Saturday, December 31, 2005

Friday, December 30, 2005

Unexpected India

Arranged marriages

While I was expecting people of my age to be against arranged marriages, some of them consider that form of marriage as an easy way to get married. More here.

Bikes

It is not unusual to see three people on the same bike or motorists transporting unusually large objects on a bike. My records: three people and a huge backpack when travelling / two people and six bags when moving house.

Cheap books

Books are relatively cheap in India. I was amazed by the price and availability of educational textbooks.

Eve teasing

Eve teasing (an euphemism used for sexual harassment or molestation of women by men) is unfortunately frequent in India whatever a woman's skin colour/dress style. Having guys pressing their "parts" against me in crowded buses was absolutely revolting. More here.

Intrusive questions

Indians tend to be inquisitive and, as a result, don't be surprised if a complete stranger (e.g. auto driver) asks you how much you earn for a living or whether you are married.


Male friendship

At all ages, males sometimes hold hands or put an arm on each other's shoulders. It is only a sign of friendship.

Pollution

People throw their garbage everywhere. I was even teased by my fellow passengers for not throwing mine through the train windows.

Poverty

While I was expecting India to be a poor country, I was disturbed by the fact that people found normal to beg. More here.

Rudeness

"Thank you" and "please" are words that I have to painfully extract from my Indian boyfriend. In Western countries, saying civilities is ingrained into children from a young age. They are used with more parsimony in India where over-using them might come across as a little insincere. Politeness may be expressed through body language (smile, head nod) or by adding the suffix "ji" to the words for "yes" and "no" or to a person's name.

Spitting

Mainly used for digestive purposes, paan is a chewing mixture made of betel leaf and fillings such as areca nut or tobacco. India has an eternal problem of people spitting (tobacco) paan on the streets and
“No smoking, no spitting” signs are commonly found in public places.


Stares

Indians don’t look at foreigners, they openly stare at them (which would be considered very rude in the West). While there is no malice in it, being permanently stared at can be irritating.

Tourist organised rip-off

Forget thieves and touts! Tourists are ripped off openly at a much larger scale. It includes paying higher airline fares and attraction entry fees (e.g Rs 10 for Indians and Rs 100 for non-Indians to enter a temple). Tourist fares apply even if, like me, you live in India and work on an Indian contract for an Indian company...

Konark Sun Temple


The temple is one of the most renowned temples in India and is a World Heritage Site.

Miscellaneous

Bathroom

If you are reluctant to use water, make sure to carry toilet paper or tissues (especially in rural areas).

Cars

You are allowed to drive in India if you have a local license or an International Driving Permit. Driving is on the left of the road.

Cockroaches

If you can’t handle their (lively) presence, buy a cockroach killing chalk and strategically draw lines on the floor. The cockroaches will die moments after crossing them.

Electricity

Electricity runs at 230V and 50Hz. While a variety of electrical plugs are found throughout India, the standard one is the Old British Plug (three large round pins in a triangular configuration). Power cuts are frequent.

Festivals

Most festivals occur on different days each year as they don't follow the Georgian calendar. The main festivals by month/state/religion can be found here.

Indian numbering system 


The Indian numbering system is based on the grouping of 2 decimal places. The terms crore (1,00,00,000 = 10,000,000) and lakh (1,00,000 = 100,000) are in widespread use in Indian English.


Mobile


Identification and a passport size photo are needed to buy a SIM card.

National Holiday

There are three national holidays: Republic Day (26 January), Independence Day (15 August) and Gandhi Jayanti (2 October).

Post

It is possible to send boxes by government operated post from India to your country. Note that boxes have to be wrapped in fabrics (which can be done by a tailor). Alternatively, use private companies such as DHL. They are more expensive but undoubtedly faster.

Thursday, December 29, 2005

Travelling by bus in India

Given the traffic and the poor state of Indian highways, buses are usually slower, less comfortable and less safe than trains. They however remain popular as the only cheap way of reaching places not on the rail network.


Both ordinary/service buses and luxury/express buses are available. The former are cheaper, more crowded, slower (multiple stops) and don't provide assured seating (no booking possible).

While the front part of the bus is generally reserved to ladies, eve teasing is unfortunately frequent in crowded buses.

School day is over

Bangalore-Hyderabad; Hyderabad-Delhi; Delhi-Frankfurt; Frankfurt-Brussels

Last day in Bangalore… Packed my bags, took pictures of the campus, spent a bit of time with my boy, called an auto… Time to leave… I'm quite independent and even if I develop strong relationships with people, it won't affect my willingness to travel and to discover the world. I don’t cry when I leave a place. I'm not scared when I'm in a completely new environment. One could think that I'm not sensitive, that I'm unable of linking myself to others on a long term basis. He would be wrong. I love my friends (and I always will) but I don’t want to dependent on them. This is my life… and I’m the one in charge.

This time was different. I use to travel a lot. I use to meet a lot of people. I use to have boyfriends. I’m not just leaving a place, my boyfriend and my friends. When someone leaves his country, he might feel homesick. But how to express the exact same feeling towards a country which is not mine?

I left the hostel room.

I cried.

The auto arrived.

I cried.

I passed the entrance gate.

I cried.

I reached the airport.

I cried.

My jaan had five exams over the next three days. No need to say that he should have kept himself busy with his studies. He went with me to the airport… I'll miss him…

At night, I reached Delhi. Never been there before. Had to move from the domestic airport to the international one. 12kms… Asked the rate for a taxi. Rs650! Well… No choice. No other taxi agency and impossible to take an auto with all my luggage. It was 10pm already and Delhi is the Indian city with the highest rate of rapes.

