Thursday, November 27, 2008

MUMBAI UNDER SIEGE!!! Mujaheedin strike the commercial capital of India!

Over 100 dead, over 300 injured!

Pictures:the CSRT railway terminus, an UNESCO heritage site-several commuters were indiscriminately sprayed with bullets and injured/killed-(?) inside;
the magnificent Taj Palace Hotel and Taj Towers with the Gateway of India in good times; an old picture of the Taj rear side-(IT IS NOT A SQUARE/BLOCK STRUCTURE AS PROJECTED BY THE MEDIA); the Taj today, victim of terrorism.
Update: Saturday, 29/11/2008
160 dead .............Indian authorities are probably upto their old game, they are known to submit official figures like dead and injured numbers close to the real numbers much later.

And this is proving closer to home to so many of son's yoga teacher in Pune has lost her son, killed by these aweful terrorists; he was a manager at the Taj Palace Hotel. A very close friend of mine here in NZ
reports his nephew with family and friends have holed up in a hotel close to the Trident Oberoi, they were having dinner there when this happened.
But I like what that great doctor and philosopher, Dr Deepak Chopra, said on CNN yesterday: this is ultimately a message to Washington; this is two sided, the same petro dollars go through Saudi to Pakistan and then to these terror groups; the muslims make up 25% of the world's population and the fastest growing group..........don't do things that would make a moderate become radical..............make sure they are won over, that would lead to an end to terrorism.

Below:Wednesday and Thursday, the 26th. and the 27th. of November 2008.

This is, this far, the worst terrorist attack on India; notwithstanding the large number of previous terrorist attacks, some very recent, in New Delhi and Assam, this one takes a new turn; several large very well known iconic places targetted, with the terrorists implanting themselves for a prolonged siege, providing a shield for themselves by taking hostages, AK rifles and grenades, not rudimentary or text book bombs, and probably confusing intelligence services and the world at large by "presenting" themselves as a little known outfit, the Deccan Mujaheedin." THIS IS NOT A GUERRILLA OPERATION BUT A FRONTLINE WAR!

India's premier railway station, built in 1888, and now placed on the UNESCO list of heritage structures, two of the best hotels, one a heritage hotel that had opened for business in 1903, cinemas, suburban locations........this is a very well planned and coordinated attack, and worst, has also target ted I write this, rather rewrite/rephrase this, a hostage crisis still remains unresolved at the two hotels and some other places.

I am stunned and grieved; nothing absolutely nothing compares to this.........I would rate it the worst attack since 9/11, and certain ways of looking at it, its worst.

To people familiar with Mumbai/Bombay, and I am "born and bred Bombayite," the extent and scale of operation can be modestly described as awesome, my guess, some hundred terrorists involved.

The scale of the attack, in terms of the area covered, some of the busiest locations in Mumbai, 24 by 7, is unprecedented; I should know, I have lived 57 years there and in Pune. And this made far worse by the taking of hostages, including foreigners, from several locations...........this is new, terrorism taking a new turn in the way it intends to operate in this region.

Two hotels, the Taj Palace Hotel and the Oberoi Trident, two of the best in India, India's busiest railway terminus, the CSRT, which is officially an UNESCO World Heritage site, the classical Metro Cinema, at one time the pride project, in Asia, of MGM studios; and horror of horrors, a medium sized hospital, the Cama hospital which, as far as I know, from the time I lived in Mumbai, specialised in maternity care!!!

At a very personal level, I am particularly shocked at seeing the well loved Taj Mahal Palace Hotel(see here its history) on fire...............this heritage hotel built, in 1903, by a great son of India, recognised there as the "father of Indian Industry," Jamsetji Tata, and a great icon for myself, as Jamsetji was a great Parsi and a visionary who did not live to see his dream of an economically independent India, (steel, textiles, electric power generation, scientific research initiated during his lifetime..........the present Tata group covers a huge range of economic interests rivalled only by a huge amount of scholarships and charities by them .................his descendents, JRD Tata, founded Air India, and now Ratan Tata, equally a visionary of sorts, has conceptualised, and put on the production line, the world's cheapest car, the Nano, priced at somewhere around US$ 3500.00!!!)

The Taj Hotel is to hotels, what the Buckingham Palace or Versailles is, compared to some of those new glitzy palaces of the oil rich Sheikhs!!! "houses" some, now rare wood work, intricate stone work and marble lattice work, rare furniture and rare paintings, and a feel of heritage in its architecture...............and as I could guess, from pictures on CNN and BBC, its right wing, the Radio Club end, is on fire.

Memories of great times at the Taj, dining at the pricey Rendevouz restaurant (I think I have done that just twice, very unaffordable,) or coffee at the Coffee Shop on the first floor, with a superb view of the harbour, or munching on some of the best cakes and savouries from La Pattisserie; and a more "emotional" connection, my father was posted there at the CitiBank branch for a few years from his 35 year career at the Citi.

