journey’s end

October 1, 2008

8/24/08

Back at Cornell.

After five days and five nights in Bombay, expecting only one of each, I gave up on the totally non-existent non-rev seating opportunities on Delta’s nightly nonstop flight (I was prioritized 47th of 58 stand-bys, and only a few got on every night) and went to a travel agent to buy a full-price ticket. Whom I was surprised to even find, by the way- I personally have never gone to one before, coming of age right around the time Orbitz, Travelocity, and their kind gained dominance and destroyed their niche. It was quite an experience. I felt like the trip back home was really a trip back in time for another reason besides employing a travel agent; upon landing in the US, my phone was dead (I had fried my phone charger beyond functionality in a hotel in Bombay using a bad India –> US converter), so I used a pay phone. Now, I cannot remember the last time I used a pay phone. It may have been to call my mom to pick me up from Lloyd Center Mall, freshman year of high school. As in… ten years ago. As such, I spent five minutes trying to navigate my way around the buttons. Insert coins before or after dialing? Press “1” before area code, or dial like a cell phone? How do you get the digitalized woman to stop talking so I can dial? It didn’t help I only had a big wad of rupees in my pocket, so I extracted $200- which comes out in $20s, not quarters. So, after getting change and failing at dialing a few times, having my money munched for getting friends’ voicemails (did you know local calls cost, not a quarter, but 75 cents now?!? why WOULD anyone use a payphone? what’s the excuse… the rising price of wheat? gas prices? 9/11?) I asked the nearest person for the use of their cell phone.

After just barely catching a last-minute shuttle to Ithaca that was pulling away just as I got out of the terminal, I arrived halfway through the first day of mediator training at the School of Industrial and Labor Relations at Cornell University, with bags in tow and after 24 hours of traveling. The receptionist greeted me cheerfully, “Oh, you’re that India guy! Go right on up, they’re ready for you.” Glad to know I’ve finally made a name for myself around here!

The most immediate thing that shocked me on my return, from the transportation to the prices for shopping and dining around town, is how “expensive” everything is. Remembering negotiable 120-160 rupee ($3-4) 45-minute rickshaw rides and laying down the same amount for three-course dinners brings me to my last entry: things I will miss about India…

The things that will likely stick with me longest will not be the breathtaking sights and exotic locales I visited, but the everyday things in India that I have gotten used to and will likely never experience again here in New York or anywhere else. Daily maid service, Bollywood music videos and songs hopelessly stuck in my head, ambiguous Tamil figure-eight head wobbles, smashing open coconuts on the stone bench outside my room (Jungle Book, Mowgli-style), and the consistent meal etiquette (a plate of lemons, onion and cucumber to start off any meal, and to end, warm lemon water to wash up followed by sweetened cumin seeds for mouth-freshening). I will miss random kindness and openness from strangers, eating and living for next to nothing, fresh fruits of every kind for the same, having UNESCO World Heritage sites around every corner (replete with histories always spanning hundreds and sometimes thousands of years further into the past than any American site of the same), and, lastly, being a “sir” to men, women and children alike.

What a trip.

monsoon!

October 1, 2008

8/11/08

Heavy spontaneous deluges pour down just as darkness falls over the city. As I walk outside my room to investigate, alerted by the roar of spattering rain on the roof, I am greeted by the mellow, damp smell of tropical monsoon, which is notable not for its own faintly scented odor but for what it masks: the scent of neighbors burning their garbage on the roadside in little smoldering piles, and the choking fumes of automobile exhaust. It even shuts up the crows and peacocks incessantly cawing and crowing in our foliage, as they scurry elsewhere for cover, as do the more pesky raspy-voiced peddlers with their ever-present dinging bicycle bells and their astonishingly loud, monotonous, chanting bleats of “e-bulayyyy a sulayyyyyy a-boooollymayyy.” Even mosquitoes disappear temporarily and geckos scurry out into the streetlamp light, the reptilian cavalry coming out to feast and turn the tide in the battle against the dark horde of the bloodsucking mosquitan forces, who are suddenly vulnerable as they cling to underhangs and light fixtures.
I also used to run for cover during these cumulonimbal outbursts, but I know better now. My neighborhood is at its best during these showers, with the unpleasantries of everyday Chennai life temporarily masked. I walk around in board-shorts and sandals and receive my Indian “second shower.” I guess its a little Tim-Robbins-in-Shawshank-Redemption (only a little less deserving and a little more clean), but it is refreshing. Anyway, as long as you’re not wearing business clothes or don’t have papers in your pack, it’s quite nice, in addition to simply delighting in watching everyone else run frantically for cover and into the ever-patient maws of circling rickshaws, happy to charge a handy sum for their moving shelter.