Have to find a place to spend the night. Vikas told me I could call his cousin in Delhi. No network. No phone boot. The rate for a hotel? Rs1600 (non-AC), Rs1800 (AC). It was 5°C. I guess the AC was not really a must. Anyway, told them I was not interested. Thinking of catching some sleep at the airport itself. In the taxi, the driver asked me what was my budget. I was sick of all those people trying to fool me. I said: no more than Rs500. He told me about a dormitory near the airport. In other words, a “hotel” for people with low income. Went there. Nice guys but they were looking at me like if I was an alien. Probably the first foreigner to go in such place. They didn’t want me to share a room. A bit scared for my security. Ended up paying Rs350 (=cost for 4beds (1 room)). Asked a guy to wake me up at 5.30 the next day by knocking as hard as possible on the door. Went to sleep…

Freezing… My flight was on time despite the fog. Left India… Spent a few hours in Frankfurt and then back to Belgium. I could see Brussels from the plane. Looked like a Black&White picture. No colour. No sun.

My parents and one of my friends were waiting at the airport. I expected to see my parents. But since I only vaguely told my friends when I would be back in Belgium (because most of them are studying for their exams), I was positively surprised to meet my friend. Her present: Beer and chocolate ;o)

Warm bath. Comfortable bed. Kilo’s of chocolate.

Material satisfaction is not of any help. I miss India. Can’t cure my mind by pleasing my body.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

My Nandi hills

"Nandi Hills, 65 Kms from Bangalore and 1,478 meters above sea level is Bangalore's own hill station. It was Tipu Sultan's summer retreat and Tipu's fort walls still stand as testimony to history. The rivers Pennar, Palar and Arkavati originate from these hills. A flight of 1.175 steps lead from the base of the hills to the top. A popular hill resort of the Bangaloreans. The Tipu's Drop, a 600 meter high cliff, where prisoners were hurled down the precipice is an awe-inspiring sight. Atop the hill is the Yoganandishwara temple."

My boy and I had to find an alternative to our cancelled Outi plan. Opted for Nandi Hills but dropped the romantic element. Seven of us (and boozes) in a chaotic vehicle for a 3-hour journey.

The mini-bus driver was late and we reached Nandi Hills in the middle of the night. No resort, no hotel, no huts… Nothing! Got inside a private property in order to, at least, have a quick look at the landscape (or at least tried to!).

Luckily enjoyed the journey much more than the destination!

Saturday, December 10, 2005

Travelling by train in India

Travelling by train is the safest way of travel in India. It is also economical, practical (overnight journeys are ideal when travelling on a tight schedule or budget) and gives you the opportunity to interact with locals while admiring sometimes breathtaking landscapes. If you have some sleep to catch up, ask for the upper seat (so you can keep sleeping when the other passengers are awake).

Tickets can be bought at the railway station or online. A couple of days before the departure date of a train, last minute tickets (Tatkal quota seats) are made available exclusively to tourists for an extra fee.

Food is available in long distance trains as well as at large stations where vendors will go up and down the train. Expect the familiar hawking sounds: "chai, chai, chai (tea)".

There are no fewer than seven classes of accommodation on Indian trains. Below are the classes in roughly descending order of cost. The first four are typically found in long distance night trains and the chair classes in short distance daytime trains.
-AC First (1A)
-AC 2 Tier (2A)
-AC 3 Tier (3A)
-Sleeper Class (SL)
-AC Chair Car (CC)
-Second Class Chair Car (2S)
-Unreserved / General compartments (GS)

I used to travel in Sleeper class which is cheaper and where I found people to be friendlier (even if playing cards in Hindi for 15 hours gets boring towards the end!). Beware that Sleeper compartments are sometimes over-booked and some passengers end up sleeping on the floor. In addition, if you travel in Sleeper class, make sure to bring a blanket (they are only provided in AC classes).

Source


Check here for railway timetables.


Thursday, December 08, 2005

My Orissa


As I wrote in a previous post, I planned to spend a bit of time in a small village. One of my friends from Bangalore has a friend whom relatives live in a rural area in Orissa. Unfortunately, he couldn't get a leave from his job… I left. Alone!

Kissed my boy at the train station. A bit strange to do so in a public place in India (But TT’s request!).

The train left. Ready for a 33-hour journey! Met a few great guys: students, software engineers, volley-ball players and, hmm, ended up smoking grass in the train toilets. The train was expected to reach BBSA at 12pm, then 1am, then 3am. At 1.30, was dead. Decided to sleep till 2.30. Bad idea… At 2am, the grass guy came: “Elise, wake up, wake up! We'll be in BBSA in 5min”. Unlocked my bags, jumped out of my bed (slow motion) and reached the door. In the darkness, saw four guys running along the train at the station. Looking for me?

We went to their apartment. Two bikes, 15kg of luggages, five of us. Chatted for a while, had some food and went to bed.

Their owner was expected to come at 9am the next day. Hosting a girl (even worse, a foreign girl) in a guy's apartment? Not a problem. As long as nobody knows. Conclusion, woke up at 7. Went to their campus. Warm shower and back to sleep in the girl’s hostel. Didn’t do much on my first day in BBSA. Roamed around and met plenty of people.

Was supposed to spend the night in the girl's hostel. But... curfew at 7! Went to a birthday party instead. Translate: a registered wedding (love marriage not totally approved by the parents. To be kept secret).

Next steps, Chandipur and then the village. We reached the village later than expected. As far as I was concerned, it was difficult to communicate but I really loved the place and the people.

They are in such direct contact with the nature. They are deep-minded people who don't feel the need to talk to say nothing. No stress, no hypocrisy, no need to pretend. I was glad to hear nothing but the wind.

