Monday, December 10, 2012

A Bagfull of Patience.....

Hello dear readers,
I am back after a long absence!  We are now five months into our sojourn back into India and the saga continues.  I have realised that to retain your sanity and enjoy life in new India, you have got to have not just a spoonful but a bagfull of patience.  To those who know me as a very calm, collected individual; you should see me now - "a ranting & raving Suneetha". Giri can attest to that.

Remember Murphy's law, well I want to introduce a new one,  Indian Law:  What can be simple MUST always be complicated. 

Keep this simple logic in mind next time you visit India or have the wonderful gift of landing an opportunity to live here.  I find myself raving about the simple pleasures of the US.  no, I am not talking about luxury or opulence.  Having good, clean drinking water all the time,  nice, clean roads where you encounter a maniac maybe once in two years, all record keeping/administrative affairs can happen with a phone call and sometimes on the net.

Doesn't seem like much, does it now?  Pretty low down on the Maslow's hierarchy of needs.  But come to India, you once again have to fight for basic needs.  We have been buying water for the last couple of weeks due to the fear that our water supply may have been contaminated.   Forget about nice, clean roads, these days I consider myself lucky if I reach my destination in one piece. 

Today I braved an auto.  (the three wheeled tuk tuks that function as a taxi)  Every one of these tuk tuks have a meter but price is set according to how 'green' you look.  Which, one look at my face and the bewildered look that I constantly have (despite my best efforts), the price tag goes up by 10-15%.  The thing that gets me is the attitude that I am going to fleece you for whatever you are gullible enough to spare.  These days I ask Lord Ganesha not riches and wealth, but some large doses of patience, so I don't pull out either my hair or somebody else's hair..  Right now, our driver is our most valued employee!!

Some other things that add to the general aggravation:  carpenter doesn't show up when promised, LPG gas cylinder delivery boys demand Diwali bakshish (tip), in the rudest way imaginable.  As though it is their birthright!!  Obviously, they have not heard that you can catch more flies with honey......
In what might appear to be the last straw, last week we had a scare with an unwelcome visitor to our backyard.  A little snake, yes that is not a typo, there was indeed a snake (although unconfirmed, appears to have been a viper, a poisonous variety)  Now, of course we are all a little more careful.  I can bet that chasing snakes is never part of anyone's routine out there. 

I have now realised why  Indians don't smile.  Between fighting for water and space, if you have to chase away snakes on the one weekend you want to be in peace, who can blame you for carrying a frown on your face all the time!!  Because you never know what is around the bend. 

So long folks.  As people in India like to say, "It is like that only......"

Friday, August 10, 2012

Shopping Scars

The new India is a strange phenomenon!  Dear readers, as a newly returned Indian, I have a different lens with which I view things and boy! o boy!, have things changed!!  This change demands new coping techniques.

On the one hand, there is a surge in personal disposable income among the middle class and there is evidence of that in the malls, eating joints and upscale events.  On the other hand, we are still a crude, rude bunch of people.  There is a local mart that I frequent for my daily groceries.  It is the closest to the Wal-Marts, Meijers we are used to and I enjoy the luxury of browsing for my goods before buying them.  However, that is where the resemblance ends.  At the entrance, you feel like you are going through security clearance at the airport as your bags are checked, and locked tight with zip-ties.  Yes, you heard me,  you cannot access your bag until you get to the checkout counter where the zip-ties are cut by the clerk, so you can pay for the goods you bought. 

Once inside, there is no luxury of casually strolling through the aisles, reading the tags, and taking your time at it.  The impatient shoppers behind you will think nothing of butting you in the rearend to give you a subtle hint that you are in their way.  And God help you if you ever go on a weekend or holiday.  There is danger of getting serious injuries by rushing carts, falling goods and angry shoppers just waiting for a good fight.  It is a Black Friday every weekend!

Another unique aspect which is so totally Indian is the fact that there are at least 2 shopping assistants for every customer.  I know what you are thinking.  That would be wonderful to get the help you need, right?  Wrong.  If you ask them somehting, the likelihood of them actually helping you is slim to none.  Most of them don't know where things are stocked or they are too busy being angry at their boss to really help you.

Now, dear reader, I am sure you are thinking that this is a rant.  But it is all about coping.  Here are some of techniques that I am developing to survive in this new India.

I take a small purse that fits in my pocket, so I don't have to go through the security check or have my purse tied.  I pick mornings on weekdays to shop and thus avoid the long and angry shoppers line.  I have even managed to get a reluctant smile from the cashier by flashing a bright and cheery smile and actually making small talk. 
And finally for the butt rammers, I am working on getting this T-shirt in adult size.  Do you think it is too subtle??

So long, folks.  Got to work on some other coping methods that I will surely write to you about.

If you have other sugggestions, leave a comment.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

The domain of domestic help

One of the things that causes my friends in the US envy is the abundance and availability of domestic help which seems like such an extravagant luxury.  Having been here all of 3 weeks, I am seeing both the abundance and availability.  However we underestimate the management aspect of these domestic workers.

