Dr. Stuart A. Varden
Professor of Information Systems
Apple Industries through its information technology subsidiary, APTECH, at that time operated, either directly or through its franchises, over 125 proprietary computer training centers throughout India. The large number and increasing growth of these centers are in response to a high demand for computer education in India, running from elementary workshops in microcomputer software packages to semester long graduate level courses of study in computer science and software engineering. (Many more centers have been added since our 1993 visit.) APTECH is authorized to award certificates to students who have taken a sequence of courses and passed examinations covering a particular body of knowledge. APTECH, however, cannot award college academic credit or degrees, and this is where Pace University comes into the picture.
Apple and Pace have entered into an arrangement whereby APTECH instructors teach four graduate level courses in India using curricula and exams developed by Pace faculty. Exams are administered in India but sent back to Pace for scoring. Students who successfully complete the four courses are awarded an APTECH certificate and are invited to continue their studies leading to a master's degree in computer science at Pace in the U.S. Pace has agreed to waive the requirement to take the four courses completed in India. In effect, fourteen credits of the thirty six credit master's program are conducted in India, while the remainder takes place in the U.S. This arrangement, coupled with a twenty five percent tuition discount and an opportunity to work as a graduate assistant, reduces the overall cost by over fifty percent. This cost savings is very important to most Indian students, and has stimulated great interest in the program.
In addition to computer science, there is considerable interest in information systems and software development as well. Frank and I, as members of the information systems faculty, were visiting India to introduce APTECH students to Pace's programs of study in information systems. This, then, provides some background for our journey. The narrative is accompanied by photographs I took, which are cited by number.
After leaving India, we spent several days in Singapore with my brother, Craig, and his family, and also a day in Seoul, South Korea. The details and personal observations about this part of our trip are not included in this account. Finally, several facts regarding the sites visited come from references that I researched after my return to the U.S.
My wife Ceil and I drove down to my office at Pace University, Pleasantville Campus, so that I could finish some last minute work before heading to Frank's house and the limo to Kennedy International Airport. After our "good-byes", we were off.
The limo ride went uneventfully. The driver, Ted, is a former IBMer who provided congenial conversation on route. We arrived at about 6:00pm for an 8:15pm Air India flight to Bombay via London and New Delhi. After an unexplained delay, the flight took off at 9:30pm. Security for international flights is much stricter than U.S. domestic flights.
Although American built, I felt like I was already in a foreign land the moment I entered the plane. My fellow passengers were at least ninety percent Indian, the odors of Indian food and incense were everywhere, and the wall screen played highly stylized Indian music videos when it was not providing the standard instructions on the facilities and safety features of our Boeing 747-B aircraft.
I had the middle seat, Frank the aisle. A pleasant young woman from Ireland, Julie, had the window seat. She is completing a master's degree, and would like to continue for a Ph.D. in government at Georgetown University, but needs financial support.
I could not sleep on the flight. I eventually curled up on an open area of the floor for a couple of hours. A small boy lay next to me; he slept like a log.
In general, I found Air India food to be surprisingly good and interesting, and the attitude toward flight regulations to be rather relaxed compared to US domestic standards. I don't think that I would have been permitted to sleep on the floor on a U.S. domestic flight.
My window seat companion, Julie, had been replaced by a middle aged Indian woman from the city of Baroda in the state of Gujarat. Her English was weak, but another Indian woman and child, also from Baroda, sat directly in front of us. She turned out to be a chemist from South Plainfield, NJ who was returning to India following the death of her father. We struck up a conversation, which eventually resulted in her inviting us to Baroda and the exchange of addresses. This turned out to be a hint of the hospitality that we would find throughout our travels in India.
After another delay, the last leg of our flight got underway. We arrived at Bombay's Sahar International Airport at 3:45am, about two hours late overall. All together, the trip took about twenty hours. We were exhausted but also excited to finally be in India.
After further security checks, immigration, customs, and baggage claim, we found our greeters, two polite young Apple Industries employees, Godwyn and Ramesh. We were led to an Indian-style taxi and headed for the hotel. It was still dark and not much was visible. It was warm, humid, and the odor of car exhaust was strong. Cars drive on the left hand side of the road, no doubt a result of India's British past.
We arrived at the "Sun-and-Sand" hotel located in the Juhu Beach region of Bombay at about 5:30am. It looked pretty dreary from the outside, but my spirits were lifted by a rather pleasant looking lobby, agreeable hotel staff, and a firm but receptive bed. I was asleep by 6:00am.
We had put in 1:00pm wakeup calls and were to meet Ganesh and Uma Natarajan at 2:00pm for lunch and discussions of the logistics of our stay. Ganesh is CEO of APTECH, the information technology company of Apple Industries, and Uma is a senior manager there as well. Before Ganesh and Uma arrived, we were up investigating the hotel and surrounding area. There were several shops on the ground floor. I soon learned that the Asian style of retailing is much more aggressive than I was accustomed to in the U.S. Upon entering a shop, the sales clerk was soon engaging you in conversation regarding the virtues of the shop's goods, and would not let up until you either purchased something or made a stealthy retreat from the shop. The defensive maneuver of saying "I'm just looking" was of no avail.
Next we investigated the front of the hotel which looked just as dreary as it had looked at night. There was a parking area for taxis, private cars, and motor cycles. A uniformed guard wearing a beret controlled the entrance to the hotel property. It was not clear why a guard was necessary until we ventured past the entrance and quickly found ourselves the object of much attention from beggars and street peddlers. After a couple of minutes, we sought the safety of the hotel and its guard.
Then we turned to the rear of the hotel to discover an outdoor swimming pool and a large beach area that looked out onto the Arabian Sea. Although the beach area was not very clean, there was much activity nevertheless. People walked up and down the beach and seemed to be in fine spirits. From time to time a camel and rider would go by. We discovered later that today was Lord Krishna's birthday which is celebrated throughout India. The weather was overcast but not rainy, even though it was still monsoon season.
Shortly after 2:00pm, Ganesh and Uma arrived along with A. M.Thimmiya, the National Sales Manager for Apple Industries. "Timmy", as he is known by, was informal, open, energetic, and anxious to please his new American friends. Happily, he was our companion for much of our stay in India.
We had lunch next to the pool. Frank was in his glory as he began to absorb the local culture and food. It grew quite windy, but we remained outside and enjoyed some interesting Bombay delights. We were both concerned about the drinking water situation, but were relieved to see sealed bottled "Bisleri" mineral water brought to the table. "Bisleri" water was our constant companion throughout India.
After lunch, we headed to the new Apple Industries corporate offices. We entered through a rather inauspicious back alley, up a flight of stairs, to a modern office complex. Ganesh and Uma are quite pleased with these new headquarters, as they provide much needed space and are no longer located in the highly congested South Bombay area.
We learned that the APTECH business is divided into two main areas: (1) computer training and (2) information systems consulting. Ganesh also heads something called the "Centre for Business Transformation" which focuses on business process reengineering. He pointed out the APTECH mission statement and quality program. A bit later, we toured the facility and were introduced to the management team. Then we discussed the Apple/Pace Program, including a variety of program arrangements, the U.S. visa problem, and the format of tomorrow's presentations.
