Welcome Back to India

April 6, 2009

Freedom and its levels

Filed under: Uncategorized — saachi2009 @ 6:27 am

What is invaluable?

If you could make a wish and change one thing in your day to day life, what would that be?

What would be of the most value to you without which you would not be able to survive? I am not thinking of water and air but I would definitely not survive without the freedom to be free in my own country.

Free meaning free to walk about in my streets and free to think, write and talk about my opinions.

What if these basic rights are not mine and every Second I have to be watchful about my every move?

Freedom has many levels.

I have seen cars in USA which clearly put up stickers of the leaders they support before election time.

Unfortunately I do not see such a level of freedom in India (whatever the reason…be it a lack of good leaders or mainly because life is dearer).

On the other hand I have seen staffs in American departmental stores become suspicious as soon as anyone from Middle East to Malaysia walk in.

Whereas in India, departmental store employees are suspicious of everyone in general, without any segregation.

What does it feel like to be under suspicion all the time?

There are Nations where men and women live under an overbearing contempt all the time.

Human civilization might have progressed enough for us to talk with someone on the moon but we still remain animals who love to terrorize and subjugate each other.

I am sad to see that segregation in the name of religion has made a part of the Indian population live with guilt and fear.

Politicizing religious separatism has become the norm.

Sadly we have all forgotten that the freedom fighters who laid their lives to give us a free India wanted us to inherit a secular and peaceful nation.

India has progressed so far because of her strong and varied population.

Jamshedji Tata the founder of Tata group was a Parsi, Azim Premji the chairman of Wipro is a Muslim and Dhirubhai Ambani the founder of Reliance group of industries was a Hindu.

But when we speak about them, we do not see their religions, we see them as Indians and that is the essence of being Indian.

If one looks at the neighboring countries of Pakistan and Bangladesh who are mostly unitary, one will understand that India needs her different colors to become the perfect rainbow.

Segregation in Indian villages may come in the form of village elders who decide the boundaries of a particular person belonging to a certain caste.

Even now in the 21st century there are villages in free India where water bodies like ponds and wells are segregated depending on caste and religion.

In cities caste and creed do not matter as much but there are other forms of subjugation where a controlling superior in work place will make your life difficult.

Subjugation of the poor and unfortunate are how ever common in cities.

In this regard, no country is any different. One has to look into the history of the so called developed nations to learn how exploitation of humans has built their foundation. Even now, one will find areas in big cities in the west where there is a clear demarcation of neighborhoods based on poverty or affluence.

So what is the message that we would like to impart to the next generation?

Become educated in the true sense and not just amassing qualification (education and qualification are two different things), and learn to treat every individula as equal.

At the end, humans are only two kinds, the good and the bad.

Some go out of their way to show their goodness and others do not see anyone past themselves.

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March 23, 2009

Not in a Million Years

Filed under: Uncategorized — saachi2009 @ 6:46 am

One summer vacation when I was very young (4th or 5th standard), my parents and I were visiting my grandma’s and that was the first time I came face to face with poverty.

A woman was at our door asking for food. She wore a white sari with red border ( I still remember). She was very thin and tall. My grandma gave her two hot rotis from our breakfast preparations

The woman started crying and sat down on the door way. She told my grandma she had not eaten for two days and was overwhelmed to see the warm food.

Although I don’t remember the entire conversation but I do recollect that the woman spent a long time talking with my grandma and narrating her plight.

Surprisingly after that I took it for granted that poverty was all around and so untidy children asking for alms at traffic signals, old people carrying back breaking load on hot summer days was a normal sight.

Somewhere down the line, I had stopped seeing this immense population of under privileged around me. I had become blind to the sorry plight of my country, where human conditions are truly third world. There is also an immense class difference and gap between the haves and the have nots.

After spending time abroad and not seeing this on a daily basis, I am suddenly at a loss to cope up with the surroundings after my return.

In the US, homeless people mostly choose to be homeless. There is far more opportunity to work, be it at the local McDonald store or even carrying goods for others.

