Journey of an Indian Consultant

On Saturday I was visiting one of my long lost friend who was in Sacramento for 1 week on some project work. He is trying to change jobs and as a part of the process, he was there to check out the new job for 1 week. In that process, I happen to meet another Indian guy who is a consultant too and also just moved to Sacramento for work.

Talking to them reminded me how I was like them only a couple of years back. A consultant moving from place to place. We also chatted about a lot of issues the usual Indian guys face when they actually come to US for work purpose. As I was speaking to them – I was fascinated by the journey any Indian consultant makes through his career.

So here is my (partial) list of things that a typical or standard Indian consultant goes through. To all those Indian consultants – “keep it going yaar”! For the fictional aspects as well as for understanding purpose who are non-Indian I am going to use a character name called “Babu” (Thanks Sienfeld)

Birth of a Consultant

Babu is born in some remote village of Southern India. His parents are farmers and they are very hard working people. His parents have learned from what they saw around them in contemporary India that Education is the best thing they can give to their child.

Babu ends up working hard in his school and college. Babu’s parents can’t afford to pay for all his education so they borrow money and send him to College. Babu secures an admission in one of the prestigious schools. But the problem is it’s not in his village/town. It’s in the capital city. Babu is very excited and so his parents. Let’s say he goes to ‘Hyderabad’ city for his education.

Babu goes to City

Babu makes new friends and starts living in a place which could be described as 2 room apartment with no furniture. He lives with 4 of his friends as they have figured out that more the number of students less the rent they have to pay. They do have a TV which they watch on a regular basis. Their eyes glued to the boob-tube and their dreams hitched on high hopes in Western countries.

Babu gets introduced to binge drinking. The perennial skill of Indian common man. Checkout Indian mythology to see how much liquor influences us Indians. Then follows terrible throw ups and not to mention the favorite acts of breaking the beer bottle.

Babu also gets introduced to movies. A lot of them. As movies consume his time, he wishes that he too has some super powers (Google Rajnikant on Youtube) like those stars. He wishes that he too want to get some “pretty”, “fair skinned” girl to fall in love with. This is the same time when Babu explores his amorous side. Since it’s been taboo with his parents and relatives to talk anything about Sex (Yes, we did invent Kamasutra), his friends are very much open to talk about it. Since none of his friends had a proper education  Babu ends up learning all the wrong things from them. He gets more adventurous and visits a movie theater which is far away from the city and watches his first ‘xxx’ movie. Which obviously was censored and he feels cheated.

This is also the time when his parents visit him. They bring him food and money. His room-mates eat away all the food in first few days and Babu throws extravagant parties with his money.

Babu goes to Consulate

This would be his first visit to the American Consulate. After Babu finishes his studies. With all the knowledge he gained about the ‘Foreign land’ from his Bollywood movies watching he decides to go to US of A for his higher studies. This is the phase when the seeds of so called ‘American Dream’ TM are sprouting in Babu. He is scared to go to Consulate all by himself. But he does a good job of hiding it.

After spending 6 hours in line and then finally getting inside the consulate. Babu with all his nervousness and broken English fails to impress the guy at the counter. His application gets rejected.

Babu does Higher studies in India

After 5 hours of binge drinking with all the sadness of getting rejected for Education visa, Babu decides to pursue his higher education dream in India. He applies for a local University and gets in. The saga contiues. He stays in a similar room with 4 other guys. You would expect for him to do mature things. But nah, he is the same and the same patterns repeat themselves.

Babu gets a job as a Progammer

After looking for 3 months Babu gets a job as a Programmer in a local company. But there is a catch. He is an intern for 6 months and gets paid in pennies. Zilch. He accepts it as the competition is very high and also he needs the experience.

Babu meets software

All during his college/University Babu was very good at memorizing stuff and ogling it out when required in exams. But the reality is a bit harsh. Here he needs to write programs and come up with actual programs that work. His project manager is an ass and sloppy. Babu never learns anything about project management. He learns some bits and pieces of software technology. He does want to improve though and he makes up his mind to learn everything about real life software development

Babu goes to Consulate

But he gets constantly distracted by his colleagues who are no more interested in doing their job but to just use the company’s internet connection. He forgets about his learning and just gets content with quick fixes. Time goes on and 2 years later, his dormant ‘American Dream’ TM wakes up again. This time Babu goes to consulate with all the proper paper work, good enough english and a confident outlook for ‘H1B’ work visa.

He gets the visa!

Babu prepares for America

Babu refers to the excel sheet which gets passed onto all Indians travelling to America. It’s the mother of all lists. It has all the things that a american newbie needs to know. What to bring? Winter clothing? What to say to the cab driver? How much to tip? Where to find cheap cigarettes? How to avoid black people? etc

Like all Indians be buys – ‘checkered full sleeves shirts’, ‘Indian camel leather made jacket’, ‘Thermals’, ‘Nike Shoes’ (china made). He splurges on himself. His parents borrow more money for his tickets as they know that once Babu is in US he would be sending money back to pay off their debts. Babu is talk of his village. He is the first guy from that tiny village of 1000 people to make it to America!

Babu comes to Boston

Like any other consultant Babu is picked up by the Guy whose company sponsored Babu’s work visa. Let’s call him ‘Ram’. Ram is a typical India Consulting firm owner who sponsor Indian talent to US, makes money off of them and gets rich.

Ram takes Babu to his 4 bedroom house. Babu is excited as he is in US and he is going to live in a 4 bedroom house. On arrival he realizes that there are about 16 people in that 4 bedroom house and he is back to square 1. Sharing 1 room with 4 other people. First chink in his American Dream TM

He brushes it off and adapts to the environment. He makes friends with the guys. There are groups within 16 people. There is a South India group, North India Group, ‘Gujju gang’. They don’t mix up much. These groups cook separately, watch TV till late night, whistle while watching ‘Basic Instinct’ and are ready to give Babu with advice about America

Babu starts his American Education

Babu starts to learn quick. It’s November in Boston. Frigging cold. He realizes that the Camel leather is not gonna keep him warm. He dons his ‘Monkey Cap’ from India and walks around. He get’s his SSN, learns to drive, attends interviews for jobs.

