It's been a while since we last sat and wrote. Thanks for the encouraging messages.
We left Goa for Mangalore on the express coastal train taking a short 8 hours to travel *** kms. Onthe train we met someone who was travelling to Coimbatore in the next state. We had some interesting discussionswith him about globalisation and the Indian economy. His perspective was that the left of centre Congress party had not moved the country forwards since independence and that the new policies introducing foreign investment, with little regulation and encouraging a free market economy were the best thing that had happened in the country. People now had more employment opportunites, whereas before their were fewer, albeit more secure, government jobs.
Sundeep asked if this was in fact creating a greater gap between the rich and the poor, in a country where half the world's poorest people live. We also talked about what people felt about foreign investment - was the money actually investing and building a future for the country for the benefit of all, or was it just exploiting lower local living costs and employment, thereby helping multinationals to keep their production costs down and their profits high. We sense a little unease with the lifestyles portrayed in tv adverts, appealing to those with high levels of disposable income with the reality on the street. We agreed that there are no easy answers.
Asked about his faith in the ruling party or his perspective on people's general feelings about it he replied that politicians and policeman were not to be trusted; they were all talk!
There were many interesting things we discussed but we really warmed to him because he owned a mini Asus notebook like ours. He was also of Tamil origin and spoke excellent English. Interestingly he said he found his colleagues in the Czech Republic spoke English in an accent he could understandwhereas our English or even first language English was spoken at the tip of the tongue rather than deeper in the throat so he found it difficult to understand.
Another interesting interlude was a young boy of about 11 who was travelling with his family from Gujerat who came and struck up a conversation with us in Hindi whilst using the very popular electricity socket above us to recharge his 'phone. He was fluent and we nodded (quiet fluently also) a lot. He discussed everything from the cost of mobile phone calls to the prevalence of Nariyal trees here (coconut). Apparently he was on his way to be part of a singing programme in Cochin. He had been travelling since the day before and would not arrive until the day after. We've since discovered that Indian TV has tons of channels dedicated to young children and people singing competitively (This part of India has Got Talent) in classical styles as well as some pop.
Arrived in Mangalore to begin being harassed by local taxi and autorickshaw drivers; which has now become a commonplace experience for us. They see us coming a mile off; clearly we look like tourists and it certainly isn't because we're well dressed. So began a haggling with local taxis and rickshaws for a reasonable price to our hotel. On a number of occasions, when the driver refused a reasonable rate for what was a couple of miles, we walked back into the train station to reconsider our strategy... we ended up paying three times the standard metered rate.We later realised that this was an apt start to our time in the city.
We stayed in Mangalore for two nights in total. It was our first experience of city life in India (we were only in Mumbai for less than 12 hours). It was busy, dusty, noisy with lots of men and very few visible women. We discovered a great place to eat -a vegetarian diner with excellent dosa and good service. Forget what it was called, but it wasn't in the guide books.
We did the rounds to find a good hotel, and found the standards to be poor and the men in one of the hotels to be sleazy. We eventually retired to the best hotel of the bunch, and started the following day with a walk around local sights. We got a better feel for the place on this second day, finding our best cyber cafe yet - good pcs, with space to sit and a general buzz of students finishing their dissertations!
Whilst in Mangalore we visited some strange sites, including a temple and church. We've found that there was little in the way of explanation of what you are looking at here, so we had a good laugh making up stories of what the 10thand 11thcentury sites were about. We had a good day!
What struck us about Mangalore was the number of people including very young children (babies a few months old) living on the street and seemingly begging for a living. What was particularly emotive was that it was clearly children and older people, disabled people, who are visible, leading us to wonder about conversations earlier in the day about India's economic boom. Migration from rural areas into the cities eke out a better standard of living was a global theme evident from World News Channels.In the context of India, we thought the massive economic growth was not being matched by investment in public services and basicinfrastructure that goes with supporting a growing population demanding better standards of living.
We left Mangalore thinking it had a unique charm but was a city that fell short of its own vision - we would like to have seen more investment in the roads, the environment including pollution and noise control as well as taking care of its most vulnerable citizens. To be fair though we read in the paper that some of the road plans had been scuppered by the private contractors doing a runner and someone else using rubbish to fill a road before laying down the tarmac! So more corruption and lack of accountability stories to tell there I'm sure. Watch this space for temple temptations.