Ejipura evictions and Karnataka State Human Rights Commission

If you have read about last month’s evictions (and demolition) of a slum in the Ejipura/Koramangala neighborhood of Bangalore.. and want to do something about it, here’s a sample of the letter you can write/email to the Karnataka State Human Rights Commission. Leave a comment and I’ll DM/message you the relevant email addresses.

To

Karnataka State Human Rights Commission
4th Floor, 5th Phase, Multi Storeyed Buildings
Bangalore-560001
Karnataka

Jan19-2 084Dear Madam/Sir,

I write to you to express my grievance and deep disturbance at the recent human rights violations of citizens of India residing in Bangalore and to lodge a complaint against the Greater Bangalore city municipal corporation (BBMP) for illegally evicting these people and rendering them homeless.

Citizens from poor economic backgrounds and evicted residents of Ejipura’s EWS quarters (Koramangala) have faced many human rights violations for years now. The EWS Quarters were built by the Bruhat Bangalore Mahanagara Palike in Ejipura, adjoining Koramangala. In 2004, many blocks that were “unfit” to be used began to give way and collapsed. When the monsoons arrived in 2007- 08, another block collapsed, claiming three people, including a child. Since then, citizens have been living in tin sheets with false promises and neglects by the municipal corporation and Karnataka State.

The latest casualty is a woman who reportedly died of cold, hunger and shock after sudden and unanticipated BBMP led evictions on 18th January, 2013.

On 18th January 2013, 1500 urban poor families and 5000 people from Ejipura, EWS quarters, Bangalore were evicted violently by the City municipal corporation. Many of them have been scattered through the city, with no home, shortage of food and supplies and all their possessions destroyed. The BBMP has created more homeless people whereas it should be providing for the already urban homeless and protecting rights of urban poor.

Jan19-2 105In the last 10 years, BBMP could have built new houses for the poor on the same expanse, but it dragged its feet for years but developed a PPP with a private company to develop the EWS land, without the consent of the residents. The company that has benefited from the BBMP’s delay tactics is Maverick Holdings and Investment Pvt Ltd, the same company that built the Garuda Mall in the upmarket MG Road-Brigade Road area. This company has also been known for flouting building and development rules and has usurped public land meant for parking and public purposes in prime Bangalore location, to commercially develop it for its own gains.

Day 3 054This city belongs to the poor as well. Kindly impartially investigate into human rights violation, be it deprivation of land rights, shelter, possession, food, dignity and livelihood of the urban poor and publicly make available your reports. People from the area have fled to many parts of the city already and so I request urgent intervention from your part to get them justice. Kindly register this as a public complaint by citizens of Bangalore against the BBMP and take pertinent and stringent action from your capacities. Stand up for the urban poor and stand for their rights.

Find attached, photos from the evictions and demolitions, courtesy citizen journalists from Bangalore. I would appreciate it greatly if you would get back to me with details from your investigations at the earliest.

Best regards,

– Concerned Bangalore citizen

 

4 years of blogging!

Pic: courtesy rodrigues.se

Yup – 4 years! To celebrate my 4-year blogging anniversary, I migrated my WordPress-hosted ulaar.wordpress.com blog to  ulaar.com. I’m sure it’s an event the blogosphere’s been looking forward to with joyous anticipation but guy… don’t know how to break it you… I’m not doing any press interviews. And yeah – don’t send any TV crews either (especially those with Burkha Dutt imitators).

If you really must know where I do most of my blogging, here’s a hint. Koramangala. There are a lot of coffee shops in Koramangala though. Not as many as within a quarter mile radius of a Los Angeles or Manhattan neighborhood..but close.

I’ve also been known to blog from my car as I wait to pick up my son from his school or art class. You may not know which car I drive or which school my sons go to. Then again, you might have read Hum do humare do… bina exhaust ke,  this drama-in-real-life The Janus Man, or The curious case of the traveling chairman.

Now that I’ve cleared the air on how you can’t easily find me in Koramangala, let me share some blog statistics and highlight some other posts.

My blogging journey started with A time to Qik on Feb 8, 2008. The 2nd post (Etymology of ulaar) followed soon enough. Things kinda languished for a few months until the primary Returning to India meme emerged in May 2008. Why are we moving back to India now remains an all-time popular post; a more recent guest post by Vasantha Gullapalli, Our Return Ticket 16 Years Later, was another widely read post on the R2I meme.

