Monday, April 30, 2007

An Award Not To Be Poo-Pooed

As some of my recent postings seem to be about bathrooms, or bathroom humour, I thought I would continue this trend with the latest news to hit Bangalore. 400 villages are up for financial awards ranging from about $1,200 to a whopping $12,000. The criteria? Not a single person among the 700,000 residents of these villages goes to use the field to defecate, they all use toilets built over the last two years! This is great news for rural Karnataka, but maybe not so great news for the judges who, I kid you not, had to do not one, not two, but three rounds of verification to ensure that the criteria was being met.... urgh! For the westerners out there who have not been to India, as mentioned in previous postings, it's a regular sight to see guys peeing at the side of the road in a strange squatting position (whether it be small village road, or large highway) and indeed pooping. In fact, Tom's office overlooks a building site where every day, just after lunch, a whole gang of builders stride across the field, hard helmet in hand full of water and take up position, in full view of Tom and his 600 colleagues, and do their daily dump! These fields have become known as the Pooping Fields (to be polite). Admittedly, public toilets are scarce here and many of those are probably completely unhygenic or pay-per-pee, which I am sure would be out of reach financially for these guys. And it's not just guys faced with this issue, more hard news appeared in the Times of India this weekend about the hundreds of women who work 'on the buses' here; they are often stuck for four hours or more as there are no facilities along their routes and maybe not even when they get back to the depot. What to do?! Ladies would NEVER be seen dropping trou - or salwar kameez - at the side of the road. They have taken to not drinking water at work, which in 95 degrees+ heat is tantamount to suicide! While they would probably not dare venture in these places, I can heartily recommend my top three loos in Bangalore if you are in dire need: 1. HSBC bank on MG Road - not only has a great bathroom, but free tea too! 2. The Oberoi Hotel - great for nipping in and out if you are taken short, as the loos are near the entrance. 3. The Leela Hotel - so many loos in the hotel and the mall that you are spoiled for choice! Ok, now gotta go....

Friday, April 27, 2007

Hugh Grant's Lunchbox

I thought this was a funny story yesterday when I first read it ... now I've seen the pictures, I am beside myself with laughter. However, given the state of his 'missile', I think my old client, Tupperware, should step forward forthwith and sponsor Mr. Grant in his next attack on the paparazzi. Call me old fashioned, but I'd always imagined Hugh to have a much more luxurious looking lunchbox!

Actor Hugh Grant has been arrested over an allegation he attacked a photographer in London, before throwing a tub of food at him. Photographer Ian Whittaker told the Daily Star newspaper he was kicked before the tub was hurled at him. The Metropolitan Police confirmed a 46-year-old had been arrested on suspicion of assault and has since been released on bail. Mr Grant's lawyers confirmed an incident was now under investigation.

An Arresting Sight

So, this is what all the fuss was about - so much fuss, in fact, that it has led the chief magistrate in Jaipur ordering the arrest of Richard Gere! The kiss, in the land that created the Kama Sutra, is considered sexually erotic and indecent - in the 21st Century! While most of India, including the media, appears to think this is ridiculous, the magistrate continued, "Whoever, to the annoyance of others, does any obscene act in any public place shall be punished with imprisonment of three months or with a fine or both." What is more obscene, this kiss, or being continually bombarded by the sight of men peeing on the road side, despite signs imploring "Do Not Urine Here!" Or the homeless kids taking a dump on the sidewalk (there's no $100 fine here for their parents not cleaning it up...) I could go on but it's lunchtime and my stomach is turning! Suffice to say if Mr. Gere finds himself imprisoned for any length of time, I would be more than happy to come to his rescue, armed with a cake with a file in it, of course, in exchange for a kiss!

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Papering over the Cracks

For a moment yesterday, I thought that my wonderful husband and Sheryl Crow had got together in some strange toilet paper conspiracy. Her suggested ban on using too much toilet paper mirrors my husband's thoughts entirely. For no apparent reason, and certainly not environmental, he is fascinated by how much toilet paper I use vs. him; the fact that I am at home more or have different needs doesn't seem to matter! He is the one, however, who has a 'special roll' from the US hidden away for emergency purposes! I think India as a whole definitely does its part to reduce the use of toilet paper; I've never been in a public toilet that has it, given that 'hand-wiping' is de-rigeur here. That said, I carry a mini 'Charmin To Go' roll at all times, just in case the need arises. In fact, the last time I was in Target, I 'wiped them clean' of the product, so I am never without. There is probably some psycho-analysis that talks about the use of toilet paper, whether you use a little or a lot, but the only stuff I can remember is from many years ago when my old boss Alan put people into categories, 'scrunchers' or 'folders'; as I recall, the scrunchers were disorganised and the folders were anally retentive (every pun intended). If you have some time on your hands, and some toilet humour, it's a great game to play! My guess is that Sheryl is a folder - you definitely can't scrunch with one sheet!