Had food and went for a walk in the wood. Time to go back as my friends didn't want me to spend the night in the village due to very limited amenities. Honestly, I wouldn't have cared. True, I was a bit uncomfortable when I had to go to the "bathroom" in the river. But it was clearly not because of a lack of comfort. The reason: 15 people were standing 20 meters away from me when I was doing so…


I did not dare to take pictures but this is the kind of villages in which we went. Source

Instead, we slept in a colony at one of my friend's place. Once more, I was surprised by the great Indian hospitality. Guys on one side. Girls on the other. Slept in a bed with the mom and the two sisters!

Train to Puri… Amazing and crowded beaches. Tried the local sweets. Tasty ! The place was beautiful but I was disappointed by the policy implemented by the city. No foreigner allowed in temples. The main reasons : foreigners eat meat.

" For centuries now, the beach at Puri has been the venue of countless pilgrims taking the traditional purification dip for Puri is the abode of Lord Jagannath and considered one of the most important Hindu pilgrimage destination. However, for decades now, both Indian and foreign beach lovers have made it their special haunt. The fine white sands of Puri beach and the roar of the breakers rolling in from the Bay of Bengal have fascinated visitors throughout the ages."

And then, Konark. Difficult to describe it with words… If you have only one day to spend in Orissa, I would recommend you not to miss this place.

“The magnificent Sun Temple at Konark is the culmination of Orissan temple architecture, and one of the most stunning monuments of religious architecture in the world. The massive structure, now in ruins, sits in solitary splendour surrounded by drifting sand. Today it is located two kilometers from the sea, but originally the ocean came almost up to its base. Built by King Narasimhadeva in the thirteenth century, the entire temple was designed in the shape of a colossal chariot, carrying the sun god, Surya, across the heavens.”

Spend one more day in BBSA. Met more people. The girls were excited to know that I had an Indian boyfriend. First question: Did you kiss him? No comment!


Last step, Chilika. Went alone. By train. Met a pastor who tried to convince me of the existence of God. Reached the place. Me, the sun, the lake… and two nice guys to take care of the boat. Tried to drive the boat. Not that easy ;o) Visited the temple. Hard time to find an auto on the way back without being fooled. Asked a guy (sign language) where to find a bus to the train station. Waited for a while. Then, he stepped on the road and stopped one of the rare auto’s (which I would have never done because the auto was already completely full). The result: 11 passengers in the auto. Normal load: 4 or less. ;o)

“Just south of Puri, the sea mixes in with the 1100 sq.km inland Chilika Lake to create the largest brackish water lake in Asia. These shallow waters enclose an immense area of marshes, lowlands, and islands. There are more than 160 varieties of fish, and, in the winter season, the area is home to hundreds of thousands of migratory birds as well.”

Back to BBSA. Packed my bags and caught the train to Bangalore. Slept most of the time. Washed my hair in the train toilets. Sleeper class, remember… ;o) and arrived, almost fresh, at the station. Late? Only by 4 hours. Boyfriend waiting for me. Have been missing him for 9 days… Badly... And talking (twice a day) on the phone was not of a big help.


Source: http://www.orissatourism.gov.in/

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Old man at a train station

Picture taken from a train in Orissa...

Tuesday, December 06, 2005

Squatting in Konark

Squatting... Uncomfortable position for many Westerners but happily adopted by most Indians.

Family travelling by train

Monday, December 05, 2005

Orissa

Orissa (2001 provisional pop. 36,706,920), 60,162 sq mi (155,820 sq km) is a state situated in the east coast of India.

The relatively unindented coastline (c.200 mi/320 km long) lacks good ports save for the deepwater facility at Paradip. The narrow, level coastal strip, including the Mahanadi River delta, is exceedingly fertile. Rainfall is heavy and regular, and two crops of rice are grown annually. The state is known for its temples, especially in the cities of Konark, Puri, and Bhubaneswar.

Orissa and Puri are popular tourist destinations. Puri, with Sri Lord Jagannatha's temple on the sea, and Konark, with the Mukhasala of the Sun Temple, are visited by thousands of westerners every year. Along with the Lingaraja Temple of Bhubaneswar, the Sri Lord Jagannatha Temple and the Sun Temple of Konark are the must sees for anyone doing research on the arecheological marvels of India.

The dense population, concentrated on the coastal alluvial plain, is Oriya-speaking. The interior, inhabited largely by indigenous people (Adivasis), is hilly and mountainous. Orissa is subject to intense cyclones.

Source: Wikipedia

Sunday, December 04, 2005

Brushing teeth along the road

Picture taken from a rickshaw during my trip to Puri.

Sunday, November 27, 2005

Indian traffic survival guide

Article written by a Dutchman visiting India. A little long but worth reading.

For the benefit of every Tom, Dick and Harry visiting India and daring to drive on Indian roads, I am offering a few hints for survival. They are applicable to every place in India except Bihar, where life outside a vehicle is only marginally safer.

Indian road rules broadly operate within the domain of karma where you do your best, and leave the results to your insurance company. The hints are as follows: Do we drive on the left or right of the road? The answer is "both". Basically you start on the left of the road, unless it is occupied. In that case, go to the right,unless that is also occupied. Then proceed by occupying the next available gap, as in chess. Just trust your instincts, ascertain the direction, and proceed. Adherence to road rules leads to much misery and occasional fatality. Most drivers don't drive, but just aim their vehicles in the generally intended direction.

Don't you get discouraged or underestimate yourself except for a belief in reincarnation; the other drivers are not in any better position. Don't stop at pedestrian crossings just because some fool wants to cross the road. You may do so only if you enjoy being bumped in the back.

