Thursday, August 30, 2007

What are words worth?

Not a lot here, by the looks of things you read every day! Whether it's an inexpensive flier, a hand painted shop sign, a well thought out ad campaign, or even newspaper copy, spelling and grammar can quickly turn into alphabetti spaghetti! Not that you can't see why as there are numerous languages spoken in Bangalore - Tamil, Telegu, Hindi, Kannada, Urdu, English and more.... For the most part, you can figure out what people are trying to say, but often times, it can be plain old baffling. My favourite this week was a lovely little pink flier which popped on our doorstep along with the morning papers. Here's the first couple of lines, with no grammar or spelling altered:

Anoos, a nexus for past present and future ruling roost since 25 years Explicit, Anoos excels it self in variegated forms now brings you a world-class....

A world class what, you might be asking?? ... salon & spa facilities at their Somajiguda centre

I'm not sure I want to be variegated at a nexus for roosters, but they do offer Well-versed staff, awesome products, and especial therapy. I'm loving the use of the word 'awesome' here but my favourite part is their international beauty school business which they have given the acronymn, of course, of IBS. I hear that that's in the 'bowels' of the salon building... groan!

Friday, August 24, 2007

What DO you do all day?

As an expat trailing spouse lady of leisure I am often asked 'what do you do all day?' Well, today has been one of those 'Indian' mornings where I've wasted three hours of my life that I'll never get back! I made two phone calls to the gas company to get a replacement cylinder (two because no-one answered the first number and it was only by osmosis that I knew the second was the right company, no greeting when answered or real confirmation that it was the right place!) Our gas is supplied here in camping-like cylinders and we are lucky enough to have two; I hear getting a new connection can take MONTHS so we were lucky to get one through Tom's company. No doubt the guy delivering it this afternoon will be taking this preferred mode of transport! Next, I called our building Super. This is a weekly call I am making in an attempt to get a receipt for some work that was done on Tom's geyser two months ago (it's a hot water system, not some kind of physical ailment!) It is more out of bloody mindedness that I am trying to get this as I know the plumber who did the job doesn't want to go back to the guy who allegedly did the work and get the receipt (in fact, they've probably both forgotten how much they charged me). I mentioned this to the Super a month ago and he was so adamant that he would get it, I had every reason to believe it would happen, but it's resulted in me making a regular Friday morning call to the Super to check on the status. The first week I call, he sends the plumber up who says it will take 2-3 days. The following week I make the call, and the Super offers to come up WITH the plumber but I just ask him to sort it. So today I make the call and apparently it will come today! Don't hold your breath... Next I call Hathway Cable about disconnecting our service. This is my favourite. We got so hacked off with their shoddy service, lack of response, broken cable box, no-one showing up, yada yada, that we subscribed to the lovely shiny and new TATA Sky, complete with satellite dish AND set-top box. So far, they have been nothing short of miraculous! However, my quest to get my Rs. 3,000 ($75) deposit back from Hathway and someone to come and take their shoddy cable box is proving a challenge... They were supposed to come Weds but it was raining (!!!), but they were to call when it stopped... two days later, and clear skies, I called them. They are supposed to be coming in an hour.... unless it rains, I guess! The kicker is that they are telling me they can't give me ALL the deposit back, they have to take 20% 'wear and tear' and 12.5% tax... that's the bit that I'm not buying so we are all set for a full on fight! I have to say though, I am nearly worn down to the point where I'd pay THEM to take the stupid thing back! The final part of my morning was spent chasing up the three calls I made to our hospital yesterday to get some routine test results; they were to be emailed and couriered yesterday. Nothing. More calls today, more spelling of my email address... slowly... even though it's on their very fancy computerized system... a repeat of my home address... even though it's on their system...and success, they have been emailed! And just to make my morning complete, everything is normal with them. Now I gotta go, the gas is actually here - just an hour after I called!!! It's these little things that restore your faith in humanity!!!

Thursday, August 23, 2007

Let's Talk About Sex, Baby...

