Posts in "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: Jayalalithaa 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.

Absolutely Fabulous, Darling

Me? At a fashion show? Has the world gone stark raving mad? I’m a computers and football man upon whom fashion gave up a long ago as a lost cause. I would wear sweat pants to work if my boss would let me, so what business, you may wonder, do I have being at a swanky fashion show at Chennai’s most expensive 5 star hotel?

Well. It went a little something like this…

Girlfriend: Hey, you wanna come to a fashion show next weekend?
Me: *Makes a screwed up face*
GF: What?! You’ll like it, lots of pretty ladies on the catwalk for you to look at.

Ha, I didn’t get to the ripe old age of 28 without learning at least something about girls, no matter what my mum thinks. For any young male readers, you are about to be schooled…

Me: But you’re the prettiest girl I know, why would I want to look at any other girl?

And that, kids, is how it’s done 😉

GF: Aww, that’s so sweet, but you should come, there will be free food.

Now, at this point I should mention that if you want people, or anyone, to come to your event in India, you have to lay on free food. The most successful stall at a recent “food security” expo wasn’t the one that had the traditional folk dance, it wasn’t the cute puppet show and nor was it the one where they sang a humourous song about fruit complete with banana actions, it was the one which gave away free food.

Me: Meh, you’re speaking to the wrong person, food is nothing but fuel for the body
GF: Hmph! Well there will be a free bar there too.

So I rocked up to the hotel all suited and booted at 7pm, the show was due to start at 8pm but I wanted to make sure I got a good seat at the bar by the catwalk.

Now, I should probably reiterate here that this hotel is proper swanky like and it isn’t for regular folk, it’s for the people who can swan up in top of the range BMW’s, Mercedes, Jags, Porsches, Audi’s and Bentley’s. Obviously it was impossible for me to show up without a set of wheels and since my peers had chosen some of the finest names in European automotive manufacturing, I too needed something to prove that I was their equal.

After some thought on the matter I decided to opt for an Italian thoroughbred, a name synonymous with prestige and known throughout the world: The Piaggio 2 Stroke 50cc Apé City, colloquially referred to as the tuk-tuk. Yeah, I know I had envious eyes on me as I stepped out this finely crafted beast and deftly slipped my driver a 100 rupee note, “Keep the change” I said, nonchalantly, and the driver roared off saying something about “vela kaka’s”.

italian thoroughbred automobile

I certainly turned a few heads when I turned up in this Italian designed beauty

Unfortunately for me, the organizers of the event had realized long ago that if you offer a free bar it’s best to open it after the event so as to keep people’s minds focused on the show at hand. And so it was that I walked in to an alien world of high class sophistication and took my seat next to the catwalk.

The fashion show was to launch the 2012 saree collection of a fashion designer here in Chennai. I’m not totally familiar with the intricacies of saree design, but apparently I saw corporate wear, casual wear, concept wear and bridal wear although not necessarily in that order. I think that as with all things fashionable that walk down the catwalk, it’s very hard to see how the clothes would translate in to real life for the real person. For example the casual wear sarees revealed more flesh than the average Geordie lass on a night out on the ‘toon and the corporate sarees would have everyone asking what the special occasion is.

The intermission between each set had performances by a urban dance act calling themselves Fictitious Group, they were actually finalists on the Indian version of the Got Talent franchise. They danced to a mashup of music and movie sound clips and it worked pretty well, although it was totally out of place for the fashion show, see for yourself in the video below…

And if you want to see pretty girls in sarees (don’t forget that some of these are branded as corporate and casual wear) checkout the slideshow below. I don’t know why it right aligns the portrait photos though and the image quality is appalling, but we’ll just have to live with it for now.

The Name Is Pizza

One of my ongoing sources of torment, and virtually the only thing the sales team in my office can tease me about now that England have confirmed themselves as the number one cricketing nation in the world, is the English pronunciation of various Tamil names and phrases.

The trouble stems from the fact that English, being a sensible language, has just 26 characters in its alphabet and has approximately 42 phonemes (the way things are pronounced). Tamil, by contrast, being the 2,500 year old language that it is, has 247 characters in the alphabet and a mind boggling number of phonemes – for example they have 17 ways just to pronounce the letter ‘L’, 8 ways to pronounce the letter ‘N’ and exactly zero ways to pronounce the letter ‘W’.

