Thursday, March 30, 2006


Travelling in India can be tiring as one has to adapt to the crowds, noises, spicy food, warmth, bugs, stares, animals, smells, traffic, diseases, pollution, gigantism, diversity, lack of privacy, poverty, beggars, touts, etc.

At one point or another, you will be pushed out of your comfort zone. For me, being continuously observed (well, stared at!) was definitely the biggest hassle.

To fully enjoy the country, take your own needs into account. This would differ from person to person and might include: avoiding large cities if crowds make you uncomfortable, taking vitamins if your new diet makes you feel weak, deciding in advance on your "beggar policy" if you struggle with insisting beggars, etc.

And be open-minded!

What would prevent you to go to India?

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Friday, March 24, 2006

You know you are Asian when...

You know you are Asian when...

* When you tell your parents you got 98%, and they ask you what happened to the other 2%.
* There is a sale on any item, you buy 100 of them.
* You make tea in a saucepan.
* You never buy bin bags, but use your saved grocery bags for it.
* You put your clothes in suitcases instead of wardrobes.
* You have a 'Singer Brother' sewing machine at home.
* Your mother has a minor disagreement with her sister and doesn't talk to her for ten years.
* You call an older person you've never met before "uncle".
* You hide everything from your parents.
* Your mother does everything for you if you are male.
* You do all the housework and cooking if you are female.
* Your relatives alone could populate a small city.
* Everyone is a family friend.
* Everyone always called you for help on homework.
* You study law, medicine or engineering at university.
* You were thick so you studied computer science or business instead.
* You know no one who has studied music.
* You went to a university as far away from home as possible.
* You still came back home to live with your parents after you had finished.
* Your best friend got married at the age of 18.
* You like the meat well done.
* You eat onions with everything.
* You use chilli sauce instead of tomato ketchup.
* You fight over who pays the dinner bill.
* You say you hate Indian films/songs but secretly watch/hear them.
* You avoid public places when with a member of the opposite sex, especially if there is an acquaintance within a 250 miles radius.
* You always say "open the light" instead of "turn the light on".
* You secure your baggage with a rope.
* You're walking out of customs with your trolley at the airport and you see all twenty-five members of your family who have come to pick you up.
* You get very upset when airlines refuse to accept your luggage which is just 80 lbs overweight.
* You go back to your parents' country and people treat you like a member of the royal family.
* You ask your dad a simple question and he tells you story of how he had to walk miles barefoot just to get to school.
* Your Dad drives a Nissan.
* You're rich so he drives a Mercedes.
* You are ALWAYS taking off and putting on your shoes wherever you go.
* When you were little you always wondered why your English friends waited until after breakfast to brush their teeth when you did it first thing in the morning.
* To your English friends, oil is used purely for cooking and not as a grooming aid.
* Your parents have nicknames but only because people they work with just stop when trying to read their names.
* You have annoying nicknames like Chotu or Chicku.
* Your parents call all your friends "Beta" (son/daughter).
* Your mother measures wealth in gold and diamonds.
* Your parents drink 3 cups of tea a day.
* Your parents compare you to all of their friends' kids.
* At least once a week your mom says, "I want to go to India/Pakistan".
* No one ever seems to call ahead of time to say they are coming over for a visit.
* Your parents worry what other people will think if you're not going to be a doctor/ engineer.
* You're parent's always say while shopping abroad, "It's cheaper in India/Pakistan".

Wednesday, March 22, 2006


There are currently snakes on the campus. The picture below was taken in one of the new hostel blocks!

A 1.5+ meter long snake waiting to enter the bedroom!

The land of snakes

-The snake is a powerful symbol in Indian mythology and Hinduism. The snake represents rebirth, death and mortality due to the casting of its skin (symbolic rebirth).
-Snakes are worshipped all over India. Practices vary from region to region and include human food/flower offering, carved representations of snakes and festivals/temples solely dedicated to snakes.
-Snake charming, the practice of pretending to hypnotise a snake by playing an instrument, is common in India. The snake responds to the movement of the instrument, not the actual noise.


India is home to many venomous snakes. 250,000 snakebites are recorded in a single year, with as many as 50,000 recorded deaths.

When travelling in snake areas, follow the safety advices from Netdoctor:

-Wear long boots and trousers.
-Do not put your hands into holes or dark cavities.
-Make noises/vibrations in the surroundings as snakes react to 'shaking' and prefer to flee if given the chance (exceptions include Australian Taipans and Puff adders).
-Avoid going out in a snake area when it is dark as snakes prefer to evade bright light (take a strong torch with you if you need to go out in darkness)
-Stand completely still in presence of a snake as most snakes predominantly attack moving targets.
-Do not touch a snake in the wild. Only if someone has been bitten should you make sure that the snake is killed and take it along for identification. Put it in a sack that can be held away from the body or hold it by its tail.
-If bitten, seek medical care immediately.

Economy: 2050

“Dreaming With BRICs: The Path to 2050” was written by Goldman Sachs in 2003.

Economic Size

In less than 40 years, the BRICs’ economies together could be larger than the G6 in US dollar terms. By 2025 they could account for over half the size of the G6. Currently they are worth less than 15%.

