Monday, December 8, 2008

Repatriated

My travels in India are over. I'm back in the US and have been since November 14. I now consider myself fully 'repatriated'.

It took me a while to finish posting my blogs from my Jammu & Kashmir trip, hence the delay in this posting. In short, after roughly 14 months abroad in India, it feels great to be home. I'm enjoying all of the things (tangible and intangible) about my home and the US that I took somewhat for granted when I was living here. I will never take those things for granted ever again!

There are still people who ask me why I went to India and what I was hoping to accomplish from my experience abroad. I wrote an article for the VE India newsletter, Reflections on my India Experience, which I think addresses this question:

It’s hard to believe that my time in India is almost over. It’s just as hard to believe that I’ve been at SAP for 3 years.But the journey has been an exciting one. From my humble beginnings as an intern in VE West (when the entire VE group was just 50 people and we did nothing more than OIs and CVAs) to my transition to the BTS program to my transition to India, I’ve been constantly on the move and learning new things in my time at SAP.

Prior to coming to India in September last year, I had only spent several months in India. In the US, India was just another country and largely not discussed during the 1980s and most of the 1990s. But starting in the late 1990s, the buzz about India began to grow and by about 2006, India’s influence in the American workplace was widely felt. The growth story of India had made its way to the US and I wanted to witness it for myself.


From a work standpoint, the BTS program had proven successful in the US and Latin America and in 2007 it was time to launch the program in India where countless customer success stories were waiting to be told. This was just the opportunity I had been waiting for. Here was an opportunity to launch the BTS program in India and explore the country. I never studied abroad in college nor did I enroll in the Peace Corps (to do 2 year of volunteer work in another country), two things I still regret not having done, so I was determined not to let this opportunity pass by.

Now, one year later, I am quite satisfied with how I have spent this year. We have 1 published Indian BTS and almost 40 studies in the pipeline. The VEI graphics team has come up to speed on publishing BTSs and we are close to securing APJ writers to write the BTSs. We have trained countless India field teams (VE, SE, ISG, AEs, Alliances, etc.) on the BTS / i‐BTS process. As we like to say in VE terms, ‘BTS’ is now in the APJ ‘DNA’.

Personally, I have visited numerous cities all over India, seen relatives I haven’t seen in years, attended weddings, launched the India chapter of HealthCare Volunteer(
www.healthcarevolunteer.com), made great friends, and collected countless memories. And I’ve even learned a bit of Hindi. So when people ask me about my year in India, I don’t exaggerate when I say that this has been the best year of my life. I’ve confirmed my passion for international life and look forward to new adventures in my next trip abroad, whenever and wherever that may be.


As you can see from the article, I was very pleased with my India experience. However, certain things could have been better. Mainly, I could have done more for HealthCare Volunteer in India and I could have learned more Hindi through formal classes.


Blogging

In addition, I'm quite pleased with the way this blog turned out. Here are the final stats:

Blogging started out as an experiment and has emerged as a real hobby for me. I'm happy with all of the positive feedback I've received and thank all of my readers for reading and commenting on my blog over the last 15 months.

Likes, Dislikes, and Impressions

This blog would certainly not be complete without an honest, brief account of my likes and dislikes about India. These are simply the first thoughts that come to mind:

India - Likes

  • Music
  • Festivals (especially firecrackers & Diwali)
  • Smiling faces
  • Adventure
  • Rickshaws
  • Cheap living
  • Bollywood (and Bollywood actresses ;)
  • Languages - in terms of variety and sweetness of sound
  • Regional diversity
  • Rawness of life
  • Rich history
  • Optimism about the future
  • Practical thinking
  • Negotiation practice
  • Emphasis on family relationships
  • Conservative values
  • Style

India - Dislikes

  • Lateness (i.e. IST)
  • Disorderly conduct: pushing or cutting in lines, littering
  • Lack of infrastructure
  • Lack of privacy
  • Corruption
  • Indirect communication style
  • Lack of integrity
  • Disregard for health and safety (i.e. seat belts, helmets, safe driving, see here)
  • Poor hygiene practices
  • Herd mentality
  • Penny pinching
  • Pollution
  • Extreme weather (dust storms, torrential downpours, fierce wind, searing heat, etc.)
  • Lack of civic sense and ownership of problems / passing the buck
  • Heavily segmented society
  • Not enough English
  • Terrorism

Of course, the list could grow infinitely longer in both categories if I had all the time in the world to think about it. And, with India changing as much as it is, items from both lists will surely switch places - a like can easily become a dislike and visa-versa.

Nevertheless, it feels wonderful to be back in the USA. There is nowhere on earth where I feel more comfortable. I have proven throughout my life that I can turn almost any place into home, but the USA, and California in particular, is one place where I don't have to 'try' to make it home. It just is. To get back into shape, I've been walking or jogging around my neighborhood everyday. I always appreciated the beautiful neighborhood I grew up in, but after spending so much time in India my appreciation for Los Gatos grew manifold. I captured some of the beauty in these pictures of my neighborhood on one of my morning walks.

The Future

I am enrolling at the University of Pennsylvania this January to begin a Masters in Biotechnology. I'm really excited about the classes and the field in general, but am not so excited about having to find a place and get setup in a new city (feels like I just did this).

However, I am pleased to let you know that while Rickety Rickshaw is for all practical purposes ending (there may be the occasional article I post here), I will be starting a new blog, Letter of Marque. If you enjoyed reading Rickety Rickshaw, please bookmark Letter of Marque! See here for what a Letter of Marque is. I won't be using the Feedburner application to send blog updates to you by email because the posts don't look so great in the emails and because there's no way to post comments by email. So, you will have to visit the website periodically to view my updates. Letter of Marque will be a general blog on my life and my observations, not a travelling blog like Rickety Rickshaw or a current-events blog like Shuttle Diplomacy.

So, if I were to pick the best thing about being back in the US, what would it be? English? Infrastructure? Tempting. But one thing stands out over the rest, which I even blogged about here....





No mosquitoes!!!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Vaishno Devi (Katra)

What better way to end our 10 day sojourn to Jammu & Kashmir than with a visit to the Vaishno Devi temple in Katra? Trekking Vaishno Devi, in 1 day, is a serious physical challenge. And for many, including me, it was a highly spiritual experience as well.

Though there were many ways to reach Vaishno Devi (helicopter, pony, Doli - a contraption by which a person is carried by 4 - 6 people, walking, etc.), I was determined to trek. My knee had healed well enough to allow me to do this (you might recall that I tore my meniscus in July). My uncle and aunt preferred the helicopter option, like most of the senior tourists in our group, though they often considered joining the masses and walking. Unfortunately, though, neither were in the physical shape needed to do the arduous trek.

There was also a lot of confusion over which tourists would get the helicopter tickets. First Kesari tours said that everyone who requested a helicopter ride would get it, but later they said that there weren't enough tickets. For many people on the tour, Vaishno Devi was the only reason they came on the trip. And the elderly were seriously concerned that without the helicopter they would miss Vaishno Devi. Fortunately, everyone ultimately got to see Vaishno Devi. Though Kesari could have handled this better, I also think the trip participants complained too much when there were already numerous ways to reach the temple if not by helicopter.

