First of all, the way Indian people drive in the streets is much different than what we are used in Europe. It looks chaotic, until the unwritten rules are understood. Constantly, there is someone using the horn. However, they use it different: European use the horn very modestly, either to warn about a serious danger or if one gets really angry. Indians use the horn to signal the driver in the front that someone is coming from the back indicating “please move aside, so I can overtake”. This works very well, everyone is cooperating quickly and no-one gets angry. The following video is from a normal day in the Pink City area of Jaipur. The sound you hear in this video is the norm – it never is quiet in an indian street…
The second big difference: There are rules, but most are ignored. The only rule I noticed being respected were red lights or police man ruling the traffic. Otherwise, everyone finds his way through the traffic. Sometimes, vehicles even drive on the opposite lane if this seems faster, easier or whatever other reason they have. Indian drivers are not stressed about such incidents. They just make their way wherever possible. – Many streets have no pedestrian walk. This is why you often see vehicles parked or stopped at the side or pedestrian using the same space the cars require. Indian drivers just ride around these temporary obstacles as this is normal. If there is a possibility to overtake a vehicle, it will be taken. And everyone is fine with this. I sometimes wonder, why streets have been applied with lane lines as no one cares about them. In a double lane street, cars are happily driving in the middle of the street, “using” parts of both lanes. Should there be a solid line in the middle of the street? No problem; this is considered decoration: If something needs to be overtaken, it will, no matter what the street signs indicate.
The good side of this behaviour is that indian drivers must be very concentrated, always taking into consideration that suddenly an obstacle might occur. That’s why I barely saw any accidents in the streets. Another reason for very few accidents is that it is not possible to drive fast. The fastest speed was probably at the highway between Jaipur and Agra at nearly 90 km/h. There are always slow vehicles or animals in the street, the tar often is severely damaged through heavy rains or the street is slowed down through rough speed-bumps at junctions, around schools, hospitals or toll stations.
In Cochin, I had the opportunity to experience driving in Indian streets myself: I got a bike from the hotel. The bike was not optimal but this made the experience even more fun: The frame was too small, the saddle constantly slipped back into a steep position, the brakes were weak and the last time, the chain got oiled must have been at production time. When I drove through the streets of Cochin, I realised the concentration you require: All the participants in the traffic from all sides and on the ground for holes and speed bumps. Very quickly, I enjoyed the flexibility and tolerance in this system, e.g. to start riding on the wrong side of the street and smoothly integrate into the flow of the traffic. During these 25 km riding in the city, I always felt save as I knew that everyone respects the other one in the traffic.
Pedestrians usually have no priority. Nevertheless, it is relatively safe walking in the streets. The only time I got bumped aside was by a cow who wanted to make her way without circumventions. When a pedestrian wants to cross the street, no vehicle is stopping. As there is generally lots of traffic in the street, there is almost never an opportunity to cross the street with no vehicles in sight. Therefore, I learned that I just start walking, constantly checking the coming traffic. In all cases, vehicles drove around me, never putting me in a real dangerous situation.
Vehicles in the street
Everything is seen in the streets, in all variations and with different types of load, sometimes overload. In general, you see a lot of motorbikes. I got the impression that a middle class family can afford a motorbike but not a car. Therefore, you often see more than 2 people on a motorbike. The driver is usually a man, most times wearing a (old) helmet. The second person is usually a woman, sometimes wearing a helmet, sometimes not. Due to many women wearing sarees, they often sit sideways. The three person configuration usually includes one kid squeezed between the father and it’s mother. This must be the best way to secure them on the bike. If there are 2 kids, then the other one usually sits in front of the driver, many times holding the steering wheel. Hopefully, kids do not take too much control on the driving… – I have also seen configurations of 5 and 6 people on one motorbike. In such a situation, the mother held the kids as good as it gets… Unfortunately, I have not seen a single kid wearing a helmet. And I have seen reminders that motorbike drivers must wear a helmet. I assume that no helmets exist for kid sizes. This is sad. – As a motorbike is often the only vehicle a family owns, the bike is also used for a lot of different transports. I often saw motorbikes with up to 4 gas bottles mounted, two on each side. If the load cannot be fixed on either side of the bike, the drivers or co-drivers always find a way to transport their (sometimes bulky or long) goods.