The Leopold Cafe, on the main Colaba Causeway road, behind the Taj, a family run restaurant by Zoroastrian Iranian emigres, renovated and styled to attract dinners from the Taj and other hotels, also came under attack...........this single piece of evidence points to the fact that these terrorists did their guess Leopold is, even to the present day, a 100 table affair, but has attracted foreigners who frequent here for modestly priced food and beer........not otherwise a target deserving the attention of terrorists, but the knowledge that foreigners dine here the deciding factor to target this joint.

I live in NZ, and would not be right to use my blog to cover live these horrible events taking place in Mumbai; that coverage should rightly be left to bloggers and others living in Mumbai.......

The Indian authorities will now have to come up with more dynamic and effective intelligence gathering, with more active liaison and cooperation with and support from international intelligence agencies, more alert to terrorist warnings and messages, and a more efficient security check up at all sensitive locations....................breast beating, loud protests and promises to do better in the future, these wont work.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

What if there was no Big Bang, no meteor that destroyed the dinosaur, no hominid that walked upright, no flint that sparked the first fire, no.......

When, and if, you chance upon this essay, and you decide its worth a read, the first impression, rather two impressions, and the right ones, bang on, you are sure to gather, are: this guy has idle time on his hands and, he is no original................I (that's you) have read this piece somewhere.

Of course, you have! But its my way of putting ideas important to me!!

Most odd ball inspirations come sitting on our throne..........wastage out from down there, and fresh ideas flow in up, that is original!

I began thinking, how many probabilities and improbabilities, and these are infinite, make up for our existence on this rock? There are so many "if this had not to happen" and "what if this had happened" that we are left wondering how the hell are we here at all!!

Lets try and list some of the what ifs.

What if the Big Bang, or whatever caused all this Universe getting created, had not taken off? Nothing, absolutely nothing would have been here, not me, not you, not this laptop, no birds and bees......yes, yes I will stop here. Maybe, there would have been some other type of everything...........ask those clever physicists.

They tell us that all the millions of Galaxies in the Universe are moving away from one another.............they have concluded this by the red shift, the spectrum of light coming from all these bodies out there; it indicates everything is moving away from our galaxy, hence by physics analogy, every galaxy is moving away from every other galaxy!

For now, this was good.........our Solar System, and billions of other systems had ample "breathing" space, hence planets formed around stars. But billions of years from now its going to be pretty lonely..............we won't be around to see that...........the entire Universe is going to disperse into oblivion.......billions of galaxies will be infinitely distanced from one another..........what an awesome thought! (And here we, petty petty piece of nothings, are trying to match wits with one another.)......

I have just seen a very informative, and not very pleasant, documentary on History channel (3/Dec/2008) with astronomers prediction that our Milky Way galaxy is on a collision course with the neighbouring galaxy, the Andromeda Galaxy......if our huge spiral side of our galaxy where our Solar System is located remains outside the collision, we will witness astronomical fireworks that may last a million years!!!

This Earth is estimated to be five billion years old...........does this include the billion years it was in some dust and gaseous state, slowly solidifying into a rock? (the outer crust we live on; otherwise, below the crust is a fiery ball of fire!)
The Universe is variously calculated a 13 billion to 15 billion years, our Star, the Sun, should be around of a much younger age, because the old blokes have lived out their full life, become huge monsters and then collapsed by the awesome force of their own gravity, become Black Holes......Black Holes, one is at the center of our Milky Way Galaxy, (estimated to be a million times bigger than the Sun, sucks in everything that comes near, even light is absorbed..............gluttons of the Universe!

So our tiny Solar System is lucky it remains "unscathed" so far!!!

Now here goes, if the Earth had not solidified to its present state, not formed the atmosphere needed for life to sustain itself, this happened by a torrential rain that lasted some 70,000 years, life as we know it, again impossible............anyhow life would have evolved someplace else; in any case, scientists conjecture, life, several million times over, is replicating in other parts of the Universe.

There are some conflicting theories on how life formed, and physicists in particular thrive on this; life came from meteors that crashed into Earth, these bringing bacteria and building blocks of life from deep Space. No, others differ, life was accidentally formed from the soup of chemicals in our oceans that churned out the right mix of building blocks that form life.

Are there any other theories? I can't think of any right now, no wait.........I think I had read somewhere, bolts of lightening flashing across the skies triggered life formation in the oceans. One of these or
some other, not yet postulated, formed life.

Perhaps there is most likely some Force, some Energy, a Supreme Intelligence, not the God we conjecture and imagine we are made in His image, but a Force with an infinite else can you explain the pattern in everything..............the atomic structure in everything, the atoms are an universe within itself........zillions of Universe, each atom with protons electrons neutrons and the smallest particle, the apologies, if more infinitely smaller particles have been discovered...............I don't know.........I feel like an illiterate who has only learned to sign my name yesterday!

But I have heard of the String Theory, all things in the Universe are "connected" by an infinite infinite number of strings, smaller than the atom(?) that holds things together, read Stephen Hawkinns "A Brief History of Time."

Look at the pattern...........this Earth revolves around the Sun, is at the exact optimal distance that keeps the right atmosphere etc in place for billions of years, billions of years............sorry, no amount of persuasion from physicists that a number of clever mathematical formulae explain this and many other things.............ok, a huge number of formulae..........but how and where did these formulae, perfect explanation for everything, spring from? A Nature without intelligence or a Force hidden behind Nature that provides this intelligent pattern.