There are 2 routes to Vaishno Devi - the 12.5 km 'short cut' and the 14 km longer route. But in either case, the first 7 km are the same. This is the steepest part of the trek but it is also the most interesting part because there are numerous shops on either side of the path. After these 7 km, you have the option of taking the short cut or you the longer route. Whichever route you take, the festivities die down and the trek becomes more solitary. Gone are the shops and pilgrims are now tired enough that the path becomes quieter. Once you reach the Bhavan or home of Vaishno Devi, you have to leave your personal belongings (i.e. wallet, cell phone, etc.) in a locker. Then you pass through several security checkpoints before reaching the Bhavan. Afterwards, you can head back down or you can continue a few kilometers higher to the Bairo Nath temple. After worshipping there, you can head down to the base, a distance of about 12-13 km.

I started hiking along with the Kesari group at 11:15pm. We started at night so that we could reach the temple early in the morning and avoid lines. Shortly after we started our group spread out and I found myself far ahead of the group with the tour guide and one other tourist. Along the strenuous walk we heard pilgrims chanting praises of the goddess: "Pyar se bolo! Jai Mata Di! - Dil se bolo! Jai Mata Di! - Sare bolo! Jai Mata Di!..." (Say it with love! Praise the Goddess! Say it from your heart! Praise the Goddess! Everyone say it! Praise the Goddess!) These chants kept even the most tired pilgrims marching onwards towards the goal and were a lot of fun. I was amazed at one girl who kept this up for at least 20 minutes during the steepest part of the climb. Also, not everyone, especially the elderly trekkers, could do the trek in 1 day. Along the way we saw people sleeping on benches or in camps with free blankets provided by the management company of Vaishno Devi.

At 2:30am, I reached the temple. As expected there was no line and we were able to go inside to see the deities. Seeing the deities was anticlimactic for me because I didn't see the resemblance of the rocks to the deities. Afterwards, I separated from my companions and took a pony 3km higher to reach the second temple of Bhairo Nath. When I finished visiting this temple it was about 3:30am and I was exhausted. It was now time to go down but I didn't know the way. Was I supposed to go back the way I came or try a new route?

Luckily, another pilgrim saw my confusion and asked two guys around my age to escort me down. One was from UP and the other was a local from Jammu - unfortunately I don't remember either of their names. They spoke a little English so I tried my best to communicate in Hindi. But as the trek went on and we got more tired, my Hindi deteriorated as their English deteriorated. The local had trekked Vaishno Devi more than 20 times and went whenever he felt "a calling" to go. During the first hour of the descent there was a power outage so we had to rely on each other to navigate the steps. I saw a lot of interesting things on the trek but one of the sadder things I saw was 3 homeless kids sleeping under a blanket (we almost stepped on them) in the middle of the path in the hopes of getting a few rupees. No doubt that sleeping on the road was not their idea but they were probably forced to do this by their beggars guild.

The journey down was much tougher than the journey up because of the pressure on our knees. Our Jammu companion developed some possibly serious knee troubles though we all had very sore knees. About halfway down, I stopped to get a soda and some cookies. This gave me a burst of energy - because I hadn't had anything to eat for hours my pace had slowed to a crawl.

Shortly after dawn broke, weary but happy, we found ourselves at the base of the mountain. I was planning to bid goodbye to my friends and head back to the hotel. But our Jammu friend insisted that we first have langar (free food for pilgrims). The langar consisted of tea and hard pooris. I was initially apprehensive about taking the langar (was it hygienic?) but I was convinced by my Jammu friend to partake. I was glad I did because the food was actually quite good. The tea came out of a huge bowl and it was a sight to see the tea being served to a crowd of 50 people. Apparently langar happens almost 24 hours a day at Vaishno Devi and the tea is provided free by an Indian tea company.

The langar was an overwhelming experience for me. There we were, tired and dirty from the trek, having langar with people from all walks of life, even the very poor. At langar, everyone was equal - and equally hungry. It was rare to see this kind of equality in India.

Then it was finally time to say good bye to my friends and head home. We bid an emotional goodbye to one another. They remarked that it was only by the grace of the Vaishno Devi that they were able to meet me, a true Indian-American - I guessed that they haven't met many of my kind before. I also expressed my gratitude to them - for guiding me down safely and for showing me Vaishno Devi's great langar. As a last act of kindness, they negotiated a good rate for me to go back to the hotel by auto.

When I arrived at the hotel, I was congratulated by the tour guide and hotel receptionists for being the first from the group to arrive. First to arrive!? It was already 8am! I thanked them and went to sleep. I woke up a few hours later to let my uncle and aunt into the room (they had just arrived from their helicopter ride) and we rested for most of the day.

Vaishno Devi was a special experience for me. Seeing the 3 rock-deities was not a religious or moving experience for me. No, this trek was a special experience because of all the people I met, from all walks of life. That is why walking was so essential for me - I could not have met these people in the helicopter. I will always remember the faces of the poor elderly as they defiantly climbed upwards, sleeping on benches as needed or the poor mothers who walked in cheap slippers while holding babies. With that kind of determination, anyone can reach Vaishno Devi, even if he / she lacks the money for a helicopter, doli, or pony! Jai Mata Di!


P.S. All of my Kashmir trip pictures can be found here:

http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=174639&l=f2bb0&id=505250370

http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=174646&l=ed83c&id=505250370

http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=174649&l=6d9f9&id=505250370

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Pahalgam

Undoubtedly the best part of our Kashmir trip was our 2 days in Pahalgam. Pahalgam can be reached via a picturesque, 3-4 hour drive east from Srinagar on tree-lined highways with saffron fields on both sides of the road. Along the way to Pahalgam, we stopped at the Avantipur ruins, home of a former Vishnu temple. The temple was mostly destroyed in an earthquake yet it is still impressive and is a strong reminder of Kashmir's Hindu past.


When we reached our Hotel Mount View, we were stunned by the view of the valley. The Lidder river was almost dry, but the mountains surrounding the valley were breathtaking. In the afternoon I took an amazing 3 hour horse ride through Pahalgam. Incidentally, my grandmother did the same horseback ride in 1940. Now, I'm the second person in my family to visit Pahalgam and do the horseback ride. Cool!


