Posts tagged "India"

Ya Wee Beastie

Warning: this blog post is not for the squeamish! I’ve become somewhat numbed to the shock of seeing so many bugs and animals in the house since coming to India, but the I thought the bug that I saw the other day deserves a special mention.

I’m quite used to seeing ant super-highways snake their way round the kitchen wall, I’ve killed more cockroaches than Rentokill and peacefully shared my living space with lizards but this beast of a bug that I discovered on my bedroom wall the other day…I don’t know what the hell it is but it was fricking massive!

The following morning my housemate proceeded to kill it. By accidentally stepping on it with their oafish feet. Incredibly they claimed that they didn’t even notice this giant size bug!

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Dunno, but it's a bloody big!

Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Dunno, but it's a bloody big!

And while I’m writing a topic about bugs, who knew that cockroaches could fly!

No Room At The Inn!

The population of London is thought to be hovering around the 7m mark, although obviously if all the Aussie contingent suddenly got bored of rain, cold and snow, this would take a drastic dip to 6.5m and Walkabout bars across the city would go out of business.

By comparison Chennai is thought to have a population of around 8.2m, but like London, this figure varies widely depending on how you define the city limits and even who you talk to.

According to Wikipedia, London has a greater metropolitan area of 659 sq mi whereas Chennai has an area of 459 sq mi, this is quite difficult to imagine, so using the power of Photoshop and Google Maps you can see visually how the two cities stack up against each other.

Comparison of London and Chennai

Update: So I got around to making this map and this just blurs the lines even more, because looking at this comparison map (and I took care to line up the scales) Chennai looks about 1/5th (sorry Tom!) the size of London…so what boundaries are they using for London to say it covers 659 square miles?!

So how is Chennai able to fit so many more people in to a space that is roughly 2/3rds the size of London?

Well, for one, unless you are in the upper echelons of the super wealthy (and I’m talking multi-millionaires in dollars and pounds) there is simply no way to afford a house on your own plot of land in Chennai. Ten years ago it might have been possible on the outskirts of the city, but not today unless you can afford to spend millions of pounds on a patch of land.

Where London is made up of low density terrace houses which are two or three stories, Chennai is made up of thousands of individual apartment blocks, 4 stories or more tall with two or more apartments per floor. This is the kind of place most of the middle classes live in in the city.

As fast as property developers can build these apartments, they are being snapped up by a desperate crowd, which is remarkable given that we’ve come off the back of the worst recession in living memory, mortgage rates are 9% and up and even getting a mortgage in the first place is hard enough thanks to the prudent nature of the banks here – something maybe the west would do well to remember next time!

Property prices here in Chennai go beyond the ridiculous, sail past the insane and end in the ether somewhere along with British ‘low’ budget airlines. If you compare property prices with the UK, then yes, it’s much cheaper, you can buy an apartment in Chennai for £100,000 which is cheaper than anywhere in London, however if we use my company for comparison you’ll understand how crazy it is.

The company I work for is your standard Indian outsourcing company, the stuff the Indian dream and western corporate downsizing is made of. We’re about 200 strong and considered a decent medium sized company. Since it’s IT we pay well above the average salary compared to other industries.

The average employee earns around Rs 300,000 per year (Rs = Rupees), which is about £4,230. And that’s before tax and deductions of course.

The small 2 bedroom apartment I’m living in at the moment cost Rs 6,000,000 (£84,700) when it was purchased brand new two years ago, in other words, it’s 20x the average salary of an IT worker. After two years, the property prices have gone up so much they reckon this place is now worth Rs 10,000,000 (£141,200)! Wow!

Now back to the population thing. I consider this apartment that I live in large enough for myself. If I was married it might just be big enough for two people. But incredibly there are entire families living in the other apartments; literally it’s Mum, Dad, the kids, granny and granddad. I have no idea how they manage it, there’s only two bedrooms! But you understand why they have no option when you see how stupid the property prices are here, the average person will find it very difficult to buy a place of their own – and we (that is England as a society) think we have problems with the younger generation getting on the property ladder!

Ah yes, now I remember what the point of this entry was. The family that lives opposite to me were renting the apartment from a landlord, because that’s the only thing they can afford to do. However, even the rental prices are prohibitively expensive in Chennai. The family opposite were paying around Rs 200,000 (£2,800) per year, which is 2/3rds of the average IT salary! So even to rent a small apartment it takes an entire family to live there and contribute to the rent costs.

