India vs. Pakistan vs. Baba
I started working for ITPreneurs in May of 2001, as a freelancer and immediately tumbled into a couple of very nice, if not very hectic projects. One of my tasks is to keep communication going between the offices in Holland and the offices in India, where most development is done. ITPreneurs, basically, is a web development firm with a twist; projects are acquired in Europe, development is done in India. Additionally, there is a focus on e-Learning and community building.
To get a better feel for India, culture and business wise, it was decided I had to spend a week in India. Also to meet some of the vendors we would be working with, for one of our projects, building a website cum web portal for a Holland-based UN-organization, CapNet.
Luckily, I guess, I was being chaperoned most of the time. Either by my two direct colleagues, Nitin and Gaurav, or by Sukhbir's parents. Them owning the hostel where I staid in Delhi. Sukhbir is one of the guys that started ITPreneurs.
The only unfortunate about me being chaperoned was that I ate much, much, much more than I usually do. Not only was I presented, each day, with three glorious meals, everything was also unbelievably delicious, making it very hard to not accept all those lovely dishes.
Work itself was also quite interesting. Not in the least because, for example, occasionally we had to drive around town to pick up diskettes since Internet wasn't working, resulting in us not being able to swap files with the vendors. That's also new economy for you.
I had read up on India in general and Delhi in particular through the Rough Guide and Lonely Planet, and according to them, I would have to expect the worst possible. Busy streets, high temperatures, chaos abound, etc. Friends who had been there seemed to support that view.
Immediately on arriving, I started noticing that it wasn't all that 'bad'. People at the airport were quite relaxed, the streets weren't that crowded and the weather, actually, was enjoyable. A little bit warm, maybe, but that's the way I like it. Apparently, neither Rough Guide, Lonely Planet or the friends who had confirmed the view of these two travel guides, had ever been to Africa. I have been both to Egypt and a couple of countries in West Africa, and, by far, Delhi was a more relaxed place then most cities in the regions in Africa were I had been.
Since ITPreneurs doesn't have a regular office yet in Delhi, we were working from a temporary place on Lodi Road, on the south side of New Delhi, the area that was built from the ground up by the English. The office wasn't all that bad, if only the computer we had in the room hadn't been restricted to view only Yahoo and MSN.
Gaurav and Nitin were a couple of very smart guys and a lot of fun. Meeting Nitin's wife later in the week even meant a brush with fame for me. In the past, she had anchored a couple of television shows and although she liked it, she felt more at home at the HR department of one of the larger mobile phone providers. I asked her if she was taking any medication. Apparently she wasn't. She had been both a well know singer and dancer, and she preferred an HR department…
The English and others
Delhi, and to a lesser extent Agra, are full with remnants of what the English left behind after they moved out. For one, everything in New Delhi was built by the English. Being the most important part of Delhi, filled with India gate, the parliament and other government buildings, New Delhi is the hub of this city peopled by 15 million souls.
Besides the English, the Moghuls also left quite a mark on this part of India, most of the prominent structures, such as the Red Forts in Agra and Delhi, Jamal Mashid, the largest mosque of India in Delhi and the Taj Mahal all being built in the 1600s, by The Moguls. The Taj Mahal, in Agra truly is very impressive.
The Taj was built as a shrine to Mumtaz Mahal, a queen who died in childbirth. Her husband, who was totally crazy about her had the Taj built as a shrine and tomb to her beauty. It took about twenty years to build the thing and afterwards he had the thumbs cut off of some people, such that he was more certain that building a new Taj by the same people was going to be reasonably difficult.
Still, he also decided that he was going to build a black version of the Taj, just across the water from his beloved wife. Unfortunately, he got imprisoned by his son before he could really start building. Ironically, two things happened. He was imprisoned in Agra's Red Fort, which has a perfect view of the Taj and, after his death, he was buried in the same tomb of his wife, in the Taj Mahal. His tomb totally upsets the perfect symmetry that he had designed for the building. Such, I guess, is life.
Wherever I have to use a nickname, on the web for one, I use a nickname. My nickname is MastaBaba, it's based on 'Master Babak', which should be pretty clear in its meaning. I already know for a number of years that 'baba' means 'father' in many languages, Hindi being one of them. I now learned that 'Masta', in Hindi, means something of 'High', or 'Crazy'. So without me knowing it, I choose a truly perfect nickname for myself.
I almost did go crazy for not being able to visit the Taj, though. Because it weekend I had planned to go to Agra was one of those rare occasions where the heads of state of India and Pakistan were going to meet, the whole country was in state of apprehension. You have to know that these countries have been in some sort of cold war for the past 50 years, after the India that the English left behind after independence was split up into what is now India and Pakistan and Bangladesh, that also used to be Pakistan.
Anyway, Musharraf and Vajpayee were going to meet at the Taj, which meant that the whole area was going to be off limits. I tried to make clear to the Indian government that it was going to be either Musharraf or myself. Strangely enough, they decided it was going to be Pakistan's new president. I had to go a day later. The good thing was that, because of the site having been closed for a couple of days, apparently, people had become reluctant to go, meaning the area was very, very quiet. Maybe there were some 50 other foreigners there. On Fridays, apparently, 100.000 to 200.000 people flock the area. This, because on Friday's entry is free. I had to pay a whopping $20. This is not a typo.
Don't have a…
The most wonderful site on the Indian roads, by far, are the cows who appear literally everywhere. They don't care, at all, of any traffic and leisurely can move from one side of the road to the other. In droves. It's very funny to see. Not in the least since nobody seems to be disturbed by this, whereas everyone seems to get VERY disturbed if there's a car on the road that doesn't fully cooperate with their wishes.
Most food is vegetarian and wonderful. Quite amazing, since it always is a pain to get a nice vegetarian meal in the west. Here, practically all meals are vegetarian and also very tasty. How do they do it, you might ask? If only I knew…
I staid more than a week, but since it was a business trip, I got to see much less then I wanted to. Luckily, I did find the time to see the Jamal Masjid, India's largest mosque, the Red Fort in Delhi and the spot where Mahatma Ghandi was cremated, but there is so much more to see. Not just in Delhi, but everywhere in India. It seems I truly need to go back once or twice. And maybe stay a year or two.