Calcutta: First Impressions


I’ve been in Calcutta for a grand total of 2 hours and am already amazed at how different it is from anything I’ve seen.  Let me try and explain via a stream of consciousness.

The airport was tiny and archaic.  There were no passport scanners; the customs agents had to type in numbers by hand.  The luggage belt was so small that a man took luggage off at the end of the belt as there wasn’t enough space for them to go around.  The bathroom had an open drain for the urinals: I’ve never seen this before in any airport anywhere.

When I walked out of the airport, I entered chaos.  Two street children-essentially Dickensian urchins-begged me for money until I got into my driver’s car (a beaten up Japanese car).  I was almost hit by a taxi-one of the small army of 1950’s like Ambassadors here-crossing to the parking lot.  When we started driving I learned that you drive here with the horn.

I can feel a headache coming on as the pollution here is terrible.  There’s a haze over the city and all you can smell is diesel.  Moreover, we passed an electronic sign showing pollution levels; some were 3 times higher than they should be.  A couple of other random things seen on the ride: a homeless person lighting a fire in a gutter to keep warm and a team of men paving the road by hand (not one piece of automated machinery).

However, I’m learning that this is a land of contrasts.  As we drove past the slums around the airport (it’s going to take a few more Mother Teresa’s), I couldn’t help but notice all the billboards for IT companies and brand new campus-style office buildings.  Moreover, the hotel I’m in now (Sheraton) is one of the nicest business hotels I’ve ever stayed in-and a room that’s more stylish than any I’ve stayed at in North America.  Finally, I’ve seen two ads for companies that are IPOing and going through the book building process; don’t know if I’ve ever seen that it

I can’t wait to explore the town tomorrow-and more importantly see the infocomm conference here!

Tuesday, December 5, 2006

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