Oh, and on top of this, where it’s custom to give a one month deposit in England for renting, in Chennai the deposit is a minimum of 10 months up front! How people actually manage to put a roof over their head I don’t know!

The family opposite have just moved out, and when I was talking to my friend they said it was because landlords here don’t like people staying in their place for too long, otherwise the tenants might start to think they own it and have more rights than they actually do. Since it’s so difficult to find reasonable cost housing here, moving is something people only choose to do as a last resort, and once you’ve found somewhere, unless you can afford to upgrade, there’s no way you want to move.

So the landlords will give the tenants one years notice because a) it takes the occupiers so long to find an alternative place and b) it’s seen as a reasonable amount of time to give some one. My friend said that even if the landlord tried to evict the tenants, they would have to deal with a lot of angry people who will take the occupiers side and the whole thing could get very messy.

Sorry, keep going off at tangents. The family opposite me, despite living there for just 1 year got their 1 year eviction notice 12 months ago, and the time just came for them to move out yesterday. According to my maid, they still haven’t been able to find anywhere to live after a year of looking (even during the recession when things should be slow!). Apparently the mother of the family got so desperate she asked my maid for the number of the person who owns my apartment to see if they would be willing to accept a higher price than what I am paying!

Yesterday morning the old family moved out – for no other reason than the landlord didn’t want them staying there too long – and by the evening a new family had moved in. That’s how much in demand residential space is. As far as I know, and according to the maid (she’s better than a secretary for the amount of gossip she gets!), the family moving out don’t have a place to call home now, staying at friends and relatives instead.

Although there is a big push from the Indian Government to try and build ‘affordable’ housing from what I can see and what the local papers are saying, it’s mostly been all words so far. Developers can earn huge mark-ups on grander projects than they can from affordable housing, so from a business point of view there is no logical reason or incentive to build cheap housing when they’ve got plenty of demand from people who are prepared to pay high prices and then cram every member of the family in to the apartment.

The scary part is that it’s just going to get worse and worse as the Indian economy grows at 8% year on year.

Would You Just Sit Down!

Part of being a grumpy young man is the ability to find something to annoy you in every conceivable situation. The situation that has been getting on my nerves recently is people’s Neanderthal like behaviour the moment they step on to an aircraft.

It first really came to my attention when I took low cost airlines around India (which, if you were to compare them to the no-frills crap we have in England is like a 5 star luxury travel experience). India is quite renowned as a nation of people who don’t follow the rules. This is quite understandable because if you tried to follow the rules, you’d never get anything done. However, it becomes particularly apparent on a low cost airline.

So yes, I thought it was specific to India, people’s behaviour on planes, but after taking some crap no-frills airlines while back in England, I’ve been forced to reconsider this opinion.

Mobile Phones

This is my biggest annoyance. Everyone knows that they ask you to turn your phone off when you are on the plane, yet people insist on walking on to the plane on the phone, sending text messages, shooting off emails on their blackberry etc.

On the flight back to Chennai the guy next to me was sending messages all through the announcement about turning off your phone, it was done in English, Hindi and Tamil so he had no excuse other than being a knuckleheaded buffoon.

I understand that 99% of the time, use of your mobile phone has no bearing on the performance of the plane, but I have read stories whereby the pilot has been unable to communicate with the tower because of the buzzing interference of a mobile phone. Maybe I’ll get my pilot friend to comment further on this matter.

Anyway, the point is, I’m sure if everyone used their phone, there could well be some problems, you are not special, particularly if you are sitting in cattle class with me, so don’t be an ejit and use your phone.

But it gets worse, the moment the plane touches down, people nowadays seem to be so addicted to their mobiles to which one can probably draw comparisons with smokers and the urge to have a cigarette, because the plane is still on the runway and they pull out their mobile to check for messages! No one loves you anyway, so save it till you get in to the terminal. Oh and if you do get a message, don’t kid yourself, it’s only the local network welcoming you to the country.