Following our meeting, Timmy took us to South Bombay, the main business center of the city. This included a trip along the "Queen's Necklace" shore area, the luxurious Taj Mahal hotel, and the Gateway of India arch. It was now dark, and spotlights lit the impressive though conventional structure. While there, we were continually approached by street vendors and beggars. Our Western looks apparently aroused the hopes of these unfortunate people. Timmy advised us not to give anything to the beggars. We concluded the evening with an excellent dinner at the Khyber restaurant. A birthday party was in progress, and many attractive and well dressed people came by to join the celebration. Timmy told us that Bombay and India has become a favorite vacation spot for middle Easterners, particularly from the oil rich Arab states. We returned to the hotel at about 11:00pm.
The presentation was scheduled to run from 10:00am to noon, followed by a buffet lunch. About thirty managers from local companies and governmental agencies attended. I began with a discussion of trends in database systems and client/server technologies, and Frank followed with his thoughts on trends in applications development and telecommunications. There followed a question and answer session. Initially, the managers had no questions. Ganesh had to ask a question to get things started. The audience apparently felt uneasy in addressing the "American experts" in public. Many would approach us individually, however, during the buffet lunch.
The formal part of the program concluded with some remarks by Ganesh. Ganesh did a beautiful job of tying our remarks to his message on how Indian companies must reorganize themselves and adopt new ways of thinking in order to take full advantage of the benefits offered by information technology. As he spoke about the consulting services offered by APTECH's Centre for Business Transformation, it suddenly became clear to me that Frank and I had not been invited to India just to give a few informal talks on trends in the computer field. We unwittingly had become part of the APTECH marketing team! We were the centerpiece of a highly choreographed series of marketing presentations. We were being exhibited as APTECH's American university connection to the latest ideas and trends in the field. This did not bother me, since we had been given a free hand in what we were to say. I suspect that Frank had appreciated our true role more clearly than I. He told me privately that he felt that we should have been paid for our remarks beyond simply having our expenses covered. I was just happy to be in India, and thankful that we had come well prepared for our "informal talks."
During the buffet lunch, I recognized (but could not place) a familiar face. It turned out to be Suneel Sajnani, a former Pace student of mine who was visiting his family in India at the time. He is married to Calli Sajnani, the well regarded Administrative Assistant for the Pace New York Information Systems Department. Suneel had learned that two Pace professors would be speaking in India, and had asked Ganesh if he could attend.
We headed back to the APTECH offices at about 1:30pm for further discussions and more introductions. On the way, we noticed a funeral procession proceeding along the side of the road. A body covered with flowers was being carried on the shoulders of four pall bearers. The procession was no doubt heading to a place suitable for cremation according to Hindu custom. Thus, we had seen a wedding and a funeral in the space of a few hours.
Ganesh suggested the following format for the afternoon student presentation: (1) Frank gives a brief overall of the information technology trends, (2) Stuart introduces the students to the "feel" of the Pace campuses using a set of 35mm slides showing the main Pace campuses, (3) Frank describes Pace's degree programs in information systems, and (4) Ganesh offers some concluding remarks.
We left the APTECH offices at 3:30pm. The presentation was to be held at St. Xavier's Boys High School, and was scheduled to begin at 4:30pm. It had been raining and the ground was still wet. Students had already begun to gather outside of the partly outdoor auditorium as we arrived. They looked at us with coy curiosity as we approached, having correctly concluded that the "Western looking men" must be the Pace professors that had been mentioned in Monday's Times of India. Yes, we had made the local papers.
The auditorium looked rundown and seemed ill suited to our purposes. We were on a raised stage with a podium and stationary microphone. I knew that Frank would prefer not to be tied down behind a podium. Moreover, the overhead and slide projectors were set up to project onto a relatively small portable screen that was set well back on the stage. This meant that only people seated in the first few rows would be able to see the screen.
It was soon apparent that there would be an overflow crowd. It was hot and humid, and we were dressed in our suits and ties. I did not know what to expect, but assumed that Ganesh knew what would work and what would not. Then suddenly we were approached by two young women with garlands of flowers. We soon found ourselves in the midst of a traditional Indian greeting ceremony, which included having the garlands placed around our necks and receiving a red "bhindi" mark on our foreheads. The students applauded their approval. We were pleased and touched. We did not realize at the time that this would be typical of our reception throughout India. Even so, we never got entirely used to such treatment. Ganesh had arranged for a photographer to capture the moment. Later we were presented with a set of photos.
Although the surroundings looked shabby, the students did not. They were well dressed and groomed, and were very attentive and respectful. An estimated 450 had now arrived. We were not sure if it was polite to remove the garland before speaking, but were assured by Ganesh that it would be okay. Suneel had joined us on stage as the presentation got underway.
Frank told the students how pleased we were to be in India and to have a chance to share some thoughts with them. The students seemed pleased to learn that this was our first visit to India, and that we were having a wonderful time.
After Frank had completed a twenty five minute overview of information technology trends and had fielded a few questions, it was my turn to speak. I echoed Frank's thoughts on how delighted we were to be in India. I then added that I wanted them to feel equally welcome in the U.S. and Pace University, should they have an opportunity to study there.
Fortunately, I had taken the trouble about ten days earlier to buy a new camera and visit the four main Pace campuses to take 35mm slides. I wanted to give the students a feeling for what Pace was like and to assure them that Pace is a large university offering many resources and opportunities for learning. I emphasized the computer labs and data center facilities, and included several slides of Indian students who were studying at Pace. One slide in particular drew applause; it was of the four APTECH students who were now in the U.S. studying to complete a Master's degree in Computer Science at Pace. I had taken down their names and home cities, but did not yet feel confident enough in my ability to properly pronounce them. One other slide, which I almost did not include, also received applause. It was a photo of a flower garden that is located on the Pleasantville campus. Apparently, flowers are very much admired in India.
Frank concluded with a overview of Pace's degree programs in Information Systems. We knew that this was the main reason why the students had come, namely to get information on the Apple/Pace Program and the opportunity to study in the U.S. We were to appreciate more fully why this was so important to them later in our travels through India.
Ganesh concluded the presentation and we fielded some more questions about Pace. Suneel was asked to stand and identify himself as a Pace University graduate, which gave further credibility to Pace and its programs of study in computing. Once the formal part of the program was over, many students came by to welcome us and find out more about the Apple/Pace Program. There was considerable interest in the possibilities for financial aid, scholarships, graduate assistantships, and how to get a visa to come to the U.S. The students were genuinely polite and respectful to a fault. The afternoon concluded with a joint photo with Frank, Ganesh, Suneel, and I seated with about twenty students standing in back of us.
Ganesh and Uma then drove us to their apartment. There we met Ganesh's mother and reacquainted ourselves with Karuna, their ten year old daughter, who we had already met in the U.S. a few weeks earlier. Ganesh's mother had made some interesting cakes to celebrate Lord Krishna's birthday.
We then went to a fine restaurant at the Centaur Hotel, one of the best in all of Bombay. Our food was wonderful but rich, and was accompanied by traditional Indian light classic music. It was a very pleasant conclusion to a highly interesting and successful day. When we were alone, Frank said that he felt the day had far exceeded Ganesh and Uma's expectations. We were back at the hotel by 11:00pm.