Look further at this pattern of all things..........all species mate within their species, every specie has its own DNA structure and set of instructions ...........a cow's DNA structure is not going to accidentally produce a human............but the DNA instructions will make you look a little like your father and mother!

or, a DNA structure with instructions for your nose is not going to "build" your ear...............look at the heart, it has DNA instructions, giving the heart's "battery," the small Bundle-Recording above the heart, to give out electric currents to beat the heart ceaselessly for the life span of the owner......amazing!

Its the same pattern, the same infinite number of events and coincidences or patterns that got the human race going ...................from remote hominids, around four million years ago, who from the neccessity to stand upright to observe danger better........ started our species! Vertebrae, those series of bones running down the central back part of the body, had evolved for some million years, enabled life to walk on fours, and then, our hominid ancestor, on two......legs!

And millions of years before this, in a one in a million rare event, a huge meteor, crashing into the Earth, "destroyed" those egg laying fact, scientist tell us, dinosaurs never died out, but evolved over millions of years into birds! (When you eat chicken, remember its ancestor was probably a specie of dinosaur!)

In the meantime, species, that "grow" their off springs in a womb within their body, the mammals, unlike through eggs that incubate the offspring outside the body, got preponderance, with the big bully dinosaurs out; and these, the mammals, began to do better in the game of evolution.

Some of these mammal species began to use their hands and fingers, one of the first hold their bodies from falling, these mammals held tree branches with their limbs, thus giving an impetus for the brain to "grow." These were the ancestors of the ape family of which we humans are a branch. (If these ancestors, of hominids, were to have stretched their necks to reach out for food-berries etc, growing on trees, we would probably have evolved into an animal with long necks and a small head with a small brain!

With more flexible fingers, and hands, these early apes began to hold foods in their hands, eating, by transferring foodstuff into their mouths held in a grip in their fingers.............this "tool, our hands and fingers," got more agile only by an increased brain capacity.

And with better food intake, the bodies of some of the ape species grew this point, for reasons still not understood, one branch of apes separated from the other, and the ancestor of hominids began to evolve............a specie of more intelligent ape that used more small rocks to break open nuts etc...........and easily from there, the descendant of these apes, the hominids, began to "flake' these stones to form tools, their brain capacity growing larger, the forehead gradually standing higher to enable enclosure of a larger brain.

It took a few million years for the early hominids- the Ramapethicus, the Homo-Habilis, and many other branch descendants of hominids, to evolve into ancestor of Man, the Homo Sapien Sapien....................even here, great competition for space, and what else, took place between the Neanderthals (one descendant branch of later hominids or early humans) and the Homo Sapiens Sapiens (that's us)............with the latter winning out!!

A further quirk of evolution, more recent, humans branched into several races, the Caucasoid, the Mongoloid, the Brown, the Negroid (the last probably the oldest.)

And one spark, one spark accidentally produced from friction of flints, caused man to make his own fire..........the world's greatest ever invention!! and the seeds of civilisation..........domesticating the first wild seeds and shifting out from caves to the first simple structures..............burying the dead or exposure (cremation), domesticating goats first(?) then cattle........

Monday, November 17, 2008

The West and the East--The tortoise comes in from the rear!

This seems to be the decade of the tortoise!

This laggard (one of the synonym describing this shelled friend in Thesaurus) has come in from the back and overtaken the hare!

Aesop's Fable tells this story where the timeline is just a few hours; but the tortoises of the world have been trudging for centuries and the hares (plural sense) have been running as well..........looks like the hares have tired out, at least for now, from this race of centuries!

The West is the hare, the East the tortoise-(this is the case since the great Industrial Revolution in the west.....otherwise the East was for centuries fabulously rich-Alexander the Great's soldiers needed several thousand camels to take away loot from the Persian capital, Persepolis.....the kings of india wore rubies the size of eggs!); now, the tortoise, this slow shelled scaly skinned creature is aptly carrying a burden on its back- the shell, very easily symbolic of the East, burdened with its baggage of poverty( more poverty since its colonisation by the West,)...... religious prejudices, "slow" modern development begun decades after the West, huge number of ethnic groups, high castes and low, and many other disabilities.

The West, inventions of the modern age, the Industrial Revolution, discoveries, science and medicine, Isaac Newton, Marie Curie and Pasteur, the humanists and social scientists, with an ugly side as well, the pirates and the colonists, the slave traders and the racists, apartheid, and dictators like Hitler and Communism, East Europe and Bosnia. (Of course, the East gives us the Pol Pot in Cambodia, Saddam Hussien, the Taliban, the harsh regimes of North Korea, and China- harsh where it suits them.)

Somewhere in between is the great continent of Africa, mother of the human race! Its people under great burden, first 'inflicted' by their ancient rulers, then by the western masters, and now by their new leaders; and you have Darfur, Zimbabwe, and Congo, blood diamonds, and a new breed of mercenaries that terrorise its people, Idi Amin and others. But the one person that belongs to all ages and peoples of the world is Nelson Mandela, whose "mentor" Mahatma Gandhi the great sage of the modern world who had spent some years in South Africa.)

