Wednesday, 28 July 2010

**Reflections on India by Sean Paul Kelley**

I read the below article on the blog of  my friend The unsure ascetic  and it speaks for itself, without me adding a prelude. I feel it explains the sorry state of our country, the dirt, the pollution, the crowd, and most importantly ‘the mindset’. It seems we have been exposed to so much of negativity around us that we have started to believe that its all normal and natural, and  these sights fail to move us any further. Please read on…..

Sean Paul Kelley is a travel writer, former radio host, and before that an asset manager for a Wall Street investment bank that is still (barely) alive. He recently left a fantastic job in Singapore working for Solar Winds, a software company based out of Austin to travel around the world for a year (or two). He founded the Agonist which is still considered the top international affairs, culture and news destination for progressives. He is also the Global Correspondent for The Young Turks, on satellite radio and Air America.

If you are Indian, or of Indian descent, I must preface this post with a clear warning: you are not going to like what I have to say. My criticisms may be very hard to stomach. But consider them as the hard words and loving advice of a good friend. Someone who’s being honest with you and wants nothing from you. 

These criticisms apply to all of India except Kerala and the places I didn’t visit, except that I have a feeling it applies to all of India, except as I mentioned before, Kerala. Lastly, before anyone accuses me of Western Cultural Imperialism, let me say this: if this is what India and Indians want, then hey, who am I to tell them differently. Take what you like and leave the rest. In the end it doesn’t really matter, as I get the sense that Indians, at least many upper class Indians, don’t seem to care and the lower classes just don’t know any better, what with Indian culture being so intense and pervasive on the sub-continent. But here goes, nonetheless.

 India is a mess. It’s that simple, but it’s also quite complicated. I’ll start with what I think are India’s four major problems–the four most preventing India from becoming a developing nation–and then move to some of the ancillary ones.
First, pollution. In my opinion the filth, squalor and all around pollution indicates a marked lack of respect for India by Indians. I don’t know how cultural the filth is, but it’s really beyond anything I have ever encountered.  At times the smells, trash, refuse and excrement are like a garbage dump.

Right next door to the Taj Mahal was a pile of trash that smelled so bad, was so foul as to almost ruin the entire Taj experience. Delhi, Bangalore and Chennai to a lesser degree were so very polluted as to make me physically ill. Sinus infections, ear infection, bowels churning was an all to common experience in India. Dung, be it goat, cow or human fecal matter was common on the streets. In major tourist areas filth was everywhere, littering the sidewalks, the roadways, you name it. Toilets in the middle of the road, men urinating and defecating anywhere, in broad daylight.

Whole villages are plastic bag wastelands. Roadsides are choked by it. Air quality that can hardly be called quality. Far too much coal and far to few unleaded vehicles on the road. The measure should be how dangerous the air is for one’s health, not how good it is. People casually throw trash in the streets, on the roads. I don’t know why this is. But I can assure you that at some point this pollution will cut into India’s productivity, if it already hasn’t. The pollution will hobble India’s growth path, if that indeed is what the country wants. (Which I personally doubt, as India is far too conservative a country, in the small ‘c’ sense.)
More after the jump..

The second issue, infrastructure, can be divided into four subcategories: roads, rails and ports and the electrical grid. The electrical grid is a joke. Load shedding is all too common, everywhere in India. Wide swaths of the country spend much of the day without the electricity they actually pay for. Without regular electricity, productivity, again, falls.
The ports are a joke. Antiquated, out of date, hardly even appropriate for the mechanized world of container ports, more in line with the days of longshoremen and the like. Roads are an equal disaster. I only saw one elevated highway that would be considered decent in Thailand, much less Western Europe or America. And I covered fully two thirds of the country during my visit.

There are so few dual carriage way roads as to be laughable. There are no traffic laws to speak of, and if there are, they are rarely obeyed, much less enforced. A drive that should take an hour takes three. A drive that should take three takes nine. The buses are at least thirty years old, if not older.

Everyone in India, or who travels in India raves about the railway system. Rubbish. It’s awful. Now, when I was there in 2003 and then late 2004 it was decent. But in the last five years the traffic on the rails has grown so quickly that once again, it is threatening productivity. Waiting in line just to ask a question now takes thirty minutes. Routes are routinely sold out three and four days in advance now, leaving travelers stranded with little option except to take the decrepit and dangerous buses.

