics; checking our apartment and doing some basic shopping.

After resting in the hotel for the night we had breakfast at the hotel.  The kids were faced with their first meal in India, a traditional breakfast with idlees and sambar and other treats.  Andy and John tasted everything but Mara mostly nibbled at the corn flakes.  I thought it was good, though I’ve had better. (Our hotel, the Woodlands, is 2-stars and leaves a lot to be desired.)

Everyone was buzzing with excitement because today India won its first-ever Gold medal in the Olympics, in the shooting competition.  It was headline news in all the papers.

We met up with our Fulbright-provided facilitator. Professor M.K. Sridhar at National College (Bangalore) is a former Fulbright Scholar himself. (He visited U. South Carolina in 2000, I think, to teach sanskrit.) He has been extremely helpful, explaining how things work and taking us around the city as needed.  On this day we visited our apartment at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc). I am extremely grateful to the IISc-ECE staff who have been helping to coordinate our housing on campus, and working with the housing staff to clean, repaint, and improve our apartment.  

Street view of our apartment, at top.

Later, we went to M.G. Road, the busy upscale shopping strip.  Although touristy and somewhat expensive, one can find most things here.  We bought sheets and towels from a Bombay Dyeing outlet, nice quality at a reasonable price.

After my visit to the cellphone store I walked back to the hotel in a drizzle, after dark.  [Here in the tropics and in this part of the timezone it gets dark at about 6:30.]  The streets were busy with a meleé of honking “autos” (three-wheeled motorized rickshaws), cars, and pedestrians trying to weave through the traffic.  The sidewalks were packed with people, many who stop at little hole-in-the-wall (literally) shops that sell all manner of cooked food for a few rupees. It’s hard to describe the powerful blend of noises and smells that come from the traffic, people, and cooking.  Exciting, overwhelming, interesting, stimulating, all at once.

This post was transferred from MobileMe to WordPress in 2020, with an effort to retain the content as close to the original as possible; I recognize that some comments may now seem dated or some links may now be broken.

First impressions

I am spending the 2008-09 academic year at the Indian Institute of Science (IISc) in Bangalore, India.

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. 

This post was transferred from MobileMe to WordPress in 2020, with an effort to retain the content as close to the original as possible; I recognize that some comments may now seem dated or some links may now be broken.