Thursday, September 19, 2013

Driving Insane!

It has been a while since I penned my thoughts.  But this experience is surely worth a few words.  Two weeks ago, I enrolled in a Driving School.  Yes, I  have a drivers license and I drove accident free for 14 years in our very own Detroit.  Many of you may not know this, but I drove a stick shift in India before moving to the US (1998) and I have a drivers license from that era and is valid up to 2016.  So why Driving School?

Driving in India is a cross between bedlam and mayhem.  Vehicles of all kinds are on the roads at all times.  Bicycles, mopeds, autos (the three wheeled tuk-tuks so unique to India), cars, trucks and the king of the road:  Buses.  Now, imagine all of these jostling for space on a single lane road along with the ever bustling crowd of pedestrians who seem to have no fear for their lives as they criss cross with gay abandon as and when they please. 

And if you think this is crazy, wait till you hear that there is the occasional cow who is sublimely sunning herself in the middle of the road turning a blind eye and a deaf ear to the vehicular traffic all around and the cacophony of honks filling the air.  The stray dogs and pigs and once in a while a trio of camels traversing majestically down the road completes the picture that is the Indian road.

 So I decided I need to learn the intricate art of weaving my car through this maze, much like Tetris, one of my favorite video games.  My first day on the training, I was pretty impressed with myself at not freaking out and stalling the engine.  Of course, the fact that the teacher has a clutch and brake at his disposal helps to assuage the fear.  The verdict from my coach after the first few days was that I drove well but I was a scaredy cat.  Now, you see folks driving in India is a serious psychological game. 

There are four varieties of drivers:
Nervous/new drivers :  Like me, they are new to the roads and terribly afraid of everyone and are over cautious, over whelmed and insecure.  So, of course, they are driving in second gear throughout, coming to a standstill at every intersection and restarting with a chug before moving again.
Righteous Drivers:  These would be the good citizens, following every rule and road sign, giving the right of way to those that it rightfully belongs to and driving as the rulebook says.  (I like to think I fall in this category)

Aggressive Drivers:  They can't stop honking their horns, are waiting about 2 meters ahead of the signal line, stepping on the gas the moment the light turns green. 
Kings of the road:  Yes, these are the bus drivers and nobody messes with them!  God help you if you get on the wrong side of these road monarchs.  Everybody knows this and keeps their distance.

So, the choice here is very clear.  If you are in the number 1 or number 2 category, your survival odds are slim to none.  The goal to reach is number 3 when you intimidate everyone else by honking the loudest and being brazenly bold in claiming your right on the road even when you know you are soooooooooooo wrong.  I finished my classes yesterday.  Unfortunately, I did not graduate to the number 3 level.  So now, I need to practice with my own car.  Hubby is a bit worried that our dent free car is now going to get decorated.  But one has to start somewhere, right??  Wish me luck, dear reader as I brave these roads and go where no expat dares to go......................

PS:  I still have my driver!


Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Anniversary Special

Dear readers,

We are now on the one year anniversary of our move to India.  Yes, July 7th 2012 was the day we all landed in 92/1, Rakshak Society to make it our home.  I felt I needed to update my blog on this memorable day. As always, I will share an experience that is so unique to India but this time, you will see me pontificating as well.

When you have lived in the United States or any other developed country for a long time, and frequented the many chain department stores such as Kmart, Kroger, Meijer etc, you forget the delicate dance of bargaining to get a better deal that is played frequently in countries where you encounter the 'owner' himself or herself trying to sell. Recently, I had the opportunity to relive those warm and fuzzy feelings that come over you when you think you have landed a great bargain.

India is a country rich in bargains if you are willing to get your feet dirty.  With the security of a trusted, local friend, I cut across "gallis" (side & back streets) with tiny houses and rows of clothes hung on clotheslines.  Amidst the myriad smells and sounds that assail your senses,  I came across a 'mojri heaven'. Mojris are special Indian slippers, decorative and colorful. Here was a vendor set up on the pavement with all kinds of goodies. So of course, with my shoe fetish, I had to stop and take a look and there was no going back. 

The pleasure of trying on these slippers standing on the edge of the pavement while hearing the cacophony of traffic behind you, wiping the sweat off your brow in the 80 degree weather and balancing precariously with one hand on your friend's shoulder, can only be experienced. I was reliving memories of my youth when pavement shopping was a regular feature given that we had little money but expensive tastes. Well, now, the expensive tastes have graduated to more expensive tastes, so I need to stretch the money when I can.

Needless to say, after much back and forth I was the proud owner of two fancy slippers for half the price that I would pay at a regular mall.  The ownership is only part of the fun.  The real joy comes in bragging rights about your wonderful bargain find and taking an insane pleasure in the looks of envy, disappointment and surprise from fellow mates who have paid the higher price.  Next time you visit India, friends, I have all these finds earmarked for you!

Changing gears a bit, since this is my anniversary special, I also wanted to spout some philosophy into the mix.  Bear with me as I turn a little nostalgic and share with you lessons learned. The last year has been all about adventure, aggravation, frustration, reconciliation and acceptance, and not always in that order. But time, the eternal healer does work wonders on the human mind.  What have I learned in the past 12 months?