At least fifty million people use the trains a day in India. 50 million people! Not surprising that waitlists of 500 or more people are common now.
The rails are affordable and comprehensive but they are overcrowded and what with budget airlines popping up in India like Sadhus in an ashram the middle and lowers classes are left to deal with the over utilized rails and quality suffers. No one seems to give a shit.
Seriously, I just never have the impression that the Indian government really cares. Too interested in buying weapons from Russia, Israel and the US I guess.
The last major problem in India is an old problem and can be divided into two parts that’ve been two sides of the same coin since government was invented: bureaucracy and corruption.
It take triplicates to register into a hotel. To get a SIM card for one’s phone is like wading into a jungle of red-tape and photocopies one is not likely to emerge from in a good mood, much less satisfied with customer service.

Getting train tickets is a terrible ordeal, first you have to find the train number, which takes 30 minutes, then you have to fill in the form, which is far from easy, then you have to wait in line to try and make a reservation, which takes 30 minutes at least and if you made a single mistake on the form back you go to the end of the queue, or what passes for a queue in India.
The government is notoriously uninterested in the problems of the commoners, too busy fleecing the rich, or trying to get rich themselves in some way shape or form. Take the trash for example, civil rubbish collection authorities are too busy taking kickbacks from the wealthy to keep their areas clean that they don’t have the time, manpower, money or interest in doing their job.

Rural hospitals are perennially understaffed as doctors pocket the fees the government pays them, never show up at the rural hospitals and practice in the cities instead.
I could go on for quite some time about my perception of India and its problems, but in all seriousness, I don’t think anyone in India really cares. And that, to me, is the biggest problem. India is too conservative a society to want to change in any way.
Mumbai, India’s financial capital is about as filthy, polluted and poor as the worst city imaginable in Vietnam, or Indonesia–and being more polluted than Medan, in Sumatra is no easy task. The biggest rats I have ever seen were in Medan!
One would expect a certain amount of, yes, I am going to use this word, backwardness, in a country that hasn’t produced so many Nobel Laureates, nuclear physicists, imminent economists and entrepreneurs. But India has all these things and what have they brought back to India with them? Nothing.

The rich still have their servants, the lower castes are still there to do the dirty work and so the country remains in status. It’s a shame. Indians and India have many wonderful things to offer the world, but I’m far from sanguine that India will amount to much in my lifetime.
Now, have at it, call me a cultural imperialist, a spoiled child of the West and all that.  But remember, I’ve been there. I’ve done it. And I’ve seen 50 other countries on this planet and none, not even Ethiopia, have as long and gargantuan a laundry list of problems as India does.
And the bottom line is, I don’t think India really cares. Too complacent and too conservative.

Sunday, 25 July 2010

Toys R Us and my daughter

Hello folks, hope things are fine....Nothing much to write, so thought would post some pictures...Take care and keep blogging. Ciao.:)

Monday, 19 July 2010

India- A funny country

I am an Indian and I love my country to a point that I turn a critic most of the time when I have to talk about it. And my criticism is taken as antinational and self-righteous. We like to hear about us that we are a growing superpower, and an economic powerhouse, but we hate to hear that we are culturally messed, corrupt and hypocrites.We don’t take a criticism constructively. We are self centered and are least bothered of our environment. Though India is blessed with great amount of Natural bounties, we Indians have fucked it to a point that its one of the dirtiest countries in the world.What we care is to mend our own space. Perhaps, centuries of oppression, superstitions related to religion and culture, poverty etc has made us this, or the plague of over-population, but many great nations of today have had equal share of troubles in the past. Japan, Germany, Israel etc are classic examples.

Being a critic actually helps to know yourself, your country and the society better.   

