As mentioned in my earlier post, we were visiting Kerala over the last weekend and visited Munnar and the Backwaters at Alleppey. Here are some photos.
All the above photos were taken by my wife.
As mentioned in my earlier post, we were visiting Kerala over the last weekend and visited Munnar and the Backwaters at Alleppey. Here are some photos.
All the above photos were taken by my wife.
This is my fifth month in India and I have been travelling a bit in these few months, both for business and pleasure. Besides Hyderabad which is where I am staying, I’ve seen Chennai, Bangalore, Delhi, Mumbai, Agra, Jaipur and just a few days ago, Cochin, Allappuzha (Alleppey) and Munnar in Kerala. Of all these places, I like Kerala the most. Its quiet charm and its Backwaters is a most apt counter to the growth frenzy that is happening in most cities in India. I was supposed to go to Darjeeling but on the advice by the tour agent that it is raining a lot there, we decided to go to Kerala instead. The backwaters is really an experience that is worth every rupee that I have spent and more. India in my mind has now changed and there is still so much to India to experience and explore.
On the movies side, since I cannot take it anymore to wait for the DVD release, I went and watch Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna in the cinema knowing well that it is without subtitles. The great thing about Bollywood movies is that you do not really need to know Hindi to understand the movie due mainly to the explicit acting and storyline but also to the frequent use of English. So it was no trouble at all to watch the movie and I enjoyed it very much. It is a much more matured work compared to Kabhi Khushi Kabhie Gham and definitely more so compared to Kuch Kuch Hota Hai, the director Karan Johar’s previous two movies.
But my greatest recent find after “Lagaan” is a movie called “Matrubhoomi” (A Nation Without Women). My introduction (in a serious way) to Indian movies is through Satyajit Ray’s Apu Trilogy (besides those old Tamil movies that my grandmother loved and which I used to sit near her to watch on Saturday afternoons). Now with the growing popularity of the Bollywood movies, Indian movies seem to have been stereotyped by them. Whenever we talk about Indian movies internationally, the association to Bollywood movies, and therefore long running time and dance and music numbers, is rather automatic. Although my knowledge of Indian movies is like a drop of water in the ocean, I feel that this association is not doing some really good Indian movies that do not fit into the Bollywood model justice. Gone are the Satyajit Ray’s time. Blech! You cannot even find his movies in the store. I was looking high and low for some of his movies and I managed to find some in the old city but those are bad VCD copies with no subtitles.
I remember mentioning about “Chokher Bali” in my earlier post. I do find it a good movie and a rather decent adaptation of Tagore’s original novel. I found and have watched recently another work by the same director called “Raincoat”. It, like in “Choker Bali”, does not fit into the Bollywood model but is a superb, superb movie to watch. A simple story but extremely well made. This same goes to the movie I mentioned above, “Matrubhoomi”. It is a very profound movie and again not in the usual Bollywood model. I wonder how many of these great movies from India that I have missed! The thought that I have been missing these movies is killing me!!
I hope I will have enough time to dig deeper into all these and find more gems. Any help will be greatly appreciated :)
Here’s a video of the Ganesha Festival that we have taken today. Today marks the last day of this festival. Please wait for it to be fully loaded before playing.
I have never been a Bollywood movie audience before I came to India to work a few months ago. If in April 2006, you ask me how many Bollywood movies I have watched, I could not get past my five fingers and the latest one that I watched would be “Choker Bali” shown on the Astro Box Office Channel and the second last being “Dil Se”.
However, it is fortunate that I am in India now and with a lot of time in my hand, I am able to now catch up on the movies that I have missed and I really like what I have seen so far. Just in less than a week, I have watched three Bollywood movies, each of them great. “Fanaa”, “Omkara”, and the 2001 classic, “Lagaan”.
My favourite male Bollywood actor now is Aamir Khan.
I agree with my friend when he said that everyone on Earth should watch “Tokyo Story” at least once in their lifetime but after watching “Lagaan”, I must also add that everyone on Earth should watch “Lagaan” at least once in their lifetime. It is unbelievable that I have missed this movie and this reinforced the truth that we must give everything a chance. You will never know where gems can be found.
Just go watch this movie if you have not done so.
