Three short days in Bangalore

Last week I returned to Bangalore for my annual visit to the NetHealth workshop, which is always a fascinating combination of academic research and real-world insights from Indian health-care and public-health experts.  Unfortunately my visit was constrained by other commitments so I was in India for 72 hours (at the cost of 54 hours to get there and back).

photos of carefully piled powder, red and yellow
Vendors of colored powder, Sampige Rd, Bangalore.

Continue reading “Three short days in Bangalore”

IISc photos

Some photos of our new campus home (Aug-Dec 2008).

I’ve been playing with my new digital SLR camera; I’m just starting to get the hang of it.  The IISc campus is a rich opportunity for photographs. Here are a few photos from around campus; this gallery expanded to include more photos taken in 2008. The original 2008 galleries, posted when this blog was on MobileMe, were split into several albums and may have included a slightly different set of photos. In 2020 I re-created them as best I could when that blog was migrated here to WordPress.

IISc street sweeper.

Internet service

Internet service is cheap and easy to get in the apartments here at IISc.

Although it took a few weeks, we finally have Internet service.  We get 2Mbps broadband service via DSL, which works quite nicely.   Internet service is cheap and easy to get in the apartments here at IISc.  It’s quite a contrast to the near absence of broadband Internet at home in Lyme.

The telephone man came one day with his assistants.  The telephone and cable lines enter the house in the living room, but I really wanted the Internet to arrive in the back bedroom, where I would place my Wi-Fi router. No problem, they said.

Ten minutes later I saw a cable dangling outside the back bedroom window.  They were on the roof – which is flat and which we use frequently because it has the clothesline – and they had cut a splice into the telephone wire and run a new cable across the roof and down the outside to the window.  Below, I show the job after adding some electrical tape over the bare copper; their motus operandi seems to be to leave the copper splices open to the elements.

Indeed, this is how all the telephone, Internet, and cable television wiring works; a jumble of ad hoc wires strung across the roof, dangling down the walls and into various apartment windows.  Below, Andy cuts some extraneous wire off the tangle – he loves to play with wiring.

Rain!

We arrived during the “rainy season”, June through October.

It is rainy in Bangalore.  It has rained nearly every day since we arrived, although it is generally quite sunny throughout the morning and early afternoon – saving the downpour for the late afternoon or evening.  On occasion, it rains all night.

View of rain in traffic.

The weather in many parts of India is dominated by the monsoons. Bangalore generally does not get the dramatically wet and dry weather of some other parts of the country, but nonetheless we arrived during the “rainy season”, June through October.

The campus, and many of the streets, are designed for heavy rain; on either side of the road there are gutters, at least 6” deep and often as much as 18” deep, to carry away the rainfall.  On city streets, these are sometimes covered, with large stone blocks teetering over the gutter and making a sidewalk.  Keep a sharp eye, though, because sometimes one will be missing!

August 2008 turns out to be the wettest in 10 years, with over 309cm of rain more than double the average August rainfall of 147cm!  Some neighborhoods of Bangalore have flooded this week, although the situation is not nearly as desperate as that in northern India, where huge regions are flooded, thousands are displaced, and dozens or hundreds have died.

September, traditionally the wettest month of the year in Bangalore (over 200cm average), has just begun, and I’m concerned.  I just met with the director of housing at IISc, showing him how the rain has seeped into each of our three closets, dampening our clothes and the paperwork we store.  The photo below shows how the closets stick out from the main building; since they have their own (flat) roof they catch rain and it seeps inside. Mildew is clearly visible on the outside the top closet, which happens to be the one for the kids’ room.

The closets seem to be an architectural afterthought.

Laundry

An itinerant ironing man.

I saw this man in the street outside our apartment one day.  He rolls his cart from block to block, ironing the clothes brought to him by apartment housekeepers.  I don’t know how he heated his iron, which  was the heavy old-fashioned type.

A man stops his cart along our street, about once a week, to iron the neighborhood laundry.

The norm, apparently, is for one’s housekeeper to do laundry every day, scrubbing garments by hand on a rough stone bench in the small courtyard between apartments.  Our apartment has a washing machine, so we chose to do our own wash.

The washing machine (above) has two hoses; you hook one hose to the sink and places the other next to a floor drain.  You insert the electrical plug into a wall socket.  You add clothes on the left side, turn on the water until you think you have enough, and turn a mechanical dial that causes the machine to agitate for a while.  Then you turn another dial to cause it to drain.  Then you move the clothes to the right side, which is for spinning; another mechanical dial times the spin.  Usually, the water drains too fast and floods the kitchen a little.  This process takes a little practice, and a deft touch in the dials.

Either way, the clothes dry on a clothesline strung on the roof.  (The roof is flat, with a tiled floor and walls, plus a clothesline on poles.)  Of course, this is the rainy season, so it is very humid and rains nearly every day, so we have to keep a sharp eye on the weather.

Someday, we may learn more about the man with the mobile ironing service.  

IISc flora and fauna

The IISc campus is, in effect, a wildlife sanctuary.

The IISc campus is, in a way, a huge park with large forested areas, grassy paths, and quiet lanes.  The campus is surrounded by a wall, with guards that limit access through the gates; thus, the campus is an oasis from the noise and chaotic traffic of Bangalore.

I am just beginning to explore this campus, which you can see on the Google Map (zoom in) is covered in large forested areas.   The main roads are paved, but there is a large central wooded section that is cris-crossed by well-defined walkways.  These walkways appear to have been cobblestone, long ago, though today are largely dirt and grass.  The space reminds me of a much larger version of the Dartmouth Green, but covered in trees.  Although much of the campus seems to be left rough and relatively wild, several buildings on campus (such as my department, ECE) have carefully tended formal gardens out front.