1.      Our love for the male child. I know of families who have had five children in an effort to produce a male. We provide the best to him, and starve and ill treat her. We have a tradition where a girl departs the family of her birth, after her marriage and she is no more considered part of the family. Thus, noone to care for, when the parents of the girl are old and in need. Its justifiable, isnt it? Why do we have a tradition of calling a girl PARAYA after her BIDHAI? Why do we call a man-GHAR  JAMAI- If he wants to stay at the girls house after marriage?
2.      We believe that paying bribes in government offices are a norm aand the only way of getting things done; otherwise they would be taken to task and would be moved around. We cheer when we see movies like Lage Raho Munnabhai, where an old man strips when confronted with a corrupt BABU, but we consider such acts a fantasy or fiction.
3.       We have very few entrepreneurs per million people, compared to most well off nations. We believe in getting educated, and then in finding jobs. Entrepreneurs have shaped countries like America or Europe. They may be greedy and capitalistic, but they create jobs, and in turn pay back the society.  This may be seeing a change in India and we may be creating Entrepreneurs these days.
4.      We are a lot funny people- We feel wearing a lot of Gold ornaments and shiny, flashy cloths helps the world believe of our class.  We have no faith in minimalism. We believe that over feeding leads to good health. We feel that a human should work till the old age and only retire because he is unable to perform anymore. We believe it’s abnormal and bigheadedness to question the status quo.
5.      We believe, per se, in Paisa Vasool. We would travel that extra meter on a Rickshaw for the worth of every Paisa.. Or we would include the entire family and stuff them inside a Tata Sumo, instead of the intended 4-5 passenger. We crowd the Airports, Railway stations etc, by accompanying a relative on his journey.
6.      We believe that a Brahman is born different to a Kshatriya or a Shudra. We( in Kerala/Tamilnadu) believe that a Brahman has more brain power and can excel in places like Bank, finance, Maths etc. A Baniya is a born businessman and it runs in his blood.

I cant think of more, but we Indians really are a bunch of funny people. Think about it, removed from the Idealistic, Jingoistic and pseudo patriotic outlook, and you would agree to it.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

People I love the most.

My Wife and daughter. They are priceless and I can do away my life for them. I do fight with my wife but it takes only ten minutes to make up( counted it with a stop watch), though she takes a day of sulking. When she sulks she will pretend as if I don’t exist in the world and she would pass me as if I was as transparent as thin air. And when she does something stupid and knows it, she would come to me and rub her chin on my chest and pretend as if she is tinier than our one-and-half year old. When I whine about my family, she would listen to me as if watching the latest blockbuster on HBO, but when I say something about her family, she would charge at me like those lions on Animal planet.When I cook something and it turns out well, she would turn her face as if she had been forced to eat it at gun point. And when she cooks and I don’t praise her, she would nag how I never have a taste for good food.

Surprisingly, being notoriously short tempered I have never lost temper on my daughter.  The other day she cut her chin and I could literally feel the pain in my body.  She ran to me and  I lifted her in my arms. She hugged and started to cry with her sign language, as if explaining how much it hurts. I couldnt stop my eyes getting moist.

I never get enough of seeing her play, holding her after her bath while my wife dries her, caressing her hair while she is sleeping, placing small pieces of roti in her mouth while having my dinner after a hard days work-she seated on my lap, changing her nappies in the morning after she awakes and making her sleep with my horrendously unmusical nursery rhymes…..She has started to show her fondness by kissing in return and I wait all day, to return home for that good night kiss from her. Like the Mastercard ad.-There are some things money can buy…blah,blah,blah……but that kiss from my daughter, PRICELESS (she will kiss only if she means it) 

Monday, 12 July 2010

My triumph with biriyani

I love biriyani.We all do. After all we are Indians and India without biriyani is Dutch land without tulips. But it’s really sad that we don’t get the kind of biriyani that our hearts desire. The best biriyani that I have ever tasted was during a Muslim wedding in our neighborhood in Kerala. Dripping with fat, the pieces of chicken so soft that it melted like ice-cream in my mouth. And ever since I have this Biriyani dream which has never been fully satisfied. I have had biriyani from various sources, at five star hotels, specialty restaurants, Dhabas, and now in this country I live the word biriyani brings horror to my taste buds. They serve you some sort of mild pulav in the name of Hyderabad biriyani and the only resemblance is the name.

So, last Saturday, my wife and I experimented with making that perfect biriyani after several YouTube searches, modifications etc , and came out with not so bad result. Though not as good as the mentioned earlier, but being home cooked and hygienic, the experience was equally satisfying.

After the experience we tried again and it was equally good, but this time we realized that it was so easy to make and much less time consuming.

The below mentioned is the recipe, though it may not be the most authentic Hydrabadi biriyani( its also called Kachi biriyani, since the meat is raw and cooked along with rice) you would taste, but what the heck! If you can master a biriyani which is easy, tastes fantastic and takes less time, it’s as good as the original. Convenience is the mother of all inventions.