It is incredible to see the worship of Lord Ganesha everywhere (I just returned from Mumbai and it is all the same, in fact, it was more so happening in Mumbai with many road processions) and this festival will culminate with the immersion of the Lord Ganesha statue on the 6th of September. By right, this festival is for 10 days which should end on Tuesday, 5th September but Tuesdays and Saturdays are considered “bad” days for the Hindus, so the immersion will happen on the next day.
In the spirit of the Ganesha Festival, my tribute to Lord Ganesha on my blog with this picture.
May Lord Ganesha Be With You
The Symbolism of Lord Ganesha
Finally! Back to Malaysia after almost 3 months now in India. Everything is still very familiar and am so happy to be back, to eat the food that I have been missing, to sleep on that fluffy pillow, to drive in my own car, to watch “The Lake House” in the cinema that I have been going to for the past few years and so many other things (not to mention, first and foremost, to be able to meet my wife since her last visit to India).
The Mumbai bombing on the 11th of July 2006 was really terrible. Such act of cowardice and should be condemned by every civilised person. Among many other measures, one of the things that the Indian government did was to ban access to certain blogs which sparked wide protests. For whatever reasons, the end result is that I was not able to read my regular blogs hosted especially by blogspot.com which is quite annoying since most of the blogs I read are hosted by blogspot.
The first most obvious thing that I noticed upon arriving in Kuala Lumpur is that everything is just so quiet and peaceful. No more incessant honkings. The places are much less crowded. The roads are wider. There are more space everywhere and no more cows and buffalos roaming the roads. But what I see much less is the number of young people carrying laptop computers moving around. Hyderabad is really a tech city.
I was in the Microsoft campus the day just before I left for Malaysia to follow up on a project we were discussing in Bangalore a few weeks before. It is a huge campus and most of them are Indians. They surely know their stuffs in order for Microsoft to hire them but the thought of so many skilled IT people in India is just baffling. I am still refusing to believe that they are really so good just because everything else about India indicate that they are really not there yet. But I think I am badly mistaken just by taking things at face value. There are just so many high level companies in India – Infosys, Wipro, Tata Consulting – just to name a few. What I will maintain is that India will have to seriously look into and take action about the corruption problem and the major need to improve the infrastructure and utilities. Oh, and yes, they must also really do something about their financial system. The amount of money flowing in the black market is just simply incredible, even the air hostess knows that the situation is really very bad.
Ah, but I am so glad to be back altough only for a short time.
The Buddha statue in the middle of the Hussain Sagar lake in Hyderabad
Charminar – Hyderabad’s symbol
Some images from our trip outside of Hyderabad:
Fatehpur Sikri – “Ghost City”, A World Heritage Site in Uttar Pradesh
A common sight in Rajasthan – the home to the Great Indian Desert
A really nice place in the Amber (pronounce “Amer”) Fort – Jaipur, Rajasthan
Restoration work at Amber Fort – Jaipur, Rajasthan
India Gate – Delhi
A common sight in India
Some more common sights:
Some of these actually overturned
Imagine a bomb in there….
No wonder it’s so noisy on the road
A lot of really hard labour
The children of Hyderabad
Some mangoes anyone? Mango season in Hyderabad
Police everywhere, hawkers everywhere
Family day on the park near India Gate, Delhi
Auto (pronounce “Atuk”) which is not unlike Bangkok’s tuk-tuk.
All the photos above are taken by my wife
The more I converse with my chauffeur, the more impressed I am with his knowledge. I wonder if all chauffeurs are like that. I remember watching a Hollywood movie where the chauffeur chose to become a chauffeur because that job gives him a lot of time to read. In the process of being a chauffeur, he managed to save up millions due to share market tips from his boss.
For example, in my conversation with him yesterday, he said that there are so many cars now in Hyderabad. One reason he gave was because the bank now approves loans so easily and buying a car is like buying vegetables. I told him that the same thing is happening in China. For example, in Beijing, there are about 1,000 new cars every day. To my surprise, he said something like this, “If this is to continue, one day we are going to be in trouble because there is not much oil left in the world and we will see many big countries that do not have much oil like USA and China fighting to buy oil. The world politics will be played according to this coming oil crisis.”.
How many chauffers, or in fact, how many people in this world, will have this kind of insights on cause and effect? The fact that there is a coming oil crisis is not a big secret but the way he said on how it is going to influence world politics is really brilliant. And we are talking about a guy who does not have much education. He picks up English by himself and managed to marry a woman who teaches English.
