Posts in "India"

8 Words From India We Should Add to the English Language

Over the course of the last nine years in India, I’m somewhat ashamed to say that I can barely speak any of the local languages. To anyone that asks, I quickly point out that in Chennai at least, almost everyone speaks English to varying degrees of proficiency. In my office, amongst the marketing, sales and account management teams, the default language is English.

they-are-talking-about-me

For that, I can thank the agitations of the early 1960s when the central Government of India wanted to impose Hindi as the national language across the country. The political parties in the south vehemently opposed the implementation of Hindi to conduct all official business and so the Dravidian movement was born.

In a big F-You to the central Government, English was selected as a second language taught in schools in the south over Hindi. The result? A population that is at ease talking to foreigners but will have great difficulty communicating to their fellow countrymen from the north of the country.

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50 (ish) Things I Learned After Demonetisation

It’s been 50 days since Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi appeared on TV and gave the nation a collective heart attack. Demonetisation took out 86% of the cash value from circulation. Imagine that. All the money you had at home turned into worthless paper until you went to a bank and deposited it all, declaring everything you have to the income tax department. Since then, exactly zero rioting has broken out and the political opposition is still figuring out how it feels about this whole thing.

I, on the other hand, have experienced many highs and lows from demonetisation. Here’s 50 (ish) things that I have learned since 8th November.

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Chennai Expat Guide Launched!

I’m absolutely thrilled to announce that the Chennai Expat Guide book has been launched!

The book is the only guide that expats moving to Chennai need to adjust to life in the city. Based on my own eight years of experience living in the city and filled with the funny stories and anecdotes of over 50 contributing expats it covers every aspect of relocating to Chennai.

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A Most Distinguished Guest

I’m told by my team mates that there are plenty of advantages of being a foreigner in India. For example, they claim that whenever we go out for dinner together, they get better service in restaurants. Now that’s not for me to comment on because I’ve got nothing to compare it against. I’m friendly to waiting staff and they mostly seem to be friendly to me.

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Chennai Rising – What Happened After the Floods

It’s been a couple of weeks since my blog post on what happened before, during and immediately after the Chennai rains. What was meant as an update for family and friends on what was going on (OK, mostly to reassure my Mum, who does worry so), seemed to have captured the attention of Chennaites around the world.

There has been no let up in the relief efforts of people all across Chennai. While now we can say that with a very few exceptions, most people have been rescued from their homes or the water has receded far enough for them to get out, rehabilitation is in full swing.

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As Chennai Sank, Humanity Rose in its Place

I don’t think November and December of 2015 are going to be two months that I forget for the rest of my life. Every year in Chennai, the Northeast Monsoon (NEM) pours rain all over the city. When I first arrived in Chennai in 2008, I remember that like clockwork the rains would come during the night and then clear up by morning. The last few years, the rains have been erratic and last year it was as if the NEM didn’t even happen.

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Where does one go for Christmas in India?

Listen up Internet. Can you help my wife and I? We want to go somewhere for Christmas but we just don’t know where! The only requirement is that it’s in India, we shouldn’t have been there before and there should be some things to do or places to explore.

This will be my fifth year outside of England for Christmas. Last year my wife and I decided to switch things up a little and booked ourselves into the Hilton Colombo. She was working for the Hilton so we got a nice staff rate on the regular price. To top it off, the head chef at Hilton Colombo was British so he laid on the best Christmas dinner I’ve had in a long time.

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How I Tried To Rescue A Puppy But Ended Up In Hospital

Living in Chennai, one is never too far away from an animal of some kind. Whether it’s a street dog or an animal more common to a farm than a city, the city is teeming with local fauna.

Every day, Darwin’s survival of the fittest plays out as disease, competition for food and danger from other animals all look to weed out the weakest.

In particular, the animals tend to be at their most vulnerable when they have a new born litter to look after.

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Tales From the Taramani MRTS Station

My team mate is known for being the resident crazy dog-lady in the office.

Now somewhere out there is a lady with twenty dogs, dog pictures on the wall, doggie slippers, t-shirts with dogs on, crockery with dog pictures, a poster hanging on the wall that says ’15 reasons why a dog is better than a husband’, and a bumper sticker on her car that says “I ❤ dogs“. This lady would look at my team mate and say “Whoa, steady on, I think you might have a problem”.

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A Tale About Socks

“Meuw, meuw, meuw, meuw, meuw” came a squeaking noise from the bushes.

“Hey, it’s a little kitten!” my wife exclaimed. “Are you sure? It sounds more like a high pitch chirp from a bird” I replied, confident in my avian chirp recognition. A motorbike zoomed past, its headlight briefly illuminated the bush and silhouetted a tiny black kitten not more than a few weeks old. It punched a big hole in my bird argument so I let it slide.

