Monday, February 4, 2008

LPG cyclinders

LPG cylinders being delivered in an autorickshaw. Cylinders from different companies have different colors. Some are red, some are blue, and these are red-blue-yellow. Most households use LPG cylinders for cooking. In Mumbai they deliver gas through pipes. There always seems to be a shortage of gas cylinders and sometimes it can take many days before a replacement arrives, so many families have two cylinders. To get a cylinder you have to be registered with an LPG cylinder dealer. To register you need to produce a ration card which acts as a proof of residence (even if you are not buying anything on the ration card. Things such as rice and kerosene are available at cheaper rates on ration card.) I am not quite sure how people who come to the city on a short duration of a few months manage because they would first have to obtain a ration card. Now-a-days many autorickshaws run on LPG. I have heard that the people who deliver the LPG cylinders make money by selling the cylinders to the autorickshaw drivers for some extra money, and they tell the dealer (for whom they are delivering) that the customer's door was locked. I have also heard that people who run out of gas for cooking, bribe the LPG delivery guys and get a cylinder from them. I am not quite sure how the delivery guys exchange the empty cylinder they bring back to the dealer. There are LPG filling stations for the autorickshaws but they are not enough to fulfill the demand. Just like petrol prices, the prices of LPG cylinders is a sensitive issue in politics and usually prices don't go up till the elections.

The autorickshaw delivering the cylinders is made by Piaggio. The Italian company, which makes the world-famous Vespa scooters, will once again be introducing Vespa scooters in India.

For the language buffs - it says "Bharatgas" on the cylinders. The word "Bharat" is the official name of India in Hindi, Sanskrit and Marathi languages. The name in other Indian languages is a close variation of this word.

"Natural gas is hemispheric. I like to call it hemispehric in nature because it is a product that we can find in our neighborhoods." -George W. Bush

Thursday, January 31, 2008

A Head Above The Rest

I saw these characters attracting attention at the opening of this bakery. I don't recognize the characters. This is the first time I have seen these for the opening of a new shop. The man on the chair is preparing for the opening by hanging garlands of fresh flowers. Now-a-days I have seen the sidewalks have various patterns formed by cement blocks of two or more colors. Traditionally sidewalks (footpaths) are lined with stone slabs, but in some places, especially in front of shops, they use these two-tone interlocking cement blocks, which are easy to remove and replace during repair work.

Many of these bakeries don't bake their breads and biscuits, but rather are supplied by people who make it somewhere else. Sometimes you see these baked goods being carried on a bicycle to such bakeries. The goods are not even covered and are open to dust and flies. But once inside a nice-looking display case, it is difficult to imagine how it got there. Some of these bakeries bake their own pizza though.

"Nothing seems to please a fly so much as to be taken for a currant; and if it can be baked in a cake and palmed off on the unwary, it dies happy." -Mark Twain

Monday, January 28, 2008

9999 Bottles Of Beer On The Wall

The walls of this house are lined with beer bottles! The top narrow part of the bottle has been removed, and only the bottom cylindrical part has been used. I tried to take a closer photo (below) but unfortunately my photography skills are rather poor and I have not been able to get a shot good enough where you can see the bottles clearly. (I could see the bottles by zooming in using Windows Picture Viewer.) I stood across the house on the other side of the street and took the photo. I did not have much time to take the photo and I was feeling pressured because there was a "no paking" sign from where I was taking the photo and there were guards standing there because it is the house of the Chief Justice.

I thought of the title "9999 bottles of beer on the wall" based on the song 99 bottles of beer on the wall, and later while looking at the magnified picture of the house, I saw it has the number "99" on both sides of the gate!! I wonder if the owner knows the song! In front of the gate a rangoli drawing can be seen. Rangoli drawings can be seen in front of most houses, if not in front of the gate, then inside the gate in the yard, and are usually made by the maid servants when they sweep the yard and sprinkle it with water in the morning, but sometimes female members of the family which resides in the house also make the drawings.

The British beer company Cobra Beer was created by a Hyderabadi called Karan Billimoria. Cobra Beer is setting up plants in India now.

Have you ever had Indian beer?

