Friday, July 22, 2016

Reflections Of India Trip - 2016

How to describe my trip to India? A few words that come to mind -
Camaraderie, Bonding, Shopping, Monsoon, 
Flashes of Opulence, Sense of Disconnect, 
Colors and Traditions, Flavors and Aromas, 
Fleeting Moments of Tranquility, Places Frozen in Time, 
A Metropolis Ripping at the Seams yet Miraculously Surviving Each Day.....

The entry point to India (Mumbai Airport) which earlier used to be a nightmare that I wanted to quickly wake up from, turned out to be a pleasant experience this time around. The new Mumbai International airport is very artistically done and ensures a very smooth flow of passengers. They have to improve the services a bit more particularly the long immigration queues during departure which spoils the overall experience. But still excellent progress.

Ae Dil Hai Mushkil, Hai Jeena Yahan, 
Zara Hatke, Zara Bachke,
Ye Hai Bombay Meri Jaan

(O my dear heart, life here is a struggle
Careful and be wise, this is Bombay my love)

Song that immortalized life in Bombay - an enigmatic, teeming metropolis that grabs your attention with it's wonderful, hues and colors and yet frustrates you with its apathy towards everything. You can hate it or fall in love with it, but once you have lived in Bombay, no other city in India can work for you. It is compulsively cosmopolitan, unlike any other city in India.
The variety of classy restaurants serves up a gastronomic delight to food lovers. Bombay and New Bombay also have a number of International fast food outlets like McDonald's, Chili's, Burger King, Domino's, Pizza Hut, Subway etc etc.. There is. McDonald and Domino's right in front of my home in Mumbai. Did enjoy some good food and camaraderie during this trip.

The falling in love with Bombay happened during my youth. However this time I could not avoid the feeling of disconnect - the city that I had grown up in had been replaced by this grotesque, chaotic and concrete monstrosity. 
The streets where you could take a walk with your buddies have been replaced by this never ending flood of honking vehicles. The smoke pollution and sound decibels probably has reduced the life span of an average person by at least 15 years. The magic of the Mumbai monsoon is gone for ever too. The city has grown at a mind boggling rate and yet miraculously survives the desperate paucity of resources and infrastructure. 

The people however carry on without a hint annoyance or frustration. The Bombaiyya attitude; - Live, work and be merry like there is no tomorrow and don't bother complaining. This is why the terrorists have never impacted Mumbai - It has no time to pause; even for "Fear". It rises from the ashes every single day and keeps moving on.

The incessant rains in July were not providing too many chances to get out and re-experience the city. So, I was already looking forward to spending some time at our home in Kerala. It is peak monsoon in Kerala too during this period, but I received information that the weather this year was better than in Mumbai. So off to Kerala for some R 'n R.

Kerala did not disappoint me in terms of the weather. It was occasional rains with decent periods of beautiful sunshine. It was cooler than Mumbai because of the dense foliage and canopy of trees which would not allow the sunlight to touch the ground. The tranquility is mesmerizing and you could almost hear your thoughts. The silence was occasionally broken by a faint sound of the rhythmic vedic chants from the temple half a mile away. Perfect solitude. People did keep dropping in to meet us and there was the need for some time to be set aside for bureaucracy as well. I tried to collect as many moments of peace and quiet that was available.

This peaceful communist state is a paradox and its history of socialism and successive leftist governments for 70 years have ensured a parasitic society where almost everyone receives a pension, free healthcare and subsidized food grains. So there is no compulsion to earn your bread. One found it difficult to find workers to do even the odd jobs. Strange that Malayalis who are one of the most enterprising communities overseas are shirkers in their own state.
The young have deserted the state and its beautiful environs, looking for employment elsewhere. There are entire streets lined with beautiful homes of only old people living in them, pining for occasional visits from their young ones. The influx of overseas money aided by exchange rates also created significant pockets of affluence in remote towns; I happened to see BMWs, Toyotas and Hondas parked in front of some of these huge and luxurious homes.

Conversations usually revolved around who is working in which part of the world and who died recently or who had fallen terminally ill - something that I thought was sad.

Another problem was that Kerala still has probably the worst network of roads and infrastructure for a state dependent upon its overseas residents. The blame rests squarely on the successive leftist governments; for it has created a state with one of the worst fiscal deficits in India. People who pay taxes get the worst services for their taxes and people who don't pay a dine or work a day get a comfortable life. 
Think again if you think that socialism does not come at a price. But someday this free ride will be exhausted, other people's money will be gone and the lights will then go out one by one.

Back in Mumbai it was time for shopping. Visiting the malls and the market in Chembur and filling up on "Pav-Bhaaji" at one of our favorite restaurants while shopping. 
The smaller shops in Chembur still provide you with the best quality clothes at very reasonable prices. I prefer these shops to the malls that sell branded clothes. Branded clothes while expensive, often do not have the same quality and the customized fit. But visit a mall to see the purchasing power of India. All I could think was "WOW!! - These young blokes do really go to town when it comes to shopping". The crowd is 10 times that of the "Black Friday" back in the USA even on a normal Sunday evening. The price tags did not seem to matter at all, but then when it came to textiles, India was great!

Meeting friends and family is always the best part of the visit. But when it is a short vacation this is an aspect that you do least justice to. You just cannot expect everyone to make time according to your constricted schedule and often you often don't get to meet everyone that you want to. It's sad because you are aware that it is not possible to meet them again at will, but then that's how life is.

The best thing about Bombay this time were the Ola and Uber Cab Services. They have caught on like wildfire and are extremely popular. The dependency on Auto-rickshaws and Taxi Cabs has been completely eliminated. Best advantages of a free market economy; the most productive and brilliant ideas sweep aside the redundant and the old. These services are a win-win for the consumer and also the Uber and Ola drivers creating massive employment opportunities, with decent earnngs and cheaper and comfortable travel, with the consumer being able to provide reviews on the services provided.

A few conversations, lunches and dinners later it was time to pack my bags. Just as I was getting used to the smells, colors and sounds of Bombay, it was time to head back.  It is always a weird feeling for me cause while I am bummed to be leaving my friends and family, I am also looking forward to getting back to the comforts of home. 

Under the stars, beneath the clouds 
and over the fields we roam.
No matter where we have drifted,
there is really no place like home.
~ Anonymous