This is basically a play-by-play of my last day in Bangalore so it’s long. I’m actually posting this now from Dharamsala because my WiFi previously was not good enough.
Throughout the summer I’ve been trying this exercise of attempting to describe Bangalore in one word. I can never pick just one. Of course every city is multifaceted but I was hoping I could think of something that could describe the essence simply. Busy was definitely true when you looked at the streets, but considering the terrace tea breaks we had daily against all-nighters masked in the “Penn Face” I wasn’t ready to settle. Full would be good except I figured that one was more for India as a whole. Though Bangalore’s population has grown by 9 million in just a decade it’s still growing. There’s still room for migrants like the ones in Shahi’s factories and foreigners like me. Same with crowded. Noisy may have worked if not for all the businesses closing at 11 p.m. leaving late night car rides past the Bellandur Lake feeling quite serene.
As I wait for my flight to Delhi here at Kempegowda International Airport and reflect on my last day in Bangalore one word just keeps coming to mind. Charming. Yes, I’ll admit it’s extremely clichéd. But honestly I couldn’t think of a better way to spend my last 24 hours in the city. Unfortunately I missed a few goodbyes, but the ones I got to say I made count.
Chan and I went to Shahi to see off our coworker Prem who was doing a day trip with Chitra so we could say goodbye. We ate breakfast in our hotel and shook the hands of the waiters who eagerly bring me filter coffee every morning.
I walked down Sarjapur Road (where we stay and where Shahi’s central office is) to a little alleyway unknown to me before this week. I pick up photo prints – pictures of PACE-trained workers we met our first week, a picture of the Shahi interns from May, a photo of Chitra in a saree, and some photos from the day before when the Shahi interns treated Chitra, Gini, and Prem to lunch. On the way back up the alleyway I stop by Kanti Sweets and pick up a box assortment. I wish I had done more errands in places like these where things are cheap and transactions are personable. I also pick up half a dozen flowers from a stand on Sarjapur. They cost 90 rupees but I give the guy at the stand 110. He thinks I’ve misunderstood. “Ninety. Nine, zero.” I insist he keeps it and go on my way.
Back at the hotel I write notes on the backs of photos for Chitra, Gini, and Prem.
I return to Shahi for the last time, gifts in hand. I go to the third floor where the OD Department – Chitra’s team – works. Luckily I find Gini and Sahana, both of whom I give flowers to. I set up a mini shrine on Chitra’s desk with the framed picture of her, a flower, and the other pictures I have printed.
Gini helps me arrange my bus to Dharamsala and gives me the contact for Shahi staff in Faridabad who will help arrange my airport pickup.
Very tearful goodbyes to Gini and Sahana. In Gini’s note I wrote that she’s like an elder sister to me and thanked her for helping me pick out a saree and keeping me from almost buying way-too-expensive silver jewelry earlier in the week.
I am meeting a friend in Jayanagar but have no idea where the restaurant is. I get out of my cab and just assume I’ll figure it out. I end up asking for directions from a security guard who doesn’t speak English so he sends me inside the building he is guarding to ask. I go upstairs and ask for directions. I’m pointed in a direction and go on my way. I realize I may have gone the wrong way so I turn back and consult Google Maps. Once I’m fairly certain I’ve got my bearings I realize I’ll pass the security guard again after assuring him I’d figured it out a few minutes ago. I’m on the other side of the street so I hope he doesn’t notice me. To my surprise the man I’d asked for directions on the second floor of the building is calling to me from a window telling me to go the way I have now realized is correct. I am embarrassed, but my heart swells to see how much people actually care here.
Even when we were in Mysore, asking for directions wasn’t an invasive thing. As we drove around, one of our Indian friends or the driver would shout out to people every couple of hundred meters to make sure we were headed in the right direction and it was totally normal. No masculine ego conflict in being lost here I guess.
My friend Spoorthy and I eat the most delicious biryani. I eat it with my hand and impress myself with the skill I’ve acquired. It’s spicy but I manage it – another skill wielded in India. We talk about school and foods and her brother who went to Penn (and the reason we linked up in the first place).
After lunch we went shopping for a bit and continued to catch up. She buys some mehndi and draws a design on my left hand. The whole time she draws we have a good old-fashioned girl talk. It’s so nice I lose track of time.
I return to the hotel and go to pick up the saree blouse I’d dropped off for tailoring the day before. Again I go down that alleyway and wait a bit for the finishing touches. The woman at the shop is very kind and shows me some of the traditional wares they sell and wishes me safe travels. I try on the blouse, pay, and take it home.
Chitra brings her two sons over to the hotel to say final goodbyes to me and Chan. She helps me wrap my saree and I’m not sure I can do it myself. Chitra takes pictures of me though some of them have the blurry image of her toddler walking around in them. This is the second time we are meeting her sons and seeing Chitra as natural as she is as a mother is so calming and heart-warming.
We say our final goodbyes to Chitra at KFC (next door at Total Mall) where her son wanted to go eat. Chan and I go and get our final round of momos, sugar cane juice, and schwarma wraps. We get back to the hotel around 8:30 and I leave Chan to wait for her cab while I pack.
I get a call in my hotel room. It’s Saahil from the front desk. He’s been so good to us for our entire stay. Notably on the first night we went out to meet Spoorthy, when we had no clue how to do anything in Bangalore, he saw us getting into an auto-rickshaw and came running out. He told us not to take that auto and called us another trusted driver. He’s been nothing but professional but now when he calls it’s just to tell me that Chan has left and that he’s sad seeing us all go.
I arrive at Take 5. In our first week in Bangalore our coworker Zafiyah took us here for Thursday night karaoke. It’s actually ridiculous to realize how far that has taken us. We came to know her karaoke family and would get recognized randomly when we’d go to other pubs around the area. Everyone was sad to see that my co-interns had left but glad I came to say goodbyes. I drink my last Kingfisher beer with Anish, one of the regulars we came to know first. I belt “Drift Away” along with most of the people in the bar. I stand with Zafiyah and pretend to sing back-up vocals when she closes the night with Jeff Buckley’s “Hallelujah.”
I arrive back at the hotel to pack and sleep.
I wake up to shower and finish stuffing my bags. “I Don’t Want To Miss A Thing” is stuck in my head from karaoke last night. To my surprise I have several messages from friends wishing me a safe journey and telling me that if I’m ever in India again I should let them know. One friend sends a couple of pictures from Take 5 (one pictured above). I almost cry reading the messages.
I check out of the hotel for the last time and get into a cab to the airport. It’s ironic: I remember when we arrived in Bangalore and I was wide awake for the entire two hour car ride to the hotel, even as the other interns slept. I was so intrigued by all of the sights and sounds and traffic. Being the sentimental person I am you’d think I would do the same for this last time. Especially since “Don’t wanna close my eyes, don’t wanna fall asleep” is playing on loop in my head. But I’m tired and decide that making time to see as many people as I could on my last day was my way of ensuring I didn’t miss a thing. So I sleep on the way to the airport.
I am sitting at Kempegowda International Airport at my gate writing this post.