I had an excellent 'godi wallah' (a.k.a. pony man) to lead me through the ride. When I wanted to go fast, he ran beside the pony to get it to go faster. When the terrain become treacherous, he guided the pony so that I never fell (one person in the group did fall on the horse ride and she did sustain minor injuries). Unfortunately he couldn't speak any Hindi (only Kashmiri), but that was a small price to pay for great service.
The views along the ride were incredible. We came upon a beautiful clearing known as 'Little Switzerland'. Halfway through the journey we reached a point where we could see the entire Kashmir valley. We stared right at the Lidder River as it snaked through mountains to Srinagar. This is the true beauty of Kashmir, I felt. The remainder of the journey took me through a small village which afforded me the chance to see more poor villagers going through the hard routines of daily life.
After Pahalgam we left for Katra in Jammu and passed by a cricket bat factory along the way. But that is for the next blog.
Final thoughts on Kashmir:
  1. Kashmir is safe for tourists. When I was in Pahalgam, I chatted with 3 members of the J&K police. They said that the Kashmir is many times safer than it was 5 years ago. Militancy in the valley has largely declined, thanks to the efforts of the J&K police, the army, and the CRPF (Central Reserve Police Force). We didn't face a single dangerous moment in our time in Kashmir. Yes, from 1989 till about 2002, Kashmir was unsafe (for Hindus more than anyone else). But for all the time before that and for the last 5-6 years, it has been safe.
  2. Still, be prepared for annoyances. The next tour group after ours had a much less enjoyable trip because of election-related protests in Srinagar and surrounding areas. Also, there is an abundance (read too much) military in the state and thus too many checkpoints. The locals are weary of the military presence and I don't blame them. Despite the large improvements in safety, everyone is wary of everyone else. Nowadays, the violent terrorist militancy has been replaced by a largely peaceful ''Azadi'' (freedom) movement which stems from the people. This movement ebbs and flows - it picked up in 2008 with the Amarnath controversy and picked up again around election time. At these times it's best not to go to Kashmir.
  3. The scenery is beautiful but it's not what makes Kashmir unique. I have seen just as good scenery, if not better, in California, Vermont, Switzerland, New Zealand, etc. What does make Kashmir unique is the people, culture, and political situation. All of this provides Kashmir with a mystique that none of the afore mentioned places have (though those places do have their own auras). However, Kashmir can be an excellent and affordable destination for you if you live in India. For instance, I paid only 450 Rs (about $10) for my 3-hour horseback ride. This could have easily been 5-10x more expensive in the Western world.
  4. The best months to go to Kashmir are June-September. If you can visit Kargil and Leh during your trip, then even better. You will enjoy Kashmir more if you are in good physical shape because of the horseback rides, treks, and high altitudes.

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Srinagar & Gulmarg

On our first day in Srinagar, we visited the Mughal gardens: Shalimar Bagh, Nisha Bagh, and Nashim Bagh. While peaceful and serene, the gardens were not in bloom in early November and thus not in their full splendor. The rest of the day was spent shopping at shawl emporiums and similar stores. I bought quite a few shawls. For those of you who like shawls, I suggest you buy them in Kashmir (situation permitting): the shawl prices in Srinagar are 30-40% less than in major cities in India.

On our second day, we travelled 4 hours west to Gulmarg, "Meadow of Flowers" and Kashmir's most famous hill station. Gulmarg has 2 gondolas which take tourists up the main mountain in the village. The gondolas are unfortunately not well maintained and we abruptly stopped several times while using them (not a pleasant feeling). Secondly, we had to contend with a lot of pushing and shoving just to get into the Gondola. Ah, poor infrastructure and a lack of civility exhibited by tourists, two problems common throughout India, also plaugue Gulmarg.

In any case, the first gondola takes passengers up to 2,600 m. The second gondola takes passengers from this point to Afarwat Peak at 4,200 m. At 4,200 m, it is difficult to breathe and a bit cold. There was a little snow / ice on the mountain: nothing extraordinary, but it gave many of the Indian tourists their first glimpse of snow. Kashmiri ''guides'' were offering cheap sleigh rides but I passed on this because there wasn't enough snow for it to be fun. One Kashmiri guide offered to take me to the top of the mountain from where I would be able to see the Line of Control. But Aathish, our tour guide, thought that this was a scam and that you couldn't see the LOC from the top of the mountain - if so, he said, everyone would have gone there. So I too declined. But now I regret my decision because it probably would have been possible to at least see a bit of the LOC. I might not have seen any fences or army patrols, but the guide might have said something like, "You see that mountain way over there? Yes? Well, that's in PoK." To which I would have said, "Ahh. Ok, let's go down - it's too cold and it's too hard to breathe up here!"

My aunt and I were discussing the infrastructure issues with Gulmarg and what could be done about them. Gulmarg is in a beautiful place and has a lot of potential. We thought that if the gondola and ski resort were privatized (say by the Ambani group) it could really be turned into a tourist paradise. They could offer great services and charge high prices, thus enabling them to offer even better services. But then we felt that Kashmiris would never allow a large private enterprise like this to come into their state. In fact in Srinagar we didn't see any of the big chain stores that you see in the rest of India - clearly they are being kept out. Kashmiri cities are 10 years behind other cities in India. Fortunately, with the abatement of the militancy in Gulmarg, the city has a chance to improve its infrastructure.

We spent the remainder of our time in Srinagar sight seeing and shopping. We took a boat ride on Dal Lake and visited Dal Lake's floating market. We also visited the Shankaracharya temple, which, because of its location on a high hill, affords a great view of Srinagar. The temple was peaceful and well worth the numerous, steep steps that visitors need to climb in order to reach it. We faced no trouble with the authorities and the weather was nice, though cold in the mornings and night.

The hotel manager at our second Srinagar hotel, Hotel New Park, explained to me that the way Kesari Tours was showing us Kashmir was only one way of seeing Kashmir (and probably not the best way). Indian tourists, he explained, generally focus on pleasures and shopping in Kashmir. Western tourists, however, usually focus on off-the-beaten path adventures. For example, while we took SUVs to the base of the Shankaracharya temple and climbed the steps from there, Western tourists would have hiked the entire distance that the SUVs covered and then climbed the steps. The manager was once a part of the Indian Mountaineering society and also leads several day treks from Srinagar along rivers and lakes into the Kashmiri wilderness.

Where can I sign up?! I told him that my mindset and interests were much more similar to that of the Western tourist and that I wanted outdoor adventures. If / when I come back to Kashmir, it will be an outdoors-focused trip. That is where the real Kashmir is, I think.

Monday, November 17, 2008

NH1-A to Srinagar

There are 2 ways to get to Srinagar from 'India'. You can fly into Srinagar or you can drive up the NH1-A from Jammu. We did the 2nd. 


I think it's true what they say: the NH1-A is more dangerous than any terrorist operating in Kashmir. Jammu to Srinagar on the NH1-A is only 259 km but because of the treacherous roads, the journey took us 12 hours. About 75% of all the vehicles on this road are either buses, military vehicles, or commercial trucks. The rest are normal passenger cars. 

The journey is slow for several reasons: one-lane road with 2-way traffic, the abundance of oversized vehicles, windy mountainous roads, and numerous military checkpoints. Most of the checkpoints passed us through without any problems. That was one of the biggest advantages of traveling with Kesari tours: the military knows the tourist group and typically doesn't hassle them. The tourists passed the time by singing antakshari (a singing game in which you start a new song based upon the last letter of the last song) but since I don't know Hindi or Marati songs, I went up to the front of the bus and hung out with the bus driver and conductor. 

Had the scenery been stunning as I had heard it to be, I wouldn't have minded all the hassles of traveling up this highway. But unfortunately, it wasn't. The mountains were barren and the Jhelum river was almost dry. November is not the ideal season for Kashmir, though we did get our fair share of beauty in Phelgaum. 

At 8pm, we arrived in Srinagar. It was eerie: cold and deserted. Everything closes early in Kashmir we were told. Still, closed shops at 8pm are not common in India, and Indians are not used to such quiet. For me, however, the stillness of Srinagar was a welcome change to the chaos of Delhi / Gurgaon. 

