धन्यवाद (Dhanyavaad)

Only 12 hours left in India, but have Delhi Metro smart-card, will travel.

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The New Delhi part of the city is the government and diplomatic quarter, and is surprisingly walkable.  It’s a nice way to soak up and enjoy the pleasantly warm sun (for a change), on my last day of 30-plus degree weather this year.

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It’s also one last chance to experience the local culture, and to say goodbye (for now).

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Thank you to the CSC India 32 team, VSO, the Morarka Foundation, our other NGO partners, local IBM colleagues, and everyone who has made these last six-and-a-half weeks an unforgettable, and absolutely wonderful experience!

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Boiled Beans

Legend has it, that the name Bengaluru literally means “town of boiled beans,” which was what a lost and hungry king received from the locals, while travelling through the area.

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As the capital of Karnataka state, Bengaluru is a government town. Many of the colonial-era buildings from the late 19th century maintain their Pompeian Red exterior.

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Like many other cities in India, it has a well-deserved nickname, in this case, the Garden City.

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Some of these parks are large enough that you can completely escape any sense of the incessant traffic on the roads.

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But first and foremost, Bengaluru has now become the technology capital of India. Along with the moderate climate, this has created a booming and very diverse metropolis.

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With most residents coming here from elsewhere, English is much more commonly spoken here than the rest of India. There are large pockets in this city which would not look out of place in North America or Europe, including the overpriced luxury goods.

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After 44 days in India, it’s a good place to decompress, and start re-adjusting, for the long trip home.

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Long Weekend

After five days of touring around on my own, it’s time to go back to work, but not quite all the way back.

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Fortunately, it’s also a long weekend, for Dussehra (or Durga Puja, or Dasara, depending on which part of India you’re in). Decorations and other preparations for the final day of the festival, and Diwali 20 days after that, are well underway.

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Mysuru (formerly Mysore) has one of the largest Dasara celebrations in south India, and the three-plus hour tour bus ride is another chance to meet and talk with other travellers from different parts of India.

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Security measures are elevated more than the usual, not just for the festival, or the heated inter-state dispute over local historical waters in the area, but also because of recent actions on the Line of Control between India and Pakistan.

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But that doesn’t stop the crowds from coming out, to enjoy the happy occasion, and a great light show.

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Jai Mewar!

It’s back into Rajasthan for a quick visit, this time a different part than we’d seen before. It’s also a closer look at the traditional Rajput culture, which has shaped the character of the whole region, and touches on the work that we’ve done over the past month.

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The people in this state have only been “Indian” by legal definition since 1950, and the local maharajas and maharanas kept power until 1971.

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Like many other parts of the world with long and difficult histories, there is a strong independent streak here.

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The Mewar kingdom around Udaipur is rugged hill country, with massive and imposing fortresses hewn out of the mountains.

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In Agra and Delhi, we’ve heard the stories of Akbar the Great and the Mughal Empire. The Mewari were among those who stood up against them.

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Proudly defiant over 15 centuries, the folklore tells stories of epic battles, and people choosing mass ritual suicide over defeat.

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The landscape is also very green, due to the wetter climate here.

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There’s been monsoon weather the past two days, and it was positively torrential.

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But that doesn’t even slow down the couples speeding down the highway on their two-wheelers, with just one arm raised in front of the face, in place of a windscreen.

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Nor does it stop my local driver, from pushing a small but trusty Honda Amaze up a bumpy single-lane road through the mountains, where Google Maps shows only an empty grey expanse.

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Bright Lights, Big City

Yesterday was a long day, that started early, with frantic packing, and a series of bittersweet send-offs for the team. León and I flew out to Delhi after breakfast, and quickly learned a few lessons about the big city. In Jaipur, we’d occasionally encounter someone who would try to press their advantage against the foreign tourists. Here, the first three people we met in that position immediately went to work on us, and in a much more insidious, cold, and practised way.

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Fortunately, León made his connecting flight to start his beach vacation, and I got settled in at my hotel for the next couple of days. From time-to-time, as I entered WiFi range, or occasionally activated data roaming, I was heartened to see the messages from my friends, arriving home to family, or at their next destination.

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Today is Gandhi Jayanti, a national holiday which celebrates the birthday of Mahatma Gandhi. For those of us not in a Himalayan yoga retreat, it means a “dry day” with no alcohol, and more than a few extra people out and about on a Sunday.

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It’s also incredibly hot and humid here – Jaipur was humid, but tempered by being next to the desert. In Delhi the humidity is potentially dangerous, if you aren’t able to keep re-hydrating against continuous sweating. I’ll be better prepared the next time I swing by.

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In the midst of a busy day spent exploring, I made a couple interesting new friends: Richard, a Canadian retiree, now living in Kerala since last year, and Roy, originally from Assam, now working in Delhi.

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(Photo credit: Roy)

Tomorrow, the journey continues…

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Plant a Tree

Time is running down on our assignment, and soon team members will start departing, either for home, or further adventures in India and beyond. The last few days have certainly been eventful, and all teams were really “under the pump” as the Aussies say.

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(Photo credit: Morarka Foundation)

In the end, we managed to deliver a final presentation, and the requested supporting documentation, which were both very well-received by the client. It’s a good feeling to know we’ve made a positive contribution, and I look forward to seeing the next steps take root, in the very near future.

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(Photo credit: Natasja or Ale?)

