Friday, September 12, 2008

Why am I talking about New Orleans, you ask

I was part of the Stanford GSB Service Learning trip to New Orleans (or NOLA as we fondly call it) last Spring. Was an amazing experience, extremely intense. The New Orleans 100 list I referred to earlier lists many of the organizations we visited.

the GSB's primary contact is with The Idea Village, a non-profit that works with entrepreneurs. Daryn Dodson, a GSBer at the time and now a full-time Idea Villager, started the tradition by taking a group of classmates to help with the cleanup. Subsequent worked with entrepreneurs and surprised them with some cash grants to get them going with their work.

See our trip's official blog as well. We first visited the Upper and Lower 9th Wards, and met other entrepreneurs, social and otherwise, working in the area, including New Schools for New Orleans, NOLA 180, Make It Right, Global Green etc, all listed in New Orleans 100. One of the most powerful visits was to Hope House where Sister Lillian Flavin happened to be one of our trip leaders' aunt. The film Dead Man Walking is based on the character of one of the nuns who worked there. Sister Lillian read us something she had written about her own epistolary relationship with a death row inmate. There wasn't a dry eye in the house. Jonika's and Patrick's stories too were almost unreal, and left us spinning, thinking of so many things at the same time. I loved the story-telling relationship between Patrick and the gentleman (can't believe I've forgotten his name!) who drew his story out. Such strong people.

Most of our work was with four entrepreneurs with plans to return to the Upper Ninth. That phase of the project was even more exhausting, but everyone put in so much effort, and we all felt so good after it was done.

One of the articles about our trip:

Bye bye Pune, Namaskar Bangalore

Tomorrow a.m. I fly to Bangalore to take part in the Stanford and India Learning exchange program (SAIL to its friends). Been a nice month in Pune, been eating far too much though because the food is just so nice compared to my choices in Kyrgyzstan (or New Orleans for that matter..!)

We have a packed schedule in Bangalore (only two hours to ourselves, on the last day!), and I am glad to see that my suggestion we visit a National Park has been snuck in - we're going to Bannerghatta baby!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

That air crash in Kyrgyzstan

Finally looked up the recent air crash in Kyrgyzstan. Sad story. My uncle and a good friend of mine had for a moment wondered if I had been anywhere near it, but I was in India by then. Been maxing out on the local National Geographic Channel variant most evenings in the flat. Did you know that more people get killed annually by mules and donkeys than in air crashes? Stay away from that ass!

Final week in Pune, finishing up the report and presentation. Looks like we'll be presenting ahead of schedule, tomorrow evening in fact, to make room for everyone's schedules and time zone differences.

Wrapping up here in the office for today. Some kid next door seems to be having his birthday party, lots of high-energy music pumping out, got me tapping my toes and swinging my conference chair in here :-)

As the old dude in the MotoYuva ad says, "Cheeeyaooooo!"

Monday, September 8, 2008

An assault on the senses

Ah, India. Your first real sensory experience if you don't count sweating in the humidity and heat is the heady mix of incense, dust and cow dung that invades your nostrils. The food briefly drowns out all else as you immerse yourself in the spices, reveling in the thick gravies and ghee-soaked naans, rotis and rice. And then, you have the monsoons. I already wrote about that, an immersive experience in its own right :-)

Today as we were brushing up our final report in the conference room that is our office, we heard the gleeful beating of drums announcing yet another Ganesh street parade as another small sangam escorted their own Ganesh idol down Prabath Road. We rushed out with our cameras and spent a few minutes soaking in the sounds and taking in the spectacle. I loved the fact that the backup (as if they needed it) to the enthusiastic brass band in their smart uniforms came in the form of an electric keyboard and those snazzy electric drumpads, powered by a generator and all housed in a colourful Mahindra jeep.

a gaggle of sweaty young men danced their hearts out ahead of the procession, mugging for all they were worth for the cameras. The young bass drummer had a little help with his drum in the form of a couple of friends balancing it for him off the back of a motorbike. Incense filled the air, the sun directly behind the statue filtering through the smoke served to create a suitably impressive effect for the photograph.

