The last couple of weeks have flown on by. My last week of work with OLPC India was eventful, we attended a launch lunch by Salesforce.com for their non profit organisation in India as well as the much planned for visit by Professor Nicholas Negroponte.
The Salesforce.com event was interesting - having used the basic functions of the software for several weeks, I struggled to see the weight behind all the hyperbole they used to describe it. I have a feeling that our deployment on the service may have only just begun to scratch the surface of what it could be useful for in a typical organisation. In any case, lunch was good.
I wasn't much aware of what was happening with Professor Negroponte's visit to India - lacking information about what I needed to attend and where until the day itself. I managed to see him address members of the CII (Confederation of Indian Industry) in the Hyatt Regency. His speech was full of conviction, something which struck me very quickly - he answered difficult questions well and was honest in saying so if he didn't have an answer. Later we went to a dinner for MIT Alumni in Delhi where the Professor made a brief experience before heading off to the airport. After many introductions, explaining that I was from the other Cambridge became second nature.
In the course of the week, I must have picked up nearly twenty business cards, and indeed was told off for not carrying my own! Perhaps something I will have to remedy as I enter the professional world. Does anyone know where you can get orange business cards? :-)
My last week in Delhi was spent doing some web-design (as evidenced by the recent site refresh of Hype Dark) and spending time with the family of a good friend from university who lives in Delhi. I was lucky enough to be given the opportunity to drive on the Indian roads, although despite my fervent vow to try and complete the journey without using the horn once, it was not possible. The issue is that other drivers remain unobservant, so you end up beeping to make them aware of your presence. All told though, driving in India is much easier than driving back home since you really don't need to worry about the rules of the road. In England, you spend substantial effort concentrating on your lane placement, looking in your mirrors and signalling!
A short flight and a long bus journey later, I walked onto Pallolem beach to set up camp in a beach shack for a couple of nights. My first trip on a public Indian bus was uneventful, save for slight drama when embarking when I panicked thinking I was on the wrong bus. I asked a lady on the next row if the bus was going to Pallolem, she said no. I stood up and got off, bag in tow, when someone outside the bus told me that this was the right bus. As I got back on the bus, I noticed the lady had moved into my seat!
Pallolem is one of the two places in the world that resonates perfectly with my soul, where I could happily exist indefinitely. (The other place being a wilderness camp in Alaska.) It is an incredibly chilled out place, where life is simple. I wasn't harassed by beach vendors at all (although this could be because I didn't camp out on the beach itself, nor am I white). There are many shacks which contain bars, cafes and restaurants which line the beach - it is almost expected that you sit and sip a cocktail whilst the day floats on by.
As I sat and read Larry Lessig's book The Future of Ideas in one of these cafes, an Indian girl (who must have not been much older than myself) sat nearby, strumming her guitar and composing a song. Another group of British travellers discussed the demerits of Facebook (which I struggled to manage avoid commenting on). The staff are genuinely friendly too, which was astounding, having visited a fair amount of the rest of India.
Two other residents of the beach hut colony where I stayed were regulars around the campfire in the evenings - an astrologer from Nottingham and a Finnish photographer. Conversation was intriguing, ranging from how best to avoid mosquitos biting in sensitive areas to religion and spirituality.
I was fairly reluctant to leave Pallolem but the extremely (talkative and hence) persuasive manager of the hotel in Panjim in North Goa, my next destination, convinced me to retain my original booking. This wasn't all bad though, since on the bus to Panjim, I met a group of French students (and one Finnish guy) who were also heading the same way. They're studying in Pondicherry University as part of an exchange program where they get to spend a year in India.
That afternoon I toured Panjim, meeting an English gent (whose name I have completely forgotten) as a direct result of following the Lonely Planet walking tour (I guess there is some benefit to subscribing to mass consumer culture).
The next day I went to Old Goa with the French (+ Finn) group. There isn't too much to see there besides a plethora of Catholic churches which, in typical Catholic-church-fashion, depressed me with their imposing and terrifyingly grandiose depictions of Jesus, the Virgin Mary and other biblical scenes.
That evening, we managed to catch a film at the International Film Festival Of India. Ignoring the absolutely nightmare in trying to get tickets, the film itself (a 1997 Malayalam film called Bhoothakannady) was predictably dark, as seems to be the case with most arty films. It provided an interesting insight into traditional South Indian culture and village life, something which hasn't been present in any of the Bollywood films I have seen so far.
On Wednesday, a duo of buses (one where I was in the close proximity of a woman smelling strongly of fish) took me to the Vagator beach. Near to the beach lie the ruins of an old fort, a short walk up the hillside. Unfortunately, the man I asked for directions was not aware of this 'official' route and so I took the mildly more arduous and exponentially more sweaty route involving clambering over 45 degree rocks near a cliff face. Once the top presented itself though, great views of the beach below were mine to behold.
After making my way down and hitching a lift on a motorcycle, I made my way to Anjuna to visit their weekly flea market. This was a curious mix of locals (in some scarcity though), alternative types and generally vacant tourists. Several t-shirts and music CDs later, I went to meet up with the French (+ Finn) backpackers for lunch followed by a general layabout on the beach.
Having delved into the Lonely Planet on many a occasion, I was aware that several scams for getting money from tourists were in circulation. When an Indian man pointed at my ear, it took a few seconds for me to clock what was happening. As he started explaining himself, he placed some kind of metallic stick near my ear and showed it covered with ear wax to me. It was at this point that I wish I had sworn at him and told him to get a real job, but instead actually told him to go away and leave me alone. This and the incessant stream of beach vendors made me yearn for the peace of Pallolem.
Dinner in Panjim that night was very messy, an unusual bout of clumsiness that I am still struggling to explain. As the waiter asked for my order, I dropped my phone - it responded with it's usual trick of exploding into many different pieces. Later, as I was sitting reading my book, sipping my drink and waiting for my order, I spilt water over the table. When my meal finally arrived, I managed to flick some of the curry onto the floor with the spoon.
It was only natural then that karmic law of the universe should effect itself such that when the waiter cleared my table, water should drip all over my the crotch of my light coloured shorts. With the bill only seconds away and my inevitable departure from the restaurant within minutes, my brain raced to find a solution. Unfortunately, having left all my bags in my room, I was only able to walk awkwardly out of the restaurant with my book (Wikinomics, should it matter) covering my embarassing water stain. It will probably be a while before I return.