So, the journey continues – and with it, this blog will hopefully be updated on a more regular basis. The past three years have flown by incredibly fast, and it feels like just recently I got off the plane in New York, flabbergasted by the city, its sounds, people, chaos, and wonderful uniqueness that so many before me, and after me, have fell in love with. I fell in love too, but not only with the city. I fell in love with people – with experiences that will last a life time, and friendships that will hopefully remain strong enough to carry over geographical distance and across borders. There is no doubt that New York, as a city, as a place, as an experience, is something incredibly unique, but the city, in the end, is only a setting for something else. A setting for life, the kind of which is hard to experience anywhere else. There’s a passion amongst people in New York, a need to make it, a longing to be bigger than the city and its reputation, more than another face in the crowd, and that passion, that need, that longing, drives people for greatness. And being a part of that greatness, even for a short time, is invigorating, energizing, and mesmerizing.
Let that be an ode to the people I’ve had in my life – without you, New York would have merely been a fancy stage for a boring life. It turned out to be so much more, and leaving was hard for reasons other than dollar pizza slices, easy-to-hail cabs, 24/7 home delivery, Prospect Park and a gorgeous view that we had from our Brooklyn apartment window. I miss New York, I definitely do, but more than the city, I miss the people. My people. Luckily, you are not going anywhere.. I hope.
So, here I am now, in Bangalore, India, the capital of the state of Karnataka and India’s third most populous city. I have been here for three days now, and I am still settling in and getting used to the sounds, smells, colors, and rhythm of the city. India, as most who have visited the country will say, is also unique, like New York. But there isn’t one India, or one city in India that is special. It is like 20 countries in one, with different cultures, languages, habits, religions, and views depending on where you go. I have never visited southern India before, my previous trips only reached Goa, Delhi, Jaipur, Agra and Mumbai. Karnataka, and Bangalore, are new acquaintances to me, but since the plan is to live here for quite some time, I am sure I’ll get familiar with this city and state soon enough.
I moved here with my husband, who co-founded a company about a year ago that works with bringing clean, affordable solar energy home units to the reach of low-income consumers here in India, and more specifically around Bangalore. After graduating with a Master’s degree in International Affairs a year ago, and since then working at UNICEF headquarters in New York, I felt I wanted, and needed, to get more field work experience and hands-on experience in the area of international development, human rights and gender equality. Being in the same country with one’s spouse is always a bonus, so India seemed like a sensible choice, given my husband’s work here, and the fact that for the kind of work I am interested in, and have been doing for the past few years, India is a prime place to be. Right now, I am setting up meetings with NGOs and civil society organizations that work in areas such as education, health, gender equality and human rights, and hope to find something interesting I could start working on fairly soon. I have never been too good at staying still for long, and need to find ways to keep myself busy here – however, given the number of NGOs and companies working in these areas in India, I don’t think that should be a problem.
First impressions of Bangalore are what they often are about India in general: Chaotic, crazy, loud, smelly, colorful, conservative, at-your-face, bureaucratic, inefficient, welcoming, confusing. Bangalore is a big, booming city, often referred to as the “Silicon Valley of India”, with all the amenities and comforts one could ask for – and yet, like across India, the reality of 30% of the population, or as many as 400 million people, living under the national poverty line, is evident everywhere. Shacks and slums line the pot-holed, bumpy streets that are congested by buses, trucks, auto-rickshaws, old cars, new cars, luxury cars, cows and motorbikes, beggars linger outside fancy shopping malls asking for mercy and pity, bare-footed children risk getting hit by chaotic traffic as they try to sell candy, water, sun glasses and snacks between traffic. Even in the nicer areas, piles of garbage gather and grow on side walks that no one uses for walking, and the only really effective method of garbage control seem to be the cows, dogs, chickens, cats and goats that climb the trash mountains to find something to eat. When the auto-rickshaw stops for a moment in the traffic, next to a cow eating from the pile of garbage, I can see a man picking and selecting bits and pieces of thrown-away food – and putting it in his mouth, chewing, swallowing. India may be booming, but the boom isn’t benefitting Indian people equally, not by a long shot. While shopping centers and sky scrapers pop up around this city, men, women and children all over Bangalore, and all over India, scavenge for food, water, bits of plastic and wood to built a schack with, scavenge for their livelihoods. And while I am here, visiting, staying in my comfortable apartment with hot water, electricity, refrigerator filled with food, most people here cannot escape this reality. And I can never understand it, as I have never had to live it – but I can try to become better at explaining it to others, and better at understanding all those sides of development, human well-being, human rights and growth that cannot be measured by income or material goods. I can try to understand how we can re-develop our methods of helping people, of supporting countries and economies, of ensuring that when prosperity and growth take place, the benefits are spread evenly across all society.
I doubt I’ll save anyone here. I doubt my brief stay in India will make much of a difference. But whatever I see, hear, experience and feel, I will try to put in words, and take it with me when I go again. And I hope to use it in what I do, to become better, to remain hopeful, to stay passionate.
So here we are, in India – it is bound to be a bumpy ride, but easy roads are always the most boring. Namaste!