Let me introduce you to my two housemaids.  They are an interesting duo. 

Meet Rekha, the Negotiator -  She talks nineteen to the dozen, drives a hard bargain and always has an opinion about how things should be done, specifically about cleaning.  If I ask her to do something, I can count on her to suggest another method or follow another routine.  Initially, I indulged her until she told me that I should use acid to clean some stains on the floor.  After that, I kept a close eye on her and insisted that she follow what I tell her. 

Parvathy the Worker bee - My second maid is the sister in law of Rekha, a quiet, composed lady about 4 foot 10 inches, as tall as my Rahul.  She does not talk much, but is happy to follow directions and do what she is asked to do.  Also seems to have a better knack for cleaning than her sister-in-law.  Despite that, the first couple of weeks, I found more stains on the walls after they started work ; as they would support themselves by putting dirty hands on the walls and I found myself repeating "Quit touching the walls" constantly.  Hopefully after our furniture arrives, the walls will be spared. 

On a happy note, Rekha is now employed elsewhere, courtesy of her husband, who died a premature alcoholic induced death.  Now, the office where he worked has offered her a consolation job.  Parvathy continues to be my main maid and I am looking forward to training her.

After observing several of our family and friends and their entourage of servants, and also a brief interlude with my own househelp,  I have come to the conclusion that there are three things that one must keep in mind when using domestic help.

1.  Clear Directions:  This brings to mind for me as an HR person the critical nature of a 'Job Description'.  While nothing as formal as that exists here, the trick is to spell out clearly before closing the deal, exactly what is entailed in the job. 

2.  Constant Supervision:  Your domestic help may have been with you for years, yet the job demands that you keep a close eye on details. 

3.  Prior Planning:  As a household manager, you constantly have to plan the task list for the help.  If you don't, you have lost out because none of them are going to have the initiative to take charge and do what needs to be done.
My experience with my domestic help is still in its early stages.  There is a lot that I need to learn.  I am finding that I am more exhausted with getting work done with this help than I was doing it myself. I am going to work on all the three competencies that I have detailed for you, dear readers.  Wish me luck!!!

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Welcome to India

Sorry readers.  I have had a longer absence, but when you hear what I have been through, I am sure you will be very sympathetic

June 29th, 2012 was a very momentous day for us. 
Following the lean principles of Just in Time, we closed at 8:30, packers left at 12.30, we cleaned house and handed over the keys at 6:00 pm.  And then we were homeless, just like that!  I could write about the feeling of emptiness or the melancholy of separating from a life you have built over 14 years.  But that would be depressing and I am sure my readers can understand and empathize with those sentiments.

On July 7th, at 4:30 am, our plane landed in Pune.  We had just 9 pieces of checked in luggage and 4 carry on suitcases.  We believe in travelling light... Just kidding.  There were a few anxious moments as we wondered if we would be harassed by the Indian Customs authorities for the many pieces of luggage we were carrying and also the jewellery that I was taking back.  However, that turned out to be an empty fear.   There is something unique in India where your senses are constantly bombarded with noises, and smells that you get inured to over time.  But the first time you exit the aircraft and enter the airport, you are assailed by strange smells and sounds that can be daunting to the faint at heart. 

Everything went smoothly, there were two large jeeps waiting to take us to our new abode, about 35 minutes from the airport.  And thus began our new journey.  The house is empty except for our suitcases and about 2 inches of dust accumulated over the three weeks that Giri was away.  First priority for me after a clean bath was coffee.  Of course we had no milk in the house.  And then as I was glancing outside, I noticed the milk delivery guy on his bicycle stopping at the neighbours house.  I ran outside and asked him for milk  and also told him to deliver every morning moving forward.  As easy as that, we had milk.  While I was talking to him, the lady next door stopped me.  Apparently, Giri's uncle had left some packages for us in the neighbours house.  She brought them out for me.  Juices, Water, sandwiches, everything we needed for our first morning survival was there.   This also allowed me to meet the neighbour who was very friendly and helpful.  While the concept of this total stranger agreeing to house the food and packages for an unknown neighbour was alien to us, I hear from friends that this is typical in India.  If you are not home, nobody hesitates to ask the neighbour to keep your stuff whether it is mail, returned dry cleaning etc.  Kind of a fringe benefit.

Sunday, the first order of business was to find a maid to do the housework.  Again to the western world this may seem presumptous and indolent, but life in India revolves around domestic help. We interviewed two maids from  a nearby village and after an exciting exchange with some pantomiming thrown in by me much to the amusement of our kids,  we acquired some help for the first month for the princely sum of $22. 

So long for now.  In the next post, I will explain to you the unique human resource skills needed to manage the household, domestic help.  It is an art dear readers and I am learning from people around me who have been doing it successfully for a long time.

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Craigs list Cronies

I promised you that I would write about our customers from Craigslist.  Each one of them has an interesting angle that I am sure you will find interesting.