In US dollar terms, China could overtake Germany in the next four years, Japan by 2015 and the US by 2039. India’s economy could be larger than all but the US and China in 30 years. Russia would overtake Germany, France, Italy and the UK.

Of the current G6 (US, Japan, Germany, France, Italy, UK) only the US and Japan may be among the six largest economies in US dollar terms in 2050.

Economic Growth

India has the potential to show the fastest growth over the next 30 and 50 years. Growth could be higher than 5%over the next 30 years and close to 5% as late as 2050 if development proceeds successfully.

Overall, growth for the BRICs is likely to slow significantly over this time frame. By 2050, only India on our projections would be recording growth rates significantly above 3%.

Incomes and Demographics

Despite much faster growth, individuals in the BRICs are still likely to be poorer on average than individuals in the G6 economies by 2050. Russia is the exception, essentially catching up with the poorer of the G6 in terms of income per capita by 2050. China’s per capita income could be similar to where the developed economies are now (about US$30,000 per capita). By 2030, China’s income per capita could be roughly what Korea’s is today. In the US, income per capita by 2050 could reach roughly $80,000.

Demographics play an important role in the way the world will change. Even within the BRICs, demographic impacts vary greatly. The decline inworking-age population is generally projected to take place later than in the developed economies, but will be steeper in Russia and China than India and Brazil.

Global Demand Patterns

As early as 2009, the annual increase in US dollar spending from the BRICs could be greater than that from the G6 and more than twice as much in dollar terms as it is now. By 2025 the annual increase in US dollar spending from the BRICs could be twice that of the G6, and four times higher by 2050.

Currency Movements

Rising exchange rates could contribute a significant amount to the rise in US dollar GDP in the BRICs. About 1/3 of the increase in US dollar GDP from the BRICs over the period may come from rising currencies, with the other 2/3 from faster growth.

The BRICs’ real exchange rates could appreciate by up to 300% over the next 50 years (an average of 2.5%a year). China’s currency could double in value in ten years’ time if growth continued and the exchange rate were allowed to float freely.

Source: Wilson D., Purushothaman R. (2003), “DreamingWith BRICs: The Path to 2050”, Global Economics Paper No: 99, Economic Research from the Goldman Sachs FinancialWorkbench® at

What might hinder India growth?

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The Indian rupee is the official currency of the Republic of India. Although there are no checks in practice, importing and exporting Indian rupees by foreign nationals is theoretically prohibited. Foreign currencies can be easily exchanged at airports, some hotels and foreign exchange providers.


-While prices asked by street hawkers should be negotiated, prices in retail chain stores are usually fix. For packaged goods, stick to the Maximum Retail Price (incl. taxes) indicated on the package.
-Avoid shopping in tourist areas where prices are often inflated. 
-Buy more than one item at the time to increase your bargaining power.


Money Management 

-Don't flaunt large amounts of cash in public.
-Always carry small notes as street vendors or autorikshaw drivers might not be able (or willing) to give the change.
-Tips are unusual in most restaurants but are given to those providing services such as cleaning car windows or carrying luggages.
-Avoid common scams such as 1) "free" services including guided visits or religious ceremonies for which you might be pressured afterwards into making tips or donations and 2) "friendly" recommendations to hotels and shops for which the recommender gets a commission.
-International banks and major Indian ones accept the majority of international cards at a nominal charge.  Reduce the transaction cost per unit by withdrawing large amounts of rupees by transaction.

Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Fisherman at work

Early morning in Tamilnadu...


Clothing and shoes

Avoid wearing revealing clothes (especially in rural areas). When visiting a religious building, you will generally be required to cover your head and be dressed conservatively. In addition, some Hindu temples may not allow any leather items inside the temple.

Make sure to remove your footwear before entering a temple/mosque. Traditionally, shoes are not worn in households either.

Hand and feet

Only use your right hand when receiving/eating food or when receiving/giving money or gifts.

Avoid touching books/papers (money/gold) with your feet. They are considered the physical forms of the Goddess of learning (Goddess of wealth).

Avoid touching or pointing at people with your feet. Feet should also not be extended toward any religious artifact or symbol.

Affection display

Avoid displaying affection in public. It can lead to fines (e.g. Rs 500 in Delhi for making "illegal use" of public spaces) or even arrest.

Monday, March 13, 2006

Peaceful Marine Drive

Relaxing in Mumbai...

Saturday, March 11, 2006

School kids in Konark

Schools uniforms are almost universal in India, from primary to higher-secondary level.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Alcohol and cannabis


Consumption of alcohol is prohibited in the states of Gujarat, Manipur, Mizoram and Nagaland. While the other Indian states legally permit alcohol consumption, social acceptance varies from region to region with public drinking by women being generally less tolerated.

Note that the sale of alcohol is banned on dry days. Used to maintain peace, dry days are observed on major occasions (Independence Day, voting days, etc.) or during festivals.


Cannabis is widely available in India despite being illegal in the vast majority of the country. There is a variation in penalties and enforcement according to the region.