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Is it time for middle class India to vote?

I’m absolutely fascinated by the Indian general elections, there is so much controversy, so much colour, so much hatred and so much passion from all sides.

Unlike the UK, where the major parties have sort of morphed in to one giant bubble that is either marginally centre-left or centre-right but basically the same, India has over a 1,600 parties at the last count.

These parties represent everything from castes to languages to religions (although it shouldn’t be explicitly stated in the name of the party) to workforces to states to regions within states to marginalised sections of society (there’s even one for the runaway lovers) and finally to political beliefs – although that’s not always necessary.

Indian lovers party

Generally what’s required is for someone to feel aggrieved and oppressed, find a bunch of people who also want to feel aggrieved and oppressed about the same thing and then form a political party that states that its members are aggrieved and oppressed by the people or party currently in power.

This year the elections have become even more fascinating because there is a huge amount of anti-incumbency sentiment surrounding the current coalition – with the Congress party in particular drawing the bulk of the resentment. The BJP, being the only other capable national party, thought it would sweep to power unhindered, but now there is an upstart party called the AAP (that literally expands to “The Common Man’s Party”) which has more than a few politicians worryingly looking over their shoulders and making contingency plans.

Added to this are the multitude of state level parties which have decided not to tie up with any national party and will possibly play a role in being the kingmaker come results day. This will give them some nice ministries to head up, much like the DMK’s A. Raja did for the Telecoms Ministry a few years back.

Traditionally, Indians will tell you that they love to talk politics, and believe me, it’s oh so true. Mention the ‘p’ word and you’ll have countless tales of how this politician or that party needs to be removed from power.

However, when it comes to actually voting, the urban middle class was always found to be missing. The parties understand that the way to power is to please the masses, and the masses live in hundreds of thousands of villages across rural India. Political parties will give away freebies like food grinders, 14 inch colour TVs, desk fans and more – not to the middle class, but to everyone else who actually decides the elections.

I was curious whether this time around, would things will be different? Had the middle class had enough? Was it finally time for them to walk the walk after talking about what’s wrong with this country day and night for the last five years?

To find out I conducted a utterly unscientific survey of friends, colleagues and acquaintances whom I’ve met in my 6 years here. They represent the (mostly) young, urban working professionals – the future of the nation, if you will.

Gender Ratio

I don’t think this was really relevant to the survey, but since I was asking young (ish) working professionals, mostly from the tech and marketing worlds, it does show a massively skewed gender ratio.

Gender Ratio of this survey

So here we are with the questions

1. Will you be voting in the forthcoming elections?

It was very interesting for me to see so many people saying that they would vote. Many of the people who said No felt the need to qualify why they wouldn’t vote with a lot of them living away from the constituency in which they were born.

Percentage of people who will vote

What I also found interesting was while I asked the question, a handful of people wanted to tell me that they were ‘voting’ for Narendra Modi. For those of you who don’t know, Narendra Modi is the Prime Ministerial candidate for the BJP party. No one said they were voting for the BJP, they said they were voting for Modi.

This also brings up the curious question of whether people are so swept up with the Modi wave (that the media likes to call it), do they have any idea about the MP they are actually voting for – or do they even know they are not actually voting for Modi but for someone else who will nominate Modi as the Prime Minister?

Indeed, it seems as if Modi himself has realised this and is now being projected as Modi vs other parties.

Update 10th March: It was pointed out to me that even QZ did an article on how young people are voting for politicians rather than the policies they represent.

The only other response of note was from the poor person who looked blankly at me and asked “what election?” before declaring, at the age of 20, that they were too young to vote anyway. The voting age in India is 18.

2. Do you follow any politician or political party on social media?

A lot is being said about how the political fraternity is embracing social media. What they mean by embrace is that the social networks have turned in to cess pools of venomous vitriolic as supporters of all sides wage social media war against the other.

People who follow politics on social media

Personally I think it’s misguided. People will already have made up their minds who they will vote for and tend not to follow a party they won’t vote for. The election is so polarising that there cannot be too many undecided voters. Added to this, it’s the large national parties that are making the most noise, the state parties and smaller local parties know that ground roots work pays bigger dividends with the masses that actually vote.

That said, one respondent, Krish, co-founder at Chargebee, said that he didn’t follow politicians but did follow influencers, and specifically mentioned Mahesh Murthy. He felt that influencers are playing a bigger role in getting the message of the political parties across to the social media users than the parties themselves.

3. What is the single biggest challenge for a Government of India to solve?

I’ll be honest and say I think I already knew the answer to this question. Corruption is on the minds of everyone. However, I didn’t want to skew the results so I didn’t give anyone a list to choose from, I simply asked them for whatever was top of their mind.

