Saturday, November 18, 2006

Sticky, sweaty Mumbai

(Morning of Nov 19, 2006)

I'm in Mumbai for the lest leg of my trip. It's Sunday and there is no traffic on the roads. The vehicles are all impressively staying in their lanes and even the rickety Fiat taxi I am in is doing 80+ kmph.

Mumbai looked green and full of character - unlike Ahmedabad or Hyderabad - from the plane. I had a window seat.

Ahmedabad has a new departure terminal which is neat and spacious. It's like Terminal 1A in Mumbai - the Indian Airlines terminal. 32 flights daily in and out of Ahmedabad - we needed one.

Siddhivinayak Temple - very fortress-like for a temple. Worli. Now the tall buildings start appearing - skinny and tall. Often ugly. Very little honking on the road, except from my cabbie. No major changes in Mumbai visible - and minor changes I wouldn't notice.

Sunny Gavaskar on abillboard - funny! Well-heeled richy-rich folks waiting at a bus stand - nice!

All the flyovers etc. are done and no sign of road construction for the next level of expansion. Haji Ali. I never knew *that* was the Heera-Panna Market.

Jaslok Rugnalaya. Cultural Center of Russia. Big saffron Chinese lantern hung at a crossroads with Shiv Sena written on it - funny. Yahoo! Mobile India signs are everywhere. Pointless, meseems.

Marine Drive. No changes - same as ever. Mantralaya. 'Horn for caution. Not for pollution' says a sign. Streets are quiet.

Have taken a metered taxi. There weren't any prepaid ones available.

Cuffe Parade. In 36 min! Not bad. Cobblestoned intersection, quiet streets and music from old movies.

Navy Nagar. Homi Bhabha Road. Almost there. I can see the end of the road - the sea.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Sailing between the high tech and BPO worlds

It's been an exciting trip so far. Silicon Valley is always optimistic, talks of hockey-sticks and invents new buzzwords constantly. But barring Google, revenues and profits for new companies haven't done very well lately. Most of the Web 2.0 companies don't really make any serious money and are not growing all that big very quickly.

The Business Process Outsourcing (BPO) world, on the other hand, is growing at 38% annually, is extremely profitable and there are some good IPOs on its horizon, especially that of GenPact. Even the smallest, newest outfit in the BPO space is profitable almost from day 1 and growing like crazy.

Attempted robbery upstairs

The flat above ours almost got broken into this afternoon. The thieves tried to break the locks and succeeded two-thirds of the way, but then couldn't get past the main lock on the door and disappeared.

Lots of stories of robberies all around, but also of killings of the old and the infirm by thieves and robbers.

Ahmedabad's response? Gated communities, stronger locks... No one talks about better law enforcement. Don't we deserve better law enforcement?

Eating out in Ahmedabad

Ate out three times in a row over the last couple of days. Jahanvee, the restaurant that used to face the stinking Holy Hood slums, is now a very fancy Punjabi restaurant. I'd totally forgotten how spicy and fatty this stuff can be, and how easily can it kill you.

Celad Eatery (spell?) today had a few types of salads, a couple of soups, some sandwiches (desi grilled sandwiches - aloo mutter etc.), chocolate pudding, baked dish and so on. The fare was like at the SAP canteen in Palo Alto, but very Indian and hot and spicy. Not German.

Went to Basib (or Basil, not quite sure) today for dinner. Next to Bawarchi, it has a really amazing modern decor of the kind I've never seen anywhere else. Very cool - white chairs and sofas, nicely lit walls. Amazingly rich decor. VERY expensive but good food. A medium-sized pizza was Rs. 200 or more. Big menu with everything on it - Punjabi, Mexican, Chinese, Pau Bhaji... you name it.

For the first time in 10 years, I feel like a tourist in Ahmedabad. Everything is new: the roads are new, the places we go to are new, the people are all new (you hardly see any of the old faces on the streets and the ones whom you recognize look so much older too), the brands are all new - Reliance gas stations, for example... The prices are all new too.

I've heard it before and now I believe it: You can never go back home again. :(

Monday, November 13, 2006

Wal-Martization of Amdavad

Visited the Star India Bazaar on the way back from Shivanand Ashram. Quite a big market. A cross between India Cash n Carry and a Costco, and a cleaner version of both. 18 checkout counters.

My parents like to shop there - cheaper vegetables etc, and a cleaner place to shop. These new grocery supermarkets are gobbling up a lot of space, and it isn't clear if they are making money, but they are making it harder for the old corner grocer. The vegetable-sellers on their laris are also going to find the going tough.

People get jobs in these stores, but are they any good? Is this a good thing?

So far, the answer seems to be yes. People like to shop in clean places. People like lower prices. People like new jobs.


Shivanand Ashram

My parents visit the Shivanand Ashram regularly. Located at the top of the hill on Satellite Road, it has a couple of nice little temples, a big hall with excellent acoustics and a yoga center.

When we reached there, the aarti was in progress. My mum took me to one side and showed me the nagaru (drum) being played by a mechanical drum machine - dhin dhin tak-a-tak. Pretty cool.

Swami Advaitanand, the local head priest, was leading a prayer recital in the big hall. A full camera crew was recording and mixing the recital and there was quite an audience too. The Swami has a great voice and the hall has excellent acoustics.

The yoga center is in the basement and is very clean and nice too. Lakshmikant says their yoga is rather easy.

A very modern, clean temple. And very non-denominational... they have idols of the Lingam, Ram-Laxman, Krishna-Balram-Subhadra, the 8 Lakshmis... All sorts of Gods.


Sunday, November 12, 2006

In Ahmedabad

Ahmedabad is a very different place now. The roads are better and there are some fancy-looking malls. But the pollution remains overpowering and deadly.

So what's new: Gallops Mall - a fancy mall with stores like globus and lifestyle (both all-lowercase names) and a nice food court. Expensive food - Vishalla is at Rs. 215 per person for dinner, and the cheapest Honest pau bhaji is Rs. 55. Science City - a big campus near Sola Village with 3D IMAX and musical fountains that aren't as big as Bellagio's but pretty impressive nevertheless, especially when they play "Dola re dola" and "Kehna hi kya". Golf courses - Krish promises to take me to one this week. Fancy gym equipment @ Karnavati Club - treadmills with built-in TV sets, for example.

The Ahmedabad city limits have been extended recently quite a bit. All of the Satellite Road area and several other villages around are all within the Ahmedabad Municipal Corporation (AMC) limits now. The revenues have gone up too - octroi alone fetches the AMC Rs. 1.5 crore a day... maybe even more. Since the roads have been broadened, there is very little traffic congestion - at least in the "new city".

Every year there is a new major tragedy/story that people talk about. In years past, it was the flood, the earthquake and so on. This year, it was the turn of chickunguniya, the mosquito-borne disease that hit pretty much every household, and hard. It killed many many people because doctors didn't know how to treat it and aggressively prescribed antibiotics that further ended up damaging the kidneys and the liver.

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