Sunday, April 18, 2010

A chance encounter with the Little Master

It was 1989 a lazy friday evening and I'd returned from school when I saw my father returning from office. He would never bring anything from anywhere, but, this day was to be special. Upon arrival he called me to his lounge chair and handed me a small envelope. Inside the envelope I saw something that totally blew me away. Inside there were two tickets to the then on-going world cup cricket game. The game was on 30th oct at wankhede stadium in Mumbai. My dad had bought them off a friend who was unable to go. What's more these were BCCI VIP pavillion tickets. At that time they cost Rs. 800 each which was a lot of money. Now, I had to find a buyer for one of them to give me company. After a bit of searching and calling I found a willing attendee in my friend pramod rao. So, we both headed to the game on game day. I'd been to games in wankhede, but, never in a VIP stand. It was an experience as we didn't have to stand in lines and the whole pavillion was shaded and properly ventillated with fans and ducts. The shee shee crowd of bombay had arrived with all the linens and diors. I was a little school boy looking at all this with awe. With me I'd carried an autograph book to see if I could get access to any players/ ex-players or celebrities. Unfortunately, there were none there. The game was a day game and the gruelling heat of mumbai was killing us. After about half the game a couple of boys about our age came and sat next to us. The boy that sat next to me was short, had curly hair and was wearing the newly launched reebok pumps in green. I immediately pointed the shoes out to pramod. These were days when you could get the nike's and reeboks only if you had a visitor from overseas as they were not sold in india legally. It was not until much later that the indian economy opened up. Pramod immediately whispered to me "do you know who that is" (pointing to the boy) and I replied in the negative. He said that is "sachin tendulkar". Back then his laurels in the local circuit were celebrated, but, he had not been selected in the indian team. As the game came to a close there was double dissapointment for me. Firstly, I'd not seen any 'real' celebs and india had lost. I decided to get an autograph of sachin. The idea was hilarious to Pramod who thought I was a fool to do that. I promptly told him that I thought he will play for india and will be a big name someday. Pramod retorted to me saying I was free to make a fool of myself becuase he (sachin) probably didn't know how to sign yet. I was defiant and I walked up to him. There was this 14 something boy with a clean face in front of him. "Sachin, I've heard a lot about you. I want your autograph". Upon signing I wished him luck and would like to see him play for india soon. I also asked him if he had been selected already to which he said no. I asked him if I was the first person to ask for his autograph to which he laughed and said "yes", besides my neighbors and family who poke fun at me. So, we walked home with this in my hand and bad memories of an india exit from the cup. Little did we know.....  :-)

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

The Lala's bags of coins

I often wonder how the supply chain of utility works. What happens to things that get used up in the consuming economies and what happens to the surplus. Also, what happens to the things that fall through the cracks. Designers of clothes in America change their lineup for the upcoming seasons and then they show off their new styling. The old clothes go off to their secondary outlets from where they make it out to the liquidation sales outlets. From the liquidation outlets they leave the shores to another country for further liquidation until every single unit is sold out and someone makes incrementally diminishing sums of money on the same. I also wondered what happens to money? Smaller denominations tend to disappear from places and wondered where they'd land up. In cities like Mumbai and Delhi where inflation has soared the cost of goods transactions in smaller coin denominations are rare. The prices of goods are also conveniently rounded off to the nearest higher number to enable a coin-free transaction. So, where do these coins go? I have an interesting story about the same that shows what happens to money. Once I was on a road trip through the state of Uttar Pradesh. I was in a small town near the city of Allahabad. This was a business trip to one of the small time vendors of flavor ingredients. I realize I'm focussing a little more on the fragrance and flavors stories, but, its just occured to me that I must write a little bit about the interesting aspects of business in India. So, I'd heard about the area being totally like the wild wild west with roughnecks and gangsters hovering around every corner. My meeting was with a flavor ingredient manufacturer that lived in a small village about 2 hours south of the city of Allahabad. At first the city of allahabad had a decent Indian city touch, but, as the car in which I was traveling approached the outskirts the evident remnants of poverty stricken India were becoming obvious. It is usually these outskirts of cities that are more impoverished than the villages themselves. There aren't many fancy things in the villages, but, they're usually never dirty mainly due to the scarcity of population and secondly due to the greenery. About two hours after leaving the city, we'd arrived in the small city of Kannauj. Two armed guards opened the doors of the car for me and I was warmly greeted to a tea by the owner of the small flavor shop. The guards kept a precariously unnerving vigil around the area. The scene seemed cut from a godfather flick of the 70's except in rural India. There was no electricity as it seems electricity had bypassed their village, so, a diesel generator was blazing away in the background pelting black smoke in the clear pure air. What amazed me is the bareness of the man's establishment. Mr. Lala (name changed) was a reputed businessman in the flavor ingredient business. He was stocky, dark and bald and had a lot of dirt stuck in his teeth. The red dirt that comes from chewing paan everyday. Lala sat around a one room office behind a large mahagony desk that weighed about a ton. I know because I tried to move it to retrieve a pen that had accidentally fallen under it. Lala made me sit on a simple wooden bench reserved for the visitors while he and his manager/ procurement person sat across the table. A small air-conditioner cooled the air in the limestone washed simple room. A little into our casual conversation about business a boy about 17-18 yrs of age came into the room after knocking. He mentioned to the lala that he needed about two lakhs (~$5000) to give to someone in the neighborhood. The Lala was a little miffed by the demand, but, knew that he didnt really have a choice. He politely asked me to get up from my bench and move away a little. So, I did and the boy just bent around the bench and pulled two bags of something from underneath where I was seated. The bags rang hard of a 'clinking' noise as they were carried away. These were bags of Rs. 1 lakh each made up of coins of different denominations. The boy nonchalantly just took the two bags tied them either ends of a thick rod and put them on the carrier of his bicycle and rode off into the dust. As he turned around the corner I could spot him waiting and signing something on a paper and then turning off to his destination. I wondered what the whole deal was and I enquired the same with the lala. The lala told me that since we 'city' people had stopped using these coins they'd made their way to the villages. Their entire economy was wrested on the heels of this coin exchange. Only very large amounts of money were transacted through paper notes and almost none on checks. Most transactions in cash are done through these bags for two reasons. First, there is a protection fee that they have to pay to the local thugs for letting them freely transport the money and for that the money being transported needs to be clearly visible. A bundle of different notes can be hidden in clothes while being transported and that would lead to non-transparency. The thugs usually charge a small percentage of the transacted amount as a protection fee for them. Secondly, the local banks do not get stashes of currency notes that are under-printed and used by cities. That is what the boy was signing around the corner as he was about to leave one thugs domain and enter the other. He would have to sign two more such 'registers' before he would return and each would settle their accounts with the lala at the end of the month. The bags were wrapped in a laced white cotton cloth that was never used in fabric. The bags were tied with a nylon thread and sealed for value. There was a certain degree of trust in these people about the amonuts of money. I also enquired with the lala if there had been incidents of loot or cheating and he replied in the affirmative. The boy that had worked before this one had once had an argument with a thug over some paperwork and the thug had shot and killed him around the corner. The lala told me about this story that had occurred about a year ago as though it was some petty theft and not some murder. The value of life in these parts of the world is not much. A boy can get shot and killed over an argument and the village will move on. 