We were picked up at about 8:00am and taken to the APTECH offices. We were chatting for a while with Ganesh and Uma in Ganesh's office when a young Apple employee, Dhanashree Mahadevan, entered. Introductions were about to begin when I quickly excused myself from the room in the hopes of reaching the men's room before having an accident. I didn't make it. Luckily, no one was around to see me lose the breakfast I hadn't eaten. After regaining my composure, I returned to Ganesh's office and introduced myself to Dhanashree. She was to be our guide for the day. Dhanashree is in her early twenties, presents herself well, is engaged to an officer in the Indian Navy, and is an Apple management trainee. Both Frank and I observed that the portrayal in the western media of the poor conditions of Indian women was certainly not the case at Apple Industries. Fully sixty percent of APTECH's managers and professional staff are women, and are well respected for their contributions to the company. In fact, they are generally considered to be better workers.
We set out for the congested South Bombay area once again. Signs and billboards were everywhere, including many that advertised movies. More movies are made in India per year than any other country in the world, and Bombay is a major film center. We also saw many makeshift huts along the edges of the streets, and countless little businesses and shops. I saw no sign of Western-style supermarkets, large department stores, or shopping centers.
The three-wheeled auto rickshaws were everywhere, honking their horns and darting in and out of traffic. They wisely have been banned from the main commercial district. British-style doubledecker buses and taxis were very common as well. On a typical business day, it takes over an hour to drive the twelve miles from the Juhu area of Bombay to South Bombay. Most people who work in this area take the commuter train.
Our first stop was at the Hari Krishna Temple. It was a place of worship to Lord Krishna, but also seemed to be a shrine to a famous 20th Century guru whose very lifelike statute was prominently displayed in the center of the temple. He was posed in the lotus position in a meditative state looking onto three very elaborate displays of Krishna and related deities. I did not understand the religious significance of this, but enjoyed being there nevertheless.
We then stopped at the Mani Blaven, a building where Mahatma Gandhi stayed during his visits to Bombay between 1917 and 1934. It has a pictorial exhibit of incidents in Gandhi's life and contains a library of books and papers by and about the Mahatma. On the second floor is a very plain looking room with Gandhi's spinning wheel upon which he spun thread to make his clothes.
We then headed for an American Express office to convert some traveller's checks into Indian rupees. While driving there, we passed by the Gateway of India arch again, but this time it was during the daytime. When we got to American Express, we learned that the current exchange rate was one dollar to 30.95 rupees. This was only slightly more favorable than our hotel was offering. I exchanged $100.00 and received in turn a fat wad of India currency that made me feel wealthy, at least momentarily.
We then stopped for a buffet lunch at the National Council of Performing Arts. Of course, I had no interest in food but ordered a lime soda anyway. This, along with hot tea and Bisleri mineral water, proved to be my favorite beverage in India. I had already learned from experience that Indian-style ginger ale and the local cola product (Campa Coke) were a sad disappointment to my Western palate.
Not long after drinking about half my soda, I once again found myself making a mad dash for the rest room. As before, I did not make it in time, but again went unnoticed as the restaurant was nearly empty. When I returned to the table a few minutes later, Dhanashree was not there. Frank said that she was making a phone call, which I imagined was to get advice as to what to do with the "under the weather" American guest. About ten minutes later, a young Indian Naval officer dressed in his Navy "whites" showed up. It turned out to be Dhanashree's fiancee. She had not called the APTECH office after all. I was relieved at that, as I did not want to bring unnecessary attention to my condition. Dhanashree's fiancee was very attentive to me, and was no doubt a comforting presence to Dhanashree. She had handled a potentially embarrassing situation very well.
On the way back, we passed by the "Hanging Gardens of Bombay." They are on top of Malabar Hill and are properly known as the Pherozeshah Mehta Gardens. This name comes from the fact that they are built on top of a series of reservoirs that supply water to Bombay. The formally laid out gardens have a notable collection of hedges shaped like animals, but we did not take the time to see them. We did see, however, some fine views over the city. Frank took a few photos.
We were back at the APTECH offices by 4:30pm. One question was outstanding; would I be well enough to fly to New Delhi that evening, or should I spend the night in Bombay and take a morning flight? The most practical idea seemed to be to have me rest for a couple of hours and see how I felt then. So while Frank met with Ganesh, Uma, and Deepika Sharma, a strong minded technical manager, Dhanashree and I headed to the Centaur Hotel near the airports. After some Indian-style bargaining regarding my unusual request for a ninety minute room stay, I registered and was asleep by 6:00pm. At 7:00pm Uma phoned and asked whether I felt like I could travel. I said "yes," although I still felt quite weak. I did not want to make a big thing out of being ill, and wanted to start the New Delhi phase of the trip without bringing attention to my state of health. The one hour of sleep had cost about $80.00, but I was revived enough to travel.
When I arrived in the lobby, I could not find anyone. After about fifteen minutes of wondering where everyone was, Uma showed up; Ganesh and Uma had been in the hotel book store purchasing gifts for Frank and me. They had gotten us beautiful illustrations of classical Indian art, including a calendar that depicted scenes from Hindu mythology. This further gesture of hospitality would be repeated in each of the cities we visited.
We then headed for the domestic airport, Santa Cruz, to make an 8:15pm flight to New Delhi. We flew Indian Airlines, not to be confused with Air India, for all our domestic flights. Our flight to New Delhi went uneventfully. Of course, we did not have to deal with immigration or customs. We were greeted by a young APTECH employee, Prakash. After introductions, we were taken to the Maurya Sheraton Hotel. This proved to be the most luxurious hotel we would stay at in India. We were checked in by 11:00pm and soon in our rooms.
After the introductions, A.V.G. outlined our New Delhi itinerary. The information systems managers' presentation and buffet lunch would be held this morning at the hotel. Some sightseeing of New Delhi would follow in the afternoon. Tomorrow would be devoted entirely to a trip to Agra and the Taj Mahal. The student presentation was set for late Monday morning, while our flight to Bangalore was at 4:05pm.
We arrived at the room for the information systems managers' presentation at about 9:30am. About forty guests would soon be gathered for our talk. Frank and I followed the same format as Bombay. The presentation went pretty much as planned, except for the fact that our timing was somewhat off. Frank told me later that I had taken nearly fifty minutes instead of the twenty that had been allotted. The result was that the whole program was pushed back over half an hour. Frank also ran over a bit.
When we opened things up for questions, we found the New Delhi group much more willing to enter into open discussions with us than the Bombay group. Mr. Sunderaraman, the New Delhi APTECH Centre Manager, provided the concluding remarks. After listening to him speak, I had new respect for Ganesh's business sense and marketing abilities. Unlike Ganesh, Mr.Sunderaraman did not take advantage of any of our comments on information technology trends to promote the Centre for Business Transformation and its consulting services. He did not seem to have as clear a grasp on the contributions that information technology could have on an organization, and what organizations needed to do to position themselves to take advantage of its potential.
During the buffet lunch, we were introduced to Arun Gupta, a Senior Manager with responsibilities for establishing APTECH training center franchises in the North India zone. Arun would be our guide to Agra the next day. We also had a number of interesting conversations with people who had attended the presentation. They represented a wide range of organizations, including software exporters, government contractors, banks, and independent consultants. Many were quite knowledgeable on a range of computer related subjects.
Once the guests had left, A.V.G introduced Frank and me to Rajiiv, another Apple Industries employee. Rajiiv had a car and driver waiting to take us on a tour of New Delhi. Rajiiv was very amusing, quite talkative, and seemed to enjoy his role as tour guide.
