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.
I have given the "You Made My Day" award to Neva, sam, zakscloset, ash, nihal, weboj, jules, sandy, fenix, and bc. Please pass on the award to 10 people whose blog makes your day. You may receive multiple awards.

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

A Modern Furniture Shop

A new furniture shop. This building has five floors full of all kinds of imported furniture, mostly from Southeast Asia. Many furniture shops have cropped up all over the city, but they are not all as nice as this one. As the living standard goes up, people are spending on buying new furniture and new houses. It used to be that when people bought a flat, they would take along their furniture from their old one. Then as people earned more and more, they got custom furniture made when they moved into a new house. As imported furniture started becoming available, now people are furnishing their new houses and flats with it. However, housing costs quite a lot more now as prices have gone up insanely. It costs more to buy a flat or a house than in many places in the US!!

I used to sell furniture for a living. The trouble was, it was my own." -Les Dawson

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Kites in a Tree

More kites in the tree. Many kites drifted in and landed in the trees and in the yard. This tree is called a "bael" or "bel" tree. The botanical name is Aegle Marmelos and the fruits and the leaves have medicinal properties. You can see the fruits if you click on the photo.

It has started to get warm and summer is approaching fast.

Rangoli - Indian Sandpainting

Click on photo to enlarge

During the festival of Sankranti, called "Pongal" in South India, you can see sandpaintings in front of houses. You see it more in lanes and bylanes, as the one above, because there is no traffic there and hence last longer.

Another Eastern tradition which has sandpaintings is that of Tibetan Buddhist monks. The mystical sandpaintings that they draw are quite colorful, complex and exquisite.

"The true work of art is but divine perfection." -Michelangelo

"The most beautiful things that we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all art and science. He to whom this emotion is a stranger, who no longer pauses to wonder and stand rapt in awe, is as good as dead ... his eyes are closed." -
Albert Einstein

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Loser in a kite fight

This kite was seen hanging in the ixora tree. It had lost a kite fight and drifted into the tree. There are many colorful kites with various designs, some quite big that take part in the kite fights during the festival of Sankranti. The abrasive line (called "maanjaa" here) used to fly the kite is coated with crushed glass and rice glue and some dye. Two or more kites engage in a fight and the one still in the sky is the winner. Groups of people gather on the roof/terraces of buildings and shout vigorously when they win a fight. Young children run through the streets unmindful of the traffic chasing drifting kites that have lost the fight.

During this festival people have colorful Rangoli (sandpainting) in front of their houses and they make traditional dishes. For colorful pictures of sandpainting and the reel used to wind the coated line to the fly the kite, take a look at this blog.

"A certain amount of opposition is a great help to man. Kites rise against, not with, the wind. Even a head wind is better than none. No man ever worked his passage anywhere in a dead calm." -inaccurately attributed to Lewis Mumford

Friday, January 11, 2008

Tata Nano

Click on photo to enlarge.

All the newspapers yesterday carried news about the new car called Nano, manufactured by a company called TATA. All the TV channels are talking about this car. It is priced at USD 2500 (plus taxes). In the newspaper headline you see the words "Rs 1-lakh" - "lakh/lac" is one hundred thousand. This is supposed to be the cheapest car in the world. There is a mood of exuberance everywhere. But there are also concerns about how this and other similar small cars will add to the already chaotic traffic in India.

Did you like the play on words - "Nano second to none"? (nanosecond & second to none)

The Tata Group is the largest Indian business group and recently Ford has agreed to sell Jaguar and Land Rover to Tata. Coming up with the Nano, and buying the premium British brands, Tata has caused Indians to be proud. The Tatas are a wealthy Parsi family who have contributed through many industries to the growth of India for the last 100 years and have been at the forefront of giving back to the society long before CSR (corporate social responsibility) became a buzzword in India.

The car has a 634-cc two-stroke aluminum engine which generates 33 bhp and is supposed to give 20-22 Kmpl or about 50 mpg. This ad was seen in many newspapers. Click on the photo to get a better idea of how the car looks.

"To dream anything that you want to dream. That's the beauty of the human mind. To do anything that you want to do. That's the strength of the human will. To trust yourself to test your limits. That is the courage to succeed." -Bernard Edmonds

"There are those who look at things the way they are, and ask why. I dream of things that never were, and ask why not?" -Robert F Kennedy

"To laugh often and much;
To win the respect of intelligent people and the affection of children;
To earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends;

To appreciate beauty, to find the best in others;
To leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden patch or a redeemed social condition;
To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived.
This is to have succeeded." -inaccurately attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Holy Cow!

Two women bring a calf door to door to get food for the calf or alms in the name of the cow. They are shouting "gou mata, gou mata". (See explanation of words below.)