In Rajasthan, a lot of animals are seen in the streets. While people use camels or horses to transport their goods, farmers might move their heard of cows or goats across a street. Traffic stops for the time of the crossing and interestingly, no car horn is used in such an incident. This is just accepted by everyone. But there are also wild animals in the street: Cows, dogs and a few abandoned horses and donkeys make their own way through the streets. Especially the cows which are considered holy and so must be respected, show no signs of fear in the traffic. Even if the slowly walk against the traffic, they always seem to be relaxed…
Public busses are highly used. Most times there is not enough seating capacity and people must stand, often very very close to each other. I decided not to experiment such a cozy bus ride, despite the temperatures which usually were between 33°C and 38°C… – In case there is not enough space in the bus, people also climb to the roof of the bus. This was more the exception and I only have seen this on the highway between Jaipur and Agra, never in a city.
With the trucks, I was fascinated about their design: Every truck I saw was hand painted. The designs include a lot of details. I wonder how many hours have been spent to decorate an average indian truck. At the rear of the car, they all write “Horn please”, “Use horn”, “Blow horn” or similar. As using the horn is the norm anyway, I am surprised that this is seen on every truck as well as on every tuk-tuk.
Tuk Tuks are seen everywhere: They are small, flexible and usually the cheapest taxi you can get. The small size still gives an opportunity to seat (squeeze is probably the better word) up to 6 people plus driver in one single tuk-tuk. At first, every tuk-tuk looks the same. Looking closer, you notice that every tuk-tuk is individualised: It can be the decor of the seats, the design of the roof, a special print outside of the tuk-tuk, etc. One night, we rode a tuk-tuk from a restaurant back to the hotel. Big loud speakers were installed at the back of the seats. We asked the driver if we can have some music. He was proud to showcase his Tuk-Tuk Hi-Fi. He put the current India hit “Sunny, Sunny” at high volume and drove off. The four of us started to dance in the tuk-tuk. We had a lot of fun on this ride and I think the driver was the most excited as his Hi-Fi investment created happy guests…
During my five weeks in India, I have spent quite some time in taxis. There was always something to be seen and even for long taxi rides. The longest was about 6 hours for a distance of 200 km. I was never bored as there was always something new to discover. Either the different types and shapes of vehicles, activities at the side of the street or the landscape, in the rare situations I came through non-populated areas.
My CSC project nears the end. Yesterday afternoon, we ran the official closing presentation with 18 participants from CECOEDECON, VSO and IBM. Natasja and I explained the findings we discovered in the past 3 weeks and we recommended key success factors for their next 5 year strategy plan.
In the past few years, India made huge progress in it’s industry and economy, confirming that it is an emerging country. This success is noticed world wide. While this is a good sign for the industrial and economical side of the country, international donors and charities read this signal to route donations away from India into other countries. Hence, traditional funding streams for indian NGOs are shrinking. This combined with additional moving patterns in politics, economy, social, technology and legal requires every NGO to prepare for change.
That’s why we initiated this change process with a workshop for leading a transformation the same day after the final presentation. I had the impression that the call for change in our final presentation was understood. The workshop had a highly engaged participation. With the exercises we did, they created a lot of ideas how they personally play a role and foster a supporting climate in this process. The longer the workshop took place, the more opinions and ideas were brought up and generated more and more fun situations as well. Once more, I was very happy to see that a seat we planted did start to develop which was confirmed by their active participation.
Today, our CSC India 32 team delivered our community service day at CECOEDECON’s founding location. We were welcoming more than 120 women from rural village communities, organised in self help groups. Our agenda was about self-empowerment of women. We organised three workshops about being proud, financial well-being and setting priorities.
We enjoyed a very warm welcome with the first delegation of women arriving. Everyone of these guests wore a different saree. In the sunlight, these vibrant colours have a very powerful effect. Some women transformed this energy with dancing to the music and they encouraged us to participate as well… While some were still dancing, we were surprised again as all the men were given a turban. In the last few days, I got more and more fascinated about the different colours and styles of turbans I see. I developed a desire to once experience how to fold this 6 m long fabric into a turban on my head. And suddenly, this idea took place much earlier than I could have imagined. A very nice surprise!
