February 20, 2009
Visiting India: Oscar-nominated Slumdog Millionaire
This past year I worked on a project with a large financial services firm and spent hours with our technology teams everyday. Most of my meetings were in rooms discussing system functionality with dozens of men and women from various parts of India. They lived in the Bay Area with the help of working visas and spent months on projects with firms like mine. I met so many interesting and talented people with first names like Manali, Samatha, Saroja, Preeta, Ali, Lakshmi and Rama.
The men and women I worked with gave me such a wonderful impression of the Indian people. They were warm and giving, almost to a fault when it came to deadlines. They did not like disappointing anyone. Many would offer to share some of their food that they had brought from home for lunch. All were ready with a genuine smile that was difficult to resist. They made the time spent there pass by quickly.
In 2008 we saw the amazing success of a little film called Slumdog Millionaire. It was a surprise hit after showing at both the Telluride Film Festival and the Toronto International Film Festival. Now it is nominated for ten Academy Awards, including Best Picture and it has won five Critics' Choice Awards, four Golden Globes and seven BAFTA Awards, including Best Film.
Add that to the fact that my favorite movie from 2007 was The Darjeeling Limited. This film directed by Wes Anderson, and starring Owen Wilson, Adrien Brody, and Jason Schwartzman was visually stunning. I became hooked on the notion of making travel plans to visit India right away. Seeing the colors, experiencing the long single shots on the train caught my attention more than any season of the Amazing Race.
Now comes the next step - planning for this visit so that my experience is authentic and filled with all the wonderful smells, people and color from the movies and from the stories told by colleagues. One new friend suggested that I stay with her family in Mumbai. She said that they have an apartment that is kept just for visitors. She also said that even if she was not there, her parents would welcome me.
Having learned the importance of small gifts and omiyagi in Japan, I asked what sort of gift of thanks would be appreciated in India. Small San Francisco gifts, including mini-photos of the Golden Gate Bridge and little desk calendars with San Francisco landmarks were enjoyed whenever we returned from a trip. Since it is a long flight and traveling light is key, the question is what can be carried safely and make it through Customs?
Searching online, most of the information is related to business travel. The list of gifts includes Cross Pens, digital cameras and Cognac. However most of these probably would not be that appropriate for this sort of trip. Traveling with bottles of California wine sound iffy since they may break, though they may be from local wineries. And again we have Customs questions. Since we would be going to stay with people in major cities, it does not seem appropriate to bring items more suited to a poor village.
Harmony and Karma
Bringing a gift is something that feels appropriate and in today's world an important gesture. Anything to further harmony between countries in this time of healing after an administration that seemed intent on dividing us. Starting our visit to India on the right foot and reaching out to embrace this country and its people is key to a successful trip. I'm sure with our planning well underway for this excursion, we will find something in time that will be appreciated. It is very exciting to imagine visiting these lovely people and experiencing this incredible culture in person. It will be life changing.