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

The Manikram Havelichand story (The secret basement)

This is a true story from the city of Lucknow. Lucknow is an old Indian city in Northern India where the remnants of the British Raj collide with the remanats of the Islamic rule in India. Sporting a large Muslim population the city is an interesting mix of a variety of indo-afghan cuisines that are not on offer elsewhere in the country. In a place like this there are few businesses that bustle on the money-making front. This is a story about Manikram Havelichand a small time farmer who entered the flavor ingredient business in a big way. Manikram (name changed) was a small time farmer born and raised outside Lucknow by hard working parents. He never got an education and could barely read and write. Manikram was very enterprising and on one trip to Lucknow discovered that there was potential for the trade of flavor ingredients in the city and around the country. He started with a small shop and over the years expanded at a ridiculously fast pace adding products to his portfolio like they were running out of style. The uniqueness about Manikram was that he never let success get to his head. He still lived in his small farmhouse with his Mercedes parked next to his fleet of cows and horses. He would take the time to feed his farm animals while he would aggressively push competition out of the marketplace. Manikram also gave a lot to the community. His unfulfilled dream of being educated was manifested into a school for which he donated both land and time and money. Mankiram had two sons both very actively involved in the family business both living away from home. All of a sudden, this success story was to come to a very strange conclusion. One fine morning out of suspicion of hidden assets the Income tax sleuths raided the premises and offices of his company. Manikram was heartbroken. But, there was more to the story. For nearly 40 odd years Manikram had kept a dark secret. A sachet of cash in a hidden basement room in his family home. No one, not even his wife knew about this room. He would secretly for years together find himself alone at home and deposit part of his savings into the basement and make a quick exit. It was amazing that no one, not one of the staff that worked at his house, the cleaners, cooks none ever remotely close to discovering this chamber. When the IT sleuths entered this room they found a net of Rs.200 crore in cold hard cash ($50 million). This has been accumulated over the years. Manikram was in the practice of not bothering about the denomination, he just put them money in the room and ran out. By the time this cash was discovered about 1.5 Crore of it ($300,000) was eaten up by termite ! Some of the notes of cash in the stack were from the pre-independence era and some of them had been decommissioned by the government years ago. All in all, the whole sum was confiscated as undeclared income. Manikram was charged for criminal evasion of tax (several counts). Manikram maintained that he was innocent. He maintained that he did not trust the banks and based his lack of trust on some incident of bank fraud that he had faced years ago. Manikram, an old guy at 65, walking with a stick, decided to defend himself in court. He would walk up to his court dates and argue his case without an attorney. One day during a court session he suffered a heart attack and died. Now, the sons have to bear the burnt of this. They're in court defending this court case. 