The three available types of cannabis are: bhang (leaves and plant tops), ganja (leaves and plant tops) and charas (resin from the leaves).

Bhang, which is sold at licensed bhang shops in some states, is the most commonly used form of cannabis in religious festivals. It is also part of many ayurvedic medicinal preparation. Bhang can be smoked, mixed to food or used to make bhang lassi.

Bhang lassi (also called Special lassi) is made by blending yogurt with water and bhang. Use caution as they are available at varying strengths. The recipe can be found here.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Head tilt and non verbal communication

Like all cultures, Indians have distinct gestures and hand movements that mean different things.

-Touching someone's feet is a sign of respect usually accorded solely to elders
-Lifting your pinky finger means that you have to go to the bathroom
-Pressing your palms together is the equivalent of a handshake
-Tugging on your ears is used to apologize or to admit a wrong-doing
-Sliding one hand over your wrist (indicating the use of a traditional Hindu woman’s bracelet) is used to question a man's manhood and to provokes him to a fight
-Touching the offended person with your right hand and then moving your hand to your chest and to your eyes is a gesture of apology (e.g. after stepping on someone's foot)

As a tourist in India, you must also master the head tilt! The following article found on Worldhum is a must read.

"The situation: You’ve just arrived in Delhi and want to catch an auto rickshaw across town. You hail one, but instead of offering a verbal answer to your request, the driver tips his head from side to side and slowly blinks. From the neck up, the gesture is inscrutable. But he’s waving his hand for you to get in. Confusion prevails. A head-tilting tutorial is in order.

Background: At its most graceful, there’s something Stevie Wonder-esque in the Indian head tilt—an easy rhythmic sway that, once familiar, can prove soothing and even addictive. You could devote a lifetime to learning any of the hundreds of languages that have evolved on the Indian subcontinent. But from Kashmir to Kanyakumari, the metronome-like head tilt offers a universal means of communication. Interpreting and replicating this single non-verbal cue offers you more than just a way to be understood while in India—it’s a chance to employ a unique gesture familiar to one sixth of humanity.

What not to do: Head-tilting neophytes often mistakenly assume that the movement starts at the top of the head, resulting in a jerky and unnatural motion.

The basics: The secret is to lead with your chin. To practice, stand in front of a mirror with your head in a neutral position. Using your chin to control the movement, allow your head to fall slightly to one side. The angle between your head’s neutral position and the tilt should be no more than 15 degrees (just the slightest of dips).

Return to neutral and repeat the motion on the opposite side. Make your movements from one side to the other gentle rather than springy, as if your head were suspended in fluid.

When to tilt: Since head-tilting often acts as a non-verbal “Uh huh,” it can replace a spoken confirmation as well as convey that you are listening to the speaker. To show enthusiasm during a conversation, smile and ramp up the speed of your tilting.

How often: Four tilts of your head are sufficient for conveying “Yes” (two to the right and two to the left, alternating from side to side).

A tilt’s many meanings: In its myriad iterations, the Indian head nod can mean “Yes,” “Nice to meet you” and “I agree to the price you have just mentioned.” It can also mean “Maybe,” “Hell no,” and “You are the enemy of intelligence.” Interpreting the meaning requires time, practice, a little self-effacement and a lot of humor. With a little practice, South African Wendy John found it made all the difference. “For me,” she said, “head tilting became a way to actually connect with people and for them to see that I’m locally attuned.”

Advanced technique: At a music or dance performance, the gesture of slowly shaking your head from side to side in what equates to a Western “No” can be employed to express wonder at the talent on stage. For the full effect, close your eyes and exclaim “Kya bhat hai!”—Hindi for “How beautiful!” "

Saturday, March 04, 2006


Patel family in Gujarat was puzzled when the coffin of their dead mother arrived from the US. It was sent by one of the daughters. The dead body was very tightly squeezed inside the coffin, with no space left in it. When they opened the lid , they found a letter on top addressed to her brothers and sisters.

The letter read

Dear Chandrakantbhai, Arvindbhai, Mohan and Varsha,

I am sending Ba's body to you, since it was her wish that she should be cremated in the compound of our ancestral home in GUJARAT. Sorry, I could not come along as all of my paid leave is consumed. You will find inside the coffin, under Ba's body, 12 cans of cheese, 10 packets of Toblerone chocolates and 8 packets of Badam. Please divide these among all of you. On Ba's feet you will find a new pair of Reebok shoes (size 10) for Mohan. There are also 2 pairs of shoes for Radha's and Lakshmi's sons. Hope the sizes are correct. Ba is wearing 6 American T-Shirts. The large size is for Mohan. Just distribute the rest among yourselves. The 2 new Jeans that Ba's is wearing are for the boys. The Swiss watch that Reema wanted is on Ba's left wrist. Shanta masi, Ba is wearing the necklace, earrings and ring that you asked for. Please take them off her.The 6 white cotton socks that Ba is wearing must be divided among my nephews. Please distribute all these fairly.


PS: And if anything more required let me know soon as Bapuji is also not feeling too well nowadays.


Friday, March 03, 2006

Following the tracks

On Elephanta Island in Mumbai...