It’s Thursday Jan 20 in Pune, India. Around 5:30pm. It’s around 4am at home in Bellevue, WA. I’ve just finished an exciting shopping adventure.
About one hour earlier…
I’m staying at the Westin – which seems to be a very new, upscale hotel for the area.
The tub has an open glass window to the rest of the room, which I find a little strange. Whatever turns you on I guess!
I ask where I can get some money converted into rupees.
I convert $40 US into Rupees – got ~1,700 of them. (Note to future self, at this point I should have asked for some coins.) I ask the concierge for a map and a recommendation of where to go shopping. I need to get something interesting for Dawn, and the kids. He recommended a mall across the bridge – it has McDonalds and Subway he says. Ok – not quite what I’m looking for, but I’ll check it out anyway.
The map comes inside a massive bundle of advertising. I pull out the map, and look for a garbage to put the ads. Nothing in sight – ok – I’ll hold on to it until I find something.
I exit the building, through the metal detector, and walk down the road to the front gate. Past the armed guard and through the security gate attended by three or more other guards (not armed). Everyone is very polite. Smiles all around. One of them presses his hands together in front of his face and combines this with a little bow.
First area of land on the right next to the hotel – oh – it is a cemetery. It looked like that from my room window, but I wasn’t sure. There are some people within – I don’t take a close up picture out of respect.
I turn right on the road ahead, as directed by the concierge. It’s busy, but not insanely busy. Here’s a distant shot of the intersection – also from my hotel window.
Delicacies await at this junction. Chinese food? Some local plant life or curios? I decide to press on instead of browsing these wares for too long.
The bridge is ahead. Honking regularly occurs all around me – much more frequently than back at home. Honking seems to be done much more proactively – “hey, I’m here, just sayin’.” The honk back says, “there’s plenty of room for four cars wide in these two traffic lanes!”"
At this point I realize that I’m still holding the ad/trash from the hotel. I haven’t seen any trash containers. I look over the side of the bridge, and I notice where other people are putting their garbage.
I continue walking across the bridge – towards my shopping adventure!
Almost half way across the bridge, I snap the photo of the Westin that you see above. I look down in the water – what is that? A water buffalo, I think.
I consider getting closer to the animal for a close up shot. This darn camera only has 3x zoom. I look ahead and see a path that goes down to the water. Unfortunately, the path goes through what might be considered a residential area.
I stop for a moment to consider the stark contrast of the buildings and shopping of the left, the tin and tarp homes on the right, and the hotel I just came from less than ten minutes away.
A short distance ahead, I notice a dog by himself. I’ve seen stray dogs several times on this trip – usually crossing a road. This dog wants to cross, but the road is too busy.
‘Come here puppy,’ I think to myself. Then another smarter part of me thinks, ‘please don’t come here – I really don’t want to get to know you any further.’
Finally – I reach my destination – the mall!
I walk through the metal detector, and beep. I’m carrying a camera in my pocket after all. The guard approaches me and waves his magic wand over me quickly – beeping on both pockets – he doesn’t care. He waves me through.
I notice that the Indian family that went through right before me has been pulled aside and is emptying their bags on the table.
The mall is half food court, with a few other shops – books, electronics, gift shops. I wander through looking for anything that catches my eye. What am I supposed to get again? Hmm – I don’t see any of those things here.
This mall is a little depressing for me – most things for sale are cheap or junk quality trinkets. Most people are here to eat or have a coffee with their friends – but there aren’t too many people here. The lighting is very low, signs and garbage are all over the place. Imagine the worst mall you’ve seen in the US, and you’re not quite there.
I notice that all of the shops with anything of value also have guards and metal detectors at the door. I think I’m the only white guy here. Most people watch me as I walk by. I’m invited into several shops personally. I don’t visit many.
Determined to keep up the search, I exit the mall and plan to continue to try the stores in this area.
Across the way is a hotel or apartments – they seem quite nice.
I walk about a block. People are everywhere – all classes, based on the clothing I see. People are cooking on the side of the road, teenage boys are hanging out on their motorcycles and talking. Several other teenagers join them, still wearing clothes from their jobs at restaurants and elsewhere.
Ahead on the sidewalk – there is a huge emptyness – nobody is there, except a single little boy – he looks to be 3 or 4 years old. People are walking around, giving the boy a large space to play in.
I walk with the crowd, but I don’t squish in with everyone, and the boy notices me. He approaches me.
Where are the pens and candies I brought with me? Darn it – in the hotel room, useless.
