Thursday, March 17, 2016

Hakuna Matata

It means ‘no worries’. The phrase popularized with the release of the Disney movie ‘The Lion King’ has stayed with me since my childhood days. It has deeply affected how I deal with everyday stresses and life in general. We live in a stressful environment. A very stressful one at that. Most mornings start at the crack of dawn with people jumping out of bed and scrambling to get through the day. Moms running around making sure the kids are ready for school and then running to get through their day, dads helping out moms or zoned out from the beating they had to take at work the day before. Kids having to sit through a horrendous bus ride to school and back through the potholed glory we choose to call roads. Grandparents trying to relax but unable to because of all the activity around them, wondering what is wrong with our generation.

So what makes us go around then? Why do we choose to do this day in and day out each day? Why
don’t all of us just throw the towel in, turn into depressed individuals and go deep within ourselves
refusing to face reality, finding solace instead in our own internal thoughts? Honestly I don’t know. I think part of it is that we have been conditioned to lead this life. A lot of us do it because it is expected of us. Some of us do it because we actually enjoy doing it. Whatever our reasons, we all do it go through our days running getting things done, from the crack of dawn till the end of the day when groggily we find our way into our bed and zone out only to get up the next day and do it all over again.

Whatever our reasons, I believe in doing it with a happy attitude. Tackle each challenge with a smile,
take life by its horns and smile at it. With the amount of stress in today’s life, it’s a miracle that we are still able to smile but the human condition is such that we have the ability to smile and laugh at the smallest things, rejoice in the smallest achievements, take the smaller pleasures in life and get enough energy from it to last us through weeks. You can choose to be depressed about all the madness or choose to be happy about what you do have going good. I choose happiness and I hope you do too. Like the song goes, don’t worry, be happy!

Thursday, August 15, 2013

One year and counting

So, it’s been a year since we moved back and believe it or not I love it here. There are a LOT of issues here and I mean a LOT but there are an equal number of awesome things too.

For one, you can be comfortable in your own skin. You don’t have to feel like an alien and have people stare at you when you walk in the supermarket. I know how people here think and would react to a particular situation. It may be a good reaction or a bad reaction but I am glad I can predict it most of the time. 

My internet doesn’t work most days. Especially at night. If I call them, the tech support guys answering the call have no clue about what is wrong with the system. They are fed a few lines by the engineering staff( unavailable after 9:00 PM) and they just repeat it to the customers. They are at the receiving end of irate customers but they will smile and talk to you like a buddy. One of them told me, please come down to the office during the day and yell at them, maybe they will put better quality control in place J. No plastic smiles here. Don’t get me wrong, I would trade all the friendliness and buddy talk for better customer service any day but I do like the fact that I can connect to the person on the other end of the phone better.

The roads have more pot holes than the grand canyon and are a case study in relief features, my new car’s mud guards are in tatters because of all the illegal speed bumps, the wheel alignment is probably nonexistent and the car has aged 4 years in 4 months but I don’t really care! I have gotten used to the bad infrastructure and de-sensitized towards mundane issues like the lack of safe drinking water. It is definitely a dangerous thing but living here would do that to you. You stop noticing the bad stuff after a while.

It is probably because the good stuff masks most things. Living here makes me feel like I am at home. I know this place. This is how I grew up. I know the people. I love the fact that my children can recite the Indian National Anthem. That they know the national flag, national game, national bird, national animal and the unofficial national game of cricket. I love to hear my 7 year old rattle off names of team members of his favorite IPL team member and to hear him tell me that he wants to be a cricketer when he grows up and play for the Bangalore team J. My 3 year old came home from school the other day and started yelling ‘Jai Sind’ followed by a very eclectic rendition of ‘Jana gana mana’ which was recognizable only by its tune.

They actually know the names of all four grandparents and have met more cousins, aunts and uncles in the last one year than they did in their entire life in the US. They have a concept of extended family, miss their grandparents when they are not here, ask me to call them so they can talk to them and they want to go visit cousins in Delhi and Hyderabad. Vacation for us used to be a visit to a tourist location but now it is usually visiting family and that is just fine by me J.

