Though a straight line appears to be the shortest distance between 2 points, life has a way of confounding geography. Often it is the dalliances and the detours that define us. There are no maps to guide our most important searches; we must rely on hope, chance, intuition and a willingness to be surprised.

Monday, May 05, 2008

Another Big Trip to India…

This is the amazing view from Adam and Jo's apartment window. The towering apartment blocks are part of Thane's incredible building surge, reflecting the money brought about by the rocketing Mumbai economy. It's not just money that builds these tower blocks though. Poorly paid labourers live in the slum houses you can see in the foreground. These workers risk their lives daily, working in dismal conditions to earn wages that will keep them in poverty in urban Mumbai, but far exceed what can be earned in rural India.

How many Indian cities can you visit in a week? It seems like four or five if you are on a business trip. I’m just back from my second work trip to India and I had the good fortune to visit four cities I hadn’t been to before:

Hyderabad sits right in the middle of India, towards the south, and is the old capital of the Mughal empire and home to India’s Shia muslim population.

My rather eccentric hotel in Bangalore had a golf course across the road and a gaggle of geese in the forecourt (see bottom of picture).

Bangalore is well known to Brits as the IT capital of India. When a UK-based company hits the headlines for transferring its IT operations to India, this is most likely where they end up (though Hyderabad and Chennai/Madras are also getting in on that action). Bangalore has a great history, though no other Indian city seems to have made quite such a headlong rush towards the twenty-first century. The city has a very modern feel to it, and – typically – development has brought problems as well as virtues: during my stay I was caught up in some of the worst traffic I’ve experienced in any city.

For all its modernity, Mumbai still retains much that is exotic about India. Here you can see goats' feet chopped and ready for sale.

Mumbai is perhaps India’s most vibrant, confronting and news-worthy city. Apartments in some parts of Mumbai cost as much as they do in the more affluent parts of London or New York. Poverty in Mumbai is as shocking as in any other urban location in India. The two things – extreme poverty and extreme wealth – can often be found literally within yards of each other in Mumbai, the electronics and media (ie 'Bollywood') capital of India.

Ahmadabad in North West India is the capital of Gujurat state and famous as the birthplace of Ghandi. In the general aesthetic of the place (the architecture, the people, the enivronment), Ahmadabad feels closest to neighbouring Pakistan, but I was still unable to get a Peshwari Naan in the hotel restaurant.

I had meetings, site visits and work to do in all of these cities, mostly related to the healthcare project that I’m working on for Opportunity. I learned a lot about what works and doesn’t work in India and I met a number of people that will be useful contacts in future. If that’s all that happens on one of these trips, it’s a success. In addition to that, I made good progress towards partnering with a couple of organisations to help provide healthcare to the poor – that’s a great bonus.

Another great bonus was the chance to meet up with Adam and Jo in Mumbai and see their home there. It was hard to believe that we hadn’t met up for nearly three years. Within 10 minutes Adam and I were getting along like friends that see each other every day. We had a great laugh buzzing round Mumbai on Adam’s motorbike, buying cheap electronic gadgets (a mobile charger for Rps120 – fantastic! – a hifi for my ipod – awsome! – a speaker system for my mobile phone – lovin’ it sick!), buying furry underwear and paper stamps (ahhhh, don’t ask). Friends like that are just beyond any value. It was also great to meet Freya for the first time – she is gorgeous – and Alastair seemed as loveable and cheeky as his dad. Looking forward to meeting up with them again when I’m back in the UK in 6 months time. (Hopefully I’ll even get the chance to whup Adam’s ass at pool.) They have just bought a great house in Blackburn, where they are moving to when their great three-year Indian adventure ends on 10th June. I really did make it out to see them in the nick of time.

Back in Australia, it has been great to see Graeme and Jill in the last few weeks too. Part of their 3-week holiday here coincided with my India trip, which meant I had to cancel a planned weekend with them in Brisbane. That was a bummer, but we had a good time in Sydney, hitting some restaurants and making the most of the Anzac holiday weekend. I was somewhat disturbed by Graeme and Dom’s shared love for the audio cassette. Though it has to be said that their taste in music was pretty, erm… divergent. And no Graeme, your encyclopedic knowledge of obscure Australian rock music is NOT something to be proud of.

This means that in the space of a week I’ve caught up with three of my best friends. This hasn’t happened for a long time.
Adam and I had a great laugh in India, not least shopping for 'quality' Mumbai souvenirs. Here I am, loving my 'stylish' Rp200 watch sick!!! (Picture of furry underwear to follow!)

So, with some relief, a more uptodate addition to the website. It’s a pity the photos aren’t better though – I just seem to keep forgetting to take pics. I didn’t get a single one off Adam, Jo and the kids. Well, here’s a link to Adam’s site to make up for that:

Ok, time to sleep off the jetlag. I had another flight on the A380 superjumbo this morning, but its hard to appreciate when you're arriving into Sydney at 7am, without having caught a minute's sleep...