Pedestrians have been strictly instructed to cross only when traffic is moving slowly or has come to a dead stop because some minister is in town. Still some idiot may try to wade across, but then, let us not talk ill of the dead.

Blowing your horn is not a sign of protest as in some countries. We horn to express joy, resentment, frustration, romance and bare lust (two brisk blasts),or just mobilize a dozing cow in the middle of the bazaar. Keep informative books in the glove compartment. You may read them during traffic jams, while awaiting the chief minister's motorcade, or waiting for the rainwater to recede when over ground traffic meets underground drainage.

Occasionally you might see what looks like a UFO with blinking colored lights and weird sounds emanating from within. This is an illuminated bus, full of happy pilgrims singing bhajans. These pilgrims go at breakneck speed, seeking contact with the Almighty, often meeting with success.

Auto Rickshaw (Baby Taxi): The result of a collision between a rickshaw and an automobile, this three-wheeled vehicle works on an external combustion engine that runs on a mixture of kerosene oil and creosote. This triangular vehicle carries iron rods, gas cylinders or passengers three times its weight and dimension, at an unspecified fare. After careful geometric calculations, children are folded and packed into these auto rickshaws until some children in the periphery are not in contact with the vehicle at all. Then their school bags are pushed into the microscopic gaps all round so those minor collisions with other vehicles on the road cause no permanent damage. Of course, the peripheral children are charged half the fare and also learn Newton's laws of motion enroute to school. Auto-rickshaw drivers follow the road rules depicted in the film Ben Hur, and are licensed to irritate.

Mopeds: The moped looks like an oil tin on wheels and makes noise like an electric shaver. It runs 30 miles on a teaspoon of petrol and travels at break-bottom speed. As the sides of the road are too rough for a ride, the moped drivers tend to drive in the middle of the road; they would rather drive under heavier vehicles instead of around them and are often "mopped" off the tarmac.

Leaning Tower of Passes: Most bus passengers are given free passes and during rush hours, there is absolute mayhem. There are passengers hanging off other passengers, who in turn hang off the railings and the overloaded bus leans dangerously, defying laws of gravity but obeying laws of surface tension. As drivers get paid for overload (so many Rupees per kg of passenger), no questions are ever asked. Steer clear of these buses by a width of three passengers.

One-way Street: These boards are put up by traffic people to add jest in their otherwise drab lives. Don't stick to the literal meaning and proceed in one direction. In metaphysical terms, it means that youmcannot proceed in two directions at once. So drive as you like, in reverse throughout, if you are the fussy type. Least I sound hypercritical, I must add a positive point also. Rash and fast driving in residential areas has been prevented by providing a "speed breaker"; two for each house. This mound, incidentally, covers the water and drainage pipes for that residence and is left untarred for easy identification by the corporation authorities, should they want to recover the pipe for year-end accounting.

Night driving on Indian roads can be an exhilarating experience for those with the mental make up of Genghis Khan. In a way, it is like playing Russian roulette, because you do not know who amongst the drivers is loaded. What looks like premature dawn on the horizon turns out to be a truck attempting a speed record. On encountering it, just pull partly into the field adjoining the road until the phenomenon passes.

Our roads do not have shoulders, but occasional boulders. Do not blink your lights expecting reciprocation. The only dim thing in the truck is the driver, and with the peg of illicit arrack (alcohol) he has had at the last stop, his total cerebral functions add up to little more than a naught. Truck drivers are the James Bonds of India, and are licensed to kill. Often you may encounter a single powerful beam of light about six feet above the ground. This is not a super motorbike, but a truck approaching you with a single light on, usually the left one. It could be the right one, but never get too close to investigate. You may prove your point posthumously.

Amen !!

Video: traffic (not even close to the situation in Bangalore)


Saturday, November 19, 2005

Cricket

Tonight : India-South Afrika.

Cricket is the most popular sport in India. Matches always gather large crowds of excited supporters and the game is played by many people in open spaces throughout the country.

Cricket is a bat-and-ball game played between two teams of 11 players. Created in England, the game had become well established in India by the middle of the 19th century.

A cricket match is typically played on an oval-shaped field, at the centre of which is a rectangular pitch. A game is divided into periods called innings. The teams switch between fielding and batting at the end of each innings.

During an innings, the “batting team” tries to score as many runs as possible and the “fielding team” plays defence. The fielding team spreads out across the field, except for the bowler who faces the striking batsman at opposite ends of the pitch. The target behind the batsman is called a wicket.

A run is scored by the striking batsman hitting the ball with his bat, running to the opposite end of the pitch and touching the crease there without being dismissed. The batsman is dismissed if 1) the bowler succeeds in hitting the wicket or if 2) the ball, after being struck by the batsman, is caught by the fielding team before it touches the ground.

A new bowler is designated at the end of each over (set of 6 balls). The innings is complete when 10 of the 11 members of the batting team have been dismissed or a set number of overs has been played.

In limited overs cricket, winning the game is achieved by scoring the most runs. In Test cricket, it is necessary to score the most runs and dismiss the opposition twice in order to win the match.

Updates:

-New academic research claims cricket is not English, but was imported by immigrants from northern Belgium. More here.
-India won the 2011 ICC Cricket World Cup.

Monday, November 07, 2005

Family time in Bangalore

Taken from the back of a motorcycle... Good, helmets are not compulsory!

Sunday, November 06, 2005

Mehendi

I went to my friend’s aunt to apply the Mehendi. I had my hands done by his cousin who knew the basics. The key to success: be patient! The result was quite orange due to my skin color.

Mehendi usually denotes the application of henna as a temporary form of skin decoration. This usage is popular in the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia. It is usually drawn on the hands and feet.