I remember having neighbors who would help at the drop of a hat regardless of how long they have known you. And that is something that hasn’t changed at all. I don’t have to watch my kids when they play outside. I know they are safe in the community. I love the fact that I can knock on my neighbor’s door to ask for some ‘cheeni’ or a few green chilies if I run out and they do the same!
Talking about people, it is very endearing to be invited to your auto-vallah’s house for Satyanarayan katha or to your child’s school bus driver’s daughter’s wedding reception. I am not kidding! We got invitations for both and we went there as well. I had never had this experience before. Not even when I lived in Delhi. It says a lot about how people want to share their happiness J. These are things that haven’t changed in a long time and I sure hope it remains the same for as long as I can foresee.

One thing that has changed for the better is convenience. If you have money, life can be very convenient. Make a call and groceries arrive at your door. Domestic help is fairly cheap (finding and keeping the reliable ones is another story), including temporary help like part-time drivers. Although if you are lucky enough to find good people, keep track of them and don’t let them out of your sight! Public transport is available (however bad it may be, at least autos,taxis and buses are easily available).  And living in a gated community has its perks – security or the sense of it, maintenance people on call at all times of the day or night, ironing services available inside the complex, some even have their own grocery stores and salons. They are practically mini cities! It definitely beats having to find a different repair person every time something needs to be fixed, taking time off from work to be available for them at home and then paying an exorbitant price for a simple repair! 

The newspapers give you a gory picture of life in India, the roads are horrendous, the water undrinkable, electricity and internet service are missing in action most of the time, customer service is practically nonexistent, passing the buck has become the national sport and law and order is a joke but it is the little things that keep you tied to this place regardless of all the madness that goes on around you.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Holey Whacamole

Nope, this is not about the game! It is about the pot holed glory that Bangalore roads have become these days, thanks to the rain! So, apparently the roads are fixed every year and every year after the first showers they return to their original state of ‘holeyness’. And no, the roads don’t develop an aura or start teaching us the way of life. Pun intended. 

I honestly think the holes are always there, under the covers all summer, biding their time, itching to pop out at the first sign of rain, threatening to be unearthed by so much as a strong gust of wind. They are a car’s best fiend. That was NOT a type. I did mean a fiend. I cringe at the thought of driving on the road these days. I think my car has programmed the current potholes on my regular route in its microprocessor and I find it veering itself to one side of the road trying to avoid being tilted at a 45 degree angle while going over the newest addition to the relief features of the ‘road’. It hardly ever helps though because in some stretches, the road is entirely missing. The choice is between a 45 degree angle and a 30 degree angle. Take your pick.

Actually I think if I go over the same pothole in both directions, my wheel alignment would actually get balanced. In fact I would probably save some money. Although nobody in their right mind would EVER get their wheel alignment checked in India. Even if I get it checked (I don’t know why I would do that), I wouldn’t spend money getting it fixed. I saw an advertisement the other day that offered a discount on wheel alignment and I couldn’t help feeling bad for the poor guy who not only opened that business but also spent money advertising it. You might as well take that money and throw it out the car’s window. Or collect all such monies towards a road fund J. Because the taxes we pay go towards the ‘Swiss’ fund of the local politicians.

I think I can take the kids of our community on a field trip to the local pothole and explain quite a few geographic concepts if I spend 20 minutes there. It has ridges and valleys, mountains and hills, seas and oceans, rivers and deltas and by next season it may also boast of its own little eco system. It would be a nice case study in geography and science. I think Bangalore city officials should take advantage of these models created by nature and charge tickets for children to use them as study material. At least the potholes would have a purpose in life other than trying to break poor commuter’s backbones.

Sometimes I think it is a conspiracy by orthopedicians in Bangalore. They probably spend a lot of money appeasing the rain gods so Bangalore area sees a lot of rain and the roads are never free of potholes. The more people break their backs going over these potholes on their daily commute, the better business is for them. Or it could be a lobby of car companies who want the existing cars of the roads to die a painful death so sales would go up.

By the way, for those of you who don’t know already, these roads get ‘fixed’ every year. Which translates to the contractor getting paid to lay a new road but to save a ‘buck’, the metaphorical kind, they end up patching the road instead. Why fix the whole thing when only part of it is broken? How will they buy the latest model of the Audi if they don’t have a road to ‘fix’ next year? 

So, until the tender gets passed this year, we will be in our ‘hell hole’ and wait for the patches to come so we can move on with our life. Until next monsoon.

Monday, July 22, 2013

Aa Smell Enti?

