cheeni: (Default)
S egged me on to write something instead of being the constant critic. Critics are the lowest form of life apparently. So here goes, a short story...

"Kamala...", began Rukmini Atthai, calling out to Amma while sitting down from her morning walk with her ipod, the latest gift from her son in Florida.

"I notice you have new neighbors, are they North Indians?"

Amma didn't usually like Atthai's visits, too nosy she said. Irritated at Atthai's discovery Amma replied, "Yes, I've heard they are Gujaratis, they can't speak a word of Tamil. They decided to leave because of all the violence you know, not at all like the South."

Atthai nodding glumly, added, "Yes, yes, Madras is becoming cosmopolitan. These days, one must learn to adjust. After all, it's not like we can stop them from coming..."

"Anjali kanna, stop doing that all the time" chided Atthai at her grand daughter who was busy on her cell phone, texting friends back home. Anjali was visiting from Colorado which Atthai's other son called home. India seemed to bore Anjali, she was the archetypal ABCD.

"Anjali, have you seen our family album?", offered Amma, eager to be the hospitable host. "Let me show it you, it'll be interesting" she said, as she pulled the album off the shelf. "This contains all the photos of our family - six generations in one album".

Amma was the family historian, she always knew who had married whom, and the names of all the nieces, and nephews; cousins and cousins of cousins. Atthai was no light-weight in this department either, so stuck between the two stalwarts, Anjali was assured an in-depth immersion into the genealogical by-lanes and back-alleys of our family.

After feigning interest for the first couple of pages, Anjali began to get genuinely curious. "Oh, this is so cool", she exclaimed, "wait till I show this to friends back home".

"Paatti, who is this?", asked Anjali pointing at possibly the oldest photograph in the album. A faded black and white of a stern figure in a black coat, white fronded dhoti, and a turban with a zari border as broad as a man's palm. "That, kanna", said Atthai with obvious pride "is my great grandfather, one of the first Indian lawyers to be admitted to the bar in the Madras Presidency".

"Patti, do you remember the names of all our ancestors?", asked Anjali, caught up now in the pace of things.

"What are you saying? Of course Patti remembers, how can she forget, aren't we the descendants of Neelakantha Deekshatar?", declared Amma. Despite everything she said, Amma loved Atthai, or, at any rate, at least the lineage.

"Neelakanda who?" said Anjali quizzically.

"Neelakantha Deekshatar was the greatest vedic scholar of his time", "it is said that there was no one to surpass him in vedic knowledge in all of Saurashtra", explained Atthai and Amma in turns.

"Word! What is this place, Sow-rah-shtrah?"

Amma and Atthai looked at each other, and then at Anjali.

"That, dear, is where we originally migrated from, 600 years ago, we couldn't stand the violence", said I, emerging from behind the newspaper. "It's called Gujarat these days."
cheeni: (Default)
A common scene among prosperous sections of an Indian city is the ubiquitous presence of new cars and still newer drivers. The drivers are either first time car owners (all too common among the IT districts of Hyderabad and Bangalore - driving brand new cars sporting a huge red L and a dented fender or two) or first time urban immigrant cab drivers - who start with the less popular night shift to master their skills behind the wheel.

If I were to pick the top three cities in India for bad driving, it would have to be Calcutta, Delhi and Hyderabad. I still haven't figured out why exactly they are the worst, but they appear to be so for different reasons, Delhi just seems to breed bad drivers, the traffic cops in Hyderabad are pathetic at stopping violations and Calcutta has perhaps always carried the immigrant burden - where Biharis and Bangladeshis get their first taste of city life before moving on to a better city and the fatalistic attitude of Bengal if not all of India doesn't let the locals be bothered about piddling things like traffic accidents.

I don't think there's a whole lot of effort at educating the drivers to drive better, but I just came across

I haven't watched the videos, but it looks hopeful. BTW, the site says that 10% of all traffic accidents in the globe occur in India. With 1/6th of the world's population that isn't a bad number, but with a tiny fraction of the world's automobiles that's a huge number.

Learning To Drive: Blind Spots - video powered by Metacafe
cheeni: (Default)
In response to

This is a description that would fit the current state of the Indian economy rather well. In an inflation ridden India of first time frivolous consumers and debtors, it seems difficult to afford a decent urban home and a primary school education on an honest income.