He is introduced to Costco, Walmart, Sam’s club. All 16 people use 1 Costco card to share and shop. He is introduced to ‘Chalupa’ at Taco Bell, Big Mac at McDonalds. His weekends are filled with travelling to New Jersey to meet other Indian friends and eat some more Indian food and driving to Rhode Island to go visit a strip club.

Babu get’s a Job

Finally after 4 weeks he gets a job. But as usual this job is not in Boston. He has to move to another place. All by himself. The journey he made from his village to the city in India is repeated again. He moves to San Jose for his new job. He looks up sulekha.com and finds a place where he can live temporarily.

He moves into a 2 bedroom place which is shared by 4 people again. He is happy that atleast this time he has to share the room with 1 more guy. He gets a closet for himself for the first time. He buys about 50 hangers even though he doesn’t need them all. As usual this room has no furniture, no internet, no tv. He irons his shirt and pants for his first day at this job.

Babu’s first day at Work

He is nervous. He thinks everyone asks him how he is doing, but don’t really wait up to hear his answer. He can’t understand most of their American accent. He says “Yes” to everything they say to him and does his ‘Indian head nod’ a skill only Indians are expert at. Indian head nod is a circular bobbling of the head which could either mean ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ depending up on the person who is interpreting. For 400 years British were so cruel to us that I think we developed a special way of realying our angst and disagreement without being lashed. It’s an Indian thing. Check with you local Indian friend if you want to find out more.

Babu’s first year in America

His first year goes well. He moves out to 1 bedroom apartment with another colleague at his work place. He buys a used ‘Honda Accord’. He has been sending money every month diligently to India. He has learned to cope up with some more quick fixes at work. His hiring firm promised the client that Babu is an expert in all the relevant technologies. But it was a lie. Ram just wanted to make some money. Since Babu couldn’t say no to the job, he just acts that he is an expert and learns the new technology in 1 week. He knows that he is good at remembering stuff. It comes handy to show that he is indeed an expert. But that was interview. In his day to day job Babu is just putting off new fires and using Google to find out answers to his technical problems.

He has a TV, bought again from a Mexican guy on Criagslist. His furniture is all bought from Craigslist as well. He buys his clothes from Target and groceries from Costco which he shares it with his room mate.

Babu visits India

After 3 years of struggling in America Babu decides to go visit India. In the mean time he has changed about 5 jobs and in 5 different places. He has learned the art of Indian living in US. Saving money and living on very few dollars per month. Some times he is reminded of his grand dream but he no more believes in it.

He has planned to go visit India as his parents are bugging him to get married. They have already setup about 5 meetings with would be bride’s parents in the village. As he is the first guy in the village to make it to America – they can demand high amount of Dowry for him. Finally all the investment they made in him is paying off. This is the day they have been waiting for.

Babu arrives, visits all 5 possible bride’s places. Ok’s 3 girls and his parents pick the one who is paying the highest dowry among the 3. He get’s married and brings the mail order bride to the US of A. Before he left for India, Babu got his single friend to move out of the 1 bedroom apartment so that he can live with his new wife now. Let’s call his wife ‘Babi’ (You know I like short names!)

Babu’s Honeymoon

Babu doesn’t know anything about Babi. This is the time to know more about her. Babi is scared to be with a new person and also in a new place. They both go to Las Vegas for their Honeymoon. Babu gets to know more and more about Babi. He decides to fall in love with his wife. He figures – it’s going to be just like his job. Putting out more fires!

Babi’s American experience

Babu is the new teacher of Babi. She is dependent so she can’t work. She be-friends all the other Indian dependent mail order wives in the apartment complex. They have potlucks during weekends. Babi learns to operate Microwave, dish washer, dryer. Babu teaches Babi driving which takes about strenuous 5 months and few minor accidents. For the first time Babu let’s his car get scratches after he bought it. He discards it off as she bought a lot of Dowry to his parents. Babi gets more and more friends and learns to shop by herself. Yes, she uses the same Costco card.

Babu’s new baby

Babu doesn’t waste time. Why waste money buying condoms? Babi is pregnant and this is a good reason to get his parents visit him. He sponsors his parents to visit them for 6 months. He takes his parents to visit Disney land, Las Vegas, NY, Grand Canyon, Florida, San Diego. Babu has a baby boy.

Babu applies for Green Card

After talking to Ram and paying him money to sponsor his own green card (I told you Ram loves money), Babu gets his green card process started. By now he is settled and his job is going good. He has not yet learned the Software in real world and project management which he wanted to. But he is happy. He knows how to make this work. He works like a robot. Totally forgets his dream. Now and then wondering was it worht it? He is just another cog in the wheel. Another modern slave to the capitalistic market. He is just happy that he gets to eat Indian home made food and takes his kid to Indian cultural programs.

Babu’s Future

  • He has one more kid. It’s a girl this time
  • He grows a beard and gets over weight
  • His kids make fun of his English Accent
  • His kids call themselves – ABCD (American Born Confused Desi)
  • He has a receding hair line, eventually goes bald.
  • He still shops at Costco
  • He goes out to eat on weekends with kids (not at Mc Donalds)
  • His kids grow up.
  • He is worried about their education
  • He wants them to excel him and NOT have any false dreams
  • His son turns out Gay (not that there is anything wrong with that)
  • His daughter is dating a black guy
  • He is speechless and shocked.
  • A fitting finale of ‘Nightmare’ to his ‘American Dream’ TM

That’s all folks. Thanks to my many many friends who have gone through most of these experiences and all the acquaintances who shared their stories with me. I could go on and on but my fingers are aching like hell.

That’s the journey of a typical Indian consultant. Next time you see one – just check how he is doing. There is a lot more going on behind that ‘Indian head nod’!

Top 5 things I will miss from India

I will be leaving for US in another 2 days. As I grapple with last minute things and battle the ebb of emotions within me, I realize that there are some things that I am going to miss. My stay in India was for almost 9 months and were filled with many memorable moments. As I look back, this stay here has caused some great changes within me which I welcome and adorn. So, here are my top 5 things that I am going to miss from India.