Our first stop was to be the famous Bahai House of Worship. I had heard of this and, in fact, had seen it on video tape just prior to leaving for India, but had no idea that we would get to see it in person.
On the way there, it became clear that New Delhi was much different from Bombay. The streets were much wider and less congested, the buildings larger and more stately, and the pace of life was generally more relaxed. New Delhi seemed to lack the energy of Bombay. The thought occurred to me that Bombay is like New York City, while New Delhi is more like Washington, D.C.
The Bahai House of Worship is rather new by Indian standards, having been completed in 1980. It is built to look like nine petals of a lotus blossom floating on the surface of a pond surrounded by spacious, well kept gardens. The shape of the petals reminded me a bit of the architecture of the famous opera house in Sydney, Australia, although it is my understanding that the petal-like shapes of the opera house represent the billowy sails of a ship. The structure is very serene in mood. Even though it is quite large in size, it was not at all intimidating. As we got near, we were asked to remove our shoes and not take photographs. All faiths are free to visit the temple and pray or meditate silently according to their own religion. The land on which the temple is located is slightly elevated, permitting us to see the New Delhi skyline to the north. One could clearly see a large outdoor stadium, where Michael Jackson was soon to perform during his Asia tour.
While there we saw many groups of school children, dressed in rather plain uniforms. Rajiiv told us that the purpose of the uniforms was not to enforce regimentation or conformity, but instead served to nullify the great economic disparities that often existed between the families of the children. The wearing of expensive jewelry in school also is prohibited for the same reason. The children were very well behaved and seemed to reflect a cooperative spirit. It was common, for example, to see boys holding hands.
We next visited the Qutb-Minar complex. The buildings in the complex, located about ten miles south of New Delhi, date from the onset of Muslim rule in India. The Qutb-Minar itself is a soaring tower of victory which was started in 1193, immediately after the defeat of the last Hindu kingdom in Delhi. It is seventy three meters high and tapers from a fifteen meter diameter base to just two and one half meters at the top. The tower has five distinct stories, each marked by a projecting balcony. There are several other impressive buildings in the complex, including the first mosque to be built in India, the "Might of Islam" mosque.
On the way to our next point, we stopped along the side of a quiet tree-lined street. This turned out to be the assassination site of Indian prime minister Indira Gandhi, who had been gunned down by members of her own security force in 1984. It was after 5:00pm and the site was now closed for the day. We looked over the fence at two stoney-faced soldiers bearing automatic weapons.
Frank and I were perfectly content to leave things as they were. Then Rajiiv began to speak to the soldiers in Hindi. About five minutes later, after much animated conversation, the fence gate was suddenly opened, and we found ourselves being given a private tour of the grounds. We were not sure exactly what Rajiiv had said, but it must have been pretty persuasive. As we left about fifteen minutes later, the soldiers were all smiles and handshakes. This was only one of many episodes we experienced that demonstrates the superiority of visiting a new land as the guest of a native over sightseeing on one's own.
The final stop of the day was at India Gate. India Gate is a 42 meter high stone arch of triumph which stands at the eastern end of the Raj Path on the edge of a public park. It is a war memorial that bears the names of 90,000 Indian Army soldiers who died in War World I and other campaigns during the British era. One does not read much about World War I Indian casualties in Western history texts.
We arrived back at the hotel at about 7:30pm. After thanking Rajiiv for the wonderful tour, we found ourselves on our own. This would prove to be the only evening in all our India stay when we were not taken out to dinner by one of our hosts. I must admit that it came as a welcome change. Frank and I concluded the day with a pleasant buffet dinner at the hotel.
Arun told us that there had been a fire in his residential compound the night before that had resulted in the loss of electric power to his apartment. He had been up much of the night dealing with the consequences of this situation, and was very tired. He asked if it would be okay if he took a nap on the way. We assured him that we did not mind. Privately we sensed that Arun would have preferred to do something else with his Sunday than be a tour guide. We later learned that today also was India Independence Day, which was a further reason why one might wish to be home with one's family.
The 210 kilometers journey by taxi to Agra was estimated to take about four hours, including a breakfast break that was planned for about 8:30am. I was expecting a rough trip over unpaved roads through much of the village areas. This, however, was not the case. We had paved roads all the way and experienced minimal traffic delays. The fact that it was Sunday and Independence Day probably had something to do with the relatively light traffic conditions. It took us about half an hour to get out of the greater Delhi area into the villages and countryside. We went through a check point as we passed out of the Delhi region into the State of Uttar Pradesh where Agra and the Taj Mahal are located.
At about 8:30am, we pulled into a roadside rest stop for breakfast as planned. As we got out of the car, I noticed an elephant and camel with their owners near the restaurant. While Arun made his way to the rest room, I headed in the direction of the animals which seemed to offer good subjects for some photos. I could see saddles on the animals, and presumed that they could be rented for short "kiddy" rides.
After taking a photo of the elephant and then the camel, I suddenly found myself besieged by the owner of the elephant who demanded payment for the service of providing his elephant as a subject for my photo. He said "Give money! Give money!" in his best English. Realizing that I had not asked permission to take a photo, I felt obligated to pay him something. I handed over twenty five rupees (about eighty five cents U.S.), and was about to make a quick retreat when the other owner thrust out his hand and said "Me camel man. Give money!" Now I was a bit flustered. I had no other small bills, and began to explain that the two of them should split the twenty five rupees.
Frank was observing all this from a safe distance, and was no doubt interested in seeing how I would extricate myself from this situation. Just as I was concluding that my "share the twenty five rupees" argument was not getting through, Arun arrived on the scene. I explained what had happened and defended myself by pointing out that no prior agreement of payment had been made. After a few words in Hindi from Arun, it was all over and we headed for breakfast. I can just imagine what he must have been thinking: "I leave these Americans unattended for thirty seconds, and they manage to get themselves into trouble." I had to laugh at myself. Happily, the photos came out just fine.
As we continued our trip, I begin to concentrate more on the sights along the roadside. There was constant activity, but no one seems to be in a hurry. The village women could be seen gracefully carrying baskets on their heads or tending after the children, while men might be found cultivating a field with an ox, bicycling goods to market, or manning a roadside stand. "Sacred" cattle, who seemed to belong to both no one and everyone at the same time, roamed freely along the roads interfering with traffic as they pleased. "Ah, this is the real India I remember from National Geographic", I thought to myself. Of course, it wasn't any more real than downtown Bombay. From time to time we would enter a town and stop briefly at an intersection. This provided a opportunity to observe a little more carefully the roadside activities, and to take an occasional photo.
At about 10:00am, we began to approach the outskirts of Agra. Although it is world famous as the site of the Taj Mahal and other tourist attractions such as the Agra Fort, Agra is obviously an important city in its own right, having a population of about one million people. The general condition of the city, however, did not compare with a Bombay or Delhi. It seemed poorer and less sophisticated, and did not have a well developed inner city with large office buildings such as those that could be found in the other major Indian cities we visited. Once in the city, we stopped at a small, not particularly appetizing restaurant, for a bathroom break. While there, Arun made a phone call. This was the first clue that our trip would involve more than just sightseeing.