But in India poverty is not a choice. It is inherited from family and from the surroundings.

Our maid Rajjo, has six children and her husband does not earn a dime. Before coming back to India, we had promised ourselves that we will not allow children below twenty to work in our home, and will also voice our opinions.

Two of Rajjo’s daughters aged fifteen and twelve work in other homes. When I tried to dissuade her from sending her children to work, she asked me how then would she be able to feed her family of eight people.

I did not have an answer to that.

My only satisfaction is the fact that her daughters are taken very good care of at the houses they service

The man who came to deliver our television set and microwave, drove a small cycle cart and carried these items on his shoulders to our third floor apartment.

I have never seen a person so happy after receiving a tiny tip. It made me feel unhappy and ashamed.

Unhappy because human conditions in India have not improved and ashamed because I was lucky and born into a family which did not keep me in want.

There is also a derogatory treatment made out to people who do not belong to a particular status. It is not okay to be rude to people who are already suffering.

Poor in India are made to experience humiliation everyday and mostly as an excuse for the incompetence of the rich.

So when I hear someone saying that India is the next superpower, I grit my teeth and say NOT in a million years.

We might have made advancements in many sectors but until we have food and clothing for everyone, we are far from being even a Developed Nation.

March 19, 2009

Week3

Filed under: Uncategorized — saachi2009 @ 7:45 am

Furniture

In India, furniture is mostly a one time investment. My Grandma’s bed, back in Kolkata is still strong and usable. The craftsmanship and the quality of wood used to build them, make them prized heirlooms.

With this thought (which soon fizzled!) we set out to fill our home with the essentials. Although our landlord did kindly lend us couple of beds and chairs without asking, we pressurized ourselves to finish the ‘To Do’ list as quickly as possible.

In Delhi there are a few good furniture markets. One is Kirti Nagar area and the other is Jail Road or Tilak Nagar area. These are in West Delhi.

The shops are mostly family owned. They house wooden furniture that is ready and also offer custom made ones.

Since I am not a big fan of Ikea (although Ikea does sell cheap, modern furniture) in USA, I did not go to these shops with an Ikea catalogue, but if one wants, they can make furniture to suit any design.

The problem was that when it comes to wood, the husband and I are total zeroes. We do not know which wood is good or durable except the very shallow knowledge of Teak is expensive and Sandal smells nice etc. One trip to these shops and we were dizzy.

They all showed us nicely polished wooden beds and chairs, but we lost our confidence in the lists of trees they named for us. So if you are like us you will avoid these markets unless you have a very confident friend who can take you around and one who bargains like mad.

The next alternative was to go to Big Bazaar (http://bigbazaar.com/). These are departmental chains with reasonably priced items. We saw and liked a wrought Iron bed and ordered it. We also bought a refrigerator from this place.

But it took a month for both of them to be delivered to our home after all most calling them everyday and threatening to lodge complaints, so beware.

Then a colleague suggested Home Town store in Noida (Sector 18, basement). Although it was quite far from home, we did visit it on a Sunday.

The furniture are mostly wooden (mostly imported Malaysian rubber tree) and they are all guaranteed and fair priced.

We did purchase a lot from here and thank a good store representative who ran around quite a bit to give us a discount price. The items arrived in three days and a craftsman came to set everything.

We did explore our neighborhood shops for a television set and a microwave. Actually we asked our maid for the nearest stores. She was an immense help. We did find a good store nearby and bought those items. By this time we had store hopped a lot and had an idea about the average price of each item.

Do remember to get all the guarantee forms signed by the store keepers.

Although the furniture that we bought are no heirloom and we will be grateful if they last us for ten more years, we did have enough seating now to invite new friends and accommodate family visits.

March 18, 2009

Fair and Ugly

Filed under: Uncategorized — saachi2009 @ 4:39 am

Before going into the post on furniture,  I must mention something that caught my attention yesterday.

