Posts in "India"

A Lizard’s Tale

Around midnight last night (my resolution to sleep earlier not going so well actually) I was about to call it a night and climb in to bed when movement caught my eye near the ceiling. It was the lizard that had made itself at home in my apartment the last few nights and had eluded my somewhat half hearted attempts to locate it whenever it made the chirping sounds lizards here make.

Slowly I got back out of bed and made sure all the doors of the house were shut except for the main balcony door then I grabbed the lizard repellent (sometimes referred to as a broom) and set about the frustrating art of trying to shoo a lizard out of the house. For many people in this world shooing a lizard out of the house is not a common occurrence. I on the other hand am something of a master of lizard ushering.

Part of the problem with lizard ushering, for those of you that have never had to do it, is that they never run away from the broom lizard repellent as it approaches them from behind. They’ll run off to the side, up the wall, down the wall, back towards the bro…lizard repellent or in some cases make a giant leap of faith off the ceiling, land with a small splat on the floor and then race under the nearest piece of furniture. Basically anywhere but the direction in which you want it to actually go.

The process goes something like this: You start off being careful, trying your best not to hurt the little critter and gently maneuver the lizard repellent someway behind where it is lying and then slowly, slowly move it towards the lizard. At this point the lizard will see what’s going on and be working out the best trajectory to go anywhere but in the direction the lizard repellent is moving. So the process continues until it gets to the point where you are back where you started, the lizard is no closer to the door you want it to go out and your patience has worn razor thin.

At this point you become annoyed and the softly, softly approach goes out the window and more aggressive maneuvers are made. Now it becomes really fun because the lizard will leap, slip, slide, twizzle, slalom and sashay across the walls, floor, ceiling, small babies and furniture in a great big game of cat and mouse. Or human and lizard.

Generally in this game, the lizard invariable comes out on top as the human gives up in exasperation. However, like a man possessed I started jumping over the bed, hurtling around the room and thrashing at anything that moved with the lizard repellent, trying to get in to the mind of the hunted to gain wisdom and insight to its next flight of panic.

Eventually, and mostly because the laws of quantum say that given enough time anything can happen, the lizard ended up sort of where I wanted it, except it was hiding in the gap between the floor and the door. As I tried to gently move the door, the lizard simply followed the movement to remain hidden with just a small leg or a couple of toes pointing out. After series of ever more violent jerks to dislodge the reptile I had no choice but to ram the lizard repellent device in to the gap between the floor and the door to smoke the bugger out.

And how it shot out, like a bat out of hell on greased lightning it was gone in a flash before I could direct it to the open balcony door. Instead it made a beeline for the sofa in the living room and sought refuge underneath. Smelling blood and hot on the tail of my prey I threw the sofa aside like a toy and dived in after it. Totally stunned, the lizard froze with blind panic as it didn’t know which way to turn so I seized the opportunity to gently, but firmly, push it towards the balcony door with the lizard repellent device. Beaten and subdued it had no choice but to comply and slowly but surely it made its way to the door. When it realized freedom awaited on the other side it took the initiative to make its own way which is when I noticed that it was a whole lot shorter than it should have been, infact it was now about half the length it used to be.

Closer inspection revealed that it unfortunately acquired a number of war wounds including a wangy leg that seemed to go up and down rather than backwards and forwards and a tail that wasn’t so much injured as entirely missing.

Finally, the now much smaller lizard was out on the balcony and I had to go back, locate and dispose of the missing tail. Fortunately though it wasn’t too hard to find because it was literally thrashing around behind the sofa I had thrown across the room when the red mist had come down. I had to do a double take because it was like a worm wriggling around except it was definitely a lizard tail, completely separated from the body but making a determined bid to get on with things and lead a normal, bodiless life – and probably thinking about claiming disability benefits from the British government in the process.

A very freaked out Wikipedia search later and I discovered that shedding the tail is a defence mechanism employed by many lizards and in a few weeks it will grow another.

And that is the story of the lizard’s tail.

Here is a Youtube video of what the tail looked like when it was wriggling around, it’s not my video but it’s pretty much the same thing that happened.

How Did John Terry End Up On A Packet Of Cigarettes?

Not sure if it’s been widely reported back in England but it’s making the national news here in India. Apparently someone from the Indian Directorate of Visual Publicity decided to use John Terry’s image as part of a health warning on the packet of cigarettes here. Obviously this wasn’t authorized and Terry has taken legal action against ITC, the manufacturers of the cigarettes. Judging by the comments in the link below it seems many people in India don’t understand what the fuss is about.

