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


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.


  • 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.
  • 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

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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.

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Gurgaon underwater

When I saw an unusually green Gurgaon on the way back from the airport to my apartment, I should have been worried. Yes, monsoon season is continuing and according to people I've talked to, this is the worst it has been in a while.

While I was in the US, I had some flooding in my Gurgaon apartment which took some effort to clean up. More importantly, the roads are ruined, accidents abound, and there is flooding everywhere. In SAP's cafeteria in floor -2, lunch is routinely delayed by 30 minutes because of basement flooding which prevents people from getting to the cafeteria.

Gurgaon's drainage system (or lack thereof) is woefully unprepared to handle the volume of water that it has been receiving. A few days ago, it took Saurabh and I 1 hour to drive 3 kilometers for dinner because of major traffic jams. The worst problem is in front Paras Hospital. The road dips in a slight V shape which is a recipe for disaster in heavy rains. For the last few days the water has been 2 feet here creating a huge backlog. Luckily I go to work in an SUV, but small cars, cycle rickshaws, and motorcycles struggle. The Gurgaon police force has been out in full force directing traffic. I thought I left all of this flooding behind when I left Bombay?

Friday, August 8, 2008

Hari Thum Haro

Thanks to my dad who has become something of a YouTube expert, I recently came across an amazing Bhajan: Hari Thum Haro Jan Ki Bhir as song by MS Subbalakshmi (MSS). This was Mahatma Gandhi's favorite Bhajan and he once sent a letter to MSS asking her to sing this song for him. She politely refused saying that she had not learned this Bhajan and that he should ask another singer to sing it. He then replied, "I'd rather have MSS speak the song than listen to it sung by anyone else". Well, when I heard her sing it on YouTube, I knew what he meant. It wouldn't have sounded the same if sung by anyone else. I liked this song so much that not only have I heard little else in the last few days, but I decided to post a translation into English here. The song is in a Rajasthani dialect of Hindi (I believe). (slideshow background) (with MSS singing)

Hari thum haro Jan ki pir

Hari, please remove the suffering of the people.

Hari = Krishna; thum = you (Krishna); haro = (please remove); Jan = people (ki - of the people); pir =suffering (pronounced as bhir)

Draupadi ki lAj rAkhyo thum badhAyo chir

You preserved Draupadi's honor by lengthening her cloth.

Draupadi = a women from the Mahabharata; lAj = honor; rAkhyo = preserved; badhAyo = increased; chir = cloth.

Bhkat kArana roop narahari dharyO Ap sharir

Based upon your devotees' request, you took on the form of human.

Bhkat = devotees; kAran = request; roop = form; dharyO = took on; narahari = human form; sharir = ???

Harinkashyap maar leenho dharyo naahin dheer

You killed the demon Harinkashyap without delay.

Harinkashyap = a demon; maar leenho= killed; naahin dheer = without delay.

Bhoodathe gaja rAja rAkhyO kiyO bAhar neer

You dragged the elephant king out of the water and saved him from the crocodile's jaws.

rAja = king; bAhar = outside; neer = water

Dasi Meera lal Giridhara dukh jahan tahan pir

Meera is the servant and Krishna is her lord and He will return to remove sorrow and pain.

Dasi = servant; Meera = the composer; lal = master; Giridhara = Krishna; tahan = sorrow (??)

If anyone has a different translation, please let me know.

My US Interlude

I spent the entire month of July in the US. And what a month it was: family, friends, and great food (include Lactaid (lactose-free) milk, an underappreciated gem that enhances the cereal experience). In the weeks leading up to my visit home, I was excited but also was interested in how things had changed. I also wondered if I would get bored at home. I thought that all of my friends were now in India and few remained in the US.

Well, I quickly realized that I was wrong. 1 week into my US stay, I was hanging out with various family and friends both at home and out. There were so many people to see that every day was packed with social activities. I went to my close family friend's engagement, spent a weekend San Francisco hanging out with my best friends, socialized with my office friends, discussed the history of Indian languages with a Linguistics professor, discussed the science of mathetical modeling of the human body, and the list goes on. I also spent some time practicing my guitar, which I have dearly missed in India. I also took full advantage of my parents to improve my Hindi. I watched several classic Hindi films like Sholay and Mughal-e-Azam with the exquisite Madhubala and the film's incomparable songs.

While the US is still tackling it's economic problems, I have no doubt that it will recover. We're moving in the right steps already, I noticed when I was there. God bless the USA.

My friend's engagement party. The groom is in the light blue kurtha.

My cousin's son Nikhil at his 3rd bday party in Saratoga.

The movie Vaastav on Jet. I saw 4 movies on the way back: Sangam, Guru, Vaastav, and Yahudi. All were top notch. It was a pleasure to fly Jet and be kept company by the likes of Vyjantimala and Meena Kumari.

My dad and mom setting in our garden on my 2nd day home.

View of the garden.

Mom on the phone.