1. Family: I am going miss all the love, affection and care of my family. These 9 months passed away as a breeze only because I was loved so much here. My relatives love me, respect me and look up to me. It was exciting to be with them for a long stretch. One of the thing which was nice for me was – this time I didn’t get sucked up into any of the dramas. I am going to miss all the love, affection and care of my family.

2. Food: No where would I get food like I do at my home here. My mother is the best cook in the world. I love the food and my mom shows her love towards me through cooking amazing curries. It is also so easy to get some specialized food items outside easily and cheap in India. But I loved my home cooked food as it’s more healthier than outside and I would definitely miss the food.

3. Friends: I never thought I would put this under this list 3 months back. But now it’s a different scenario. I will miss the friends I made in the past 8 months. Some I kinda played mentor and I am looking forward to how their career unfolds. Some I had fun with, I am going to miss those Indian drink sessions. I am also going to miss some very quality tech discussions with Ratheesh. In the past few weeks, I realized that we both have some very close interests in some tech areas and I wish I came to know about this earlier. I am gonna miss having those tech conversations.

4. Color: It’s ironic that I am leaving a day after “Holi” (Festival of Colors). India is much more colorful than US. In US I find only shades of gray and the most stark color would be purple, that too if you live in Berkeley. Here color plays a major cultural role in people’s life. I am kinda used to see a lot of varied colors around me now. It’s going to take some time to get used to subtle and dull colors. I am going to miss the colors around me.

5 . Babies: Not mine! Even though I get so tired and sometimes very crazy tired by my nephews, but I loved spending time with them. Watching them learn to walk, watching them following me like little ducks, watching them learn to say words was an amazing experience. I realized that the first skill which babies learn is “On/Off”. It’s amazing to watch them grow and see how their minds develops. I had so much fun every day playing with them. I am going to miss them terribly.

Muslim Tomb & Hindu Priest

Last weekend we all went to my Grand parent’s place for 4 days. As a part of the ritual, I was supposed to don a hat of a barber (or hold a scissor) and cut my nephew’s hair for the first time. It’s a well known thing in India that a maternal uncle should cut his nephew’s/niece’s hair for the first time. Thank God it’s only one time! It is not as simple as it sounds. This act is usually associated with a holy place. Meaning someone in the family would make a deal with God(TM) that they will visit so and so holy place to offer the hair.

So, in this case it was my nephew’s Grand mother (father’s side) who cut the deal. It was in a “Darga” (Tomb of a holy person) in a very remote village called “Bodapadu”. Yes, we don’t have any qualms about visiting tombs and offering hairs – they could also be used incidentally for tourism purpose for ya all white people.

Anyhow, as we are Muslims – there is a strict code in Muslim law (I haven’t studied it but heard about this taboo a lot many times) that we are not supposed to visit any tombs as Islam is all against with Idolization of our pithy worldly objects. So, we broke that rule. But usually in India all these tombs (the holy ones of course) are all an offshoot of “Sufism” sect. They do belong to Islamic saints but come from a sect where it’s ok to have a tombs built and adorned for you. But a lot of Muslims don’t understand that. There is actually no reference made to Sufism, except that it’s just called plain old wrong. If you think we freak out with Tombs wait till we see the whirling dervishes!

So we broke the rule eh and we traveled to this remote place with hair full of nephews. What shocked me once I got there was – how this place is maintained. It’s all maintained by Hindus! Shocking. It’s gets more shocking – the priests’ of this tomb are actually women! Did you get jaw dropped yet? If not there is one more shocker – all those women are widowed. Oh my.

To put things in perspective for people who are not familiar with India. Here are the steps.

  1. Imagine you go to Vatican to see Pope
  2. You are one of those million people waiting to see ‘him’
  3. Now you are shocked because the pope is actually a woman
  4. As you try to wiggle out from your shock, you also realize that pope is actually a ‘African-American’ woman.
  5. Oooh you say, then you are told that she is actually Gay!

So what are you thinking now? I am sure you must be saying, someone wake me out of this dream. It was something similar to me when I saw a bunch of hindu, widowed, women are playing the act of priests for a Muslim holy saint. Now this is not so un-usual in India. Shirdi Sai Baba a holy saint from Shirdi is actually revered and prayed not only by Muslims, Hindus but also from various religion people.

I was quite amused by the surprise I got. I think Indians in general has some high tolerance capacity for other religions than theirs.

As to my nephew’s hair cut. It went great. His dad fed him chocolates and I cut his hair. So, here is the cutie:

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Here is me in action:

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And after 5 snickers, a lot of cajoling, a barber, a holy place, 15 relatives and some crying here is the outcome – 1 clean tonsured head with some Sandal wood paste on it. Priceless.

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Bricks and Sheep

I find two aspects of Indian system that are very disturbing to me. I try to tell about it to everyone I come across here in India, but not everyone understands it or sees it the way I see it. Hear me out.

1. Bricks – The Educational system: Whenever I think of the Educational system and the IT training system in India, it reminds me of that song “another brick in the wall“. The system just churns out bricks after bricks. Same studies, curriculum and no creativity. I am more close to IT training system here, so I want to pick out an example from there.

Recently I happen to go to the IT training capital of Hyderabad – Ameerpet. I was there to checkout Adobe’s Flex training. I was shocked to see what has happened to the place. The place is filled with posters and banners – everywhere about all the technology training they are offering. The place is filled with pamphlets. Oh, let me correct myself – the place is ‘littered’ with pamphlets. All the time I was there, I was actually walking on them. People just randomly give out details of IT training in those pamphlets. When some guy offered me one, I said no thanks and you should look at his face. He was shocked to see some new response from people. No one there says no to the junk that gets handed over. They just take it and drop it right there on the street!

So, anyhow my point is not about the junk yard IT training. It’s about how all these million training institutes are giving the same training and churning out same damn bricks. A typical Indian guy comes out of college and heads straight to one of these institutes. This is the place where his American dreams are crafted and sharpened (Another blog post on American dreams later) He learns some course which is in hype and everyone else is learning. Putting in no love in what he does. Later enters the market where everyone else and their mom has the same skill set he has.