Cows crossing the street their judgment and anticipation

As we all know by now that India has an abundance of cows. A combination of its perception of holiness and the largest vegetarian population on earth has led to a uncontrolled growth in the number of cows and buffaloes in the country. As a result it is very normal to see cows and buffaloes form small islands often in the middle of the street. They're also found strolling in the middle of busy business areas almost aggressively pursusing some food at times. Cows are generally very docile animals and don't interfere with other business. Over the course of the past few years though I've managed to make an interesting observation about their behavior. While crossing a busy road they're very thoughtful. Their slowness and apparent lack of attention could be mistaken for stupidity, but, they're well aware of what's happening and have mastered the art of anticipation and setting expectations. Whenever Im driving up on a highway occassionally cows tend to cross the highway. At that time they ensure that they're crossing facing you laterally. That has been found to be the rule for the highway cows. They're smart enough to realize that they have to be watching traffic while crossing a highway becuase vehicles tend to be coming faster. They cut across the median and quickly change direction to face incoming traffic. They always understand and implement the importance of setting expectations. This involves the effort of crossing a street. They'll make it abundantly clear to you that they're going to cross the street well in advance. They'll also very smartly not vary their pace. They'll maintain a very slow steady pace across the crossing, so, you're not baffled or panic while seeing their approach. They send a very clear signal to the oncoming driver that they're going to do it and do it this way whether he likes it or not. Surprisingly large number of drivers clear the path for them and ensure a smooth and safe passage. What's more interesting is the fact that when they see a very aggressive fast driver coming on they also realize that its not time for them to make their move and they delay their crossing by walking parallel to the street on the sidewalk or shoulder. I've noticed that high speed and aggressive honking puts them off and they take the submissive role of holding back. Another aspect of their crossing is the fact that they put the younger ones in the middle of the pack. A younger one almost never crosses the street alone. It's usually followed by or led by a very experienced cow. One very very interesting species of cow that's worth mentioning is the careless one. These are the ones that don't care if you're coming or that you might have to take evasive measures to avoid collission. They just take their own sweet time to cross the street. Their modus operandi is very simple. They stare at you in the eye and just put you down straight. " We rules this place, you're just passing by" is the message given to the driver. In my life I've never seen a single cow being run over by a vehicle. That puts my theory of their crossing intelligence to light and verifies it. 

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

The newspaper boy stealing papers incident

I was out for my morning walk when I encountered a bunch of newspapers on the sidewalk. These are usually wrapped up and delivered to their respective paying owners well before my time to go out for my walk, but, it seemed precariously late to have a newspaper set lying out there on the middle of the sidewalk this late. As I approached the bundle the delivery boy was standing next to his delivery bike waiting for the next bundle to be tied to the bike. Suddely, a chap came running from across the street and grabbed a paper from the bundle. Just as a couple of cars passed by, he quickly ran across the street crossing it dangerously close to a bike. As he crossed the street he got trapped in some loose tiles and tripped and fell. Somehow he gathered himself (with the fear of being caught stealing a newspaper) and starting running again. All through the delivery boy was yelling at him "abbe eh bhaag mat chutiye, woh aaj free wala paper hein"... translation : " dont run asshole, its the free edition" :-)) Aparently, Hindustan Times was doing a free paper day in our area that day.

We all are Office Vampires: Spending time in the sun and its effects

The other day I saw an article in the local newspaper about the disease commonly found in underdeveloped countries called Rickets. Rickets is caused by a vitamin D deficiency. One of the remedies of rickets is to have ample sun exposure. Apparently, this stimualtes the formation or absorption of vitamin D in the body and prevents ricket. Rickets is common amongst young children and there are several awareness campaigns out there to spread the word about it amongst the poor. Interestingly, I noted that in today's lifestyle we are also spending increasingly lesser amounts of time outside in the Sun. We go around in an air conditioned car. We enter an air-conditioned office with tinted windows and artificial lighting. We sleep in air-cooled rooms on the weekends. The outdoor exposure to sunlight has rolled down to a minimal stroll in the mid-afternoon or if you have a site specific job then the exposure to the sun during a site visit. Either ways, if Rickets were to affect older people there would be a whole lot of people with a big belly (one of the symptoms of rickets is a big belly) and that would not have been caused by regular consumption of fattening food ! This lack of exposure to sunlight interestingly has a different effect on adults. Sun exposure stimulates the formation of a key hormone called serotonin. Serotonin is a very critical hormone that enables us to not go into depression and anxiety. It controls the body's ability to cope with stress. Now, we are increasingly spending time indoors like vampires afraid that the sun might burn us up AND we are getting into increasingly stressful job functions and responsibiltiies. A combination of the two forms a potent explosive mixture that pushes people into the domain of depression. Soon enough people are in the sinking sand trap of depressiveness and they fail to understand why everything around them is seemingly collapsing. People working in the private sector in India are spending an average of 14 hours at work starting at 7 AM near sunrise and ending way past sunset. These people in highly stressful job positions dont ever see the sun. And yet they keep wondering why the rates of depression are so high in cities like Mumbai. Untreated, it reaches tipping point where the individual starts to fail. We have now become depressive vampires. With depression comes anger and fear. And aptly so we go out in search of blood to satisfy that anger. So, the analogy of an office vampire is just aptly put.