... but just not in India, especially at school. Dubbed "the great sex debate" the Indian government's attempted introduction of sex education into schools has met with mixed responses, including some states banning the programme altogether. It's a worry. As perceptive Health Minister, Anbumani Ramadoss, put it so poignantly, "In our country, we do sex. But we don't want to talk about it and that is why we have a billion population." The topic (if anyone can bring themselves to talk about it...) is set to fuel discussions that will go on, and on, and on, and on... but it strikes me that it's about time something was done, given the apparent lack of sex education among young men and women. The grounds for this generalized assumption is through the forward-thinking Bangalore Mirror and its daily 'ask the sexpert' column. It's not a large column (no pun intended) and today appears on page 33 under 'yoga for women - issues II' and across the page from today's health tip: "fruits are natural blood cleansers and energy givers, however, be careful not to have them along with vegetables." Sound advice, I'm sure. Anyway, I digress. The 'ask the sexpert' column never ceases to cause hilarity and amazement as I sip my breakfast tea and munch on my cereal each morning. Generally, three questions are featured, mainly from men (I'm assuming) with issues such as, "my foreskin doesn't move like it did when I was a child (what's he trying to do? dance with it?); I ejaculate within five minutes of masturbation - am I infertile?; how do I get rid of my daily masturbation habit?" Our resident doctor, Dr. Mahinder Watsa (Watsa doctor doing writing for this rag - boom boom!), replies succintly and knowledgably: "see your doctor about the tight foreskin; if you are worried about infertility, consult a counsellor; and (my favourite, the one where he applies his own learning) learn better control like you would when you want to stop overeating!" What a great way to start the day!

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Happy cantering

Having fun
Originally uploaded by The McGuires

Nothing beats a happy canter in 90 degree heat, with the sun shining, the flowers blooming, and your horse going where you want him to go!

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Pass by Paparazzi

I am a fan of food, no doubt about that, and when in foreign climes - or even at home - I like to try new things and sample the best of what's around. The criteria for my restaurant choice when traveling is where they stand on the list of the World's 50 Best Restaurants, the DEFINITIVE list of what's hot and what's not around the world. It's generally an excellent barometer of taste and how deep you'll have to dig in your wallet! This year we have been lucky enough to add to our 'hits on the list' dinner at number 2, The Fat Duck in Bray, number 5, Tetsuya's in Sydney, and number 33, Rockpool in Sydney. I would like to add a couple more to that by the end of the year, bringing our total to around 10. But beware those OTHER lists, and there are many of them... The funniest and most frightening, is the Conde Nast Traveler list of the 'top 82 restaurants in the world.' Why there's 82, I have no idea, but Paparazzi restaurant at the Royal Orchid Central in Bangalore proudly advertises its presence in this list on billboards around the site. So we decided to try it last night... NEVER AGAIN! The evening began badly with us being shown to a less than desirable table and told that all the others were reserved so we couldn't move; we pressed the issue and found out that apparently people book a specific table number - what cock - and we were then moved to the table of our choice. The sparse wine list included the usual Indian wines, and about eight or so imported wines in the white - all chardonnay - and another eight of so reds. Disappointingly, they barely had any of these wines, especially the lower priced ones at around 2,000 rupees ($50) so we had to plump for a Cotes du Rhone at 3,500 (around $90 - but which would retail at home for about $20!) The music was so loud we couldn't hear ourselves speak, so on request, they turned it down, only for it to be turned up again a few minutes later, then down... and so it went on. The food was nothing to write home about; the vegetable tempura and calamari were coated with the same, half inch thick, tasteless batter which made it virtually inedible, and the chicken was cooked so well it could have doubled as a frisbee! Even the billing process was difficult as we wanted to split it two thirds, one third, on two cards... the waiter acknowledged what I said, then walked up to Tom and asked what to do! Frustrating. Our total bill - without dessert but with two bottles of good wine and the pre-included service charge - was 12,000 rupees ($300!) Whether top 50 or top 82, sadly Paparazzi and its over-inflated prices, under-whelming food, and invisible wine selection will not be making it onto any of my lists.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Happy Independence Day