I would group Africa with the East, so the election of the first Afro-American as the President of the United States, Barack Obama, in a sense stands for the tortoise winning (although Obama himself never never uses his black background to any advantage,)...........and, in hindsight we should not be that surprised.

The one voice that is heard so avidly in the US is that of Oprah Winfry, an Afro-American (this info for those very few who don't know!) , America's best rated talk show hostess, and who the world saw crying at Obama's speech in Chicago (after winning elections;) and the greatest icon of that country, Hollywood, has more than its fair share of black actors: Morgan Freeman, Eddie Murphy, Will Smith, Denzel Washington, Jammie Foxx, Samuel Jackson, Forest Whitaker, Halley Berry, Queen Latifah and Whoopi Goldberg. US sports has been dominated by Afro-Americans for decades, the athletic fields at the Olympics splashed with black, not just from America but from Africa as well!

And now, China and India, and the wealthy countries of the Middle East, Dubai and Saudi Arabia, cheap and very hard working labour, software and outsourcing, oil money, seems to confirm that the tortoise is in the winning game!

And what happened to the hare?
Decades of a very liberal society, born from the very high ideal of freedom, but which has given the world hard rock music and drugs that have held young minds in the new shackles of free sex and drugs, hip culture and what else!

Whilst the deprived child in India, for example, did his school homework below the street lamps for lack of lights in his home(and because he works during the day), a burning desire to educate himself, and thus seek freedom from poverty, his western counterpart chose a different kind of freedom, filling the streets of cities with violence and petty theft. (Please forgive me for the generalisations, the west still has the very best educational institutions with a fair share of the young there studying for the "college degree.")

And the West chose to work at very high salaries, and spend spend spend, no savings and mollycoddling by their governments, homes on unaffordable mortgages, change cars on a whim, go on world tours, over dress, fashion and cosmetics; and the masters of the great companies, with their craze for profits and piracy in their veins, chose to take jobs where they did work cheaply (to the few people I have talked with, westerners, they seem to point fingers at India and China for the loss of their jobs. This is only partly true, the blame should also be placed on those thousands of Companies and their CE Os for deciding to take jobs to the cheap cannot clap without two hands!)

And, no one seems to know that the lowly priced Indian Rupee, in the Foreign Currencies Exchange Market, proved a boon...............a salary of Ind. Rs 50,000 per month-- (it can buy you the world in India-bread Rs 17/; good pair of shoes Rs 4000/; haircut-gents Rs 100/; a midsized Chevy- Rs 4,00,000 [US$ 8200])-- works to US $ 1,000 per month!!! .........................and the hare got left behind!

But the world should be a place of equal opportunities, no hare and no tortoise; somehow a logical, not equal, distribution of all the world's resources, an end to all forms of exploitation, a sharing of and pooling of talent and jobs, an ideal Platonic world where the whole human race stands to benefit............with the first logical requirement- all those men who would do anything for money, power and personal gain, somehow neutralised!

Friday, November 14, 2008

Software Parks, MegaCenters, Malls, Pune 2008

For the past two decades, India is following an economic policy, with private enterprise and foreign direct and indirect investment encouraged, where wealth created is expected to trickle down to people, thus alleviating poverty; yet somehow, the problems are not getting solved at the right pace.

Although for the first forty years, since becoming an independent country, India followed the socialist path, discouraging monopolies, more weightage to the growth of indigenous industries, nationalisation of all infrastructure- railways, roads, water resources and electricity, airlines; there was a good side to this which is now apparent.

A massive boost to education, since independence, for example, churning out graduates by the thousands, did not make sense, until, some decades now, these educational institutions began to pay dividends by a wise switch to quality education- so India has one of the largest pool of engineers and software engineers, followed by good doctors, and management cadres..........some of the best international companies have Indians at the top- CE Os.

What seemed senseless some forty years now, building of water dams all ac cross India, seen as a threat to ecology, are now also seen as paying dividends; India is self sufficient in agriculture, its milk and wheat production, for example, is one of the highest in the world.

Nationalisation of banks, for example, was decried loud from the rooftop, and some of the nationalised banks are seen as poor cousins, in terms of efficient service, of private banks, established later; but these banks, thanks to regulated financial activity by government, are very strong financially whilst foreign banks and finance hubs like Lehman Brothers collapsing like nine pins.

Some of the indigenous companies, allowed during those years of socialist policies, like Hindustan Motors, churning out old models, have now taken a deserved beating; but some of the pharmaceutical, steel, hotels, and others, changing with the times and pursuing the best business policies, companies like Tata Steel from earlier days, or Reliance Industries and Airtel, which came up later; Reliance has, for example, put up the largest oil refining plant, in Asia, in Gujarat. Airtel has one of the largest network of mobile telephony in Asia. Heritage hotels run by various companies are running some of the best hotels in the world.

Whilst in India, in September-October this year, I watched quarterly results of some Indian companies on CNBC, and Infosys, and others, continue to make profits, planning to increase staff!!

Economic policies that take a very severe beating are the nationalisation of electric Pune, thanks to this very inefficient handling of plans for growth of electric infrastructure, power is shut for six to seven hours each day!! Just last Sunday, from here in NZ, where I now read Indian news reports, power was shut in some parts of Pune from 7 a. m. to 8 p. m.