Seat Recliners

Oh, this annoys me nearly as much as mobile phones do. The people who make use of the seat recliners are the sort who have no consideration and nothing but contempt for another human being. You can pick out the self-centered bastards of the world by those that choose to use the recliner, thus inconveniencing the person behind you who suddenly has an LCD TV shoved in to their face and even less room to move around in.

But what gets me more is that on every single bloody flight, the attendants ask you to put your seat in the upright position. So what’s the first thing these inconsiderate morons do when they board the plane? Recline their seat, I mean, what in God’s green Earth are they thinking? Anyone who’s been on a flight knows the seat has to be upright for take off, why tell everyone you’re an ignorant waste of space right from the start?

Again, I’ve been on a plane which is still on the ground and a cabin crew have asked someone to put their seat forward and not a few minutes later, they recline it again. What makes them think they are more special than someone else, other than winning the most inconsiderate award.

In my somewhat lopsided view, when I looked around the plane virtually everyone had their seats fully reclined, those that didn’t were mostly westerners. When I challenged some Indian friends on this, they replied that they recline their seat because they can, it hadn’t even occurred to them that it could possibly inconvenience the person behind them – something (not considering others) which I think is pervasive throughout Indian society simply because the sheer number of people forces you to do so.

So next time you are on a flight, don’t be an arsehole, leave your seat upright. If you want to sleep, stop being a cheapskate and upgrade to a class that lets you stretch out fully, don’t inflict your pig headedness on others just because you are too tight to pay for a better seat.

Seatbelts

Does personal safety mean anything to anyone? Then why do the cabin crew have to come around and ask you to put your seatbelt on before take off?!

There must be some kind of psychological problem with some people, they have no fear of death but an irrational fear of being restrained or something because they don’t like wearing that seatbelt!

It’s like, as soon as the plane touches down, you hear the click of people removing their seatbelt and almost letting out a sigh of relief, as if they can finally breathe now the restraining belt can be removed.

And if that’s not enough, on flights in India, people are actually standing up before the plane has left the runway – leaving the poor cabin crew to beg and plead with people to sit back down!

Safety Notice

Yes, I know that by now we all know where the doors are located on a plane and that the life jacket is located under the seat and in the event of an emergency we’ll all scream, panic and possibly do something involuntary but even so, keep quiet during the safety instructions!

This was a huge problem on the European flights, the safety notice began and people carried on talking, raising their voices to be heard over the PA system! Eventually the cabin crew had to ask everyone to be silent and started all over again. I’ve noticed on the internal Indian flights the passengers do give the cabin crew their full attention, although I feel this may have more to do with the fact that they are slim and very pretty rather than male, like in England!

I mean come on, would it actually kill you to be quiet for a few minutes while the cabin crew give some instructions which may save your life?

Toilets!

Bloody hell this annoys me. Why does it take some people 10 minutes to go to the toilet on a plane?! Especially when they can see a queue of people outside.

I think airlines should start charging for use of the toilet, your first 2 minutes is free, after that it is a £1 / $1 per minute. No one should be taking more than 5 minutes anyway! Not unless they are in the process of joining a certain exclusive club.

If you have an aisle seat, don’t complain when people get up!

In the day and age where you get to select your seat before you board, or in the case of the low-but-hidden-charges cost airlines a free for all once you get on the plane, if you choose an aisle seat, don’t complain when someone gets up to go to the toilet or has to wake you to get out!

On the way back to India, I saw one middle aged totally ignorant gentleman refuse to move to allow a lady (who was about 80) get out – the knucklehead of a man made her climb over and had the audacity to look put out by this!

The guy wasn’t the smallest and there was another bulky guy sitting next to him who also tried to get out, the comedy of seeing two fat guys trying to squeeze past each other, one stubbornly refusing to get up and the other trying to get through, it just made him look utterly ridiculous, I almost felt like saying to him, “what the hell, move you fool!”

So I don’t know what it is about air travel that makes people lose all sense of etiquette and consideration for others, maybe the irrational fear of flying overrides all other emotions and actions of people and turns them in to little balls of selfishness with not a thought for their fellow passenger.

What annoys you about air travel?!

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 🙂

Upcoming Indian Elections

The General Elections are about to take place later this month in India. In a country of 1.1bn people where there are over a dozen official languages and large swaths of the rural areas have very low literacy rates, it’s incredible that elections manage to take place at all.