From my own experience I have found there to be a certain copy and paste culture in India where people will copy the content from a website and pass it off as their own not realizing the legal or ethical problems with it. A case in point is that I do all the writing for my company website and marketing literature and I’ve lost count how many other Indian IT companies here have simply copied and pasted my content, in some cases forgetting to even remove the company name! An SEO candidate came for an interview once and was very proud of the book he had “written” on SEO and used it to show off his skills. A quick search on Google showed that it was a PDF anyone could download for free. I know copying and pasting happens everywhere but the feeling I get is that it’s more endemic here because there are no implications should you be found out.

In the case of John Terry, I’m sure the designer simply did a Google images search, found this image from the Internet and didn’t see any problem with using it – after all, it is slightly blurred, right?! I’m actually kinda curious as to why they used this image instead of an Indian man, it’s not like John Terry is particularly famous here – although he is now!

BBC News - 'John Terry' image appears in India anti-smoking drive

Terry plans legal action over Indian anti-smoking picturehttp://in.news.yahoo.com/terry-plans-legal-action-over-indian-anti-smoking-132156074–soccer.htmlRepresentatives of John Terry are taking legal advice after an image resembling the England football captain appeared on cigarette packs in India.

A Very Chennai Christmas

This was the third year I celebrated Christmas in Chennai and it’s definitely getting more Christmasy with each year. I know a lot of people still see India as a far off land where everyone is very spiritual and yoga is done by everyone (it isn’t) but there is also a sizable Christian population here thanks to the legacy of the evangelical Europeans of yesteryear and more recently the relentless activities of churches in America spreading the faith via a charitable proxy.

I digress!

What I mean to say is that this year has been by far the most Christmasy and without the consumerism too. I’ve been to several carol concerts in the last few weeks, listened to carols I’ve never heard before and traditional carols performed in a way you’ve never thought possible. There have been more renditions of Mary had a Boy Child than I can remember and I’ll not forget when an old expat lady broke down in tears during a group singing of Silent Night where all the lights were dimmed and people were given candles.


It’s A Silent Night In Chennai

There have been plenty of Christmas dinners too, with one of the most enjoyable group dinners that I’ve had for a long time along with possibly the noisiest dinner ever at an American style diner (yeah, really! Run by expats) as Christmas songs were sung by a live band.


Simply Having A Wonderful Christmas Time!

I’m not sure if where I used to live was a particularly Hindu area (although thinking about it and the trouble I had with the local temple I’m sure that was the case) but my new apartment seems to be smack bang in the middle of Christian city and people have decorated their homes, lights have been hung up outside and there’s even a small nativity display. I’ve noticed that more shops and malls than ever have been putting up Christmas lights to rival the best of what Oxford Circus can manage.


The Nativity Set Up On My Street

I think, as is increasingly the case in England and the rest of the Western world, the religious side of Christmas is not focused on here, but people of all faiths are able to appreciate the spirit of Christmas; the peace, the love, the family and the joy of the occasion. I’m quite happy that the festival is being wrestled back from the church and put back in to the hands of the people.

Now, some people call me a boring old fart, others say that I’m too predictable, but the fact remains that when us men find something that we like it takes an Earthquake sized event to make us change. A man can order a pizza or an Indian dish without looking at the menu because he knows what he had last time is good enough for him today. He goes to the hairdressers and he doesn’t even need to talk to the barber because he’s been going there for the last 20 years and gets the same haircut each time.


Get Your Turkey Here – Roasted And Cut For You

The point I’m trying to make here is, just because I go to the same restaurant each year for Christmas lunch doesn’t make me boring, it just makes me a man. It’s a fantastic place to have Christmas dinner, there’s live music in the background and every kind of Christmas dish you can imagine – and you can eat as much of it as you want. Delicious!


Bet You Don’t Get Desserts Like This At The Family Christmas Dinner!

In the evening, thanks to the joys of modern technology I was able to have Christmas dinner with my parents back in England and share in the fun and laughter, obviously it’s not quite the same but I think it blew my Nan away when she saw my ugly mug pop up on the laptop screen!

This year I even managed to send Christmas gifts to my family back home. Well, I say I, my girlfriend (seriously, us men would be back in the caves if it wasn’t for them. “It’s a perfectly good cave, club and loincloth, why do I need to change it?”) was the one who organized the shopping trip, picked up the items to send, bought Christmas cards for everyone, bought the wrapping paper, organized a time to get them wrapped, undid my attempts at wrapping, boxed it all up, went to the post office, redid the wrapping in accordance with India Post rules (there are always rules) and sent them off. But it was basically me, right?


Christmas In Chennai: Not All That Bad Really!

Apparently the arrival of the gifts caught everyone off guard in England as it had been unanimously agreed several weeks before hand that I was way too rubbish to send gifts so they didn’t need to send anything to me. Instead of presents though, I asked people to buy meaningful gifts, so we’re now the proud owner of a goat. We’ve called her Billy.

That was my Christmas 2011, I hope everyone reading this blog had a wonderful Christmas too.