We arrived in our houseboats on Dal lake shortly after coming into the city. There is no central heating in the house boats and it was about 5 C outside, so we went to bed with all of our warm clothes on. We also got the houseboat caretaker to light the fireplace in our room. Tired after a long journey, we went to sleep, eager to see what Dal Lake and Srinagar looked like in the daytime. 

Monday, November 10, 2008

White Tiger

I recently read White Tiger which won the 2008 Man Booker prize. I thought the book was great but some Indians in India are upset because the book shows India in a bad light. Here is my response:

If there are 'inaccuracies' in the book, I'd like to see this reviewer point them out. Because to me, the book was spot on and very good.

And I don't think this book just plays to the 'western' audience, in the end Adiga says that 'the white man is finished. the world will belong to the brown and yellow people (aka indians and chinese).' If anything it plays to the Chinese audience as China is praised numerous times. The book also displays the niavete of NRIs and Indian Americans / Westerners who are too slow to match wits with sharp, battle-tested Indians.

Everything the book says about the servant and master class, corruption, bribery, etc. is accurate according to what I've seen. Yes, the book highlights the negative aspects of India and not the positive aspects - but that is intentional. Why does it need to highilght the positive aspects? There are tons of other books that already do that. This is not supposed to be a 'fair critique' of Indian life, it's a fictional story told through the eyes of a servant and it reflects the servant's opinions.

As an Indian-American who loves America, I would have no problem if a book came out that was highly critical of the US - as long as the book was accurate. My feelings won't be hurt. In fact, I am more critical about America than most people I know. And I wouldn't ask for the book to show both 'positives and negatives' - that's not the point of fiction; that's the point of non-fiction. And this book is fiction.

White Tiger is well-deserving of the Booker prize and a great read.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Jammu

Today we began our Jammu & Kashmir trip - my last trip before I leave India. I arrived in Jammu this afternoon, shortly before my uncle and aunt from Bombay. There were no planned activities today, so we did some sightseeing of Jammu on our own: a garden and 2 temples. Jammu has a strong military presence. The 2nd temple we went to (in the city center) had a soldier stationed in a turret next to the entrance with a clearly visible gun (looked like an AK-47)sticking out the window, trained on the intersection next to the temple. There are soldiers everywhere, but they don't cause people problems and they are not overbearing. I expect a stronger and more active army presence in Srinagar. I am going to be vigilant in Kashmir and I want to avoid crowded places and religous sites - and I also don't want to be near the army as that's who the militants target. Still, there's only so much one can do and we have to hope for the best.

The weather in Jammu is noticeably cooler than Delhi (about 75 degrees high) and hence quite pleasant. The air, while smokey at lower elevations, is clean at higher levels. You can see the stars here, so there is certainly less pollution than the major cities of India but I expect other places on this trip to be even better. Still Jammu is quite peaceful compared to the big cities of India and people are not overbearing or rude like they are in Haryana and Delhi. Actually, Jammu reminds me a bit of my home in California - I think Kashmir will too.

Tomorrow morning we leave by bus for Srinagar, a 12 hour journey. Srinagar has a high of 66 and a low of 44, so it will be a bit chilly but not unbearable. At night, we stay in the houseboats. I'm really looking forward to tomorrow. I've been waiting for this day since I came to India 1 year ago.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Lucknow

Lucknow, Lakshmanpuri, Awadh - the storied capital of Uttar Pradesh. My visit to Lucknow last week was probably one of my final trips in India. I travelled to & from Lucknow by overnight train (3 tiered, we were in the 8 beds per cabin variety) and stayed with Saurbah's family over the 3 days.

The entire time I was in Lucknow, I wondered what the city would have been like hundreds of years ago in its heyday. My image of the Lucknow of yester-year was made more romantic by Pakeeza which I saw a few months ago. I guess next I should watch Umrao Jaan. We covered most of the major attractions including the Bada and Chota Imambaras, British Residency, Husseinabad clock tower, Lucknow University, Hazaratgunj (where I bought some Chikans), etc.

I was most impressed with the Imambaras - the large one for the famous Bhul Bhulaya labyrinth (though most of the doors are now closed) and the small one for the beautiful colors and pleasing aesthetics of the grounds. In addition, I had traditional Lucknavi kebabs both at Saurabh's house and outside.

Finally, I did notice a difference in the language and manner of speaking of Lucknow-ites. We often had to ask for directions, and each person we asked patiently explained to us where to go. Contrast this experience to speaking to Delhi-ites, who would have abruptly said something to us as they were hurriedly walking away. I guess the reputation of Lucknow-ites as having adab and tehzeeb (manners & hospitality) is well-deserved.

See all my pictures at this link:

http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=165087&l=7b227&id=505250370

Vote!

For the first time in my life, I voted in a US election. I'm 27 now and I became a US citizen when I was 19 in 2002, so I missed voting in the 2004 presidential election (Bush v. Kerry) and the 2006 congressional elections. Ironically, I have cast my first vote half a world away in India, voting by absentee ballot.

When my absentee ballot still hadn't arrived early this month, I started to worry and explore my voting options. It turned out that I could vote using a write-in ballot which I could print out from the web. This ballot only allowed me to vote in the presidential election and a few other races, but it was better than nothing.

The next question was how to get my ballot to Santa Clara County. I could mail it via courier from SAP - this would have cost me 900 Rs. Or I could mail it by regular India mail for about 25 Rs. The SAP courier method would have surely gotten my ballot to the voting office but it was expensive. India mail would have been cheap but I doubt that the ballot would have gotten to the voter's office in time. The best option was to mail the ballot from the US embassy in Chanakyapuri, Delhi. Mailing an absentee ballot from a US location is free, and the embassy is considered part of the US. But, Gurgaon - New Delhi round trip would have cost about 700 Rs in a cab.

Luckily, just as I was about to complete the write-in ballot, the actual absentee ballot arrived at F005 Maple Heights! I took the ballot to the office thinking I could fill it out in about 10 minutes. But when I opened the ballot, it looked more like an exam. I had to vote on all sorts of races - presidential, councilmen, representatives, etc. and on about 20 measures. I found http://www.smartvoter.org/ which helped me understand the background of each candidate and the pro and anti arguments for the measures. It took me about 1/2 a day to finish voting, but I really enjoyed voting on the measures and analyzing the pro and con arguments and rebuttals. I strongly you advise to consult this website and learn about the measures before you vote. It takes about a day to come up to speed on the issues.

After completing the ballot, I delivered it to one of my American friends from Delhi who was doing some work in Gurgaon. She delivered to the US embassy the next day which has daily mail service to the US. So I'm confident my ballot has reached and vote counted.

It feels good to have done my civic duty (for the first time in my life). Now go vote on November 4!

Monday, October 6, 2008

More health care observations

With my latest health problem (a medial meniscus tear in my right knee), I've had more chances to observe the health care practices in India.



I injured my knee when I was running in the US in July. A hard step and a twist and my medial meniscus (inner knee joint) was torn, though I didn't know it at the time. When I came back to India in August, I completely stopped using my right leg to 'freeze' the problem, thinking it would get better on its own.