On a similar note, I just got back from a weekend trip to Hyderabad, and boy, do I sure know how to pick ‘em: my weekend consisted of this.

(photo yoinked from the link… my photos are much less impressive, taken at night from inside the car)

If you don’t have time to click the link, basically, over fifty people drowned and the town was swimming in floodwater all weekend. Thankfully, the excellent sightseeing, unique local Andhra cuisine, and amazing hospitality of my hosts more than made up for a potential disaster of a trip. But the torrential monsoonal downpours and overcast skies made for really grey photographs lacking contrast (posted soon) that will be a little disappointing… may have to pay a visit to the ‘ol Adobe PhotoShop.

The train ride, 15 hours, almost bested my other longest non-stop travel record, set just months before on the flight to Bombay from NYC (15 hrs, 45 mins), but thankfully it didn’t, as this method of travel has much less amenities than the latter. Anyway, the car we toured Hyderabad in for three days almost floated on several occasions, as we ran the gauntlet a few times with a car to our right stalled and motorcyclists to our left turning away in disappointment after looking at the dips-in-the-highway-turned-ponds ahead. It was quite a scene. I asked the father of the family I stayed with about the lack of city planning and infrastructure I have noticed throughout India so far and in Hyderabad in particular. Interestingly, I was told, it wasn’t always this way. The later Nizams (local Mughal rulers) of Hyderabad had installed storm drains and sewers (among many other essential public goods) in the early 20th century, but democratically-elected successors (instead of patrilineal rulers) have chosen quick-fixes and voter-pandering over less visible essential services, and the ever-expanding city seriously lacks city planning as a result. There is something to be said for absolute power and huge royal coffers, I suppose! Potholes half a foot deep and dips in the road with no estuaries (but plenty of tributaries, unfortunately!) clog motorways as cars pause before the obstacles to judge whether or not their shock absorbers can take one last pounding or their engines will last one dunk in the pond.

The food is more Mughlai than South Indian, for sure. It is therefore much spicier, uses more chicken, and is more “Punjabi-tasting” than the surrounding areas’ cuisines. I quickly got used to breakfasts of spicy scrambled egg (don’t know the dish’s name), idli, masala, coconut chutney, and dinners of “Chicken 65″ (hot, red, and barbecued) with biryani and tortilla-like chapati. Tea is had every few hours at roadside stands in little shot-glass mugs, and fruit stands offer freshly-squeezed juice at every corner.The architecture was quite impressive and looked very similar to the sights in Delhi due to the erstwhile Shahs’ and Nazams’ ruling of the area. The styles incorporate Central-Asian-Khanate onion domes (like those of Uzbekistan’s silk road landmarks, Delhi’s Taj Mahal, and Moscow’s St. Basil’ s Cathedral, which ironically was built in to celebrate a victory OVER an invading Khan horde… whoops), Mughal, Turkish, and Persian designs, with minarets appearing on all four corners (the religious demographics are flipped in this city as opposed to the surrounding areas: a large majority of Muslims, which a minority of Hindus). Most positive has been the hospitality found in these households I have been staying at during my travels (which, incidentally, has reflected the religious mixture dominant in these areas: Hindus in Delhi, Muslims in Hyderabad, Christians in Chennai). It has been interesting observing the huge differences in religious and social rituals observed during all three homestays, whilst experiencing a similarity in their enormous concern with hospitality.

On the subject of hospitality/politeness, I continue to be impressed by the helpful and welcoming nature of (non-rickshaw and non-government employee) Indians. That is, those you encounter in everyday conversation: hosts, workplace acquaintances, strangers asked for help, random strollers on the beach. Even on the crazy rushed atmosphere that is the government city bus system, there are tacit standards that citizens seem to stand by.
When a bus pulls in, and passengers try to squeeze out while impatient boarders rush the doors, those with bags throw them inside through the open windows to reserve a space. Once, before I even opted for this seating method, a woman beckoned towards me whilst in the bus and motioned for me to throw my bag to her. I ended up saving my legs a two-hour stand all the way back from Mamallapuram due to her quick thinking.
Even inside the bus, where you have to watch where you sit due to ever-shifting zones for female-only seating, I was standing as there was seemingly no space to sit, but a bench full of old men pressed themselves to the sides to make room for me and insisted I squeeze between them (as a non-female, non-elderly, and non-disabled person, I am used to being the absolute bottom of the seating chart!).
As mentioned many months ago, even when the surge of passengers has ended and the bus chugs off, leaving a few stragglers sprinting alongside trying to gain footing on the door’s platform, hands extend to catch the runners and lift them up to safety.
And lastly, on my long train ride to Hyderabad, my neighbors saw that I didn’t fit on the upper bunks of the sleeper car and offered me a seat next to them down below to sit during the waking hours, while (for the sleeping hours) a girl traded me her bottom bunk for my head-bruisingly low-clearanced top bunk.

