Wednesday, June 26, 2013

India: Where Up is Down

For the first four months that we have been in India, we have lived in a three bedroom apartment.  The location of the complex is wonderful, and the amenities and utilities are reliable.  That being said, we don't much care for the apartment itself.  The square-footage is a tad small for our family of five.  The bathrooms are challenging.  The kitchen is closed-off and uncomfortable to work in.  And the ceilings.  Oh, don't get me started on the ceilings.

One strange quirk that we've noticed while living in this complex is that people seem to have a hard time figuring out how to use the elevators.  Let's take a moment to consider how an elevator works.  If I am on the 5th floor, and want to go down to the ground floor, I push the DOWN button.  If I want to go up to the 12th floor, I push the UP button.  (Regardless of where the elevator might be.)  In our building, people seem to have a hard time grasping this concept.  For example, if our neighbor were to want to go down to the ground floor from the 5th, but saw that the elevator was currently at the second floor, he would push the UP button to call the elevator.  Or, if they wanted to visit the seventh floor, again from the fifth, but the elevator was currently at the 10th floor, they would push the DOWN button, to call the elevator.  They push the button the corresponds to the direction the elevator needs to go to get to them.  Oftentimes, they'll just push the up and down button simultaneously.  This leads to many interrupted elevator rides, stopping at levels that no longer have anyone waiting at them, and endless confusion as people accidentally get off on the wrong floor. 

When we get back from our vacation, we'll be leaving our apartment here and moving on to bigger and better digs.  No more slow elevator rides for us.  But, we'll miss the store manager in the basement who has quickly learned to send cases of Diet Coke up to us.  He's pretty great.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

A Trip to the Old City

Local fashion goes door-to-door by bicycle.
It's our last Saturday in Hyderabad before we head back to the US for a month long holiday.  The heat has broken as the Monsoon has rolled in.  We took the opportunity to make our way to the Old City of Hyderabad, to explore the Chowmahalla Palace and Charminar, the most recognizable landmark of Hyderabad.  

A glimpse of Charminar
 We wove our way through the old streets and found ourselves at the Palace, which stands behind walls, in its own world of serenity and order.
Porticoes at Chowmahalla Palace

Peace and quiet.  In stark contrast to what we would experience soon after.

We always have to play with cannons.

Window of the Khilwat Mubarak -- the central "throne room" of the palace.

View from above the throne room.
 We left the Palace and headed to Charminar, to fight the puddles, crowds and stairs, and get a great view of Hyderabad.
Climbing to the top of Charminar

View of Old City Hyderabad in the rain.

Maren thought this was really cheesy.

Charminar.  This was the best view we could get in the rain and the crowds.

The kids were really impressed when I started pushing people out of my way so I could get this photo.  I guess I'm getting used to India.
Our adventures were cut short by the monsoon, but we left excited to see more and look forward to many return visits to this fascinating part of town.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Strike Up the Bandh

Bandh: originally a Hindi word meaning "closed", is a form of protest used by political activists in South Asian countries such as India and Nepal. During a bandh, a political party or a community declares a general strike (Wikipedia).

The rumbles of a Telangana bandh for Friday or Saturday started rolling around school on Thursday afternoon.  We checked on the news from other schools but ultimately decided to stay open for Friday.  A few families kept kids home but most students showed up.  We had our international finance person in town so decided to continue with our meeting with a school board member to discuss plans for the future building.  The drive to Secunderabad had the standard slow traffic for Hyderabad rush hour (10:00 am) and we saw a lot of police presence but nothing surprising.

As the meeting went on my phone started to buzz over and over.  Things had heated up near the Andhra Pradesh legislature building and they had decided to close school.  We quickly headed to the car.  We slowly made it back to school.  Traffic had gotten even worse.  We spent about 30 minutes in very slow traffic getting a few strange looks from the cars and motorcycles around us as we made it through a stretch to an intersection to find that the only option was a U-turn.  I suggested to our driver David that we U-turn back and try again.  He chuckled. Then he found another route.  Once back to Banjara and Jubilee Hills traffic lightened up.  There was still a lot of police around and the riots did indeed get a little crazy at the state legislature building with protesters climbing up the building and threatening to jump if a Telangana state wasn't established on the spot.  
A massive security arrangement was made for the 'Chalo Assembly' protest march organised to press for the creation of a separate Telangana state. It also caused inconvenience to the public who could not move freely in the city.
I didn't see this exact barrier but did pass a few on the way back to school.

The conflict highlights the great diversity here in Hyderabad where we have a large population of Hindus and Muslims and the city is split between the Hindu and Telugu speakers.  The Telengana activists want to partition Telengana, Hyderabad and it's immediate surrounding, into its own state.  This would leave some major challenges for the rest of Andhra Pradesh which is significantly less well developed.

For us, it mostly meant an early dismissal on Friday and a quiet evening at home.  Our Indian version of an early dismissal snow day. 