Of all the senses bestowed upon us, the sense of smell affects us the most. Who would have thought such a small organ on your face could have such a huge impact on you? You can shut your eyes to a bad visual, cringe away from too much heat if it burns your skin or freezes it, spit out something if your tongue doesn’t like the taste, cover your ears with noise cancelling ear phones if things get too noisy but when it comes to smells, there is very little you can do to avoid them. The good, bad and ugly smells, all have to be endured! 

How many of us stop in our tracks and search all around when we smell something cooking. We could be on a busy street and just had lunch but the smell of frying samosas/jalebi/onion rings/potato fries will make most of us stop and try to find the source. A friend once told me about a restaurant owner who would fry onions right around lunch time to entice customers! Guess what? His trick worked and business went up! Ever walked through the food court at the mall and wanted to sample food from EVERY stall? I even wanted to try some of the non-vegetarian fare which smelled awesome.

Have you ever caught a whiff of the most amazing perfume in the cosmetic section of a departments store and spent 15 minutes sampling different perfumes trying to find it in the cornucopia of perfumes? I have been there, spent a heavenly 15 minutes smelling perfumes, got exasperated at not finding the one I was looking for and eventually thinking that it was a mix of scents I smelled and not one perfume. Yes, that’s what it was. Not my unwillingness to go through 100 bottles of perfume or my nose’s temporary inability to tell the perfumes apart, yes, that’s what it must have been. I have never been able to find ‘the’ perfume I smelled so that’s what I will attribute it to.

So, if you see me walking around a certain spot in a departmental store breathing deeply, please don’t think I am having an asthma attack, it is just me trying to catch a whiff of that mesmerizing smell one more time so I can go back to the shelves and look for it. Again.

There are some of us who can go through the day and ignore the overpowering smells around them but not me. I have been “blessed” with an enhanced sense of smell. I remember smells from my childhood! A strong smell will often trigger a memory. The smell of sandalwood powder reminds me of my teenage in India, the smell of baby powder, that of my kids’ diaper days J. The smell of my mom’s cooking reminds me of the days when the pressure cooker’s whistle acted as an alarm for us to get out of bed and rush to get dressed for school. I even remember the way some people smell! I would catch a whiff of a scent and go into la la land thinking about an old friend and how much fun we had together or how much I hated the smell of that particular hair oil J

The other side of the coin is being extremely sensitive to bad smells. While most people can walk past a garbage can and not smell much, I can catch the faintest odor. I remember dreading walking to karate class because the road went past a community dumpster which didn’t really smell bad but to me it was the equivalent of the city dump. If my food didn’t smell good, I wouldn’t eat it no matter how good it tasted. I always drive with my air vents closed, especially when driving in a skunk infested area. Believe me, the smell stays in the car for DAYS! 

I knew I had an elevated sense of smell but I didn’t really pay too much attention to it until my younger son started displaying similar traits. Yes! It is hereditary! He identifies EVERYTHING by its smell. His favorite sentence- ‘ aa smell enti ?’ which translates to ‘ what is that smell?’. He hates bad smells with the same fervor. The best way to persuade him to eat is making sure it smells good! He gives me a hard time if we get into an elevator with somebody who has a strong body odor.

I smile every time he asks me ‘aa smell enti?’ I don’t think anybody else would understand the depth of that simple sentence as much as I do! The tradition continues…

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Some things will never change

There are some things that will probably never change in India. I went to a store to buy dumb bells (didn’t know the guy selling them would turn out to be the dumbbell!).  I was looking at different weights and trying to decide between the heavier one and the lighter one. Talking to DH to see which one I should buy when, out of the blue the attendant comes up and provides me with his unsolicited “expert” advice. Madam, he says, if the weights are for you, you should buy 5kg. For women, that is enough. DH tried to intervene and tell him that if we needed his help, we will ask but he refused to back down. He had the audacity to smirk at me when I tried to lift the heavier weights to see if I could handle those. I was appalled at his attitude towards me despite the fact that DH was with me and asking him to back off. I can’t imagine going by myself and trying to make a decision without getting bombarded by his opinion of what I am capable of doing. DH’s response- he probably hasn’t heard of Karnam Malleswari J

Another time when I went out with a couple of other girls to a restaurant in Bangalore. The experience at the restaurant was great but we went over to a paan shop to get meetha paan later and there we were given the proper street experience you can expect for women. It was not too late in the night and yet I felt unsafe and couldn’t wait to go back to the safety of my house.
Passing the buck is another thing that exasperates me. Nobody is willing to take responsibility for their actions. Everybody from the maid to the cell phone company, from the property manager to the phone company has a reason for why they couldn’t perform their job as expected. And it is NEVER their fault. Apparently everybody would have done their job perfectly if only somebody else had not slipped up somewhere down the line.