The 1000KM Wedding – Part 2

This is Part 2 of the 1000KM wedding, if you haven’t read Part One of this scintillating story then I suggest you head over here and read it before continuing here.

We arrived in Tiruppur about 6:30am, my body was running on auto-pilot from lack of sleep and I was thankful when I collapsed in to the hotel bed – and even more thankful that the hotel was really nice, none of the 5 star nonsense you get in Chennai but clean, neat and modern.

The hotel was really nice!

There was a bit of a who-hah to check in, I didn’t have my passport on me and the hotel insisted that they needed to have a xerox copy of my passport and visa in order for me to be able to stay. But rules in India are made to be flexible and when we said we’ll find another hotel suddenly passports were forgotten. It wasn’t as if I was going to be staying over night anyway, it was just a place to crash and get refreshed on the Sunday.

In India the wedding reception tends to be held before the actual wedding ceremony, I’m not entirely sure of the reason for this but it probably has something to do with the astrology and auspicious days which many people rely on for the timing and date of the actual ceremony. The astrology charts of the bride and groom will have been consulted way before they’d met each other to check that the two people are compatible and it would also reveal the best day and time to get married. Invariably the ceremony would take place at some ungodly hour like 5 o clock in the morning so instead of asking guests to attend at this time, a reception is held the evening before at a much more sociable time.

We now had 6 hours to kill in Tiruppur, I wanted to be a tourist and go around snapping photos but it turned out one of the guys I was with had an old university friend living in the town so he asked me to join them for the afternoon.

It soon became apparent that the old university friend came from quite a wealthy family; my first introduction to him came when he asked if he could come in to my room to check the decor and furniture because he wanted some ideas for the hotel he was constructing within the town. Next we went to the modern cinema complex that his family owned and then on to his family house on the outskirts, although not before passing several Vodafone stores which his family operated.

The guy was 28, married with a young son, drove a Volkswagon Passat and was realizing his life’s dream of building a hotel while simultaneously managing a chain of Vodafone stores. It’s very difficult not to compare yourself!

The family home was built on a colossal scale, I think they gave the architects a picture of the Empire State Building or something and said: Think big. And big it was, the lounge alone was 3 stories high. The whole house was spotlessly clean and was completely devoid of any kind of ornaments or clutter, come to think of it I didn’t even see any family photos or any other kind of pictures hanging on the wall, I’ll have to ask about that and find out why.

The living room was just massive

You can’t beat a bit of Indian hospitality and even though the guy came back home with two random people (one of whom was this bloody foreigner) his wife and mother set to work in the kitchen immediately and within 30 minutes lunch was ready to be served. In keeping with tradition, despite the opulence and obvious wealth, it was served on a banana leaf. Banana leaves are often used as plates in homes and restaurants because they are clean, waterproof and are obviously bio-degradeable so can be quickly disposed of – they don’t need any kind of processing or packaging like paper plates so all in all 100% environmentally friendly!

After lunch (I had seconds!) we went to see the guy’s new hotel that he was building. Most of it is a building site still but he’s currently got the headache of trying to work out the best light switches to use in the hotel rooms and what kind of laminate finish to use on the furniture. By comparison, my biggest headache seems to be am I going to have enough time to clean the house, do my laundry and get the grocery shopping done on a Sunday afternoon. Different worlds!

One of the many differences that I’ve noticed between the East and the West is the attitudes towards ownership. We would always call the home where our parents lived our parents home, in India, the parents home is often referred to as ‘our’ home. Similarly when this person was talking about the various businesses his family members ran it was always ‘our’ business, even when it was completely operated, run and managed by another family member. The cinema is completely run by his Dad, which in a western sense would make it his Dad’s business, but it was still referred to as ‘our’ business. The hotel was his idea from conception to execution and he alone would be responsible for the running of the place when it was done, but it was still ‘our’ hotel.

Back at our hotel (no, not the Claridge family hotel, the hotel where me and the guys were staying) we ran in to a spot of bother. It was coming up to 6pm and we realized we had no transport to get from the hotel to the reception which was about a 30 minute drive away – everyone thought everyone else was going to organize it. This being Tiruppur, a small tier 3 kind of city, there were no call taxis available and no auto driver wanted to go all the way out of the city.

The bus back to Chennai left at 9pm so we had to get to the reception quickly to allow enough time to get back to catch the bus. After half an hour of frantic phone calls to friends and acquaintances (after eating, India’s second favourite pastime is networking and building contacts) we found someone who would give us a lift to the wedding but he couldn’t make it until 7pm. This should give us enough time to get to the reception, get photos taken with the anxious bride and groom to be, eat dinner then race back to the bus station.

Of course, if it actually went as smoothly as that then this wouldn’t be India and there would be no point writing this story.

