I managed to get out of Delhi for a bit after a jam-packed few days celebrating my cousin brother’s wedding and spending the week prior in Mumbai. I was off to Bengaluru (Bangalore) for Carnegie India’s Global Technology Summit, followed by a few days by the beach in Goa. Life is hard, I know.
I must admit, I hadn’t been looking forward to this trip. I think it was a combination of exhaustion from Mumbai and the chaos of a Punjabi wedding, but also because I don’t really care much for Bangalore. I came once before with my parents almost exactly 5 years ago. Though it was warm and very green, it was also incredibly congested and I remember spending much of the trip stuck in traffic. My roommate convinced me to attend the free conference, and it fit in well with my already existing Goa plans. It didn’t hurt that the conference was taking place at The Leela Palace Bengaluru. I also thought the trip could be a good opportunity to compare Bangalore and San Francisco’s tech scene, despite my love-hate relationship with the tech industry as a whole.
Long story short, it was pretty cool.
The conference was two full days of panel sessions on a pretty wide variety of topics, including strong undertones of Indo-Japanese relations, with Japan being the country sponsor of the conference--something I definitely plan to look into further. Highlights included an incredibly interesting talk by a VP of Olacabs (a Bangalore-based rideshare company, similar to Uber) on some research findings that led to their new product, OlaPlay, which essentially gives the passenger a tablet allowing them to control various aspects (temperature, music etc) of their ride from the comfort of the backseat. There was also an interesting session on the rise (and encouragement) of electic vehicles in India (apparently there is a goal to be ‘all-electric’ by 2030) and bicycle sharing.
Bengaluru ‘Namma’ Metro
Before the second day began, I checked out the Bengaluru Metro, also known as the Namma Metro, which opened six years ago. Phase I of the Namma Metro completed in June of this year, with two operational lines. After regularly riding the Delhi Metro and also exploring the Mumbai Metro for a few days, I didn’t expect to be surprised by the Namma Metro and was mainly curious to explore the boundary between the general and women-only compartments (this was an interesting differential point in Mumbai, more on that later). I also wanted to add another Metro card to my collection!
So, turns out there actually isn’t a women-only car in Bangalore...yet. It’s supposed to launch in December of this year, after they add more coaches. Currently there are only 3 coaches per train and surveys are being conducted to understand female ridership better and implement one or two women-only coaches based on ridership data. But based on my limited experiences in Bangalore thus far at this point and the fact the compartment doesn't yet exist, I wondered if a women-only compartment was even needed in Bangalore.
Security on the Namma Metro was also an interesting an unexpectedly pleasant experience. In both Delhi and Mumbai, both men and women have to deposit their bags in the X-Ray bag scanner and proceed to be pat-down while the bag is being scanned. I imagine this is done to save time, but is particularly annoying for women, as our pat-down is conducted in a closed-off booth with a curtain (for privacy? Modesty? Unclear). Though the booth does have a little slot out of which you can see your bag, I still get a bit nervous about my bag and belongingss when things are crowded. So, I normally carry my wallet and phone in my hand while my bag is scanned and I’m pat-down.
Now, Bangalore has got this system DOWN. First, you send your bag through the scanner, pick it up, and THEN proceed to the pat-down and only after security is complete do you purchase a ticket--not the case in both Delhi and Mumbai where security and ticket purchasing is all in the same general area.
Bangalore was, however, weird about me having a camera in my backpack and made me sign into a book claiming I had one. Interesting because there were no signs prohibiting photography, but Delhi Metro is very strict about ‘no photography’ signage, but I’ve never run into issues while carrying my camera (and even taking some photos in stations).
Being the tech city it is, Bangalore’s Metro stations had all sorts of interesting nuggets showcasing its newest and latest innovations (just like another city I know…) Some favorite finds were a grocery service, which is available in four Bengaluru Metro stations, and the presence of Ola share flat fare zone.
From a personal perspective, my general experience of riding the Namma Metro was a little uneasy. I think after Delhi, I’ve suddenly found myself reliant on the women-only coach in certain situations.
Knowing that I was going straight to the conference after my metro excursion and then straight to the train station after the conference, I packed up my duffle bag for my fellow Fulbrighter travel companions to bring to the conference and left the hotel/Airbnb wearing my conference clothes--a knee-length dress with tights and a sweater on top. I don’t typically wear dresses above my calf in India (definitely not in Delhi) but felt okay in Bangalore, perhaps because I’ve repeatedly been told South India is a bit safer than Delhi and because I imagined it would be a bit more western, given its tech presence. I was also in Mumbai less than two weeks ago and felt almost too conservatively dressed there, and I figured it wouldn't matter as much in the women-only coach, anyway.
Once I saw there wasn’t a women-only compartment, I immediately wished I had opted to wear jeans or leggings and a kurta. But I hadn’t. So off I went.
Now, I’m not sure if it’s because I was already feeling a little uncomfortable about my dress and tights, or because I’m very obviously North Indian, don’t speak Kannada (to be fair, I think the language diversity of Bangalore is continually and quickly evolving due to the migrant tech-force) or if it was actually the clothes, but I definitely felt more stares than compared to the Delhi Metro. This was unexpected and also made me wonder if maybe a women-only compartment actually is needed in Bangalore after all.