You could easily compare India to Europe. Imagine if all the countries of Europe, with their different customs, culture and language, were asked to vote in a general election to nominate a single party to represent them all. It probably couldn’t be done. But if you can imagine that, then you can imagine the kind of difficulties the political parties face here.

The general elections nominate 543 Members of Parliment, of which a party needs a 66% majority to form a government. The newly formed Government then elects a President (the current President is Pratibha Patil) and the President then appoints a Prime Minister (the current Prime Minister is Manmohan Singh) nominated by the party in power.

The role of the Indian President is a bit like the Queen in the UK (according to my enlightened Indian friends). The role is largely ceremonial. The president is the head of the armed forces. The president can dissolve the parliment and call a new general election, they also sign any new bill that parliment want to pass and have little choice to refuse it.

The role of the Prime Minister is just like in the UK. They are responsible for the day to day running of the country, in charge of policy, schmoozing with the world leaders and whatnot.

Just like in the United States, there are two main national parties called Congress and BJP. Congress is more secular, and the BJP is more about Hindu nationalism. The current party in power is the Congress party, and has been in power for the majority of the time since independence in 1947.

In the build up to elections, there is a large amount of political manouvering amongst the national and regional parties. The national parties come to power based on their alliances with the smaller, regional parties as there is no way they can achieve a 66% majority by themselves.

Here in Tamil Nadu there are two main parties, the DMK and AIADMK. Both the Congress and BJP parties are courting them to try and get an ally in the Tamil Nadu state. In return for this, the national parties promise a certain number of parlimentary seats or ministries to the local parties. The political wrangling comes when two different state parties demand a the same ministry .

I can’t speak much about other states in India, but in Tamil Nadu, it’s very much a case of celebrity politics. When the famous actors and actresses reach an age where their looks fade, dancing ability wanes or singing falters, the natural progression is to turn to politics and to bring your large army of fans with you. The leader of the DMK is a very renown scriptwriter and the leader of the AIADMK is an aging 60’s icon actress.

Unlike in England where there are ‘just’ 27 million votes to count and polling lasts for just one day, the elections in India last for 29 days between 16th April and 13th may, with the results not announced until the 16th May.

There are many reasons for this, such as the size of the country, size of population, inaccessibility of rural areas (ie. no proper roads), providing security for voting, and the shear length of time it takes to count the votes.

I’ll write some more about the upcoming elections here later on this month.

Indian IT Professionals Come Down To Earth With A Bump

When I came to India in the first quarter of 2008, the economy was still pretty much in full swing as I set about building my team of superstars. As I interviewed candidate after candidate a few things started to irk me, such as their belief that by changing jobs it could net them a 100% to 300% pay rise.

There seemed to be a belief that pay was related to experience, not expertise. When an SEO analyst said they had 3 years of experience, it usually meant that they had been pressing CTRL-C CTRL-V for 3 years and never took it upon themselves to learn anything new. Yet because they had been copying and pasting for 3 years, they felt that they deserved 3 times the pay of a fresher.

Err, no, it doesn’t work like that.

Another peeve that I had was when I went through a resume and found a person had as many as 6 jobs in 4 years (I honestly kid you not!) and when pressed on this it was for ‘career growth’. It’s fairly normal to read a resume where a person has lasted 12 months or less in each company before moving on.

Here’s a top tip for y’all: An employer wants to see commitment from the candidate. Changing companies every 6 months sets off nuclear alarm bells that says this person isn’t worth an interview, by the time you’ve offered them a job, they’ve already applied to the next one.

My understanding of career growth is that you progress in seniority if you change jobs. Apparently not in India. When asked why they wanted to change jobs, invariably it was for ‘career growth’, when told that they would have the same designation as they’ve got now, this would rarely be a problem – so where’s the career growth?

The HR guys tell me that I got off lightly with candidates. Such was the need for programmers during the boom times, the candidates would play companies against each other and say “well company X is offering me 4 lakhs (400,000 to my uneducated friends!), how much can you offer me?” And an offer is made and they go to the next company and say “company X is offering 4 lakhs, company Y is offering 6 lakhs, how much do you want to pay me?” And so we had the situation where candidates were putting themselves up for auction.