As I was channel hopping, I found an advertisement on a fairness enhancing cream.

A daughter is preparing herself for an upcoming interview and her mother gives her a tube of  fairness cream, like a lucky charm.

I am truly disgusted. Is this the best Indian ad agencies come up with to sell a cream? My mom never gave me any such tube, and still I was not raised to become an antisocial element (the fact that I terrorize the husband sometimes….is not exactly a bazooka wielding crime).

So I am indeed furious, firstly at the cream company for showing something regressive and getting away with it and secondly at the Indian cosmetic market for upholding this skin color issue so that people feel its alright for equating fair skin with beauty.

I would be happier if there were products that upheld healthy skin vs fair skin.  There should be a forum or an agency that checks advertisements which project social evils.

I hope that girl in the ad would have been so enchanted with her new fair skin that she would forget to take her degree certificates and then do extremely poorly in that interview.

umph…

March 14, 2009

Week2

Filed under: Uncategorized — saachi2009 @ 6:06 am

Apartment Hunting.

Do Diwane is Shaher mein, Raat mein aur dopahaar mein,

Abu daana dhund te hain….Ashiyana dhund te hain…

Being born and raised in Kolkata and Bangalore respectively, and never having lived in Delhi before, the picture of an apartment in my head was of a planned front room or hall which has rooms to the sides forming the bed rooms or a dining space and then a separate kitchen and off course sunlight and air in all the rooms, etc.

There are two types of apartments/houses in the Delhi region. The pre independence ones where the houses are all stuck to each other on the sides. So one house shares walls with the next and hence has no side windows.

You will find these types of houses in all the residential places in Delhi. The front door will open into a hall area and through this you will have to enter the kitchen and through that the bed rooms and there will be a door at the back. It is like a big compartmentalized rectangle.

The second are the newer ones which are only 5-10 years old and are planned and have airy rooms, but are either in places faraway from your work place or are just unaffordable.

The next item is the AGENT. There are rental agencies all over like the Paan shop in each guli. One just needs to have a phone connection and some sort of transportation and lo and behold will open a small shed with a hoarding of so and so rental or so and so properties.

You cannot find an apartment without going through them. Finding a good agent is half the battle won.

What we did is to first select the place we wanted to live in. It had to be near the Husband’s work place. We did not want him to have a long commute each day in the dreaded Delhi traffic. So that was done.

We then asked people in his office to give us names of some trusted Agents. We did get a lot of phone numbers. I spoke to each one of them. Some asked to call back later, some were more forthcoming. Eventually we did get a good agent who showed us a lot of properties.

But the problem was I did not like the concept of living in a rectangle. So even though there was pressure from the agent to commit and we also had a time constraint, we did not give in.

We wanted some more time to look around. This is very important since ultimately one should have some sort of a connection to the place to call a home, even if it is only for a year.

Also it is better to deal with at least three different agents so that one can gauge the average rental amounts in each area.

Ultimately on the fourth day we did see a place we liked. Although we wanted a two bedroom but this cute one bed room was the best place we had seen.

It was walking distance to the husband’s work place (so no hurry to buy a car).

Although the landlords reside downstairs, they are educated and soft spoken also all members pursue a career and so do not stay 24 hours at home and look for excuses to interfere.

The neighborhood is clean; there is a 24 hour neighborhood guard, two parks, a milk booth and some grocery stores nearby. The place is also close to a bus stop and an auto stand.

But we did not commit on the first day. We took time to think and weigh the positives with the negatives. Then we went to the place again and spoke with the Agent and landlord about the water bill, electricity bill, who fixes what, the lease formalities and generally anything I could think about.

At the end of the week, we signed the legal documents. But it is essential to read the documents. The usual norm is that the Agent gets one month rent as commission and the landlord gets three months rent in advance which will be returned to you when you vacate.

Also there is a minimum 11 months lease during which time if you or your landlord decides to vacate or evict, they shall give each other a one month notice.

So one has to be clear in the beginning that this will be possible within the 11 months and the lease papers should say so.

