As part of production support for your project, someone needs to regularly visit India and see what's going on. Every time the word someone is uttered, it's safe to assume they mean you. Once again you went to India to shake hands and drink tea.
You caught an afternoon flight via Dubai to Ahmedabad, arriving in the morning, and drove down to Vadodara. This was a slightly more comfortable option compared to arriving at 3:15am but it did mean there was more traffic. Indian traffic is exactly as bad as every old James Bond movie makes it seem: vehicles, people and cows moving in every direction on both sides of the road with total disregard for road rules or the will to live. It's usually nicer to close you eyes and pretend to be asleep until it's over. In this case, you were bloody tired since the Dubai lounge was being renovated and there was no where to nap. The short nap you did manage to have almost made you miss you flight. Anymore of these kind of antics (missing flights) and you'll get a reputation.
Without going into any specific details of your project — since that would be boring — you actually did some relevant work this time. You've started to remember peoples names, rather than just referring to people as "that Indian bloke". During the first few meetings it became clear you had been sent there on behalf of Engineering to politely explain: no, we can't do you job for you. That may be an exaggeration, but roughly the gist of it.
Several colleges were getting nervous that a certain part could not be made and delivered on time. Naturally management chimed in with wonderful suggestions, such as suggesting shortening a woman's pregnancy to one month by putting nine people on the job. The decision was made to send the forged parts by air freight. It would cost a bomb but get there two months faster. The fact that we don't even have a drawing to describe the parts was overlooked, meaning an unknown object would be sent. The moment was captures in an email from Switzerland mentioning that a UFO would land in India: Unidentified Forged Object. Amusing.
Weekend in Vadodara
Come the weekend — which was a long one by the way — you needed a plan. Since you weren't at all interested in seeing Mumbai and no one from work had any relevant ideas, you turned to Mic for advice. He had lived here for six months and you assumed would have some tips. He emailed the following:
Wow Savli for a long weekend, the dream ;) Yeah I was kind of happy to work on Saturdays there:)
Both Friday and Saturday you spent in the city office. It was a pleasant alternative to wandering the dusty streets in 35°C heat and less of a waste of time than sitting in your hotel all day. The walk there was less than ten minutes from the hotel but was full of... bloody everything Indian. Scooters were squished together, bikes stood blocking what little path was left, tuk-tuk taxis zoomed in and out, and living things loitered wherever space remained. It took time to get used to it.
The company building was a narrow, patchy structure surrounded by similarly slender, patchy structures near a major roundabout. You were happy to find a cool place inside to sit for the day with your new friend Raj from Systems Division. Raj was in the office to catch up on his backlog of work, but ended up napping at his desk.
Sunday morning you set out to see Vadodara city. You left the hotel by foot and followed the main roads towards Sur Sagar Lake. It was still 35°C and sunny, meaning five minutes later you were sticking to your t-shirt. Modi (the Indian PM) was campaigning for a clean-up program, asking the nation to pick up rubbish and sweep the streets. Perhaps his message hadn't yet reached Vadodara because the streets were filled with rubbish, blanked with dust and layered with grime. Maybe this was just normal for India.
The walk to the lake weaved around cluttered pedestrian spaces and crossed through wild traffic. A couple of people were friendly and said hello, but apart from some kids trying to sell you stickers most people ignored you. A couple of kids followed you, tapping you on the arm and begging for money — "unkle, money, dollah, rupee" — but nearby adults usually told them to stop. Generally India is not a country of morning-people, and so things were a little quieter before midday. The streets were still very alive this Sunday morning. It was more than enough for you.
You walked past street barbers, who were shaving men under the shade of a bed sheet suspended between two sticks and the wall behind. You passed countless junk peddlers, sitting on the ground with their collection of metallic nick-nacks. You passed miscellaneous food stalls, who's surrounding ground space was cemented in place by congealed curry residues. You passes hundreds of stray dogs and wild cattle feeding from steaming rubbish piles. You passed carts of grain, shops selling belts, makeshift bike repair corners, dudes sleeping directly in the middle of busy footpaths, and coconuts sitting on blocks of ice being sold as drinks. Between the furiously honking horns and the smell of insence mixed with feceas, it was an assault on all senses.
After about an hour of walking you arrived at the lake. Sur Sagar was a cesspool of green drain water with a statue in the middle. You decided your eyes, ears and nose had taken enough of a beating for one day, and you went back to the hotel for a cold shower. Upon returning you saw just how dirty you were: your ankles had developed a dust line above your socks.
Visiting Suppliers in Pune
Back at work on Monday you heard one of the most Indian comments ever — which, of course, was "not" said at your factory (thusly distancing yourself from any ensuing HR shitstorm). You: "Do I need to wear safety shoes?" Him: "Oh no, our safety audit was yesterday". Incredible... India.
Apparently nothing opens in Vadodara until 11am on weekdays. Consequently, your pre-dawn ride to the airport was very calm. You thought about how much Indian traffic was like a living organism of cells, blood vessels and excretions: all kinds of biology bumping their merry way through the city's arterial roads, all the while producing odd smells and mess. It's not the ordered, engineered, programmed mechanism that is most of modern Europe. The mechanical German style in technical matters sometimes really grind gears when dealing with Indian culture. The friction can cause quite a lot of heat.
Supplier #1 was impressively professional, which doesn't make for a funny story. This was a large-scale operation. They had the biggest hammer you had ever seen, towering twelve meters and exerting 16000 tonnes. The glowing metal billets were moved along the processing line by similarly big robot arms. The setup spat out forged crankshafts every thirty seconds; their biggest single parts measuring 4m.
After seeing the hammer floor and moving on to the secondary processing hall the heavens opened and a year's equivalent of European rain landed on the facorty in thirty minutes. Waterfalls cascaded from the buildings' roofs and lakes welled up in all open spaces. The factory had adequate drainage but the sheer volume of water was overwhelming. Even the Indians seemed impressed, most putting on their 2-wheeler helmets; you hoped it was to keep their heads dry, rather than for fear of the roof collapsing.
At about 7pm, after battling through two kilometers of traffic in an hour, you trundled into the hotel with your two colleges. The first thing on their mind was beer. Gujarat is a dry state, so the only time they drink is on business trips. Eventhough their first every drink had been six months ago, they started hard with double vodka and double wiskey. It was kinda cute when they started asking questions like "how much can you drink?" It would be good for a laugh to send them to Hungary or Poland one day.
The next day you visited a machining shop of questionable safety. Employees worked with no safety glasses — considering how much metal was flying about it seemed relevant — or adequate protective clothing (it was hot after all). You decided to stop looking after seeing two ladies sitting on the metal swarth-strewn ground with no shoes, no glasses and no gloves performing manual granding, with nothing but a knee-high sheet between them to avoid spraying each other with sparks. Moving on...
That evening you visited another supplier who proposed pre-forging parts for machining without actually saving material. When you asked why they don't just flame cut the shape form a block (significantly cheaper) they conceded the point they were adding no value. It wasn't such a bad company but a bit more thinking would have been nice.
Since there were no return flights that late, you drove back to Mumbai. It was an uneventful three hours. On the way there your reservations were changed twice, splitting four people into three hotels. You landed in the Hyatt Grand, the swankiest hotel so far. It had five resturants, three bars and its own internal multi-level shopping centre. After check in you wandered down to the buffet. It was manned by ten chefs in four open kitchens, offering everything from sushi to linguini and a full confectionery of deserts. You wish you had more time to walk about and admire all the hotel's art decorating its massive interior. Oh well... Back to Vadodara, a brief stop in Ahmedabad airport lounge — with its cockroaches and sticky seats — on to Dubai and home.