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

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Pani Pani re...

Water- essential for life on earth. It is ironic that with 70% of the earth filled with water people in some parts of the world are still struggling to get adequate water supply. And the water that does get supplied is contaminated beyond belief.
We live in a nice suburb of Bangalore which is one of the IT hubs in the city. The who’s who of IT has set up shop in this area and as a result the real estate developers have built innumerable apartment complexes around the IT parks. If you look at the properties, they are all world class. Professionally managed services, housekeeping that keeps the premises clean, plenty of room for kids to play,amenities that include very well equipped gymnasiums, club houses,yoga halls and most even have their own swimming pool! The only problem is that more often than not in the summers there is such a shortage of water that filling up that pool is not only impossible, it feels criminal! We live in one such community. It is a small one with 44 units of which about 30 are occupied.
So, first things first- even though the IT industry came to this area and the residential properties were not far behind, the government is taking its own sweet time to provide infrastructure to support this development. This includes a water pipeline to supply water to this area. I don’t have words to describe how I felt when I found out that we don’t have a water pipeline in this area AND there are some companies and communities which have actually paid the cost of laying the government’s pipeline themselves to get water supply. Yup! That’s right and I am not talking about a bribe- the developers actually found out how much it would cost the government to lay the pipeline and then paid the cost to get it. Of course they collected the funds from the home buyers but at least they had the vision to get the pipeline.
Now houses in this area are by no means cheap. In fact you pay more per square foot than you would pay for a house in Coppell ISD. Even for that price tag, you still have to endure bad infrastructure. Most builders put in ground water pumps which are advertised as being “sufficient” for the community. They claim that they all have rain water harvesting and water treatment plants on site which essentially means that not a drop of water is wasted and it is all recycled. In theory it all sounds great. It almost sounds like the entire community is an eco-friendly haven but then I realized that they also have diesel generators running to work the bore wells, water treatment plants and provide backup electricity so the good they do by recycling water and trash is more than negated by using the diesel to run all these pumps.
Back to water- With all the bore wells in the area, Bangalore which was once a city of a thousand lakes has only about 200 left. The city which always had pleasant weather is now seeing temperatures in the high 30s during the summer. Rainfall has reduced, ground water has depleted and as a result- surprise- water shortage! BTW this summer is supposed to be the worst in a long time. We weren’t expecting it to hit us very hard though. Being a small community we had smaller needs, two working bore wells, rainwater harvesting and a regular water supplier. We had our bases covered or so we thought. All hell broke loose when the bore well pumps stopped working and the tanker supplier decided not to show up. We were going to get used to having the water shut off for a few hours a day.
There are worse things than being without running water. I know. But with both kids home all day for summer vacation and only a few small buckets in the house for storing water, three hours of water shut off seemed draconian. The first day we didn’t even have enough time to fill buckets. Some neighbors were running to the store to buy buckets! The kids of course didn’t realize that there will not be any water in the taps. They wanted to go swimming! I had to bribe them with TV time to get them to stay indoors. The icing on the cake- Nakul had an “accident” in his underpants and needed a bath! We had one last bucket of water for the next two hours! I managed to give him a bath with half a bucket of water but had to wait for an hour to wash my face!  He of course was mad at me for not letting him play with the rest of the water J
They even started to shut off water at night. So, there would be no water to flush the toilets at night or to wash your hands if you woke up in the middle of the night. So much for personal hygiene. There were days when the overhead tank would run out of water at 7:00 PM only to be refilled the next morning. Imagine my plight when I got an email saying we were having a shortage and we should expect to flush bathrooms with buckets of water instead of using the flush! Yes!!!! We had to do that too!
So the root cause of all this- water shortage, no municipal water in the area, a little mismanagement by the community property manager and the water mafia. You read that right. The water mafia. There is a veritable mafia in these parts for water. Every supplier has to pay off local officials to ply their tankers in an area. The areas are marked for all suppliers. No new suppliers can enter the market unless they have the right connections. There is no standard pricing for a tanker of water which means the suppliers can quote any number they like. Sometimes they quote you a price and by the time they bring the tanker to you they increase it. You cannot question them. Sometimes they will boycott your community altogether. You have to maintain a relationship with them. Unless you give them regular business regardless of whether you need the water every week, they will refuse to supply water to you when you really need it.
A combination of this madness along with mismanagement by the property managers meant we went through a summer from hell. Oh, by the way what we had was a bed of roses compared to some of the bigger communities. When the size of the community increases, the demand for water also increases. Which means they can’t find enough water to satisfy their needs. Most communities resorted to supplying water only for 2-3 hours every day. They sent out notices to the residents asking them to buy drinking water because the quality of the tanker water was questionable even if they used reverse osmosis filters to clean the water. The tanker water we had for over a month was so bad everybody in our community got sick. When we sent the water for testing we found out that the water had e-coli contamination! We had to use filtered water for washing vegetables, dishes and even our teeth for over a month!
So much for having running water! What is the point of having running water when you have to resort to use bottled water for everything? All I could think was-this too shall pass! You live, you learn and you go on with the perpetual-“chalta hai” attitude!!!