People praying on trains: You know where the temples are at

As I've mentioned many times in my blog before I take the train to work occasionally. The train provides to be a great source of information and also keeps me connected to ground realities. Some very interesting characters take the train. My travel hour is against the traffic and off-rush-hour so people are seated comfortably and sometimes taking a nap as well. During these times its interesting to note that even during their nap some of the folks ensure they fold their hands or touch their forehead/ lips as if they were to pray (as kissing the cross worn around the neck only without the cross). This happens at some regular intervals and is like a synchronized / coordinated event like a synchronized swimming event. None of these people know each other and they are all simultaneously performing these actions independent of one another that constitute prayer or salutations to god all at the same time in the same manner. It used to baffle me and then I realized that they were all regular travelers and they all knew where the local temples were situated. As soon as the train passed by any of these popular temples they would pray in unison !! It was an amazing event of synchronicity in a divided society that one gets to see. Interestingly, some of the people are such regulars that they can determine the position or location of the train based on the sound the tracks make and their prayer is based on those sounds. Therefore it doesnt matter if they're half asleep ! I also realized that my driver would do the same thing driving our car. He would religiously do the same prayer action whenever the car would pass over water. So, I happened to enquire why he would do it over water. He replied that he was a Christian and there were two churches near those water bodies and hence the prayer... :-)

Sunday, February 21, 2010

If Circket were a US sport then......

1. There would be a MLC: Major league of Cricket
2. There would be a Minor league of Cricket
3. There would be several US and Canadian teams in the fray (well, maybe only two Canadian teams)
4. Test cricket and ODI's would be dead and buried
5. The Cricket season would begin and coincide with hockey season.
6. Most of the games would be played indoors
7. Umpires would wear protective gear on the face and chest and .. you know where
8. Boundary lines would be very very clearly defined
9. The ball would be changed every five overs
10. Pitches would be artificially laid and controlled by the BCCA (Board of Cricket control America)
11. Chucking would be electronically tested regularly via video evidence and Afridi, Murali & Akhtar would be retired
12. There would be a massive hall of fame in Biloxi, Mississippi
13. Cricketing merchandise would be in teenagers cloaks
14. Cricket cards would be traded
15. The Dominican republic and Peurto Rican players would dominate 'pinch hitting' and 'fast bowling'
16. Every fielder would wear wicket-keeper gloves
17. A very long version of 'take me out to the ball game' would be sung
18. Obama would make a great speech on the 'history of cricket' before the first pitch of the season
19. The entire Indian cricket team would play at the Golden State Warriors venue
20. Every player would be randomly dope tested.
21. Mohd Asif would be given a brief reference next to Barry Bonds' picture in the baseball hall of fame
22. Tendulkar would make another $100 Million by jumping franchises till his body breaks down
23. The Aussie team would be disciplined for racism and annoyance

The Foreigner registration office experience: An eye opener on priorities in life

I had the misprivilege of visiting the FRRO in Mumbai to register my foreigner sons. No matter how much you prepare towards visiting a Government institution in this country you come up short. That's been my experience thus far. At the onset there was a line then another line and then another one. At the end of every line we would reach a person who would ask us to get into another line to get something accomplished in that line and then re-join this line. People standing in that line would smile at us with an "i almost told you so " look on their stupid faces. In the final line there was a Danish woman next to me. She was a gym instructor in a place near Copenhagen and had come to India to set up a chain of gyms starting from Poona. It was her third trip from Poona to Mumbai as she had to register herself or risk getting deported back to Denmark (which she might have not minded by then). She was complaining endlessly about the way she was treated and how unprofessional government institutions tend to be. At that time I was almost regretting moving back to India (not very seriously though). How can we Indian's be so unprofessional at treating foreigners who are used to great levels of service.

After standing in two such lines and almost two and a half hours later I went and took a breather on a bench nearby. Next to me was another woman. She had come from Turkmenistan. I was guessing she was going to start complaining about her harrowing experience at the FRRO, but, she told me a story that would change the way I think. She was living in Mumbai in a ladies hostel with her 10 yr old son. The son was autistic and needed to be accompanied at all times. She had come to Mumbai to take a course in raising autistic children to help with her son. She contacted some form of strange intestinal infection-illness and had to be hospitalized. At this time her kid was alone in the hostel and with no known person in Mumbai she was in some serious trouble. Her husband didn't have money to come down to Mumbai and she could not be flown out. She was in a lot of trouble. In come the hostel ladies. They took complete charge of the situation. Over the next two months they alternated hospital duty, taking care of her son, taking him to the park, getting him ready and teaching him the assigned school curriculum. She was moved to tears while telling what had happened. After her return, they collected money from fellow hostelites to sponsor her first month's rent there as she could not have afforded it.

Hearing this story was a major anti-climax. So what if some Danish Gym instructor has to stand four hours in a line to get registered. We have our priorities in the right order :-))
This can happen only in India.