Feeding the cow is considered a good thing to do. The cow has been considered sacred in India for a very long time. There are several reasons for this. In the olden days, and to some extent even today, people were dependent on the cow (like we depend on our mothers when we are young), especially in the rural areas. Cow milk is said to have medicinal properties, and so does the clarified butter (ghee) from cow milk, although vegans do not agree with it. Cow urine is also used/recommended in traiditional Indian medicine (Ayurveda). Cow dung has been used in the rural areas as fuel after drying it in the sun, or to produce biogas. Since it has insect repellant properties, it is used to line the floor and walls of rural dwellings, which usually have mud floor and mud walls. Since the cow provided all these things, it was considered sacred. I have heard that meat shops operated by Hindus do not carry beef, whereas those operated by Muslims do. Although many Indians are switching to a non-vegetarian diet in India, fast food shops such as McDonalds's do not carry beef in their menu. For that matter there are no pork products in McDonald's either because Muslims don't eat pork. Traditionally most Indians have been vegetarians, and some eat meat occasionally. But that is changing fast here and abroad. As many Indians go abroad, they eat meat there for the first time. They justify this to their family (if at all they tell them) that it is "necessary" to survive there. This, we all know is "bull" because many Indians, and an ever increasing number of Westerners do live on a vegetarian, even vegan diet. :) (Incidentally, it is the same explanation given for taking up drinking. That it is so cold abroad that it is necessary to drink alcohol. :)) I find it interesting to see that people can selectively eat whatever meat they eat and in their minds justify that, and at the same time look at others with horror/disgust/disbelief because they are eating some other kind of meat. What I mean here is that most Indians who eat meat here can't imagine eating beef (but think nothing of eating lamb or chicken, and now emu), and most Westerners who eat meat cannot imagine eating a dog or a horse. The same goes for eating or not eating certain parts of the animal. In this regard I think the Chinese and some South East Asian cultures are more practical and don't have a holier-than-thou attitude. The Chinese eat all parts of the cow and the bull including the ears, the tongue, the tail, the internal organs, the reproductive organs, and even the eyes.

Interestingly, now many experts believe that cows are causing global warming.

The Sanskrit word for "cow" is "gou". Do you notice the phonetic similarity? There are many words in English that have an Indo-European origin. In India, some people refer to the cow as "gou mata". The word "mata" (mah-tah) means "mother". The Sanskrit word is "matr", another word with phonetic similarity to the German word "mutter" and the English "mother/maternal/maternity" and the Spanish word "madre".

"Don't have a cow, man!" -Bart Simpson

"Who was the first guy who looked at a cow and said, 'I think that I'll drink whatever comes out of those things when I squeeze them' ?" -Calvin and Hobbes

"Do you know why they call it 'PMS'? Because 'Mad Cow Disease' was already taken." -Unknown

"Science is not a sacred cow. Science is a horse. Don't worship it. Feed it." -Aubrey Eben

Monday, January 7, 2008

Tibetan Buddhist Monks At The Reopening of Laserium

A Deccan Chronicle Photo

Tibetan Buddhist monks pray at the Lumbini Park laserium at its reopening ceremony. The laserium was closed for four months following twin bomb blasts in Hyderabad in August 2007. The laserium shows the history of Hyderabad with lasers on a water screen.

Lumbini is the name of the place where the Buddha was born, and it is in present-day Nepal. The monks above are wearing yellow hats. The Dalai Lama, who is the spiritual and temporal head of the Tibetan people, belongs to the Yellow Hat Sect, called Gelugpa in Tibetan. Tibetan Buddhism consists of Red Hat and Yellow Hat schools, not to be confused with the red hat and yellow hat in the six de Bono hats. :) For Red Hat Linux enthusiasts, a while ago had published a April 1 piece called "Dalai Lama announced Yellow Hat Linux." :)

After the Chinese invaded and annexed Tibet, they forced the Tibetans to change their society, and the Dalai Lama was forced to flee to India. (This is depicted in the movie Kundun, for which director Martin Scorcese and writer Melissa Mathison were banned by the Chinese Government from ever entering China.) The Dalai Lama set up a government-in-exile in Dharamsala in the North Indian state of Himachal Pradesh. (Richard Gere is a frequent visitor to Dharamsala.) Even to this day, Tibetan refugees continue to enter India. Many Tibetan refugees also live in Tibetan settlements in South India. The thing that strikes me most is how joyous and ever-smiling the Tibetan people are in spite of the hardships!! It is indeed ironic and sad that a democracy like India no longer allows anti-Chinese demonstration by Tibetans when Chinese dignitaries visit!!

"There's a certain Buddhistic calm that comes from having money in the bank." -Tom Robbins

"The Dalai Lama visited the White House and told the President that he could teach him to find a higher state of consciousness. Then after talking to Bush for a few minutes, he said, "You know what? Let's just grab lunch." " -Bill Maher

"If you have fear of pain or suffering, you should examine whether there is anything you can do about it. If you can, there is no need to worry about it; if you cannot do anything, then there is also no need to worry." -Dalai Lama

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Shrine on wheels

This is a shrine on wheels. These carts are pulled by a horse or a bull, or sometimes by a rickshaw. You can see a man in saffron shirt sitting on the curb. The cart belongs to him. Sorry about the picture quality, the details are not clearly visible. The image near the top of the cart is that of Sai Baba of Shirdi, a saint from the 19th century who was equally revered by the Hindus and the Moslems. His original shrine in Shirdi, Maharashtra is very popular even today. He is not to be confused with Sathya Sai Baba, who is living now and is considered by his followers to be a reincarnation of the former. Sathya Sai Baba's ashram is in Puttaparthi, Andhra Pradesh (same state as Hyderabad). These carts go from lane to lane and collect donations. I am not sure if the donations reach the original shrines. They blare devotional songs pretty loudly, which is very annoying because of the volume.

"The traveler has to knock at every alien door to come to his own, and he has to wander through all the outer worlds to reach the innermost shrine at the end." -Rabindranath Tagore

"Oh senseless man, who cannot possibly make a worm, and yet will make Gods by the dozen." -Michel de Montaigne