When this happens most of the companies, industries, hotels, restaurants, malls, provide power to themselves from generators run on diesel............I wonder how much diesel is consumed this way.........and how it might be more pricey than electricity. Now, the electricity provider, the MSEB (Maharashtra State Electricity Board ) wants to raise rates, pay more per unit, for assured 24 hour supply!!!

Since the opening up of the economy, some two decades now, the India story has never looked back...........huge building construction, for residential as well, but most parts unbridled, with roads and water and electricity poor and far behind; new hotels, new cars manufacturing, restaurants, shopping malls, software parks, call centers, innner walled in cities, multiplex cinema, and modern industries-mobile telephony, airlines, textiles and fashion, software and outsourcing, new pharmaceuticals, oil refining, the list can go on ..................just one of the enterprises run by the government seems to do well, atleast partly, the railways, with luxury trains for tourists, and running some 11000 trains ac cross India.

But pollution and dust, water and electricity shortages, poverty and old badly dilapidated houses, are very much evident as well!

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Traffic! Mumbai-Pune, India Sept-Oct.2008. - 3.

Left, 1st picture: view, from a car-notice the riders on motor cycles on the opposite side chatting (see circle mark.)

By hindsight, I am quite awed insurance companies cover accidents and mishaps driving in India, Pune in particular.

If you want to experience driving at its very worst, then choose to hire a rental car or sit in a three wheeler rickshaw, select the morning or evening office rush hour times, and ask to be driven on some main streets of Pune...........the experience will remain with you forever.

Your driver and every other driver......... cars, rickshaws, buses, trucks, delivery vans, motor cycles, scooters, and cyclists in their midst, compete to stay on the road to the exclusion of all others; it is the stiffest competition of survival of the fittest.

Right of way is amply expressed by jerking the car forward in first gear, and quick timely split-second braking if someone is in your way, and that always is the case (the vehicle in front doing the same thing, or a pedestrian darting through ) the meantime every man/woman behind the wheel, on your right or left, and behind you, will try their very best to get you into a corner so he or she can pass all this it is not uncommon to see two or more riders on motor cycles or scooter riders riding alongside, in earnest conversation(!) .....their wives riding on the pillions, in animated conversation as well!

Every motorist is subjected to constant rude blowing of horns for slowing down, never mind the vehicles ahead have slowed down! Pedestrian crossing/zebra crossings are death traps, you have to go on looking at the traffic or get mowed down........that never happens because the Indian pedestrian competes with the swiftest animals for accelerated jumps.

In any case, the majority of pedestrians cross ac cross roads where ever and whenever they please............Very often they will not even care to look at the oncoming vehicles, they just saunter ac cross........their faces turned in any direction but the direction of oncoming vehicles..........hindi, national language: "rasta tere baap ka?" .... Marathi, local language: "rasta tujha bapacha kai?"........ translation into the colonials English: " road belongs to your father what?"

Be prepared to be entertained when you wait at a red "stop" the way, cyclists continue riding, red signals are not their concern! When you stop for signals, beggars will crowd you and if you draw up your window, this does not deter them, they will knock on the glass. One incident, we were seated in a rickshaw and a very young street urchin, a girl, went up on her hands, her palms unmindful of the hot road asphalt, and did a somersault................she got ten rupees from me! The most awful sight are women, in tattered clothes, carrying babies in their arms, these children of God, not older than one year, are very still, almost lifeless........are they drugged? These women stand at traffic junctions and approach with their bundle, God's children, eliciting your pity and kindness to get some alms.

And this is the most crossroads, all kinds of vehicle drivers are very mindful of traffic signals or a signalling cop; but where signals, for some reason, are not operating or stop operating, or the cop has retreated for a cuppa tea or gone off duty, then all hell breaks loose(!!!).............every vehicle, from every side of the cross roads, considers their right of way paramount, the muddle and jam, with vehicles of all kinds inter vined and almost stuck to one another, gets very chaotic and can be very dangerous; it resembles series of knots, irretrievably fully tied up in more knots!!!

To add to woes, roads in Pune, especially roads leading out of the city, are not roads but craters, in parts; vehicles naturally drive around the pot holes, but when the traffic is dense than the unfortunate vehicles have to wobble their way........a high end vehicle or a fully loaded truck is a sight, its upper top swaying like a boat in rough seas!

My very good friend, Marz, lives in Koregaon Park and frequents the "German Bakery" there for coffee...........he has got himself some German and European friends and they say "Marz, we love it here, driving is adventurous, keeps you alert!" And, living in close proximity to the Osho commune, pretty girls in abundance!!

Many of the major roads have night illuminated "buttons," embedded on the road surface, dividing lanes, and centre dividers, green trimmed plants/shrubs topped on yellow stripped blocks; its not that the civic body is not trying to improve things!

And, this time, I have seen a new innovation : all types of adverts on billboards on tall steel masts fixed on specially designed trucks, these parked on the road side, passing vehicles can view the ads.