After departing the restaurant, we drove to another part of the city and pulled up in front of a corner building. This turned out to be a small hotel. There Arun met and introduced us to two young men, one from Delhi and the other a native of Agra. I have forgotten their names. We were escorted to a second floor hotel room, and seated around a table. Sodas and hot tea were served. We chatted informally, describing the purpose of our trip to India and the wonderful time we were having. I looked longingly at the bed in the sparsely appointed room; it had been a long ride and I had not fully recovered from my illness. A nap seemed like an excellent idea, but was out of the question given the circumstances. Frank and I had assumed that the two men were friends of Arun, but were to learn that Arun was trying to establish an APTECH computer training center franchise in Agra. The two young men, particularly the one from Agra, were hoping to convince Arun that they would make good franchisees. This began what turned out to be a fascinating look into the dynamics of Indian-style business negotiations. We were glad that Arun had a second, more practical, reason for being away from his family on a holiday.
The next stop was the Taj Mahal itself. I was surprised to find it located right in the city. All the pictures I had seen in the past gave no hint of its urban surroundings. Before going through the entrance gate, we had to parry a hoard of peddlers selling postcards and other souvenir items. The entrance gate led into a courtyard and eventually another entrance way. At this second entrance, everyone was requested to remove their shoes and people were individually searched for weapons or other potentially destructive devices.
And now suddenly, there it was in all its magnificence! Many world famous attractions turn out to be a disappointment when you finally get a chance to see them, but this is not the case with the Taj Mahal. There it stood in the distance with its long, narrow reflection pool in the foreground lined with neatly trimmed shrubs. A reddish sandstone pathway on either side of the reflection pool led to the Taj Mahal itself. As usual, photographs were not permitted beyond a certain point. I kidded everyone by saying that my family would not allow me back into my house if I did not return with a photo of me standing in front of the Taj Mahal. Frank and I exchanged taking photos of each other in the obligatory pose using the other person's camera before proceeding any further.
The two young men, who had joined us in our sightseeing, provided some commentary about the Taj Mahal as we walked leisurely along the pathway. They said that the Moghul Emperor Shah Jahan had the architect's hands cut off so that he would not be able to design another structure to rival the Taj Mahal. So much for rewarding a job well done!
As magnificent as the Taj Mahal is from afar, it is even more wondrous in its interior details. Semi precious stones are inlaid into the marble in beautiful patterns with superb craftsmanship in a process known as "pietra dura." Walking outside the mausoleum to the rear reveals that the Taj Mahal looks down onto the Yamuma River. The river bed was quite wide, but the river itself was not. Apparently, the summer monsoon season had not produced the expected rainfall. Altogether, we spent about an hour at the Taj Mahal.
Just as we exited the Taj Mahal, I noticed a modest sandstone building from which hung a sign that read "Dept. of Telecom." This encroachment of Twentieth Century technology seemed curiously out of place next to such an historic site, and added to the feeling of apparent contradiction that India presents its visitors.
After leaving the Taj Mahal, we stopped at two or three buildings that the young men thought might be suitable sites for an APTECH computer training center. Arun seemed rather noncommittal, and tended to let the two men do the talking. These stops gave us a chance to observe the daily commerce ofthe city. It made no difference that it was Independence Day and a Sunday; the city was full of activity. On several occasions, we noticed that other computer training centers were already in business. I am sure that this fact was not lost on Arun as he evaluated the potential business opportunities for an APTECH center in Agra.
We then went for lunch at the Taj Hotel. This was a first rate accommodation with a fine restaurant. It made me feel a little better about Agra as a city. After ordering and making some polite comments about the food and surroundings, the franchise negotiations began in earnest. They seemed to have a predictable rhythm. It was clear that Arun had the power position and wanted to keep it that way. The man from Agra did the talking. He would explain some aspects of his business plan and claim that the potential market for computer training in Agra was very high. He promised to do this and that, and whatever would be required to succeed. Arun would not reply, but was clearly paying attention. Then the table would fall silent for a few minutes as we continued to enjoy our meal. After a while, the young man would offer some additional points to strengthen his case. Occasionally, Arun would ask a short, pointed question. This continued for several rounds with no closure in sight. It seemed the longer Arun said nothing, the more concessions he was receiving. Interestingly, money did not come up in the conversation. The impression I got was that it was taken for granted that if the franchise had a good location, was well equipped and staffed, and properly managed, the money would take care of itself. Frank and I had the good sense to watch and listen, but say nothing.
At the end of the meal, the man from Agra offered to pay, but Arun would hear nothing of it. I interpreted this to mean that he had made no decision regarding the franchise and did not want to place himself in a position of indebtedness. It seems that the one who pays has the initiative in the negotiations. Arun did, however, accept the young man's invitation to make a brief visit to his home. So this was our next stop.
When we arrived, the young man's mother was there to welcome us with the traditional "praying hands" greeting. We were invited into a room that seemed to function both as a living room and a bedroom. The five of us sat on two couches that faced one another. There was a low table in the center, a small black-and-white television mounted on the wall, an elevated wall fan, and a mattress which covered one end of the floor. This apparently was someone's bed. The room was plainly decorated and not too well lit. The young man's mother served sodas and cookies, but did not remain. We stayed about half an hour talking informally and enjoying our drinks. There was no further discussion of business.
It was now approaching 5:00pm and too late to see the Agra Fort complex and several other well known attractions. We did stop, however, at the Dayal Bagh, a white marble temple of the Radah Soami Hindu sect located in the northern outskirts of the city. It has been under construction for nearly ninety years, and is not expected to be completed until well into the next century. The story we were told is that the family that has the construction contract is in no hurry to finish; when finished, they will be out of work. The pietra dura inlaid marble work also can be found here.
Well over half of our time in Agra had been devoted to Arun's business activities and not traditional sightseeing. Yet Frank and I both agreed that observing how business is transacted and being invited to a typical Indian home were experiences that a foreign traveler would not encounter once in a hundred group tours.
We left Agra for the return trip to New Delhi at 6:00pm. As before, we stopped midway through the trip at a roadside restaurant to have a light evening meal. Fortunately, there were no elephants or camels in sight!
Dusk turned into night as we made our way down the road. Even so, the activity along the side of the road did not seem to let up. Besides evening social gatherings and Independence Day festivities, we saw many people driving ox carts to market, street vendors tending their stands, and other signs of commercial life. We arrived back at the hotel at about 10:00pm. It had been over eight hours of riding under less then desirable conditions for the day. I was glad to have gone, but would think twice over an offer to go again.
While in the taxi, I asked how to say "welcome" or "good day"in Hindi. If it was not too difficult to learn how to pronounce, I thought it might make a nice way to open our part of the student presentation. A.V.G. said "nah-mah-stay." So Frank and I spent the remainder of the drive to the auditorium trying to memorize this simple greeting. I still do not know its literal translation.
The Institute is a conventional neo-classic turn-of-the-century structure that seats about 700 people in its auditorium, which includes orchestra and balcony sections. There is an elevated stage and a wide curtain that was drawn to form a background. Pinned to the curtain were two large banners; one said "World Trends in Information Technology" and the other directly below it read "Dr. Frank LoSacco and Dr. Stuart Varden, Pace University." They were at least twenty feet across.
The next forty five minutes were spent trying to work out the logistics of the audio visual equipment and the staging of the presentation. Frank was happy to discover a portable "pin on" microphone that would permit him the freedom of movement that he wanted. He also requested that the lights be kept on so that he could see the audience. He felt this would better enable him to communicate with the students.
