Driving across the world: a Transworld Expedition

At the party mentioned in the previous post, I came across Nick, a Frenchman who has decided to drive around the world. He is now in Mumbai but leaving shortly for Kolkata, then on to Bangladesh and eastward till he is back in NYC.

Some great stories. Take a look.


Mumbai: Where are the Mumbaikars

I went to my first get together in Mumbai last weekend. Very similar to a New York or London set up with a couple of differences. Meet in a bar, but no deafening music till much later at night. Some delicious finger food and since it was a farewell, the hostess actually fed us all dinner.

I was struck by the sheer number of expats that I met, and continue to meet, since my move to Mumbai. I met up with five people who knew me back in New York. There were people who had moved from London, Europe, Hong Kong, Singapore, Washington DC.

I have now attended meetings at the Indian exchanges, and a few other multinational companies. At every meeting, there’s at least one or two people who have moved from the US or UK or Europe. I hear American euphemisms such as “this is not a mom and pop shop”, or “that’s the way the cookie crumbles” or “let’s take it offline” being bandied about as the conference room bay windows show large crowds circling the streets of the Mumbai Mantralaya or the High Court.

Someone commented, with surprise, on my lack of an American accent despite so many years abroad. I thought of all the euphemisms I heard and wondered what’s worse: Indians who go abroad, never acquire an accent but speak in American colloquial form (yo dude, what’s up man) with a thick Indian accent, or Indians who sport an American accent although they never really left Byculla and then sport Indian phraseology (It is most likely not possible) with a rich Brooklyn twang.

Redefining Education: Cultivating the Soul

I want to share this piece that I enjoyed reading earlier today.

The Greeks of old had a different idea that they called paideia. This was education conceived as creating a cultured person who would be a mature citizen and leader. Imagine if our focus in education was on the person rather than the things studied. We’d be concerned that a student grow up and learn how to deal with life and help others deal with it as well. This education has two purposes: self-ripening and leadership.

The ideas aren’t necessarily new, but they remind us of how the purpose of education has digressed in modern times.

The subject of Vedanta delves deep into the individual, and not on things. It, in fact, reduces the importance of “things”, because the nature of a “thing” is really our individual subjective experience of it. To some extent, the subject of yoga too dwells more on the individual and on practice, than mere theory and knowledge.

Full article below.

Redefining Education: Cultivating the Soul

A wonderful afternoon in Kolkata

After a sumptuous lunch at home, I sat down in my living room right before my favourite view. Through the windows, I could see my small verandah, almost an awning of sorts. Beyond the awning, two tall plantain trees and another tree in the back yard were directly in my view. If I focused out enough, it felt like I could only see foliage.

As I was looking out, listening to some quiet music, the sky grew dark and a wind began to blow. The leaves of the plantain trees fluttered like elephant’s ears in the breeze. Imminent rain filled the air with its smell.

Within minutes, oceans came down in full fury.

I walked out to the verandah to smell that earthy fragrance of rain falling on thirsty leaves, to hear the sound of patter in the trees, to hear the splattering of water on hard ground, to feel the spray in my eyes. As I stood taking it all in, I suddenly remembered how, as a little boy, I used to stand in the same spot that I was standing on now and watch the rain for hours. I would rush home from school to catch the rain from the verandah. On the two holidays of the week, I would take a stool and sit in the verandah watching the rain fall from the sky, through the leaves, down to the ground.

The 1978 monsoon was especially powerful. The ground floor was completely flooded. The water level had come up 15 feet or more almost to the level of the first floor, which is where we were. I would sit in the small verandah with my friend from upstairs. We would make paper boats and throw them down to the water hoping they would land just right and sail away.

Somehow, I had just chosen the exact same spot where I used to sit, or stand, nearly 30 years ago.

A wonderful way to spend my afternoon.

Recovering from malaria can have joyful moments.

Monsoon on Colaba Causeway

I went searching for the holy grail of Indian Chinese in Mumbai, Lynx Pavilion, and wandered off the wrong way on Colaba Causeway.

As I was walking down the causeway, Moses stopped parting the waters, and down came a gush of the Indian monsoon. Although one does see thundershowers of this kind in NYC as well, it was still wonderful for me to savour an Indian monsoon after so many years.