Then he is also a huge movie fan. Not really Hollywood movies which he also watches but he is a huge Bollywood movie fan. Maybe most Indians are the same and this is probably why India produces close to 1,000 movies a year, the most in the world.
He is now officially my Bollywood movie consultant and he knows where to buy cheap DVDs. I have given him a float of Rs1,500 to stock up good movies for me.
Today, we were talking about “Krrish” and I asked him if it is a good movie. He said that it is like a “Superman” movie for kids and he felt that it is a really copycat job. Well, as far as I know, it is not uncommon for Bollywood producers to copycat Hollywood ideas and a whole website has been created to keep track of these copycat activities. In fact, many of the recent “copycats” such as “Taxi 9211” has become hits. He continued to say that the previous movie “Koi Mil…Gaya” is a much better movie. “Krrish” is a sequel to that movie. I immediately asked him to procure me a copy.
He is also on the hunt for me for some Satyajit Ray’s movies and he has found some. The only problem is that those are VCDs and do not have English subtitles. It is a shame that Satyajit Ray’s movies are so hard to find here.
We continued our movie talk and I asked him which movie is worth watching in the cinemas now. He immediately said “Fanaa” and he told me to watch out for “Kabhi Alvida Naa Kehna” and he jokingly said that it sounds like a sequel to “Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham”.
I then wondered. How could he afford to go to the movies?
The average ticket price here is between Rs60 and Rs100 for normal cinemas and Rs180 for the IMAX hall. DVDs for new movies costs between Rs300 to Rs350 and for older movies, it costs between Rs250 to Rs300. VCD prices ranges from Rs150 to Rs200 for new movies. For older movies, the price can go down to Rs25. And then there is cable TV that costs between Rs100 to Rs250, depending on which area you live but the contents are more or less the same, with an offering of about 100 channels.
Then there are the pirates. Pirated DVDs costs about Rs50 per piece, more than 1/6 of the price of the original but the pirates are not doing really a lot of business as in Malaysia. One reason is because the quality of the pirated DVDs is very bad, unlike those in Malaysia.
He said that he does not normally go to watch movies in the cinemas but he buys cheap VCDs. He will only go to the cinema if there is a big movie featuring the stars that he likes. Stars are a real determining factor on whether one goes to the cinema or not. For lesser movies, they will watch them on TV. Finding myself in my old shoes, I did not blink and asked him about the window. He said that for normal Bollywood movies, the soundtrack will come out way in advance to promote the movie (this I already know and this tactic is particularly effective in the UK). Right after one week after the movie has finished it’s theatrical runs, the DVDs and VCDs will appear in the market. However, it is not uncommon for DVDs and VCDs to be released simultaneously or sometimes one or two weeks prior to theatrical release in India in other countries (I wonder how he knows about this!). Then normally, the cable TV will play the movie 6 months after the last day of theatrical release.
Well, so much for this edition into the film business here. Will update on this as I get to know more. Hopefully I will be able to hook up to some movie producers and distributors here and get more inside info.
I went down to town this morning with Jack (not his real name), my trusted chauffeur, who is an Indian Muslim that speaks good English, Telegu, Urdu and Hindi, that I might go to the bookshop and then to have breakfast; and also because I wanted to widen my social network with a visit to the British Library just not very far away from town center.
On the way, I turned to him and asked him if he had his breakfast.
Jack: Yes Sir. I had my breakfast.
Me: What did you have?
Jack: Some roti and omellete.
Me: Say, how much do you normally spend on food?
Jack: For my family of four i.e. me, my wife and two small children, I spend for rice and wheat, around Rs1,600 per month. Vegetables around Rs500 per month and if I got enough money, I buy some mutton. That is about Rs500 per month. Total about Rs2,600 per month. (That is about USD59 per month. For all conversion rates, roughly, Rs1000:RM83:USD23).
Me: Is that what the normal people spend?
Jack: That is about right for normal “middle class” people.
Me: What about rent? How much do you pay?
Jack: Depends on where. If like in Banjara Hills around your area, bungalows will cost about Rs50,000 to Rs70,000. Apartments like yours will cost about Rs25,000 to Rs35,000. But in outside area, you can get a 2 bedroom apartment for about Rs2,000 per month.
