The Garage Gang

You can be sure that our garage would never look like this. Pic: courtesy bitsandpieces1.blogspot.com

(First guest post from my wife. It’s actually an email she wrote on the Raheja Residency “residents only” forum but I found it so funny that I had to post it here. Maybe she’ll follow-up with a few more posts that she’s actually on the hook for — refer to A Year in Bangalore – The Unwritten Posts). Garage Gang refers to a good majority of the drivers employed by Raheja Residency residents and, who, spend most of their dead time in (you guessed it) the Raheja garage.

—-Begin email—–

There are folks who say don’t sweat the small stuff…well good for them. The rest of us need to vent i.e. give public utterance to our shared grievances. This post is devoted to those who deal with the garage gang on a daily basis.
Before we go further, please understand we expect absolutely no action by the management to resolve this ongoing problem.
So feel free to share with your fellow sufferers how the garage gang added to your day today? Analyze reasons behind such behaviors and offer simple solutions which will never be implemented. Lament the fact that an educated working class community is held ransom by the uneducated working class people. Hopefully in this process you will find some empathy and humor which will ease the pain of dealing with the garage gang. After a few days, you can go about your daily life knowing someone cares about your concerns (at least one of them) without any disappointment that the problem persists – the power of no expectations!
For those who have no complaints about the garage gang – and hence no clue what this post is all about – here are some examples of the garage gang-induced maladies…

  1. Encroachment – parking their employers vehicles and their own 2-wheelers in another residents empty-even-for- 30-minutes car park
  2. Insolence – continue to shamelessly occupy the wrong car park, with not a hint of apology tendered to the rightfully offended resident, who owns or pays rent for the car park
  3. Creepy looks – some women are uncomfortable with the looks received when they go to the dimly lit garage
  4. Arrogance – the attitude of we-know-the- security- guard-doesn’t-care-manager- is-incompetent-president- is-scared- of-us and if-you-personally- take-us-on- we-will-at-a-minimum- damage-your- property
  5. Theft – vehicle parts and petrol
  6. Blocking – refusing to move aside and making it as difficult as possible for the other (usually owner) car drivers to drive past them
  7. Property damage – punctured tyres, scratches, damaged windows
  8. Unregulated freedom – free to go anywhere in the complex without notification, unlike maids who usually enter through the main doors of a building and are potentially questioned by the security guard regarding their visits

Individuals may share their stories and other stresses induced by the garage gang.
We have personally suffered from 1, 2, 4, 5, 6, 7, and 8 (I do feel bad about leaving 3 out in the cold but while friends have complained about the creepy looks, I personally have not noticed them).

—-End email—–

On a related note, my July 2009 post The Janus Man describes our first serious encounter with members of the Garage Gang.

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 Janus Man

Pic: courtesy goodreads.com

This is a sequel to  The Proud Man and is based on a series of events that occurred in March 2009.

Act 1, Scene 1: Raheja apartment living room (Time: 2:00pm)

“Madam! Aap garage mein jaldi aayiye. Aapke gaadi ko kuch ho raha hai.” (Translation for non-Hindi readers: please come to the garage quickly. Something’s happening to your car). This was an anonymous tipster call which came through the intercom one afternoon in early March. Not wanting to take any chances, P went to the lobby and had one of the security guards accompany her to the garage. As she neared our parking spot, her worst fears seemed to come true – the car was gone! A minute later (lo and behold!) she sights Sunil backing our car from one end of the garage (several car lengths away from our parking spot). At the same time, Sunil’s friend (a fellow Raheja driver) rides Sunil’s new Bajaj motorcyle and parks it behind the SX4. Cursing the anonymous tipster, P tapped on the driver’s window to enquire why he moved the car. The shocked look on Sunil’s face would later become the proverbial Exhibit A. He recovered his composure quickly enough to mumble that there wasn’t sufficient room to maneuver his motorcycle and hence he had to move the car. “Odd,” thought P but the explanation satisfied her and she went back upstairs mentally cursing the tipster again for wasting her time.

Act 1, Scene 2: Raheja apartment living room (Time: 2:15pm)

Phone rings again – same anonymous caller. He asks in a smug tone “Madam! aapne dekha?” “Kya dekha” replied an irate P. The disappointed tipster begins his story “Sunil aapke gaadi se petrol chori kara raha tha. Woh to shuru se chori kar raha tha.” P went into fact checking mode and grilled the tipster (what was Sunil doing with the stolen petrol and why was he spilling the beans?) Apparently, in the initial days and months of pilfering, Sunil would sell the petrol to other Raheja drivers. Ever since Sunil got his new motorcycle, he simply took to topping that gas tank at convenient intervals. The tipster was so confident , he urged P to examine Sunil’s motorcycle’s gas tank (predicting that it would be full to the brim). As to the tipster’s motives, he simply could not bear to see us being cheated month after month.