If your landlord is overbearing and you find something disturbing, say so immediately. No one has the right to control you and there are plenty of vacant houses to choose from.

The rental lease document is a very important piece of paper since this is what gets you a gas and a cable connection. This is also an identification paper for a new comer since we do not have a voter ID or a PAN card yet.

After you land here the first things to do is to make a lot of photocopies of your passport and also take as many passport size photos of yourself as possible. You will need them everywhere.

Finally we moved in!

Unlike the West, houses and apartments are not super cleaned before the move in and so even though the landlord’s maid had done a good job, the Delhi dust did leave a lot for us to do.

So the husband and I wrapped our noses in kerchiefs and began spraying and brooming and brushing and sanitizing.

The gas connection was surprisingly swift. So was opening a bank account, where this guy from HDFC came to our hotel room (ask to see his ID of course before letting him in) and gave me my pass book etc that same evening.

The cell phone connection was quick too but the plans require another blog page.

We finally had a postal address in New Delhi….

Next up FURNITURES…..

March 12, 2009

Week 1

Filed under: Uncategorized — saachi2009 @ 5:02 am

Yeh Dilli hain mere yaar, sirf Ishq, mohabbat Pyaar……

Well not exactly. The city is also an immense bubble of Dust. It engulfs you as soon as you step outside the airport and enters all your pores. It makes its way into your shoes and clothes and your luggage. So be prepared to face the wrath of the Dust.

The husband at once starts sneezing and clearing his throat. I try covering my nose with my dupatta but it does little to deter the determined Brownian gusto.

Added to the dust, at once there are several people who flock around our luggage and help us carry them to our transport.

One has to be almost rude and dissuade them since they will not move until payed in dollars!

But we have twelve pieces of luggage and my voice seemed to buried under their load. So I let people bully my suitcases and topple them into the Inova. When the vehicle speeds up, I let out a little sigh. We and our twelve pieces of American nostalgia and finally home.

Later we are told by a good Samaritan that curtness is the only way that works. Politely say No.

Also it is better to set a price for everything before the task is completed. Be it planning a trip in a taxi (by the way taxis are uncommon and are usually intended for a 6 hrs or a 12 hrs use, autos are the Delhi cabs) or auto or asking someone to lug your luggage.

We arrive on a December evening. The sky is already a dark grey, the streets are bustling with crowds and although it is supposedly winter, we are sweating inside the car.

India is truly populous. There are so many people and buses and cars and autos and everything.

After a decade, I hear the almost forgotten sound of cars honking!

No, not even on the 405 or on the crowded roads of Manhattan, where miles and miles of automobiles roll by, did I ever hear cars honking with such energy.

We reach our hotel and are greeted by a polite receptionist with a glass of soothing mango juice. The hotel is in the heart of kalkaji.

It is South Delhi proper. But we are too tired to open Google map and navigate.

That evening we have a dinner of melt in the mouth naan and hot dal makani. I dream about boxes while outside there is no stop to the continuous honking.

The next morning, after a warm breakfast of milk and dalia (broken wheat ) we are ready to face the city. A friend of a friend (whom we meet for the first time) picks us up at lunch time and takes us around the city.

Our first visit is a book store cum coffee/juice shop in Greater Kailash. I am delighted to see Falafel on the menu. We have pita and hummus and a plate of Falafel with a glass of pineapple juice. All the items have an Indian touch and Yes, I am not complaining.

Then our friend (she payed the bill after all….so she is no longer friend of a friend), takes us to a more American sight. A huge departmental store! The Mall is the latest craze in Indian cities.

There is a Movie theatre with all kind of stores from food courts to shoes to clothes under one roof. There is every International brand from Adidas to Chanel. The prices are in rupees but they are exact converts of prices in USA.

We look around and since both I and the husband are not avid shoppers (although I am a die hard Amazon.com fan and probably their biggest customers), we just stroll past the ornamental designs in the corridor. We return soon to our hotel and busy ourselves with the next agenda……Finding an Apartment.