There is no differentiation. There is no creativity. The training institutes makes a lot of money. The trainers actually mint money. If the trainer is somewhat good, then there is a queue for his classes. I used to attend a class where there were 1000+ students in one class. We used to watch the trainer in a TV sitting in some 50th row. The trainer also can get weird with their hubris – once I attended a very popular class on EJB (don’t bother if you don’t know what it is – the world doesn’t care) where the trainer came to class drunk! He did a great job of lecturing though.

So, my point is – almost all the training institutes do the same old training and make a lot of money. The end result is we have a lot of Indian techie population who are trained in same things. There is a reason for these bricks and that’s my second point.

2. Sheep – The herd mentality of Indians: At my job I tend to mingle with everyone. I talk to almost everyone and check what they do and how they are doing whatever they are doing. I try to talk to young people who joined the company recently and ask them questions as to what they want to become. I don’t blame them for not knowing what they want, but I do feel uncomfortable by the way they are thinking.

These guys, most of them are in IT field because:

  1. Someone told them that there is more money in it.
  2. Their cousin did it.
  3. It’s cool to sit in front of a computer all day (You can browse!)
  4. Most frequent and important reason – Everyone else is doing it.

I feel so sorry for them. All these sheep that are coming in to IT world are just going to be some tech slaves to someone in some corner of the world. Not many of them are in Tech field because they actually love it. Very few and very rare to find a non-sheep in there. These guys just blindly follow what others are doing. They have some ideas about how they do “follow the often followed path”. Everyone thinks that they are doing it different, but frigging no. They just think that they do, but they are just following someone in the tech field.

When they ask me questions about my career and my life, I always tell them that I always tried to differentiate. That’s how I got so far. I always wanted to stand out in my field. So, I end up learning different language other than Java (gasp!). I try to read people, software management books even though I am not doing management actively (gasp!). I try to draw up my thoughts, ideas etc on white paper rather than typing the code first (gasp!, you should look at my school exam papers – they are filled with my creative art. Hehe)

I believe we are all unique. If God intended or made us same then we all would be carpenters – Hint: Jesus. But nope. He made us unique. It means that we as human beings, every one of us,has something in us which is so unique that there exists nothing else like that in this universe. It’s our job to find that out and just enhance it. Viola. The world would love you for just doing that. To follow some dumb, rotten well followed path means to ignore the uniqueness within us and disrespect the uniqueness that Universe has bestowed upon us.

My unique interests are Technology, Software, Economics, Spirituality, Cognitive Science – all mixed up together. I add a little of all of the above when I write code or pick out a language to learn.

So, coming back to sheep. This herd mentality actually hurts companies, teams, even our country. These sheep produce crappy software, crappy team management etc., because they are not in the business because they love it but someone else has led them there. I know a lot of guys, who actually, literally cried in front of me because they couldn’t work on Java! They were frigging working on far more advanced projects and technolgy than Java. But they were whining about not being able to work on Java. Why? Because their friends we able to go to US of A because they knew Java. Phew! It’s like their hands are in India and heads are in US.

So, I conclude:

Sheep Mentality + Brick Training == One nation of followers

If you think seriously, so far India hasn’t done anything pioneering in Software/Technology even after having so many tech aware people. We are all good followers, but never make good leaders. I think it has something to do with those 400 years British ruled us. The imperialistic mind tend to follow instructions a lot than making it’s own rules. We lost it so much that now we have to learn Ayurveda from Westerners. We are a very good nation for BPO work. And if you come across any great leader in India, just look back and see where the person did his/her education or work in the past – I bet it’s some western country. Don’t believe me? Checkout Gandhi’s history!

So I end this with one last thing, if we ever do a evolution chart for Indian Tech people it would be something like this:

Brick -> Sheep Evolution

Hesitation, Repetition and Irritation

Disclaimer # 1: I am Indian and not only am I a victim of these behaviors but also I did propagate them to some extent.

Disclaimer # 2: I am generalizing based up on my personal experience, not all Indians behave like this. I don’t have statistics – but I do have a test case if you wanna try out – ME.

In all these months we have been here me and Sang have discussed this topic in very much detail. Sang also wanted to blog about it, but I haven’t seen it on her blog and also very recently I encountered this behavior system in much more detail level so I thought I would explain this.

Indians usually have one very dominant behavior pattern. To see the whole picture is not easy, because this behavior comes out in bits and pieces. After a very keen observation of what’s going on – we were able to conclude some things. Out of these the most dominant behavior patterns are – Hesitation, Repetition and Irritation. Let me explain:

Hesitation: It’s a very common trait among most Indians. They are usually hesitant to do or to say anything. For example imagine a fun activity going on with a bunch of people in there – It would be rare to find a Indian man walk into a strange place with no friends along his side and ask confidently to a stranger coming along “What’s going on here?”. Instead you would come cross, a very slow and sad attempt to know what is going on. By the time he walks in, he already made 50% assumption of what is going on. Well his version of 50%. Then there would be pause and then it would start like “Umm..Aaaaah…What is going on here?”.

It usually starts with hesitation. So we have it depicted here.

Hesitation

I believe it’s because we feel very threatened to any alien situation. I mean anyone can feel like that, but the tendency of an Indian to feel threatened is more. This comes out of the feeling that we might hold that we don’t know about the situation ahead. Ignorance. I also believe that those 100+ years British ruled us, they have colonised our thinking and made us to get scared of any alien/different situation. We need directions(More on this, in a later post)

So, the hesitation usually sprouts from ignorance. So we got it covered here.

Hesitation <– Ignorance

Now, if there is any other person, what I mean by that is a middle aged Caucasian man – it would be easy for him to admit the ignorance and move on to knowledge and participation. But not for an Indian. I believe that this Ignorance comes out of something called – Confusion. We really don’t know what to believe. Should we go with our tradition, should we go with Western one? Should we mix it up? People make fun of American born Indians by calling them – ABCD: American Born Confused Desi. But in reality, we, who are born here, are as much confused as the American born. We have Levi’s, Snickers, Cereal, Oatmeal too. Big deal. It’s as much culturally shocking here as it is in America. What more? We didn’t want to offend any God, so we have God in many forms and shapes – adding more to the confusion of an Indian born confused. So, anyhow before I digress I want to capture this.