"I was court-ordered to Alcoholics Anonymous on television. Pretty much blows the hell out of the second A, wouldn't you say?" -
Paula Poundstone

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Desert Coolers

These desert coolers are on display on a sidewalk in front of an appliance store. Summer is fast approaching and it will be pretty hot soon. These desert coolers are very noisy but they are supposed to cool the room like an air conditioner. Because they are noisy and take up space, they are placed in a balcony, or outside a window. They are also called Nagpur desert coolers because they are very common in the central Indian city of Nagpur where the temperature is usually over 40C (104F) during summers. Here as well the average maximum temperature during summer has increased to 40C - 43C , so perhaps some people prefer these desert coolers, not to mention that these are significantly cheaper compared to an air conditioner. There are other kinds of coolers which look nicer but they don't cool as much as these, although they have a pretty good air throw. On three sides of the cooler there are "curtains" or "filters" made of grass. Sometimes a kind of fragrant dried grass called khus is used which gives a nice sweet smell to the air coming out of the coolers.

In the background there is a white car called "Ambassador". It is a very popular car sold in India since 1957 and is based on the Morris Oxford Series III. Many government officials still user/prefer this car. The ex-Chief Minister of this state has what is called as "Z-plus" class security, and wherever he went there were five exactly identical white Ambassadors accompanying him. They all had the same number plates. His car was bullet and mine-proof. Today, I saw the Republic Day parade in Delhi on the TV and many of the ministers were shown getting down from cars which looked similar to the one in the picture. The French President Nicolas Sarkozy was the chief guest at the Republic Day celebrations.

Also in the background is a signboard which says "Ladies Tailors". This particular building has several tailor shops. Even though the city is flooded with ready made clothes shops in the recent years, there are still quite a few tailors around. Another sign is that of the Korean company Samsung, which sells appliances, TVs, cell phones and computers here. Other Korean companies which are doing very good business here are Hyundai and LG.

Language buffs may find it interesting to know that Samsung means "tristar" (sam = three, sung = star) and Hyundai means "modern" in Korean. They are phonetically similar to the Chinese words san (three), xing/shing (star) and xiandai (modern).

How can the weather be hot as hell one day and cold as hell another?" -Unknown

I was given the "You Made My Day" award by bc.
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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

"Inauguration of Modern Lighting"

Click on photo to enlarge

These banners advertise the inauguration of the "modern lighting" by an MP (Member of Parliament), an MLA (Member of Legislative Assembly), and a member of the ruling party. The new street lights are on taller poles and the electric cables are underground. Sometimes you see the name of the public official who "inaugurated" a particular high-powered street light - on a plaque placed at the bottom of the pole! If I get a chance I will photograph one of those. It is the custom in India to have someone "important" inaugurate pretty much anything - a new train service (usually the railway minister or someone high in the Railways), a new plane service (the aviation minister), a new shop (local politicians or film stars) and so on. It is also the custom to place photos of these important people in the newspapers when an inauguration is advertised. I just wonder how they have time to go around inaugurating these things when there is so much work to be done... Perhaps they coordinate these things with other work they have in the area - yeah, right!!

The politicians above may be fine politicians, but it is a sad fact that many MPs and MLAs are convicted criminals, especially in the North and the East, and some have cases against them for very serious and violent crimes. But I think that is a facet of democracy. It is indeed very ironic that the police who are trying to put them behind bars are forced to provide security and protection for them once they are in public office! Attempts to introduce bills to bar criminals from running for public offices have failed...

Do you have important politicians doing such inaugurations where you live?