Top 20 things one learns about Australia

1. The population of Australia is a little more than the population of Mumbai

2. Stores and shopping closes at 5:00 PM

3. The Aussie dollar is worth $0.75, but, everything is priced at 200% of its value in the USA

4. GM makes and actually sells cars under the name 'Holden' and they sport a strange looking logo.

5. When you see the word 'ECO-' in front of anything just RUN.... (Eco-Resort, Eco-hotel etc)

6. The currency feels like plastic and it probably is

7. You tend to be on day long bus rides to see something you have already seen before.

8. Its the only country with the foot-long penguins and you're not supposed to photograph them because they're camera shy

9. Theme parks are 'diet' versions of parks in the USA

10. If there were no opera house or an international air hub in Sydney.... no one would visit it.

11. A meal in a roadside restaurant is an arm and a leg and ironically its not of the chicken.. its yours

12. You can speak australian if you tied a heavy weight to your lower jaw

13. The only sport played and watched in Australia is Aussie rules football... no cricket, no rugby

14. Aussie coin denominations get bigger in size with reducing value

15. The Koala is NOT a bear. It's a marsupial belonging to the Kangaroo family and has a pouch too

16. The only place really worth visiting in Australia is Cairns and a coral island.. the only thing unique

17. The greatest manufacturing achievement of Australia (which they so proudly proclaim) is 'Vegemite'. A locally synthesized bread-spread developed by a half-mad scientist with an anorexic child. Not surprising then that it tastes like concentrated phenyle solution in chocolate gone bad. (not that i have tried that)

18. Australia is in recession.... well whatever they have as an economy is in recession

19. There are 'bicycle gangs' of the Mafia indicating that gasoline is expensive and unaffordable.

20. Australia is beautiful, but, if someone pays me to go to Australia again even with a 1st class upgrade..... I wont

An unapologetic apology for a boring tourist destination: Australia

Folks, have you ever had a time in your life when you were little and had a monthly pocket money allocation from your parents. You decided to spend it wisely and saved it. Then one day an ice cream truck arrived at your doorstep and you went and bought a flavor that was colorful and new in his collection not minding the fact that it was expensive? only to find out that it tasted like nothing and you'd to throw it down the crap-bin? That was my Australia experience in a nutshell.

Before you read on you must be aware that I am particularly critical of holiday destinations that don't provide value for money or uniqueness or misrepresent what they actually are. I have also lived for six years in one of the most beautiful cities in the world, San Francisco and spent an awfully long time vacationing in the islands of Hawaii and in great city of Vancouver.

Start of Trip:


Perhaps the most boring city of the developed world. This city has nothing to offer. The city tour takes you though a concrete jungle with nothing in it. Then they take you to the place where 'Vegemite' was made. Vegemite, as ive mentioned earlier is the only Australian produce of any significance. Some mad scientist with the objective of creating the 'food pill' (as seen in sci-fi movies where food is compressed into a tablet and consumed) for children. The result a horrible tasting bread-spread that could have been used in Guantanamo bay for torture. Besides this, the tour drops you off for long halts at the unimpressive botanical garden which has limited species of flora. So, at this time you are just killing time.

The next part of the trip is to get to the Philip Island to watch the Penguins. The trip begins at 7:00 AM because the drive is long. The bus driver is extremely enthusiastic about telling the passengers the nitty gritty details on these penguins. After about four hours of knowing where the penguins get their pedicures and massages to how much they charge for Lamaze classes you are bored out of your wits end and want to get the hell out of the bus. The end is not near though. You are escorted through a couple of pit stops for no explained reason before you hit the penguin beach. The phenomenon of penguins taking the cover of dark to quietly move back into their holes (homes) is unique. It occurs just at night fall and takes about 15 min to watch. Then reality sorta slaps you in the face. You just spent hundreds of dollars to ride a bus about 4 hours to see some penguins for 15 min. Then there's a penguin store, a penguin food court, a penguin gallery, a penguin blah blah blah before you are escorted to the bus and shown another Penguin movie on the way back to your hotel (another 3-4 hours).

If this wasnt bad enough we booked a tour to visit the 12 apostles. The natural rock/ limestone formations in the sea. Another day when your day starts off at 7: 00 AM and you spend infinite time in a bus. After a bunch of senseless pit stops called nature points you finally arrive at the 12 apostles only to find out that the best view is from a helicopter ride that is not covered in the tour. The helicopter ride is about 10 min and costs $ 100 (aussie money). I remember paying $ 150 for a 1 hour ride over the grand canyon. You realize that this is daylight robbery, but, have no choice. You have come this far, so, might as well go all the way. The helicopter ride shows you in 10 minutes something that's half as impressive at the grand canyon not to mention broken. I should have asked for some money back when I heard only 10 apostles are now standing :-)). That's it its all over. Then you're back on the bus traveling another 5 hours on the great ocean road to the hotel.


Perhaps the only place worth visiting in Australia. A very picturesque city with the great barrier reef that has a unique display of aquatic life that's worth seeing. Even if you are not a water person, there's lot to do in Cairns and surroundings. I would suggest the Kuranda village outing and the glider ride over Jacques coffee plantation.

Gold Coast:

Another scam of a city. Gold Coast is located south of Cairns and has an airport having very few flights in and out. Therefore your choice is to fly into Brisbane and take a train or bus or taxi to GC. Gold Coast is a theme park town. The main attractions are the Sea World, Dream World and Wet and Wild. As compared to the Sea World USA, this one is a joke, so, I wont even bother going there. The Dream World is a very very small version of Nickelodeon park, San Jose. We didn't bother going to wet and wild. Bottom line is that if you are going to Gold Coast for anything other than to tell friends you have visited another Aussie city, dont. There is nothing here. It just has a few very beautiful and very unsafe beaches.


