Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Anxious times ahead...but perhaps with a chance of happiness?

Daniel Gilbert says in his book, 'Stumbling Upon Happiness,' about how we tend to categorize an entire event as a happy/good one or a sad/bad one based on how it ended. A bad vacation that ends with a fantastic sunset classifies as a happy event in our minds, while a lovely movie that ends badly classifies in our mind as a bad movie.

I thought about this as I continued fretting about India. And I tried to analyze truthfully why I felt India was so filled with unhappiness for me. I remembered then how I left India at the age of 24, at a time when I had started arguing incessantly with my parents, was tired of missing my sweetheart, aching to find my own way in life. Granted I detested being mauled on the streets by strange, dirty men, hated the filthy local trains, and absolutely loathed the place we lived in surrounded by the worst people imaginable (to me anyway). All of this would as per Gilbert's theory make my overall impression of life in India miserable. Why would I ever want to go back to that?

As far as leaving my current garden of eden, I conveniently forgot to recall how horribly homesick I was when I first arrived in Ohio for my MBA. How much I missed my parents' warmth, my brother's camaraderie. How watching the back of my husband's car leaving me in my rented digs to return to Chicago cleaved through me every other weekend like daggers. I was miserable then too. It took me two years to get used to being in a foreign land. Bad start to say the least. There were good times but there also have been some very bad ones--money troubles, work troubles, everything ordinary people might go through in the span of a decade and a half.

But now following all of that, life here is wonderful. Friends, home, family. Everything is right. The end of this experience is a stellar one. And so leaving this to go back to that Indian misery seems a jump in the wrong direction.

I have forgotten the good times in India, my walks and scooter rides with my darling husband, the unforgettable times with my music, my family, extended family. Good food, good people I've known and been cherished by over the years of my very privileged childhood.

Maybe there is something to what Gilbert says, I'm glad to say. I'm being unreasonable. Thinking with horse blinds on. Being horribly short-sighted.

Yes anxious times loom ahead by virtue of their uncertainty. But surely, happy times lurk somewhere in the corners too.

Sunday, January 17, 2010

To market to market to buy a toilet: Reality Check 2

The biggest fear I have in India is of public toilets. And of sh!@ on the streets but that part I can do nothing about.

I need professional help, you say? I have already sought it in the form of an analyst who said its too bad but I have mild OCD I'm just going to have to live with. And so I have decided to cope the way I can. While living in India I coped by not visiting facilities that were doubtful and having nightmares of facilities that I did visit and that were unspeakable. The nightmares were too much to deal with so this time around I have decided to do the smart thing. If I cannot find a facility that is not unspeakable, I'll just have to have a facility on my person at all times. I considered adult diapers but that seems a bit much and unavoidable in later years so why start now? No this solution seems a better one.

And since this is the most mature market as far as product lines are concerned, the US I mean, I find I have a plethora of portable facilities to choose from. Some come with tents, others are pop up things, some fold into a tiny square, others are bulkier. They have shower attachments and such too, you see.

Without going into more gory detail, just suffice to say, I am totally thrilled that for a mere $200 or so all my toilet nightmares may just be a thing of the past. One major issue with India dealt with. Check.

Yes yes I know, I need more professional help than I might have originally imagined. I'm dialing my analyst as I write this.

Friday, January 8, 2010

Reality Check 1

I shall be peppering the road back to India with reality checks as and when I get them. These shall be stories of events as personally experienced or as heard about from reliable sources.

Here's the first. My brother is in India, landed a couple weeks ago and found his luggage was misplaced by that esteemed airline, Air India. Great food by the way even in economy. Everything else...the less said the better.

Anyway he gets a call eventually. Your bags have arrived. Come and get them.

No home delivery, you ask, you spoilt petulant child? No courier service where a hefty man drives up in a gas guzzling vehicle and walks to your door and hands you your bags? Alas, no. Its that whole rich country vs. developing country thing again. So anyway come and get it, they say.

My brother makes his way to the airport.

Security promptly stops him, outside the airport. He cannot go in. Hey who knows where terrorists abound and in what form, right?
"Air India lost my luggage. I'm here to pick it up," my brother says, shows him his ticket, passport, mother's birth certificate etc.
"Sorry, can't go in unless you're a passenger," says security.
"Yes but they called me here. I need to go in."
"Sorry, not my problem. Call them."