Me: I see. What about your children? They go to the government school for free?
Jack: Oh no. Government school is free but they are very bad! The teachers are very bad. They cannot even speak English. Most of the schools have no tables and chairs. There are no rules and regulations. I don’t want to send my children there.
Me: Then where do you send your children to?
Jack: Private schools.
Me: How much do you spend on that?
Jack: For my 8 year old daughter who has just enrolled, I spend Rs4,000 for registration. Then Rs2,000 for books and Rs600 for school uniform. Every three months, I pay a school fee of Rs4,000.
Me: Wow, that is not exactly cheap! And I presume the cost will increase as your child goes to higher levels?
Jack: Yes, the fee will increase by about Rs400 per level.
Me: Do normal people send their children to these private schools or are you an exceptional case?
Jack: Normal middle class people that works like me (his definition of middle class includes anyone who has a secure job and above) sends their children to these private schools. We cannot trust to let our children to go to government school.
He points to some wayside illegal fruit sellers pushing a cart.
Jack: People like these sends their children to the government school because they cannot afford it.
Me: This is terrible! If the state of the government school is like what you said, then these people will be forever poor.
Jack: Sir, I can take you to a government school one day and you see for yourself.
Me: Then there must be a lot of private schools around?
Jack: Yes. But some are also bad. You have to choose carefully.
Me: Is this situation happening only in Hyderabad or is it the same in the whole of India?
Jack: I think whole of India is the same. Even in Delhi.
After some moments of pondering.
Jack: But the rich gets so much richer. You see, those people with high paying IT jobs, more than 90% of them comes from rich families. People like us, like them (pointing to some road side people), will never be able to afford that kind of education. You also have to know people to get in.
Me: What about healthcare? Do you all get free healthcare?
Jack: The government hospital is free but there are so many people. You have to pay middle persons to get an appointment.
Me: What about those outside clinics? Do you have to pay as a citizen?
Jack: Oh yes. Those hospitals (they call clinics hospitals too) charge about Rs100 to Rs300 per consultation. Pharmacy fees is separate.
I then recall going to one of these hospitals and indeed this is so. I paid Rs100 for consultation and about Rs200 for medicine.
Me: I don’t quite really understand this. India’s tax regime is crazy. They tax you for almost everything and at very high rates indeed. Where did all these tax money go?
Jack: I don’t know. Maybe building roads.
Me: But roads won’t cost that much money.
Jack: But the middle person takes a lot of money. Even the MLA (Member of the Legislative Assembly) takes money. A road that costs maybe Rs50,000 to build, they will bill the government as Rs50lakhs (Rs5,000,000). A lot of money gets spent that way. For example, in government schools, the school provide lunch for the children but the food there is terrible! But who made the money? The middle person! There is too much corruption in India.
Me: What then you think is your future?
Jack: I don’t think I have much future here in Hyderabad. I do not earn a lot. I don’t even have a bank account. My daughter is 8 years old now and in 10 years time, she will get married. Where am I going to get the dowry money?
Me: How much is the dowry, normally?
Jack: For us, maybe about Rs1 lakh (Rs100,000). Sometimes, the other party can ask for Rs2 or even Rs3lakhs. Depends on how educated is the male family. The more educated, the more they will ask.
Me: This is absurd. It should be the other way round.
Jack: Yeah, but this is how it works here. The Rs1 lakh or so is just cash. I have to prepare for some gold, buy TV, fridge, beds, etc. But the male side will bear the cost of the dinner.
Me: And after all these, there are still so many cases of bride burning! What’s this place??
Jack: Yeah, it is not easy to live here. I am now looking for a job in Dubai. My brother is there and he is helping me to look for a job. If I go there, maybe I will have some chances. I don’t mind working hard. Any hard job I can do, not only being a driver.
Me: Well, all the best to you. By the way, our company has operations in Dubai too. Let me know if you need some help.
And by this time, I have reached home, with a copy of the June’s edition of the Harvard Business Review in hand and the British Library card in my pocket. And I begin to think, what has all these magazines and libraries got to do with a normal, struggling but hardworking Indian. But I believe it has a lot to do with them. Give India some time. It will catch up.
