This week, our first in Bangalore, marked our entry into the unknown– a new city, a whirlwind week of introductions and tours, and the beginning stages of research and introspection as to where our projects and the rest of the summer will take us. Although our introduction to Shahi began last Monday with a visit to a factory in Faridabad, I feel like it took our arrival in Bangalore to make the whole summer feel more tangible.
Overall, I think that Meghana, Alexi, and I lucked out with the climate differences between Bangalore and Delhi. Bangalore is a good twenty degrees (Fahrenheit) cooler than Delhi, where we had the foresight to visit the Taj Mahal on one of the hottest days on record; aside from this outing, I could really only bear to be outside for an hour at a time. In addition to being cooler, Bangalore is noticeably less polluted, and even driving in from the airport it was obvious that the landscape is much more green.
I have yet to internalize a mental map of Bangalore, which still feels like a maze of streets and neighborhoods. Our preferred form of transport is by auto—even if we’re just running errands or going out to dinner, it feels like a mini-tour of the city. As if I didn’t look enough like a tourist already, I’ve taken to bringing my Lonely Planet guide with me everywhere, which helped in shuttling Alexi and me from temple to market to palace on our first weekend excursion.
Like any arrival in a new city, my brief time in Bangalore has been punctuated with many challenges and surprises. Although I have traveled a fair amount in Asia, I don’t think I was prepared for how different things would feel. Crossing the road to Shahi, for example, has become our daily morning adventure: searching for a gap between the continuous stream of autos and buses, jumping back from an unexpected motorcycle, and walking across the street lanes before realizing a separate line of motorcycles are traveling in the wrong direction, opposite the main flow of traffic. I told Alexi this morning that it feels like real-life Frogger, the old video game.
Although crossing the street is trivial in the grand scheme of things, other differences and difficulties have not been as easy to reconcile. I don’t think I was prepared for the sheer size of Shahi as a corporation– although it’s easy to absorb facts about the number of factories throughout India or the different buyers and brands Shahi works with, only since being here have I begun to absorb the reach and influence Shahi had on hundreds of thousands lives, most of them marginalized and female, and many of them migrant workers far from home. One of the biggest emotional struggles I’m continuing to reflect on came after meeting a group of migrant workers, aged 19 to 21, and hearing in person how strikingly different the lives of these women, my own age, are from my own. This is something I could have told you abstractly, of course, but coming face to face with the opportunities that have underscored my entire life and the privilege I have that is so noticeably absent from the lives of the women we’re working with and for has set the tone for my experience this summer.
At this point in my internship, only one week in, I’m still completely immersed in learning about Shahi and the NGOs they work with while trying to find my way in Bangalore. Chitra, our mother hen of sorts at Shahi, is a godsend: shuttling us around to various meetings, being our go-to at Shahi, and putting up with our nonsense each day. At this early stage, I’m looking forward to a summer of the unexpected while delving deeper into my role at Shahi.