Expect the unexpected
                        Bollywood may be bogus, but they definitely transport you to another  
                        realm, so ENJOY and don't OVERTHINK IT
                                                                            Always be prepared
         Suspect the worst in any situation and of any person
Cultivate relationships as that is the only way to make things work
                                        KEEP MASLOW's hierarchy in mind (When lower level
                                        needs are not met, don't expect higher level values like ethics)
See the rainbow beyond the smoke and pollution
            Perpetual Weddings, events, family gatherings are a part of everyday life, and
            the sooner you embrace them, the better.
Be the change you want to see no matter how difficult it may seem!

And finally, LIFE Is what you make of it.  You are the driver, set your GPS and  drive to your DESTINATION

Adios, readers.  Hope you enjoyed the Anniversary & Concluding blog!


Sunday, April 7, 2013

Off the Beaten Path...

Hello, hello, hello!!  The weather is turning hot, the sun is shining brightly, lawn is turning yellow, all signs that the Indian summer is upon us.  While the ceiling fans run fast and furious, the Giridhar household is seriously contemplating investing in a couple of AC units.  I do admit, all those years of cushy living in the US has made us weak.
Life for most of us is as usual.  After a brief visit to Bangalore to participate in the festivities of my young nephew's engagement, while the rest of the boys are off to school, work etc,  my days are spent overseeing dust bunnies that my maid has missed and a futile attempt to lose some extra weight before June when I will have to go back to Bangalore for a couple of weddings.  I know what you are thinking.  I have the whole day ahead of me to indulge in any kind of exercise regimen, but it does not really work like that. 

But I really wanted to share with you another phenomenon that is so typically Indian.  And I am curious to hear your comments so please be generous.  For the last few days, traders in Pune are protesting the implementation of a new Local Body Tax (LBT).  The form of protest is to keep their shutters down and not do any business hoping that when citizens start getting inconvenienced, the Government will sit up and take notice.  Of course, while I am sympathetic to their cause, I am a selfish individual and the aggravation of doing without our usual groceries was eating at my patience.  So the third day of the strike, I am determined to find a loaf of bread.  After finding the supermarket closed, I went to another local store that specialises in all things expat and found that their bread and milk shelves were totally empty.  Customers like me were foraging for food anywhere they could find. 

Well, not one to give up easily, I told my driver to take me to another medium sized supermarket.  To my chagrin, they had a 'CLOSED' sign on the main door.  I spotted workers inside, so in a desperate attempt, I ran up to the main doors, and waved frantically to catch the eye of a worker.  In sign language, I gesticulated that I needed to come inside.  He waved me around to the back.  Not seeing any way of getting to the back, I looked back helplessly and asked where I should enter.  (All in sign language, so readers, you know this was dumb charades at its finest.)

Imagine my surprise when this worker came out from inside what looked like a "pan" (see below for explanation) shop and took me down a hidden flight of steps to an equally nondescript elevator which actually worked and opened into the main store.  My joy knew no bounds as I saw juices, eggs , bread and all the things I wanted on my list, except for cornflakes stocked on the shelves.

Jubilant and ecstatic, I headed back to the elevator to make my clandestine exit.  Here lay another surprise.  Two shop girls directed me to the stairs saying the elevator did not go to the ground floor.  Thinking they were pulling a fast one, I went in anyway and frantically pushed '0'.  Nothing happened and then my knight in shining armor, the same worker who showed me the back door, came in, punched in a code number and magically, the doors closed and we were down on the ground floor.  Having thanked him profusely, I came home victorious.

Now folks, as is my wont, I like to analyze everything.  If this same situation had confronted me six months ago, my brain being lulled by existence in the most developed nation, would take the 'CLOSED' sign at face value and quietly go back.  However, now I have realized that there is no black or white in India, only several shades of grey.............Maybe the secret to why we can survive and thrive anywhere in the world.  We are genetically programmed from birth to challenge and deviate from 'Status Quo'......

(pan shop : a tiny mom & pop shop operating out of a shack)

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Of Aspirations, Attachments and more....

Greetings, dear readers.   It is good to be back with another reflection on the impact of life here in India.  This is going to be a philosophical debate and I am looking forward to getting your observations/comments on this post. 

As you have all come to know and envy, I have a wonderful cook who has made my life so much easier.  Everyday we are eating fresh, homemade food, with hot chappatis off the griddle.  Sorry, not trying to make you envious, but just could not resist.  What can I say?  I am only human.  But the story is not about the cook, but her adopted niece who accompanies her from time to time probably an apprentice in training.  She is all of 22 years old, has studied upto 11th standard and is a very pretty, demure and pleasant young girl whom I will call Roja for our purposes.

Since I am always curious about youngsters and their dreams and aspirations, I engaged her in conversation to find out what she wanted to do in life.  I come to find out that she is waiting for her parents to find a 'suitable boy' for her so she can be married and complete that aspect of her life.  In the interim, she is tagging along with her 'aunt', picking up cooking skills and other domestic duties, which I presume will be a very important criterion for the groom/groom's family when they come to 'see' the bride.  So, of course my curiosity is piqued and I ask her:  So what kind of husband would you like?

From the puzzled/slightly taken aback look that confronted me, I fathomed that she had never been asked this question.  Roja's response floored me.  She said, I want a 'good man'.  And that got me thinking.  How many of us can say that we approached marriage (a lifelong commitment for most people) with just that one aspiration:  a good man.........?