This was perhaps the most disappointing of all cities in Australia. I thought it would be vibrant and lively, but, the city lacks character and is boring at best. Besides an opera house that looks like a practical joke and a bridge that is least bit impressive this city has nothing else to sport. I dont know why anyone would want to visit Sydney..... seriously.


Shopping stores close at 5:00 PM or 5:30 pm depending on town. A very very retarded concept for a country that manufactures nothing and exports coal & uranium and whose major industry is tourism. Tourists like to shop in the evening.... I think so, but, that's just me.

Bottom line is that during our journey we found that there were racial overtures everywhere we went. People were rude and unfriendly in general (There were some very very friendly people as well). We had one incident with 20-somethings uttering racial slur at us thinking that this Indian family wont understand what they were referring to. Everywhere we went, a sense of discomfort was lurking in the air. Its a feeling Ive never felt in the USA or even in xenophobic European nations and one that made my entire family uncomfortable through the trip. Its something that is very unique to Australia. So, if you want to experience Racism in its true sense and you are not Caucasian then please visist this beautiful Island nation.

Bear in mind that a taste of Racism is also very expensive. A roadside square meal for four (2 adults + 2 kids) runs in three digit dollars and what's more its bad in taste.

If you still feel like visiting Australia, book an open ticket and take the extra flight to San Francisco. The USA is as boring, but, much much better than dark OZ land.

Air India : 5 stars

Last night after hearing multiple horror stories about Air India's lack of performance I finally decided to take the risk and board them for my trip to the US and Europe. I'd heard a range of things from the planes being crappy to the service being crappy to fighting pilots and staff to late arrival departures etc etc.

First Impression: As I was dropped at the departure terminal I was immediately solicited by a suit wearing guy on whether I was flying air-india. After confirming the same, two dudes came along carrying my bags and my passport/tickets. I jumped a long line of people entering the terminal. I was assigned to a check-in clerk. The clerk filled out that stupid immigration form for me and gave me my boarding pass. She also tagged all my bags with my name and address. These two dudes escorted me through the security check point and into the lounge. In the lounge I met up with Begum Parveen Sultana who happened to be on the same flight going for a performance. The same two dudes returned to me picked up my baggage and escorted me all the way to nearly the door of the plane.

On Board: All planes belonging to Air India's International fleet for US and Europe are brand new Boeing 777 LR or ER's. These are very quiet and stable planes. The hostesses brought food and drink. They repeatedly kept asking me if I needed anything else. The moment my glass of water was a little empty they would refill it. Coffee and candy was on overload. Granted the movie selection was a little sub-par, but, hey, it was an overnight flight and a good flat bed goes a long way.

The flight left on time and arrived 10 min early at JFK.

On the way back too both flights were on time and with the great service.

So much for the rumors that float around our airline. I'm sure it has had its share of ups and downs, but, for people to to choose the lousy service of the world worst airline 'Lufthansa' over Air India is a tragedy of sorts. I know for a fact that most all airlines flying into India use the worst aircrafts in their fleet and the worst rated staff members for this route. Why should we be treated like second class citizens when we match and surpass the dollar we pay for these flights. This is a case of discrimination in the air.

Folks, join me in taking the Air India plunge and lets help them get out of trouble by helping us help them. Fly Air Inida... Jai Hind

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Subway: The Anti-Jared way

Subway: The Anti-Jared way

About four years ago Subway started their signature restaurants in India. Slowly and steadily and against popular belief they spread across the country. Today, most major cities have a few of them open in town and in the burbs. My first experience of a subway sandwich was very interesting. It wasn't as much of what I'd ordered, but, what some of the people over there were ordering that made my experience so special it was worth mentioning. To my delight I found that the turkey club that I so often ate in the US was available here too !! In fact, in a few months time I realized that the pile of turkey slices was only moving when I was arriving at the restaurant. When I ordered perhaps my tenth sandwich over a course of months I asked the cashier and he confirmed that I was the only one eating that sandwich. Which meant that the turkey slices were that much older than I thought. Anyway, after I was done ordering there was a couple who ordered two 6" sandwiches and I was hanging around while my combo was being made. I got just enough time to see what they were getting. They ordered a veggie sandwich with all the veggies..... great !! perhaps the best health snack. After all the veggies were stuffed into the  sandwich the real tragedy began. It was as though the Jared in their brain kind of died. They went on to add a tub full of mayo, mustard, oil and vinegar followed by double the amount of cheese and a honey-mustard dressing. The husband was even more zealous and asked them to add some more of the sauces in his sandwich. After a while, the veggies looked very small in quantity as compared to the sauces. Then they took a table next to ours and a splurge of sauce mixture spilled through one end of the sandwich on the table. The woman muttered something and laughed at the incident. All through their meal they were telling each other how their sandwich was the best. I think I did a mental count of the number of calories in the sandwich and realized that my mental calculator didn't have enough spaces to store the number. If I were to eat one of such sandwiches I would starve for a week after gagging and throwing up the whole thing. Sorry for the picture, but, this was not the last one. Virtually every visit to multiple subways I've found people ordering the super fattening sandwich. Lovingly I've started calling it the Anti-Jared sandwich-- animal style :-)

