Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Life in a western apologies to Dream Academy...

I'm in Baroda aka Vadodara in western India. This is the ancient Indian princely state that most recently has been famous as the hometowns of Indian cricketers Anshuman Gaekwad and Nayan Mongia. I also think my best mate Arjan made some runs here at some time in his Ranji career but I digress. Baroda is, scratch that....its bloody awful. There really is no other word for it. I assume this must be an example of a Tier 3 city in India.
It is depressingly poor. It is FULL OF FRICKIN COWS. And the state is a DRY state. So at the end of the day when you want to get a drink to try and forget Baroda you CANT EVEN DO THAT. (Apparently all of Gujurat is dry...probably because its the birthplace of Gandhiji I assume).
I have been kinda spoiled because my last 10 visits to India have only been to major metros (with the exception of Mangalore in 97 which was crappy too). One gets the feeling in the major metros that India is moving Baroda one gets the feeling that India is stagnant or moving backwards. Then when one makes the realization that more of India is represented by the Barodas (or worse) full scale depression sets in.

I am travelling with my ferang GM colleague on her first visit to India and I must say I am pretty damn embarrassed. A frickin camel drawn cart crossed our car on the toll highway on our way back from GM. Then the COWS in the city eating garbage, the shanty towns and the street dwellers living in cardboard boxes....suddenly the lustre of India Shining dims appreciably and the "Incredible India" ad campaign that ITDC is doing rings real false...

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

Why is India so expensive?

India is a pretty hostile place for a North American. In general the roads are awful, the crowds are ridiculous, the weather is sultry and sticky and Indians have no concept of western public niceties like queuing up etc....its all pointed elbows and survival of the fittest.

And now you can also add expensive. Not just normal expensive. Think Manhattan or London expensive.

Here I am travelling Bharat on my company's tab and even then I get this visceral reaction to the prices. Am I paying through the nose because I'm "Umrikan" - apparently not because there is only one rate now in India - foreigners and Indians pay the same.

Any five star is minimum $300-$350 USD a night. Now I can get an equivalent hotel in a first class US or European city (not shit holes like Chennai, Bangalore and Baroda) for the same amount or less. These hotels will come with a real view - ie a view of San Francisco Bay or the Manhattan skyline. In India I have a view of a "chawl" or someone urinating on the side of the road or a cow leaving a steaming pile of shit in middle of the road.

How can Indian hotels get away with this? Its easy. Supply and Demand. Every one is coming to India and there are only a limited number of good hotels so they are jacking up prices. I heard Windsor Manor in Bangalore is charging Rs 24,000 a night...not for a suite but for a room. At a 40 rupee dollar that is $600 USD a night. Utterly and totally ridiculous.

Monday, October 29, 2007

Bombay Sensex corrects and recovers

The Bombay Sensex corrected and lost over a thousand points one day and then recovered most of the loss the next day. Fortunes are being made in this country left right and center. Land is the ultimate investment. The way things are going here you can double your return on land and real estate in under three to five years. I don't know how much of a bubble this is. I think logic will state that it cant go on forever but you also have 1.1 billion people stuck in a country only 1/3rd the size of the US. It stands to reason that they will want to start buying property now that their call center and software development jobs are finally turning them into middle class consumers with the normal middle class desire to own a home.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Bangalore Indias Software Capital

My first visit to Bengoluru in almost 11 years. (Cities in India that used to have beautiful names that just rolled off the tongue now have these hideous new ultra authentic Indian names as the local governments wrap themselves in the faux tricolor of state language primacy....Chennai, Pune, Mumbai, Kolkata, Kochi, Qulum, Thiruvanathapuram etc).
The weather is fantastic after the stickiness and dust of madras....but the traffic oh my god the traffic. The town was basically built because the Brits in Madras couldn't handle the Madras summers so they needed something more this was a summer holiday town in the British Raj that has turned into India's third most populous city (53 million population) after Bombay and Delhi
The infrastructure is not that great for the Silicon Valley of India. The power in my rather expensive service apartment ($120 USD a night) fluctuates at least 10 times a day causing my wireless modem to lose connection. The Internet is slow. Mobile wireless in India is 230 kbps (Reliance Mobile service that I have). The fixed wireless is better 11 Mbps (which is a quarter what I get back home).
It doesn't really matter though. The country lurches forward and seemingly upward. The bars and clubs in both Chennai and Bengoluru are fantastic. The restaurants are superb also and so are the malls.....Lifestyle is equivalent to a mid level department store in the US....say a Target.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Meeting Rahul...a dream come true

Today I met Rahul Dravid the recently resigned India cricket captain and one of the genuine nice guys of world cricket. He is an impressive fellow. Very nice, very humble for someone so accomplished. There have been many famous duos in cricket on both the batting and bowling sides but very few trios. I think its safe to say that the most famous and important batting trio in cricket since the 3 Ws is - Sachin, Saurav and Rahul (of course Stanners will disagree on this point so Im waiting for his response :) - please post on the blog so every one else can benefit from your insight).
Rahul has the highest test batting average of any Indian cricketer at 57.25 runs per inning and is one of only three Indian batsmen (and the sixth player in cricket history) with over 10,000 runs in ODIs (Saurav and Sachin are the other two) . He is also only the third Indian to have more than 9000 runs in test cricket (Sunil G and Sachin are the other two).
I met Rahul at his moms art exhibition. She is a talented artist altho her style is not something I am too crazy about. I dont think she uses a brush but I think she actually uses a piece of wood to dab the paint on the canvas (I was unable to detect brush strokes on the canvas. Her paintings are mainly focused on women figures it would seem with mainly rural type settings

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Phir bhi dil hai hindustani???

The ties that one has to ones homeland and hometown are through family. With the demise of my dad six years ago and my brother last year - the ties back to Chennai and India are so much weaker. With the sale of our last property this year our commercial ties are gone too. Its at many levels so disheartening. Immigration 25 years ago was just the act of moving my physical body to Canada and then the heart was still in India. However the events of the last few years are seriously challenging that. Being in Madras without my brother (this is my first visit after his death) was very unsettling. There was always a confidence (because of his connections) that was so reassuring especially since the first few days in Madras are always alienating and hostile. I am not even sure I want to really visit again.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Welcome to India

Ive been in India two days. I feel the buzz. Stuff is happening. Traffic is worse. Its all going to get much much more horrible when Tata's brings out the Rs 1 lakh ($2500 USD) car next year. Any Indian who is currently on a two wheeler is going to buy the car. There really is no solution for Indian cities other than abandoning them and building new ones from the ground up. Madras airport actually does not look too bad. I mean it still smells of phenol and is gaudy and very third world looking but the chairs are comfortable, its clean, the Immigration and customs guys are very welcoming (unlike the US) and your baggage gets to the belt in about 20 minutes. Not too shabby. Jyothi, Kavi and Kreeps came to the airport to pick me up