Fortunately Agriya refused to partake in this, if any candidate tried to auction themselves, our (err, that is, Agriya) interest was immediately suspended.

So, what is the situation now?

It really brought it home to me how rough it is out there the other day when I was interviewing two candidates from the same company.

They had both come in looking for a job. The company they were working for had not paid any salaries for the last two months – yet the employees still went to work on the hope that they could get paid.

When it came to asking about expected salaries, we have turned a corner, there were no requests for 1.5x – 2x their current earnings, they reply came back meekly… “whatever the company wants”. Unfortunately the candidates, despite having four years “experience” didn’t have any more expertise than I would expect from a fresher who’s been at the company for 6 months.

Another top tip: Employers are looking for expertise and passion, not just experience! I read a great article today where a gaming company hired a real estate agent to help develop their new game because he was a passionate gamer and ‘modded’ dozens of games out of personal interest. Give me passion over experience anyday!

So, back on topic how hard is the global economy hitting India?

Well, of course it’s having an effect. The smaller IT companies are folding left right and centre (my writing is Americanized [note the ‘z’] now that the English spelling of ‘centre’ just looks plain wrong), the larger multi-national IT companies are shedding staff – up to 10% of the workforce in some cases, freezing their fresher intake programmes and in some cases imposing compulsory salary reductions as they look to adapt and survive.

One of my friends owns a consumer computer chain store throughout Chennai and he says it’s the toughest he’s seen it as the geeky IT crowd who make up the bulk of his clientele dries up.

Still, India has a very strong domestic economy – 1.1bn people still need to be fed, move from A-B, get clothed, socialize, have spectacularly over the top weddings, be entertained and live.

So while the West is mired in recession, shrinking economies and the looming face of deflation looking more and more likely, India’s annual growth forecast has been cut from 8% to a ‘paltry’ 5%. The West has sneezed, India has the sniffles, but it hasn’t caught the cold – yet.

Guest Blogging: The Lazy Man’s Solution

Guest blogging is for lazy people who want to invite others to contribute to their blog. People get invited because they may have interesting things to say, be an authority voice on a particular subject or maybe it’s just a friendship and you think it’s cool to have others write on your otherwise very personal website.

To be asked to guest blog on someone elses site is a huge honour and should be approached with sincerity and maturity. Hmm. Just kidding. Being asked to guest blog is a pain in the ass as you try and come up with some witty content to prove how wonderful you are.

So, where is all of this leading? To a guest blog of course. I invited my friend Fay to say a few things on my blog and to show other people that there is more than one Brit living here in Chennai!

Now, without furtther ado, may I present your blogger for the day, Miss Fay Kaufhold

When Pete asked me to write a guest blog, “about India – your view and opinion of it,” I’ve gotta say I balked. I started my own blog a few months back thinking that I’d be able to explore my views and opinions on India and life in general, but had such a hard time formulating my endless thoughts and opinions into words, that I’d only managed to rant at the peripheries.

“It’s easy” said Pete, “what you are doing here, why you came, what you think of it, what you miss.” I changed the subject back to his rather unpleasant mustache. Yes, Pete had a mustache – briefly. Ask him to show you the horrifying pictures!

So one of the first things I noticed in India was that about 60% of the male population has a mustache. A mustache seems to be a badge of masculinity. In Britain, mustaches belong to the Army-Major type, or to people whose self-image is stuck in their 70s youth, like my Dad. Any female Britisher knows that mustaches are Highly Unattractive. I take it as an indication of how Chennai has seeped into my skin, or dare I say, my bones, the fact that I now think men with mustaches can be attractive. Can.

Roight (as we say in Suffolk, for I am from Saarffuk, in the UK), what am I doing in Chennai? Well, as an actress from the last century, Ethel Barrymore, once said: “You must learn day by day, year by year, to broaden your horizon. The more things you love, the more you are interested in, the more you enjoy, the more you are indignant about, the more you have left when anything happens.”

I really value learning things, about life, humanity, whatever, and I’ve found that the occasions when I have learnt the most are when I have taken an opportunity that seems pretty daunting.

So I was presented with the pretty daunting opportunity of moving to Chennai and beginning my working life in the education/IT sector after completing a rather dreary maths degree, and I took it up. I have now worked for HeyMath, creating interactive Primary-level maths lessons among other things, for 17 months. And in that time I haven’t set foot back in the UK, or even off Indian soil.