In September, I finally went to Paras Hospital to see what might be wrong. I got a next-day appointment orthopaedic surgeon without first needing to be referred by a general practitioner. The consultation fee for the surgeon was 400 Rs. The surgeon recommended an MRI, which I got that afternoon at Paras Hospital (5,000 Rs). It would have been cheaper in Delhi, but I didn't feel like going all the way to Delhi for this. The surgeon was there while the MRI was taking place. He consulted the radiologist and both determined that I had grade 2 / 3 posterior horn medial meniscus tear. The surgeon recommended a minesectomy to remove the torn piece.



I went for a 2nd opinion to Max Hospital. Again I got a next-day appointment with a surgeon. This surgeon's consultation fee was 600 Rs. The surgeon examined my MRI report, did some physical examination of me and advised a conservative treatment plan of supplements and physical therapy. Since then, I've been taking JointAce Dn (glucosamine chondritin with diacerein), Omega 3, and Calcium twice a day. I've also been exercising my legs to build up strength and increase blood flow to the injured region (if blood does flow there). I've also seen the physical therapist twice, each time paying 300 Rs for the consultation. Today, I have another appointment with the surgeon at Max Hospital to update him on my knee condition. I feel that my knee has improved thanks to the supplements and exercises, but all doctors are advising me that recovery is slow.



I bought my first round of the supplements at Max Hospital and paid several hundred rupees for 1 month worth of the medicines. When these ran out, I bought the supplements from a local pharmacist in Viyepar Kendra. The medicine was probably 5% cheaper there.



I've learned a couple of things through this latest problem of mine. First, be very careful with your knees. They are easily injured. Wear good shoes and keep your leg muscles strong to support and stabilize your knees. Second, health care in India happens very quickly and very cheaply. I was able to see 2 orthopaedic surgeons and get an MRI in 2 days for much less than it would have cost in the US. Third, always get 2nd opinions and do your research. My first surgeon never mentioned physical therapy as alternative to surgery. Now I will be less trusting.



Right now, I'm putting more pressure on the knee (by doing slow, short jogs, etc.) and am hoping that I'll be in a position to do the Vaishno Devi trek in November.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Road Repair

Gurgaon has finally gotten its act together and starting fixing the rain-destroyed roads. This picture is of the road repair that is happening near Viyepar Kendra. Unfortunately, I doubt the new, poorly built roads will survive the next rains. At least while I'm here the roads will be decent.


Everyone is pitching in in the road repair. Here are a women and boy cleaning the area that is about to be re-paved. I guess road repair is a good business to be in. You will have work to do every year.


It's a sad cycle. The monsoons come and tear up the roads creating giant pot holes. The government takes 2-3 months to actually fix the pot holes. The 'fix' is just another poor quality road which will break up in less than a year. An expose was done in the Times of India: it turns out the government is using a gravel mixture which has a higher than acceptable proportion of sand - this is the reason that the roads don't survive the rains.

Perfect Mart

I have been buying my groceries at Perfect Mart, across the street from Maple Heights, for over a year. There was a period from about March - June when Perfect Mart was closed by order of the city. Apparently, Perfect Mart was operating in a residential area and didn't have the proper permits and the government shut this store down. During the dark days when Perfect Mart was closed, I struggled. I went to the food kiosk across from Perfect Mart for simple things like bread and cookies. Sometimes I went to another Perfect Mart-type convenience store near Gold Souk. But the service here was very poor and the store owners were rude. Fortunately, by the time I had returned from the US, Perfect was re-open for business and I and many others couldn't have been happier. Perfect Mart isn't perfect, but it's better than the nearby alternatives.


Today I went to Perfect Mart to buy some eggs and juice. I often wondered what happened to the eggs that passed their expiration date and who lost money, and this made me curious about how Perfect Mart ran its business. The cashier explained, taking the example of 1L of Tropicana Apple Juice:



Tropicana sells the juice to the wholesaler. The wholesaler sells the food to the distributor. And the distributor sells the food to Perfect Mart. Perfect Mart sells the juice for 85 Rs, a fixed price determined by Tropicana for retailers. Perfect Mart buys the juice from the distributor at about 78-80 Rs. The distributor buys the juice from the wholesaler for about 70 - 80 Rs, and the wholesaler buys the juice from Tropicana for about 60 Rs. Perfect Mart rarely offers discounts / deals, although they recently did to get back some of the business they lost when they were closed.



But what about the eggs that expired? Who takes the hit? Not Perfect Mart. The distributor comes to Perfect and replaces the expired eggs with fresh eggs. I'm guessing that the distributor and the wholesaler probably don't take the hit either - it's probably Tropicana. Perfect Mart is protected on most of the items it sells; the one item that Perfect Mart does lose money on if not sold are sodas.



Perfect Mart, a family run business (mom, dad, and 2 sons, one of whom was in Texas for a year earning his pilot's license) is in the margin business. I asked the cashier how closely it tracks the sale of its items. Approximately, says the cashier. And on paper and pencil too. Looks like someone is need of SAP and maybe even Channel Management?

Monday, September 29, 2008

The South

I left for Madras on Friday, Sept 12 to attend my cousin Divya's wedding. This was, by the way, my 4th trip to Madras since I've been in India. Afterwards, I travelled with my dad to Kanyakumari, Trivandrum, Kottayam, and Cochin.


The wedding was a traditional South Indian wedding. What does that mean? Long ceremonies, hot Madras weather, but exceptional food (from a famous Iyengar cook, Pattapa). I even played the role of the brother, so my trip to Madras yielded me a new sister. Also, I celebrated my birthday during the wedding by having a couple of 'Sheik' shakes at Fruit Shop.

The next day, my dad and I took an overnight train from Chennai's Egmore station to Kanyakumari, the southernmost point in India. At Kanyakumari we saw the convergence of 3 bodies of water - the Bay of Bengal, the Arabian Sea, and the Indian Ocean. From there, we took a local bus to Trivandrum and spent the day sightseeing (though my dad got some stomach problems so he was out of commission that day). After Trivandrum it was on to Kottayam via local train. In Kottayam, we explored Kerala's backwaters by canoe and by motor boat (on Lake Vembanad). We also ventured into the Kottayam town to buy some spices. We also spent a lot of time relaxing at our resort (i.e. swimming, ayurvedic massage, and gym). After Kottayam, we took another train to Cochin. Cochin was a bit disappointing in terms of sightseeing. My dad and I agreed that we should have eliminated Cochin from the trip and instead gone east to Munnar to see the tea plantations.


I was dismayed by two things on this trip: the difficulty in finding South Indian food and the excessive use of Hindi. All of our hotels had largely replaced South Indian food with North Indian food. Also, most of the people we came across spoke to us in Hindi before realizing that we were actually from the South. But I understand that these two phenomena exist simply to cater to tourists, who usually come from states north of Tamil Nadu. Still, I would have preferred more South Indian food and for people to speak to us (and other tourists) in Tamil / Malayalam before switching to Hindi / English if necessary. In Gurgaon or Delhi, people speak to newcomers in Hindi, regardless of whether the newcomer knows Hindi. In France, it's French first and then English if necessary. Southerners should speak in their language first and then switch to another language if necessary.