All this presents a bit of a problem, particularly when trying to transliterate from a Tamil word or phrase to the English equivalent because there just aren’t enough characters or phonemes to get the pronunciation accurate. One constant source of amusement for everyone who knows me is that my office is in an area of Chennai called Valluvar Kottam. Now being the person I am and refusing to take in to account that it’s just the best spelling match you can get with such a rudimentary language like English, I read this word (as all other English speaking people would) as: val-loo-vaar cot-tam. Which isn’t even close to being right. Infact it couldn’t be more wrong. You go up to anyone in Chennai and ask how to get to val-loo-vaar cot-tam and they will look at you like you’ve just stepped off a spaceship from Mars.

My pronunciation disability can have some bizarre outcomes as with what happened this evening. I got back to my apartment after a hard day at work and the watchman (all apartments have watchmen, but that’s a story for another day) motioned for me to come and speak to him. He wanted the maintenance money which every apartment needs to pay each month, it’s 900 rupees (about 14 pounds) so I fished around in my wallet and handed him a wad of notes and the watchman pulled out a tatty old notebook and a stub of a pencil. The conversation went a little something like this…

Watchman: வாட் இஸ் யுவர் நேம? (Transliterates to: Un peru enna? and translates to: What is your name?)
Me: Peter
Watchman: Picture?
Me: நோ, Peter (Transliteration: illa, Peter. Translation: No, Peter).
Watchman: Pitza?
Me: நோ, Pee-ter (Transliteration: illa, Peter. Translation: No, Peeter).
Watchman: *confused* …Petcha?
Me: Grr, no! It’s P-E-T-E-R, Peter.
Watchman: …Pitza?
Me: *sigh*. Yes, fine, pizza.

And that is why, if you were to look in the watchman’s tatty old notebook, under August 2011 Maintenance you would find an entry that says Mr. Pitza paid 900 rupees for maintenance.

Note: If you just see silly square boxes in the conversation above, it means you have an old computer that doesn’t support the Tamil fonts.

No Photoshop, Just Pollution

This was the sunset over Chennai on Sunday evening, taken from my balcony. There was no post-production work done on this photo, it was just snapped with a simple compact digital camera. According to scientists, the reds, oranges and purples are caused by light being scattered by particles in the upper atmosphere, the more particles the more it gets scattered and the ‘blue’ lightwave is lost, leaving the reds and oranges. If there is a lot of pollution like aerosols and all the other crap that us humans produce we’re rewarded with some pretty spectacular sunsets. I’m willing to hear a more accurate and scientific answer though, (Tom, I’m looking at you here!).

Stupidity Or Talented

Some sections of society here in India seem to have a rather cavalier attitude towards life, bordering on a reckless disregard for their own lives. More often than not it tends to be young men from the poorer communities, but I’ve also seen young men on motorbikes weaving dangerously through traffic, skipping stop signs, playing chicken with buses and trucks – the list goes on.

Whether it’s misplaced bravery or a complete lack of imagination of the consequences of their actions I don’t know. I guess parallels could be drawn with some adrenaline sports like bungie jumping or skydiving, but at least there is an element of safety with these sports although maybe there is no excuse for the absurdity of tombstoning which involves throwing oneself off a very high cliff in to water which could be deep or could have rocks below the surface, let’s just jump on in and find out, eh?!

Anyway, in the same vein of the asininity of tombstoning, a video has recently surfaced in India which shows a bunch of young lads performing death defying stunts on a commuter train in Mumbai in what has been referred to as free style train surfing. Rather alarmingly, while the media here along with the vast majority of people who watch it condemn the stupidity of youths, there is a minority that actually praise and comment how talented and skillful you must be to perform such stunts…

this guy deserve AWARD!!! we all every stunt is risky but riding on wall with urs legs with matching urs walk speed with train speed was simply OUTSTANDING THANKS for sharing video link god bless you stuntboy 🙂 james bond sucks urs d**k!!!

These guys are very daring, pick them up, give trainning, give them job in police or defence. We must utilize such talent and use them for our country

I’ve never seen anyone doing anything as insane as the train surfing stunt below, but I have seen school kids who stand on the station platform and run alongside the train and jump on at the last minute, or who do a similar thing with the buses and hang precariously on to the sides just feet from certain death if they fall. And to think my mother used to get worried when I climbed trees when I was a kid!

In actual fact, one American blog has a whole different angle on the video: India is the new king of viral videos.