I became concerned when the slide projector did not work. My entire part of the presentation was based on the photo essay on slides of Pace University that I had compiled. Without that, I had nothing to do. Eventually, a replacement unit arrived. This unit, however, was mangling the edges of the slides. The assistant who was struggling to get the projector to work had to resort to mending the cardboard slide holders with scotch tape. This kind of last minute scrambling around was rather disquieting. Nevertheless, our spirits were good as we saw the capacity crowd file into the auditorium.
Just before we were to begin, I learned from A.V.G. that the students had been deliberately told that the presentation would start at 10:00am, while the intended start time was 11:00am. This was to ensure that no one would be late. It was now 11:15am and I begin to sense that the students were getting restless, and with good cause I might add.
As in Bombay, we were presented with flowers and gifts as part of a formal welcoming ceremony. It was now quite warm and Frank and I were both perspiring. As soon as the introduction had been completed, we removed our jackets, which drew a chuckle from some of the audience.
Frank began with the "nah-mah-stay" greeting we had been practicing, which seemed to please the students. Then, as Frank began to speak, a glaring spotlight suddenly was turned on and directed toward the stage so that our remarks could be videotaped. The net result was that we lost all sight of the audience. Frank hated it. As he was giving his overview of information technology trends, it was obvious that he did not have the feeling of connection with the audience that he wanted. After a while, I sensed the students getting more restless. The "trends" were nice, but they had come to hear about the APTECH/Pace University program and the opportunity to study in the United States. Although it was without doubt a success, Frank and I both felt this presentation was the least satisfying of all the ones we had given.
After the presentation, we went to lunch at an interesting restaurant, called the "Metro," near the APTECH office. The various sections of the interior were designed like dining cars of a train, although the restaurant was not an American style diner. While there, the restaurant lost power for a few seconds on two separate occasions. I couldn't help but think of all the computer systems that had probably crashed throughout the city. This emphasized the importance of having reliable infrastructures to support a modern technological information society. It was clear that India still has a lot of problems to overcome before it can shed its "third world country" label.
We then paid a visit to the APTECH office. There followed the now usual greetings, introductions, tour of the facility, and finally informal conversation in A.V.G.'s office. After about an hour, it was time to head for the airport for a 4:10pm flight to Bangalore, the next stop on our journey.
Bangalore is nearly 1,500 miles directly south of New Delhi,and is the capital and largest city (population about four million) in the State of Karnataka. Karnataka is considered to be in South India, and the State language is Kanada. Our well practiced "nah-mah-stay" probably would not go over as well here as it had in New Delhi. We had been told that Bangalore is blessed with a very agreeable climate, which may be due to its elevation of about 3,000 feet above sea level.
We arrived in Bangalore at about 7:30pm. While I was waiting for our luggage at baggage claim (Frank had gone to the restroom), I was approached by a well dressed man who turned out to be a representative of the Oberoi, a modern Western style luxury hotel and conference center. I told him that my hotel accommodations already had been arranged by a host company. He thanked me for my time, we exchanged business cards, and I thought nothing more of it. Weeks after my return to the United States, I received a letter from the Oberoi Bangalore Sales Manager thanking me for sharing my time to speak to one of his "Airport Representatives." A hotel brochure was enclosed. This was another example of the differences in business practices between India and the United States.
Once we got our luggage and entered the airport lobby area, we caught sight of our friend Timmy, who was enthusiastically waving at us. He seemed genuinely pleased to see us. He was joined by R. Venkatasubramanian. Mr. Venkatasubramanian, who is known an "Venkat" or "Venky", is the APTECH Regional Manager covering Bangalore. It was now dark outside, but I could already tell that indeed the climate in Bangalore was going to be much more to my liking than New Delhi.
Venkat helped me with my luggage to the taxi. While heading through the parking lot, two little tykes, no more than eight years old, grabbed at my suitcase to help carry it to the taxi. Neither one could lift it by himself, so they formed a two person "luggage porter" team, and managed to carry it about a hundred feet. I had to admire the enterprise of these two little fellows. Venkat gave them a couple of coins, and they happily went on their way.
We checked into the Taj Residency Bangalore Hotel, and then were invited to dinner at the Coconut Grove Restaurant. Joining us were two APTECH Senior Business Managers, Mr. K.Umashankar and Mr. S. Muralidaran, known as "Shankar" and "Muralie", respectively. It was a lovely evening, and there was a good feeling of comradeship as the six of us enjoyed some South Indian delights and Kingfisher, the most popular Indian beer. I suspect that Timmy had paved the way by putting in a good word for Frank and me with our new Bangalore friends.
After the greetings, we toured the center and saw some classes in progress. Although the classrooms were cramped, the computer labs were equipped with out-of-date machines, the instructor areas small, and the library holdings meager, everyone was working hard and seemed cheerful. While nearly all students were adults in their twenties and thirties, one thirteen year old was pointed out to us with some pride. He seems to hold the status of APTECH's local "wunderkind", since he exhibits an unusual talent for computers at such a young age.
At about 1:00pm we went to lunch at a place called "Koshy's."Koshy's was described to us as a British-style club. It was on the second floor and toward the rear of the building. There were no windows and it was dimly lit. It had kind of a back room, private feeling to it. I saw no women at all, but this may have been a coincidence. Nevertheless, it added to the men's club ambience of the place. There was nothing British about the food, however.
After lunch, we went to Sir Puttannachetty Town Hall to conduct the student presentation. Again, much time was spent ironing out the logistics of the audio visual equipment and staging of the presentation. We again were honored in a brief ceremony of greeting, including more gifts. This time, however, Timmy had thoughtfully arranged that we be "decorated" with a garland made of dried sandal wood shavings that would not wilt in a few hours and have to be discarded. Both Frank and I managed to return home with these garlands intact and have kept them as a momento of this fine day in Bangalore.
There were about 700 in attendance, and all went smoothly as before. After the presentation, one student asked for my autograph, perhaps to flatter me. He succeeded. This was the first and probably the last of such notoriety that I am likely to enjoy in my life.
We returned to the hotel to prepare for the information systems managers presentation that was scheduled for 7:00pm. The format for the evening was the same as other manager presentations. It too went well, and was followed by a buffet supper. The evening concluded at about 10:30pm.
As we traveled through Bangalore in the usual taxi on our way to Mysore, I concluded what I had already suspected; Bangalore would be my favorite city in India. I was impressed by the pleasant climate and clearer air, the more "Western" appearance of the city, the less obvious poverty, the city's vitality, and the informality of the people. To continue the analogy to U.S. cities, I would say that if Bombay is like New York City and New Delhi like Washington, D.C., then Bangalore is like Atlanta. Indian friends and students in the U.S. had referred to Bangalore as the "silicon valley" of India, and I was beginning to see why. Bangalore is known as the country's leading center for software export businesses. A software exporter is simply a software development company that produces computer applications and software systems at low Indian labor cost for export to overseas markets, mainly the U.S. and Western Europe. Many U.S. "Fortune 500" firms have set up business operations in Bangalore.
About two-thirds into the trip, Timmy told the driver to pullover to the side of the road. The area was quite rural with coconut palm trees and thatched huts everywhere. We found ourselves next to a stand of some sort. Timmy invited us out of the taxi. There was a pretty young woman with long nearly black hair tied in a pony tail behind the stand. Timmy said a few words to her, whereupon she produced a two foot long machete and began to dramatically but skillfully remove the outer covering of a coconut. With one final decisive stroke, she severed the top end of the coconut producing a hole. She then inserted a straw into the hole and handed the coconut to Timmy. This was a roadside coconut milk stand, and she was most likely the daughter of a local coconut tree farmer. The same skillful knife-wielding was repeated for the rest of us.