Jack: So Sir, what plans do you have tonight?
Me: I have an appointment to watch a movie tonight at about 6pm. I may go in their car. Anyways, I will call you half an hour earlier to confirm.
Jack: What about your laundry, Sir?
Me: Oh yeah. Maybe you can collect it and pass to me this evening.
Jack: Ok. Thank you.
Me: Thank you.
Wow, it has been a long journey. The whole conversation above actually took place in parts and in between my stops.
India is really a mystery. Incredible India!
First, the censors passed the film. Then the government banned it. Then the high court removes the ban. And now the government strikes back.
I almost thought I will miss this film. Oh, by the way, I have checked out the Prasad IMAX cinema. Watched Poseidon on the very big screen (not 3D) and it was an absolutely wonderful cinema. Finally, something to look forward to! The cost of the ticket is not cheap though, or at least not as cheap as in Malaysia. It costs about RM15 (USD4.1) per ticket versus about RM10 (USD2.7) per ticket in Malaysia. But as many people know, the ticket prices in Malaysia is very low compared to a lot of countries. But as far as I am concerned, I am worse off. So, who says India is cheap?
Hyderabad, June 22: The State government on Thursday decided to move a division bench of the High Court against the order of a single judge striking down a government order prohibiting screening of the controversial movie The Da Vinci Code. Sources in the Chief Minister’s Office (CMO) said that the government plans to appeal after receiving a copy of the full judgement.
Justice G. Raghuram of the AP High Court had struck down an order by the government prohibiting exhibition of the film on Wednesday. But The Da Vinci Code’s distributor is not discouraged.
Stating that the State government had every right move court for an appeal B. Subrahmanyam of Lakshmi Ganapathi Films said, “As far as we are concerned, there is a clear High Court judgement lifting the ban and we will start screening the film from Friday, June 23. We plan to have one show each on Friday, Saturday and Sunday at Prasad’s multiplex at 3.15 pm. From Monday onwards there will be three screenings.” In other theatres of the city and the State, the film will be released on June 30, Mr Subrahmanyam said.
Meanwhile, Christian and Muslim organisations while welcoming the decision of the government to go in for an appeal, said protest demonstrations will be held at the Prasad’s multiplex on Friday.
The National Congress of Indian Christians youth wing president and general secretary C.A. Daniel Adams and G.S. Alwyn Enoch respectively said, “We went to the theatre on Thursday night but found that there were no posters of the film put up. Nor was the booking on. We will go again on Friday and hold demonstrations.” Earlier during the day, they met special chief secretary (Home) Paul Bhuyan and expressed their unhappiness over the “presentation/argument” given by the government on The Da Vinci Code film in the court.
They demanded that the government should ensure that the Telugu version o the film is not allowed to come into the market and impose ban on dubbing the film in any language. Even the St. Josephs Cathedral Parishioners’ Association demanded that the government immediately appealed against the release of the film.
MIM legislator Asaduddin Owaisi welcomed the government decision to move court and said that it reflected that the government was really concerned about the feelings of minorities. He appealed to all the cine-goers to respect the religious sentiments of the Christians and Muslims and said they should not go and see the movie. “Sky is not going to fall if the people do not watch this movie which hurts the religious sentiments of crores of Christians and Muslims. If they encourage production of such movies now, tomorrow another film hurting the sentiments of other communities will be produced and screened,” he said.
After a couple of weeks in India, I began to think to myself, “How could a place such as India with such poor infrastructure and such a large population that is still not prepared can aspire to be an economic superpower?” Of course, anyone who has at least some interests in what is going on in the world would have read, or at least heard of, Thomas Friedman’s megahit “The World Is Flat”.
With the rising costs in India, which include fuel prices which is more than double of that in Malaysia and the rising cost of utilities and labour, not to mention the fickle mindedness of the the labour pool which job hops like mad, I will think that unless India do something to address the basic problems, the Indian bubble will burst very soon.
The economic foundation of India is not the same as in China. China, for what you would want to call it, is still basically a command economy. When something needs to be done, the central government will issue an instruction and it will get done. This system did prove itself to be rather effective in such a giant country like China which has to cope with accelerated growth.
India is the world largest democracy and democracy is not always the best way forward. It may even hamper growth even before the country has grown. To deal with acclerated growth in a huge country like India and China, I do think that democracy will be quite a handicap. This may be one reason why the government of India is fretting on why they are still lagging behind China by so far.