I really love it here. I find it very fulfilling to live in a country full of people who often have different values to those I was exposed to growing up. You only have to read Indian papers for a week to realise that the golden BBC impartiality is absolute rubbish. The views and opinions expressed by the BBC and other UK media are very very British and really do not reflect some common value held by all humanity, as they like to think.

I arrived in Chennai not long after returning to the UK from Havana, where I’d spent 6 weeks soaking up some wonderful Latin-American socialism, enjoying Cuban culture and attempting to learn Spanish. I sat on the plane to Chennai wondering what on Earth I was doing going to socially-conservative Chennai.

I spent my first few hours in Chennai slightly over-whelmed by the noise, smells and my inability to cross the road.

I spent my first few weeks wondering how I was meant to cope without being able to meet my friends down the pub in the evenings.

I spent my first few months craving cheese and other things that I cannot even recall now.

But I loved every second! Or at least the majority of seconds.

There are plenty more things I could say about my experience of life in Chennai, but I’ll finish here with something about friendships. I think the good stuff of life is getting to know people, without that, I’d be very bored and unhappy.

In India, I have found getting to know people to be in some ways very easy and very hard. Very easy because people are generally very friendly and open to other people. Very hard because life is so very family-centric and regular social time with friends outside of the context of family is not really the done thing, or rather, it is for some, but not all. Also, people make prejudiced assumptions about you based on the fact that you are a Western woman. This may make people more likely to seek out, or shy away from, friendship with you. It has taken a while for me to adapt to how friendships are formed here and how I can progress them. It’s been a challenge, but a very worthwhile, wonderful one.

Finally:

I love Chennai! My home.

You can follow Fay’s blog here, it’s 10 million times more intellectual than mine, and you might even learn a thing or two about the politics of Chennai (rather than how bad the tuk tuk drivers are that I so frequently focus my wrath upon).

And I never had a mustache.

How to spot an Indian

I came across this list on my travels around the internet. Is it true? Speak to your Indian friends 🙂

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We Indians are easy to identify!

We are like this only So true, lets start the list

1. Everything you eat is savored in garlic, onion and tomatoes.

2. You try and reuse gift wrappers, gift boxes, and of course aluminum foil.

3. You are Always standing next to the two largest size suitcases at the Airport.

4. You arrive one or two hours late to a party – and think it’s normal.

5. You peel the stamps off letters that the Postal Service missed to stamp.

6. You recycle Wedding Gifts , Birthday Gifts and Anniversary Gifts.

7. You name your children in rhythms (example, Sita & Gita, Ram & Shyam, Kamini & Shamini.)

8. All your children have pet names, which sound nowhere close to their real names.

9. You take Indian snacks anywhere it says “No Food Allowed”

10. You talk for an hour at the front door when leaving someone’s house.

11. You load up the family car with as many people as possible.

12. You use plastic to cover anything new in your house whether it’s the remote control, VCR, carpet or new couch.

13. Your parents tell you not to care what your friends think, but they won’t let you do certain things because of what the other “Uncles and Aunties” will think.

14. You buy and display crockery, which is never used, as it is for special occasions, which never happen!!

15. You have a vinyl tablecloth on your kitchen table.

16. You use grocery bags to hold garbage.

17. You keep leftover food in your fridge in as many numbers of bowls as possible.

18. Your kitchen shelf is full of jars, varieties of bowls and plastic utensils (may of which you got free with purchase of other stuff)

19. You carry a stash of your own food whenever you travel (and travel means any car ride longer than 15 minutes).

20. You own a rice cooker and a pressure cooker.

21. You fight over who pays the dinner bill.

22. You live with your parents and you are 40 years old.

23. You don’t use measuring cups when cooking.

24. You never learnt how to stand in a queue.

25. You can only travel if there are 5 persons at least to see you off or receive you whether you are traveling by bus, train or plane.

26. You only make long distance calls after 11 p.m.

27. If you don’t live at home, when your parents call, they ask if you’ve eaten, even if it’s midnight.

28. You call an older person you never met before Uncle or Aunty.

29. When your parents meet strangers and talk for a few minutes, you suddenly discover you’re talking to a distant cousin.