"Ninety eight percent of the adults in this country are decent, hardworking, honest Americans. It's the other lousy two percent that get all the publicity. But then, we elected them." -Lilly Tomlin

"Politics: "Poli" a Latin word meaning "many", and "tics" meaning "bloodsucking creatures"." -Robin Williams

"Men say I am a saint losing himself in politics. The fact is that I am a politican trying my hardest to become a saint." -Mahatma Gandhi

Sunday, January 20, 2008

"Only For Indian Market"

We bought this bottle of pickle from the store below. It says "Sweet Ginger Pickle". Because I like sweet stuff, I took a big dollop of it on my food and was soon gasping. It was HOT. Not hot as ginger is, but hot as chilli. I checked the ingredients: "Ginger paste, Jaggery, Edible vegetable oil, Tamarind, Salt, Chilli powder and Other spices". Now, for some reason I thought the ingredients were supposed to be listed in the order of decreasing quantity. Perhaps they did, and the chilli is extra hot - after all they haven't listed which chilli and India has many varieties of chilli including the hottest chilli in the world. Upon retrospect, the warning in red should have alerted me - "ONLY FOR INDIAN MARKET"!! However, not all Indians eat (or can eat) hot stuff! "Sweet(ness)" seems to be a relative term. This thing about degrees of hotness reminds me of my favorite Mark Twain quote below.

In India cold weather is merely a conventional phrase and has come into use through the necessity of having some way to distinguish weather which will melt a brass door-knob and weather which will only make it mushy." -Mark Twain, Following the Equator

Friday, January 18, 2008

New Retail Shops

New retail shops are opening up all over the city and all over India. This shop, called Reliance Fresh, is opened by the Reliance Industries. Here you get fresh vegetables and FMCG (fast moving consumer goods). The first store was opened here about a year ago and it was an instant hit because it sold good quality fresh fruits and vegetables in one place at reasonable rates. Reliance bought directly from farmers and planned to grow vegetables in its own farms. But as it started to open stores across India, it hit intense opposition in the North and East, particularly in the big but lawless state of UP, and also in West Bengal which has a communist government. Reliance stores were destroyed by angry vegetable vendors who were losing their business because of the new store. So Reliance changed its model a little and it started selling supermaket items in these places, and instead of going retail with vegetables, it is now going to sell cut vegetables and fruits on wholesale to other big supermarket stores. In some cities in India, you get cut vegetables and fruits, but not everywhere. With Reliance and other retail stores this will change now. I have read that Wal-Mart faces opposition in the US where it causes local businesses to close out, but here the opposition is very violent and destructive, and most of the time this spills into destroying public property. India is growing at an unprecedented rate and there is a large middle class emerging with good purchasing power, but if the growth is not inclusive of all elements of the society, they can cause disruptions and destruction, because afterall a large portion of the population still makes only about $2 a day! But those that have disposable income now due to the tremendous number of jobs are spending wildly. There is a pent up demand because many of the goods were not available in India before this, and now they are available and people have the purchasing power. Consumerism is here - with a vengeance! Unexpected changes are seen frequently. Due to the huge demand for housing (both owned and rented) in the cities, the land around the cities where vegetables used to be grown is being sold off. This has caused shortage of vegetables and their prices to go up sharply. Some other local and national companies have followed in the footsteps of Reliance and have opened up retail stores and they all seem to be doing very well.

As Reliance and others open retail stores across India, there would be a great demand for transport aircrafts. Right now commercial aviation is growing very rapidly in the passenger sector. Next would be the transport sector. I read somewhere that Mukesh Ambani, the head of Reliance Industries had announced that their transport aircraft would be piloted by women! This would open up great opportunities for women, who are already training to be pilots. Incidentally, Mukesh Ambani is the second richest Indian at about $48 bn after Lakshmi Mittal. Mukesh's brother Anil Ambani is close behind him at about $45 bn. Their father Dhirubhai Ambani is a rags-to-riches story.

International retailers such as German retail giant Metro, the French hypermarket Carrefour and the American retain giant Wal-Mart want to open stores across India. Wal-Mart has partnered with a company called Bharti and at least for now may not be using the "Wal-Mart" name when opening their stores to avoid problems. Carrefour may partner with Reliance.

"My first rule of consumerism is never to buy anything you can't make your children carry." -Bill Bryson

"Shopping is a woman thing. It's a contact sport like football. Women enjoy the scrimmage, the noisy crowds, the danger of being trampled to death, and the ecstasy of the purchase." -Erma Bombeck

"I love to go shopping. I love to freak out salespeople. They ask me if they can help me, and I say, "Have you got anything I'd like?" Then they ask me what size I need, and I say, "Extra medium." -Stephen Wright