It took me 2 years to reach the magic milestone of 50 posts. Fittingly, post #50 was The Art of Returning to India, which also marked the change of my blog’s tagline from Return to accustomed earth to The Art of Returning to India…and Staying Put.

The darndest things you see in India photo blog post was one of the largest traffic drivers in 2010. It also garnered a modicum of fame when BlogAdda, an Indian blog network, featured it as a Spicy Saturday pick.

The 100 post milestone was crossed in Feb 2011 (a speedy 12 months compared to the previous 50). Post #100, As I shuttled between San Francisco and Bangalore in 2010, was on the troubling topic of homelessness. In a coincidental way, this post can be considered as a segue to my new TechSangam blog, which I started in March 2011.

TechSangam’s inspiration (and first) post was Evolution of the Human Race. It took a mere 8 months for TechSangam to hit the 100 post milestone. Comparing TechSangam (official blog) with ulaar (personal blog) is not fair since the former was supposed to be a full-time gig. Unsurprisingly, the blog cadence on ulaar suffered in the first 6 months of TechSangam’s evolution but it started picking up steam in Sep 2011. The ulaar blog is now batting n.o. at 137 (including today’s post) and TechSangam is batting at 133. Gotta keep a healthy competition between the two… are you listening, Dr. Jekyl?

Closing Note: This post was conceived on Feb 7 and written in fits and spurts on Feb 9 (today) – first in a Costa Coffee, then in front of my son’s school, followed by a brief session in Au Bon Pain, and a briefer session on a tree-lined Koramangala street. I’m hitting the Publish button in the comfort of my home office. Boy! it’s been a hot February day.

 

The Darndest Things You See in India – Part 4 (Park Signs)

Sign inside a Koramangala park. Quick! How many DO's and how many DONT's?

Another park! Another sign! Easier on the eye. Too bad it's still prohibition time!

Additional commentary

  • Park timings seem to mirror temple timings though I haven’t verified whether the park is actually closed between 10am and 4pm.
  • Only clockwise walking. Compliance rate is similar to that for the One-way and Maintain Lane Discipline signs you see on Indian roads.
  • Fencing around the fountain for exercises – interesting phrase I say. Btw, the word fountain is merely aspirational.
  • Cleanliness is next to godliness. If all the non-park public spaces were 1/10th as clean as the Koramangala parks, now THAT would be aspirational!
  • In Indian English, “Dirty” can take the form of a verb.
  • Playing in the Park prohibited? Aw come on!

When something’s not easy to do, you are doing it wrong

Pic: courtesy Bing Images

It was early days for me at the University of Houston campus in the Fall of 1992. One of my initial starry-eyed memories was that of purchasing my first Coke can from a vending machine on my way back to the Cambridge Oaks apartment. This was my first-ever encounter with a Coke can (for that matter any soft drink can). I examined it as one would a hard-earned trophy. It was chilled to the perfect temperature, the bright red Coke colors and the calligraphic lettering epitomized to me excellence, beauty and perfection — all things I associated with the American Dream that I was here to pursue. And I had just bought it for 60 cents. It was thrilling.

At this point, most normal people would have pushed the tab open and started glugging away. For some odd reason (daftness perhaps?), I decided that one had to twist/rotate the tab (step #1) and then pull the tab (step #2). Not surprisingly, after I had executed step #2, I was left holding a detached tab and a (still unopened) Coke can and feeling rather silly. I hurried my way back back to the apartment with a mixture of how_could_I_be_so_dumb and a steely resolve to make amends. Later in the kitchen, a few deliberate pokes with a screwdriver yielded results and I was soon slaking my Coke thirst. This was incident #1.

Incident #2 involved the American matchbook – which is quite different from its Indian counterpart (which we call “match box” or “matches”). For the benefit of my Indian readers, let me describe the American matchbook – 2 rows of soft matchsticks are fused inside a thin cardboard flap, there’s only striking surface which is on the outer side of the flap. In case you are wondering, I’ve been a smoker for a grand total of 3 1/2 years – the latter 2 years were during my 1992-94 Houston stint. My roommate (another smoker from India) and I used the matchbook like an Indian matchbox – i.e. tear off the soft stick, and strike it against the striking surface. After a few days of low hit-rate match-strikes, we concluded that the Americans didn’t know how to manufacture matchbooks. Along comes Beaumont-Srini (a senior in Business school) who  showed us the correct way of using the American matchbook — twist the flap around to almost touch the striking surface and simply pull out the match between the striking surface and the flap. Voila! (Friction + chemistry = fire).