The Ignorance sprouts out of Confusion. So we have it down here.

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But do you think that out of all this hesitation, Ignorance, Confusion we are ready to admit it and act on it? He he. No way. I have already blogged about how the toughest thing for an Indian is to admit that he/she is wrong. So, we defend our Ignorance – call it Modern Spirituality. We defend our Confusion – call it unity in diversity. We defend our hesitation – call it humbleness. And why? All because we have egos bigger than our real selves. We walk around with Egos larger than life.

So, let’s capture it too. Ego stops us from seeing the faults with in us.

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Repetition: Imagine you are an alien. Just landed on Earth. If I take you to a remotest place in India and leave it there for you to figure it out. After 5 days you would start to think that Indians must be born deaf. Or you must come to believe that we are wicked dumb. Bear with me. This is a very hard trait to observe, especially when you are doing it. Indians have a habit of repeating what they say. For example, if they are asking someone to “Turn Left”, this is how it would go.

“TurnLeft TurnLeft TurnLeft TurnLeft TurnLeft TurnLeft TurnLeft TurnLeft”

Each Turn Left command getting closer and closer to the earlier one. Believe me this happens for real – in all frigging situations. In fact we are so used to it that it’s very hard to detect it. Next time when you are talking to an Indian try observing this.

I have a theory as to why we repeat stuff. I think partly it’s the confusion in us which just wants to confirm one thing to someone many times. It’s based on fear. We usually go through a lot in 1 day here. So our natural thinking is based on fear and we act it out. Also dousing this with “Hesitation” we get more agitated and repeat stuff. For example: In our earlier case where a Indian guy walks in to a strange situation and he is hesitating to ask what’s going on, and if it were to be an Indian there – he would just go:

“What do you want? What do you want? What do you want? What do you want?”

People use “Repetition” as a tactic to counter “Hesitation”. So, let’s get that in there.

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Irritation: This is usually the outcome of the first two traits. I don’t know why but most of the time Indians are Irritated. Or at least in places like, train reservations, banks, post offices, traffic, buses, taxis etc. I believe that the Irritation comes from by looking down on people who are ignorant. When I go into a bank it’s assumed that I am supposed to know everything in there. People who work there get irritated with a slight question. Add to this, the hesitation on my behalf to ask the question and coupled it with the repetition from the guy – gets born Irritation. People are irritated with small things and for no good reason. So, let’s capture this.

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I also have one last idea about this triumvirate. It comes from the 3 most popular Gods of India

Repetition == Lord Brahma – who is the creator of this world

Lord Brahma

Hesitation == Lord Vishnu who is the maintainer of this world

Lord Vishnu

Irritation == Lord Shiva, who gets pissed of this hesitation and repetition and opens up his 3rd eye to destroy this world!

Lord Shiva

That’s all folks.

Reflections

As I was stuck in the traffic while on my way home – I was tired and when I looked up, there it was – a very beautiful moon. It’s been a long time I even cared to look at moon. I have been a long fan of looking at moon since I was a kid – I am not really sure why, but I guess a bit of meditation and journaling will reveal that. As I was enjoying the moon among the million honks and shouts – my thoughts wandered off to how I was feeling 8 months back.

In the month of July 2007, as we were planning to move to India, I was excited. We had a future we didn’t know. It was kinda bold to leave everything behind and move. But both me and Sang took it in a positive spirit. Only difference was that sometimes, Sangita was disturbed by the idea of moving to India and expressed it openly and I did not. I knew for sure, that it would be good but was not sure what I would be missing out.

In these past 8 months of my stay here in India I have come to realize that a part of me has been completely eroded. I have totally ignored a very active part of me. As I inquired on what triggered these thoughts in me – I should be thankful to our friends who came and visited us. Sarah & Lisa’s visit is a turning point in our stay in India. After hanging out with them, I happen to notice exactly what I am missing out.

So, here are couple of things that I miss most from not living in USA.

1. Meaningful Conversations: Yep, I have got Sang and we talk a lot. We talk about life, India, love, creativity, God, did I mention India? Everything under the sun. Sangita is the only person with whom I can have a very meaningful conversation. When we lived with Lynn and Allison it was more than just 1 person. Both of our room-mates were equally interested in the topics that we are interested in – spirituality, individuality, life, passion, love. It was very easy to start a very deep meaning conversations. The threshold was very low.

In India, very rarely have I come across people who would connect to me at that level. They are already spooked by my accent and the fact that I have a very flexible notion of life scares them off (now a goatee!). There were some flashes in pan now and then, but I haven’t met anyone with whom I want to talk about the topics I am most passionate about.

2. Chilling Out, Unwinding: When I used to come back home after work (it would just take me 30 mins to come home) we had a whole set of relaxing ‘tools’ at our disposal in US. I would grab a drink, slouch on cozy sofa and watch TV or chat with our room mates. It’s kinda weird that in India, I usually have lost my urge to drink. I mean I do have a ability to swing between extremities of my addictions but the thought of just grabbing a beer and relaxing never occurs to me. Yeah, my family not quite liking the fact that I am capable of drinking weighs in a lot though.

So, the way I would unwind is totally missing. I have my own meditation rituals in the night time and sometimes, I wonder may be those are the things that are keeping me sane. I miss how I could relax in the evening and unwind.

3. Silence: You know when you come from US to India, the first thing you observe is how noisy the whole environment is. In 8 months, I have gotten used to it but when we were in Jaipur we attended 1 day Vipassana meditation workshop (more stories on this in next post) and there I happen to witness what silence feels like. I was able to feel slight vibrations in my body and could hear out my own heart beat -consciously. I realized that it is how it feels in US. It is so quiet and it helps a lot to keep our senses low and peaceful.

