A sugarcane juice seller - the press extracts juice from the raw cane.

Silk Saris, and Psychologists: Apr. 24th
An Adventure! Today I get to play host to two businessmen from America, one an Indian expatriate, the other an American psychology professor with "experience in El Salvador".
After a few unsuccessful attempts, I’m beginning to realize the difficulty in introducing American business people to India. Winston Churchill remarked that "India was a mystery wrapped up in an enigma." Churchill certainly wasn’t an India-phile, but I think he captured the essence of what it is like to comprehend India. Folks come from America, armed with the latest article from Wired magazine, or the latest Newsweek blurb, and their goal is to understand India and its business climate in one or two days. They come with the best of intentions; be charitable and be positive. Then severe cultural shock and sensory overload hits. Since they cannot recover in two or three days, they leave with the typical reactions, profound sadness at the poverty and "the cheapness of human life", surprise at how easy it is to get sick from the food, and disgust for the dirt and filth. The professor is more educated than most and is interested in exploring "the real India" (whatever that is?!). He will be here for a week instead of two days; not enough time to absorb India, but enough time to realize some truths.
The adventure today is to get my friend Subramanium to take the visitors to Dodballapur, which is a small town about an hour and a half outside of Bangalore. Subramanium’s father-in-law runs a silk factory there, converting raw silk into finished saris. Of all our journeys around Bangalore, Dodballapur is my favorite place to visit, and Subramanium’s father-in-law is my favorite "uncle " to hang out with.
The Bangalore area has one major industry besides software; it has silk. The mulberry bush grows well here, and silkworm cultivation abounds. Dodballapur is the center of silk weaving and all over town, as you wander through the alleyways you hear the guttural sounds of the looms going "chinka-ta, chinka-ta". Everyone here is involved with the silk trade, they grow it, they extract the silk from the cocoons, dye the thread, and weave it into saris. Silk weaving is a profitable enterprise, largely because of the machinery overhead involved, and its corresponding barrier to entry.
Uncle owns a small silk factory on the ground floor of his house. As we come into the living room on the upper floor we feel the floor vibrating as the looms spin below. The obligatory introductions and namastes are performed, the TV is turned on to give us the most luxurious hospitality (a cricket game), and polite chitchat ensues. Subramanium’s daughter, 6 year old Kitne, and the youngest love of my life, comes into the room and we get to know each other again.
While I am playing finger games with Kitne, uncle and Subramanium take our visitors on a tour of the plant. The first step in silk processing once the cocoon has been made is to boil the cocoons, extracting the cream-yellow thread. A subcontractor bleaches these skeins and provides them to uncle. His female staff, aged 12 to 25, will wind the thread onto an available "pandi", small one foot wheels attached to a rotating shaft. The thread is wound from the pandi on to bobbins. As the pandi runs out, a new skein is added and tied on the bobbin in a fluid quick motion. Slowly, bobbins and bobbins build up in a box in the corner, waiting for dyeing, or to be incorporated into virginal white fabric.
The next room contains the weaving machines, fed by a huge motor with an AC generator. The noise is deafening. The American comments "I’m sure that they must lose their sense of hearing", without noticing the small dabs of cotton wool plugged into the worker’s ears. One machine is taking "jheera", a pseudo gold-thread, and weaving an intricate paisley border on a plain white background. The weaver plays the loom like a harpist; the shuttle moves back and forth, while the strings are plucked and moved. My favorite weaves that uncle makes are the two colors where he weaves one color for the warp, such as indigo purple, and another color for the woof, such as emerald green. These saris fascinate me; they are iridescent, and always catch my eye when Indian women wear them at weddings.
The next stop is uncle’s cousin’s factory. This is a larger commercial concern. Here over a 1000 workers are employed, and the machines are more sophisticated since they use colored threads and punched plastic cards to determine what pattern is weaved. The professor gleefully announces that he is witnessing the birth of the Industrial Revolution in India and comments on how punched cards for weaving led to Hollerith cards and the birth of modern computing. What he misses in his dismay at the "industrial conditions" (including padlocked doors to the factory) is that the business has a turnover of 30 to 40 crore a year ($10 million), has a profit of 40 to 50%, and has had the same machinery for the last 20 years, with no need to upgrade. Uncle’s cousin is a millionaire several times over. He looks like a pauper dressed in his dhoti, with his thick glasses, his dirty brown bare feet, and his tea stained teeth. In truth he is a much richer man than the American, who still hasn’t caught on that all is not as it seems in India.
The next stop is for the professor’s benefit - a visit to the local rural college that is about the size of a small American high school. 1000 high school students and 750 college students get their degrees from this place. We wander around the forlorn halls (it’s summer vacation), see the chemistry lab (a roomful of different solutions and a few Bunsen burners), the physics lab (lots of micrometers, and optical equipment) and the computer science lab (6 PCs running various office applications). The teachers have found us by this time, and they are telling the story of the college; it caters to poor rural children who cannot afford to go to school in Bangalore. They have very little money so what they concentrate on is largely symbolic science instead of experimental science. Meanwhile I am totally distracted by the 20 or so rhesus monkeys that are clambering over the desks, checking out my computer bag, teasing me and running away, and generally doing what monkeys do. They are very, very tame and I can almost (but won’t) touch them.
Subramanium finds the principal of the college and we enter his office, and sit down and have tea. The professor asks simple questions and doesn’t ask much about the curriculum (later he confessed that "the principal looked like another dumb Indian"). The principal wearing a lunghi, a ragged shirt, and missing most of his teeth, asks an aide to bring down his doctoral thesis, dust it off, and show it to the professor. The title is "Singularity and stability in Einstein’s theory of general relativity" and it uses some very impressive tensor algebra that was all the rage forty years ago when the thesis was done. I tell the principal that I would like to come back and show off Mathematica and its tensor package, and he replies that he would like to show me how he uses Maple and Matlab (Mathematica’s competitors). The American is now beginning to clue in that all is not as it seems.
Then comes the best highlight of the day, lunch back at uncle’s place. It turns out that lunch includes coconut pancakes (known as holige or obbatu). This is one of my favorite South Indian dishes, and only Subramanium’s wife and Pratap’s wife have the skill and patience to make them. I’m in heaven. We teach the professor how to eat buttered rice with his fingers. He doesn’t do it well, but he won’t starve. I believe he will come to appreciate India.
The last time I visited uncle he offered me paan, an after-dinner digestive made of lime-paste (lime the mineral, not lime the fruit), betel nut, and spices. Since I wanted to avoid getting sick, and I wasn’t sure how toxic lime-paste was, I demurred till "next time we visit". Fortunately today uncle is out of paan.
The meal being over, it is time to leave. We put on our shoes and say our final good-byes. I must give bittersweet hugs to Kitne, and I grab her hands and spin her around like an airplane. Her response is always the same, "more Rounding, uncle, more Rounding".