It is apparently illegal to cut trees in India, without a government permit, and the IISc campus has countless varieties of trees – many with numbers and labels that imply they are tracked or studied carefully,  All of them are unfamiliar to me, and I look forward to learning more about them.  Today I saw an amazing tree; from one tree grew countless twisted vines (branches?) that spread and were suspended on nearby trees.  It was impossible to capture the incredible spread of this tree’s vines in single image; they stretch the length of the building and across the street.  IISc had even built support poles to hold the branches where they cross the path and cross the road.

As a result of all this green space, there is a lot of wildlife.  There are countless birds – my birding eye is not sharp enough to spot them, but every morning there is a cacophony of birdsong.  Today we saw some sort of weasel poking around the leaves on the side of the road.  I’ve seen small lizards, and I’ve heard there are snakes (and even a “snake rescue” club).  There is, I’m told, an entomology group that looks out for the welfare of the insects on campus. 

Our kids are delighted by the resident population of monkeys, which we have encountered twice.  The first time, there were two adults and two tiny babies on the ground – but we unfortunately had no camera. Today, we spotted three monkeys eating the fruits of a nearby tree (pictured above, and below right). Apparently they will try to steal your food if you are having a picnic, and have been reputed to climb through windows and open the fridge.  

IISc is blessed with a verdant, forested campus. We are lucky to live here.

And yet, the IISc campus is a study in contrast.  One the one hand, they have a nursery and some staff that tend the trees, shrubs, and gardens.  On the other hand, it is not uncommon to see, next a well-tended garden, a large pile of trash, an old pile of bricks, or discarded sinks and other debris.  I recognize that I do not understand the whole picture, but it puzzles me that a campus with such inherent beauty is left unkempt in so many places.

More in the photo gallery.

IISc campus

A short way across campus is the Nesara restaurant.

The IISc campus sprawls across a large area; it was founded 100 years ago and at the time was on the outskirts of Bangalore.  Large sections of the campus are woods, with some pleasant walking paths. The campus is green, full of trees and birds, and as we discovered today, monkeys (or some other sort of primate).

The kids loved discovering new things, especially the huge millipedes (6 inches long) and 24” seed pods from some of the huge old trees.  They quickly made up some new games to play outside the house.  Soon I expect they will connect with the many other children who play in the neighborhood.

There is little traffic within the walls of this campus, and lots of people out walking or biking, so it is a very pleasant oasis from the hubbub of Bangalore.

See photos of IISc and this map. See also Wikipedia about IISc.

A short way across campus is the Nesara restaurant (below), which has very good Indian food, a friendly family atmosphere, and yet is inexpensive. (The five of us ate a big lunch, with dessert, for $8 total.)

Our apartment

We chose to live in faculty housing on the campus of the Indian Institute of Science, where I am spending my time as Fulbright Scholar and my sabbatical year.

The early morning sounds woke me today, our first morning in the apartment on the campus of the Indian Institute of Science (IISc). There were the sounds of many tropical (and thus unfamiliar) birds, the distant whistle of trains, and just a few neighborhood noises. Traffic, so noisy in Bangalore, was just a faint and distant hum,  I’ll take birds over traffic any day.  Once again, I decided that we had made the right choice.

We have apartment E8, at upper right.

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 (when Andy and I arrived yesterday, they were replacing all the light fixtures).  Although the outside is not much to look at (photo above), we have a second-story space with 3 bedrooms and 2 baths, a small kitchen and a comfortable living room.

The apartment is nice, but will take some adjustments on our part.  There are few electrical outlets – one per room, for the most part (tricky for me and my many gadgets!).  There are two showers, each with a water heater, but those are the only hot water.  Want to wash your hands? cold water. Shave? cold water. Wash dishes? cold water. Wash clothes? cold water. It’s a bit like camping: heating water to make some dish water, and brushing teeth using a cup and bottled water since we can’t trust the tap water.

On the other hand, the neighborhood is green and lush with tropical trees and flowers, children play in the parking lot, and I can walk to my office 100 yards away.  Want to see where we are?  Check it out on this Google Map.

We have ceiling fans but no A/C (or heat). The temperature this time of year is pleasant – highs in the 80s and lows in the 60s – and so we keep most windows cracked open to let in some air.  Yesterday, staff were repairing some of the screens – although it’s nice that the IISc campus is wooded, it means that there are more mosquitos than in other parts of the city.  Although malaria is not a big problem here, we still take some precautions. We purchased “Good Knight” devices – small nightlights that include a mosquito-repellant solution, and installed one in each bedroom.  We’re looking for some bed nets. 

Last night, the kids argued about which bedroom to use, and who gets what bed, but what else is new.  The mattresses are thin, but somehow the new sheets barely fit over them.  We have no blankets, so our first night was rather chilly.

We need to learn how to hire a housecleaner, who apparently is also the person who washes the laundry – there is a stone in the courtyard where they beat and scrub the clothes and then a clothesline for drying. We have a small washing machine, with a basin for washing and rinsing on the left and another basin for spinning on the right, a hose that connects to the sink and another that goes to the drain in the floor.  Awkward, but workable.

We have cable TV and telephone but we need to arrange Internet (DSL) next week.

We have a sizable porch, which would be nice if we had some plants or maybe a table and chairs.

Overall, it’s starting to feel like a home.

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.