But the economic boom is evident in Pune, hotels and restaurants, some very swank, shopping malls, office and residential buildings everywhere, again some very modern glass and steel exteriors, new cars on the roads, Hyundais, Hondas, Toyotas and Chevrolets, Fiats and Fords, and some spanking new Mercs, BMWs and Audis. But dust, pollution, broken roads, stray dogs, chaotic traffic, poverty evident in most places the Cantonment area or Boat Club road, and Kalyaninagar, for example, you might drive for several kilometers and see nothing of poverty and old dilapidated structures.

Congratulations Barack Obama and John Keys; and the best of luck to all of us!!!

Two very significant events that will effect people of the world, in general, and people of the United States and New Zealand in particular! (election of Obama in the US, and the election of John Keys in NZ.)

Obama's election as the first Afro-American President of the United States, signals a powerful change in US politics and people's attitudes a country "dominated" by people of European descent, with most of the American presidents and senior politicians clearly bearing names with an English, European and Jewish ring : Bush, Clinton, Reagan, Kissinger, Madeline Albright..........with significant changes when Blacks or Asians "arrived" on the scene : Colin Powell, Condoleeza Rice, and Bobby Jindall.

But the election of Barack Obama to the highest office in the United States is of huge and awesome significance! One of the great historical watersheds in US and world history!

And it comes at a time when the world and the United States are facing an unprecedented situation, the economic crisis that effects all of us. Reckless and totally unregulated management of the free market economy, leading to the "fall" of several reputed companies, Wall Street and world markets in downturn, loss of jobs and homes, a recession that must be reversed. The short sighted policies of companies, who for a quick buck, and no one looking over their shoulder, giving away fat salaries and perks to their CE Os whilst the company made losses, the unbridled shift of jobs to countries where salaries come cheap but not doing this with a balanced approach when jobs in their home countries should also have been secured. (a 3 stage manufacturing process, for example, should have had 1 or 2 stages in a country where labour is cheap, the 3 rd stage continued in the home country, instead of shifting all 3 stages to the cheap market!)

To make matters worse we all face security issues unprecedented in world history, the very ugly rise of terrorism that has taken on a global scale, and needs to be stopped at the soonest, through both changes in dealing with people, and tough action where talks don't work! (Here the aspirations of all peoples of the world should be looked at with great degree of sympathy, especially the frustration and sense of injustice some people feel, this first...............reach out and talk...................but a very tough hand on those who use senseless, crude and life threatening means to express their feelings and agendas.)

"Change" is nothing new............all civilisations, countries, religions, cultures, institutions that believed in change, flexibility, recognising changing aspirations of people, new and changed circumstances, survive and thrive..........all stubborn and non-malleable forms of human endeavours never outlive their usefulness.

Here, in New Zealand, people have elected the National party, John Keys, the National leader and Prime minister designate, after 9 years under Helen Clarke and Labour...........time for change here as well!

Helen Clark represents wisdom and experience and a long productive stay in NZ politics, but now "ageing" as a leader, and showing up a trifle inflexible..........stubborn policies in taxing people, over spending and lack of real incentive in keeping people here in NZ.........decreasing opportunities; besides Helen Clark was seen as shielding people around her who failed, with exposed money scandals or inefficient handling of their responsibilities.

John Keys in now elected "man of the hour," people want some fresh look and solutions to NZ's problems, bring around more job opportunities, cut tax rates, stop recession, and my personal plea...........please bring in talented people into the country, create wealth by targetting NZ's potential for growth, more exports, broaden the base for imports, (this means less products from China !) and more indigenous consumption of fair priced products, more money in people's hands without damaging cuts in public spending, more cost effective but real health support. More education, free or subsidised where deserving, reasonably priced where affordable; no family assistance where people can work, especially young people!

So congratulations, to Mr Obama and Mr John Keys!!!

Friday, November 7, 2008

Mumbai-Pune, India Sept-Oct.2008. - 2.


Pictures: Wedding card with Ganesha on cover; a Ganesh idol; Ganesh at home; huge Ganesh idols, usually set up for worship by a whole neighbourhood or city locality, on sea side for immersion; Ganesh with a laptop!!

Here, in India, doing something at an auspicious moment is more desirable, choosing to arrive at some place, for example, rather than doing this at an appropriate or convenient time, an important consideration in the western world. Although we, my wife and I, had not given any thought to going to India for a short visit on an "auspicious occasion," we were pleasantly surprised when we later realised we were arriving there during the 10 days Ganesh festival.

Lord Ganesh is the Hindu God of contracts, well-being and happiness. In Hindu beliefs, he is son of Shiva and Parvati and acquired an elephant's head in place of his own, and the story is........................... when he refused to allow entry to his father whilst his mother was bathing in the house, (Ganesh had never met his father before,) and Shiva enraged and not knowing this brave young man was his son, cut off his head. When Parvati came out she was grief stricken, shocked, and enraged with her husband's deed. Shiva, now appalled at his foolish and reckless act, (his own son!!!) found an elephant, cut off its head and replaced it on his son!!!