The drink was cool and refreshing, but somewhat bitter tasting. This was not the sweetened coconut drink common to Times Square fruit juice stands that I had loved so as a child. I had to force it down and did not finish it, figuring that no one would know the difference. I assured everyone that I had enjoyed it immensely. Then Timmy handed his now empty coconut back to the young woman, who split the coconut down the middle with one stroke of her machete and then fashioned a make-shift "scooper" from part of the coconut shell. She then handed this back to Timmy who used the scooper to dredge out the coconut's pulpy meat. When my turn came, my deception was revealed as my unfinished coconut milk spilled all over the stand.
Before we left, I asked Timmy to tell the young woman that I thought she was pretty and would like to have her permission to take her photograph. Timmy assured me it would be fine, but I insisted that he convey my message. At first she was embarrassed and blushed. Then she gathered herself together in an informal posing posture, which I took as a sign that my request had been granted. The resulting photo turned out to be one of the best I took in India.
As we continued our trip, we made two more stops before reaching Mysore. The first was a vacation site that a typical middle class south Indian family might patronize. It is in Sriranga Pattanam, former capital of what was previously known as the District of Mysore. There was a large two-story white house surrounded by smaller bungalows, many decorated with beautiful flowers. It must have been off-season as no one was in sight. The vacation site was located somewhat off the main road along the rapidly flowing Cauvery River. Timmy directed us toward the river where he introduced us to what he termed as "nature's comfort station." After the long drive and the coconut drink, we all willingly made our "contributions" to the flowing river.
A bit later, we stopped at the Mayura Highway Restaurant for a bite to eat. It was not very noteworthy, except for the fact that it featured a local specialty that reminded me of a potato pancake, only more spicy. It is called a "idlis" and is served with a coconut based gravey called chutney. Timmy assured us that this region of India was the only place in the world where this particular dish could be found. I doubted this, but just his assertion of local uniqueness added to its taste.
And now we approached the city. Our first stop was to drop Timmy off at his aunt's house to pay a visit. Perhaps this explained why Jay had joined us for the day; Jay was to handle the sightseeing duties which he enjoyed, while Timmy paid a social call on a family member which he in turn enjoyed. This subtlety of the day's arrangements completely alluded me at the time, but upon reflection it makes sense to me now.
From the earnestness of his comments, it was clear that Jay was very proud of the rich cultural and religious heritage that he would be sharing with us this day. Thus, I promised myself to make a special effort to be particularly attentive and appreciative. This turned out to be very easy. As the day unfolded, we would be treated to many memorable sights.
We began the day's sighting in Mysore by driving up to the top of Chamundi Hill, some 1062 meters above sea level. The trip provided an excellent view of the city below. At about three-quarters of the way up, we stopped to see the enormous black stone Naudi or "Shiva's bull." It had been carved out of solid rock which, at five meters high, is one of the largest in India. It's always garlanded with flowers and is constantly visited by pilgrims giving "prasad" (an offering of food) to the priest in attendance there. In reality, the "food offering" translates into a donation of a few ruppies. Frank participated in a brief offering ritual, while I was content to admire (and photograph) the bull from afar. Around the base of the bull, we saw several monkeys, apparently wild, who seemed to be waiting for handouts of food. Later in the morning, as we descended the hill, we would see crossing the road a wild mongoose, the fabled "Riki Tiki Tavi" of Rudyard Kipling's The Jungle Book that I had loved so as a child.
At the top of the hill is the temple to Sri Chamundeswari, a huge structure with a seven story 40-meter-high "gopuram" or soaring pyramidal gateway tower of a Dravidian temple. It was positioned so as to be visible from the city below. I was to learn later that the word "Dravidian" refers to a member of one of the aboriginal races of India, pushed south by the Indo-Europeans and now mixed with them. The goddess Chamundi was the family deity of the maharajas whose Palace we would visit later. Just outside the temple stands a very menacing and yet splendid statue of the demon Mahishasura. According to legend, Mahishasura, who had been victimizing the local population, was defeated in battle by Chamundi. The sculptor clearly understood the principle that the more threatening the demon, the more powerful the deity must be who defeats him. He was a terrifying sight! As we approached the temple, I recognized from my India guide book the elephant-headed figure carved in relief as the deity Ganesh. Ganesh is thought to bring good luck and is often worshipped before beginning a new project. This display of random knowledge about the Hindu religion impressed and pleased Jay, and we got on well after that.
We then picked up Timmy at his aunt's home and went to lunch at the King's Court Hotel, one of the best in Mysore. By now, I had learned what my system could and could not handle in the way of food. I had settled into the habit of ordering either a mild "alu", a potato dish, or vegetable "biriyani",a rice dish. The familiar curry power and mango chutney common to American supermarkets are no where to be found in India based on my experience. After lunch, we briefly visited an APTECH center. Timmy remained at the center as we continued our sightseeing.
The next stop was the Palace of the Maharajas of Mysore. Besides being a famous tourist sight, it is also an object of great local pride. We were told that the maharajas and the irarmies were never defeated by the British. Instead, an accommodation had been reached whereby the British agreed to honor the local authority of the maharajas as long as the maharajas made certain concessions to colonial British rule.
My reaction to the palace itself, built in 1907, was a mixture of awe and in difference. Its sheer size and ostentatious presence was difficult to relate to, and seems uncharacteristic of the gracious, humble Indian spirit that I was learning to admire. But, of course, a civilization and culture as rich as India's is bound to have many faces.
I found the most interesting part of the palace to be an enormous mural that covered the four walls of a very large room. The mural depicts a ceremonial procession down a main street in which both British and the maharaja's military guards and assorted dignitaries appear in full regalia. Richly adorned elephants, colorfully dressed officials and their retainers, cavalry, and the gaudy and flower-laden images of deities make their way through the streets to the sound of brass bands and the smell of incense. It gives an interesting glimpse into the sharing of British and local rule during twentieth century southern India prior to independence. I was surprises to learn that the last maharaja's son still lives in a section of the palace.
After leaving the palace, Jay took us to see St. Philomena's Cathedral, a Christian church of neo-Gothic design. I was impressed with the way the Christian and Hindu religions seemed to complement one another. It is not commonly known that some parts of India have large concentrations of Christians. I had read that one fourth of the neighboring state of Kerala is Christian.
It was after 5:00pm now. We returned to the APTECH center to pick up Timmy. Our final visit before returning to Bangalore was to the famous ornamental Brindavan Gardens that are laid out below the Krishnarajasagar Dam across the Cauvery River some nineteen kilometers away. The gardens are famous for their evening colored light show, but we were disappointed as the gardens were undergoing renovations. It was now 6:30pm.