30. Your parents don’t realize phone connections to foreign countries have improved in the last two decades, and still scream at the top of their lungs when making foreign calls.

31. You have bed sheets on your sofas so as to keep them from getting dirty.

32. It’s embarrassing if your wedding has less than 700 people.

33. All your Tupperware is stained with food color.

34. You have drinking glasses made of steel.

35. You have mastered the art of bargaining in shopping.

36. You have really enjoyed reading this mail, and want to forward it to as many Indians as possible!

Well, I’m Back In India

There is a saying that you will know when you are in India because something totally out of the ordinary or random will happen – something will happen that probably wouldn’t happen anywhere else.

So, I got off the plane after a pleasant 9.5 hour flight (err…) and looked out for my driver Aravind who was there to pick me up.

This is when the first thing happened.

I was involved in a car accident.

Regular readers to my blog (and since Christmas, I discovered that it could be more than just myself and my Mum) would know that Indian driving is more like bumper cars than following strict rules. Dents within your car body work is shown off with pride. Broken arms obtained in a bike crash is something that seems to be aspired to.

So, we got in to the car, the engine was switched on and we reversed out of the parking space.

Into the mini bus that was parked behind us.

One of the great things about driving in India is that if you are involved in a crash, you don’t have to mess around with insurance details and stuff. Just bump in to people, apologise (maybe pay a small bribe if the police saw it) and carry on.

So, what next?

I got back to the apartment, went to switch on the A/C (it is 25 degrees here after all) and it made a big old grinding noise. I went outside to take a look and a pigeon had decided to build a nest in the A/C unit. Further investigation revealed that it wasn’t just a nest, it was going to become a family home with two little eggs there.

Later on that morning (about 10am), the maid called round. I answered the door, let her in and went back to sleep. Dreaming sweet dreams, I hadn’t the slightest clue what was about to happen next.

The maid was standing next to my bed calling my name. In a daze I opened my eyes and was confronted with the pigeon from the night before.

The maid had decided to pick up the pigeon, come in to my room and show it to me.

Believe me, being woken up by a pigeon in your face isn’t half as exciting as it sounds.

Now, just to drive home the fact that I am now back in India, this morning (Sunday), the maid called again. This time with her younger sister who was all decked out in her best sari and all her gold jewllery.

Thinking that she had mis-understood my reaction from the pigeon incident, it actually turned out that she wanted me to take photos of her sister so they could send them off for marriage proposals.

So here’s something you probably didn’t know about me: in my spare time I’m a pre-wedding photographer!

We went on to the roof of the apartment and I started giving instructions, (you’re a gazelle, a tiger, a lioness, give me a flick of the hair, now hold it…good!). Then it was back to the apartment for Meena (the maid) to review and choose the suitable photos. There had to be a front shot, a back shot and a close up of the face.

But there was a problem. Meena’s sister has dark skin and that’s totally not OK when it comes to the Indian marriage market. I played around with some filters on the computer to change the colours and lighten everything until Meena gave her approval.

I’ve now got to somehow print out all these photos 🙂

Just another weekend in India!

Foreigners Leaving India…

I thought I’d better write this as a little public service announcement for any Foreigners who are living and working in India for more than 6 months.

As you are aware, you have to register with the FRRO in your city. This is fine (albeit, ensure you have an office boy on hand to run back to the office to fetch the papers that were not mentioned in the original checklist).

What they don’t tell you is the procedure for leaving India. If you have been in India for over 6 months and attempt to leave, they will not allow you to do so if you haven’t registered at the FRRO. I personally know at least 3 people who this has happened to in the last 12 months – no messing around, you have to register!

Another little gem that they forget to mention is that you must take your FRRO registration certificate with you. It has to be the original one with the original stamp on it – photocopies are not acceptable.

I didn’t know this information when I left in December, but luckily I still had my FRRO registration certificate in my bag from earlier that day.

When you are at Chennai airport, you are likely to see a couple of foreigners who didn’t know this information, and they’ll be f-ing and jeffing, but the authorities still won’t let you board the plane.

So remember, register with the FRRO as soon as you get to India, and make sure your FRRO certificate is with you when you try and leave.