I doubt I could find any of these things to occur in public transportation back home. Once you get past the pressing, pushing throngs and different concept of personal space (where the “six-inch rule” reduces to zero inches), you see the other side of India’s populace.

Indonomics

October 1, 2008

7/28/08

On South Asian street-economics- first, bargaining. Regarding items on the street, there are no fixed prices. If it’s not in a store, there is no “price.” The more they want to get rid of it, and the less buyers they have, the cheaper it is. That should seem simple enough. But on my vacation this weekend, I learned a few other bargaining concepts.
Souvenir salesmen seem to view sales periods in days, not quarters. I came across two stalls whose objects I was not too interested in (another very important part of bargaining for items here- never show interest or you’ll never get a good price) and I was dogged by the shopkeepers as I walked by, who quoted a price for a similar object that they kept lowering, and lowering.. until it was half the original price. I asked, after purchasing the item, what it was that made them lower so drastically, and was told that because they hadn’t had a single sale today due to low tourist traffic, they needed to make just one sale by closing time. On a similar note, shops close at dusk, and the closer to dusk it is, the closer to the end of that “sales day” window you are, and the more hurried they are to make a sale.

Bargaining with rickshaw drivers is entirely different. Especially Tamil ones, I am told. In other cities there are meters, but Chennai remains its crazy, haggle-and-argue self, with meters that are entirely un-trustable, usually are broken, and whose rates are not posted anywhere. So you always need to bargain over the fixed cost of the trip. Before I go anywhere I ask a local what the price to a location is for them, add 15-20% to their answer (I am told laughingly it is “the white man’s tax”), and make that my target price. I started out playing the game; for a trip that costs 55 rupees to a local (my house to my workplace), I round to 70, make that my target, and then hail a rickshaw and let the arguing and flailing limbs and exaggerated expressions begin. However, I found that I quickly got tired of playing the game of underbidding and listening to their outrageous counter-bids, even though I know that’s how the game works… sorry ILR, I know you would be ashamed of me. I just find the whole thing so disingenuous and unnecessary. So now I always start with my actual target, which I refuse to go above, listen to their outrageous counter-proposal, and then when they refuse, instead of arguing, gesturing wildly, or re-offering, I shrug and give them a smile and walk down the street to catch the next one (they’re as numerous as cabs in NYC). Boulwarism, baby! When they see I am not bluffing and could not care less who brings me to my destination, they run out and bring me back to the bargaining table, offering lower and lower prices until arriving at my originally quoted price or put-putting away (which starts like this, simultaneously: muttering in Tamil, frowning, Tamil-head-bobbling [a figure-eight shake], throwing their hand from their chest outwards and upwards).
If you are, at this point, feeling bad for the rickshaw driver, read on, dear reader, read on. The joke is on the rider, not the driver. They have ways to get you back, and will! First, factors that drastically increase the “actual price” (the best price you are going to get): darkness, rain, heavy traffic, and scarcity of drivers. Whenever any of these circumstances exist, they jack up their prices quite unreasonably. And, of course, they always have ways to get back at you for bargaining them too low; lately I find I keep getting brought to petrol stations (they never seem to have gas… how odd!) just as we disembark, and then asked for the money up front. First, I said no, because I smelled a tourist scam. They could drop me off before my destination and then yell in Tamil and motion me to get out (happened to me multiple times actually… so I was right). Then, I changed my tune when a co-worker explained to me that they live day-to-day and literally do not have the cash to pay for the petrol, so sometimes they actually DO need the fare up front. True to my suspicion, I was taken advantage of after heeding his advice; after paying (and therefore handing over all my power) I was brought way out of the way to what appeared to be the driver’s home, and was told to wait while he ran inside. But it was not over- he then pulled over on the way back to ask where the place was I was going (they’ll see “yes, yes” when asked if they know where ____ is, to get your fare, but then pull over multiple times to ask for directions later… “making that sale” is all that counts!) at which point the person he spoke to indicated that I should pay him a higher than negotiated fare because we were so far away and petrol prices were rising so fast. This was the only time I really lost it with a rickshaw driver. We ended up getting to my work 35 minutes late, had driven to the northern reaches of Chennai, and I was being asked to subsidize his own personal errands?!? After re-telling the story to my coworkers, I was told unanimously that Chennai is notorious for exceedingly cheeky rickshaw drivers, and even locals get cheated constantly. Of course… that makes the trips into adventures, no?
It’s interesting to think of the two fare systems- fixed price and metered (I’ll ignore the tip factor that would also normally influence behavior, as you don’t tip rickshaw drivers here, whereas in America that adds an incentive for drivers to be nice/not screw you over/drive sanely). As long as you keep your money ’til the end of the trip and don’t give in to the petrol-station maneuver, you really have all the leverage, and therefore they are induced to get you there as quickly and efficiently as possible so as to get another fare (and so as to have you pay the full negotiated price), whereas the meter system can be manipulated in two ways- they can either take you on a route that takes more time or mileage, increasing your fare, or sneakily change the rate to a night rate. So really, while many Chennaites (?) complain of their rickshaw drivers’ schemes and temperament, and I, the foreigner, must pay higher fares by default, I think it’s probably better than the metered system. The differential foreigners must pay is not much (we’re talking $0.50) and the potential for trickery is totally constricted, if you know where you’re going (just ask a local the price). But boy is it a hell of a ride.