The timezone for India is referred to as IST, officially known as Indian Standard Time, but colloquially it’s referred to India Stretchy Time because it’s very rare for people or events to ever be, or start, on time.

Of course, 4 years in India and I haven’t lost my British sense of time so at 7 o clock sharp I was suited and booted in the hotel reception area waiting to be picked up. The rest of the gang was upstairs watching the cricket and generally laughing at me for getting ready so early. By 7:30pm a couple of them came down to the reception and started making phone calls to find out where this guy was who was supposed to be picking us up.

“5 minutes” he said.

5 minutes is a word you hear a lot when you ask how long something is going to take or when the person will be done by. It basically means I don’t know, so we settled back down in the chairs in the reception while my work colleagues decided to do all kinds of poses infront of a camera which was frankly embarrassing.

7:50pm we get a phone call from the person picking us up. He can’t find the hotel. No one I was with knew their way around Tiruppur so we handed the phone to the receptionist who explained where the hotel was. “OK, 5 minutes” he said.

7:55pm he phones again, he still can’t find the hotel with the new directions. More explaining from the receptions. “OK, got it, 5 minutes”.

8:05pm and this guy finally turns up in a rude boy Suzuki Swift with blacked out windows, over the top spoiler attached to the roof, 20 inch sub woofers in the boot and of course the neon yellow go faster stripes.

Boring engineering fact for you here: A spoiler (or more accurately a rear wing) put on the back of a road car is more about show than anything else. It has the effect of increasing the weight of the car and the drag while producing none of the downforce since a road car doesn’t go fast enough so basically you end up spending more money on fuel, drastically reduce the re-sale value of your car and has the side effect of making a car owner look little bit, well, silly

No one seemed the least bit bothered that it was now impossible for us to get to the wedding and come back in time to catch the bus. India has chilled me out a lot (no, really it has!) and I know that if a show starts at 7pm then it will be gone 7:30pm before it actually starts (thanks to India Stretchy Time) so why rush, but the fact that I was 500KM from home and knowing that we would be hard pushed to catch the bus in time started getting me pretty anxious.

The useless spoiler on the top of the car apparently wasn’t just for show because the guy really did drive like he thought he was on the race track. Squeezing through the narrowest of gaps, overtaking on blind bends, forcing the on coming traffic to veer violently out of the way, it’s either a miracle we didn’t hit anything or I’ve discovered India’s new Formula 1 driver.

At last we reached the reception, I glanced at my watch, it was 8:30pm, just about enough time to say hi to the bride and groom and hop foot it back to the bus station.

The wedding receptions are held in big halls with a stage

The way the wedding receptions work in India is that there is a big hall with a raised stage at one end. The married couple to be sit on a big sofa and a never ending queue of guests pour in from far and wide to get their photos taken and give gifts and wishes. Fortunately when we entered most people had wandered off to take advantage of the free food (see above, India’s favourite pastime) so we scrambled up on the stage, said our congratulations and then raced back to get the bus.

Can you spot the Johnny Foreigner in this photo?

Or at least that’s how I saw it going in my mind. We spent about 2 minutes on stage with the bride and groom but with so much free food on offer the temptation was too much, everyone had to dig in, go back for seconds and thirds, try out the four different types of desserts and then discuss what had been eaten at length.

Myself, on the other hand, worried about the 9 hour bumpy bus journey back to Chennai with limited toilet stops, opted to play it safe and had just plain idlys.

By this stage it was almost 9pm and the bus was due to depart the bus station 30 minutes away so with my anxiety getting the better of me I went over to the person I was travelling with and asked him what we were going to do about catching the bus. He looked at his watch for probably the first time that night and made a sort of “oh” sound. He dug out his phone and the conversation went a little something like this (paraphrased of course):

Friend: Hi, we were supposed to catch the 9pm bus but we can’t make it to the station on time, can we get a later bus?
Company: No, sorry sir, all services are full you must come to the bus station
Friend: Aiyyo, but we are too far away to catch the bus
Company: Sir, you must come to the bus station
Friend: Can’t the bus sort of pick us up as it goes past? We are near the Perumanallur cross roads
Company: No sir, it’s the rules, you must come to the bus station
Friend: Err, ok, how about if I pay a small fine to the bus driver?
Company: Wait let me call you back

And so it turned out, for a small ‘fine’ we were able to catch the bus at a major cross roads as it went past us. It was silly of me to worry about getting to the bus station on time because in India everything works out in the end.

This is the beauty of India and I’m constantly amazed by how everything just seems to work out. No matter how bad you think you are in the dodo, some how it will work out. I don’t know how and I don’t know why, but I love it 🙂

The 1000KM Wedding – Part 1

“Hey Pete, are you coming to Sathish’s wedding?”. Asking if you are going to someone’s wedding is a daily occurance in India where everyone gets married between the ages of 23 and 29. Heaven forbid you should get to your thirties and your parents still haven’t found you your soul mate, right?