All 5 of us equipped with a turban, we were asked to move to the backyard of the building. Manish explained us that for a community service day, they would like to leave something behind. When you plant a tree, you are making the world a better place for all those generations that follow you. That’s why everyone of our 10 CSC India 32 team members was able to plant an ashoka tree. I had the honour to start this special procedure.
Based on my observations in the first 2-3 weeks in India, I realised that people here like to be photographed. The women we invited for this community service day likely did not have a semi-professional photo of them before. That’s why I proposed to use my camera for this day, taking portrait photos of all participants. We framed this idea into the topic of being proud. While I took photos, my colleagues Ale and Mark discussed with the women the connection of body language and pride. At the end of the community service day, every participant received a print of the personal portrait.
In the closing session, some women stood up and started singing and dancing. To me, this was a very emotional moment. The room was filled with energy. I got the impression that this was one day in their life they will remember for long.
For this community service day, we were expecting about 60 participants. With an attendance of more than 120 people, the printing took longer than planned. Some of the women started to worry about their livestock and other duties they have to look after. Therefore, we offered those still waiting for the print to pick up the photo next week. However, everyone decided setting priority to receiving their photo. This showed us that this personal gift was of high importance to all participants. The smile and pride I saw in their faces when they received their portrait photo was a big reward to our contribution.
The whole team was very pleased with the outcome of this successful, memorable community service day. It was one day everyone who was there will remember for a long time!
Manish, our primary contact at CECOEDECON recently mentioned that I reminded him of Omar Abdullah, a famous politician from the Kashmir area. Since this day, team members from time to time call me Omar. And Indian people are buying in to this comparison. What do you think?
This morning, a hotel employee approached me with a big smile, while I was at the breakfast buffet. “You’re on the Newspaper, together with your friends”. I was very surprised and honoured that the hotel staff identified Natasja, Mark and myself in today’s newspaper in an article about the Jaipur by nite marathon. I was also surprised about my quote. I did not say much more than what appeared in the newspaper. Apart from the time information (we are here for a full month in total, not 4 weeks in the country already), everything else is what I said.
The Times of India – Jaipur, September 20, 2016
So this was my first media experience of my IBM Corporate Service Corps mission and a positive one.
When I prepared for my trip to India, I asked Sid, an Indian work colleague of mine about hints for running in India. He convinced me to not plan running outdoors as it would be very hot during the day (correct: today’s temperature was just about 39°C…) and the streets are too dangerous as no one expects a person running, apart from the fact that there usually are no sidewalks existing. Therefore, for my CSC assignment, I mentally prepared myself to run on treadmills during my stay to keep a minimum of sport activity.
Last week, I learned that Jaipur runs the 4th edition of the Jaipur by nite marathon. I started to investigate more about this event. It turned out that the marathon event actually only has two distances: 10k and 5k. No mention of 42.195 k… On the other hand, such short distances are doable for many. That’s why I asked the team if someone is interested to join. Over three days, the idea increased popularity and I could sign up all of our 10 team members for the race. We planned two groups: the first group will be running together, the second will be walking. The main intent was a fun and joint experience.
Information about the race on the website was little. It said that participants are expected to be at the starting point by 9 pm. Given this schedule, we arranged an early dinner at 6 pm at our hotel.
On our way to the event location, our taxi was riding on the street that was planned for the running track. Traffic on this 3-lane street was just normal and we wondered by what time they intend to block the traffic so the street is safe enough to run.
Half an hour before the event started, we arrived at the event location. We were surprised to barely see anyone around with a start number. Not much happened at this time, which confused us very much. We found someone who looked like a representative of the event. He explained us that the start of the race is around 11 pm for the 10k, and 11:30 pm for the 5k. This was some different timing than everyone of our team expected. These timings were not published anywhere. Further checks resulted in similar times, all between 10:30 and 11:30 pm… Many of our team lost confidence into the (approximate) start time; waiting for 2,5 hours or even more was a reason some were not pleased with this situation. That’s why we decided to split up: Natasja, Mark and I decided to stay, “taking the risk” for a long wait. The rest went to our drivers who drove them back to the hotel.