Anyway, on to economics. An intriguing principle here is a seeming lack of economy of scale in retail products as far as I have observed. In the US, you can get groceries for really cheap at a mega-mart, more expensive at the local grocery store, or at an outrageous price at a mini-mart (we’re speaking price-per-unit, not overall cost, as mini-marts sell mini-things). You can get some juice for $2.00/half-gallon, or $3.00/gallon (25% cheaper per-gallon), etc… buy more, pay less per unit. Here, in at least the grocery stores I have perused, the price per unit of most items is the same regardless of size! In one case, cookies (sorry… “biscuits”) cost more per unit for the bigger package. So instead I bought more of the little ones and got more variety….  The same economy-not-of-scale seems to be with items on the street as well. I get cheaper prices at the local level which I would normally assume is being bought at those stores and then resold at places convenient for the consumer for a higher price. The only idea I have is that they are not buying from the stores, but are the ones actually supplying the stores… even though its usually a one-man and one-ox-with-a-cart operation, which would be quite impossible to cart in from the surrounding farmland.

Phew… all that… if it wasn’t for the fact that you get over 42 rupees to the dollar… I’d be sunk! In the meantime, I’m enjoying tipping 30% (rarely more than $1.50… the expected tip rate is 10%, if anything) at restaurants and feeling like a rock star.

Also interesting is what appears to be a rickshaw drivers union, run by the Communist Party here. I spent weeks trying to figure out why the kiosk where all the drivers hang out at the end of my street had a red sickle and hammer and communist paraphernalia all around, and every time I went down there I never connected the dots until I learned through my internship how unions form in India- through political parties, and rarely (although becoming more frequent) through unaffiliated means. I will write more about this later, in relation to my work experience here, but the interesting economic aspect of this is that, as with all rickshaw rides, you want to avoid these guys like the plague (they’re easily identified- they have the hammer-and-sickle pinned on their chest), as any driver that is parked, or near any others, will raise his price because he isn’t already on his way there or the multiple others can gang up on you and price-collude. This is evident in a recent experience I had, trying to get to Guindy (near the airport), which should cost 70-100 rupees. “250 rupees, sah,” I was quoted, with heads nodding all around. Interesting, I thought, and walked down the street to catch a guy already headed my way who started the bargaining at 100. On an unrelated but similarly discouraging note, the only time (and last time) I hired a guy from this stand was with the other American living in my house. When we finished bargaining with the driver, he produced a liter of vodka from his shirt, took a finishing swig, tossed it in the bushes, and motioned for us to sit down so we could get going. Safety first!

Anyway, last economic note. Essential goods are incredibly cheap here, mostly due to being grown locally or heavy government subsidization, such as with agricultural products and transportation. Rickshaws, trains, and buses are dirt cheap, as is most vegetarian Indian food, the fare at almost any “hotel” (codeword for “restaurant” here) or “dhaba” (roadside eatery). However, air travel is comparable to any Western nation, and car rental is about the same. Beer and Western restaurant fare are only slightly cheaper than in the U.S. (but comparably to alternatives, very expensive) and my digital camera actually cost more in USD than if I had bought it in the states. So in summary, anything that the average person uses or could be considered “essential” is amazingly cheap, whereas any luxury item or service that has a lesser-priced alternative ranges from relatively much higher (but not too bad) to almost absolutely higher.