So in my office there’s a group of guys a year or two younger than me and since they are now deemed to be reasonably well settled (ie. they’ve held down a job for four years) their parents have been hard at work back in their home towns and villages trying to find the perfect bride for them to ensure that they have someone to cook chapattis and keep the house in order.

Most of these guys are now married and I’ve received invites each and every time along with the insistence that I attend. I’m rather ashamed to admit that despite wedding invitations being given to me at least twice a week I’ve only attended two ceremonies in the near 4 years I’ve been here – infact there is one girl who used to be on my team that is so angry that I didn’t come to her wedding that I don’t think she’s speaking to me any more! Ouch!

Last week I received a wedding invitation from Sathish, congratulations all round, his parents have found his wife and now they are to start their journey of love together. These moments are occasional, said the wedding invitation, but my presence would, I was assured, make it sensational.

“Pete, we’re going to the station to book the tickets to Sathish’s wedding, are you going to come?” I have to be honest, after the look of anger and disappointment I got from the other employee when she came back to work the other day, I thought I should make an effort. “Sure, why not” I told them “where is it?” “It’s in Tiruppur, about 500KM from here.” Oh God. Fine, put me down for a ticket and tell me the cost later.” I said to them.

Map showing the distance from Chennai to Tiruppur

Friday afternoon

“So guys, what time is the train leaving tomorrow?” I asked, rather naively. “Train? Who said anything about a train, we’re getting the bus.”

OK, freeze frame.

Buses in India have rather a bad reputation. You can’t go to the BBC news website without reading a tragic story* about how a bus crashed and 40 people perished or open the local newspaper without seeing a burned out picture of a bus.

My friend’s brother was involved in an accident where the bus driver fell asleep and slammed in to an oncoming bus, his injuries were severe enough to get him admitted in to hospital but because India is so vast it took over an hour for even the police to get to the accident and the injured had to be taken in another bus that was passing by.

Unfreeze.

As you can imagine my face kinda froze in place, buses are not the way I want to get around this country. “But you said you were going to the station to buy the tickets” “Yeah, Pete, the bus station”. My face must have been quite the picture because they all burst out laughing and started teasing me.

“Ugh, God, fine, how long is it going to take to get there?!” “About 9 hours Pete.” There was a nervous exchange of glances between the guys, “What!” I demanded, “Err, it’s non A/C too.” Let me just remind you that this is India where the night time temperature is still around 28 degrees, not having A/C for 9 hours would be like spending a night in a Swedish sauna. Where 12 months of vigourous gym workouts have failed, a night on a bus to Tiruppur would have me shedding the kilos in no time.

I called up my girlfriend in desperation and told her the news, hoping for some kind of reassurance. “Oh God, you’re going to die!” she said. I didn’t feel reassured.

CST Bus stand, 8:50pm

You may think I’m stating the obvious here but there are a lot of people in India. No, really, there are so many people. Think Sydney Harbour, Leicester Square or Times Square on News Years Eve and then double the number of people and you have the average number of people at a public location at any one time in India.

Packed Chennai Bus Station

Dealing with this many people who all want to get from A to B means that despite having one of the most expansive railway systems in the world and despite having the most rolling stock in the world, the trains are usually fully booked up to a week in advance.

The spill over goes to the bus stations and you’ll never see anything like it, hundreds of buses coming and going, thousands of people lugging suitcases, hawkers trying to sell you tickets, and the bus horns. The bus horns. They are not just loud but musical. Think “Delalalala” or “dum deledum de dum” or “Belee buluu belee buluu”. There are no LED displays showing departure times, there are no sign posts, the bus station is barely illuminated, you must find your bus by looking for a little sign that is placed in the window of each bus.

Now, if your idea of a bus is the X15 commuter to Northampton then you haven’t seen anything until you’ve seen some of the private buses they have in India. The business bus that flies between Bangalore and Chennai is like an executive lounge on wheels with big reclining seats, plug points, desks and WiFi facilities. For the middle class traveller you can travel by night in a sleeper bus with fully flat beds or a semi-sleeper which has reclining seats and loads of leg room.

This is me getting on a bus for a 9 hour journey

11am, 2 hours south west of Chennai

I’m writing this from a semi-sleeper bus as it careers down one of the high ways of Tamil Nadu. I’ve got acres of leg room, I’m lying almost flat with my legs stretched out, people around me are snoring, the windows are open and the smells of countryside India are assaulting my nasal passages.

Ah, the smells. Did you know that the traditional way of making leather is to use animal faeces because the bacteria helps soften the skin – think about that the next time you buy a leather handbag! Although if you are a male reading this and buying handbags you probably have a few more things to worry about than the fact that it’s been submersed in dog shit for the last 3 months!