Good idea. My brother calls about six thousand times and each time a female voice informs him that the line is busy, would he wait. Forty five minutes pass. Next to him standing in the sweltering sun are other victims of lost luggage who have been waiting for over two hours. Not to be defeated, my brother seeks and finds a number that is actually answered by a human.
"You're here? Good. I'll be out to get you," says an authoritative voice.
"When?" my brother asks.
"I don't know." The man hangs up.

My brother continues to wait. An hour passes. Its hot, hunger pangs are starting to strike. There's so much other stuff to do. There's an event to attend in the evening and well, time's awasting. And its...did I mention...hot? My brother starts calling the number that was answered by this man.

Relentlessly. Mercilessly.

Break them down with sheer persistence is a good way to get things done in India.

The other lost luggage souls sit patiently, accepting their fates, waiting for someone to arrive through the gates, give them their bags and some modicum of peace. Not my brother. He calls and calls and calls until the messiah of luggage shows up. Just Air India though. Tough luck the rest of you poor sods.

Bro makes his way through a labyrinth of ledgers--peons of various sorts ask him the same questions and write his name and passport number down in a series of dusty ledgers to record his arrival and he is led to a place and after much bureaucratic ceremony is handed his bags and mustn't forget--the saving grace of the day--money for his taxi ride back.


Still keeping his cool bro takes his car from the lot and starts to make his way home. On the way, he drives through a yellow light only to be stopped by a policeman who keeps it brief.
"For one hundred rupees, I'll give you your license back, and no receipt (ticket essentially). For two hundred rupees, I shall take your license and deposit it with the RTO and you shall get a receipt."
Bro wants to do the right thing. "I made a mistake. Give me a ticket, I'll pay the two hundred but do return my license."
The policeman repeats his first offer as if he hasn't heard this response. Why the dilemma about paying the shamelessly asked for bribe. Let me explain. RTO stands for Road Transport Authority. No can't be authority. Its an O. Must be Office, Ominous orifice of an office. So big deal go to the RTO and collect your license right? Maybe. Except there is only one RTO he can go to. Bombay has, lets see, how many people living there? Oh yes, about 14 million give or take. How many of them might be at this ominous office in a given day, I dread to think. There is one other consideration. What takes 15 minutes say in the richest country in the world takes oh...about...2-3 hours in India. This is a blanket statement many might righteously refute but if we average it, fine, I'll say 2 hours. Save face as it were.

Bro thinks on his feet as the policeman watches him. There is the right thing to do. Pay the 200, hand over the license. Then there is the dreaded thought of this tiny 2"X4" license going to this Orifice...I mean Office of bored bureaucrats, overflowing with a million irate folk. Retrieving it will take four hours or so not including traveling there and back home, unless one uses one of the "agents" that sit outside the pearly gates of the RTO just waiting to "help."

Bro is fried from picking up his luggage already and the event he really wants to go to is in a few hours.

He bites his tongue, apologizes to the Gods of anti-corruption and pays the man the hundred rupees.

No receipt. You get to keep your license. Oh, and have a nice day.

India Return--A new beginning...

We're moving back to India. And as a way of coping with that life changing event I'm going to write about it.

In a most politically incorrect manner too for moving from the richest country in the world to err....a developing nation country is going to take some adjustment, never mind that I'm from there. It takes only a short time to get completely spoilt, which we now are.

Why go back, I sometimes ask myself at 3:00 am. Why leave this idyllic existence for...well...who knows what? I haven't lived in India since 1996. Its been a while. Lots has changed.

Sentimental family reasons abound, good sound ones too, which make the decision irrevocable but it doesn't mean I don't question it during the darkest hours of the night and worry and worry and worry. Worrying is what I do best, after all.

India is an interesting country. A land of polar opposites--the best and worst of humanity co-exist side by side. The most opulent sits perched beside the most wretched. The most inefficient limps along trying to keep up with state of the art bleeding edge stuff. The end result is a colossal, confusing mess but with a method to its madness. A method that is a mystery, far too difficult to understand. But as someone said in the movie--Outsourcing--"don't fight it. If you fight it you'll be unhappy. Accept it, let it wash all over you."

That is India in a nutshell.

Take a deep breath relax. Accept. After all, its fate, I will tell myself.

Lets see now if I can pull this off.

Four months to go to touchdown. Lots of worrying left, lots of planning. I am sitting cross-legged, my eyes are closed.