(interestingly, movie tickets tend to be “essential” as well, flying in just under $2 at a big Regal Cinema-esque multiplex. Like Ganesh and the Ganges, what would India be without Bollywood?)

bomb blasts

October 1, 2008

7/27/08

Getting back from my vacation this weekend, I hear there were severe bombings in Ahmedabad just after I left, near Bombay, and then just now, an Istanbul bombing (linked? no clue). India, and Chennai, is now on “high alert,” which I first learned through typical Indian social channels: SMSs (cell phone texts) and Bollywood (trying to buy movie tickets). I wanted to see a movie tomorrow, but knew tickets were sold out days in advance, so I texted a friend here to see if he had them… he replied that you don’t even need to pre-order tickets this week, all movies are available, apparently because the police are ordering people to stay out of public meeting places in the city.

In a semi-related note, the police are really beefing up their presence, as I noted on my bus ride to work this morning, during which I witnessed several bus-riders next to me hanging out of the doorway get beaten by policemen with long canes as punishment for breaking the normally unenforced rule. I managed to avoid the swift kneecappings being delivered to the people next to me by untactfully shoving my way to the back of the bus, but I hope the police’s search for bombers diverts to weapons suppliers, secret meeting places and e-mail records soon, and away from businessmen holding on to bus railings on their way to work.

OK, now this is getting a little too close to home- just found this as I was signing off. I think I’ll be watching awesome early-90s B-movie reruns on cable TV for the next few weeks in my room, and cutting down on the public transportation/cinemas.

marketplaces

October 1, 2008

7/23/08

My dessert eating habits have changed from cookies, ice cream, cake, pie, etc. in America, to fresh tropical fruits here. The produce store down the street always has interesting looking items and thankfully mangoes are in season during the summer. Additionally, papayas, coconuts, pomegranates, mini-bananas (very sweet), lychees and mangosteen are all available- and never for more than 20-30 cents each. I tried opening a coconut myself, and, one hour later, I had finally gotten through the husk, cracked open the shell (after uselessly hacking at it with a stone machete, I just smashed it against a stone bench)… and then spent another hour trying to dig out the nutmeat with what silverware I could scrounge up. Lesson learned: pay the roadside vendors with the giant machetes a few extra cents and have them do it for you. But its the journey, not the destination, right? Anyway,  I am enjoying the excellent local produce before my return home…

I found the big city market around here, replete with jewelry inlaid with Indian gems, Kashmiri direct importers selling pashmina and silk textiles (hand-sewn silk rugs in traditional Kashmiri designs that take two years to complete by the hands of two weavers… and only cost a few thousand USD… that means you’re paying one weaver $1,600/year for his labor), marble-carved objects, batik cloths, teas (Sikkim, Assam, Darjeeling, and Nilgiri), even bottled saffron. Any takers?

union demands

October 1, 2008

I wanted to display some interesting parts of a document I encountered at work. The following is a list of collective bargaining agreements provisions fought for by the unions at the manufacturing plants I’ve been visiting: “details of welfare items and other benefits eligible for employees.” Among the exhaustive list, some strange ones:

[item: amount, frequency]

  • socks: 2 pairs, yearly
  • towels: 3, yearly
  • ball point pens: 1 , yearly (a little stingy, no? come on guys… let’s work on this one)
  • rain coat (duck-back): 1, 3 years
  • bedsheet: 1, yearly
  • coconut oil: 2 liters, bi-monthly
  • Hamam soap: depends on who you are. Ranges from 10, bimonthly, to 2, “as and when.” “Security dog squard” [sic] and “Refrigiration [sic] Chiller Leak-Test Maintenance” get the least; full-timers and “probatioers” [sic] get the most.
  • Horlicks (basically, little cookies): 1 kg, 3 months

Then, regarding guaranteed allowances:

(part of the benevolent fund:) 25,000 rupees for “dying in harness,” “22 carrot [sic] gold coin” for retiring after 10 years, and for “retirement memento,” a “bi-cycle” and “one (1) wall clock.”

notes on arrival

October 1, 2008

June 18, 2008

As we flew over Batman, Turkey (no, seriously, Google-map it… it’s there), we suddenly changed course to avoid the northern tip of Iraq by just miles, and entered western Iran. We then headed east for what seemed like hours (Iran is REALLY long) and suddenly swerved to avoid Afghanistan, entering southern Pakistan instead. Can you tell I had fun watching my little flight-tracker map?