As I reflected on these 2 incidents, our mutual good friend, philosopher, guide and senior – Soumya (of Soumya.org fame) had this pithy summary about life in America: when something’s  not easy to do, you are doing it wrong. Over the years, this served as a reliable guiding litmus test. When I found myself waiting for hours at the DMV, turns out I could have called a toll free number to book an appointment instead. Years later, when I kept getting placed on hold on that toll free DMV number, turns out I could have booked my appointment (via the web) in less than a minute.

Now let’s look at India. The same pithy litmus test can be applied here – you just have to flip it on its head: when something’s looking very easy, you are probably doing it the wrong way. If you got your driver’s license in a single afternoon, chances are you bribed the RTO officer or utilized the services of a driving school agent. If you bought the latest video game or the newest Bollywood release from a footpath vendor as you were lounging down Indiranagar’s 100-feet road or Koramangala’s 80-feet road, they were definitely pirated (and you knew it!). If it’s taking you fifteen visits to the Corporation office to register your recently purchased property and you still don’t know when it will finally be registered, you (my friend) are doing it the right way!

If you found my description of the American matchbook to be inadequate, here are some visuals via Google Images: click here

A year in Bangalore – the unwritten blog posts

Pic: courtesy elbo.ws

We hit our ‘one year anniversary in India’ on India’s Independence Day – Aug 15, 2009. A few months ago, we toyed with the idea of throwing a party and invite all our friends (old and new). The unrelenting pressures of work and the weekly ‘rhythm of the kids’ school and after-school activities meant we would alter our plans. ’twas all for the good anyway. It was more appropriate to celebrate the anniversary as a quiet Thanksgiving-style dinner with family than a raucous party.

I did tweet about it though (and gave ourselves a B+ grade) – and our global social graph responded enthusiastically. There’s much to write about our experience but here are a few top reasons why we are rating our ‘move to India’ a solid B+ (knock-on wood for each bullet point):

  • Fortunate enough that none of us (especially the kids) have fallen seriously ill
  • Children getting sensitized to the global issues of haves and have-nots
  • Adapted to the local environment and enjoying the spectrum of people and experiences
  • Kids are well-settled at their new school – NPS Koramangala
  • My job at Adobe has been every bit as exciting and rewarding as I had hoped a year ago
  • We met my parents thrice and my brother five times in the past year, not to mention the increased ‘calling-to-Vijayawada’ frequency thanks to the same timezone
  • Met and made friends with many wonderful folks at Raheja Residency
  • Asthma hasn’t reared its ugly head so far.. (Read Asthma, Bangalore and me for background)
  • Becoming a regular part of the Cubbon Park Irregulars (a rabid group of enthusiastic group of long distance runners) has meant that I ran my first half-marathon in Jan 2009 and very likely will run my second marathon next weekend at Kaveri Trail Marathon
  • Graduated from a chauffeur-driven car to self-driven car at the 7-month mark

The challenge a part-time blogger always faces is time – rather the lack thereof. The list of unwritten blogs continues to balloon every month. Partly to reduce my guilt at disappointing my small but loyal base of readers and partly to get feedback on which topics might be of more interest, here’s the complete list (in no particular order):