Ganesh's modern vahane was of the three wheeled variety, with sturdy attendants to ensure He stayed on even keel up their on the roof. I love this country!

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Indian ads

More funny Indian ads

The CondomCondom campaign to demysticize and promote condom usage. Unfortunately the website doesn't seem to really work when you try to download the ringtone :-(

The CondomCondom song set to some old Amitabh Bhachchan clip :-)

There's another really nice one by Reliance Mobile - the pilgrim hotspots one where a girl calls her grandmother to hear the bells ringing at some temple. I love the little old lady and her expression at the end. Big sop that I am...

Friday, September 5, 2008

Hilarious Indian TV ads

I love some of these Indian TV ads. Used to be that in the newly liberalized market the guys didn't seem to know what to do with all the airtime - resulting in toe-curling, usually sickly sweet epics that took up more time than whatever you were paying good money to watch.

Obviously the market has matured a great deal, and competition does wonders of course. I love these two ads running on cable right now - and a good thing too, since you can easily see them about every 10 minutes if things are on tight rotation.

Tata Sky Aamir Khan ad: You don't need to know the language to keep cracking up at this one

Motorola MotoYuva ad: Hilarious, universal - I think the phone is pitched straight at the Indian teeny market, but everyone knows their father must do this at home, they just haven't caught him yet...

Still think it isn't a small world?

Ben Maritz, GSB '08, who backpacked through Central Asia last summer was very helpful in guiding me towards interesting reading, and a source of great tips, before I went to Kyrgyzstan. Today he emails me, and I quote, "Hey I just met your sri lankan water polo buddy who went to wharton - he is starting at mckinsey in london with me. Small world!"

Ganaka was in my class in high school and kept goal on our water polo team. Haven't seen the guy in years, though we exchanged an email or two while he was at Wharton.

Oh, and then last week another dude who used to swim with my sister and me way back when turned out to be working in Mumbai - I swear I hadn't spoken with the guy in at least 15 years, closer to 20.

I rest my case.

Wednesday, September 3, 2008

Monsoon mayhem, idol chatter

Been pretty hectic these last couple of weeks, lots of bumpy busrides to far away places. Today's a public holiday as the first day marking Ganesh Chathurti. Lord Ganesh, the jovial, pot-bellied, elephant-headed god of learning, homes, etc etc is invited into homes in statue form. the festival culminates in 11 days when the idols are bathed in rivers.

It's interesting watching all this from the sidelines. Many people are pushing for a return to eco-friendliness (these religions were so close to nature until just a few decades ago) with non-polluting paints and materials for the idols, particularly as they'll be immersed in the highly polluted rivers unless people can bring themselves to substitute a bowl of water for the deed. One newspaper was running a poll as to whether people prefer a slimmed down, keep-fit Ganesh to the traditional image - which could be a problem since thw universe is supposed to reside in his belly, held together by a snake for a belt. Slimmer waistline => more overcrowding?

My great-aunt Ena simply adores Lord Ganesh - you find all kinds of statues around the house and in the Matale Heritage Centre's workshops. She would have loved being here right now - though she did spend a lot of time in India when they were both much younger.

Yesterday evening Pune received half its average rainfall for September - in the space of 3 hours. I was supposed to go see my parents at Le Meridien hotel which is some ways away from JM Road (Jangli Maharaj Road - these guys love to abbreviate everything - MG Road is Mahatma Gandhi Road and RBM Road where the hotel is, is really Raja Bahadur Mill Road!)

I ended up wading most of the way down JM Road - which turned out to be a good thing as I passed card, rickshaws and motorbikes stalled in the water that was waist-high in places. Gangs of youths were feeling under the muddy water for the sewer grates that had got hopelessly clogged with all the rubbish people liberally scatter as they walk. One group had found and opened a grate - but I didn't see any drainage taking place...

Finally flagged a rickshaw down at usurious rates (rain PLUS nightfall?? jackpot!) and made it - but I think many people did not get too far; the whole thing took me at least 2-3 hours for a trip that usually takes 15-20 minutes in traffic.

Thunder in the offing, and the skies are darkening, time to head back to the flat while I still can! Challo!