Our Community Day on Saturday was another special experience. We travelled to a nearby village, to help one of our NGO partners stage a workshop on women empowerment. The section I helped with dealt with being proud, and involved sharing about our cultures, and running a photo booth, where the participants could get a printed photo of themselves taken. As a man from a Western country, I’m not in a position to contribute quite as much, but as I watched some of these women receive their photos, there were wonderful, happy expressions on their faces, including possibly, a bit of pride.

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Megvalósíthatóság (Feasibility)

We’re entering the home stretch, and our deadline has been preponed by two days.

What’s more, our client requirements have shifted somewhat over the past week.

On top of all this, we need to plan and run a Community Day this weekend.

In other news, we made the news this week!

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If I was working alone, I’d be way more than a little worried. But with a strong team pulling together, what seems impossible at first, just might be feasible. I’m under no illusion that the next four or five days won’t be tremendously busy and challenging, but overall, it doesn’t feel as bad as it might or should.

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John once pointed out that I am effectively playing the role of Client IT Architect for our project. Under normal circumstances, this probably wouldn’t be allowed, based on experience, qualifications, or other requirements. But all of us are operating out of our normal comfort zones, stretching slightly, or significantly, as this program is intended to do.

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What impresses me all more is that most of the team are not native English speakers. For me, the closest analogy I can think of is if we were all in a country (say Senegal) where people speak various local languages, but the common language is French, spoken with a regional accent and vocabulary, and at a rapid pace.

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Team meetings, briefings, workshops, and even dinner-time conversations are all held in our literal lingua franca of French. I’d have to ask clients questions in French, and carefully interpret their answers in French. Interviews with farmers in the countryside would be translated, but only into French. On-the-fly learning about organic farming, rooftop gardens, and mobile apps would have to be done from French documents and by searching an Internet that was primarily French.

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I would be writing e-mails, preparing PowerPoints with technical and business content, and presenting them in French. Speaking with hotel staff, or trying to give taxi drivers directions, or negotiating with shopkeepers in French. Finally, every few days, corporate communications is expecting a thoughtful, story-telling blog post, in French.

I think I would have a headache at the end of each day. So bravo team! Let’s make Community Day a success!

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The Other Half

We’ve reached the halfway point in our assignment, and I expect this will be a very busy week coming up.  Good progress has been made, but we need to start tying things together for the client deliverables, and the final presentation, which will be here before we know it.

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I’ve tried to keep up with the blog postings, to document a lot of the things that we’ve done and seen, but I haven’t covered too much about what it means to me.  Preston has already written a very insightful and thoughtful post which captures a lot of what I and probably everyone on the team are also feeling.

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In our opening workshops, it was emphasized that India is a country of extreme paradoxes.  There is seemingly insurmountable poverty, yet at the same time, India has successfully launched a space probe into Mars orbit. Certainly every other country has similar problems, and Canada for example, has to face up to our past and present treatment of aboriginal, First Nations, and Inuit people. Alleviating these issues is a very long haul, and that’s one of the reasons we’re here, to help with our minute contribution.

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And yet, I haven’t seen the same things in the field as some of my team mates have. Most of the people I’ve been working with are relatively well-off, and at the end of the day, they are like many of my work colleagues based in India, and much like me. They are part of India’s rapidly-growing (upper) middle class, who might own a car or a house, or can afford to spend ₹50 000 on a smartphone. Our NGO is focused on increasing income and capabilities in rural areas, so even in the countryside, we saw what might be considered success stories.

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The previous CSC team to visit Jaipur (five years ago) used homestay accommodations with a local family, and travelled around by auto (-rickshaw) with abandon. It seems to me that they were truly immersed into the local community. We’ve also heard about other teams who have had difficulty finding reliable basic Internet connectivity.

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In contrast, we have our barricaded enclave and car convoys. There are some legitimate security concerns (but more likely, fear of liability), which make our assignment feel more like an extended business trip. It’s no wonder then, that some of us might also be feeling an element of guilt.

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36 Degrees and Cloudy

That was the weather forecast for Agra, and it certainly felt hotter than that under sunny skies.

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Even in Jaipur, you can definitely feel the heat, whenever we briefly step outside of our air-conditioned “bubble” during the daytime.  It’s the tail end of the monsoon season, but I haven’t seen any rain, and yet the humidity is there, curling papers and keeping wet clothes wet.

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Following our recommended packing list, I did bring an umbrella, clipped to my backpack.  For a while, it looked like it would stay there until I got home.jaipur_forecast

I might need it next week, but otherwise sunny skies are predicted until the end of our assignment.

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Tourist

The second week of September rolls in, and so do all the tourists.

They come from all across Europe and Asia, and other parts of India, filling up the elevators, the restaurant, the gym, and the lobby, forming lines and piles of luggage at the reception desk.

I wonder what they make of us, running around with laptops in the conference room, or hopping in cabs to the office, always in our groups.

This past weekend, we did our own tour, to Agra.  I’m going to avoid sharing the cliché photo, but Ironman Markus and Anna have posted some excellent ones.

The Taj Mahal itself and the surrounding complex are certainly impressive in their own right, especially considering the years of labour and craftsmanship required to create this monument, now a modern wonder of the world.

Other sights in the area include the Tomb of Itimad-ud-Daulah

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and Agra Fort.

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For me though, the best part was sharing the experience with new friends, and taking a break, during what was likely our last free weekend.  Schools and many offices are open six days a week in India, which makes me appreciate it all the more.

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