The three of us returned to the start area which finally began filling with people. Local bands were playing and we noticed an increasing media presence. Being non-Indian, we became a target for many photographers and video journalists. Two young guys asked us for a YouTube video interview and a journalist of the Times of India was curious to hear our story what motivated us to attend this event. These actions kept us busy and so the time to the start of our race went by quickly. At 11 pm, the 10k run started and we were asked to line-up at the start. I was surprised to see all the different gear people wore: Some turned up in running gear with shorts, the way we were dressed. Much more people were seen in a running shirt and long trainer trousers. The less usual run gear (at least for me) was a number of people in jeans with a cotton T-Shirt or shirt. I was somewhat surprised to even see some women in their spree, with a start number attached. Another woman attached her start number on her hand bag. – I have been in start lines of many races but this mix of attire was a first but refreshing to me. It showed that you do not require special gear to attend a fun run. Attending and having fun is more important than the gear.
With the start of the race, it quickly became clear that most ones in running gear had the intention to run these 5k. The majority of the people in street wear were walking or fast walking. In any case, it was supposed to be a fun run and I had the impression that everyone enjoyed the atmosphere.
The 3-lane street provided a lot of comfortable space for all runners. Yes, they managed to completely block the street in a length of 5k for this race. This must have been the most quiet time for a very long time in this street: In regular indian traffic, there is always at least one vehicle using it’s horn…
The temperature of 29°C during the race made me quickly sweating, even running at a comfortable pace. We happily finished the race together, as planned. At the finishing line, Natasja heard someone saying that she was the first women to cross the finishing line. And Mark clocked a new personal best for the 5k distance. We were all glad to “risk” waiting longer. The payback was a fun experience.
Time flies and my second week in the IBM Corporate Service Corps already comes to an end. This week was dominated by a series of interviews with employees of CECOEDECON. We learned a lot about this NGO and it’s wide ecosystem from rural villages up to the united nations level. I also got a chance to dedicate some time to learn about the UN Sustainable Development Goals 2015-2030 (SDG). At the Climate Summit 2014 where the SDGs were finalised, Kofi Annan explained the importance of these global goals with the statement There is no “Plan B” for climate action as there is no “Planet B”. It could not be said any better…
During the week, we visited the field. We went to the place were CECOEDECON started 35 years ago. I liked seeing their company motto at the entrance of their premises saying “where action speaks louder an words”. – We saw the result of a project CECOEDECON ran 10 years ago. They supported villages that suffered from water resources for their agriculture and personal needs.
Together with the locals, they built some dams to create a large lake to store rain water. The dam was built based on local material, local knowledge to identify the best area to use and historical methods that were successfully applied in this region in the past. Today, this lake serves the needs of about 200 families and it’s agriculture needs in the villages around. Apart from availability of water over the entire year, farmers happily noticed that their buffalos now create a larger volume and better quality of milk. The Buffaloes now regularly have the possibility for a bath, which is important for Them and they have access to stronger grass, etc.
After the dam, we were able to talk to 2 teachers of CECOEDECON. They train 35 women from rural villages about child care, malnutrition, etc. these women were elected in their villages to participate in this training. As the training takes 4 weeks, they stay at the CECOEDECON premises for the entire time.
As we arrived at the headquarters of CECOEDECON, we were invited to have lunch in the board room. This was different than usual. Many of the people that were present at the office were assembled at the board room. The reason was that Hindus celebrate Pitru Paksha to remember their forefathers. The food which consisted of at least 20 different choices was all prepared by the founder himself to remember his father. We were pleased to witness such a tradition.
This weekend, we went for a 2-day trip to Agra. From Jaipur, it took us about 5.5 hours to drive this 230 km to Agra. The reason for this long time lies in the fact that the maximum speed that our bus was riding on the highway was about 80 km/h. Most times, our bus had to ride slower due to other cars, trucks, cows, tractors, etc.
Early afternoon, we first stopped at our hotel where I enjoyed a first view of the Taj Mahal, directly from my room. The Taj, however, was planned for Sunday early morning. That’s why we visited the Tomb of I’timād-ud-Daulah (also known as “Baby Taj”) as well as Agra Fort. These are very impressive monuments. Both are heavily influenced from the arabic world. However, you find multiple references to acceptance of all religions. Many walls, pillars, etc unite hinduism, islam, christian and jewish religion in a single design. They must have been very open to all major religions.