Now, thanks to the numerous tanneries dotted along this highway, I can tell you with absolute certainty that the traditional leather factories are alive and well in India. Even the usual failsafe of pulling your t-shirt collar over your nose doesn’t block out the smell of rotten, decaying flesh, urine and poo.

Cows on a truck going to the tannery in India

The journey is to take 9 hours in total and there is no toilet on board. This means that we have to stop for what are popularly referred to as pit stops. These pit stops take place at what could be described as service stations without the golden arches. People get off and refresh themselves with tender coconut milk and samosas instead of an artificial burger and coke. For those brave enough you can check out the toilet facilities but ensure you make full use of the t-shirt-collar-over-your-nose trick because it’s not going to be pretty. Infact they charge people 1 rupee to use the bathroom but on both pit stops so far I’ve chosen to ignore the man on the desk and plead ignorance of a stupid foreigner and walked straight in.

2am, Somewhere in Tamil Nadu

Judging by the last 4 hours, I’ve worked out that the way to drive a bus in India is to hurtle along at 100KM/h, blasting your horn for as long as you can at any headlights you see in the distance and then slam on the brakes as you approach a junction. The state of the high ways have got progressively worse the further we’ve got from Chennai and in places it even becomes a dirt track. In others we’re quite literally skipping over the pot holes. It’s like turbulence on wheels. Fortunately I’m one of those weird people who enjoy turbulence and find the rocking and shaking very relaxing.

4:12 am, Still somewhere in Tamil Nadu…Possibly Salem

It’s now gone 4am and I’m not sure what’s going to go first, me or the laptop battery so I think I’ll call it a draw and try to get some shut eye.

* This accident occurred on the same bus route that I was travelling on. Eek!

Flash Mob Comes To Mumbai

For those of you who are stuck in the 1970’s and your idea of a mob is a gang of youths rampaging around causing untold damage and intimidation then you might not get the video below. A flash mob is just a group of people who randomly decide to congregate in a certain area and do something totally unique that takes members of the public by surprise. One funny flash mob that happened in America a few years back was when about 80 people turned up to a Best Buy store dressed in khaki pants and blue t-shirts like the staff members wore.

Anyway, despite the word ‘flash’ being in there, it usually takes some planning and the dance sequence in the video below took the lady 4 weeks of planning and had to get security clearance from the railway station authorities (obviously!). The video has become a massive hit all over India and in just four short minutes a sense of united togetherness was formed as people from all backgrounds, classes, ages and religions took part. As one Indian commenter said…

After watching I had some sense of belongingness. In the video we can see old ladies happy in the station. Some children felt ecstatic. Some people just stood and watched clapping with dancers. They felt united. Even if this dance can unite us only for 4 mins, i urge to orgasnise more of this kind. At least we can sense the Humanity and feel the united India.

Social Media Summit 2011

Today was the Social Media Summit in Chennai and you would be quite surprised by how many young male students suddenly became super interested in social media when it’s held at an all girls college. Kudos to the organizers for thinking of that unique selling point to bring the punters through the doors!

I had to get up at the ungodly hour of 7am this morning; 7am’s don’t normally exist in my life unless there is a real good reason like having a plane to catch or the party from the night before was so good it’s still going on (although sadly nowadays it’s more of the plane catching and less of the parties). Infact, people back in England seem rather envious that I start my day about 12 noon, I protest of course and say “we’re a company working with UK and US clients, so I need to be closer to their timings“, which is a incredibly useful excuse and I don’t know if they’ve cottoned on yet to the fact that I’m in marketing and don’t speak to the clients.

So got up, got dressed, had extra-super-strong coffee which brought enough neurons to life to be able to go and find an auto driver who could rip me off only a little bit. It’s monsoon season now so the autos can add “standing water, boss” to the never ending list of reasons why they have to charge me 150% more than a local.

The conference was fantastically good, a big shout out to Sorav and his Echovme staff for putting on an excellent seminar. The speakers came from all different backgrounds, young and old wise and they really knew their stuff. I felt like I was back in Uni again as I furiously scribbled notes, although at least this time I was actually enjoying the lectures and can see the value in it rather than calculating yet another partial differential equation.

I think I’ve just realized how long I have been in India now because while this blog post is supposed to be about the social media seminar, I’ve found myself writing a sentence about the food that was served. That’s one thing you’ll find about India, whenever you meet someone in the south, they’ll ask you “sabdi-aah?“, which is Tamil and it translates to “Had your food?” (people in North India will ask you “khana khaya?“). Food is never off the menu of conversation topics in India, it’s so deeply ingrained in to the culture. So yes, the food. It was a very good buffet above and beyond what I was expecting. Desi Pete!