Act 1, Scene 3: Block X lobby

There are eight blocks in Raheja Residency – the anonymous call had come from block X. Just for precaution, I’ve decided to keep the identity of Block X a secret. Determined toe get to the bottom of the evolving events, P proceeded to block X. Even though Sunil was implicated thus, such was the trust level he had established with us that P still considered him “innocent until proven guilty”. She asked Sunil to accompany her to block X without stating the reason. The call was traced to the block X manager’s office (which is on the garage level).  The block X manager deliberately took P aside and repeated what the tipster had already told her – that Sunil was stealing petrol from our car. The manager had allowed the tipster to use his office phone because: a) tipster was one of the drivers in block X, and b) he knew the story to be true and wanted the car owners (us) to be made aware of the happenings. So why did the manager have no reason to doubt the tipster? For the simple reason that petrol pilfering is not uncommon at all in Raheja. (The next day when I went to meet the block X manager to obtain more facts, I learned how rampant the pilfering racket was at Raheja and even other apartment communities in Bangalore but I digress…) P walked back to the apartment – troubled and contemplative. She didn’t share anything with Sunil but he clearly knew that something was amiss.

Act 1, Scene 4: crowded stretch of Koramangala 80-feet road (Time: 3:30pm)

On the way to the Oasis mall, P tells Sunil to pull over on the side of the street. With the engine switched off and both outside the car, she confronted Sunil with the accusations. Sunil had the same guilty look but he kept repeating that he was innocent and uttered the rhetorical “how could he commit this ghastly  deed when we’d been so nice to him?” He made the seemingly absurd statement that he doesn’t even know how to steal petrol from any car (especially the SX4). The other damning thing was that he never offered any character witness to corroborate his innocence. You’d think one among the group of drivers (perhaps his good friend Manju – who was parking his motorcycle) he hobnobbed with would be propped forward to defend him. I guess not if the entire lot was rotten – if the tipster was right, the other drivers were buying stolen petrol from him. P told Sunil that she wasn’t sure whether he was guilty or innocent. If he was guilty, we would find out in due course. If he was innocent, she told him to watch his back since someone was out to get him fired. Later in the evening, Sunil mentioned to P that he had talked to the other drivers and the consensus was that the pall of suspicion would be upon him whether or not he was guilty.

Act 1, Scene 5: “Smoking gun” found inside our apartment (Time: 9pm)

After P briefed me on the day’s events and we played & replayed all the events, it occurred to us that we were monumentally stupid in at least 2 areas:

  • In the 6 months since we bought our car, we never calculated how much mileage each tank of petrol was giving us. Sure we had a lot of things on our minds in the initial months of adjusting to Bangalore life… (that was our lame excuse)
  • During the day, as Sunil waited in the garage for the next driving assignment (picking up the kids, shopping trip, etc.), we let him keep the keys. On most days, this meant that he was undisturbed in the garage for 2-3 hours at a stretch (with the car keys). We learned later that this was simply not a standard practice and was rife with risks.

Anyway, I was VERY organized about my petrol receipts. I kept every single one of them in a safe place, so I pulled them all out for the last 3 months and observed that we were filling up 40 liters of petrol every week (give or take a day). Assuming 9 km per liter for the SX4 (low-end for city driving), this suggested that we were traveling 360 km per week! Gosh! Were we suckers or what? This was way higher than our driving patterns in the past 3 months. Just in the event that our recollection of the past 3 months was sketchy, we focused our attention on the last 6 days of driving (i.e. from the last refueling). The precise driven mileage came to 130km which meant that the fuel guage should display a reading greater than 1/2 tank. Alas! the gauge displayed close to  empty.

Act 2, Scene 1: Confrontation (take #2)

Next morning after Sunil dropped me at the office, without giving him any prior notice, I told him I needed to speak to him. I sat him down at a Coffee Day table and launched into “People versus Sunil”. He predictably professed his innocence. I had him do the math on how much distance he was driving us every day over the 6-day period and he arrived at the figure of 140 (close to my calculation of 130). I then walked him over to the car dashboard and showed him the near empty fuel gauge. I also told him about the last 3 months of petrol bills with weekly refueling of 40 liters, yet driving 130-160km. Sensing the trap closing around him, Sunil comes up with two lines of defence.

Defence #1: Apparently he had ‘heard’ that petrol was being stolen in the garage. He related that petrol from one of the driver’s scooter had been stolen once so it was ‘possible’ that someone was stealing from the SX4. I asked him who it could be since he was the only one with the keys. He insisted that it wasn’t him and also repeated the earlier ridiculous defence that he didn’t know how to remove petrol from cars. This doubly stank because the two times we had to get the car serviced (at the dealer), he keenly drew our attention to the fuel gauge and advised us to refuel the car following the servicing because the service technicians would otherwise steal the petrol. Nice!