Pictures:

http://share.shutterfly.com/action/welcome?sid=8AYuGLhk2YtmEf&emid=sharshar&linkid=link5


http://share.shutterfly.com/action/welcome?sid=0AYsWbdo1Ys2Lmo

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Nangal

I travelled to Nangal, on the border of Punjab and Himachal Pradesh, a few weeks ago to attend the wedding of one of my colleagues, Simran. I had a great time for several reasons: Nangal is a beautiful hill station, this was my first Punjabi and Sikh wedding and it was a lot of fun, and I was well taken care of.

I arrived on a Jan Shitabdi train to Nangal at about 10pm on Friday night (a 7 hour journey). Soon after arriving, I was taken straight to the in-progress ladies' sangeeth at the Nangal officer's club. I had decided before the trip not to dance because of my injured knee, but soon after I got to the party I was on the dance floor. Actually, all the dancing over the next 3 days was probably good exercise for me knee.

I spent the 2nd day getting to know my host family and visiting the Nangal and Bhakara dams. The day started with a sumptuous, hearty breakfast of 4+ paranthas and a few omelettes. I met the family's adopted dogs which look like puppies but are actually full grown dogs. The dams were quite impressive and the water level, while low, had apparently risen a bit because of the heavy rainfall this winter. But even better than seeing the dams was the ride to the dams through picturesque countryside which is inhabited by many curious monkeys. I would love to come back to Nangal and go on an extended trekking trip - in the fall or the early spring when the weather is even cooler.

That night, we attended the gentleman's sangeeth at Simran's house. The backyard was very well decorated and had a dance floor and professional DJ. We had to contend with a power outage for about 1 hr, possibly related to the stormy weather that we had been facing in the previous few days, but luckily the outage didn't affect the party too much and we were able to dance the night away again.

The next morning was the actual wedding in the Gurudwara. What I enjoyed most about the wedding was the soothing music that was played while the guests were filing into the Gurudwara. While for Hindus, marriage is completed when the couple circles the fire 7 times, for Sikhs, marriage is completed when the couple circles the holy book 4 times. Then, after lunch, I left with others. We first took a rented van to Chandigarh and then caught a Shitabdi train back to Delhi. But since the New Delhi station was under construction, we got off at the Rohini station and proceeded to take cab back home.

It was a fun-filled 3 days and thanks to Simran, her family, and Nirlep Singh and his family (my hosts) for showing me great hospitality!

Friday, September 12, 2008

9/11 Memorial Service

Yesterday I attended a September 11 memorial service at the US Embassy in Chanakyapuri, Delhi. Though we gathered to remember a tragic event, this was probably the single best day I have had in India because of all the people I met that day.

The ceremony began promptly at 6pm. First, 2 marines raised the flag to full staff and then lowered it to half staff. Then we heard from a State Department official and the Ambassador, David Mulford. He spoke about the need to remember this date, though 7 years have elapsed.

I must admit that it is becoming harder for me to remember the feelings of that day. I was a junior at MIT at the time. I woke up around 8:30am that day (a Tuesday) and I headed to the lab to work on my digital design project. As I was walking into the lab, I saw the 2 lab workers watching the TV, as they normally did. That's when I saw what was happening. One of the towers was already on fire, and sometime later the 2nd one would be too. For the rest of the day everyone was glued to the TV to see what was happening. And the rest is history.

Following the speeches, we went for a brief reception. The ambassador greeted each of the guests, which was a great honor for me though I was at a loss for words. I met 6 Fulbright scholars (1 professor and 5 students) and several State Department employees. After the reception, over dinner, I got to know some of the Fullbright student scholars better and was intrigued by their research topics. I told all the Americans I met that I wished I had met all of them a year ago when I came to India. I have been waiting for an opportunity like this to meet like-minded, curious Americans and unfortunately the chance came towards the end of my stay in India. Still, I'm glad to have met everyone and will certainly keep in touch and will hopefully see them again before I leave India.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

1 year in India

1 year ago, on September 8, 2007 I boarded a plane for India. 2 days later, on September 10, 2007, I was in Bombay for the first time in 17 years. 3 days after that, I celebrated only my 2nd birthday in India on September 13.


And now, on September 11, 2008, I'm still in India and that means that I have completed 1 year here. Technically, I haven't spent 365 days in India because I was in Dubai for 4 days, Europe for 11 days, and the US for 30 days. But, by the time I leave in India in late November, I will have stayed for 365 days.


Had my original plans worked out, I wouldn't be writing this blog today. I would have left in July and would be in school now. In some ways, I'm staying longer because now I'm able to 'complete' my India experience and do most of the things I wanted to do. What have / will I be able to do with the extra time?

1. Attended Vignesh's wedding (Chennai)
2. Attended Simran's wedding (Nangal)
3. Delivered dental supplies to Able Hospital (Faridabad)
4. Attend Divya's wedding (Chennai)
5. See Kerala
6. Tie up loose ends at work. Leave the BTS program running in good condition and ensure a smooth transition. Maybe even get my 2 BTSs published. (BTS = Business Transformation Study, a piece of reference collateral that SAP produces).
7. Visit J&K and / or Northeast
8. Learn more Hindi

My last day at work is October 10 and I leave for the US on November 22. Then I move to Philadelphia where I will be doing a 1 year Masters in Biotechnology program.

This 1 year in India has meant more to me than any other year of my life. To write about what I have learned and what I have experienced would take a novel, which may well be where this blog is headed anyways. But luckily, I have been a diligent blogger and most of my thoughts are captured right here on Rickety Rickshaw.

But one thing is for sure. While my days in India are winding down, I've discovered a passion for international life and I will be doing this again (maybe here, but probably elsewhere) at some point in my life.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Max's Birthday

A few days ago we celebrated Max's birthday in Delhi. Pictured here, from left to right, is me, Saurabh, and Max. Max is from Germany and is doing a 7 month internship at SAP in Gurgaon. 22 and getting his first international experience - good job! He's one of only 4 foreigners in the Gurgaon office, so it's important that we stick together.

We went back to Shalom, a Lebanese restaurant in Vasant Kunj. Unfortunately, it wasn't Shalom's best day as the entire upstairs was under construction and they weren't serving any of their drinks that required sparkling wine because they had no sparkling wine. Later on we met 6 people, around college age, who lived in India. Some of them were going to school in the UK. I went over to talk to them because I detected an American accent somewhere in the crowd, but it turns out they had gone to American schools in the UK. The 9 of us turned out to be a pretty international crowd.

All in all, it was a good night out. The Shalom in GK might be better but it's just too far away from Gurgaon. In any case, I think I'll give Shalom a break and try other restaurants in the future.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Vignesh gets married

I made my 3rd trip to Chennai last weekend to attend Vignesh's wedding reception. Yes folks, it actually happened!



I stayed with Sandhya and Harish during the weekend. As usual, I got royal treatment there. We went to a haircut salon (Green Trends) and I got a glorious head massage. We also went to the beach and to nearby 'Fruit Shop' which has numerous fruit juices and smoothies. I discovered the incredible 'Sheik Shake' which is a date-based fruit shake. In fact I had 2 of these. On Sunday, before going to the reception, I joined Sandhya and Harish in a planning session for Divya's wedding which is in a couple of weeks in Chennai. The planning session was productive except that I got bitten 7 times by mosquitoes while there. Although Chennai usually has planned power outages, we encountered an unplanned one that afternoon. With no lights to illuminate the mosquitoes and no fan to blow them away, I was an easy target for them. Almost 1 year in India later and still no 'mosquito immunity'.