It would seem that everywhere I live has an annual day where they celebrate freedom from the tyrannical rule of the British in all manner of colourful forms. And India is no exception. Today is the 60th anniversary of partition and we were awoken at what seemed like the crack of dawn to much singing, chanting, and even fireworks, eminating from the Tibetan hostel down the lane. The newspapers and TV are full of independence stories, appropriate movies, and celebrations of India's rise from the ashes. While there is no disputing that India has certainly stepped out from the shadow of colonial rule, and many of its industries are thriving, it seems to be at a cultural crossroads that will take patience and flexibility to navigate. Younger Indians today find themselves with the choice of moving into office based positions, but are often the first generation of their family to do so and the transition can be challenging. And while they are earning good money and building their careers, they can still be held back by deep-seated beliefs and attitudes: the bright young female executive who has to marry and leave her hometown to live with her husband's family, giving up work, or, the inter-office sexual harrasment borne primarily out of the fact that for many, this is the first time these young men and women have been able to co-mingle so freely. These are issues that western companies seldom face. Another startling issue here is the amount of people who resort to suicide as a 'get out' clause when problems arise, giving South India the highest suicide rate in the world. The news is full of horror stories, day in day out, such as the four young girls who tried (half of whom succeeded) to poison and kill themselves when one learned she was to marry against her wishes; or the woman who was bullied, day in, day out, at the hands of her mother-in-law with whom she lived, so she poisoned herself; or the man whose family was being pressurised to pay such a high dowry to their daughter's future in-laws that he hanged himself. Most of these situations seem to stem from a clashing of old and new beliefs and instead of fighting against them and creating change, many sadly feel left with no option but to check out. One can only hope that the next 60 years sees a cultural change that blends the best of the old beliefs with the all the promise that the new generation has to offer.

Sunday, August 12, 2007

Perfectly Pleasing

A funny thing happened this week... I had a GREAT experience with a small store in town from where I bought an Epson photo printer. And I mean small. It was a basement shop about 20' x 20' - not PC World! Despite initial issues (they sold the printer I wanted to another expat...) they made good and another printer was on its way from Chennai the next day. Although it was delayed, the store AND the Epson rep kept me completely updated as to its progress and even checked on its final arrival at around 9pm that evening. This is a rarity here. For example, Airtel, our phone company, was supposed to send a rep to fix our dodgy internet connection. No-one came and no phone call - except the next day to check that it had been fixed! Hilariously annoying. The plumber was meant to come at 10am. Then at 4pm. Nothing by 5pm. When I called, he said he had a problem somewhere else.... And so it goes on. Except for the nice printer people at the appropriately named Perfect Computers! I did ask the salesman if the printer would be perfect, however, and his reply? We are perfect in name only! I beg to differ Mr. Perfect Computers.

And the corks kept a popping...

What a wonderful evening we had last night! We were invited to the Taj West End hotel to view a screening of a new film about Rajasthan's historic palaces which have been restored to their former glory as Taj Hotels. While it was somewhat promotional, it was a beautiful film that focused on the Lake Palace, Udaipur (where Octopussy was filmed), the Rambagh Palace, Jaipur (where we recently had dinner), and a new conversion taking place in Hyderabad. The high point of the evening, though, was the unrivalled hospitality. We were greeted by horsemen and a very fancy entrance to the Ballroom where champagne (yes, real Moet, no Sula!) was served along with canapes. After a couple of glasses, we sat for the half an hour film, and were then shown to the hotel lobby which was completely transformed into a party room. The walkway from the Ballroom was lined with staff scattering petals in our path and sprinkling us with incense. And the champagne flowed, along with the deliciously extravagant canapes including foie gras, spiced crispy squid, and my favourite, prawns on mini doughnuts. I swear I drank my weight in Moet and Tom was drowning in Italian wine and Johnnie Walker whisky. My only regret? That I had to get up at 8.30 this morning to go riding.... ouch!

Thursday, August 09, 2007

Carry On Chemist

Living in America gives you a whole different perspective on the world of 'drugs,' i.e., prescription drugs: they're openly advertised on TV making you think, mmmm, maybe I have that disorder?; you get to know the names of the ingredients you want/need so you're well educated at the doctors; and then you can buy them in bulk online and at the chemist (even over the counter pills are sold in giant packs, like 250 Ibuprofen instead of 12 in the UK!) So it can be a little disheartening in India, when you get a prescription for painkillers and they give you.... wait for it.... 4!! I begged and pleaded with the pharmacist who upped my prescription to.... 12!! And of course, that upped the price to a staggering 50 cents!! But before I got to the pharmacy, there was the question of the doctor - and getting the meds I wanted. I had just run out of prescription tylenol with codeine (painkillers) from the US and wanted to get a hold of a similar level of 'sledgehammer pain relief' here. When I asked the lovely (Indian) doctor for the same, you would have thought I'd asked her for heroin! She couldn't imagine where I'd got them from and why I would possibly need them, but no, they had nothing with codeine, and if they did, I certainly couldn't have it :( Maybe it's a good thing... but I swear she thought I was some kind of dealer/addict/headcase (delete as applicable). My only hope is to see my lovely (Indian) doctor in New York who is well versed with the ways of the pharmaceutical world and one's need, now and again, for something a little stronger, preferably in quantities of more than 4!

