Being and Nothingness in Bangaluru
By Editor-in-Chief David Lee Cummings in Bangaluru, India.
Editor’s note: This dispatch is a follow-up to “First Impressions from Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris.”
I’ve been in Bangaluru for nearly two days. It is 3:05 p.m. local time as I write. This music plays on Spotify. Midnight, approximately, will ring in the 48th hour of my tenure here.
I am exhausted. Jet lag has wrapped its velvety arms around my head and converted me into its somnambulistic devotee, calling, compelling me to the indulgent comfort of my hotel room bed. I have for the most part resisted and trudged forward through a heavy lethargy weighing down my every step; I want to soak in every conscious experience I can here in India so far, and so mistress sleep can wait.
When I first arrived, at the airport, my driver, Raj, and I chatted a bit. I’m not much of a conversationalist, but the drive from the airport to my hotel would take nearly an hour. So I tried to fill up some time by making idle conversation, asking the standard questions: How is the weather here? What is there to do here? Are you from here? Have you ever been to America?
The last question was in response to Raj’s question to me: “Have you been to India before?”
“No, I have not. Have you ever been to America?”
Raj laughed. “No, sir, that is impossible. Impossible, sir.”
Raj’s response was a bit of a shock and infused me with a rush of pity. I know about India’s caste system, but I had not truly appreciated its personal impact on countless individuals until that very moment.
But it’s plainly logical, I suppose, within the Indian caste system someone like Raj would believe in his heart it is impossible for him to ever travel to somewhere like America. It is his dharma to exist within the confines of his congenital circumstances; how could he ever change that?
In America, we have a tradition of freedom to believe we can become whatever we want to be. Regardless of who or how poor one may be, we each have the liberty to dream and hope and believe that anything under the sun is possible for every one of us. The idea of limitless free will—that, through hard work and opportunity, we can become anything we set our minds to, whether or not actual statistics back up this notion of upward mobility—is our birthright.
Not so, it seems, for many Indians.
Why I’m Here
I am here in India’s information technology outsourcing capital, Bangaluru, on business. I’m helping to project manage the assembly of a new website for one of the world’s largest and most successful consumer goods brands.
To protect the confidentiality of my employer’s client, I can’t really say more.
Bait and Switch
Yesterday, Friday morning, when the driver arrived to pick me up, I was very confused.
“Are you my driver?” I asked. He didn’t look like my driver. “Are you Raj?”
“Yes, Manjunatha,” he said so quickly I couldn’t follow, and rolled his head in a bobble-head-like gesture, which in India can mean “maybe” or “yes.” Somewhere in his name I thought I heard some semblance of “Raj.” The previous night Raj told me his full name, which I couldn’t quite recall, and so it was possible this day’s driver was the same person.
“But, you look different.” Raj of last night was thin, young, and had medium-length hair. This “Raj” was stout, looked a little older, and had very short hair.
He produced a form that had my name on it and asked in half words, half gestures if that was me. “Yes, that’s me. Are you the same person who picked me up last night?”
I made out the following from his voice: “Oh, no. That was another driver.”
“Ah, okay, so you’re not Raj.”
I still didn’t catch his name.
Mission: Cell Phone
My cell phone, a Samsung Galaxy S4, died on the way to Paris.
I turned it off during the flight to save the battery, and then plugged it into a USB port I found below my airplane seat’s armrest to recharge the battery. The phone’s battery icon never came on, as usual, but I left it plugged in just in case the batter was nonetheless charging. It never did charge; rather, the phone case just got really hot. When I noticed, after a few hours, how hot the phone was, I immediately unplugged it and tried to turn it on. Nothing. Dead as a doornail.
So, my driver and I, on Friday, set off in search of a Samsung cell phone dealer to troubleshoot and repair or replace my phone. After a couple of stops at shops unable to help, we found an official Samsung repair shop. A technician there took my phone apart and tried a few things with its motherboard both at his repair cubicle and in a back room. No luck. Still dead.
We ultimately arrived at a Samsung showroom, where I bought a new phone: a Galaxy Duos, a step down from my S4. It set me back only 9,000 Indian rupees, or 150 U.S dollars. The salesman wanted 45,000 rupees, or 750 dollars, for an S6. No way. I can get it way cheaper in the U.S., I told him.
I settled on the Duos. Just before it was rung up at the register, a guy behind the counter asked the salesman, “How much?” It was then I was reminded that I was in India and I really should have bargained.“Is this price negotiable?” I asked the salesman.
“No, set price,” he said.
Yeah, right. For an American, I told myself and gave him a knowing look.
So, here I am, with a Galaxy Duos. So far, I can’t tell much difference between it and my old S4. The
Duos’ specs may be inferior, but to me the operating system looks and functions exactly the same and I haven’t yet noticed a diminished performed in any meaningful way.
Other Impressions of Bangaluru
- There are people everywhere. I mean, everywhere.
- There are Hindu temples everywhere, on back roads and squeezed between shops on the main roads.
- Yes, there are cows in the street. One cow, I swear, rested in the same spot over two days.
- Younger adult Indians love aviator sunglasses.
- The mannequins in the malls are clearly Caucasian archetypes. The posters in the shop windows and on the walls feature Caucasian models.
- Passed by a Friday prayer involving dozens of Muslim men on their knees facing West and bowing.
David Lee Cummings
David is the editor-in-chief of Vox Humana. His passions include new experiences, new places, different cultures, befriending foreigners, international cuisines, and a cool pool on a hot summer's day. He works in digital advertising on some of the world's largest brands and spends his free time applying his professional learnings to Vox Humana and other charitable projects. David is also a technophile and hopes to live long enough to witness the moment of technological singularity.