On Independence Day, I was the only Indian in a roomful of Chinese diners eating dal-roti in Chongqing, the world's largest megalopolis by the muddy Yangtze. This new eatery with its television tuned to Bollywood love songs is the only visible Indian presence in China's fastest urbanising sprawl of 32 million people, equivalent to combining Mumbai and Kolkata.
Beyond Beijing and Shanghai, tier-II cities like Chengdu, a short bullet train ride away from Chongqing, are aggressively promoting their economic zones to attract Indian industry.
Chongqing, which makes the world's personal computers and cheap motorcycles and promotes itself as the Shanghai of China's emerging western inland, is still waking up to India.
If you go in search of the Indian business ties with its double-digit GDP, propaganda officials will direct you to a tiny corner desk in the foreign trade and economic relations commission.
"Chongqing's infrastructure companies are interested in India,'' said section officer Xiong Yaozhi. "But there are limitations." The official raised the issue of about 25,000 Chinese construction workers being sent back from India in 2009-10 for working without correct employment visas. The visa processing complaints from both Indians and Chinese have declined but not disappeared.
"Our workers are skilled,'' Xiong argued. "Construction projects cannot be completed on deadline without them.''
India last year eased the one per cent quota on foreign nationals in a project workforce and clarified its visa policy in business campaigns across China. Chongqing, famed for building dozens of bridges and a new subway network slicing its hilly topography, seems intent on doing business by the old rules.
Xiong's interpreter read aloud the local economy's latest trends on India. "In 2010, there were no new investors,'' he said. "This year, no new investors.'' The office dug out the number of India companies in Chongqing - three - dealing with animal products and marble. Chongqing and India posted trade worth 101 million dollars this year. Chongqing exported 85 million dollars of this amount including motorcycle parts, silk and antibiotics. The main import from India: raw cotton.
However, at least one Indian businessman and his Chinese investors in Chongqing are notching a trade surplus. "We've opened six restaurants in China, one every six months,'' said R Khanduri at Caicai. Their hit product: the humble mango lassi.