I’ve been to a couple of social media seminars in the past few months and the way this one differed was that the people giving the speeches were really able to give real life, concrete examples from big business that would prove useful to B2C and B2B marketers and delved in to the specifics. If social media is an area you are interested in I strongly recommend that you go to a paid seminar because you’ll easily get several years worth of knowledge in just a couple of days.

There’s more going on tomorrow, so I need to wake up again at o-silly hundred hours. I better get to bed now!

Oh yes, here’s a few snaps from the day, I know you were really keen to see them 😉

2011 North East Monsoon Comes To Chennai

Monsoon season is upon us here in Chennai, it arrived last night with quite a bang. Thunder rolled (it rolled a 4), lightning flashed and I got grumpy because I couldn’t sleep. A quick school lesson for you here…the monsoon refers to a type of weather pattern, not the actual rain, the rain is a consequence of a weather pattern. There you go, something to impress your friends with.

The first day of the monsoon brought 12cm of rain in 24 hours and as usual turned the roads in to shallow water rivers. When I first arrived in India I wondered why all the pavement curbs were all 2 foot high, it’s so it can channel all the water. Or at least that’s my theory and I’m sticking to it.

When I woke up it was still raining so I knew that getting to work would be an issue. I toyed with the idea of working from home but the dedicated worker that lives within me told me to get to the office. The problem is the road outside my apartment had turned in to a river and just getting out the apartment complex would involve walking ankle deep through, well, water with suspicious things floating in it.

Of course, I used to be in the SAS[1]
so a little bit of murky water shouldn’t be an issue for me, I’ve roughed it like no one else has. Yeah, that was 10 years ago though, so I did the only sensible thing I could do: I called up the office manager and asked him to come round and pick me up on the back of his bike. Yeah, hardcore!

Not sure where the old boy who owned this rubbish cart went, but he obviously didn’t want to be out in the rain and left the cart standing there!


1Army Officers Training Corps: Saturday and Sunday crew

Oh What A Spectacle

Every now and then I tend to do something a little bit stupid. We’re not talking epic stupidity here, more like putting my mobile phone through the washing machine (err, twice) or dropping my phone in to a pint of beer (err, again, twice) or putting a mobile phone in to an open pocket of my backpack walking to the office and discovering with innocent horror that it was no longer there.

This week I decided to be stupid in a whole new innovative way which didn’t involve a mobile phone. Being a computer geek means that I have to spend rather more time sat in front of a computer than you would imagine is healthy, or rather is healthy for an average human being. Fortunately computer geeks are far from average and we can aimless surf around the Internet looking up things like what is a Beadle, how kidney stones are formed and discovering that the tune to “The Animals Go In Two By Two” is actually stolen from an American civil war marching tune called “When Jonny Comes Marching Home” for hours after the average person has given up and gone off to be sociable with real life actual people.

However, the super-human ability to sit in front of a computer screen does come at a cost, namely the eyes. I can barely look at a computer screen for more than 5 minutes without glasses before I feel the tell tale strain in my left eye that informs me that “buddy, we’re preparing one hell of a banging headache any minute now“. So yeah, my glasses are fairly important to me which is why it would be a really stupid idea to leave them on say, oh I don’t know, a plane.

I flew back to India yesterday. I left my glasses on the plane. I had to go to work today in my capacity of Online Marketing Manager, which as the designation implies, involves lots of computer work. Damnit!

Now this being India, some people who are a little less illuminated about this great country might think you have to go through hell and back to get a pair of spectacles. Hah, not a chance my ignorant friends. India is a land of programmers and call centres where people have to stare at computers all day long. There is an entire army of opticians waiting on every street in every town serving the never ending stream of Mechanical Engineering graduates who have toiled away for the last 4 years calculating complex matrices and partial differentiation and have realised that while finite element analysis is fascinating in every way, answering the phone and saying “Hello you have reached HSBC customer services, Brian speaking, how can I help you today?” pays well better and you even get a cool fussball table in the staff room. All you have to give up in return (apart from your innocence and soul) is your eyesight as you stare at Mrs. Grimbal’s account details on the computer screen for 10 solid hours a day.

I manfully soldiered through 8 hours of office work today by installing a piece of software called workrave which is the cyber equivalent of a health and safety executive standing over your shoulder and telling you that your chair is wrong, the desk is too high, the foot rest is at the wrong angle, the fluorescent lights are the wrong frequency and you have sharpened your pencils to a degree that could cause significant discomfort if you were to drive it in to your ear absent mindedly. The software basically forces you to take a break every 10 minutes by locking up your computer for 30 seconds and if you even dare attempt to move your mouse during that time it pointedly freezes the count down, looks at you with a stare which suggests that it can pause all day if you want it to, before resuming a few seconds later when you’ve stopped moving the mouse around.