Ganesh is recognised as a great Being of kindness, compassion and bestows good luck and benefits to those who worship him.........hence all wedding invitation cards, for a Hindu wedding, for example, will have his image gracing the cover or top. No Hindu will start any venture without invoking Lord Ganesh. Ganesh is worshipped and invoked every New Year and before using a new set of Accounts books.
The Ganesh 10 day festival, with its beginnings in the distant past, involves bringing a richly decorated clay idol of this gentle God into the house or mandal (neighbourhood) and worshipping with prescribed rites for 10 days, a time of great joy and merriment as well, then immersing the idol in the nearby waters, at the end of 4 or more days, but not exceeding the 10 days............this means for the very wealthy and the innumerable number of collective neighbourhood Ganesh groups immersion of the idol is done on the 10th day. People turn out in large numbers (see picture) and roads leading to water-sea, river, lakes, are closed for traffic, the police and volunteers out in great numbers to control the crowds.

In the twentieth century this festival acquired some political overtones when the great Indian freedom fighter, Lokmanya Tilak, a tutor of Mahatma Gandhi, encouraged people to take part in this festival in large numbers, to signify solidarity, and intimidate the British Raj officials at the same time!

It was nice to arrive in India ( see post below) at Ganesh festival time, there is an excitement and feeling of good in the air..........lights, songs, sacred songs known as bhajans, people greeting and mingling, a general bonhomie. To me, personally, though I am not Hindu, I do believe here is a very beneficent Power, and how things of the heart cannot be worn on the shoulder.............

My housing complex members decided, sometime in the 1995s, they would pool expenses amongst themselves, and maintain a Ganesh idol with all the proper rites and rituals for the prescribed period of 10 days. All co-owners , Hindus, Muslims and others (we, my family and I, are Zoroastrian), get together and support Hindus with the rituals, and join them in merriment, get-togethers and games, sharing food delicacies ritually offered to the diety, known as "prasad." Its a time to meet people, have fun, bon homie............after the evening ritual of "aarti," the solemn offering of prayers to the diety, people wait back for dinner, with the menu set by all the one ends up tasting cuisine from all parts of India!!

Things seem very quiet and "dull" after the festival is over, but some do feel glad they can now "return" to their own routine!!!

Of course, the festival arrangements are not without the usual share of fuss and misunderstandings, between the resident or neighbourhood ladies, especially on the timing of events of each day, the choice of food, who should do what chores............."you did not turn up yesterday, why ?" well, people never we, my wife and I, wisely avoided taking on any "administrative" responsibilities, least we rub the wrong shoulders.

And, this time, as folks living abroad, we had the better share of being treated VIPs (very important people) by VIPs (very inquisitive people!), with a small motley of neighbours keeping some old stupid feeling of some discomfort with people who choose to migrate.

More in the next post.

Monday, November 3, 2008

Mumbai and Pune-India: September/October 2008 !

Pictures: Kalyani Nagar, Pune, GoldAdLabs food mall and multiplex cinemas; huge traffic in the western suburb of Andheri in Mumbai, an approach road to the airport; Bishop's School in Kalyani Nagar; view of K'lyaninagar from across the river; my housing complex in KNagar.

In my last post, Sunday 31st August, I had said goodbye, would be away for around 3 months. I am back in Auckland in two months(!) time, arrived here yesterday, 2nd November, shaken and stressed after a very hectic trip to my former home, Pune and Mumbai!

My wife and I had planned to spend 3 months there, catch up with old home and roots, friends and the not so friendly..........and two months were more than one could take, and my pleadings with the wife had the right results; we were lucky to get air tickets from Malaysia Airlines changed, cutting short my trip by a month. (Now don't get me wrong, everybody loves home and more nostalgic for their old/past home, memories; I will miss the rich spicy food, but also ruefully reminded I had to load myself with digestive tablets to get the food down. I will miss the wonderful people who are good friends and hosts, nice times at homes, restaurants and clubs. But the dust and pollution, daily power cuts from 6 a. m., for some six hours, the same "hostile" neighbours who choose to play cricket in my vacant car garage, the long 12 days to get the new refrigerator replaced, endless trips to my electric power distributor, the MSEB, to register non use of power as I reside abroad......and the feeling of some intimidation at the pompous wealthy showing off their spanky(?) clothes, and adorned with huge pieces of imitation jewellery at even informal places as tambola gatherings!!!)

Flying out from Mumbai on the morning of 1st November, departure 12.05 a. m., a stopover in Kuala Lumpur and a flight to Auckland that arrived here at 12.55 p.m. on the 2nd. Good to be back!!!

Now, you will ask me, "how come you said there is likely to be no internet where you are going. No internet in India?" Let me explain. From my experience 4 years now, when I last visited my previous home, Pune, I knew it was pointless to expect any difference in this situation. My house in Pune is located in the western suburb of Kalyani Nagar; and the problem?

There was some unresolved telephone cable mix up; no amount of checking and turning things around could get my internet connection working. That was in 2005......the telephone and internet chaps had messed up cables leading to my wing of the housing complex where my apartment is located, hence blocked for internet. Several visits from the tele company linesmen and technicians, more polite requests, some shouting matches, and some filling up of greasy palms(!) had no be fair to those blokes, I could see they could not find the problem.
With a massive boom of (building) construction, electrical, telephone and internet cables (and water lines) are laid in badly planned dug-ins , then dug out and relaid several times over.