For the full story of the bandh you can visit the link here:

Monday, June 10, 2013

Iron Age Meets Digital Age

One of the constant themes we experience here is the contrast of old, traditional ways of doing things and the sleek, modern ways of the 21st century.  At times the juxtaposition is a clash.  Signing up for a cell phone connection can't be done without going into an office, submitting multiple forms with a signature, waving around many official papers, and waiting a few days for a visit at home to verify an address before the SIM card is activated.  Then after all that bureaucracy, BOOM, I can suddenly communicate with anybody around the world by pushing a few buttons.

It's just a short drive around the corner from our apartment complex with its emergency generators, treated water, and 24 hour security where my morning drive often passes the women beating out the stains of their families laundry on a slab of concrete with water delivered twice a day by a tanker-truck and collected in any watertight plastic vessel that can be gathered. 

The K/1 class in school was recently scrolling through pictures as of homes and cities.  They had to say which was modern and which was old.  It was an easy exercise until they came to a picture of a road with cows crossing it.  Textbook cognitive dissonance. It's not uncommon to see water buffalo clogging traffic under the Hi Tech city flyover which is in the shadow of Cyber Towers and just blocks from Google, Facebook, Dell, and many other tech companies here in Hyderabad.

Tonight I had another great one.  I came home to find that our wireless router was shot.  Dead.  I decided to race the oncoming black clouds of the monsoon and ran down the street to Chroma for new router.  The store had about 6 options to choose from.  I paid with a credit card and before I got home I heard a beep on my phone announcing the the arrival of my digital receipt.  With my mission accomplished and the rains not falling yet I decided to take a slower stroll home.  I bought 4 mangoes and 5 bananas from the flatbed carts at the corner for just over a dollar and watched as people easily slipped on and off buses that never come to a complete stop.  But the greatest contrast between the seamless electronic transaction for a little box that allows me to zip billions of bits of data to and from every corner of the earth through thin air was this, less then 100 yards away:

I've seen them here before with a charred goat carcass nearby and assumed this was some sort of pit barbecue.  Nope.  He was making an axe head by pounding away with a hammer on an anvil.  They noticed my photo snapping and proudly posed for a second photo.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

At the Local Saloon

I've always hated having hair.  I remember being over obsessed with getting my stubbornly straight hair perfectly combed and gelled from later elementary school year and well into middle school before discovering blessing of a baseball cap to cover my hair.  By high school I basically gave up on my hair altogether and went with a mopish look.  Unless my hair grows to 80's rock star length I can't have any reasonable battle with the tuft of hair on my crown that insists on sticking straight up no matter which way I comb, push, or mash it.

For sixteen years now my solution has been electric clippers with the #1 guard to regularly chop everything down to 1/8".  In those sixteen years I think I visited a barber twice: once with H to show him how it was done and another time last spring when I was feeling my hair hit my ears while in Tbilisi, Georgia and didn't have my trustee clippers on hand. Otherwise it's been me, my clippers, and a fresh haircut every time I looked in the mirror and decided I was looking too much like a hedgehog again.

Selecting what to bring to India with just a few suitcases was a constant examination of size and weight.  Clippers carry some significant heft so I decided to leave them out (besides, my #1 guard had recently broken).  I'm also tired of cleaning up hair and the standard house brooms here in India would have made that an impossible task.

After arriving I kept an eye out for a good spot to get a haircut.  There is actually a "Men's Saloon" downstairs in the apartment complex.  At this point you may be visiting Google to decode the difference between the words "salon" and "saloon." Good luck. I've got no dog in the fight but do have fun with the idea of telling Nadia that I'm going to take H to the saloon so I'll stick with that for now.

Anyway, while the saloon downstairs would be convenient I thought I'd try the saloon down a small lane about 100 yards down the straight from our apartments gate.  We always peek down the interesting street with a small Hindu temple at the end and that is sometimes marked at the intersection with an electric swastika (a symbol that just means "to be good") and other Hindu images.  Just a bit before the temple is this:

Coming up on two months in India I decided to give it a try.  It was absolutely wonderful!  I walked in to find an IPL Cricket match replaying on the television, the air conditioning blasting, and a scruffy looking gentleman getting re-civilized with the help of a long straight edge razor.  To top it all off the haircut in line before me finished with the strangest, loudest, and most abusive head massage I could have ever imagined.

I was sold (who couldn't be at the price of 100 rupees...less then $2!)

I went short around the edges and long on top as I think I'm ready for grown-up hair now after sixteen years.  I then accepted the offer for the head massage which started with a generous dousing of coconut oil and then a series of slaps, squeezes, pops, twists, and tugs that walked the finest possible between relaxation and concussion.

I actually can't quite describe it so I took H along with me the next time.  He was in desperate need of a haircut himself and I was excited to go back for another haircut and head massage.  H acted as cameraman to document the sounds and images.  The whole video with eyebrow massage and finger knuckle popping was four minutes long so I decided to just show the hard hitting highlights:

Soundtrack is courtesy of the western pop music channel that they switched to for me.