Lately I’ve been waking up at 4am, due to complete silence. It makes uneasy. Bangalore is nothing if not noisy. Cars honking, dogs barking, the tones of voices speaking in a language you don’t know. No pressure to interpret, to understand, just the comfort of a voice. It’s like hearing the instrumental version of a pop song you don’t remember well enough to fill in the words. At 4am there is none of that. I lie there waiting for some sound to reassure me that the city didn’t disappear in the night.
In contrast, I’d like it if I could disappear into this city. I sit in the back of an uber, and feel giant. In Seattle the car could be defined as “compact”, but in Bangalore, its four doors and five seats make it unwieldy. Traffic isn’t at a standstill, the bikes and rickshaws zoom past, but the car is. It can’t maneuver the lane changes or tight turns the Bangalore roads bend into.
This feeling of obtrusiveness follows me long after I’ve left the uber and the traffic behind. I am clearly a foreigner. I know it, and so does this city.
Uncomfortable with discomfort itself, I avert my eyes when I feel stares as I walk down the street, through a mall, or to the back of a convenience store to use the employee bathroom. I want to blend into the walls the way words spoken in Kannada blend in my ears. I want to see Bangalore from the inside.
These wishes remind me of my GCIL internship, which began this week. My team is working in sustainable affordable housing. A large part of our project is to find new, unique building materials that could fit this criteria. This “cutting edge” approach seems to be at odds with what I have seen on site visits to the slums the houses are for. Here space is so valuable that walls are shared by multiple homes. All of your neighbors must agree with the plans for your new house, so "newness" is not easily implemented. One home we see has a grey paint coating the mud bricks underneath. It’s camouflaged as concrete; pretending to be something more widespread and understood. But after a few years, this paint has begun to flake off, revealing the light brown mud underneath.
Even if I could become a part of Bangalore, how long would that last? We are only here for about another month and half. I try to barter with rickshaw drivers, I try to eat spicier food. But in the end, I always hop in another enormous uber to another pizza place, because the car is a set price and the food is bland.
Would I let Bangalore absorb me if it offered? I wish I could spend a day like I’d lived here my whole life. And yet, when my equally foreign friends are asked to be in a photo by a group of strangers, I feel oddly jealous to be looking on from the sidelines.