The US maybe headed for a fall, but a similar fall in India will have rather more pronounced and dire consequences. The banking and financial system in India is weak, without being backed in any serious measure by economic or military might. A fall in property prices, the US economy or foreign investment is sure to bring doom both to the foolish debtors and the wise who stayed away from debt.

I don't have much confidence in our TV reporters, but one statistic I heard yesterday of 9 out of 10 car buyers taking out a loan to finance their purchase strikes me as about right.

I am currently shopping for a car, I have been so for the past several months. It has never been an urgent necessity for us, since my wife and I are rather content to make our way around on public transport after we sold our last car. Nevertheless, having made up my mind to put an end to procrastination, I visited the local Tata showroom for a looksie, intent on getting a cheap set of wheels.

I was amazed at the number of new cars being bought on a rather ordinary and not particularly auspicious and "god-friendly" Sunday. The sales personnel took a good 20 minutes to notice that I had entered the premises, which left me rather happy since I could wander around and inspect the vehicles without a nosy, ignorant salesman hindering my progress.

The salesman who finally accosted me was more interested in selling me a car loan, than in selling me the car. This to my mind strikes the most discordant note of all, the financial industry is so heavily leveraged on foolish property and consumable debts that it risks the economic stability of India.

The salesman was rather crest fallen when I announced that I had no need for a loan. The fall in his interest levels was rather dramatic as he abandoned me for yet another 15 or so minutes as he wrapped up some potentially cozy loan deal.

In the end my visit turned out to be in vain since I was rather definitely told that they had a policy against allowing test drives in the dangerous evening traffic.

By any measure the value that Indian cities seem to offer in lifestyle benefits, living space, property ownership and civilization seems rather scarce. On an idle Saturday afternoon I must have done some thinking for the idea that I pay more than half of my income in taxes has come to be rather firmly implanted in my mind. It's not hard to get at such a figure when you compute my basket of direct and indirect taxes - namely, income tax at 33.33%, sales tax on anything I consume at 12.5%, miscellaneous upstream taxes such as excise and customs, and property and road taxes.

For this I don't get medical insurance, nor do I get the right to live in a strife and peril free country. I have bad traffic, chaotic infrastructure, inadequate supplies of dirty water and a corrupt government that beggars contempt.

Were I to be rash enough to splurge on a house of my own at the present moment, it would cost me a rather large fortune, financed no doubt by usurious debt. Debt which I would possibly find hard to repay if the Indian economy were to hit murky waters. Debt that would be in vain were I to lose my land to some fancy record keeping at the land records office, no doubt inspired by the invisible and sometimes all too thoroughly visible hands of the land mafia. Debt that would make me look like a fool when the property price like water finds its true level.

Wise men have observed land is always a good investment for they don't make more of it any more! Under ordinary circumstances that would hold, but what we have in India is a spiraling inflation of urban land prices while rural land continues to lie untouched by the Indian economic miracle unless it has some potential of touching the margins of our ever expanding urban zones.

Cities unlike our planet with its arguably finite quota of land can be created by mere men in rather short time spans with a stroke of a pen. All that an Indian city seems to need is a good road or two, meager quantities of civic infrastructure and power and a legislation declaring some lands as urban and the rest as SEZs (special economic zones).

Which kind of brings me to the final note of doom that I think about during the summer power cuts since I don't own a car or I'd have those thoughts at the fuel pumps as well. Energy is central to our existence, and the smart economies have squirreled away these essential resources through a combination of forethought and action, whether it be through wars or industrial take overs backed by military might. India on the other hand has a rather tenuous grasp over a vaporware nuclear future that could go up in a puff of smoke in the next decade or so that it will take to deliver results, and a gas pipeline through the lands of a sworn enemy.

If all economic cycles are like the Titanic with rather fanciful notions of invincibility until the iceberg moment, the US economy travels in first class with access to life boats and priority off loading, and the Indian economy travels below deck, in the cargo hold, sure to sink with no access to so much as a sight of the stars on an icy night. Well, maybe that's a blessing too, we will never know what hit us.


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April 2009

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