On Our Way

[Editor's note: This post was written before Mitra's trip to India began and before the scope of the earthquake disaster in India and Pakistan was fully known worldwide. Her first post from India will be presented as soon as she has settled in.]

Yet again I am surrounded by suitcases and piles of clothing -- the bright pinks and oranges and magentas of East and the tans and blacks and navys of West -- and engaging in the giving and taking that foreshadows the semiannual rite of my hyphenated life: a trip to India.

S. Mitra KalitaWill I really wear these jeans? Or should I pack another salwar kameez? What's the point of taking so many saris if I still can't wrap myself in them properly?

These are familiar questions, posed since I was a little girl spending summer vacations in the land of my parents' birth. But as I look around my bedroom, I am struck by a stark difference between then and now.

There are no Nikes. No Walkmans. No Tang. No Pringles. No Guess. No Gap. No Minoltas. No socks. No razor blades. No microwaves (I swear we took one once.)

In fact, I am taking no gifts, just a few requested items for my husband's cousin's family, who are hosting me. Among them: a Bose iPod speaker and Livestrong wristbands. I do not have an iPod and didn't know what the heck those bands were. Already, this American cousin feels she has been living in the Dark Ages.

I think I might be feeling that way quite a bit in the days to come. The country I visit now is not the same one my parents left behind in the early 1970s.

In 1991, its foreign exchange reserves near depleted, India agreed to open up its borders to qualify for World Bank and International Monetary Fund loans. That allowed products from cans of Coke to computers to cars to flood the world's second most-populous country. That allowed me to finally "travel light," allowed my cousins and aunts and uncles to buy their own brand names, and created an information-technology and services sector that Americans might interact with when they call customer service or tech support. Other ways India is impacting our lives might not be as obvious, but legal research, medical-records transcription and tax preparation are increasingly being "outsourced" to Indian workers, tasks often performed while most Americans sleep.

For the next eight weeks, I will be in India -- accompanied by Post photographer Andrea Bruce for much of that time -- as we attempt to tell stories from a country in transition. We plan to write a handful of stories for The Post, mainly through Washington-area companies and individuals with business interests in India. Many of these companies are abandoning outsourcing of their work to Indian firms in order to open their own offshore offices in India. In the process, they are attempting to integrate workforces and workplace cultures thousands of miles and several time zones apart. We plan to report on some of these efforts from Delhi, Pune, Bangalore and Chennai.

We will blog as often as we can or see fit. In mid-November, my blogging will likely take a break as I visit family in Assam, a province in India's northeast region better known for tea than tech. It will be my first trip "home" since my marriage to my husband, who also lives a hyphenated life, and the birth of our daughter, Naya, a third-generation Indian-American.

That reminds me I need to get back to packing. How many diapers does a 13-month-old need for eight weeks?

Actually, I'll just take enough for the plane ride and the first few days. Everyone tells me I can get Huggies over there cheaper.

By S. Mitra Kalita |  October 8, 2005; 12:34 PM ET  | Category:  Introduction
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