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OT: Greetings from Bangalore


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[Taken from an email letter to all and sundry. Couldn't really leave you lot out now could I? :P ]

Greetings from Bangalore.

Here's a general update on the happenings of the past week. For those who don't know, I'm out here in India training people in a company who are sub-contractors to one of our UK clients. There's myself and Richard, the CAD Manager of the UK client, and we've been put up in a rather plush hotel near the centre of Bangalore.

The weather here is as one would expect near the tropics during an Indian monsoon, but with a lot less rain apparently. Though when it does rain, it does it properly. The other night we had a lightning and thunder storm, that was truly awesome (to use a much over used, but apt, Americanism), and wet! The lightning show particularly was as if the Norse Gods were giving it large at a cosmic game of Kabaddi (a local game that seems to involve much running about, jumping on each other and wrestling). The rain in three hours would have wiped Hull or Gloucester off the map. None of this minor flooding in three days business.

The office where we're working is between 35 and 60 minutes drive towards the north of the city, depending on the state of the traffic. And truly, the word 'state' is the only possible description of traffic in this country, day or night (more on night in a mo).

So each morning we're collected by a two man team consisting of the 'Hospitality Manager' riding shotgun to 'The Driver', in an indistinguishable and remarkably unblemished car. Up until now we've had two drivers (actually three, but I fell asleep during the third guy's journey, so I can't comment on his performance), the older 'Pro', and the younger 'Gun'. Shaka (for that is the Pro's name), is a relatively calm driver, but as we say in blighty, he's 'progressive'. Very progressive in fact. The young driver is more 'interactive', bringing to the table a more aggressive form of progressive driving that involves far more horning and flashing than the more laid back Shaka. Shaka only bothers to beep his horn when he's the requisite three inches from the vehicle in front, be it a 'Tuk Tuk', moped, bus, car, lorry, or ox cart. Pedestrians get about twenty feet notice.

The general idea for any driver in India is to get where you're going as fast as possible using the shortest routes, smallest gaps, and basically making the most efficient use of what road there is, especially width wise. Safety is neither a concern nor issue. It's not discussed, considered, thought of, thought about, practised, nothing. The fact that there's still a seat belt for my use at all in the car, is probably more down to their lack of finding something interesting or profitable to tie together, rather than for concerns for my safety. I had to uncover it after it was buried under a nice sheet to keep us from getting our trousers dirty after the car had been for a service. I asked if they minded if I unearthed the belt, and they looked at me as if I was mad. The use of seat belts is a truly alien concept here.

Anyway, I digress. The training has gone quite well for the first week, although it's quite hard to communicate. And I don't mean language wise. It's a whole cultural thing. For example, when awaiting a response from the class, having asked something like "Do you understand what I've just said?", or "Any questions?", there's a group blank look followed by a panicked look to their respective neighbours. If I ask again, and possibly again, again, I may get a sudden group mumble accompanied by a strange group body wobble that involves head shaking in that Indian way, reminiscent of Gerry Anderson's Thunderbird puppets. After a week, I still can't make out whether the head wobble means yes, no or "I don't understand a thing you've said all day!". However, these are all highly intelligent and educated graduate engineers to a man and woman, and communication problems (on my part) aside, they've no problem following the material.

For lunch we're treated to the local nosh. They bring in catering for all the staff, all of whom sit in rows of chairs, holding their plate in one hand (the left), and eating with their right. As guests, Richard and I get to sit at one of the only two tables in the room, along with selected members of the management. Very tasty this authentic Indian food, quite (or very) spicy, exclusively with Chicken as the protein. The preparation of the chicken does not involve any delicate filleting though, more like a wood chipper! I've had to get over my aversion to the odd crunchy 'knee bone' in my lunch. Delicious nonetheless, and so far, after nine days, no adverse effects.

This weekend, we were taken on a trip. Now, I really wasn't in the mood for touristing after a week of training, and I was looking forward to a quiet Saturday and Sunday catching the test match, Grand Prix, and some shuteye by the pool. But it would have been both churlish and rude to turn down their invitation of a guided tour of Mysore Palace and surrounding sights, though I must admit I was seriously considering suddenly having adverse effects when they said it would be a long day. Mysore is 100 odd miles from Bangalore, and that meant a 250 mile round trip, being in the car on Indian roads for over six hours, and the unknown horrors of returning to the hotel at night! I'm too nice for my own good, so politeness overcame abject fear, something I seriously regretted later.

We headed off at 9 am on Saturday, with the prime crew of Gradu (Shotgun) and Shaka (Driver). The initial part of the journey was old hat as we drove through the city. We'd mastered urban driving all week. But as we reached the outskirts of the city, a new dimension of terror reared it's head - progressive driving at speed! Same dangers, same mad drivers, just all a lot faster, and with far less margins for error, or so it seemed to us mere European trained mortals. The same principles of progression apply to dual carriageways as to urban roads. Yes, I said dual carriageway! I thanked our lucky stars that they'd upgraded the Mysore road so that at least most of the dangers (certainly not all!) were going in the same direction. So all means of passing anyone with the temerity to be slower than us were utilised. Overtaking, undertaking (both around and sometime UNDER vehicles) and generally barging through traffic wherever the smallest and most impossible gap appeared. Bizarrely, none of this involved any actual contact, at all, ever. In fact since we've been here we've not witnessed or been involved in the slightest scrape of any kind A truly astonishing feat to my untrained eyes. Back to the journey though.. Added to the general chaos, now with speed, there were a few other obstacles.

Apart from all the forms of wheeled transport and pedestrians, the local authorities feel the need to place speed bumps, some quite aggressive ones, on the road, along with the occasional barriers left across the road from nightly police checkpoints. The speed bumps are generally unmarked, but luckily we only nearly lost both axles once. The police barriers are placed in such away as to make a chicane, and the first we usually know about it is from the sudden fish tailing and hard braking of whatever lorry or bus we happen to be tailgating.

On our journey, we we're also stopped by a 'Farmers Protest'. This is where locals just block the road until some local government bod comes along for them to complain at, or the police move them on, whichever is first. This is usually dictated by who actually arrives first, and in our case, after half an hour it was the police. An interesting few minutes of heated debate ensued, with the police emphasizing their points of view with the aid of batons, and a general melee of running about people cleared from our path. We continued our journey.

To be continued...


Tune in to the next edition to read about litter, night driving, Indian tourist destinations, night driving, litter, cows, driving at night, drunk bikers with no lights on at night, and how people in five star hotels don't live in the real world! Did I mention night driving?

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Sounds like you are having an experience ;)

I bet you are glad that you went out sightseeing instead of chilling out by the pool with a cold beer in your hand.

For lunch we're treated to the local nosh. They bring in catering for all the staff, all of whom sit in rows of chairs, holding their plate in one hand (the left), and eating with their right.

And do you know why that is?


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