Henna paste is generally applied to the skin using a plastic cone or a paint brush, but sometimes a small metal-tipped jacquard bottle used for silk painting is used. The final color is reddish brown and can last anywhere from two weeks to several months depending on the quality of the paste.

Tuesday, November 01, 2005

Diwali

“Diwālī or Dīpāvali (also transliterated Deepavali; Sanskrit: row of lights) is the Hindu Festival of Lights. For Jains it is one of the most important festivals, and beginning of the Jain year. It is also a significant festival for the Sikh faith.

Diwali is one of the most popular and eagerly awaited festivals of India. The date of Diwali is based on the Hindu calendar, which has solar sidereal years and lunar months. It is celebrated for 5 consecutive days in the Hindu month of Ashwayuja which usually corresponds to the month of October or November. Hindus, Jains and Sikhs celebrate Diwali and use the occasion to celebrate life and strengthen relationships.

Celebrations focus on lights and lamps, particularly traditional diyas. Fireworks may also be associated with the festival in some regions.”

Diwali was celebrated on the campus on November 1st. For this special occasion, most students (including exchange students) were wearing traditional indian clothes.

Putting the saree on, wearing the bracelets, earings and bendi, adjusting the saree, trying to walk, adjusting the saree again… Took me a while to get ready.

The evening was all about stick dances, crackers and fireworks. I then went for a ride on the bike with my boy, still wearing the saree. Back earlier than expected due to heavy rain. Ended up in another student’s room to play cards.

The tradition of gambling on Diwali has a legend behind it. It is believed that on this day, Goddess Parvati played dice with her husband Lord Shiva and she decreed that whosoever gambled on Diwali night would prosper throughout the ensuing year.

The continually changing rules (mainly in Hindi) and the lack of luck made me lose every single game. What is the saying in French? Heureux au jeu, malheureux en amour!

Sunday, October 30, 2005

Saturday, October 29, 2005

Kids in Mysore

Off the main path...

Sunday, October 23, 2005

My Bullshiter

A bit crazy, smart, creative, open-minded, tender, a bit wild, caring... He is comfortable with his mind and body and makes other people feel the same.

Do I love him? Do I want to marry him? After a few weeks, only Indians would ask such questions!

What he wrote about me on his blog:

“Vikas, Vikas..”
I turn back and see her leaning out from the slowly moving train.“He (the Train Ticket Examiner) says that we should kiss.”I run back to kiss her. It was a short gentle kiss. My right foot still recovering from the crack didn’t give me the luxury to jump in the train and get out safely. The train picks up speed and soon she is out of sight. I was tired and cold after 3 hour bike ride to this anonymous station to help her board after we missed the train at Bangalore. I was praying that she misses the train at that station also. As usual my prayer went unheard. Slowly, I find my way out of the station and trying to locate where I parked my friend’s bike. As I start my bike my cell phone vibrates signaling an SMS that she sent. It says, “i miss u already n that is bad.”


22 years old, fair skin, red curly hair, blue eyes, 5’ 8’’ tall and slim- that’s my girl. She is crazy like me. She speaks French when sleepy. She is trying to learn Hindi from me. She asked me the Hindi words for ‘crazy’ and ‘lover’. She combined the two and calls me her paagal ashique. The cultural difference and the color difference are not relevant in terms of difference. But they are relevant in terms of magnetic poles if you understand that opposite attracts.

Lonely I have always been. With or without friends. With or without girls. I never had any long term affairs. This has been my longest one, nearly 2 months. I would share everything with her. I was happy and content. And now she has gone away for a week. The loneliness now is worse than the earlier version, especially when I attend parties without her. Neither grass nor booze helps. I thought that this is my chance to study for my end term but I don’t feel like doing anything. I miss my girl. I miss her badly. I want her in my arms now but she is not there. I want to tell her that she is special but she is not there to listen. She is going back to Belgium on 7th January. I don’t know what I’ll do after that. Once in inebriated state I said that I love her. She demanded the reason. And I was truthful. The reason was that she loved me and so I loved her. I don’t know whether I love her or not but I know that she is my girl. When I look at her I feel that I own her. This is a new feeling to me. A feeling of ownership, rather a feeling of oneness. Today I tell this world that I miss my girl. I want my girl.


What his classmates wrote about him on the IIMB section website:

"Vikas is among the last-standing specimen of the non-engineer species in the section. Our desi (as he is generally called) is naturally talented at many things. Some might know of his skills at QM but he is widely believed to be better at human anatomy (no relation to his Pharma backgrounds, its actually about people skills :J). Desi`s effort at management extends beyond national frontiers. If any person on campus benefited the most by the presence of exchange students, it has to be our desi. One of the exchange students (name withheld on desperate personal request) learnt her first few hindi words from vikas, "Tu mera maal hai".

He is the original chill out guy and one of the most cool characters in our section, to an extent that once he actually walked 30minutes late in Diro`s lecture. One certainly expects more national and international endeavors in future from our macho man™ and global manager."



Monday, October 10, 2005

HIV/AIDS

It is estimated that around 2.4 million people are currently living with HIV in India (UNAIDS 2010).

HIV emerged later in India than it did in many other countries. Infection rates soared throughout the 1990s and today the epidemic affects all sectors of Indian society, not just the groups – such as sex workers and truck drivers – with which it was originally associated.

In a country where poverty, illiteracy and poor health are rife, the spread of HIV presents a daunting challenge.

As hundreds of different dialects are spoken in the country, many of the prevention efforts are best carried out at the state and local level. To complement the local initiatives, the government has funded a number of national campaigns to spread awareness about HIV/AIDS (e.g.: ‘Condom Bindas Bol!’ to break the taboo that surrounds condom use, 'Red Ribbon Express’ to provide education, testing and STD treatment).