In the evening, we chose one of the top rated restaurants of tripadvisor, only a few hundred meters away from our hotel. We were lucky that we went early. Half an hour later, people already had to queue to get a seat. This would have been difficult for us, being a group of 10 people…
Sunday morning, we met a 5 am to arrive at the gate of Taj Mahal as one of the first. When we arrived at 5:10 am, we joined a group of 4 people. The plan worked well to see Taj Mahal without many tourists. We had to wait until 6 am until the gate officially opened. In the mean time, about 200-300 people queued behind us, with the same goal to enter Taj Mahal as one of the first of the day. The Taj Mahal, one of the 7 new wonders of the world, is a symbol for eternal love: The Mogul built this mausoleum for his wive, who gave him 14 children, to demonstrate how much he loved her. – Visiting the Taj Mahal in the early morning was a good advise I read in multiple places: There were fewer people than can be expected later in the day. Even so important is that temperatures were not yet so hot at this time.
In Fatehpur Sikri, another huge fort, we then experienced a site around mid-day, which was very hot. As visitors have to take their shoes off, they layed carpets on the floor so people can cross the big areas barefoot without burning their feet due to the heat on the ground…
The last stop was at the Stepwell in Abhaneri, about 100 km before Jaipur. These world heritage listed steppwell is a huge water storage. People used the stairs to walk down to the water level to collect water. This Stepwell is very attractive from a design point of view, creating nice regular patterns.
This weekend finished our first week in India. Our CSC team was able to recharge our batteries in order to be ready for week 2 where we continue working with our four NGO partners.
Time flies. Natasja and I have spent a significant amount of time doing interviews with our client. We also did a good amount of research on the internet about the ecosystem our client is embedded in, to get an external view to the company. As a result, we have a much better understanding of the company, it’s challenges and how we plan to perform the following three weeks for our strategy review.
Today, we were presented with our office. This will be a good place for taking interviews with employees and partners in different roles, located at or visiting the headquarters. We are in the fortunate situation that our room is air conditioned and breezy. At temperatures of 36°C around mid day, this is a great comfort for us two Europeans…
During this week, I learned a lot more about India, it’s people and it’s culture. One thing which is very refreshing are the vibrant colours you discover in various places like temples, plants, colourful sarees, etc. I discovered that the neighbour building of our client processes colour powder, apparently mainly used in templates. For a while, they leave the coloured material on the roof to let it dry. As a next step, this material is going to be processed to a finer grain, before it will be packaged and sold to it’s customers.
The first week is now almost over. Tomorrow, we will be heading to Agra for a 2-day trip. Sunday morning, we plan to see the famous Taj Mahal at sunrise. I look forward to a very interesting weekend with all 10 of us IBM CSC India 32 team members!
Today was the first day we were with our client CECEODECON (Centre for Community Economics & Development Consultants Society). It took us one hour from the hotel to their headquarter office. Half of the time was lost as the taxi driver did not find the address of our client. I must admit that the numbering system of buildings was not clear to me either. Our taxi frequently stopped the car in the street to ask people of the way to our destination. After a while, and some phone calls with Manish, the CEO of CECEODECON, Manish promised to send someone to pick us up. As we were in the morning rush hour, the streets were full of cars, motorbikes, some camels, cows and a huge number of pedestrians. I was wondering how they will find us. While waiting, a motorbike rider stopped in front of our car checking us up in the car. It took a moment for us to realise that this was the person Manish sent to guide us to his office.
We finally made it to his office in the basement. We were introduced to Sharad Joshi, the founder of CECEODECON. We had long and very informative sessions that allowed us to better understand the client, its core capabilities and its challenges. It was an intense day with loads of new information to digest.
On the way home, we witnessed a procession for the Ganesh Chaturthi festival, a Hindu festival in honour of the elegant-headed god Ganesha. In the front, there was a car playing loud music, followed by about 200 people all in a special bright red gear. This procession stopped the entire traffic as they crossed a main street. Interestingly, all cars stopped, waiting the procession to cross the street. No horns were used at this time and I did not see motorbikes squeezing in between the cars. I also discovered an elephant which likely was decorated for the festival, with a painted tail and some coloured stars on his legs…