Monday, January 30, 2006



"The World Bank's definition of the poverty line for under developed countries is US$ 1/day/person or US $365 per year. As per this definition, more than 75% of all Indians are, probably, below the poverty line. As per the Government of India, poverty line for the urban areas is Rs. 296 per month and for rural areas Rs. 276 per month."

What surprised me was not the level of poverty which is regularly reported in the media.

What surprised me was that people seem to find natural to beg. In the West, people ask for money with humility, almost embarrassment. There was none of that in India.

Beggars will often go as far as following you or even touching you. The best way to make them leave is to  ignore their behaviour. If you decide to give away a few rupees, it is preferable to do so just before leaving a place. By doing it before, you will undoubtedly attract additional beggars.

Long term help

I can't deny that it is impressing to see starving/dying people on the street. While giving a bit of money on the spot can be viewed as a quick solution, donating to charities or volunteering for an NGO would provide a  much needed long-term help. 

As I wrote in a previous post, some of the many NGO's active in India still lack credibility and efficient structures. Further improvements have to be made but on the long run NGO’s will make India a better place to live for millions of people!

A list of NGO's can be found here.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Sunday, January 22, 2006

Literacy rate

Approximatively 65% of India’s population is literate (census 2001).


While male literacy rate stood at 75.3%, female literacy rate was 53.7%. Male literacy went up by 11% and female literacy by 14.4% as compared to the figures in the 1991 Census.

Top / Bottom states

Kerala: 88%/94% (Female/Male Literacy)
Mizoram: 86%/91%
All India average: 54%/76%
Jharkhand: 40%/68%
Bihar: 33.6%/60.3%

Country Comparison

India's literacy rate of 65% remains considerably below the literacy rates of other Asian countries that also experienced colonialism. India's most literate state of Kerala just about equals Vietnam's 1999 census figure.

Vietnam: 92% (1999 census)
Sri Lanka: 90% (1995 estimate)
Indonesia: 84% (1995 estimate)
India: 65.4% (2001 census)

In comparison to other South Asian nations, India continues to lead.

India: 65.4% (2001 census)
Bhutan: 54% (1996 figure)
Nepal: 50% (2000 estimate)
Pakistan: 45.4% (1998 census estimate)

Sources: 1, 2

Saturday, January 21, 2006

Friday, January 20, 2006


Given India's history, I expected English to be more widely spoken. While it is generally possible to get by with English in large cities/tourist areas, fluency in English varies greatly depending on education, age and region.

In addition to the 22 official languages, hundreds of languages/dialects are spoken in the country. Ideally, learn a few words of the local language before travelling to India. If you are travelling across the country, Hindi is your best pick as it is the most widely spoken language (but avoid using Hindi in states like Tamil Nadu where it might be met with hostility).

Hindi is the native tongue of the people from the "Hindi Belt" in Northern India. Native speakers of Hindi dialects account for 41% of the Indian population (2001 Indian census). Many more speak it as a second language.

A Hindi phrasebook can be found here. In addition learn about non verbal communication in India here.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Beautiful pookalam in Kerala

Pookalams are colorful and intricate arrangement of flowers, petals and leaves. They are laid in the front courtyard of houses to welcome King Mahabali during the Onam celebrations in Kerala.

Thursday, January 05, 2006


Health recommendations

Most foreigners I know had some (mainly minor) digestive problems during their stay. Risks can be decreased by following a few simple rules: 

-Wash your hands with soap before eating.
-Protect your food from insects.
-Wash your fruits and vegetables with clean water or peel them.
-Prefer cooked vegetables to raw ones as heat destroys harmful germs.
-Don’t consume if you suspect a break in the cold chain (I have seen fridges being turned off at night in local shops).


If you are not accustomed to spicy dishes and would like to order your food not spicy, simply say so. If you still find the food too hot, add lemon to your meal to lessen the spiciness.


Only use your right hand when receiving or eating food (whether you are using cutlery or your fingers). The left hand is considered unclean and eating with it is frowned upon.

Indian food is generally meant to be eaten with the hand. If you are not comfortable using your fingers (technique that involves practice!), most restaurants provide cutlery.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Call centers of the future

It is the year 2020 and call centers are opening all over the West, as the new economic power India outsources work to the countries where many jobs originated. Millions of Americans, still struggling to adapt to a global economy, are willing to accept jobs that pay them in a new currency sweeping much of the world: EuRupees.

Some of them, eager to land one of the customer service jobs from India, are attending special training sessions in New York City, led by language specialist Dave Ramsey, who goes by a simpler name for his Indian clients: Devendra Ramaswaminathan. On this warm afternoon, the professor is teaching three ambitious students how to communicate with Indian customers.

Professor: "Okay, Gary, Randy and Jane, first we need to give you Indian names. Gary, from now on, you'll be known to your customers as Gaurav. Randy, you'll be Ranjit, and Jane, you'll be Jagadamba. Now imagine you just received a call from Delhi. What do you say?"

Gary : "Name as tea?"

Professor: "I think you mean 'namaste.' Very good. But what do you say after that?"

Gary: "How can I help you?"

Professor: "You're on the right track. Anyone else?"

Jane: "How can I be helping you?"

Professor: "Good try! You're using the correct tense, but it's not quite right. Anyone else?"

Randy: "How I can be helping you?"

Professor: "Wonderful! Word order is very important. Okay, let's try some small talk. Give me a comment that would help you make a connection with your Indian customers."

Randy: "It's really hot, isn't it?"

Professor: "The heat is always a good topic, but you haven't phrased it correctly. Try again."

Randy: "It's deadly hot, isn't it?"

Professor: "That's better. But your tag question can be greatly improved."

Randy: "It's deadly hot, no?"

Professor: "Wonderful! You can put 'no?' at the end of almost any statement. You are understanding me, no?"

Jane: "Yes, we are understanding you, no?"

Professor: "We may need to review this later. But let's move on to other things. Have you ever heard Indians use the word 'yaar'?"

Randy: "Yes, my Indian friends use it all the time. Just last night, one of them said to me, Randy, give me yaar password. I am needing it to fix yaar computer."

Professor: "That's a different 'yaar,' yaar. The 'yaar' that I'm talking about means friend or buddy. You can use it if you've developed a camaraderie with a customer. For example, you can say, 'Come on, yaar. I am offering you the best deal.' Do you understand, Jagadamba?"

Jane: "Yaar, I do."

Professor: "Okay, let's talk about accents. If your client says 'I yam wery vorried about vat I bought for my vife,' how would you respond?"

Randy: "Please don't be vorrying, yaar. She vill be wery happy and vill give you a vild time tonight."

Professor: "Vunderful! I mean, wonderful. You have a bright future, Ranjit. And so do you, Jagadamba. But Gaurav, you haven't said anything in a while. Do you have any questions about what we've just learned?"

Gary : "Yes, Professor, I do have one question: Wouldn't it be simpler to learn to speak Hindi?"

Sun protection umbrellas

"Looking for a slim, homely and fair girl for our son" - that is how many matrimonial ads read. India's obsession with a person's skin colour sometimes leads to discrimination and unsafe skin lightening practices.

Efforts are being made to avoid discrimination based on skin colour and "Fair and Lovely", the leading skin-lightening cream for women in India, was forced to withdraw ads depicting depressed, dark-complexioned women, who had been ignored by employers and men, suddenly finding new boyfriends and glamorous careers after the cream had lightened their skin.