And so it was thus that I managed to do my job without getting too great a headache and seeing how I can’t do anything without the Internet these days proceeded to look up where my nearest optician was. Foolishly I forgot that this was India so felt rather sheepish when I found that there was one on the same street as my office.

When you go in to an opticians in England and say I want to buy a pair of glasses, the receptionist will look at you, make a show of putting down the phone to indicate that you dared to interrupt her daily gossip, flick through the appointments book and inform you that they’ve got a slot coming up in two weeks on Wednesday at the convenient time of 11:00am. In India, you walk in to the opticians at 8pm and a crowd of assistants descend upon you, lead you to the examination room, the optician comes in and does a full eye test, gives you the prescription which you take to the sales staff and then have three people helping and advising you on which frames to pick, you make the payment and are informed that the glasses will be ready to pick up at 5pm tomorrow afternoon.

God I do love India sometimes!

Excuse Me, You’re In My Personal Space

In England we like to take our personal space very seriously. We get offended if someone violates our immediate area and if we have to go somewhere where there are already other people we tend to look for the place where the population density is the lowest, for example if we get on a train we look for the empty set of seats rather than sit next to someone. (Obviously this formality goes out the window during London rush hour when you’re crushed like sardines in to a traveling tin can also known as the Tube).

In India, personal space doesn’t seem to be protected with the same voracity as in England, largely I think because people are so used to growing up on top of each other in the large joint families that you’ve never had personal space to begin with! I took a couple of photos of some ladies queuing to get in to the local temple because I couldn’t believe how close they stood next to each other on a sweltering hot day which must have been around 38-40°C!

Freebies and Indian Politics

Indian politics is fascinating for any onlooker, it’s quite alien to anyone from the west and trying to understand it would take a lifetime. The first thing to know is that being a country of 1.2 billion people, the media likes to segment people in to what are known as ‘vote banks’. For example the muslim minority here are considered a vote bank because they all tend to vote the same way. The people from the lowest castes (they used to be called ‘untouchables’ because it was considered dirty to even touch them, now, in a more enlightened age they are referred to as dalits) will also vote the same way.

There are so many different vote banks here that it’s a tough job for the political parties to appeal to everyone. One way the parties try to win votes is by offering freebies, often under the flimsy guise of ‘welfare schemes’. In Tamil Nadu, in order to sway the election, the two main parties entered in to an almost bidding war with each other on who could give the most freebies welfare to the poor people. In the previous 2006 election, the DMK party swept to power after announcing it would give away 15 million colour TV’s. In the end a lady called Jayalalithaa won because she said that people would get:

  • Free food blender
  • Free wet grinder
  • Free table fan
  • Free ceiling fan
  • Free laptop to all Govt. school children
  • Free cow
  • Free goat
  • Free sheep

It’s unclear how many people are eligible for all these freebies welfare goods, but the BBC reckons that 6.8 million school children alone will be getting free laptops at an estimated cost of $2 billion. In total, $580m will be spent on the free consumer goods and livestock this year alone. Oh, and it’s definitely NOT all a political stunt, Jayalalitha says, despite the fact that all the free goods have her smiling face prominently stuck to the side so that people are in no doubt about who gave them this welfare!

The biggest irony of all this is that in the villages, where most of these poor people live, there is very little electricity, few can afford the electricity and power cuts last several hours each day, or in some cases, for days!

The Hindu : States / Tamil Nadu : It is wrong to denigrate welfare schemes: Jayalalithaa

The Hindu : States / Tamil Nadu : It is wrong to denigrate welfare schemes: Jayalalithaahttp://www.thehindu.com/news/states/tamil-nadu/article2455705.eceThe other schemes pertained to the free distribution of food mixers, wet grinders and table-fans to women carrying rice-drawing family cards and special incentive to students of…

National Art Exhibition in Chennai

Chennai held the Indian National Art Exhibition this year where established and upcoming artists from all over India submit their artwork for the chance to be exhibited to the public and also the opportunity to win Rs 100,000 (about £1,450). India isn’t spoken of in the same circles as Rome, Florence, London, Paris and New York when it comes to art but it does have a pretty active art community and the Government really tries to encourage it by offering heavily subsidized courses, subsidized amenities and organizing fairs and exhibitions for the artists.

I’m sure there are a great many undiscovered artists and sculptors in India sitting behind a desk and speaking to you on the phone right now, calling themselves “Chrissy” or something because a lot of middle class families push their children to do engineering degrees so they can get a good job at the end, rather than perusing their passion. Infact even in my company I know there are people with a good talent for drawing but instead they are helping from people around the world because it probably pays better.

Anyway, being the patron of the arts that I am, I took it upon myself to go and investigate the upcoming and established art talent that India has to offer. Since I apparently appreciate art in a different way to arty people though, I actually preferred what the Stella Maris fine arts students did compared to this exhibition.