Worst affected states

Even as it moves into the general population, the HIV epidemic is still misunderstood among the Indian public. People living with HIV have faced violent attacks, been rejected by families and communities and been refused medical treatment. As well as adding to the suffering of people living with HIV, this discrimination is hindering efforts to prevent new infections.

Even if the country's epidemic does not match the severity of those in southern Africa, it is clear that HIV and AIDS will have a devastating effect on the lives of millions of Indians for many years to come. It is essential that effective action is taken to minimise this impact.

More information on AVERT.

Coracles in Mysore


In existence since prehistoric times, coracles are primitive, light, bowl-shaped boats which can be found in Southern India.

Friday, October 07, 2005

IIMB security guards

IIMB is protected by guards at the entrance gate and on the campus.

Usually, when my friends come, the guards only ask for my name and room number. When I go out, they smile. When I come back late, they smile again.

But not today. One of my friends came and the guards didn’t let him in. I had to go to the entrance gate and sign a document to discharge them from any responsibility should something happen to me outside of the campus. Curfew: midnight!

Thursday, September 29, 2005

My Chennai


My entrepreneur friend plans to open 3 offices (Bangalore, Hyderabad, and Chennai) simultaneously. Think big! ;o) Heading for Chennai to hire people... My motto in India: Don’t miss any opportunity. If necessary, invite yourself!

A few hours by train. Half sleepy when we reached there. Uncle, aunt, cousin and grandmother waiting for us. All of them speak English, except the grandmother whom sweetness fully compensates for the limited possible communication in English.

Tests, interviews, lunch, beach, restaurant, beach again. Time flying… A bit lazy today… Check my friend s blog to have more information ;o) Haven’t spent enough time with the relatives. Will catch up the next day…

Planned to sleep til noon… Badly need it. Really? They all came to “my” room, one by one. ;o) Gave up. Had breakfast. And went on the roof… to study! Read again… Study! ;o) Exam next week. Might be time to find out what is the course about. Sun shining… Incredibly high productivity.

Lunch time. More and more (good!) food. Went with my friend to fire one of his business partners. Read: “ending up a relationship” ;o) Then, roamed around in the city trying to find Indian clothes and (wedding?) ring… Back home. Went to the uncle’s pharmacy and aunt’s small clinic. Impressive… But felt a bit uncomfortable in front of the patients.

Time to leave already. Feel privileged. So far, had the chance to spend some time in 3 families. Indian hospitality is well-founded. Had a great time…


Chennai


Chennai (சென்னை in Tamil), formerly known as Madras, is the capital of the state of Tamil Nadu and is India's fourth largest metropolitan city. It is located on the Coromandel Coast of the Bay of Bengal. With an estimated population of 6.90 million (2005), the 368-year-old city is the 31st largest metropolitan area in the world.

The city is a large commercial and industrial centre, and is known for its cultural heritage and temple architecture. Chennai is the automobile capital of India, with around forty percent of the automobile industry having a base there and with 80% of the nation's vehicles being produced there. It has also become a major center for outsourced jobs from the Western world. The 12-kilometre long Marina Beach forms the city's east coast and is one of the longest beaches in the world. The city is known for its sport venues and hosts India's only ATP tennis event, the Chennai Open.

Source: Wikipedia

Monday, September 26, 2005

Compliments

Indians easily make compliments. On the other hand, they won’t hesitate to tell you that “you look horrible today!” ;o)

I got my worst compliment a few days back… “You start dancing like an Indian”. That was at an IIMB party. I was the only exchange student (Where is everybody?) and I was dancing in the less harmonious possible way ;o)

Sunday, September 25, 2005

IIMB classes

IIMB offers a range of classes from International Finance to Competitive Marketing Strategy. Each lecture lasts 90 minute (without break) and is attended by around 50 students quietly listening to the professor.

Attendance to class is compulsory. Too many absences might result in not getting credit for a course. Conclusion, BE in the class. Many IIMB students don’t hesitate to sleep during the lecture which is quite disturbing at first. Some professors don’t care or, if they do, you'll only find out when you'll get your grades.

I'm hoping to have long weekends to have the opportunity to travel. Given the proposed schedule and the attendance requirements, I doubt it will be possible. Add to this that other exchange students have to take 3-4 credits when I have to take 5 and you can guess how tricky it will be for me to find the perfect schedule.


Update: In 2011, IIMB decided to make attendance voluntary across all courses.

Arranged marriages

"Love marriages" do happen in India but it is not the norm. It is an accepted fact that a person's family will play a role in picking the marriage partner. It is important to remember that in Indian society an arranged marriage is seen as an act of love

Before coming to India, I had a hard time conceiving a marriage which was not based purely on love. How to manage a long-term relationship with someone that you didn’t choose? How to make an arranged marriage last when so many love marriages result in a divorce?

Some Indians, even in the new generations, think that an arranged marriage is an easy alternative to a love marriage. No need to hunt for the “right one”, your family will do the work for you.

Definition

An arranged marriage is a marriage that is at some level arranged by someone other than those being married and is usually used to describe a marriage which involves the parents of the married couple to varying degrees (forced marriage, traditional arranged marriage, modern arranged marriage, modern arranged marriage with courtship, introduction only).

In many cultures that are modernising, children increasingly tend to view an arranged marriage as an option that they can fall back on if they are unable or unwilling to spend the time and effort necessary to find an acceptable spouse on their own. The parents then become welcome partners in the child's mate hunt.