The causeway is packed tighter with vendors than the Lincoln Tunnel with vehicles during rush hour. The hawkers have mini-stalls with tarpaulin and plastic roofs extending out. Although there’s a lot of complaints against street hawkers in India, it’s thanks to these hawkers that one can continue walking along the pavement even in the most torrential rain. As one walks under this “one roof of the world”, one can hear the rain blistering down on the tarpaulin. It feels like as if one is walking dry under a giant waterfall.

Perhaps I should record this sound and sell it as one of the many natural sounds for therapy. Sitting next to “Morning Birds” or “Sounds of Nature” in one of the yoga stores in the Catskill forests would be “Monsoon on Colaba Causeway”.

Sarkaari Bhandaar

I went for my first day of shopping on saturday. After various interviews with different concierges and friends, the two top recommendations were Sarkaari bhandaar and Nature’s Basket.

When I got to Sarkaari Bhandaar at the Regal Cinema crossing, I discovered it was actually called Sahakari Bhandaar. All this while, I was expecting Ration Card prices since I thought it was a sarkaari market, but now I discovered it was owned by Reliance.

Not that it made any difference. The store may have well been owned by the govt. Totally disorganized, chaos, no AC, didn’t seem very clean, anything goes. But cheap.

But there is a logic behind all this. My uncle quoted me a story today about the owner of Pantaloon’s. The owner of Pantaloon’s recently said in an interview that he has found that he sells more in his stores that are disorganized and chaotic than in the ones that are orderly, quiet and easy to navigate. He therefore encourages haphazardness (is that a word) in his stores. It works for the Indian mind.

Makes a lot of sense. After a chaotic drive through Indian streets to the Pantaloon store, how can one expect the shopper to then become the paragon of orderly shopping?

There was one thing I liked about the bhandaar, besides its prices. It charges you for taking your items away in a plastic bag. Now the charges aren’t much – Rs. 2 per bag – but that’s a model that US stores could emulate if they want a green sticker on their doors.
Go Green with Sahakari Bhandaar

Nature’s Basket is up next.

Extremes – my first day in Mumbai

On my first day in Mumbai, I got a taste of both cruelty and kindness. The western nations prefer to keep within the predictable territories of VIBGYOR in the rainbow (some even stick to RGB), but India, perhaps because of its incredible diversity, stretches the rainbow well into the zones of infra red and UV. Just as a fluttering saree with all of its different patters, borders, zaris, and colours, India just throws everything at you in one go.

At the Mumbai airport, I got harassed by a customs agent who decided that midnight was a good time to let an exhausted traveller know that the customs laws in India had changed “just now only” and I would have to pay duty on all items I was bringing in. After various acting techniques – assertion, aggression, name dropping, acquiescence, inquisition – I was given a pass by the agent’s manager. Laws change fluidly from person to person in India, defying any fundamentals of viscosity or thermodynamics.

Having escaped the customs agent, I relaxed for a minute. A minute too soon. Just as I was leaving the airport, the guard requested me for some funds in order to let me pass. I had to look on incredulously, make some small talk about my suitcases, and keep walking out by which time it was too late for him to detain me.

So much for the negative stuff. Here’s something positive that can happen only in India. I went to a Pizza Hut near my office to pick up some dinner. The store runs like a restaurant with service on steroids. Three people greeted me as I entered, each one more polite than the next. Rather than ordering a pizza, I decided to get healthy and have some simple pasta.Once I ordered, I was made to sit on a comfortable sofa and wait. Because I was in a hurry, the order went from a 15 minute wait to under 10 minutes. While I was waiting, I noticed that customers would ring a large bell, the kind that hangs in Hindu temples, just as they exited. One rang the bell if one enjoyed the meal.

When my food arrived, all packed and ready to go, I noticed there was no cutlery in the bag. It truns out that PH does not provide cutlery for delivery. It’s probably a good thing because it saves the world some plastic trash. But, unlike pizzas, I could not eat pasta with my hands. I explained the situation patiently to them, and the logic that had escaped them was now inescapable. After a few minutes of consternation and harried discussion amongst the staff, the manager came out and personally gave me some of the restaurant silverware to take with me. I was very impressed, and touched by the kindness of these people. They were keen that I not not only buy their food, but that I eat it.

I can’t imagine such a thing happening in New York, even less so in London where it would be completely against policy.

I rang the bell, twice, as I left.

And one other thing – I asked my friend where I should buy an umbrella. He answered the question very simply – he handed me his top of the line umbrella that he was carrying with him at the time.

It’s good to be back in India.