The return trip to Bangalore was a real adventure in driving. We made the hectic non-stop trip in three hours, much of it in the dark. This might be a good time to comment on driving, Indian style. Driving is on the left side of the road as in England, but there is not that much concern about staying in one's proper lane. The roads are generally quite crowded with an assortment of vehicles from bicycles to large trucks darting in and out of traffic with seemingly constant use of the horn. Honking one's horn, however, is not an indication of frustration, anger, or an admonishment of other drivers. Instead, it is simply a way of informing nearby drivers where you are. Blinking one's headlights is routinely used to indicate one's intention to pass. Drivers don't seem to use the rear view or side mirrors much. There were almost no road signs, no posted speed limits, no police patrol cars, and no one uses seat belts. Yet everything seems to work. I would, however, not like to be in an accident in India. I could see no system by which police or other authorities could be notified to dispatch assistance. Fortunately, we had no such problems.
After our return, Timmy, Shankar and Muralie invited Frank and me to join them for an "night out." I was feeling tired and declined, but Frank accepted. Frank later related that it had been a memorable evening. Shankar and Muralie provided many insights into Indian family life, religious beliefs and practices, and other observations about Indian culture. From his description, one had the sense that true cross-cultural communication had taken place, and that a valued and long lasting bond had been forged.
We first went to a large clothing store called Big Kidskempon M.G. (Mahatma Gandhi) Road. It advertised itself as "the world's greatest shopping experience." At first, it seemed like a typical Western department store, but we were soon approached by a "hostess" who served us hot tea and asked to what department of the store could she direct us. When I said I was looking for blouses for my daughters, we were led to the appropriate area where clerks were soon inquiring about my needs and making suggestions. One outfit after another was brought out. A few feet away there was a "runway" with live models showing off the latest in women's wear. After a while, I was a bit overwhelmed. All I wanted was a blouse, not a floor show! Eventually I got a silk blouse-skirt combination for my older daughter, Stephanie.
We then went to the Cauvery Arts and Crafts Emporium, which had a huge range of superb handcrafted tables, carvings, jewelry, ceramics, carpets and incense. The carvings were mostly sandal wood, which is native to the region. Jackie explained that when sandal wood is ground very finely, it makes a very good facial power. It is commonly used by south Indian women, and is considered good for the skin. While there, Jackie tipped us off that we were to receive gifts later in the day that she had personally purchased at Cauvery's Emporium. We promised to look surprised when the time came. We returned to the APTECH center a little before 1:00pm, and went to lunch at the Mermaid Restaurant. As predicted, Timmy, Shankar and Muralie presented us with gifts.
The time was now approaching for our 4:05pm flight to Madras. We said our "good-byes" and headed for the airport. This would be the last we would see of Timmy. He would not be traveling to Madras with us as he needed to be in Hyderabad the next day. I would miss his cheerful, informal manner.
The flight took only forty minutes. As we approached Madras,we could see the Bay of Bengal and Madras's famous coastal beach area. Madras, located about 300 kilometers directly east of Bangalore, is India's fourth largest city with a population of over five million. It is in the State of Tamil Nadu and the State language is Tamil. The people of Tamil Nadu pride themselves on being the most "truly" Indian population in India, since they were least influenced by the Aryan invasions from the north that began in about 1500 BC. They are zealous guardians of Tamil culture which they regard as inherently superior to the hybrid cultures of central and north India. The meat-eating Aryan tradition was never established here. As a result, Tamil Nadu is probably the most "vegetarian" state in India.
The mood of Madras itself is a relaxed one, considering its size. Although the surrounding areas are rich in cultural and religious points of interest, Madras is relatively bland. From the point of view of the visitor, it is primarily a governmental site, a place where business is conducted, and a connection point for long-distance travel. The city has long been important as a center for textile manufacturing, but has seen an industrial expansion in recent years, including car-assembly plants, railway coach and truck works, engineering plants, cigarette factories, film studios, and educational institutes. The center of the city has wide streets and a good public transportation system. Carrying on the analogy to U.S. cities, I would say that Madras could be compared with Los Angeles.
We were greeted at the airport by Mr. R. Krishnan, APTECH Regional Manager, and a colleague whose name I do not recall. We checked into the Chola Sheraton Hotel, another first class accommodation. From there we went to dinner at the Park Sheraton. This featured a musical group that offered a "light classical" repertoire. In the background stood a lifesized figure of the six armed dancing Nataraja, a Hindu diety associated with dance and music. We commented on its fine design and fascinating pose.
Krishnan proved to be the most well educated, introspective and eclectic of the people we met in India. His interests ranged from religion and mythology to theoretical physics. He did not strike me as a business man, but is apparently quite successful and well regarded within APTECH. I do not recall any "practical" discussion regarding tomorrow's presentations or the itinerary of our stay in Madras. Instead, we had quite an interesting conversation, particularly about differences between Indian and Western values and attitudes toward life. He was interested in our opinions of what we thought about India, and seemed pleased at our tolerant and accepting attitude toward Indian ways. He shared with us some candid opinions on why India was not progressing as a nation as well as he felt it could. It was no surprise, then, that the evening concluded with a visit to one of the city's better bookshops. We returned to the hotel at about 9:30pm.
While speaking, I noticed in the back of the room a Western looking man who was listening intently. We later learned that he was a representative of the U.S. Embassy in Madras. We did not get a chance to speak with him as he had to return to his office, but we were glad that he had been there to see that we and Pace University were indeed real. We were hopeful that this might make it easier for APTECH students to get a student visa to come to the U.S.
Immediately after the conclusion of the presentation, we were asked to meet a group of four or five people who wanted to speak to us. They turned out to be journalists, and we soon found ourselves in the midst of a press conference of sorts. We answered their questions for about fifteen minutes before joining the luncheon buffet that had gotten underway. I understand that some of our comments appeared in local newspapers and periodicals, but I have yet to see any.
After the buffet, we went to the main APTECH center and went through the now usual introductions and tour of the facility. Then we were invited to Krishnan's office to have some tea. While there, Frank and I both were presented with miniature copies of the six armed dancing Nataraja that we had admired so the evening before. This was indeed a handsome gift.
The next stop was the Russian Center and the student presentation. It was a short walk from the hotel. The Russian Center has been a focus point of Indo-Russian cultural exchange programs for some time. Our presentation was held in a conventional auditorium and went from 4:00pm to 6:00pm. About 450 students attended and our presentation was well received. Other than that, I cannot remember anything particularly noteworthy about it. Once it was concluded, I felt a great sense of relief; we had made our eighth and last formal presentation, and had been highly successful in represented Pace University and the United States. Now we could relax a little.
That evening Krishnan and his colleague took us out to dinner at a "dosa" restaurant, which specializes in south Indian cuisine. It is not the hot or pungent style of food that we had had so far. While eating, I observed something about the body language of many Indians that I had not noticed before. It seems that a sign of affirmation of what someone is saying is expressed by a kind of "wobbling" of the head. This could easily be misinterpreted by a Westerner who is used to an up and down movement to mean "approval" and a side-to-side movement to mean "disapproval." A wobbling movement -- not clearly up and down or side-to-side -- would likely convey an uncertain or ambiguous message to the average westerner.
Before concluding this journal, I must comment on my travel companion, Frank. We have been friends and collaborators on joint projects for many years, but I think the true test of a relationship comes when two people must work and be together continuously over an extended period. It is easy, even for good friends, to "get on each other's nerves" over relatively minor things. I have experienced this in the past.
In the case of Frank, however, I cannot imagine a more congenial and delightful travel partner. Throughout our travels, he was thoughtful, supportive, flexible, humorous, resourceful, and attentive to the needs of the situation. In short, he was a pleasure to be with, and I would not hesitate to have him as a travel companion in the future.