An Inspiring, True Story of One Man Against the Odds

I’m sat in the immigration office in Chennai and writing this post, waiting for the office boy to deliver some paper work to me.

It’s a shame to see the wheels of Indian bureaucracy are still rusted together.

An Indian friend once told me that 80% of taxes in India go on paying for govt staff and govt pensions. If you visit any Indian govt office, you can well believe it.

The confusion starts from the moment you enter the grounds of the offices, which doubles as the passport office and loads of smaller ministry offices. The only way to find out where to go is to ask someone. Signs and maps would be expecting too much.

You then find the right office, down a small side street and a notice says welcome to hell. Or bureau of immigration, it depends which way you look at it.

There is a man sitting behind the most ridiculously small desk and he silently waves you to a guy standing nearby. This new guy waves you to a line of seats. You look around and guy #3 points to a seat you should take.

Every few minutes another soul enters the gates of hell and you all shuffle along, under the direction of guy #3.

It turns out that guy #3’s job also involves preventing any Indians coming in to the office.

So, you finally get back to guy #1 behind the desk and he takes a note of your passport number and the reason why you dare interrupt them in their important jobs. No doubt it’s the job of someone else to enter this data on a typewriter and then for a superior to enter it in a computer.

Guy #1 then allows you in to the office (guy #4, who’s guarding the entrance moves aside) and tells you to go to office one. You get directed by guy #5 to take a seat and the whole shuffling process starts again, under the direction of guy #6.

Standing outside office one is guy #7. When a door bell rings, it’s his job to wave the next foreigner in line in to the office. You don’t see the previous foreigner come out of the office.

So now you are dealing with your 2nd guy behind a desk, and guy #8 overall. He goes through your paperwork, desperate to find a mistake or missing piece of paper. He went through mine 3 times before, to his absolute delight, he found one of my request letters was addressed to ‘whom it may concern’ instead of the ‘frro officer’.

Once they find a mistake, that’s it. The whole process comes to a stop. You are ordered to bring back the proper paperwork and he won’t look at anything else or give you any more information until it’s corrected.

So, you bring back the corrected paperwork and with great reluctance guy #8 concedes that your paperwork is adequate for the next stage and you are directed to your third desk.

Enter guy #9 to direct you to your seats and guy #10 to show you to the desk (which is almost 4ft from where you are sitting). The seat shuffling continues.

This time a lady goes through your paper work and agrees, like her colleague, that it is barely adequate. She then asks you for Rs 20,000 for the registration fee, which is fine because you took 40k, just to be safe.

She watches you like a hawk as you count out 20 1k bills. Then with absolute glee in her eyes, she tells you that they no longer accept cash. Yes, I was prepared for this too and brought out my cheque book. No, she says, we only accept bankers drafts now.

So I am now sat here writing this. I phoned my company and told them the details. It absolutely must get here by 12.30 I said, otherwise i have to wait until tomorrow. No problem, it will be there, they promised.

It’s now 12.45 and I am still waiting. Don’t know what will happen, but i’m hoping i can still make the payment.

Continued…

The lady scrutinizes the bank draft hoping for some problems. I am now the only person left in the office.

I’m given a token and told to wait for my number to come up. Guy #12 shows me to a new room, guy #13 to show me where to sit. The room is empty.

Eventually the counter staff (girl #2) notices I’m waiting. A difficult task in an empty room, to be sure. Eye contact is made, I can go over.

But wait, she raises a hand to tell me to stop. A button has to be pressed first.

“Counter number two please” says the recorded voice. And her counter light flashes.

There is not a flicker of embarrassment on her face.

I may now go over.

Once more, the paper work is checked, double checked, triple checked and then again, just because.

“aha!” she exclaims “you need two copies of all these documents.”

“Behold” I replied and pulled out 3 more copies of all the paper work, flourishing them in the air.

It was evident that I had robbed her of a simply joy as she ruffles through the paper work again. Oh dear. The original registration permit is not here. It’s not mentioned in the list of required paperwork given to me on the first visit, but no matter. How dare I try and beat the system by turning up with all the correct paperwork and correct number of copies.

Another call to the office. Send more documents! Within 10 minutes it’s in my hand, but hell, err Bureau of Immigration has a final sting in the tail. The counter lady has gone for lunch. Please wait for an hour.