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

Imperial Rant

I was reminded last night of our recent experience at one of India's, arguably South Asia's. finest hotels, The Imperial in Delhi. Since moving to India, we have stayed there a handful of times but our last stay virtually mirrored our first stay nearly two years ago..... We arrived for a three night period and were met at the airport by driver AND greeter who escorted us to the hotel, where greeter swiftly disappeared after a few quick words with the front desk ... As we tried to check in, we were asked to take a seat in the lobby for a few minutes, after which time, a member of staff asked us to join him in a very quiet area of the restaurant. What had we done? Were our visa's not right? Had the corporate rate increased? None of the above. We were advised that a 'government delegation' had overstayed its welcome and would we mind being 'shifted' to the Shangri La (not shabby) two minutes down the road, just for one night. We negotiated a room upgrade and a complementary dinner, plus we were staying another two nights so all was not lost. Fast forward to July 4th this year.... we arrived at the hotel at 9pm with a booking at 9.30pm in their fabulously lauded and expensive Spice Route restaurant. As the receptionist pulled up our booking (which was made on the hotel's website a few months prior) the words BOUNCE BOUNCE BOUNCE flashed across her screen. When I asked what it meant, she quickly closed the screen and called the duty manager, who arrived with the familiar request to 'take a seat in the lobby...' This time we were ready! No, was our answer, let's sort it here... then came the old 'government delegation' chestnut. We refused to budge. It was the July 4th holiday and we were eating in a half hour. No way! Well, they asked, could we check out at 7am? No way! We were leaving on an international flight at 1pm. At which time, the duty manager 'scuttled away' (there is no finer way of putting this) without a word of an apology, leaving the receptionist to hand us our keys and show us to our room. Not a pleasant start to our short stay and one which, I have to say, has left me thinking of moving hotels next time we are in Delhi. We did file a complaint with the hotel and posed questions on their criteria for 'bouncing' guests to which we received a very hasty letter of apology in the mail - but no comped night or dinner!!!

Monday, August 06, 2007

Back in Bangalore

So, after a whirlwind tour of Europe, I am now back in Bangalore where it's wet and windy and not at all pleasant! Despite the torrential rains in England, we managed to survive a whole week without rain; in fact, we actually got sunburnt at this year's Great Yorkshire Show, one of the only agricultural shows to go ahead this year because of the weather. It was a great change to see cows, goats and sheep in fields, vs. on the streets as they are in Bangalore! We were then lucky enough to have dinner at the fabulous Fat Duck restaurant in Bray, always ranked as one of the top restaurants in the world. It was quite an extravagance but worth every penny for the theater that accompanies each course, the fabulous food, and the stunning wine. We stayed over in Bray at Redroofs at Oldfield, which I believe will have been flooded shortly thereafter as the English rains headed south to Maidenhead. After that, I headed off to Paris for a couple of days (where it DID rain), then took the fabulous overnight train to Madrid, and finally onto the Costa del Sol where, as my friend Sue puts it, we stayed for a few days in 'a diamond in a pile of XXXX!' The weather was glorious, so it was down to earth with a bump when I got back to rainy, cold Bangalore. I can never remember how long the monsoon lasts here, as we get it once on its way north, and again on its way back. The only thing we can be thankful for is that, so far, we aren't having it as bad as the rest of South Asia where almost 20 million people have been displaced because of the rising flood waters. Let's hope it subsides - everywhere - soon.

It's been a long time...

... but I am now back in Bangalore and was quite physically 'moved' to blog when I read this story... Indian suspect in banana ordeal : An Indian suspect was forced by police to eat 50 bananas as a laxative, to retrieve a necklace he was accused of stealing and swallowing. When the bananas failed to produce the desired effect, police fed Sheikh Mohsin rice, chicken and local bread. Finally the necklace, which appeared on an X-ray taken on the suspect, was excreted and retrieved. It's a dirty job, as they say...