He shoves a metal dish at me, smiling, and motioning his fingers to his lips – a pantomime of eating. He is speaking rapidly at me, but I do not understand the words.
I should stop and think about this a moment, but I am taken with how cute and forthcoming this kid is. I feel impulsive. He seems really bright – talkative. I stop and pull a bill from my pocket.
He squeals with joy, and yells out to others. Others? I didn’t see anyone else when I walked here.
But there are others. Many others. It’s like a zombie movie – I’m literally surrounded in seconds by little girls and boys – grabbing my shirt, pushing their metal bowls towards me.
I look around at the adults nearby. A young woman smiles and laughs a little – a knowing smile. She’s no help what-so-ever.
I walk forward a little. The swarm stays with me. They move out of my steps, but they stay in close. They are grabbing my shirt and holding on. They try to hold my hands and take me for a walk.
I look around for advice. Anyone? Any ideas here? Some of the people I make eye contact with are clearly disgusted. What an idiot you are, their eyes say. How could you be so clueless? Why are you letting those kids touch you?
I think of the term ‘untouchables’ that we discussed at lunch. The Indian caste system is alive and well, though officially illegal for hiring, etc. I notice that these kids are filthy. Some have burns on their arms. The smell is intense. My shirt is getting covered in little dirty fingerprints.
A nice young couple approaches – they take pity on me. They put some coins into the bowls, and talk to the children, firmly but nicely. I don’t know the words, but it is clear they are paying to ask the kids to leave.
They smile at me as they do this. Silly foreigner – don’t you know any better?
Some of the children take the hint, and leave. Two stay with me – determined in their approach.
I briefly consider taking a photograph of the kids – but then I imagine the squeal they might make when they see a 3D camera. No, better not risk it.
I wait at the intersection – red light. Can’t cross yet. If I run across through traffic, would I be responsible if these children followed me and were hit? I decide not to chance it, and wait instead.
People on bikes, in rickshaws, and in cars are watching me – interested in what happens next. The light takes FOREVER.
Finally – the lights turn, and I continue across the street. There is another shop – clothing and housewares. Looks pretty cool. I bet they won’t let these kids through the metal detector. At least I’m hoping that.
I continue forward, and the kids leave as I approach the store entrance.
I beep in the detector, and this time the guard waves me through. No pretense of waving the magic wand over me this time.
The store is like an Indian Kmart. It is well kept. Bright and clean. Household, clothing, toys, etc. On the second floor, I hear the squeal of childish delight and footprints. I pause a moment, sweating from the heat, frightened by the sound of children…? Come on Derick – get over it!
These kids are playing with toys, and having fun. One of them has a NERF gun that my son likes. I do a quick calculation, and notice that this gun costs about $40 US. My son likely paid about $17 for it at Walmart. Considering the class diversity outside, that most of these guns are likely made in China on this side of the world, I’m a little shocked at the price. The video monitor shows happy Indian children playing with many expensive toys, in nice clothes.
I recall another conversation we had a lunch. Someone suggested that the researchers in MSR-India likely make 20x times the salary of the security guards at the same location. It would be hard to find a similar 20x wage comparison in the US, we agreed.
Unfortunately, this shop turns up empty for me as well. Anything that looks interesting is familiar – I’m sure I can buy all of these items at home.
As I leave the store – I have friends waiting for me outside! Isn’t that great! Karma for me being an idiot, I guess.
This time, I avoid eye contact, and keep moving. One of the kids follows me across the street, and stays with me for about three blocks.
Should I reward her enthusiasm? Ummm, no – perhaps not. I’d be ok if I didn’t see any more kids on this trip.
I see the residential area I was looking at before – this time from a different angle. You can see the Westin hotel in the distance behind it.
I continue back across the bridge.
Ahead at the intersection, it looks like there was some kind of traffic incident.
Back inside the relative safety of the Westin, I grab a few more photos. Another nice building next to the Westin, plus construction right next to us, between the two buildings.
Finally, I’m back in my room. I take of my grubby shirt – noticing the fingerprints all over. I wash my hands – extra soap and hot water. Purell, then wash again.
I have to tell someone about my adventure! Dawn will want to hear about this. Ring – whoops – oh yeah, it’s 4am back at home. Sorry family if I woke you!
Perhaps I’ll post it on the blog instead. Grab a soda from the mini-bar, and settle in to share the tale…
Guess what, I still have the junk I carried with me from the beginning. I didn’t see any (useful) place for garbage on the entire adventure.
Wait – darn – I still have to pick up Dawn and the kids something. This time I’ll remember to bring the pens!