My phone line would not have been down if only the old property management company had paid more attention to detail. Never mind the fact that the current company is doing the same thing. The plumber would have fixed the issues in the house if only the vendor would bring in the parts. The maid wouldn’t have had to take the day off suddenly if only her dad had remembered to tell her about the family reunion a week in advance. She could choose to say that she couldn’t make it at such short notice but of course it is inevitable for her to go. The traffic jam wouldn’t have happened if only the bus driver would have had the decency to stop a little further from the junction. Never mind the fact that the two wheelers are weaving in and out of traffic making it impossible for others to move much.
Oh, and everything always takes longer than expected. I guess I should just change my expectation. If the grocery delivery guy says the groceries would be delivered in an hour, I can expect them to be delivered after 3 hours. If they say 30 minutes, then there is a good chance it will never be delivered. I know that’s counter intuitive but in my experience, that’s the way things work.

A friend made a remark the other day that in India, we can expect the unexpected. I think that is true. The only thing is that the level of unexpectedness needs to be readjusted every so often J. That’s what makes life so interesting here…

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Jugaad- The way of life in India

If you don’t know what that means, you have either never lived in this part of the world or worked closely with somebody from here. The term is the lifeline of people in India. It loosely translates to a quick innovative way to solve a problem to overcome lack of resources. If we didn’t come up with Jugaads for most problems, life would come to a standstill here. Every day is full of these ‘innovative’ solutions. I say it with a little bit of sarcasm because although a lot of these solutions are pretty innovative, people here abuse it to be just plain lazy. Using a quick fix for things in most situations when a little more effort would solve the problem permanently.

The original Jugaad- a wooden cart fitted with a motor which works as a low cost transport for villagers. Another ingenious jugaad- the low cost mitticool refrigerator that runs without electricity. These are examples of innovation to overcome the lack of resources but the way of life in India has become such that there is a jugaad for everything these days.

It starts with the basic necessities like water and electricity. People want to live close to their work place so they are prepared to pay a premium for decent housing in prime locations. Wherever IT industry sets up shop, builders swoop in and build properties which get lapped up by the local population and even "smart" NRI investors who want to cash in on the real estate market in India. Most properties are equipped with world class amenities like a club house, pools, indoor squash, badminton and tennis courts, housekeeping service to keep everything clean, lush green lawns and a few even have libraries. Unfortunately the city does not have enough infrastructure to support all the upcoming neighborhoods so more often than not there is no water pipeline, the roads are a joke and you are lucky to have electricity.
What do the builders do? They have a jugaad for most of these issues. They install borewells that tap into ground water to provide water for the community but they fail to mention that this depletes the water table. There is also tanker water which costs you money, is contaminated and expensive yet it is the only option for the hot summer months when water is more precious than gold.
Electricity is very fickle and power cuts are very frequent. Combine this with torrential rains and you have a crazy mix of overloaded transformers, broken power lines and non-existent technicians for fixing the problems. The jugaad-buy generators which run on diesel and provide back-up for electricity. There is one small problem though, diesel is a non-renewable source of energy and the generators create noise and air pollution but what else can we do if power is off more often than being on? You will see a lot of people here who talk about going green, recycling waste and reusing everything. But at the end of the day we all use diesel for power back up J

Internet service is another necessity which is completely unpredictable. We are all attached to the web by a veritable umbilical cord. It is a lifeline of sorts, so when it stops working, it is more than a mild irritant. And here in India, the service is so fickle, it stops working if you so much as sneeze too close to the connection. You can call the service provider and try to get it to work. If you are lucky you will get a person who is technically sound and can actually solve your problem in about an hour. If you are not, then all you will hear is sorry, but the technical folks are not available right now, you will have to wait till the morning!. The best one, we ar esorry but the service is down for regular maintenance (in the middle of the day) and will be back in 4 hours! It would be nice if they warn us about these but hey, why do the customers need to know that the service would be down the entire day? What do they care if you have an important skype call or if you can’t make your VOIP calls until the next morning?
The eternal ‘kindly adjust’ attitude shows through everything. The jugaad - have back up data cards. So not only are you paying a premium for the internet service which fails more often than it works, you are also paying for a data card which you may or may not use.
The cell phone company is a completely different beast. The customer service is ill equipped to resolve issues, all they do if you go to their office is give you a token and ask you to wait. If yo udon’t like the service, then you are welcome to go to the other vendors who provide similar if not worse service J.