There are just four steps to follow.(See, I told you its so easy)
1.      Fry sliced onion until they are golden brown. Spread them on a tissue to soak excess oil, on a flat surface.
2.      Marinade chicken pieces( always with bone) with yogurt, salt, ginger/garlic paste, red chilli powder, turmeric powder, garam masala powder, Shahi Jeera, Souf, Chopped mint leaves, chopped coriander leaves, chopped green chilli, Whole garam masala(Cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, maze of nutmeg).
3.      Soak basmati rice for half hour, Boil water and cook them till half done, with some oil and salt to taste. Never cook them fully. Drain the water.
4.      Take a large pressure cooker. Drop some Ghee. Put the whole marinated chicken and flatten them with a spoon. On top of the chicken add chopped mint/coriander leaves. Add the whole friend onions which were fried earlier. Add rice on top and flatten to even the layer. Pour some ghee on top.Put the lid and the weight and cook, initially on high flame for 5 minutes, followed by 25 minutes of slow flame, directly on the flame. Open the cooker only at the time of serving.

And ta-daa biriyani ready!Serve it with raita.

Photo courtesy: Google

Sunday, 11 July 2010

Am i foolish?

Once, when I was a kid, we had gone to Maldives for vacation and I was fooling around with crabs and waves when this man in his 50s came and started having a conversation with me. After the initial ‘is-he-a-pedophile’ and ‘will-he-rape-me-or-do-something-the-other-uncle-tried-doing’ thoughts, we settled beneath the shades of a coconut palm, facing the candy blue lagoon and few European surfers and a can of coca-cola(on the rocks).. During the conversation, which was on hard core spirituality, he told me that the best quality in a man is that he should get bored with life. Buddha got bored, Mahavira got bored, Dhirubhai Ambani got bored, Jamsetji Tata got bored, even Albert Einstein got bored with life. Unless you get bored with life you just live like an Animal( a dog perhaps) and to qualify as humans, the most important condition is that you should get bored. The more you get bored the more human you are and the more easily you get bored the more successful you are. I still haven’t figured the veiled denotation of the above funda, but I think it holds true in life.

I am bored with my life.I now want to run a café in Bangalore or Kochi, which has a casual yet a plush ambiance, which serves different types of mocha, an assortment of Italian delicacies, a combination platter of Indian starters/salad/main course/dessert, a buffet for lunch( or a table d'hôte), and  rest  À la carte. I want to get a bar license (but Not to start with), own a bar which has a lounge serving tequila’s and Kahlúa’s of the world , or even get a franchise for steak/grill  restaurants like ‘Ponderosa’, or even Dairy Queen, Hardees or Applebee’s. Wish me good luck!

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Dhoni, his marriage and the recession- How things affect a seemingly normal guy!

I am happy for Dhoni. His wife is so pretty, so homely, so good looking and so………. And I am much-much happier that he has finally got himself married for more reasons than one. My wife initially took to the message as if her boyfriend of many-many births had finally decided to dumb her for someone smarter. To say the least, she was severely heart broken. She didn’t cook and even refused to change my daughters surprisingly heavy pampers and I had to survive on Kitchidi cooked by me.

I wonder what’s so special about Dhoni that married women like my wife forget their sexier and better looking husbands ( no seriously, I had a good look at myself in the mirror after this incidence and found myself Hotter than Dhoni and have many reasons to think so.) and behave as if they had just cut their 14th birthday cake. No Wonder women still are an enigma!No amount of Albert Einstein and E=MC2 will solve this issue! Suddenly when I look at the above Photo of Dhoni, I feel, as if, I am looking at my wife’s ex-boyfriend. Most women can do this to their husbands!Enigma, No doubt!

And finally the recession has hit the country I live and the businesses are majorly down. I seriously don’t know when my wicket would fall, but it surely would. And that would be a reason for me to come back to India and do something on my own. A restaurant perhaps or a dealership/Franchisee.

I am already an established crackpot, but these days it looks like I am the only one in my company who is recession resistant. All my colleagues are shit scared of losing jobs but here I am, happy that it would open another window for me.Below are some quotes to hold up myself.

“When one door closes another door opens, but we so often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door, that we do not see the ones which open for us.”
- Alexander Graham Bell –

Or in other words….

“When one door of happiness closes, another opens; but often we look so long at the closed door that we do not see the one, which has been opened for us.”
- Helen Keller -

But are these words just words for the sake of forming some quotable quotes, so that we remember the famous personality who quoted them? Is THINKING BIG an over hyped thing?

Man, I will never see an end to my self doubts!

And, Its become very hot here. The sand is mostly so hot that you could roast peanuts on them. Or to provide a better picture, apply some spices on your hand and stand in the sun for half hour,then  take a bite of  your hand and it would taste like chicken from KFC. That was an exaggeration on a grand scale, but it’s so hot that you can at least make fried eggs by breaking eggs on my terrace….