My trip to India is underway. I am speaking day after Thanksgiving on entrepreneurship. (see previous post, “This Year, Turkey Tandooori Style”).
I land, work my way through a sea of drivers standing with name cards for their clients, find mine and walk out into the parking area with him. Next to our car is a man hunched under a huge concrete tube (left from a sewage project apparently?). He has just lit a fire in the dirt and is warming his hands as the flames quickly take. We drive to the hotel through dim, wide streets after midnight. We pass a motorcycle with three people puttering along on it. We pass a huge truck carrying boulders, listing to the left, neon and chrome all over it and a dark driver glowing blue inside. My driver beeps every time he passes someone. A lot of beeping going on. I have a huge smile on my face.
The driver is talking to me, talking VERY fast. He’s having to repeat things several times. Very patient with me. He says not to worry, that he talks faster than anyone in India.
After a half hour, I start to see walls of embassies and consulates with the gold lettering of their countries. Australia, USA, etc. In the distance I see my imposing hotel. Actually, it’s not a distance at all – the pollution tricks you here. Thick concrete perimeter walls are all around, topped with rolls of barbed wire, keeping the embassies insulated. The entry gate to my hotel is heavily armed. The driver is instructed to turn the car off by the guards and the do a walk-around with mirrors scanning our underbody. They open the trunk, look through my bags. They open the bonnet (the hood) looking for bombs. Reminds me of Israel. Reminds me of the U.S.-Mexican border, too. I am thinking, Wow, they’re really thorough here. That’s cool.
I check in and am escorted to find my top floor room. Stepping off the elevator I notice a sign that says, “Welcome, President of Ghana.” Where’s my welcome sign, damn it?! I’m sure they’re going to have a nice bowl of fruit for me in the room, although, I’ve been advised not to eat anything that hasn’t been cooked here. There’s even the haze and smell of pollution in the endlessly long hallway of my floor.
At this point, I still have no idea that in the preceding hours, over 80 Westerners have been slaughtered by terrorists in Mumbai, a city as far from San Francisco as Denver, but at the heart of this country’s financial infrastructure.
When I get to my room, which is nice and has a bowl of fruit in it, I immediately open the drapes and see that I am facing over the front of the hotel and the embassies across the street. My room glows with the amber light of the floodlights showering the facade of the hotel. I turn on the TV to check in with the local media. The default station that comes on is al Jazeera, the controversial Islamic “CNN” of the Middle East, but broadcast in British English. The frenetic news of the attacks is blaring. Apparently, the target sites were 5 Star hotels, tourist restaurants and a crowded train station – anyplace where Western tourists could be hit.
Not exactly the sense of comfort I had expected. I wonder how this will affect the conference – I learned from my fast talking driver that New Delhi elections are taking place on the day of the conference, too, but I have to assume the organizers have got everything buttoned up. They’re expecting around 400 attendees for the presentations.
I am tired, incredibly tired. But the trip has gone without a hitch so far. Everything has gone exactly as planned in terms of logistics, my hosts, etc.
I am going to try to sleep now – though my body is saying, it’s noon, go take Max for a walk, and my mind is saying, keep an eye on the news, just to make sure…