I lost my sim card and have been trying for more than two weeks to get it replaced. Apparently giving a government issued ID proof does not suffice to get a replacement card, you have to go back to square one and provide an address proof, ID proof, salary statement, the whole works!!! This is after they put your passport sized picture on your original application. I fail to understand why exactly they saved a copy of the picture ID and a photo of you on the original application if they cannot issue a replacement by looking at the application and visually verifying that you are who you say you are!!! So, the mother of all jugaads- get a new SIM card.
The moral of the story - don’t try to fix it, find a jugaad instead. You will save a lot of time and a few hairs on your scalp from going gray-for now. Pun intended.

Thursday, May 23, 2013

A bizarre story

We were having brunch with some friends last weekend and started talking about real estate prices in Bangalore. Everybody had examples of how real estate prices have gone through the roof in Bangalore. After a few oohs and aahs and stories about lost opportunities for investment, our host told us of a house whose market price was about 5 crores but it was on sale for 70 lakhs!!!

Of course our interest was piqued. So while everybody listened in rapt attention, he regaled us with the story of the house. The house is in a prime location and there is nothing wrong with it. Except an entire family of five committed suicide in the house 5-6 years back. The owner worked at one of the big names in the IT industry but lost all his fortune during the downturn. So one day the family of five- husband,wife and three kids decided to end it all. The story goes that since that day, nothing that enters the compound wall of that house has ever come out alive!!!! And of course nobody wants to buy the property.
It sounds like something out of a horror movie and I don’t know if I want to believe it but listening to the story on a Sunday afternoon in the company of friends took me back to a time when exchanging “ghost” stories was a favorite way to while away time. Our group of friends would huddle together in the evenings during summer vacation and regale each other with so called ghost stories whose origin was questionable at best. Nonetheless we all enjoyed listening to them, even getting scared by the chilling details. The moment power went out in the area, we would come out of our houses and gather up on the terrace or the park and invariably somebody would start telling us about this one time that they were visiting their village and saw a ghost. That would be the beginning of an entire session of ghost stories told with such conviction that any listener would believe them.

My sister was probably the best ghost story teller and the most notorious. She would not only tell the scariest, most bizarre stories, she would even get a couple of pranksters in the group to sneak up to the person who was easily scared and startle them when she was narrating the scariest part of the story. Of course it would lighten the moment and everybody would go from being scared to laughing out loud.
At our hostel, there was always a new ghost rumor doing the rounds every year. One year it would be a tree in the compound that was haunted, another year, somebody would spread the rumor that you could hear the sound of anklets in one of the rooms all night long. Of course somebody would invariably come back from summer vacation to tell us that they had seen a ghost on the freeway or heard an interesting ghost story at home. It was all an attempt to capture the attention of listeners and of course to terrify some newcomers and then laugh about it with friends.

I even remember our parents exchanging ghost stories with family and friends. At social functions when most guests have left and only close family and friends are present or late at night while sleeping on the terrace, the adults would indulge in a session of ghost stories. Of course at the end of it they would all dismiss them as a bunch of stories but that didn’t stop them from enjoying the session in all its scary detail.
I think exchanging ghost stories is a favorite entertainer for Indians of all ages J. Boys even use them as ice-breaker when trying to talk to a girl. Sometimes even to impress them with their bravado in the face of chilling danger. Oh, by the way, none of these stories have any copyrights on them. Once you narrate a story, the listener is free to use it as their own. The intent is not to plagiarize, only to entertain more people.

And I am happy to notice that the current generation of teenagers in India is no different from us. They still come outside and play in the evenings, huddle together at parties and yes, exchange ghost stories. Here’s to more generations of ghost story tellers J