In 1998, I visited India twice. The first trip, around May I think, was to fulfill a promise made in 1996 toÂ Woodstock School, that when they got Internet access I would come and help train the staff in using the Internet. Which I did, and it was both fun and funny, but that’s another story.
The second trip was almost accidental. I was at the Adaptec offices in California, on one of my usual summer visits, when the subject of the HP Asia trip came up in a staff meeting. Hewlett-Packard planned a six-week trip of Asia, Australia, and New Zealand, a marketing road show for resellers and distributors throughout the area. They wanted someone from Adaptec along to talk about our software, which was bundled with their CD recorders. No one wanted to do the entire trip, so we discussed how to divvy it up. There were immediate volunteers for Australia/NZ and east Asia. India was also on the itinerary.
“I’m probably the only one who has all the shots for India,” I said.
There were no other takers, so India was mine.
The first half of the trip I spent in the lap of luxury. In Delhi I stayed on the Executive floor of theÂ Taj Mahal hotel, one of the world’s finest. With HP’s corporate discount it wasn’t, by US corporate standards, even terribly expensive (about $175 a night) andÂ IÂ wasn’t paying for it, anyway. The service was the best I’ve had at any hotel, ever: competent, efficient, and always there, without being intrusive. Internet access from anywhere in India wasn’t great in those days, so downloading dozens of email messages per day was quite a chore, but, with the help of a very smart hotel technician, we eventually got it done. She was startled when I told her how valuable her skills were, but I’m sure that by now she has figured it out.
From Delhi I flew to Mumbai (Bombay), then Chennai (Madras). I was one of three or four speakers at each stop. The others had prepared PowerPoint presentations about various aspects of HP technology; I did off-the-cuff demonstrations of our CD recording software. The audiences seemed to enjoy my ad-libbing more than the canned presentations, even though those included lots of multimedia bells and whistles.
While drinking tea after the presentations, I would chat with the resellers and distis. One man kindly asked if this was my first visit to India, did I intend to visit theÂ Taj MahalÂ etc. etc. I explained my long history with India, including four years atÂ Woodstock School, aÂ study abroad year, and a degree in Asian Studies and languages. “You’re more Indian than I am!” he exclaimed. A women in Delhi told me that her own kids didn’t speak Hindi fluently; they spoke English at home and school, were studying French as a second language, and only spoke Hindi with the servants, “So they speak it very badly.”
From Chennai I flew back to Delhi, then took the train and a taxi up to Mussoorie for a visit to Woodstock. From the lap of luxury to the lap of… well, not luxury. I traded my snappy business suit and heels for jeans and hiking boots. It was unseasonably raining most of the time I was there, and I was staying with friends at the top of the hill, so by the time I got home from school each evening I was soaked to the knees (sometimes higher), and the air was too damp for anything to dry just by hanging. (Clothes dryer? Are you kidding?) I put my jeans on top of the woodburning stove to dry, and accidentally scorched them.
When my week was up, I took a taxi back down the hill to catch my train. It was raining harder than ever. We drove over a few minor landslides, and probably just missed getting stuck behind a major one. As we bumped along, I amused myself pondering the contrasts of my two weeks in India, and the amazing contradictions and contrasts you can see every day, anyplace, in that country.