Dear design and engineering friends of mine that I’ve worked with these past years in the US. I write this post as an apology. I write this post to allow you to laugh at me and my claims that landmark based navigation systems today work! While I do think they can be made to work – they don’t today unless you are an insider! Bangalore is barely filled with insiders anymore … given the influx of people from around the world. Nevertheless .. laugh away!
I remember spending hours at brainstorming sessions at my workplace in California with some of the most awesomesssttt engineers and designers – discussing location based services and interactions. I used to argue vehemently about how landmark based navigation systems were so much more meaningful than traditional maps. I remember how every chance he’d get, my husband would tell anyone who came home or sat across us at dinner, about how I was directionally challenged and for the first few years of my grad school life in Pitt – I would always feel like I’m going North no matter which way I was actually headed. UP = NORTH. It always felt like I was going UP somewhere. Dumb as that sounds – it was sorta kinda true!! (Not really!). We didn’t really grow up with maps. We grew up with landmarks in India. Many of you reading this blog will find this coming statement familiar: “Madam, please go down that road to that Maharaja store that used to be there (like 5 yrs ago or something!) and then take a right at that florist’s on the sidewalk. You’ll see a board that says Doctor so & so .. ask them where the blue building is and they’ll tell you. We’re right across from that building.” Somehow that made soooooo much sense to me. So much sense that I used to argue vehemently for incorporating landmark based navigational systems in the products I was designing for in the US.
Ahem!!! Fast forward a few months .. few years .. to this past week. The words “keep on coming madam, just keep on coming” are still ringing in my ears. I’ve been lost for 7 of the first 14 days I was here. Literally I think. If I calculated the number of hours I just spent being lost – that should account for 7 days I think. At least it feels that way. Bangalore, thankfully, unlike Bombay or Chennai has numbered roads. 1st Main road, 2nd Main road and so on. And then there are cross streets for each main road. So there’s 1st Cross street and 2nd cross street and so on. It all sounds pretty simple except for 4 caveats:
- Just because there’s a 1st cross street doesn’t mean there’s a 2nd cross street. You might just see 5 or 6 cross street. Don’t know why those numbers disappear but they just do.
- Next, just because you see a 1st cross street – doesn’t mean it belongs to the main road you are on. If there are 2 main roads parallel to each other, this cross street could belong to either!!! So you might not actually be in the cross street belonging to the main road you are on!
- Third, your cross street might actually belong to another neighborhood!!! So while you might be on the right main road belonging to the neighborhood Indiranagar, the cross street might belong to another neighborhood HAL 3rd stage or something else!!!!!
- Lastly, a cross street might belong to no main road and just to a neighborhood!!! For eg: I live in 1st cross street, Cambridge Layout!!!! Oh yes and did I mention that each neighborhood has both a name and belongs to some layout!!!
OK DEEP BREATH! So here’s what happened one afternoon. I was trying to find a place selling cheap bath tubs – we won’t go into the story of why my daughter refuses to bathe these days … most of you can guess. But that I’ll save for another day. So I get on the phone and here’s the conversation:
Me: “Hi, I’m on my way to your shop, I’m on 6th Main Road at the intersection of 6 and 1st cross, can you tell me how to get to your shop?”
Her: “Ma’am can you tell me where you are?”
Me: Breaaaathe!! Breaaaathe!!! It’s only been 30 mins since you’ve been searching for this place. Yday was 1 hour. It’s getting better. “Umm .. ok let me repeat myself .. I’m at BLAH BLAH”
Her: “What do you see ma’am”
Me: “What do you mean, I see a lot of things.”
Her: “Do you see ABC Hospital ma’am? Just keep coming down from there”
Me: “No I don’t see it. Can you tell me the nearest intersection to your place on 6th please?”
Her: “I don’t know ma’am. Can you just tell me what you see?”
At this point I’m annoyed, angry, ready to scream. But I patiently start reading everything I see around me – all the boards.
Her: “Ah ok ma’am keep coming. We’ll be there on that street.”
Me: “I’ve been coming on this road for a while now, keep coming where.”
Her: “Ma’am just keep coming!”
Me: “OK I’m at the end of that road. I have not seen your store.”
Her: “Ma’am just keep coming!”
Me: “OK thanks and I slam the frekkkkin phone down”
I hang up. I’m red with anger. I have nowhere to go. I sit there in my car and my driver looks even more frustrated than I. I look around over and over again. What did I miss. And I see the store tucked away in the cross street going away from the main road I was on. Random luck that I spotted it.
I walked into the store and the 5 sales people in the store and the 3 other customers in there looked at me as though I was mad or something. Apparently it was simple. They were all insiders .. I was not!
This has been my life navigating this city. I don’t know landmarks. I don’t understand where they all want me to come. I don’t understand why they can’t talk intersections. Why don’t know the right name of the street they are on, or why it doesn’t matter. I just keep on going .. and if I get lucky .. I have a sighting!
On my way back home that day .. I heard an ad on the radio – apparently there’s a service for finding your way around the city. Call some 5454 something .. I guess I’ll try that the next time. Google maps has failed me pretty much every time!!