Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Hyderabad Homecoming

After eight months in California, I returned to my home city of Hyderabad to smiling faces, the same sights and smells, and a yoga teacher who asked me where I had been. With rooftop drinks, 80 degree weather, a new office building, and motorcycle rides across town I began to comment that in comparison to my Gurgaon residence, "I'm a South Indian at heart."

Sunday marked the first ODI in a triangle cricket series between Australia, India, and Sri Lanka. As my friend drove me cross town on his motorcycle, the thought crossed my mind that my sunglasses would not protect me from a crash. Mother would be proud of my judgement. With an Indian win, an afternoon of home-cooked food and Kingfisher beers, it was a successful day when we merged onto the city-center airport fly-over.

True to all Indian construction, there's an overwhelming mix of labor, chaos, and an underlying magic in any completed project. Whereas there is continuity in an American or European project, in that progress is noticeable, in India progress seems to exist only as a finality. Sites are littered with laborer tents, squalor and sadness, dust and debris. There are no cranes, but only men. Women carry pail after pail of dirt on small head pans. Cows meander through the maze of bamboo shafts that support what may become a building. There is not the technology of Dubai; There are not the infinite cranes of China. There is only toil and tiny tasks, iterative enough that they amount to eventual change. And then, suddenly, in the fog of night a site goes from 200 Bihari hard-hat workers clambering over bamboo shafts to massive glass buildings. Despite a circumspect eye, it's hard to determine how such transformation is possible, or even when it actually happens. Apparently, though it's not normally noticeable, someone involved knows something about what they're doing.


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