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Bangalore (A Gentle Introduction to India)

The so-called "India's Silicon Valley", high-tech Bangalore in the state of Karnataka would make a nice glimpse of India for people who are afraid they might not like India. (That's probably one of the reasons the AMS chose it for this month's international meeting, which I attended on the 19th and 20th.) The streets are swept (as in, I saw people actually sweeping them, quite frequently), the auto-rickshaw drivers determine the fare by the meter (usually!) instead of a preliminary haggling bout, most signs are either partly or entirely in English, there are very visible American chain fast food restaurants (yay :/), the hotel rooms look like hotel rooms anywhere else (and cost nearly as much, too) and the locals are very used to foreign commuters within Dar al-HiTech. But you can still see palm trees and local tropical fruits and women in saris, and if you leave the main drag and poke through some side streets you can probably even spot a cow (I saw one).

I didn't have time for much in Bangalore besides the conference, held at the Indian Institute of Science off in a corner of the city, and when I wasn't in a session I was mostly back in the hotel room nursing a cold. I got into town late on the 18th, and discovered to my surprise on the 19th that that day's history of math session had earlier been rescheduled to the 18th: oops. (Fortunately, my talk was scheduled in the session on the 20th, so I didn't miss that one.) A very nice history of math conference, what there was of it, and I heard some good talks and ate a couple excellent Indian lunches.

I did get snared by a shop tout one day, which I'd managed to avoid so far: I got into an auto-rickshaw at the conference location with a vague request to go to the general shopping region, as I wanted to stop at my bank. Well, that is simply begging a taxi-wala to drag you around all the high-priced stores where videshis buy Indian tchotchkes and touts get commission on the purchases. Sometimes they agree (and they always offer) to transport you for free in exchange for your consenting to stop for "only five minutes" "just looking" at such a shop. I felt too sneezy to argue and decided to go along with it for one stop, where I was seriously overcharged for some sandalwood (a Karnataka specialty) by a very friendly and courteous shop assistant, but I did want to get some sandalwood, and anyway, who's counting. The driver was absolutely unstoppable in his efforts to continue the shopping spree, though, and I had to sit like a lump in the auto-rickshaw in front of the next shop for five minutes, repeatedly refusing to get out and insisting on being taken to the bank instead. (N.B.: Never get openly angry in such situations unless you are absolutely resolved on ending the transaction right then and there. It's better for your health and your morale not to get angry even then, of course, but if you positively must blow your stack you should do so only as the first step in a clearly-defined and unalterable exit strategy. If you're still hoping to get something (a completed purchase, a trip to another destination, whatever) out of the target of your irritation once you've finished stack-blowing, open anger is worse than useless: he won't give in and he won't get angry, just grieved and placating, which puts him at a psychological advantage. If you remain more polite and more persistent so that he finally has to concede a disputed point, you win, even if he succeeded in ripping you off somewhat in the process. If you're willing to forego winning for the sake of telling the guy exactly what you think of him, do it somewhere you can count on being immediately and finally rid of him as soon as you've finished your rant. And be prepared for a grinning crowd to assemble the moment you raise your voice: many local people find videshis' comparatively low tolerance for hassling and haggling, and their consequently low threshold for stack-blowing, to be very amusing entertainment, even though they generally agree that touts and scams are indeed a total pain in the neck.)

Overall, though, Bangalore made for some pleasant variety from the usual Jaipur life, particularly weather-wise. Jaipur in late December is actually beginning to get distinctly chilly (or what Martha from Texas describes as "soooo fricking cold"), at least at night, and it was nice to enjoy genuinely warm weather again. It's often said that south India is more laid-back and cooperative as compared to hustling, jockeying, competitive northern culture; I think both descriptions are rather exaggerated by the tourist perspective, but there may be some truth in it. There are some pleasantly different touches of style too: e.g., southern women often wear strings of small fragrant fresh flowers (such as jasmine) pinned into our back hair, which is somewhat heavy and drippy down the back of the neck but does make your hair smell nice.

—— Kim Plofker
2003-12-27 07:28:58

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Created: 08 Oct 2003
Last modified: Oct 15, 2004 3:58:04 PM
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