Origins

Arranged marriages have been part of the Indian culture since the fourth century. Many consider the practice a central fabric of Indian society, reinforcing the social, economic, geographic, and the historic significance of India. Arranged marriages serve six functions in the Indian community: (1) helps maintain the social satisfaction system in the society; (2) gives parents control, over family members; (3) enhances the chances to preserve and continue the ancestral lineage; (4) provides an opportunity to strengthen the kinship group; (5) allows the consolidation and extension of family property; (6) enables the elders to preserve the principle of endogamy.

The practice of arranged marriages began as a way of uniting and maintaining upper caste families. Eventually, the system spread to the lower caste where it also was used for the same purpose. "Marriage is treated as an alliance between two families rather than a union between two individuals".

95% of all current Indian marriages are arranged, either through child marriages or family / friend arrangement. The Child Marriage Restraint Act of 1929-1978 states that the legal age for marriage is 18 for females, and 21 for males, with most females being married by 24 and most males being married by their late twenties. However, many children, age 15 and 16 are married within a cultural context, with these marriages being neither void or voidable under Hindu or Muslim religious law, as long as the marriage is not consummated until the legal age of 18 for females and 21 for males.

Reasons

-Since marriage is one of the most important decisions a person will ever make and because divorce is not accepted among most Indians, it is imperative that the marriage choice is carefully thought out and planned. How can a young person make such an important decision on his/her own?
-For some parents there is pressure from the community to conform and in certain cultures, a "love marriage" or even a relationship is considered a failure on the part of the parents to keep control over their child.
-For some, it is fear of what the community - social and/or religious will think if their child is not married, often by a certain age. In some cultures, sons and daughters have a "sell by date", meaning the son or daughter are deemed less likely to find a suitable partner if they are past a certain age, and it is considered folly to try to marry them off at that stage.
-The religious and spiritual aspect of arranged marriage can play a large role in finding a "suitable" spouse. Numerology is often used in Indian culture to predict the fruitfulness of a particular match. This can sometimes be expressed in a percentage, ie a 70% match.
-Caste can play a large role in Indian marriages. One reason for Indian parents opting for an Indian arranged marriage, rather than a marriage of mixed races is that the caste cannot be found out or simply does not exist in that culture/country. This ambiguity can create a "fear of the unknown" and so an arranged marriage may be insisted upon.

Proponents' views

-Reduction or elimination of incompatibilities: Since marital incompatibility has been found to be the major reason for divorce, arranged marriages ensure a much higher probability of success because they tend to match persons of the same religion, caste, dietary preference (e.g., vegetarian), linguistic group, age group, socio-economic background, education, professional status, physical stature, etc.
-Following one's head is often wiser than following one's heart: What is idealistically called "love" and "individual choice" is often the infatuation of the moment, which often passes when it is too late and the marriage has already taken place. Having elders vet the prospective spouse and their family is a kind of "due diligence" that needs to take place.
-Low expectations: Neither the man nor the woman knows quite what to expect, and there is a lot of understandable trepidation on both sides. This often works out well, because things turn out to be "not so bad after all".

Opponents' views

-Forced marriages: Much of the stated opposition to the concept of arranged marriages is actually an opposition to forced marriages. None except the incorrigibly feudal would defend forced marriages where the individuals being married have no veto over the decision.
-"Loveless" marriage: This has, however, been disputed by many people in happy (arranged) marriages who claim that love grows in a marriage, even if the marriage does not start with love.
-Individual accountability: Even if arranged marriages prove to be significantly more stable than "love" marriages, the latter are still preferable. There is something more important at stake than stable families — respect for individual accountability.

Process

The steps involved in an arranged marriage vary by communities and families. Here is the most common scenario, and the process can break down at any step.

-Broadcast of Availability: This is when the guardians of the groom or bride announce that they are in market for an alliance.

-Horoscope Matching: The interested parties trade birth horoscopes as a sign of showing interest. Those who believe in horoscopes consult with astrologers and priests to find out compatibility. The compatibility score is often used to reject an alliance.

-Photo Exchange, Interview, and Background Check: The pictures are exchanged and if in agreement, one or more face to face interviews are arranged, during which elders are also present to help with familiarization

Potential bride-grooms come under close scrutiny. Do they have enough means to support the bride? Do they appear to be men who will make good husbands and fathers? Often, the bride will live with her in-laws after marriage in what is called a joint family. Because of this, the groom's family is also brought under close scrutiny. Do the women of the household seem well cared for? Do they have a big enough house for another person and grandchildren? Does the family have a good reputation?

Potential brides also come under scrutiny by the boy's parents. Since it is a commonly held belief that brides are the embodiment of that family's honor and pride, the girl must be from good family and have good manners. She should be respectable and have no taint on her name. Does she have the makings of a good wife and mother? Does she want to work after marriage or stay at home?

Traditionally, the bride and groom would not even see each other until the day of their wedding. Today, while most marriages are still arranged, times are changing. There is usually a small courtship period where the bride and groom can meet and talk under the careful watch of a guardian. Also, if either one of the two do not want the marriage, it is likely to be cancelled. Very few family's today "force" marriages upon their children.

-Dowry and Contract Negotiations: The logistics of marriage are then discussed. Who pays how much for the wedding expenses, the gold, the dowry, girl's and boy's net worth, the house they'd live in etc.

-Engagement: If all the parties are in arrangement, sweets are shared to announce the engagement.

Listen to interviews.
Read testimony.
Visit a matrimonial website.
Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4

Saturday, September 24, 2005

IIMB campus

24/09

One more friend to meet. Just came back from the States. And for a change, he loves his job ;o) For those of you who know Vivien, he is just like him. Guitar player, same look, same attitude… Had some fun in the city before going out at night… Tried a lounge… Empty! Quite rare in India. Ended up at the rock pub I went to two weeks ago. There are only a few great places in Bangalore. This is one of them… Came back at my place… With him… Extra bed in my room. No problem with the security guard. Lunch at his place the next day with his friends. Have to learn how to make Indian dishes! All in all, fun!