  • Bangalore Calling: This was meant to be the sequel to The Bombay Seduction and Gurgaon Growling but this post was threatening to eternally remain in the “Draft” folder. As a stop-gap, I pasted a relevant conversation with a New Jersey-based Indian-American contemplating a return
  • The Indian Woman’s Dilemna: Someday this post will be written by my wife. The thesis is that an Indian woman has a LOT more freedom in America than in her own native country. How then does she reconcile the pros and cons in her head in order to arrive at the decision to return to India?
  • Raheja ‘Monkey-Haven’ Residency: When I informed my Bangalore-native classmate & friend (who lives in the Bay Area) about our new coordinates in Koramangala, he remarked, in a disappointed tone I might add, “But that’s a fairly mainstream choice” (He’d have approved if we had taken residence at the Adarsh Palm Meadows.) Anyway, the demographic profile of Raheja, its vibrant community and its killer location made it an easy choice for us. One of the many fringe benefits of living in Raheja: hardly a week goes by without sighting a pack of monkeys scaling the walls of the buildings foraging for food.
  • Of high rises and balconies: You may not realize it but high rise apartment buildings and their numerous balconies are perilous to kids (and to parents with weak hearts). Our own apartment hunt had to rebooted after our 3 year old demonstrated that the 5th floor balcony is eminently climbable (we still shudder thinking back to that scene).
  • Vishnu’s Best Devotee: This has nothing to do with our move but I had an epiphany on work-life balance as I recollected one of Narada’s tales.
  • Crowd-sourcing the traffic light: I could possibly write 3-4 different posts on Indian road traffic but this is the one I really want to. The unmanned Indian traffic intersection is a fascinating and efficient system. Unmanned intersection and efficient? (you snort) In much the same way that the Mumbai dabbawalas have demonstrated their world-class efficiency, crowd-sourcing the traffic light (which is how I’ve dubbed the unmanned traffic intersection) is simply brilliant for Indian traffic conditions.
  • The Staring Gene: Why do Indians stare so much? I’m not talking about Indian kids nor am I talking about Indians gawking at foreign tourists or celebrities – these are somewhat understandable. I’m talking about Indians staring at Indians…
  • Midnight Marathon to Kaveri Trail Marathon: This is a tribute post to my Runners for Life and Cubbon Park Irregulars friends who’re transforming me from a hobbyist occasionally-goal-directed runner to a semi-pro obsessive runner.
  • Do not urinate here: Saw this painted on a wall in Warangal (or was it Hyderabad?) The location doesn’t really matter because there are very few walls that are sacred in India (even those that are close to temples). Why is that we are not seeing the number of Sulabh Shauchalays increase in India? Why are restrooms an afterthought in most commercial buildings? When they do exist, why are soaps noticeable by their absence? Is it a wonder that infectious diseases continue to have a field day in India?
  • Excellent products, Poor Services: The former are driven by market economy, the latter due to unchanged mindset? My wife and I slightly disagree on the latter. I hold the hope that the market can drive higher level of service and competitors would be forced to catch-up but my wife thinks the attitudes are too deep-seated.
  • Living in the Present: [essay from wife]
  • Well-rounded education: [essay from wife]
  • The Three Bubbles Revisited: An expansion on the original The Three Bubbles post – whether it’s my friend Pranshu (who goes offroading every weekend in Gurgaon) or the guy in Mumbai (who goes mountain-biking) or me reconnecting with my inner-running-self and looking-forward to resuming my squash routine, there are additional ways of enriching the ‘living bubble’.
  • What I miss about California
  • Close encounters of the bribing kind: Two encounters so far and I passed with flying colors.
  • What I don’t like about India: inspired by a recent Starbucks chat with a friend who mildly accused me of  writing only positive things about our move. Not true my friend. You should read my tweets more carefully 🙂
  • (No) Thank You Maids: [essay from wife] Cheap labor, poor performance, excellent excuse for the Indianization of the Indian-American male.
  • Desperate Lives: Whether it’s the maid or the driver or the handyman or the kackra-wala, they are all living incredibly difficult and desperate lives to make ends meet.
  • Educating Boys: [essay from wife] School + sports = incomplete; Home + school + sports = complete. Her thesis is that the top reason why more Indian women are not able to join the workforce is because the men are incapable of managing the household.
  • Global Identity: [essay from wife] 1992 -> Indian looks, American thinking, Indian feelings; 2009 -> Indian looks, American thinking, Indian-American feelings (hypersensitive vs. tempered)
  • Piracy in DVD rentals
  • Sequel to The Janus Man

Any of the above topics sound interesting to you? If yes, please vote for your favorite(s) in the comments.

Thanks!

The Proud Man

Pic: courtesy bsmotoring.com

(Part 1 of a two part series..)

We bought a new Maruti Suzuki SX4 in early Sep 2008. Since I was not in a terrible hurry to drive in Bangalore traffic, we had to get a driver. The initial plan was to hire a temporary driver from one of the agencies (they’d be pricey but allegedly more reliable) – the rationale being that it would take longer to find a reliable driver. The plan fizzled out quickly since all the leads I got were either defunct listings on Asklaila or had gone out of business. I would find out much later (in March 2009) about EziDrive but that’s another story. We started getting driver leads from various quarters. The first lead was quite promising – a 22-year old chap (Sunil Kumar) referred by a driver-in-Adarsh-Vihar who sorta-knew-Sunil’s-brother-in-law. We’ll return to the italicized phrase in Part 2 of this story.

