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.