All these are speaking from a speed of growth point of view.
The Indian model, if the government is persistent enough to put through reforms to eliminate bureaucracy and corruption and improve on it’s infrastructure and mass education, will come out of the race with China a stronger country. One key reason is that India is more of a knowledge and services based economy whilst China is still a rather manufacturing based economy. The way the Indian economy is built and it’s foundation in democracy and individual enterprise will make it a more resilient economy. But then again, the government must get things moving forward as soon as possible. Before the bubble bursts.
Finally! My first blog entry after almost coming to 2 months now. I am not sure if I still know how to blog.
The internet connection in my house now is finally working. India, or at least Hyderabad, is a very weird place. It is a place where opposites exist harmoniously with each other. I have never really seen a place where extreme opposites can co-exist at the same time. Extreme wealth and extreme poverty. Extreme high-tech and extreme low-tech. Extreme intelligence and extreme low awareness. Extreme rigidity and extreme flexibility.
For example, to get a mobile telephone line, you need all sorts of documentations. Pictures, passports, etc. To get a gas regulator, you need to apply for it as if you are applying for a passport. To get money transfered out of the country is so very difficult. At the same time, bribery is everywhere. This is aptly put by the tour guide in Agra. We wanted to take a picture but there is a no entry sign. The guide just asked us to go in and wanted to take the picture for us. We pointed at the sign and he said, “This is India. Everything is possible if you have money”.
I live in an apartment that costs about RM600,000 (approx. USD160,000) but just right next to it, I see many people sleeping in self-built tents made of waste wood and plastic papers which can hardly hold water if it rains. We see people peeing at the roadside everywhere. It is not uncommon to see perfectly well dressed young professionals carrying notebook computers passing urine by the roadside. On the road, everyone is rushing for time. The drivers drive very fast and beating traffic rules all the time. I almost had a heart attack the first few days I was here. But if you think that these people are super efficient and fast workers who races against time like the Hong Kong people do, then you are wrong. In other things except driving a motorised vehicle, to get them to get something done will take ages. They promise but they never come. If you think Malaysian time is bad, then the Indian can be worse. If in Malaysia, you say 7.00pm people will turn up at 7.30pm, then here, if they say they will do something for you at 7.00pm, you can expect them to turn up no earlier than 10.00pm.
It is interesting to see what the other expats are saying about their experience, and if you are interested, here is one thread: http://www.indiamike.com/india/showthread.php?t=21404
All these makes India a really interesting place to be but not everyone will like this place. It is either you love it or you hate it. The people are at once genuinely very nice but also at once very greedy for money. Sometimes I do not know what to make of all these but this is very good adventure.
The weather is very hot and reached about 45 degrees celsius during our trip to Delhi-Jaipur-Agra. I almost got sick on the third day after visiting the Taj Mahal. Never ever visit India during March-September. Avoid it like a plague if you cannot stand the heat and monsoon rain. November, December and January are good months to visit India.
I do miss the food back in Malaysia although the Biryani rice here is superb. Luckily our company has a restaurant here just next to the office and the chef is from Ipoh, the same town where I came from. Thanks to him, I can still manage the food here and at the same time, get adventurous and try out other restaurants.
The rule of thumb is really never to eat or drink anything from the roadside. Many people, including the locals, really got sick from it. So wherever we went to eat, we made sure that it is a proper restaurant which has a proper water filtration system. We drink from bottled water. Coca-cola and Pepsi is doing very well with their own brands, Kinley and Aquafina, respectively. I think I will take these precautions until a time when I can feel really comfortable with the food and water here. But still, I will avoid a roadside sugarcane water stall like a plague.
I am settling down well with my job although there are many things to catch up. At least right now, I know how to differentiate an Iranian marble from an Indian marble.
In terms of social life, there are no Go clubs here but I have yet to check out the film club except for a courtesy phone call. I have not been to the cinemas but the hottest show now is “Fanaa”, something not unlike “Dil Se” in theme. They banned the “Da Vinci Code” here and I thought the censors in Malaysia were terrible.
Well, so much for this first post.
The Taj Mahal: “A tear drop on the cheek of time” – Rabindranath Tagore