4. Nature, Greenery: This is something I miss a lot. Even though we were not hardcore nature lovers back in US, we were at least living in a place where there is a lot of greenery and we would sometimes take a hike in nearby hills. It was doable and it was fun. Here we live in a area which is a concrete jungle. I saw the last tree on our street being cut down last week for some real estate property. Planning a hike in nature is near to impossible as you would be the only person who does that and God knows what would happen.  I miss the greenery around me.

5. Friends: In addition to having meaningful talks – it’s also helpful to have good friends. We thought we would make some by starting a local Expat group here. It was terrible. Sangita got harassed and I was bored of the people. Except for few of them I met, no one was good friend material. Yes, I have couple of colleagues who qualify for being friends but they are leaving the company or they can’t have good conversations. So, we both and I know Sangita a lot than me – miss our friends a lot.

Our Wonderful Vacation – Day # 4

Premise: Our friends – Sarah and Lisa are visiting us for 10 days and we are planning a tour of North India with them.

Disclaimer: I am donning a ‘Nostalgic hat’

Date: 28th Dec, 2007

Day # 1 Day # 2 Day # 3

8:00AM, Hotel Narain Niwas: We all got up and got ready. We were supposed to checkout at 10 and the guy just offered us complimentary breakfast for only 2 people. So, we sent out our white troops to go fetch some free breakfast for us. Both Sarah and Lisa were good sport. They went for the complimentary breakfast (where they had a great breakfast and also saw some slutty dressed woman) and stole us some toasts and butter! Me and Sagita had those stolen toasts in our room. Yes, we did steal those toasts because we wanted to save 500Rs for some simple breakfast.

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10:00AM, Checkout: As we checked out, our driver ‘Hansraj’ came to me and told me that he went around looking for place to stay in the morning. He found couple of them for us. He is such a nice guy. So, we tagged along with him and yes, once again Sarah’s big ass suitcase went on top of the car.

By now we discussed and sort of decided that we cannot make it to Dharamshala. I should commend both Sarah & Lisa for being so flexible in their thinking. Even though I sort of feel bad for not being able to take them to Dharamshala, the way they took everything was amazing. I was expecting them to be grumpy about it. But both of them were so nice, they just wanted to have some good time. This helped me a lot as I was already feeling so bad about missing out Dharamshala.

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10:30AM, Hotel Rajasthan Palace, Jaipur: We went to check a hotel which was kinda pricey (2400Rs/night) and also didn’t allow 4 people to be in 1 room. Yes, after 4 days of traveling we got so cozy and felt like we are in college and can stay in 1 room decently. So, it didn’t work out. But the hotel next to it was not a problem. This guy offered us a room @ 1000Rs/night, but we wanted the price to go down. Finally we got a 2 rooms right next to each other for 800Rs/night. It was a good deal as we planned to stay there for couple of days.

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11:30AM, In our car, Jaipur: We were planning to do a walking tour of the city from the Lonely Planet book. But our driver advised us that we should cover all the long distance tourist points as we have access to car for 2 days only. We agreed, and also our driver was smart enough to think of that.

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12:00PM, Jaigad Fort, jaipur: We drove to the top of the mountain arriving at Jaigad Fort. This was a backup fort for King in those old days to keep all his artillery. As usual, our American friends had to shell out more money in entrance fee than us.

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One thing to note is that – all the time, there is some topic going on under discussion. It could be life, marriage, love, US, India, travel, Oakland, Weddings, Cleveland, Indian tops, ‘Golden Star’ (I promise I will explain all about this in my next post). So, just imagine a car filled with laughter, talk and making fun of each other.

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So once we got inside the fort, we went around to some 2 temples inside. Saw some artillery, old guns etc. Then a guy volunteered himself to take us around. We warned him that we are not looking for a guide, but he insisted that he works there and he is not a guide. So we followed him. He showed us the water tank and how Elephants were used to get the water from down below the valley to the fort. The fort had a fountain back then. A frigging huge one! Those guys some 300 years back cared to have a fountain and make it work without any water pumping systems in place. So cool.

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We saw the royal kitchen, dining hall and puppet show. As we were looking down the mountain, we learned that Amber palace is down the hill and we can walk up there. We can walk to AMber palace from Jaigad fort just like the queen used to go on her Elephant. Awesome. So, we took the cobblestone path down there. We informed our driver to come and pick us up at Amber palace.

Once we got to Amber palace – it was packed. There were so many people(where are they NOT?) So we decided that it’s not worth to go inside the palace.

3:00PM, Rajasthan Tourism Dept store, Jaipur: We stopped by in a Govt. recognized store. The girls bought some stuff. But as usual it takes couple of hours. This is where both Sarah and Lisa started their hunt for perfect wall hangings. I took a break by having some tea and after 2 hours and some purchases we were ready to roll.

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6:30PM, Choki Dhani, Jaipur: Choki Dhani is an amazing place. It’s a huge place which is like a planned village. It has all the stuff from Rajasthan culture, cuisine, dance, traditions etc. I loved the idea and I think every state should have something like that. For the first time we paid equal amount for tickets – 450Rs.(which includes a traditional Rajasthani dinner)

We wandered around – watching people having fun. Lisa shook a leg with a guy disguised as a woman. Sarah was always doing her dance as we walked. It was like something/someone got into her! Sangita got louder and louder. It was all fun. We were starving. So, we went to a place to eat, and I think it was not yet time to serve food – so a bunch of guys just came to us and stood in circle around us. I knew that they were NOT checking out my goatee.

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As it got too freakish there we moved to a different dinner place. It was a traditional Rajasthani food. Little did we knew about the food then. We sat down to eat our food. It was kinda dark and we got served in leaf plates. There is one thing I learned about Rajsthani food that night. They eat hell a lot of sweet. Damn. So, we got served a lot of sweets and then some maize rotis. The bread tasted like cardboard. The curries varied in taste. Added to this all we couldn’t see our food.

Sangita didn’t knew what she was chewing on to and accidentally chewed a cup made of mud which was holding butter. Sarah just amused herself by how she can’t eat anything. I think she ate a granola bar she had in stock(Good work Josh) Lisa made weird face and said that did not go well with her. One thing about Indian serving is: when you say enough, I don’t want any – they do the exact opposite. Poor Sarah, she didn’t knew this – by the end of our dinner, she had so much food in her plate, oh my.