So what was promising about Sunil Kumar? For starters he spoke Hindi (very well). He also understood English. He knew the streets of Bangalore very very well (unlike many of the clueless taxi and auto drivers whom we encountered in the initial weeks). He lived in Balajinagar – pretty close to Koramangala. He looked honest and reliable. He had been driving for 3 years. We asked him for his references and he responded that his previous employer had moved to Hyderabad and he had misplaced his mobile number. We hired on a 2-week probation period with the intention of making him permanent (if he made the ‘cut’) while still keeping the search on for other drivers. As the two weeks drew to an end, we had lined up only one other candidate driver – recommended by a very good friend’s long-standing highly-reliable driver. Unfortunately that lad couldn’t speak Hindi to save his life. Needless to say, that conversation didn’t proceed much further. We also interviewed another driver who spoke passable Hindi but lived very far away so we ruled him out as well. Meanwhile, Sunil’s probation period had gone rather well. He impressed us with his safe driving skills, especially commendable because of his young age. He arrived promptly at 8am every day and his conduct throughout the initial weeks gave us no reason to doubt his attitude or character. This, combined with the fact that we had no credible alternative to compare with, was moving us inexorably towards making him permanent. The ‘deal terms’ discussion, with representation from his brother-in-law, converged quickly enough. 6-day work week, 10-hour working days, off on Sunday and a monthly salary of Rs. 6500. Coincidentally  my starting salary at Tata Steel 18 years ago  was Rs. 6600 – a princely amount for fresh engineering graduates. Inflation thy name!

Sunil is a short thin man of dark complexion with alert eyes. He looks older than his 22-years, not surprising considering he started working when he was 14 or 15. He lives with his parents, two sisters, a brother-in-law and a niece in a pucca house in Balajinagar. His father is a drunkard and a wastrel. His mother works in a semiconductor company as a janitor. One of his sisters also works and his brother-in-law is a driver who owns his own taxi. The commute from his home to ours is a 45 minutes walk. And walk he did every day, since his bicycle was stolen earlier by miscreants.

To be continued…

100 Days in Bangalore (Part 1)

Vidhana Soudha (Pic: courtesy tripadvisor.com.sg)

I had planned to write this post sometime back – a retrospective kinda post providing a snapshot of the family’s settling down process – my job, kids schools, car, meeting friends, setting up the house, etc. On November 25, we completed 100 days in Bangalore but the next day all hell broke loose in Mumbai. Over the next 10 days, I read countless news articles, opinions, blog posts and spent an inordinate time on Twitter (#mumbai) hungrily and anxiously consuming every scrap of real-time news (& noise). Below is a sampling of some of the articles that made an impression on me:

Within the first 24 hours, I even wrote the post Nahin Chalta Hai with my reactions and 2 cents on the changes India needs to undertake. After a week I realized that it’s impossible for me (in my capacity of a part-time blogger) to remotely do justice to the aftermath of the Mumbai attacks. So I decided to return to the blog’s original theme — which is to provide a flavor of an Indian family’s return to accustomed earth after spending 40% of our lives in America.

100 days completed in Bangalore — so what’s the mood at in the Kuruganti household? Pretty good, it turns out. Here’s a glimpse at the different facets of our settling down which encourage us that we may be on the right track…

Home  for ‘Hum do Hamare Do’: (Note to non-Indian readers, Hum do Hamare Do is an old 1970’s era family slogan that advocated an ideal family with 2 kids). After two weeks of frenetic apartment hunting in high-rise communities, we nearly came back to square one. We always knew our kids were a living testament to mankind’s close genetic proximity to Macaca fascicularis but seeing them scale balconies (granted they were just ‘attempts’) scared the bejeebies out of us. In the eleventh hour, we found a first floor apartment in Raheja Residency (note: Indian first floor = American second floor) that met all our needs. Great floor plan, redesigned and open kitchen, great landlords, and great Koramangala 3rd Block neighbourhood. Bangalore residents will know that Raheja is a venerable 10+ year old apartment community (turns out one of our close friends who lives in Fremont, California lived in this community on an expat assignment for  a year in ’97). We moved into the apartment on Sep 6 and thanks to P’s herculean efforts, the house’s livability was exponentially with each passing day. By mid-October, all the heavy furniture and related accouterments had been purchased and ‘interior decorated’ – we were ready to receive guests.