Anyway… unfortunately I have just lost my digital camera in a taxi, but as of now I still do remember some of the funny pictures I took. One of them was of a sign at the airport, which read: “Did you know you are most welcome in Mumbai right now?” Also, the recent tourist campaign put on by the Indian government, with the slogan “Incredible India” was continued on a tour bus parked in my neighborhood… “Incredible India: the slogan with which we use to woo tourists!”

As for my accomodations, for 12,000 Rupees ($280/mo) I have a bed-and-breakfast room with my own entry and bathroom, a maid who serves breakfast/dinner, cleans the room, washes/irons laundry (the owner of the house has a gardener as well, and a driver to drive him to work), and a driver of a car called an Ambassador (looks extremely 1948ish, Britain) to drive me to/from my work sites, chartered by my employer. American employers better step it up, I’ll have increased expectations now!!!

I have been going to sleep at 10 pm every night and waking up at 6 am. The last time I remember doing this consistently was before age 12. You get so exhausted from doing nothing all day that you have no choice but to doze off- the heat is ridiculous. If I actually had hard work to do, I don’t know how I wouldn’t just sleep at 6 pm.

Some totally disjointed notes:

Men wear dhotis all over the neighborhoods, and in the business area wear business casual, and nowhere is a tie seen, thank god. Let’s import their fashion trendsetters to America. Women wear sarees almost exclusively. I have seen less than ten women in Chennai wearing western clothes. Those that are wearing sarees range from dirt-poor beggars to business women; regardless of economic status, they are almost always spotless, magnificent, and match the hair tie, shoes, nail polish, pants, and tops underneath. Most women also have white jasmine flower garlands in their hair, sold by streetside vendors. Tamil equivolent of a lei?

Tamils enjoy honking. A lot. In Chennai, and New Delhi, I learned it to mean all those things, in addition to the more common “hello!”, “I’m passing”, “excuse me sir”, etc. etc. It is used for even turning corners, when there is no one else around, just to alert others of your existence, which is whizzing by at breakneck speeds.

Sometimes my rickshaw driver uses hand signals to turn, just as a BICYCLE would…. then, a few times, I have had them stop at a corner store for a big bag of betel nuts (their version of chewing tobacco), excusing themselves with an unintelligible “ng one” (hang on?). Thankfully, you figure out your fare before hand, so no meter is running- they are so untrustable with meters that you always strike a deal before. If not, they will tell you the meter isnt working, and there is a new rate… so you have to pay ____ more than what it says. Recent improvisations have included stopping at a petrol station immediately after picking me up and then asking for me to pay for the refill, and stopping at the destination street instead of at the destination number AND street, and, claiming confusion and mistranslation, directed to pay extra for delivery to actual destination.

Power outages hit about once per hour at the work sites (factory sites) and a few times a day at home. Power returns very shortly but all work sites have giant generator buildings, out of (qualified) distrust of the power grid. Interestingly, much power is privately owned- not all governmentally. The power outages are times in between one grid- it is rerouted once one fails. Nobody bats an eye when this happens- it’s someone sneezing or something.

Cricket is so popular here that there are 48 Murugappa teams that play each other, yet none other sports (I inquired). I was asked on the first day to join, even though I don’t play or even know the rules of cricket. Basketball and baseball are virtually unknown, and soccer is a distant second to cricket. No one even cares about rugby. I thought that was a Commonwealth thing? Apparently not. Games last twice as long as American sports; we’ll see how long I last on our weekend-ly matches. I am to be “batsman” as they tell me baseball is the closest I can get to cricket; basketall experience is not relevant.

I attended a heated collective bargaining session conducted entirely in Tamil at Carborundum Universal Ltd.’s Maraimalainagar plant today. Every once in a while, math entered into the equation, to which I was thankful to the Arabs for a brief moment, for their invention so long ago. Otherwise, all was lost on me. Afterwards, it was translated for me the Employer wanted their 10 points pushed, mostly increased performance (and pay associated with an increase in the latter), and the union wanted: less work.

On a finishing note, I would like to send you an email an MILR colleague of mine sent to me explaining why my scheduled last day of work was quite an interesting choice of dates:

“You obviously wouldn’t have seen the irony in the white man leaving from India on August 15th: its our independence day – when the English gave up and left :)

-G


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.