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As we got out of that place, we knew we hate Rajasthani food now. No more traditional, local food. After food, we wandered around in Choki Dhani – I got a head massage, all the girls got Henna on their hands. They looked really good when they were dancing with Henna. 🙂

10:30PM, Rajasthan Palace Hotel, Jaipur: Tired as hell and feeling weird about the food we ate we crouched back in our beds. The rooms were cold. Rajasthan would be hot during day and get very cold during nights. We decided that we will go for our Elephant & Camel rides next day.

Read Day # 5

Our Wonderful Vacation – Day # 3

Premise: Our friends – Sarah and Lisa are visiting us for 10 days and we are planning a tour of North India with them.

Disclaimer: I am donning a ‘Loving hat’

Date: 27th Dec, 2007

Day # 1 Day # 2

7:00AM, Pahargunj, Delhi: After checked out of our hotel, we walked towards the street where we met our new driver. The travel agent said, it would be someone by name “Jai Kishan”, but it turned out to be “Hansraj”. (I should stop here and mention about our driver. He is the best driver and most amazing guy you would meet in Delhi. He speaks very good English and he drives very carefully. He is just amazing. If you happen to be in Delhi and looking for a car rental – call him on 09891539684). Since we had about 4 big bags, we decided to get one bag on top of our car. Sarah had a big suitcase and it won the contest of going on top by default. But we all could tell the strain in Sarah’s face all the way to Agra as she was worried that the suicase might just drop off!

As we drove to Agra and started our long drive, I chatted with our driver about the distance and about the fields around us. He was also telling us about how he can take us to Dharamshala too, if we wanted.

10:00AM, rest area, somewhere in Haryana: We stopped by a rest area and had our breakfast. Sarah and Lisa got eat their favorite – Porridge and we had Omelettes. As we walked out of our restaurant we saw a snake charmer and we all wanted to take a look. Sangita volunteered to put a cobra around her neck. Lisa stayed away. Sarah, as usual, was video taping the whole thing and I was taking photos. It was just a small thing and as I went up to give the old man some money – he demanded 200Rs. It was crazy to shell out 200Rs for just touching a snake. I gave him 10 bucks and I guess he cussed us out.

Sangita & Snake Charmer

12:45PM, Railways Reservation, Agra: We decided that we will get our tickets to Dharamshala before we go visit Taj Mahal. So we ended up in this stinky and old railway reservation building. After filling in the reservation form, I was standing in line and all the girls were waiting. After a long time Lisa walked next to me to check and the guy inside the counter saw a White girl walking by and he just yelled at Lisa to come to the front of the line. As he was shaking his head vigorously to convey the meaning – to which Lisa totally didn’t respond – I had to tell him that she was with me and I am in line.

So, finally when my turn came, we came to know that there are no tickets available either to go to Dharamshala or to come back on the dates we wanted. The waiting list was 19 in 2nd class AC. This caused a lot of mental trouble to me, as I started to get worried about it. Finally we decided that we should just go see Taj first and later worry about our trip to Dharamshala.

1:30PM, Front gate, Taj Mahal: The foreigner discrimination showed it ugly face again. We paid 20Rs for our tickets to Taj Mahal and our friends paid 750Rs each! That’s crazy. So, after we got harassed by various people who wanted to take us inside from the other entrance (God know where that is) and guys who wanted to be our friends and guides – we finally managed to stand in a line that took forever. After about 1 1/2 hour we managed to get in.

3:00PM Taj Mahal: It’s impossible to explain when you first see Taj Mahal first time. It’s just so huge. I was overwhelmed by it. It was just beautiful. Wow. What a way of showing love? Even though it’s a silly tomb – the whole conceptualization and someone dared to think like that just overtook me with immense feeling. Everyone in our group was in amazement. We took lot’s of pictures, videos – especially Sarah posing and Lisa dancing. A lot of people approached our friends and asked them whether they can take a picture of them. It was fun for them to be celebrities and they kinda ran away from people who asked them for pictures.

Taj Mahal

4:30PM Taj Mahal: Note to self – next time I go to Taj Mahal make sure I have my lunch before I go in. We all were starving. We spent good amount of time devouring Taj and then decided to go out and have a actual meal.

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5:00PM, some hotel, Agra: We all had the worst Indian food ever. The curries were bland and sort of raw. I think seeing white people they just decided not use any chilly powder and salt. Instead they gave us pickle to add flavor to our curries.

After late lunch, we decided that we will try our luck with tickets again. So, we ended up at the reservation counter again. No luck. All the trains were full and we had no clue what to do. We called our hotel room which booked in Jaipur to tell them about our late arrival. The hotel we booked our stay for 2 nights was “Umaid Bhavan” but they told us that there were no rooms available. Even after we paid for the rooms! This was crazy. That stupid site said the rooms are available and now we come to know that there are no rooms. Me and Sangita were pretty depressed.

5:30PM, Railway station, Agra: This was amazing. Sarah sprang into action. Suddenly she became the super hero. She charged us all up with action. As we drove from Agra to Jaipur, she helped Sangita to make calls to all other hotels in Jaipur so that we can get a stay for that night. We knew that we will get to Jaipur late in the night and we need to make sure we have a place to stay. So after making about 20 calls frantically – we finally found a place which had a room and accommodate all 4 of us in 1 room. It was kinda pricey but we were relaxed a bit to know that we have something when we arrive in Jaipur.

11:00PM, Hotel Narain Niwas, Jaipur: As we walked in the hotel manager (Sunny) was kinda surprised to know that we were 4. He assumed that there were only 2 people. So we hit another road block. He said we have to pay 8000Rs for 1 night for all 4 of us. It was ridiculous, we were all tired and this guy was loud and hyper. Finally Sangita talked him into giving us a room for 2 people and charge us extra 1000Rs for 2 beds. It finally came down to 6000Rs – the most expensive hotel we stayed in all our trip.