Cheap Animations

Cheap animations (in the news, the ship stuck example)

India has prospered very well on the technology front. There are a multitude of companies that have sprung up specializing in a lot of outsourcing work. One of the things they've gained some momentum on is animation. This comes on the lines of a lot of flash that's deployed in websites. Animation has become cheap to make and put wherever one needs it. It also gets on your nerves when its overdone. The other night I was watching TV and there was news about a small ship having lost course. The ship had been beached off the coast of Mumbai after hitting a rock and losing its propeller blades. This was due to heavy rains and stormy weather off the coast of Mumbai. Now, the camera teams could not get out there because this was in the middle of nowhere and was not accessible by road. So, the news reports coming out had an old antiquated picture of the ship that they managed to pick from the docks and scan into their systems. One of the news channels was more creative in their thinking. They picked up an animator and asked him to create an animation of a ship getting stuck in rock on the coastline. And then all mayhem broke loose. This story had very little to write/ speak on and it was a very slow news day. Soon enough the news sites started one-upping each other with their version of the graphic. Within a matter of minutes all the channels were flooded with this absurd and immensely annoying graphic of a ship going a few feet before getting stuck in rock !! This animation played on for hours together with the only worthy news of being reported for the day. That's pretty much what happens when you get something for cheap.

The Three unmarried sisters

The Three Unmarried sisters

When I met my wife in a very romantic way at a common friends wedding my parents were invited at their place for dinner for the first time. As my dad walked through the narrow hallway of my would-be-wives building he noticed something peculiar. There was a board with the names of the residents on the wall. One of the names suddenly struck his mind that of Ms. Kulkarni (name changed). He'd remembered that name from nearly 30 yrs ago his Engg school days. He later recollected that it was the name of the university honor student (class topper) at his university (UDCT, Mumbai) and was displayed on a board in the school. Her name was very peculiar because women were not typically enrolled in programs such as Engineering and not only was she enrolled in the best programs in the country, but also a class topper of the same. My father was elated to know that the Kulkarni was a neighbor and expressed interest in meeting her.
The story of the Kulkarni sisters is unique not just to India, but, to the world. These were three sisters living in an apartment in Mumbai. Their ages 93, 89 and 87. The oldest one was a practicing doctor at 93. The middle one was also a teacher of medicine, but, not practicing due to health issues. The youngest one was the engineer whose name was on the board in UDCT. None of the sisters were married and that was one of the things unusual about them. They lived together in a small apartment in suburban Mumbai and hardly ever left the place for any reason other than work. All the sisters were very fair and beautiful looking in their day and age. Then there was the looming question about why they weren't married? There was speculation that they were gay. But that couldn't have been true because the youngest one was rumored to have had a long-standing affair with a co-worker that never materialized into marriage. The other rumor was that the first one didn't get married and the other two followed suit. Then after a certain age they all decided to stick together through old age and be there for one another without getting married. The third speculated reason was one that could be believed. They all belonged to one of the most shunned upon castes in India. Naturally, getting married inter-caste in a society deeply divided by caste was virtually impossible. I suspect they might have had rejections based on caste and perhaps vowed to never get married. Sadly enough last year, the oldest of the three passed away at 97 yrs of age. The youngest one at an age of 91 was doing the hospital duty for her. They had an adopted daughter that was helping out, but, they would refuse any help from anyone else. Their story is rather remarkable to say the least. The survival of single women in a culturally conservative society like India is virtually impossible. I've always wondered what kind of challenges they must have met in their lives and the days that they have seen both before & after independence from the British. Perhaps, I must go interview the youngest one soon to get my answers.

The Great Chinese liquidation sale

The Great Chinese liquidation sale:

I take the train to work occasionally. Those that have been to Mumbai realize that the 1 million + a day carrier of people, the Mumbai suburban train network, as stinky and dirty as it maybe, is the lifeline of the city. . Fortunately, my train commute is very convenient. At a convenient time and against traffic, so, the words 'rush hour' don't really apply to my case. I recently took the train and when I got off at my destination station decided to not take the walk over-bridge and instead walk on the street parallel to the train station. This street used to be filled with small mom & pop type stores owned by people who have lived and worked there for ages. Instead I saw a very different sight. It was littered with little makeshift stalls selling tons and tons of crap. It was like entering a large clothes store on a liquidation day sale. One gets so overwhelmed for the first few minutes it takes a closer second look to decipher the objects on sale. And what a close guess that was. Ladies and Gentleman it was the great Chinese liquidation show. I walked towards a stall that displayed a multitude of watches and a few day-to-day use items. There was a box full of nail cutters and I was immediately reminded of the fact that we needed one for our home. So, I went on to enquire how much one cost. To my surprise the nail cutter, made of stainless steel cost Rs. 5.00 (US $0.10). It was so ridiculously cheap that bargaining was out of question although I'm sure if I'd bought two or more I would have scratched some off its already rock bottom price. I started to wonder how they would be able to afford selling something like a nail cutter for so cheap. Hailing from the industry I know steel prices have not dropped. Plus the fabrication costs and the transport/ logistics expense. So, how come the cost per unit was so low. After strolling through this street-side marketplace and picking up a charger for my phone and some other tidbits I retired in my office. I kept the nail cutter on my table and watched it closely. Suddenly, I realised it was made in China. Lo! that was the reason it was so cheap. I decided to investigate further. I asked some people who knew about imports from China (myself being one) and realized that every year China basically just dumps tons and tons of material into India. These are usually surpluses or out-of-style items or unwanted items or rejects. Container lots of these items are shipped from China every day and these containers are purchased by weight by poor countries like India. So, by now I was pretty sure that my nail cutter had made the journey from China to India in the same manner. It was just a weight 50 gms. If you put that into the equation it made sense. Bulk rolled stainless steel would be Rs. 150/ Kg~ 1000 gms. The nail cutter must weigh about 50 gms which implied Rs. 7.5 for the piece. Factor in the liquidation price (under invoiced) and you soon arrive at the figure of Rs. 2-3 per piece which meant that the guy was selling at a 100% margin ! Interestingly enough, every train station in Mumbai has such markets. Unfortunately, the fact that not a single Indian nail cutter manufacturer is alive and kicking today is testimony to the fact that this dumping of goods into the Indian market is going to be harmful to the Indian manufacturing sector. The Indian government took some measures to avoid this from happening. They introduced the anti-dumping duty or penalty. This meant that if any country was liquidating its stock by selling it below manufacturing price then they would be liable to pay a penalty that would make their business model un-viable. Unfortunately, this duty or penalty has not deterred the Chinese manufacturers that are desperate to dispose off their excesses. Apparently, they make so much money off the items sold in the west that this loss or hit is just a small cost of doing business. Any small percentage of the price recovered by liquidation despite the penalties is a bonus. Its quite amazing how China does business. These incidents took a rather serious and dangerous turn when a ship containing Chinese drugs was caught off the eastern coast of India. These drugs were brought into India under coal packaged to conceal them. There was no brand name and they were packed in bulk in bags and drums. I'm wondering how many of these drugs have made it by the system thus far and how many of them have showed up at my chemist as authentic looking counterfeits. Upon further enquiry I also learnt that many shipments from China containing these items are illegally disposed. There is no record of them. The whole transaction is done in cash. The containers (the physical containers) carrying this material are in such bad shape that they're also up for disposal to the buyer. These containers are used as steel or for making steel cabins which are makeshift offices for small companies. Very very interesting things happening around here.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

A country deserves its politicians and movies

Once years ago in a discussion with my father about how bad the movies in India are, he'd given me some wisdom on it. He'd said " A judge of a country's character is the movies they produce". At that time, I was not in complete agreement with this thought, in fact, I was almost inclined to disagreeing with him. I thought, how come a country like India with its educated folk and rich culture and heritage have movies with people dancing to music and running around trees (sorry Russell Peters)? The answer lay in the demographic of the people watching these movies. Urban educated folk in India continue to believe that they are the superior breed in the world. They often are completely disillusioned in that way because they never bother to step out of the comfort zone of their homes and their cities. Some Indians, often in foreign countries like the USA, tend to keep relishing the fact that they often do well and how their accounting skills and basics are so much better than the general population. This is a myth. Fact is that statistics don't lie. India still reels under the dark cloud of poverty and abysmal levels of illiteracy. If any of the people had ever bothered to step outside of their homes they would know that barely 50 miles from any developed city in any direction, the levels of intelligence, education and infrastructure are so poorly crumbling that they would rest their cases. Unfortunately, most of these urban people are perpetually exposed to the best of the best that can survive in the demanding environment of the city. And hence, they have this illusion of superior existence.

The same applies to movies. It is these folk that toil hard under adverse conditions to make ends meet that fill up cinema houses. They don't want to watch movies on serious social issues that engage their mind. They demand the song and dance sequences and the ridiculousness of mindless flicks to entertain them for three hours. Yes, three hours. That's how long Bollywood movies are. That in itself is a display of who the target audience is. A set of population that want value for money in the time spent at the theater and the apparent 'energizing' ( Star trek) of their minds into a space of surreality. The problem with this reality was that the population that didn't want to watch this form of entertainment was forced to watch it. The funny thing was that when we'd come out of sheer disappointment after watching one of these movies, when the general population was interview in an exit-theater poll, they often responded in the positive and stated how they'd loved the movie. That whole thing baffled me until I realized the truth.

In much the same way, we also deserve the politicians. They are a direct reflection of the society and its social stature. So, any call to kill the politicians is not very valid or useful unless the society itself is subject to change. One has to remember that the politicians haven't dropped from the sky. We have been part of this process of their election. We have turned a blind eye when it comes to voting for them. Granted that the choices given to us have been between horse sh** and cow sh**, but, we have never bothered to challenge the system. This common unexplained sociological behavior is exhibited by many a populations irrespective of their culture and level of education. For instance, the US re-elected GW Bush despite seeing his spectacular record for the first four years. And it takes the scale of an uprising to challenge the incumbent just as Barack Obama did. Since we are vastly outnumbered in the general population (as per my first post 'Why democracy has failed us' ) the onus is on us to take the initiative and start this battle to make our system better.