Monday, September 19, 2005

Theatre

Watched my first (westernized) Indian movie in a (westernized) Indian theater with an Indian friend ;o) The movie: “Salam Namadse”. Partly in English and partly in Hindi. Quite commercial… My friend was a bit embarrassed to have brought me to such movie. Basic story… Understood it despite my absolute ignorance of the Hindi language ;o) But I had a great time! The movie was not the most important… Enjoyed the ambiance and the company…

19/09…

Not much to say… Caught up some sleep. Saw a few friends. From now on, I won't write about my daily life on the blog. Don’t want to become too repetitive for the potential reader. But know that I enjoy every moment spent here and that I love my Indian friends ;o)

Two exceptions: 1) when I meet one of my online Indian friends I haven’t met before. Quite a few more… Sorry for those of you I haven’t had the time to meet in person… 2) when I do something new for me in India.

Home Sweet Home

Back in Bangalore… Home sweet home! What a strange (and great!) feeling… I have been here for only 3 weeks but I feel home… I didn’t expect to adapt so fast to Bangalore.

Group projects

Indian professors love group projects. Indian students love unplanned academic meetings during the day, as well as during the night. Impact: it is absolutely impossible for me to make plans with my non-IIMB friends. So please, excuse me for the dates I had to postpone…

Friday, September 16, 2005

My Kerala and Tamilnadu

Leaving to Kerala. Skipping a few school days in the process. I promised one of my Indian friends I would visit him (and his family) for the Onam festival.

Onam is a time for sports, festivities, and ritual celebrations in Kerala. The Keralites celebrate this festival in memory of the golden era of King Mahabali whose spirit is said to visit the state at the time of Onam. Colorful aquatic festivals are organized along the sacred rive Pampa as part of the celebrations. After three months of heavy rains, the sky becomes a clear blue and the forests a deep green. The brooks and streams come alive, spouting a gentle white foam, the lakes and rivers overflow and lotuses and lilies are in full bloom as if to welcome the spirit of the King. It is time to reap the harvest, to celebrate and to rejoice (...)"

We missed the 4pm bus and had a hard time finding a seat in the 9.45pm train. At last, we bought two emergency tickets, hoping they would be confirmed in the train. Conclusion, the two of us on the same 50cm seat for a 15hour night journey. Fun!

We finally reached my friend's family house and we were wonderfully welcomed by the parents. Also met the neighbours and friends.

In Kerala, learning English is strongly encouraged in the education system. It was unfortunately not the case before. The dad knows a bit of English but I had to use the sign language with the mum.

We had special dishes for the Onam festival, served on banana leaves. Eating with fingers? Let's try. Mixed the rice and the sauces with the right hand, took the food with my fingers, opened my mouth… I obviously need a bit of practice. Slow process. Decided to use a spoon. The food was extremely good but Keralite people must have a disproportionate stomach. I was so full after the third round.

At night, we visited the city. There were so many places to see. Ran out of batteries for my digital camera.

Went back home.. where 3 more rounds of food were waiting for us. Cant move anymore. Loved my first day in Kerala!

Our next stop (by bike) was Kanniyakumari (Tamilnadu) which is the place where the Bay of Bengal, the Arabian Sea and the Indian Ocean meet. Despite being hit by the tsunami last year, the coast remains beautiful. The waves were as high as the Thiruvalluvar Statue (the combined height of the statue and pedestal is 133 feet denoting the 133 chapters in the Thirukkural).

“Described as the southernmost end of Tamil Nadu, the land’s end of India or the point where the three seas meet, enchanting Kanniyakumari or Cape Comorin is one of the most popular tourist spots in the state. Part of the fascination is of course due to the fact that it is the very tip of the Indian peninsula. Nature is so spectacular at Kanniyakumari that several other Indian beaches pale by comparison. Cape Comorin is at its best during Chitra Pournami (the full moon day in April) when the sun and moon are face to face on the same horizon but other full moon days are also special and you can see the sun set and the moon rise almost simultaneously.”


At night, we had a few drinks on the beach. My paranoiac friend didn’t want us to go there too late in the evening. Nothing happened but I was glad not to understand Tamil, Hindi and Malayalam.

We woke up at 6am to see the sunrise. Climbed on the hotel roof, half sleepy. The view was amazing. We then headed to the island to visit the Thiruvalluvar Statue.

3 hours by bike later, we were back at my friend's place. My skin had turned completely red because of the sun. We were late and his parents were waiting at the door. Worried…

I wore the saree that my friend's mum had bought me. Red hair, red face, orange and goldish saree. Perfect match!

Back on the bike. This time with heels, flowers in my hair and saree (not really stable!). The first temple didn't allow foreigners to enter. We went to another temple, much smaller but extremely peaceful.

Went to a beach. A foreigner one as it wouldn’t have been much fun to wear a saree where wearing such clothes is so common. Had our dinner in front of the sea.

On my last morning in Kerala, my pant's button broke (too much food?).

We were in a rush. My friend's friends had been trying to find train tickets for the past few days. A big thank to them for their time!

15 of us on 8 seats. If you buy your ticket too late, you might have to sleep on the floor. I was glad to know that one of the seats was going to be mine at night. I woke up at 4am, a stranger lying next to me in my bed! Didn’t feel like pushing him on the floor.

Feel free to visit Kerala! Wonderful people, great food and stunning landscapes! Thank you!

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Wearing a saree


Burned by the sun during our bike trip from Kanniyakumari (Tamilnadu) to my friend's home (Kerala). That's why wearing a helmet should be compulsory!