11:30PM, Our hotel room: This hotel was a heritage hotel. It was a beautiful place. The room was just amazing. I had to bribe the guy to get us 2 space heaters. We all had showers – actual showers with hot water after such a long time. Our driver got to sleep in some driver’s quarters.

Finally the crazy day where we witnessed the amazing Taj Mahal and frantic phone calls to find a place came to an end. As we went to sleep it was kinda dawning upon us that may be we won’t make it to Dharamshala.

Hotel Narain Niwas
Read Day # 4

Me, Myself and My Goatee

India is a country where you get feedback about random things – just like that and immediate. As a part of hacking my life, I have decided to grow a goatee (well, it has been Sang’s idea from the past 2 years). As we were going on a 10 day trip, I chose that as an opportunity to grow one as I would be away from home.

Our American friends were, as usual, very nice. They said it was good and it looked nice. The feedback was not immediate as in India as in US it is considered to be rude to comment on someone’s physical thingys. Sangita is excited. When we got back, I got a bunch of feedback though:

“You look too old in your goatee”My Mother

“You look like you are a father to 4 kids”My Sister

“Goatees’ bring good luck to some and bad luck to some. Be careful and watch which bucket your Goatee belongs to”My Another Sister

“May be you should shave off your beard and keep the Mustache”A Collegue

“You look weird”A Collegue

“You look so different”A Collegue

“What happened to you????”A Friend

“Did you forget your razor on your trip?”A very common joke from everyone

“Ah……Akbar…..Ummmm….Ah”A bunch of people

“Hmm.”A girl

“Looking Hot”Sang

“Ow, Ow. Nice”Shyam

Our Wonderful Vacation – Day # 2

Premise: Our friends – Sarah and Lisa are visiting us for 10 days and we are planning a tour of North India with them.

Disclaimer: I am donning a ‘Details hat’

Date: 26th Dec, 2007

Day # 1

9:30AM, our home: We all enjoyed tasty dosas with coconut chutney. Lisa love coconuts and she loved the Chutney. We got busy packing and I was spazzing for a while as my mom thought I was left out last in packing my bag.

12:00PM, Hyderabad Airport: Sarah is surprised about the lax of security at the Airport. No one asked her any ID or anything. She could totally have been someone else and still fly to Delhi. Some lady try to cut us in our line and Sangita yelled at her.

4:00PM, Delhi Airport: Hustling to find a taxi to rent for the rest of the day. Hertz says – 2500Rs, some other guy – 2000Rs. Finally we settle down to Delhi Tourism dept or something who rented the car for 1200Rs. We were meeting our friends – Jacob & Vinitika for dinner later at night. So after calling them, we figured that we should head towards Haus Khaz.

We meet our first good driver – Umesh from Karnataka. He explains a lot of things to us about Delhi and understands and speaks good English. On our way we stop by to get some Dollars exchanged – 1$ == 38.40Rs. So as we were travelling to Haus Khaz – there was this biker who was driving ahead of us and suddenly out of nowhere he drives on a stone/something on the road and flips over, make s somersault and hits the lamp post. The most brutal accident I ever witnessed. Sarah being seated in the middle watched it too and we were all horrified. We talked to the driver about informing police, and he said we can do so if we plan to stay in the Police station that night. We were just speechless for next 30 mins till we reached Hauz Khas.

6:00PM, Hauz Khas: We are all shocked to see how fancy that place was. Pretty boutiques, nice apartments, restaurants and some really really beautiful people. For a moment we were thinking that we are in the village area of NYC. Delhi is damn good. We were all in love with it. Hyderabad has no where near to Delhi.

We walked around and waited for our friends. Finally Jacon and Vinitika arrived and we decided to go out for some drinks and dinner.

With Jacob and Vinitika

7:00PM, Gola bar: We had good time over drinks. Sarah was tired and Lisa was fading away. Me and Jacob had some good discussions about how our working patterns are changing. After our drinks we head out to a ‘Chettinad’ Restaurant and have some Appam and Chicken Gassi. Everyone loved the food.

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10:00PM, Goodbyes: We had some nice paan and then bid goodbye to Jacob and Vinitika. Vinitika got us a room to stay for 1 night in Delhi. Since we thought we will be in only for couple of hours, we should go with a cheap hotel.

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10:30PM, Pahargunj, Delhi: As our driver took through the narrow and dirty streets of Pahargunj to find our hotel. This was a totally sketchy place. Sarah, Lisa and Sangita were already scared to be there. As we stopped to ask for directions at a place. One weird guy just pounded on our car – to which everyone shrieked. His name was “Pappu Pager”. He was promising us a place to stay and would never shut up. She tried to grab my phone from me as I was talking to the hotel people. He was high and drunk and just yap away. It was kinda fun to watch him move, shake and twitch. Our friends refused to get out of the car till we see someone from Hotel to come pick us up.

Finally someone turns up and takes us to the hotel room.

11:30PM, Hotel Star Paradise, Pahargunj, Delhi: We check into a room. Since we were planning to stay there for just 4 hours we all stayed in 1 room. The rent for the room was 400Rs + 200Rs for extra bed. Once we are in, this guy brings in a extra cot and some really really dirty mattress. I was so ‘excited’ to sleep on it. Our American friends refuse to even use the blankets from the hotel.

12:30AM, our hotel room, Delhi: We figured that we won’t get tickets to ‘Shatabdi Express’ next day heading out to Agra. So, I call Umesh to get a price quote from Delhi -> Agra -> Jaipur. Finally after a little bit of haggling, we decide on a price: 7200Rs for taking us from Delhi to Agra and then to Jaipur and then staying with us in Jaipur for 2 days till we board the train for Dharmashala.

4:30AM, our hotel room, Delhi: Sarah didn’t sleep at all. We were awake and getting ready. There was no hot water – so we all took cold showers. Imagine – Delhi, early morning and it was freezing like hell. We all took ice chilled cold water baths. Damn. I was quite pissed off but as Sarah, Lisa and Sangita started to make jokes about the hotel and how we are all scared to be there, I became ok about it. They were all very sportive about it we checked out of the nasty shit hole.

Shit Hole
Read Day # 3