Vignesh's wedding reception was the first one I attended in India since my cousin Pushpa's reception in 1990 (?). At this reception the bride and groom stood on stage and took pictures with guests. After giving the gift and getting pictures taken, guests go for food. The food, at least in a South Indian wedding, is served on a banana leaf. You sit in long rows and get served as much as you want. The food was quite good. However, unlike American receptions, this reception and I think most South Indian receptions don't have speeches or dances.

I didn't know many people at the reception but at least I had Raj Sivaraj from work and Shankar, Vignesh's cousin. I enjoyed the music at the reception which was South Indian 'fusion' music. This is essentially carnatic music 'modernized' by the addition of drums, guitar, etc. It sounded like A.R. Rehman's music. Interestingly the band played 'English Note', a song I played in my own concert. Now back to Chennai in a few weekends for Divya's wedding.


















Monday, August 25, 2008

Ravi the Rickshaw Wallah

I completed one of my India objectives yesterday by driving a cycle rickshaw. How did this happen?

When I returned from the US in the beginning of this month, I told the guards that I wanted to drive a cycle rickshaw with the rickshaw driver as my passenger before I left India. Yesterday, I came outside from my apartment to hire a cycle rickshaw to take me to Viyepar Kendra so I could meet my friend as we were on our way to Delhi. Mohan, one of the guards, got the attention of a nearby rickshaw driver and called him over. I was expecting Mohan to negotiate a good rate for me. Instead, Mohan told the driver to sit in the back while I drove the cycle rickshaw.

So off we went. I quickly ran into the curb as the rickshaw seemed to go right. On the 5 minute journey, I learned to compensate for this tendency. Driving a cycle rickshaw is a bit like driving a boat. Because of the passenger, there is a delay between when you make a turn and when the rickshaw responds to the turn. I also drove the rickshaw a good deal faster than other rickshaw drivers 1) because I was in a hurry and 2) because I don't do this multiple times a day and I have the energy. Naturally, we caused a spectacle as we tore down the road, barrelling over speed bumps pot holes. It was a rickety ride to be sure.

At the end, I paid the driver 5 Rs. I thought this was a fair price given that I did the driving and we only went a short distance. Then we got a few pictures to capture the experience. Mission accomplished!

Clean your way to Fitness

If you thoroughly clean your house on a regular basis, there's no need to go to the gym. Sweeping, mopping, and dish washing are good exercises but hand washing clothes is the best. Wringing wet clothes dry works your wrist, forearm, bicep and tricep muscles in a major way. Before I hired my new cleaning maid, I did 'deep' house cleaning on Saturdays & Sundays. After the ~4 hours of work, I would shower and take a well-earned nap and wake up with more toned muscles. No wonder the 'kam wallis' are all so fit!

India at the Olympics

The Summer 2008 Olympics are over and my 2 countries performed quite well. The US came home with 110 total medals and India came home with 3, it's highest total ever. There has been much talk about India's performance and I expect it to get better by London 2012 where I predict 6 medals for India.

India needs to put a greater emphasis on athletics and build better training facilities in order for it to be more competitive in the Olympics. The talent is definitely there. A booming economy will certainly help facilitate sports infrastructure growth.
The US needs to refocus on track & field and needs to invest in niche sports like shooting, table tennis etc. But, China has emerged as the new USSR. We look forward to competing with them on the Olympic stage for years to come.

However, I am quite dismayed by the pathetic TV coverage of the Olympics in India. The commentators were melodramatic and replayed the same footage incessantly (India's 3 golds and Phelps' 8 golds). The commentary was shallow and highly anti-US. There is nothing disappointing about 110 total medals and 36 golds, though the commentators would have you believe otherwise. In the final medals tally, we are #1. Lastly, I didn't see a single medal ceremony (my favorite part of the Olympics) and never got to hear the US national anthem (the best national anthem in my opinion). I really wish I could have watched TV coverage from another country. I hope when India evaluates its performance at the Olympics, it evaluates its TV coverage as well and fires its analysts.

The Maple Heights Community

When I come home to Maple Heights, I know that I'm coming home. For all its structural problems, the strength of Maple Heights is its community. I have become good friends with the guards (picture: Amit - left, Mohan - right; 2 of many). They chat with me in Hindi, offer me a place to sit when it rains, find me cycle rickshaws, negotiate rickshaw prices, find me kam wallis / wallahs, and obviously provide security. Whenever I come home, I can always count on friendly faces to greet me at the gate.


Believe it or not, we even have pets at Maple Heights. And no, I'm not talking about the lizards that frequent my apartment. This old dog has been at Maple Heights since I moved in. I don't know its name but it's nice and keeps to itself. Most of the time, it's just lying quietly on its side. For the last few months, we've had a new dog, 'Maria'. Maria showed up at our complex as a puppy, licking her wounds after getting beaten up by bigger dogs at night. I remember the first week she came when the guards asked me to get Dettol (a disinfecting soap) to treat Maria's wounds. In that first week, I wasn't sure if Maria would make it, but she did. After coming back from the US, I noticed how big Maria had become. And she's as feisty and playful as ever, bothering the old dog (who was her guardian when she was a puppy) and any other dog that walks around the complex.


Last but not least, there are the residents. I have made many friends at Maple Heights, which is "SAP Central". I can go to any of 5 houses for company. Just yesterday, I made a new friend - a young Kashmiri professional in a nearby tower. Yesterday being Krishna Jayanti, we want to a local mandir and chatted at his house afterwards.


I have not had as much of a community feel in any of the other places where I have lived, except maybe my college dorm. In my dorm, some residents used to keep their doors open to encourage visitors. I think that US complexes and neighborhoods need to be more like India in this respect and encourage more social interaction. Of course, a larger population in the US would help make this happen.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Of NRIs and RIs

In my life I have been both an NRI (Non-Resident Indian) and a RI (Resident Indian), though I have much more experience being an NRI than a RI.

I was born in India and spent my first 4 months in Bombay. Then, my family moved to the US and I became an NRI Californian. And I remained an NRI until I moved to India in September 2007. When I told people about my decision to live and work in India, they said "it's great that you're moving back to India". But, I never considered the move as going back to India; I saw it as going to India for the first time to learn about a country that I didn't know much about.

Now having lived in India for almost 1 year and having truly experienced life as a RI, I realize how the NRI / RI phenomenon pervades Indian culture. Many of the middle-class people I have met have at least one family member abroad. Also, many of the Bollywood movies I have seen make reference to NRIs. Unfortunately in many cases, I have seen accusations of cultural ignorance at best and disloyalty at worse levelled at NRIs. Sometimes, the criticism is also levelled at the host society for their intolerance towards NRIs.

I find these criticisms to be inaccurate, unfair, and I believe that they stem from people's insecurity more than anything else. Ultimately, everyone has the right to live his/her life wherever he/she chooses. And by and large, most countries are welcoming of immigrants. Yes, there are always cases of intolerance towards foreigners, but that's not to say that the same problem does not occur within India.