March 10, 2009

The Past

Filed under: Uncategorized — saachi2009 @ 6:24 am

After living abroad for a decade, city hopping from Los Angeles to New York City, I am finally back home. I have loved every minute of living in the USA. Los Angeles is set in beautiful surroundings of the Pacific Ocean on one side and the Santa Monica mountain ranges on the other.

The best thing is the Southern California weather that is pleasant the entire year. The city is ideal for outdoor activities, hiking, cycling and even just strolling past the Westwood area of family owned shops and restaurants.

It is also good for college going students who do not have to spend much on winter wear like those in New York City have to. Although one must have a car since the weather makes it convenient to go out into the mountains or the spectacular deserts during the weekends.

Also for an UCLA student, finding an affordable housing means either to share apartments with other students in the expensive university area or finding budget apartments away from the university in Venice or West Los Angeles area.

Since public transportation is not at par with that of the East coast, due to being an earthquake susceptible region and so no underground subways, cars are the most valuable possession of an individual in Los Angeles.

Be it the dreaded 405 or the monotonous 5 or the scenic route 66, a drive through each of them is a memorable experience.

Especially the pacific coast highway that takes you from Los Angeles to San Francisco to the north and the San Diego area to the south, the sun rippling through the waves on one side and the mountains nodding at the pristine blue sky on the other makes one happy in a very serene way.

New York City was another wonderful experience especially memories of living on Roosevelt Island makes me feel at once nostalgic. The island is in the midst of East river with mid East side Manhattan on one bank and Queens on the other.

There is a cute tram that runs on cables and connects the Island to Manhattan… waltzing above the East river. There is also a bus service to Queens and a subway F line stopping on the Island.

The Island is peaceful and ideal for raising young children and for living after retirement. It has a public library and two children parks. There are also areas for family picnic and barbecue grills. The best part is to be able to see the lights of Manhattan through you window in the night and its reflection on the quietly flowing East river.

I enjoyed living on the island and working in Manhattan. Manhattan is always awake. The sidewalks are filled with people running to work, occasionally studded with aroma emanating Algerian and Bangladeshi gyro carts; the roads are spilling with overflowing traffic.

The shops lining the side walks are mostly family owned. There are shops serving toasted bagels with cream cheese and a cup of coffee to the breakfast crowd. Lunch is usually quick and the carts serve to their patrons either chicken over yellow rice or lamb gyro on rice or pita bread.

For dinner, there are fancy restaurants where one can sit outside and enjoy a glass of wine and a dinner plate while commuters walk by. There are also affordable take outs of spicy Chinese or Mexican food or mildly aromatic Middle Eastern and Thai food.

New York City is truly international in its flavor, be it in its ethnicity, culture or palate.

I was a die hard Jackson heights visitor. Where else would you get tasty Indian and Bangladeshi food? The area encompasses two lanes adjacent to Broadway. The nearest subway stop is Roosevelt Avenue. The two lanes are filled with South Asian shops.

There are groceries where one gets to buy everything from Maggi to dosa idli batter. There are jewelry shops selling metal bal Gopal or bal Ganesh statues. There are clothing shops selling Bollywood inspired Ghagras and of course there are shops selling audio and videos of latest Bombay flicks.

The best part is to see shops with hoardings in Bangla, selling mouth watering rossogollas and moglai parotas. There are fish and meat shops selling ilish and tangra and also tender goat meat.

So when we found out that the husband had got a very satisfying offer from back home (New Delhi) to be exact, we were at once elated and sad. Elated because we always wanted to come back home and sad because we had really enjoyed living in USA.

Together with the fact that we had gotten used to life in USA and a nagging anxiety of getting culture shocked again and adjusting all over to India.

We were a little worried about settling down in Delhi since it was a new city for both of us and since we did not have any friends or family here, we were to say the least, nervous!

But we did take the plunge and so began the rest of our lives……

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