Cars, Driving & Traffic: In the first 4 weeks, we made our way around through a mixture of auto-rickshaws and taxis. The hunt for the family car was pretty easy. Our criteria were simple – avoid SUVs, minivans, and imported cars and a car just big enough to seat a family of 4 with a driver and squeeze in two adults (for my parents’ visits). Converging to the Maruti Suzuki SX4 was a simple matter after that. In parallel, I started the search for a reliable driver. Since we were not looking for a Man Friday, we found and hired Sunil pretty quickly. Timing was perfect since he started the day after we got our SX4. Someday I’ll write a post on Sunil but here is the short version on why I hired him: recommended by another driver, 3 years of driving experience, he ‘looked’ honest and hardworking, he’s only 22 years but his body language seemed to confirm the years of working experience he claimed. Two months after we hired him, Sunil has proved himself to be all that we hoped and some more – always prompt, reliable and has a ton of pride too (he doesn’t take largesse easily) – which is a rare trait for service professionals in India). Sure he’s not perfect – every once in a while he thinks he’s in a Formula 1 race (isn’t he a 22-year old after all?) but after we remind him firmly, he returns to his reliable moorings.

Yes – Bangalore traffic really sucks and we are so glad we have Sunil to mitigate that pain. Since I had every intention to drive, I swallowed my pride and enrolled in Santro Driving School. My first 5 driving lessons confirmed that it was a judicious decision indeed. I drove on American roads for 16 years but the last time I had driven on Indian roads (for a few months) was in sleepy Ukkunagaram (a suburb of Vizag) back in 1986. I also got myself a learner’s license and my Indian driving expertise is growing by leaps & bounds. In the first few weeks after I got my learner’s license, I would drive to work (with Sunil riding pillion). Gradually I started driving the family on Sundays (Sunil’s off day) and weekday evenings. According to P, I don’t honk enough – she’s right! there’s no such thing as honking too much on Indian roads. The primary reason to honk is to inform the car/motorcycle/pedestrian/dog “hello – I’m headed your way so watch out and adjust your trajectory”.

Kids, Schools & Diwali: The 5.5 year old and 2.9 year old are going to Greenwood High School and Little Feat Montessori respectively. Both our kids were accustomed to full-day of school so the 1/2 day schedule seemed inadequate. After a month of research, P found the perfect foil to their morning school routine –  Vivaa International. Touted to be the first Bangalore Montessori with a full-time daycare and started by two business women mothers (one of whom cut her Montessori teeth in America), the school (two storeys in a 3-storey house) with an outdoor play structure, inside wooden floors and overall clean interior inspired confidence. This is also the first time the two brothers are in the same school so they are having a blast. Two other Vivaa kids (twin boys incidentally) also live in the same Raheja block so S &A spend several playground hours with their friends at home too. We bought 2 matching blue BSA bicycles so cycling has been the #1 desirable activity. A’s bike turned out to be big for his current height so he’s happily sitting behind S’s bike (on the ‘carrier’) and enjoying the ride. S is definitely ready for the training wheels to come off. S also had a very fun-filled Sports day at the main campus of Greenwood High. His team won the 30-meter relay race (for which he got a gold medal) as well as the overall team prize. Not sure if S or his dad is more tickled by this.

Bangalore Book Festival: I’ve always loved book festivals and book sales so when I learned about the famous Bangalore Book Festival, we had to go — it was a small detail that the venue (Palace Grounds) was an hour away and we had 2 little ones to manage in a sea of humanity. The night before, I read this rather colorful review by a Bangalore-based poet/blogger. In the end, we lucked out because Soumya (my University of Houston classmate) was visiting and he decided to come along too – the “3 adults, 2 kids” odds helped our case. Mostly behaved myself at the book festival – picked up an RK Narayan, Tharoor’s Midnight to Millenium, David Frawley’s book Ayurveda and a few PG Wodehouse paperbacks. I have to confess the tally would have been higher had the 2.9 year old decided to keep a tighter control on his bladder (carrying a toddler & running across 10 aisles and returning cost me 30 minutes easy but hey – no hard feelings, A!).

Jethro Tull at the Palace Grounds: Thanks to my dear biwi, I was alerted about Tull’s Dec 2 concert in Bangalore at the Palace Grounds. I couldn’t believe it! If I needed a musical ‘welcome home’, this was it. I’ve been to 4 prior Tull concerts (three in Chicago, Illinois and one in San Jose, California) and I don’t miss an opportunity when Tull comes a touring. My dear biwi (bless her heart again!) was going to hold the home fort on Dec 2 (a weekday evening) while I indulged myself. Found several colleagues who were Tull enthusiasts so eventually we had a gang of five. A dear friend from SF Bay Area had to cancel his business trip due to illness so spot#5 got filled in the eleventh hour by another dear friend (from my Xaviers Bokaro days). Considering that this concert took place 5 days after the Mumbai attacks, we headed to the concert with some mixed feelings but ended up having a rollicking time. Ian Anderson was at his entertaining best. It was not a classic Tull concert – Part 1 was Anoushka Shankar and her troupe, Part 2 was classic Tull, and Part 3 was a fusion with Tull and Anoushka. The encore closer was a very unique and incredible live variation of Locomotive Breath with sitar and bansoori blending in exquisitely. I managed to record a few Qik videos – will post soon.