Although I write this blog and other stuff, I am not a "computer geek" so I did not carry my laptop PC this time.

To understand the economic boom, one has to see it first hand and better, if the previous few years, in my case 2005, have been experienced first hand.

We, my wife and I, landed at Mumbai airport at 10 p. m. on 2nd Sept.

Immigration folks have some 20 odd counters, so immigration check took less than 10 minutes; the customs chaps are a little behind........several red channels and only 2 green, here long queues ........but the baggage Xray is quick, and no questions asked.

We had our rental chaffeur, a small man in plain plain clothes, waiting with a cardboard sign, my name written on. He stood with a motley crowd of chaffeurs and anxious family and friends looking at the arrivals as these swung out from the exit gate with the usual trolleys piled with baggage; here a couple of confused tourists were franctically gesturing at cops.

I was surprised by the Chevrolet "Tavera," a comfy but high, 5 seater van, airconditioned but somehow wobbly.....................more surprised and a trifle scared at the thick traffic, its around 11.30 near midnight(!)

Crawling through the traffic, with cars and trucks changing lanes recklessly, vehicles inches away from several collisions that somehow don't occur, we reached the Mumbai-Pune Expressway. Here, it was awesome to see the 6 lane road to Pune, (3 lanes in each direction), some 160 kilometers, jammed for most of the way with heavy loaded trucks groaning with raised engines, and our heroic driver doing zigzags through these sluggish monsters. It was frightening and awesome all at once.......... one part of my dazed brain registered that the economic boom keeps this highway busy with trucks past midnight. (Economy boom, yes, but planning, no. Its an old story, the railways, a government monopoly from the days of the British raj, never want to run more freight trains, hence this huge thrust on road transit of most goods.)

This Expressway, leading to Pune, connects with the Bangalore Highway, before the approach road to Pune on the western outskirts; and further east, roads through Pune connect to Hyderabad, both Bangalore and Hyderabad are major software centers in southern India, and further south roads turning east and west connect to cities of Tamil Nadu and Kerala. (states of South India.) The trucks bear licence plates with MH (of Maharashtra), GJ (Gujarat-north of Mah. transiting goods to south India also through this road), and similarly-PN (Punjab) RJ (Rajasthan) etc etc, a virtual who's who of India's regions and states.

As usual, leaving the Expressway, some of the city roads, in Pune, were more craters than road, the driver proudly pointing out several new hotels that have sprung up in this business town. Pune, one time capital of the Mahratta Peshwa empire, then a British cantonment with squat bungalows in black or beige stone, then a pensioner's paradise and some mansions of the Mumbai rich who vacationed here, is now a huge business, including the Merc., and scooters are made here, forging units, pharmaceuticals, heavy industries, and now software parks and outsourcing, telemarketing and call centres..................drivers 'transporting' young call centre staff all times of the day and night even have their own labour union!

I learn to appreciate the reckless driving my rental chap subjected us to, because we reached our home at 3 a. m. and I realised if he would have followed the good global driving norms we would have reached atleast 3 or 4 hours later, chugging behind those slow heavy laden trucks.

My home, an apartment, roughly 1500 square feet spread over the building's 4th and 5th levels, got it painted before we arrived, was, however, covered with dust, the furniture in particular, and the dust covers as well.......a thick coat of dust. That took almost the whole of the first day to dust and clean up.

In the hot sultry climate you cannot do all the housework, you need domestics; after several interviews and false promises of turning up for work, we got ourselves a domestic, Sunita, after a patient wait for a week. The old domestic, also Sunita, turns up, bursts into tears, declares she has to work for us and wont take no for an answer, is hired to come later each day to cover up for the other Sunita!

We had placed order for a new refrigerator and were not at all pleased, it had a dull grey exterior, it seemed a fashion in India to go for grey shades! By our second morning we realised it was not cooling, and several calls later ............"sorry, sir, this is the ................ department, you need to ring this .................. department." and " sorry, sir, who gave you this number? we don't deal with this kind of complaint.......please call up the ............. department," and "I am taking down your complaint, but you also need to contact the manufacturer's local service centre." We were then visited by technicians from the dealer and the brand's service centre.........several multiple visits later the piece was replaced 12 days from my first the meantime stocked meat, eggs, and frozen fish went into the rubbish bin and we had to make do with local take home. (The Japanese better have a good look at the after sales service in Pune!)

Kalyani Nagar, is a highly rated suburb on the eastern outskirts of Pune, with new housing complexes offering clubhouse, pools, jaccuzis, penthouses. Several new groceries and food malls, Spencers, Reliance Fresh, More, and Big Brother, shops by Levis and Pierre Cardin, and a shopping mall, GoldAd-Labs, which include multiplex cinema, several banks, this posh suburb still has the old narrow roads with new cars tearing down, their occupants flushed with new wealth, both poor pedestrians and the several stray dogs getting out of their hurtling path.
Most global car manufacturers, Toyota, Ford, Chevrolet, Hyundai, Skoda have a manufacturing base in India, and BMW, Audi are great favorites.
More in the next post.