Date archives "October 2009"

Home of the Ridiculous

So here I am, back home. Back in England and back to Western culture. India is wonderful of course, but there’s only so long you can go before you start craving the Western vices (like beef burgers). Last year I managed 12 months, this year I didn’t do so well and had to come back after just 10 months.

Well, I say had to come back, the words of my father are still echoing in my ears “son, if you don’t come back for your mothers beep birthday, you may as well not come back for Christmas.” No one ever even mentioned the word ‘threat’.

So I have come from one country which by all accounts is utterly random to another country which I firmly believe has lost its marbles.

Anyway. The first thing you notice moments after walking through arrivals is how stupidly expensive everything is here. When you are used to paying £3.50 for an excellent two course meal, coming to England is like diving in to a pool of ice; you become numb with shock.

In my first day back in England, I got the train from Heathrow Terminal 5 (which is amazing by the way, even my Dad, the man that could find fault with the Sistine Chapel begrudgingly conceded that they had done a fair job with T5) to South London which cost £10.

From there I went and had a pint (from landing to first pint in 90 minutes is not bad going) which cost £3 and then it was off to buy a Pay As You Go sim card, (topped up with £20 – enough to last you three months in India) and some toiletries.

Three hours in the country and the total cost so far was £35.

That evening, I went to a pub to meet up with some old uni friends where we had dinner and many drinks. Dinner was £9 and drinks came in at around £15. By the time I got to bed I’d managed to spend nearly £60 since landing.

The next day I went and had my first McDonald’s (you honestly don’t realize how much you miss Quarter Pounders until it’s no longer available!) before catching a train up to my hometown.

Now in India, you can travel the length and breadth of the country for about a £20. This will get you a nice air-conditioned carriage with a full length bed since the train journeys can last for days (and not because the train gets lost like in Darjeeling Limited!).

England, on the other hand, seems to think that everyone is as rich as Mr. Monopoly, so a basic 1 hour train journey costs £39 if you want a single or £41 if you want a return – simply proving that someone, somewhere failed their maths GCSE.

Having been in the country less than 24 hours, I’d managed to spend a grand total of £100 (and a bit more). Utterly ridiculous, I hadn’t even gone very far or bought anything of any value, simply ate to stay alive and took public transport to get from A to B.

Back in my adopted country (which doesn’t want me back), £100 lasts you a month! And you get to live like a King!

But rip-off Britain gets worse – and for any Brits reading this, you don’t know how bad it is until you go to other countries – once back home, I had to get a hair cut which ended up costing £8.80 for a quick buzz round the back and sides and cut short on top. Admittedly, there were no hair raising experiences (pun intended) this time, but honestly, £8.80 for a haircut! We’re in the middle of the worst recession since the 1930’s, people can’t afford to go around spending £8.80 for a bit of cranial topiary!

The world has gone mad. And Britain has become ridiculous.

Oh. And it’s still bloody raining here!

It’s Actually Kind of Endearing

The other Saturday a friend came over for a few beers (ok, I had a few beers, she had a fruit juice) and to watch a couple of movies. Since I subscribe to the can’t cook, won’t cook school of thought I informed her before hand that while I can lay on the entertainment, catering will not be provided.

Not a problem, she announced, she’d just order a takeaway when she got to my place.

Now my apartment isn’t particularly difficult to find, you simply go along the main road and hang a right at the supermarket, go down that road for 500m and my apartment is on the left. Easy huh?

Well there are two hurdles, no, wait, three hurdles. First off, the road that I live on is called 3rd Cross Street and the wisdom that is Indian urban planning decided that it would be a wonderfully efficient idea to name several streets in the local vicinity 3rd Cross Street.

None of this really matters anyway because, in my experience, the ability to read a map is not something that’s taught in Indian schools. Hence, any delivery driver wouldn’t be able to find 3rd Cross Street anyway, let alone navigate to it on a map.

And finally, even if by chance we got someone who could read a map, there are no street signs telling you what road you are on anyway!

Navigation in India works on the basis of landmarks, even in official docs there is space to enter a landmark when you enter your address. It’s not uncommon to see a company address say something like “nr Passport Office”.

Getting back to the takeaway order, I advised my friend to do some food before she came over, ordering food would simply be too stressful, as I have previously discussed in another blog post about how poor tandoori wala is.

The single biggest problem is that my nearest ‘landmark’ is several streets away and the person would need to understand where to turn left or right or what to look out for. This even causes problems when I get an auto home, if I were to say RK Nagar, I get a blank look, if I say Mandavelli Railway Station (in a very weird accent, mind you) then they understand. The problem is my apartment is about 3 minutes from the station and you’ve barely passed it before the driver will start complaining “long distance boss, 20 rupees more”.

So my friend was explaining my address and getting more and more frustrated by the second, but eventually after 10 minutes there seemed to be some understanding. No doubt there would be phone calls later saying the delivery boy was now in Mumbai but couldn’t find our street.

Next she had to actually order some food which is where I had to leave the room because she stared at me with murder in her eyes!

She was trying to order some tomato soup. Now although people like auto drivers and delivery boys in Chennai do speak English to a certain degree, you have to say things with the right accent to be understood, still, when a restaurant has a choice of just 5 different soups, one of them being tomato, you wouldn’t have thought there’d be too much of a problem!

But no, try as she might, they couldn’t understand tomato.

‘to-ma-to’ she tried
‘to-may-toe’ was next
‘to-mae-too’ came another attempt. Thinking on her feet, she decided to spell it out…

‘t-yo-yem-yay-tee-yo’ (which is how letters are pronounced here) still nothing. There was a pause on the other end of the phone, and a hopeful response came back, ‘mushroom?’, at this point she gave up, ‘fine, mushroom’.

She proceeded to place the rest of her order with very few problems. They totted up the bill and told her the final price, less than 200 rupees, about £2.60 and enough food to feed two people.

Then came the final bombshell, ‘romba (means ‘very’ in Tamil) busy madam, 2 hours minimum delivery’. My friend couldn’t believe it, she’d spent close to 25 minutes placing the order and it was going to be gone 11pm before they could deliver it! So she did the only thing she could which was to cancel the order and wish she could have the last 25 minutes of her life back.

We carried on watching the film and she left when it finished. I continued with another film, when at 11.30 there was a ring at my door.

‘hello sir, sangeethas delivery’

It was at this point I decided that actually India is quite endearing. Not only had they found my place without assistance, they had even got the order right which included tomato (or is it tomayto?) soup! Despite the fact that my friend cancelled the order, they’d pushed ahead and delivered it anyway.

So if you know anyone who wants some tandoori paneer, sambar rice and tomato soup, I have some in my fridge 🙂