Judging by the length of the post so far, realized that this is a two-part series so will end the post for now. Continued in 100 Days in Bangalore (Part 2).

Diwali at Raheja Residency and Mantri Classic

Our first Diwali in India (after a gap of 16 years) was definitely memorable. One of our Bay Area friends (Smita) responded to a tweet requesting me to record some of the Diwali audio action. Fortunately, I recorded some Qik videos a few nights before Diwali. The two Diwali nights were tough because the kids got spooked with the super high decibels.

This video was shot from our balcony and has some ‘anaars’ and ‘bhoomi chakras’ in action with some low-intensity bombs – the boys were not yet spooked. The eight buildings of Raheja Residency were looking very festive with the Diwali lights.

The second and third videos were Qik’d at Mantri Classic – a smaller apartment community where our friends Rajnish and Meena live. You can hear the little one’s voice in the background – he had a great time watching the visual fireworks. The sounds (very sedate compared to Raheja Residency) didn’t bother him.

The Three Bubbles

My good friend Monish who had moved to Bangalore from Silicon Valley last year had this wisdom to share – “Select your three bubbles correctly and your transition to India will be smooth”. This mantra was passed on to him by his returned-to-India ‘senior’. If this is the first post you are reading on my blog,  bubble does not refer to the dotcom or housing bubble, the connotation is closer to boy in the bubble. For Indian Americans returning to India, the three bubbles to buffet against the differences in cultural and environmental ethos are: the working bubble, the living bubble, and the commuting bubble.

  1. The Working Bubble: 60% of a working parent’s waking hours are spent at work. If you add ‘working-from-home’ hours and mind share over weekends, this easily becomes the most important bubble. I discussed some of the considerations in choosing the right job in the Soft Landing Anyone post. I surprised myself by taking my own advice. I’m thoroughly enjoying myself with my current Adobe gig.  The role is exciting and all-consuming but the best part is that I don’t have to worry about the ‘next funding round’.
  2. The Living Bubble: If the American Dream is to own a house with a white picket fence, the urban Indian Dream is to live in a gated community. Let’s push to the background (at least for now) the issue of owning vs. renting a place. A gated community was an obvious choice since it fulfilled our top three criteria: a) Adequate security, b) Sufficient play spaces for the kids, and c) Critical mass of ‘like minded’ people. Gated communities in Bangalore span a fairly wide gamut. At the high-end are single-family housing communities like the famous Palm Meadows in Whitefield. If we were looking for a California-style neighborhood with all the associated trappings, this was it. But we were not looking for that ‘unrealistically perfect’ bubble. Instead, apartment gated communities appealed to us because of the higher people density. Most of these apartment communities that interested us also had a healthy ratio of returned-from-USA Indians but they were not exclusive expat communities. We eventually settled on Raheja Residency (a vibrant apartment community in Koramangala). The final clincher for us was its location – walking distance to grocery stores, restaurants, services, etc.
  3. The Commuting Bubble: With the double whammy of gnarling traffic and pollution looming large in Bangalore, getting the commuting bubble right is crucial. If you’ve been lucky enough to have your work and living bubbles located in close proximity, that’s half the battle won. A comfortable car (with a working air conditioning unit) addresses the bulk of the pollution. Hiring a driver goes a long way in alleviating the other pain point – painful traffic volumes. Following my June reconnaissance trip to Bangalore, Bombay & Delhi, I wrote this post ( Service with a Smile) where I discuss the broadening roles played by drivers in the Indian household. I’m pleased to report that we are proud owners of an arctic white Maruti Suzuki SX4. A young lad (by name of Sunil Kumar) was hired in mid-Sep as our driver and has been rendering great chauffering service.

So go forth and claim your three bubbles.

