Last week I traveled to Bangalore India on a business trip. It was a trip that I had put off for about a year, but it was finally time to go. I don't really like to travel. Upon scheduling the trip, I received no less than 8 warning email from our corporate travel department about the "high risk" nature of India. What did I get myself into?
The trip preparation began with a visit to the travel nurse that was very successful in scaring the crap out of me. Shots, pills, water filters, emergency evacuation instructions, and instructions like "don't wear any jewelry or you will be robbed." It seemed as if I was stepping off the edge of the planet instead of visiting the world center for corporate IT. How could I travel on a packed 747 airplane to a city where my company employs over 20,000 people, and be at such high risk? In the end, I wasn't mugged or murdered, I didn't get food poisoning, I didn't get run over by a car or bus (this is amazing), and so far no signs of long term illness. Maybe it was the preparation, maybe it was over hyped risks, but I am not complaining.
The trip was very worthwhile from a business perspective, but I want to highlight a few of the cultural observations. First, the traffic was absolutely fascinating. Complete chaos. I would not have survived behind the wheel for more than a minute. Red lights apparently do not mean you should stop, but instead that you should honk your horn as you drive through. Bikes, motorcycles, buses and cars going in every direction with no semblance of rules. I was sure that a bicycle I was watching was going to be wiped out. This repeated itself multiple times each day. The riders didn't even react to the dangers I saw so apparent. Another individual I was traveling with pointed out that if we were on bikes we would flinch and it would all be over. The system appears to work if no one flinches at the risk.
One day I looked out the car window as a motorcycle rode by. A woman sat side saddle on the back and held an infant with one arm. The motorcycle edged between two buses taking what seemed to me as unbelievable risks. It dawned on me that in America the infant would have to be in a certified child seat until he or she weighed 60 pounds. Are the Indians incredibly bold, or are we incredibly wimpy and paranoid. Does this mentality play out in their culture and their world innovation? I don't know how it couldn't.
The other observation I made was the divide between the accelerating high tech boom and those that are left behind. One block from our place of work, was a small vacant lot. On the lot there were hundreds of people. It was clear that they lived there with no shelter in the most cramped quarters I have ever witnessed. They looked hungry, in some cases starving. Children ran around naked. The lot stood out in sharp contrast to its surroundings. It opened my eyes to the fact that even in a location where hundreds of thousands of jobs are being insourced (outsourced from US and other countries), there are still those that are left behind.
Interesting note: I only learned on my return trip that the city of Bangalore is planning to revert its name back to its historic Indian name of Bengalooru.