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Bombed in Bombay

I am adding this posting as a cautionary tale of what not to do when in Bombay armed with a credit card and accompanied by willing accomplices... as we all know, the price of imported wine in India is horrendous, with the 269% tax on top of whatever mark up hotels and restaurants want to add. So it with this in mind that the Intercontinental Hotel on Marine Drive can charge Rs. 6,000 per bottle ($150 US) for Cloudy Bay Sauvignon Blanc, a delicious wine but one which retails for around $20/$25 in the US. One would think that three fairly well educated people could quaff one bottle and then move onto something cheaper. But no. One was just not enough. Nor was two. When two acquaintances joined us, they were happy to drink the wine too, not knowing the cost... and after the third, why not a fourth. And a fifth. At that point, it was time to go home (well, not home, but onto the next bar that would serve us something hopefully less expensive). You can do the math on the bill. Suffice to say our acquaintances were less than thrilled and probably horrified but gallantly chipped in the cost of one bottle, leaving the three of us to fork out for the rest. While a couple of hundred bucks or so in the US is still a lot of money but won't break the bank, I should put this amount into context in India - the total bill was more than our monthly rent and would quite easily pay school fees for a handful of Indian children - for the year. Moral of this story? Maybe instead of a designated driver we should have an 'alcohol ambassador' who stays a few drinks behind the rest, keeps the craziness in check, and doesn't allow a couple of bottles of Cloudy Bay to cloud our judgment! Any volunteers?!?

And They're Up

So at last, some of my pictures are up in the Bangalore Photography Festival. There's still no explanation for visitors as to why the amateur section is different from the professional but I guess I should be happy that they've actually made it! Competition entrants had to pay for each print submitted, on top of paying for the prints and mounting, which means they look nice, and the money we spent probably went on staging the rest of the exhibition! So, I can now add 'internationally exhibited photographer' on my resume, alongside 'internationally awarded equestrian...' Well, I didn't spend 20 years in PR without being able to add a bit of puffery to my own situation!

Monday, April 16, 2007

Bangalore Photography Festival 2007

So, the 'BPF" as we shall call it kicked off in style yesterday... without my photos! Despite the fact I should have had a couple on display, in very Indian style, things didn't go according to plan and instead of posting photos in the relevant categories each day, the organizers have decided to post random photos on random days, making it hard to know when your shots will be up. The 'BPF' is on the lower level of the Leela Galleria and features five or six rows of 'professional' framed photos, then a couple of rows of 'amateur' mounted shots. Problem is, you don't know why they're there as there's no explanation about the 'amateur' shots, so you just think that those folk couldn't be bothered framing their pix! We shall wait with baited breath to see when mine appear...

Methinks the lady protest too much....

So, another day, another protest in India, not toward the government, the shortage of water, electricity, or basic necessities, but hearthrob and screen legend, the lovely Richard Gere! Not only was he in India doing good work for aids research, he is a lifelong admirer and positive ambassador for the country worldwide. How could he be treated so badly! My only thought after seeing this what that the real protest should have been, 'why wasn't it me?!?'

Actor Richard Gere has sparked protests in India after kissing Celebrity Big Brother winner Shilpa Shetty at an Aids awareness rally in New Delhi.
Demonstrators in Mumbai (Bombay) set light to effigies of the Hollywood star, while protesters in other cities shouted "death to Shilpa Shetty". The protesters said Gere insulted Indian culture by kissing the hand and face of the Bollywood actress. Shetty downplayed the incident, saying "it was not so obscene". "This was not such a big thing for people to over-react in such a manner," the actress told the Press Trust of India news agency. "I understand people's sentiments, but I don't want a foreigner to take bad memories from here. I understand this is his culture, not ours," she added.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Bangalore Photography Festival 2007

Tomorrow is the start of the first Bangalore Photography Festival at the Leela Galleria on Airport Road. Remarkably, seven of my pictures have been selected for the show (I just read on someone else's blog that seven of theirs had been accepted too, so now I know there are at least 14 in the show!!!) Seriously, they say that there are about 200 pictures in the amateur category alone.

The Festival runs from 3pm to 8pm each day, with categories changing every other day: Sports, Culture and Fashion (Apr 15 and 16)
Social Issues, Nature and People (Apr 17 and 18)
Bangalore Yesterday, Today and Tomorrow (Apr 19 and 20)
The best of the show will be exhibited on Saturday 21st from 12 noon to 5pm.

It is the first photo contest I have ever entered, so I am thrilled and looking forward to seeing what else is out there. I spent a frantic few days getting my pictures printed, mounted, captioned, etc., with a lot of journeys back and forth in the car to 'Van Gogh's Art Shop' (who were excellent and worked within deadline preparing the mounts) and G.K.Vale Photography (who were not so great, with varying colour results on my photos depending what day they were printed and even delivering photos covered in finger prints...). Let's hope the finished pictures survived delivery from the competition organizers to the Leela. We will see tomorrow...