The curious case of the traveling chairman

NPS Koramangala - Pic courtesy npsinr.com

It was Bangalore Day #5 and our first Friday. I had taken the day off for the express purpose of visiting the top school on our short list – National Public School. In a separate post (Masti ki paathshala), I will discuss our criteria in choosing the right school for our kids and how National Public School (“NPS” for short) captured our imagination. NPS Indiranagar (the first campus) was founded in 1982 by Dr. K. P. Gopalkrishna, and who still serves as the Chairman of the (now) four campuses. NPS Koramangala (started in 2003) and NPS HSR Layout (started in 2007) were our target locations since we were converging on Koramangala as our future neighbourhood.

Since the school year had already started 2+ months ago, a colleague advised me that our best bet was to ‘seek an audience’ with Dr. Gopalkrishna and impress upon him why NPS was our top choice. So off we headed to NPS Koramangala. We got there pretty early but were greeted by a queue of eager parents ahead of us. “Early parent catches the proverbial school seat”, I muttered to myself. I joined the queue while P kept the kids busy in the waiting area. I stated my desire to meet Chairman G and pat came the reply – “the Chairman is traveling”. Attempts to gather an eta proved futile. Dejected, I rounded up the family and we started trooping out.

As we reached the gate, a spanking green Skoda Laura passed us. Like any self-respecting nosy Indian would do, I peered inside the tinted windows. I glimpsed a suited gentleman in the back seat. My Sherlock Holmes instincts on overdrive, I asked the guard if it was Chairman G in the Skoda. He answered in the affirmative. We hurried back inside the school and I got back in line. When I announced that I wanted to meet the ‘recently returned from his travels’ Chairman, the lady (now smiling) asked me how I knew. Purely rhetorical question of course. Now that the cat was out of the bag, she asked me to write down my ‘particulars’ (Indian term for name & purpose). After an additional thirty minutes, we got the audience.

We had no real expectations from this meeting. False! The eternally unrealistic optimist (read “me”) expected the closing lines to sound something like this “Mr. and Mrs. Kuruganti, I am so impressed with your background, credentials and excellent moral standing. Even though the school year started two months ago and our classrooms are full, I’m willing to make an exception for your boys – in whose eyes I can already see their future academic brilliance.”

Ok. So the interview didn’t quite end that way but you knew that, right? We had a really interesting (and at times argumentative) discussion. I’ll save the specifics for a latter addendum. This post has gestated a full 50 days – if I postpone any longer, it won’t see the light of day.

Dec 21 2008 Update: Found this comprehensive and excellent post on Bangalore schools by blogger Chitra Iyer (this is her new blog site):

http://r2blore.blogspot.com/2007/02/list-of-good-schools-in-bangalore.html

Feb 21 2009 Update: In late January, out of the blue we got a call from NPS Koramangala that our 3 year old had been accepted into the Montessori program. Apparently the Montessori 2-year program runs parallel to the kindergarden program. We had applied to the kindergarden program yet they considered our son for the Montessori. After thinking about the admission decision for a few days (virtually unheard of based on the reaction of the admission officials), we accepted. We had to pay the entire school year’s tuition 6 months before the school year even began – nice! Then again, this appears to be the standard operating procedure in all Bangalore (perhaps all Indian?) schools.

Apr 18 2009 Update:  Shortly after S wrote the admission test for NPS Koramangala (1st Grade), we made a few trips to both the NPS branches – Koramangala and HSR Layout. Turns out my mind had played a trick and I owe someone an apology. When I wrote this post in mid-Oct 2008 and compared the NPS Koramangala receptionist to folks working in a government office, it was really the NPS HSR Layout receptionist I was thinking about. The receptionist lady at Koramangala, with whom I had several recent cordial conversations recently is a fine and decent woman and I’m sorry I mistakenly maligned her (via this blog post) from Oct ’08 to Apr ’09. I’ve edited the relevant section and moved it below..

——–start retracted portion

If you haven’t been to an Indian government office in quest of [insert_your_favorite_service_here], some background is in order. The person ‘behind the desk’ holds a position of great power. And clearly they never heard of with great power comes great responsibility. Entire tomes can be written about the government peon, the clerk, the hospital compounder (Indian title for a medical assistant) but… suffice it to say that a common operating theme is to infuriate the ‘service requester’. This is not to say that they are all cut from the same cloth. No sir! Their style can range from the bored and the lazy ignorerto the doing_you_a_big_favour to the cant_you_tell_I_am_really_important.

NPS Koramangala HSR Layout is no government office but the lady at the reception desk was an interesting blend of the aforementioned profiles. When it came to my turn, her expression bore a mixture of boredom and mild annoyance.

—- end retracted portion