Crony 1:  Here was a guy that wanted to buy our treadmill for his girlfriend. I made sure to tell him that he needed a truck to haul it.  He said he planned to bring his brother who had a truck and it would be no problem hauling it. 

At 5:00 pm, Crony 1 arrived in a car (not a truck) with brother and a gal (girlfriend who gets the treadmill) after calling us at least a half dozen times to get the address right.  I think Giri skipped a few heartbeats when he saw the two huge burly men with full body tattoos get out of a run-down sedan.  Needless to say with all the dire straits Giri had warned me about, I don't mind admitting I had a few nervous thoughts myself and asked my son and his friend to go back up Dad.  The boys took one look at the customers and conveniently disappeared into their room.  Saving my husband fell to me and I followed him outside where I found him deep in conversation with the visitors as he told them the treadmill would not fit in a car.  But the guys opened the boot and showed the deep interior and said they would manage.  Very well then, they came down, saw the treadmill, hauled it up, out the house and into the boot with half the treadmill hanging out.  Crony 1 took out $50, gave it to us, wished us a safe journey, shook our hands and left.

Very anticlimactic with all the buildup our nervous imagination had led us to believe. 

Crony 2: The next interaction with the second customer for our snowblower was uneventful.  He came, he saw, he paid and he left.  Again, no ax murderer. 

Crony 3: The next two guys who came for the couch were thrilled to bits when they saw the deal they were getting for $10.  They were almost embarrassed to give us the $10 to take away the couch.  When Giri threw in the boom box at no cost, we had a couple of happy campers! 

Crony 4: Our fans were taken away by an asian lady who came in, was very polite and wanted to ensure that both fans worked and the oscillating function was demonstrated before paying me, taking them away after wishing me a safe journey and that she understood how hard this would be for the family.  I got a sympathetic ear from our Craigslist Crony # 4

The last Crony:  This last item took 4 days to generate interest and we had almost given up hope when an email popped up from a guy who wanted the VHS player and tapes.  He came in full of life, spent a few minutes asking about our move, gave Tarun some advice about not marrying young and coming back to MI for education.  Almost like a close friend, he wished us luck, took the box and left.

Sometimes the way our mind works is so influenced by media and the horror stories that make it to the news that we are colored in our expectations of life.  I must say that contrary to our initial apprehensions, we had a very good experience using Craigslist and met some interesting characters along and way.  Would we do it again!  You betcha.........

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Connecting with Craig's List!!

We are into our second day of packing.  It is unbelievable the amount of stuff (can't call it by any other name)  we have collected in 14 years.  While most of it is coming with us, we did have a few big items that we needed to dispose.  And thus started our close encounters with Craigslist.  My first hurdle was to convince my husband who believes that this is like extending a personal invitation to the dark side and that we are asking for trouble.  However, when I told him that we would leave in 2 weeks and the dark side would have a long way to travel to reach us, he relented.  As a parent, I am always looking for real life opportunities to teach my children.  so I presented my 16 year old son,Tarun with a project.  Establish a Craiglist account, take pictures of the items to sell and post it.  If we get any takers, the money was his to keep.  Of course, being the typical teenager with expensive tastes, he embraced the project with open arms. 
Tip #1:  When you place ads on Craigslist, be prepared to check your emails every few minutes.  Craigslist shoppers are an impatient bunch and I was chided for not responding immediately to their inquiries.  (of course, due to my lethargy, I had one guy bid $10 higher for the same item just to 'close the deal' as he thought I was holding out for more money) 

Tip #2:  You know you priced an item too low when you have a dozen takers within 10 minutes of posting.

To date Tarun has sold 5 of the 7 items he posted on Craig and pocketed a $150.  Not bad for a few minutes of work.  Of course, now he is scouring the house looking for items to sell and his brother's (Rahul) toys are fair game.  After much debate, he finally accepted defeat and retired gracefully.  Now he is making plans to go to the mall to dispose of his 'hard-earned' cash.

Keep tuned in for the next blog post which will introduce you to some of the characters the Giridhar household encountered during this whole saga.

Monday, June 18, 2012

In 2011, my husband and I made a monumental decision to pack up and move back to India after spending 14 wonderful years in Michigan.  This was by no means an easy decision with so many concerns and emotional baggage to consider not just for my husband and I but for our two kids aged 16 and 9 who are mostly American. To them India was a crowded, noisy place we visited every other year to meet with Ajjis and Thathas (Grandmas and Grandpas) and aunts and uncles and remote cousins who indulged their every whim.  As we are going through this transition, I decided to share my experiences, comments and concerns along the way.  At best, this can be a useful resource for those that go through similar transitions.  At the very least, it is a memoir for us to revisit when we are old.

Disclaimer:  The thoughts that will be expressed in this blog are candid, honest and brutally frank, intended to give the reader a realistic perception.  Any comparisons that are drawn of the two countries is merely for deliberation and I request my friends in India and America to see this as such and not take offense.