Still, there is a desire for NRIs and RIs to understand each other. Fortuately, it doesn't take long to do this because both are still Indians and most NRIs observe Indian traditions and retain their culture quite well. I, for instance, spent 12 years learning Carnatic music along with thousands of other Indian kids in the US. But there is no denying the fact that time abroad and exposure to different perspectives has forever changed the NRI's personality and outlook on life.

As time goes on, I expect a clear divergence between RIs and NRIs to emerge in the same way that British and Australians and British and Americans have now developed their own cultural identities though all were British at one point.

The world is constantly changing and I have decided to live and work wherever it makes the most sense for me from an economic and social perspective. This was the attitude my parents and their circle of friends had adopted and not surprisingly they have imparted it to me. And I know that wherever I go, I will always relate best to people who share this viewpoint and have the courage to sacrifice familiarity for the potential of new opportunities.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Bus

Today, the cab system has been replaced by the bus system for those SAP employees who live near the office. The change was made no doubt to cut costs further, as the company has already moved the snack timings to 6:30pm so that fewer people would take advantage of Snacks.

Pros:

  • My stop is the last before work and the first on the drop off. Ah, the advantages of living close to work. I don't need to get to the bus stop until 8:40am in the morning and I get dropped back at 6:40pm.
  • I have to pass the Citibank ATM and market to get to the bus stop so I can get chores done on the way back from work.
  • The bus will not wait for late arrivers (or so they say). Let's hope they stick to that.
  • Many people will take the bus, so there are lots of people to talk to.
  • In India, the bigger the vehicle the more rules you can break on the road. If the cab was good because it was an SUV, the bus should be even better because it's 2x as big.
  • If it rains hard again, we should be able to power through floods in the bus.
Cons:
  • I have to walk about 10 minutes to the bus stop through a run down street (from the rain) with some shady characters. This is not so much an issue for me as it is for girls, who wear high heels. They have to contend with both problems.
  • Since the bus route is longer, there are more potential problems that could happen at some point on the route, delaying everyone.

All in all, I'm happy with the change and hope it works out.

Shalom & Ashoka in Delhi

I confess that I haven't gone out enough in India in my 11 months here. Now, I'm trying to make up for this. I can count the good nights I've had on 2 hands, and that's not a good sign (there should have been so many that I can't count them):

  • Parties 1 & 2 at my house
  • VE party at Samraat
  • Samraat (a few months ago)
  • Calcutta (Sheesh club)
  • Dharamshala
  • Asoka (last night)

Why haven't I gone out more?

  1. Often travelling on weekends
  2. Lack of company to go out with
  3. Stiff people at the clubs (bouncers and the local Indian crowd who have too much attitude)

#1 is an acceptable reason as it's helping me explore the country, which is the main reason I'm here. #2 seems to have been taken care of (I went out with 2 German friends at the office, Seher and Max, and we had fun). And the way to deal with #3 is to find the foreigners in the club and make friends with them. And guess what? I learned this in St. Petersburg when Neil located the Africans in the club and hung out with them all night!

Yesterday, we had dinner at a great Lebanese restaraunt in Delhi called Shalom with Puneet, the German translator on my floor. Then we went to the club at Hotel Asoka, which is supposed to be the best club (and most expensive club) in Delhi. We befriended a group of French diplomats and partied with them all night. It was a great time at the club except for the fact that the DJ played songs from 'Singh is King' way too much.

Now, for my remaining time in India, I'm going to go out as much as possible. Hopefully next week we will go to Club Elevate in Noida. And, we're planning a joint party as Max's birthday is on Sept 8, Seher's is on Sept 11, and mine is on Sept 13. Let the good times roll!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Bollywood Movie Reviews (Classics)

Mughal-e-Azam: 8/10


This movie excels because of it's songs (Tere Mehfil - Qaweeli, Pyar ki dorna) and because of Madhubala. The sets and costumes are also great. However, it drags in the 2nd half.

Pakeeza: 7/10

I bought this movie for 2 reasons: Meena Kumari and the songs. But, because it was shot over a 10 year period, we see Meena Kumari at various phases of her life. The unwanted side effect of a long shooting period is that the movie is very disjointed. However, this is good in a way because it gives the entire movie a dreamlike quality, and that is actually quite nice. The haunting, confusing nature of the movie gives it an extra point in my book. Hence, 7 instead of 6.

Sangam: 7/10

Sangam has strong acting from Raj Kapoor and Vyjantimala. Again it becomes too melodramatic like most Indian movies do in the 2nd half and it becomes unbelievable, but at least the movie drives home the tensions that exist between all 3 characters.

Yahudi: 7/10

Yahudi is based upon a Roman story of the cultural tensions between Jews and Romans. The plot is good and a young Meena Kumari is at her peak in terms of beauty as the movie was made in 1958. The movie also features the hit song 'Yeh mera diwanapan hai'. However, it too becomes melodramatic in the 2nd half of the movie.

Main Hindi seekh raha hoon

I have a new blog poll up - please visit http://ricketyrickshaw.blogpsot.com and vote!

One of my goals when I moved to India was to learn some Hindi. I didn't know any Hindi before stepping foot in Gurgaon. Though Hindi fluency wouldn't be possible without several years in India and regular classes, I at least wanted to be able to understand conversations and answer simple questions.

During my first 6 months in India, I wasn't speaking any Hindi. I now realize that despite not speaking Hindi, I was subconsciously learning during those first 6 months. And it took about 6 months to develop enough confidence to try speaking the language. Now, 11 months into my stay in India, I think I've achieved my goal of basic, spoken Hindi knowledge. How?

  • Every morning from 8:30 - 8:50am I chat with my guards in Hindi as I wait for the cab to take me to work.
  • After arriving at work, I ask Manjusha to define some Hindi words I'm curious about or teach me how to say useful Hindi phrases.
  • In the evening from 6:30 - 6:45pm, after coming home from work, I chat with my guards again in Hindi.
  • When the maids come I try to chat with them in Hindi. For all her problems, I credit my former maid (Janaki) with teaching me a lot of Hindi. Being from UP, she spoke very clear and neutral-accented Hindi which was very easy to understand.
  • I listen to and try to understand Hindi songs. I fell so much in love with Hindi songs that I was inspired to learn Hindi.
  • I watch many Hindi movies, with subtitles when possible. On my Jet flight to and from the US, I watched only Hindi movies.
  • During my 1 month in the US in July, I asked my parents to teach me some Hindi grammar structure. We also watched several Hindi movies (Mughal-e-Azam, Sholay, Monsoon Wedding, Dharam, etc.). Also during my stay, we had a linguistics professor over at our house who taught me a little about the Hindi language.
  • I have collected about 5 or 6 Learn-Hindi books. I study those for about 15 minutes a day to build my vocabulary.
  • Last week, I studied a You Tube translation of a Hindi Bhajan which I really liked, and simply reposting the translation on my blog helped me learn some new words.

After 11 months, I am at the level where I think should be. I probably know between 100 - 300 words. Now, I'm going to start learning the Hindi script. This should help speed up my learning as I read signs and learn more Hindi words that way.

However, it's important to realize that you won't automatically learn a language just by virtue of being another country. You have to make a concerted effort and try multiple learning strategies. In the end, learning a new language has to be something you really want to do if you want to be successful.