Thursday, April 12, 2007

A Lighter Note...

On a much lighter note, this is my quote of the day on google... and I couldn't have written it better myself!

I gotta work out. I keep saying it all the time. I keep saying I gotta start working out. It's been about two months since I've worked out. And I just don't have the time. Which odd. Because I have the time to go out to dinner. And uh..and watch tv. And get a bone density test. And uh.. try to figure out what my phone number spells in words. - Ellen DeGeneres

A Period of Protest

It was one year ago today that the actor Raj Kumar passed and Bangalore went on full lockdown: eight people were killed with many hundreds injured; companies, shops, and offices were forced to close as the city was torched and came to a standstill. For a couple of days. Today more than one thousand extra police were on duty in the city, in case of repeat protests, and people were being asked to stay calm and remember the actor in a peaceful way. As if Mr. Kumar is trying to keep us indoors, we find ourselves in the middle of a thunderstorm and the rain is coming down in buckets. It's the first time it's rained here for about four months and it will serve us well as the State faces a water crisis, an electricity crisis (it's off and on every five minutes), and a petrol crisis, with the pumps all closed tomorrow in protest at something or other. In fact, sometimes it's a little hard to keep up with what everyone is protesting about! I'm not sure how far it gets people at all, but here's something I'd protest about: Indian women civil servants are now being asked to reveal details of their menstrual cycles in their annual appraisals! Here's the BBC report. You know that it's not so they can give their female employees a little extra TLC at certain times of the month. No, here periods are still taboo; women who are menstruating are often made to eat and sleep away from the rest of the family and many are not allowed to take part in normal daily life, like going to temple. Shockingly, the number of women that use manufactured sanitary protection is still in single digits. And if I were to go on a protesting spree I could have a field day.... take today's Bangalore Times: it showed an artist's impression of how MG Road will look in five years, when the monorail is built. That's great, and shows real vision, but where will the kids who beg and urinate on the barely passable sidewalks go? It's hard to cover up some of the grime with a bit of glitz. In just over a year here, I've seen the coffee shops with outdoor seating closed down by the State for fear that drug deals were going on there (the ones indoors were okay though...); a licensing law enforced which closes all bars at 11:30 pm, even on New Year's Eve, in what used to be known as the 'pub city', for fear that an extra half an hour or so would send the city wild; and now they're trying to shut down the Bangalore Turf Club and ban horse racing to stop gambling. All in all there seems to be a lot of attention paid to things to stop people having fun when it's the people that don't have the money or the lifestyle to have fun that 'they' should be focusing on . Clean up the slums, educate the kids, stop the female children from 'disappearing', tackle the loan sharks... the list is endless and what's more, it's full of things that are really worth protesting about.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Back to Bangalore

So after many weeks out of station, as they say here, I am back in Bangalore where summer has set in and I am now suffering heat exhaustion vs. freezing in England! My 'sabbatical' included six weeks in England and a couple in New York - now that's what I call cold!

My time in England was spent mainly with my mum and her husband during a difficult time as she is beginning treatment for breast cancer. It has been admirable the way they have handled the shocking news earlier this year which resulted in two operations and subsequent chemotheraphy treatment. They have managed to stay positive and take each day as it comes, which I am sure will help massively on the road to recovery. Mum has even started her own blog; who knows, she may manage more postings than me!

New York was a whirl, catching up with old friends and meeting some new ones - my friends' Kate and Pete's four month old twins (boy and girl). Now that's what I call hard work, although they are as good as gold (at least for the most part!)

Now back in India, I am defrosting, and just spent three days in Bombay which makes Bangalore feel positively cool! Bombay was a bustle as I went to support and celebrate the launch of my friend Fiona's book, Love Bangalore which is a MUST for anyone travelling to the city; a beautiful collection of Bangalore's hidden gems.

Returning here was a little bitter sweet as I had become a little too settled in the ways of the west - driving myself around on fairly uncongested roads at speeds of more than five miles per hour; shopping in 30,000 sq ft supermarkets with an entire aisle of toilet roll to choose from; and guzzling more than my far share of world wines at reasonable prices. Of course, this has all taken a toll on me and I need to visit the gym frequently and soon.

We have also had to say goodbye to two lovely families, both of whom have coincidentally moved to Singapore. The ex-pat life has many positives, but the transient nature can make it difficult when establishing friendships and learning to part with them far too soon. Both were relatively unexpected moves, although a trip to Singapore will no doubt be in the offing and guess what, as well as wonderful friends, they have an abundance of shopping and sightseeing that would make any western city envious!

For now, I am settling back into Bangalore life which is definitely not a bad one at all! Great friends, great food, great travel, and, of course, it's not known as the pub city for nothing!