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?