I didn’t expect the range of issues that were raised. Interestingly, only one person, Nidhi Bhasin, said national security was an issue which was surprising since the media has raised so much fuss about Chinese incursions in the last year.

biggest challenges in India

(note: Accountability means Political Accountability – so many politicians get elected but never actually attend parliamentary sessions or have any accountability on what they’ve actually done – which is probably the same the world over!)

Here’s the full infographic, if you’ve got any thoughts or want to add your answers to this survey, please leave a comment below!

Thanks for reading! Please share your thoughts in the comments below, I’d love to hear what you have to say!

That Devil Called Inflation

To my utter surprise, I’m coming up to completing five years of living in India. Being an expat usually means you are paid more than the local workers, and India’s strict foreigner employment laws almost guarantees that.

One of the things about living in a developing country is that there is incessant, non-stop, almost frantic, growth all around you. Go to any city in India and it’s a maze of glass cladded buildings that are going up or buildings that are earmarked for demolition to make way for a bigger, fancier shopping mall than the previous one.

Growth of this kind helps a lot of people. One thing all upper middle class and some middle-middle class families have is a maid. Some even have drivers. But as one co-worker commented: the luxury of having home help is going to come to an end very soon. The 40 year old maid that you employ has saved every last rupee to send her children to an engineering college; there’s no way those kids will be sweeping floors or driving cars for the middle classes.

The antithesis of growth is inflation. The sworn enemy of the middle class. As fast as wealth can be accumulated, inflation is there to take it all back again. In developed countries, people talk about inflation rates of 3% ruining the middle classes. In India, the official inflation rate is around 8%. In reality, I suspect it is far higher.

For the first few years in India, inflation didn’t even come up on my radar. A few rupees here, a few rupees there, it was barely noticeable. To me, inflation was something that got the daily wage workers and unions upset. There would be a strike or two, but the middle classes could suck it up and carry on. After all, what’s a few hundred extra rupees when you are earning Rs 40,000 (£465 / $745) a month?

Now it’s a different matter though. Even on a salary like mine, inflation has caught up with me. It’s something you see happening month on month. I do a monthly shop at the local supermarket. This time last year I spent around Rs 4,000 (£46 / $74) for the shop. My latest shop cost Rs 5,650 (£66 / $105) – buying exactly the same stuff. Milk has risen from 30 rupees to 62 rupees. A carton of juice has gone from 49 rupees to 99 rupees. Cornflakes from 125 rupees to 200 rupees.

It’s got to the point where the prices they print on the packaging are already out of date by the time they wind up on the shelves. Waiting in line at the checkouts takes longer now because every other item needs a price override to bump it up by another 5 or 10 rupees. Every month the price is going up, it’s inflation that hits you every time.

And yes, before I get flamed, I know spending £66 / $105 per month on groceries is laughably low compared to a developed country (the average UK grocery bill is about £144 for one person – apparently). What isn’t funny, and what developed countries haven’t seen, is the 40% inflation on food prices in the last year alone. I never used to look at prices in the supermarket before, it was all cheap so what was the point. Now it’s got to the point where I’m being a little bit more careful about what I buy.

Electricity prices is another area where inflation has crept up and made me gasp for breath. The other day, the latest electricity bill was waiting for me in my letterbox. For the same period last year, it cost me Rs 1,250 for 630 units. This year, I used virtually the same amount of units (yay!), but the price is now Rs 2,600. Again, it’s not much when you compare it to developed countries, but as I recently pointed out on Facebook, this is a staggering 115% inflation we’re talking about here.

To add salt in to the inflation inflicted wound, the state electricity board is only able to generate 70%-80% of the power required by the state. Remarkable, given that only a few years ago, the state was able to sell surplus power to other states in India. The result is that in Chennai we are now at a mandatory two hour power cut every day (it used to be one hour). Elsewhere in the state, it can be as much as 4 hours. So not only are we getting less power per day, we’re paying 115% more for it than we were this time last year.

I used to enjoy going out for lunch and dinner. It would cost about 300 rupees for lunch at the coffee shop and 800 rupees for dinner. Now lunch is around Rs 600 and dinner is a success if it comes in at less than Rs 1,400.

It’s got to the point now where restaurants have to republish their menus every six months to take in to account rising prices. I half dread seeing a new menu at my local restaurants because I know the prices will have gone up again.

To be frank, there is almost nothing India can do about inflation. Like any other country, it’s at the mercy of the international commodity and currency markets. The Indian oil companies alone are losing $36bn per year subsidizing fuel to try and keep a check on inflation. They can’t keep it up. When they run out of money – and they will very soon – petrol, diesel and LPG will have to rise to market prices, potentially triggering hyperinflation. Domestic LPG (used for gas cookers), for example, would have to double in price.

I’m not sure I want to be around when the fallout from inflation happens, because it won’t just be the daily wage workers and unions protesting on the street.