Reflections on Mumbai and Bangalore


The group! (photo credit: Kristin Johnson)

A little more than a week ago, my classmates from GIP India and I made the long journey back to NYC, some for the first time in several weeks after taking advantage of the opportunity to travel, job hunt, take block week courses on campus, plan and attend weddings, and in one student’s case, participate in a 10-day meditation retreat.  It’s great to see some new friendly faces around campus, and we’ll all be seeing quite a bit more of each other as we finish up our projects on reverse innovation and get together for a reunion dinner in a couple of weeks.

I haven’t yet talked much about the cities that we visited on the trip, but we roughly split our time between Mumbai, the “financial capital of India,” and Bangalore, the “technology capital of India.”  The cities were a fascinating study in contrasts and contradictions that somehow seemed to work…to an extent, at least.  In a country of over a billion people that’s rapidly growing, urbanizing, becoming more educated, and more, it would be an understatement to say that such development is fraught with challenges.  On the other hand, this also means a potentially huge opportunity for the entrepreneur with the right idea and ability to execute.

With possible brief exceptions in Sao Paulo and Seoul, I’ve never seen so many people in one place as in Mumbai.  I arrived and was immediately struck by the number of people in and around the streets, the homes and businesses one after (and on top of) the next…if I’d ever questioned whether there could really be seven billion people in the world, I questioned no more.  I was also struck by the hospitality; all of the employees at the hotels, restaurants, and companies were extremely friendly and available to assist us at every turn.  The food was delicious, and there were so many new things to try that I wasn’t even able to keep up with it all 🙂 Shopping here was a new experience; with a little help, I was able to bargain successfully for a few items while braving the throngs of mostly friendly vendors as well as men, women, and children trying to sell their items for the rupee equivalent of a few dollars or less.  There is a sense of grandeur to be found in Mumbai with its colonial architecture, and tranquility to be found in places like the beaches and fishing villages that we passed along the way.


A craftsman in Dharavi Slum


Girl in Mumbai (photo credit: Kristin Johnson)

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Tourists and locals mingle in Mumbai (photo credit: Roberto Tribioli)

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The city at night (photo credit: Roberto Tribioli)

I think that when we all got off the plane in Bangalore, some of us were surprised at how non-chaotic it felt.  Where was the traffic? Where are the slums?  (This was a noticeably different experience from leaving the Mumbai airport, where there are slums in close proximity).  As we drove around for company visits the next day, parts of the city felt a bit reminiscent of Silicon Valley or Tel Aviv.  We drove by gardens and countless signs advertising for global technology companies.  I didn’t see as many signs of extreme wealth or extreme poverty as in Mumbai; evidence of a growing middle class seemed a lot more visible in the city center.  The nightlife was fun but it felt a little more low-key as bars have to close at 11pm.

That’s not to say that in a city with roughly 8-10 million people (in the greater metropolitan area), the chaos isn’t there.  After the conclusion of our immersion course, a classmate and I decided to venture to some of the markets that are not usually visited by tourists.  The markets were vast and we were hit with a burst of color and scents upon arrival.  Something that struck me was that for as disorganized as the market may appear, with vendors camping out on the floor, they seemed to take their jobs very seriously, with produce in very neat piles.  We also inevitably encountered the difficult traffic that India is known for (it took us about an hour to drive several kilometers) and breathed in more exhaust than I’d like to think about – however, while that trip would have cost a fortune with a NYC cab, we paid just a few dollars to our tuk-tuk (a three-wheeler used in many Asian cities) driver.  We also crossed the street several times, which requires paying very close attention as there are few stoplights.  I was thankful for some of the Indians who helped us figure out the best time to cross, but I have never had so many vehicles whizzing past me in such close proximity!

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Riding in a tuk-tuk (photo credit: Ira Simkovitch)


Buying spices at the market


Cow in the road

I think that India is a perfect location to take an immersion course, and we all felt that the course provided a truly valuable opportunity to study business and culture in an important global market.  One student commented that he was “amazed by the level of innovation in the Indian start-up scene and by the social impact of every company that we visited.”  In my personal life, one of my biggest mentors at my first job out of college was from India, and I’ll always remember how he advocated and put his reputation on the line for me at work, and the example that that leaves me with as I mentor others.  I’ve been truly inspired by this trip, and hope that I’ll have the opportunity to come back and experience more of this country someday.