Monday, October 27, 2008

The Indian psyche

I am back briefly; will be gone again tomorrow, off to constant danger and the anguish of a forgotten and abandoned people...

India has come a long way; gone are days of dour infrastructure and endless red tape; why, you can actually apply for a passport and get one in a week, you can have your choice of flight with first class airlines that are compatible or better than any in the West, I am writing this blog on a high speed broadband line. Yet, consider this:The supreme court of India actually intervened to stop the culling of stray dogs...the supreme court!

On my return flight from London last week, I had a white family of 4 on the left hand side and an Indian family of 3 on the right, both set of parents with really good looking infants on their laps. The time and attention given to the White families kids made me want to vomit; the only thing these flight attendants did not do was kiss their assess. I did not observe anyone of them even saying a remote "hello" to the baby of color.

Why do movie actors of India insist on wearing dark sunglasses at night?

West Andheri, a reasonable upper middle income neighborhood, where I live, stinks. I mean really, really stinks; enough to spoil your appetite if the prevailing winds were to travel across a sewer collection pool a few miles away. The prevailing winds have a tendency of blowing across West Andheri from the pool just when you begin dinner.

Diwali mercifully passed on last night, without making me deaf. I thought I was in a war zone with powerful firecrackers booming through the night like tanks in a battlefield. I swear the Indian Army will be in a state of utter confusion if an enemy were to attack during the cover of this festival. Let’s fervently pray Mumbai Municipality Corporation clean up used paraphernalia mess from the streets soon.

About Afghanistan when I return...

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Of Indian pilots

The idea that I, a paying passenger, need not know what is going on, sitting in the middle of a runway for half an hour without any explanation whatsoever, must have to do with Indian mentality and their pure patience, I guess. I was returning to Mumbai from Srinagar the other day, the flight was delayed 2 hours and when I finally landed in Mumbai through rather turbulent air, I was made to sit on the middle of a runway for some 35 minutes while other airplanes raced past me either landing or taking off. Through all this, the pilots remained mum. This is not an isolated case; it is common for all Indian pilots to keep their thoughts to themselves, for this has happened to me having flown all carriers in India.

However, here is something odd. As I cruise through some 35,000 feet over land, and at times through turbulence, these same pilots come alive. They tell me they are soooooo sorry the flight has been delayed. You know why? Because the incoming flight was delayed coming in! As if I care! You are late, you are late, period. Would the pilot care if I arrived late with an excuse that my ride to the airport was late in picking me up? Then he informs me that we are flying through turbulence, as if the coffee sloshing around in my cup has a mind of its own. Then he continues telling me we are headed south to Mumbai. Hello? I sure hope so, that's where I want to go! He continues, saying the outside air temperature is -50F. So? Should I be concerned what the outside temperature is?

And then, after we land, when we have to wait and wait, when I do want to know what is going on and when we'll start rolling again, the bloody guy nods off...go figure!

Saturday, October 4, 2008


I am going to Malaad today. Just like Govendhi slums about which I have talked quite a bit on, Malaad is a sprawling slum that is home to thousands of very poor Muslims who clamor for every inch of vacant space.

I am prepared. Good comfortable shoes to overcome slippery surfaces, loose clothes for it can be suffocatingly hot in the sea of humanity and a hankie with a good dose of perfume for I have puked in the past when the municipality comes along to clear backlog of human filth and garbage from open severs sometimes; the hankie gives you breathing air.

I am going to distribute zakaat ul Fitr to 20 most deserving families - about $65 or less per family, depending on size. I have received the zakaat late from few donors in the US ; otherwise I had distributed the bulk of it in Mumbra a few days ago, on Eid day.

Malaad is not too far away from where I live, some forty minutes by rickshaw and boat; I smell it before I see it, a now familiar gut wrenching stink of open sewers and human waste. I go around narrow lanes swarming with people; women cooking or washing clothes, children playing of defecating into open sewage gutters, dogs trying to scavenge whatever discarded which is not much and the ever present, agony inflicting flies, swarms of them. They sit on you, your entire body, and have a way of finding their way up your nose if you let them.

I visit the 20 tagged families and am invited to their hovels, offered tea and tales of misery and sadness. I listen, try to be sympathetic to the complainers and smile at the ever present semi naked kids. Then I give them their dues and leave with vague promises of future help with their needs - housing, education, medical...

I flee as soon as I am done, relieved it is over. I reach home depressed, only to be cheered up some by the antics of Maaha Zainab, my oh so mature soon to be 8 year old. But it has been a sad day...

No blogs until Wednesday as I am off to a remote village in Madya Pradesh to see if CAI can assist a local community purchase land for burial; they have to use other collective graveyard and there have been issues (and fights) about Aliyun walliuallah….

Friday, October 3, 2008

Dog poop

Its been a struggle for years; especially since the start of my stay here in Mumbai - avoiding stepping on dog poop while walking the streets of Mumbai. This city has hundreds of thousands of stray dogs that roam the streets. The local municipality can't touch them for fear of offending sentiments of minority religious and animal rights groups. Frankly, they give me the creeps and I stay terrified I will be tender meat for one of them soon. A pack of three came after me last year when I was jogging towards Juhu Beach; it was only the intervention of an idling watchman with a danda that saved me that day for he banged the cane a couple of times and on the pavement and the hounds thought otherwise.
Anyway, I was walking towards a small park for my morning run very near to my apartments and it still dark. I passed a couple of sleeping dogs and I was so intent on cursing them that I walked right smack in the middle of a pile. I cursed out aloud and that got the two sleeping ones instantly awake and interested in me. I was hopping on one foot and hopping mad. As I cursed the culprits and their mothers and others in in their family, other dogs joined in to watch me dance. One must have thought I was doing a morning ritual for it began howling. With amazing speed that stunned me, others picked it up and all of a sudden I had about 20 hounds howling very close to me.
Needless to say, my blood pressure gusshed and I bolted with the pack close behind. I would have been mince meat if the park full of early morning walkers and joggers was not but 10 yards away...