Defence #2 (a conspiracy theory with communal overtones): Apparently there are rival factions of Kannada and Tamilian drivers in Rahejs (with the latter being the majority group for our block). The building manager (a Tamilian) was allegedly “in” on a conspiracy to oust Sunil so that one of his henchmen (a fellow Tamilian of course) could be hired in his place. He promised to provide more evidence in due course.

The rest of the days’s interactions with Sunil were conducted in a stony silence and a stiff upper lip.

Act 2, Scene 2: The resignation & Mafia connection (Time: 7:30pm)

I get a call from Sunil and he informs me that due to the pall of suspicion on him and the intrigue between the Tamilian & Kannada drivers and the alleged conspiracy to oust him, he feared for his personal safety & the safety of his new Bajaj motorcycle. He would thus stop coming to work from the next day. He also gave me the names of three Tamilian drivers (who were currently looking for a driver job). His smoking gun was that our block manager would come forward and recommend one of these 3 drivers. I didn’t bother telling him that even if the conspiracy theory were true, it still wouldn’t vindicate him. Weeks after Sunil’s voluntary resignation, the building manager never recommended a single driver to us – so much for that conspiracy theory. The additional irony was that during the 2 days when P was talking to various folks in the block, the block manager gave the benefit of the doubt to Sunil and just warned us to be more careful. Here’s the last thing that Sunil said that evening “Aap mujhe dikhaiye kisne aapko mere bare mein phone kiya, mein use dekh loonga” (Translation: You show me who the tipster is and I’ll take care of him. The tell-tale “use dekh loonga” – doesn’t get more mafiosi).

Title of post was inspired by a Colin Forbes novel by the same name.

(There’s more to this story… so I guess it was a three-part series after all).

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.

Three Coincidences

Put two Indians (perfect strangers mind you) in a room and it’s merely a question of time before they find a few common connections. As you might suspect, I epitomize this quintessential Indian quirk.

  1. The Paper Cup Saga: In our first week in Bangalore, during that honeymoon period when work had not yet consumed me, I had the luxury of reading the Times of India (TOI) cover-to-cover. I read a very interesting story in the business section entitled After all your paper cup is not that eco-friendly. The story was about a Texas Instruments (TI India) employee creating an informative video that persuaded the employees to significantly reduce paper cup usage. Being ‘green’ at heart, my thoughts immediately raced to achieving a similar outcome in the Adobe India office. Since TOI publishes the reporters’ email addresses, I was able to dash off a quick note asking them whether they could share the video produced by TI. My attention then went to one of the authors – Sujit John. Was it the same Sujit who was school captain (three batches my senior) at St. Xaviers Bokaro? A quick LinkedIn search confirmed it. Turns out, he’s Times of India’s Bangalore-based Business Editor. Wow! my first solid contact in the Indian Fourth Estate. To top it, Sujit is married to Alice (one of my Xaviers Bokaro classmates).
  2. The Intel Folsom Connection: As I mentioned in The First Week in Bangalore, we spent the first three weeks in a guest house flat on Bannerghatta Road. The flat was in an apartment community called Adarsh Vihar – two buildings next to the Adobe office so it was very convenient for us. As Bangalore apartment communities go, Adarsh Vihar was small (less than 100 flats) but they have a decent playground which the kids and I would frequent on most evenings. One of the kids mom (Sharmila) had moved to Intel Bangalore (from Intel’s offices Folsom, California). I knew exactly ONE person in Intel Folsom – BTV Anant Kumar (my dear friend and classmate from BIT Mesra). Turns out Sharmila and her husband (who also worked at Intel Folsom) knew BTV and his family very well, in fact they were even next-door neighbours for a few years in California. Gee! What are the odds? We exchanged updates on BTV’s miraculous recovery after a month in the ICU.
  3. The Bokaro/Jamshedpur Connection: P and I were sitting in Alok & Babita Sinha’s (owners of the Raheja Residency flat we are renting) living room relating about our life’s ram kahani (“life’s story” for my non-Indian readers). The conversation eventually led to Bokaro and Jamshedpur (two eventful places in my past). Alok runs a division of Symphony Services and had a long fruitful stint at Tata Motors Jamshedpur (previously known as TELCO). Turns out that yet another Xaviers Bokaro classmate (Aman Sinha) used to in Alok’s group at Telco. Not only that, Alok and Aman (who is in the SF Bay Area) met as recently as a few months ago. On a final coincidental note, I had reconnected with Aman (at Hobees Cupertino) just a few weeks before our exodus from California.

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.