Category Archives: India

“We Are Declaring Him” – Part I

Monday November 24, 2014.

It was 4 days after dad got discharged from the hospital. His fever was under control. His vitals were normal. But his counts weren’t increasing. The doctor gave him a few months. I knew that. Mom suspected it, didn’t accept it and was hoping for a miracle. The rest of the family either didn’t know or did not want to believe. Elderly AML is a deadly disease. At 74, he had slim chances to begin with. But lack of any co-morbid conditions raised our hopes. But a very early relapse three weeks after the first chemo killed those chances.

I was nervous that morning. I was supposed to fly back to the US that night. I wanted to stay back but my work situation was getting tenuous. I had spent several days in India this year. I was working on and off while there. If I had to work any more from there, I would’ve had to declare myself to Oracle India HR and report my income during that time to the Indian Revenue authorities. Things would’ve gotten complicated. I had to make a tough decision and I chose to play safe and leave – hoping that I can be back late December or early January.

When he woke up that Monday morning, he was visibly weaker than the previous day. When I helped him sit up on the bed he wasn’t able to support himself, unlike Sunday. When he tried to get off the bed he said he couldn’t move his right leg – he had lost control over it. We attributed it to extreme weakness.

Still we got him to sit on his chair. I fed him a quarter of an omelette. He hadn’t been eating well so I was force-feeding him.

“ఇంకొక్క చిన్న (one small) piece daddy”.

“ఒద్దు నాన్న(No dear)”

Still I fed him two more before I let go. He washed his mouth, drank some water and said he wanted to sleep. Chacha and I helped him on to the bed. He seemed to slip in to sleep very quickly.

Around 12:45 dad wanted to go to the loo. Chacha was in the chair next to me so he stood up too, to help move dad on to the wheelchair. It took a lot of effort to make him get him off the bed and on to the wheelchair. He was limp, absolutely no effort from him, no energy. I was concerned a bit. It took an even larger effort to make him sit on the loo. His position was awkward – not upright, slouched and without energy, staring at the wall in front. He was breathing heavily and his speech wasn’t clear. He was trying to tell us something but we couldn’t figure out what it was. After about 25-30 minutes in there he signaled he was done and wanted to go back into the bedroom.

In hindsight, this was the moment we lost him.

To be continued…

The Driving Dynamics

Driving in Hyderabad is one of the most exasperating or exhilarating experiences – depending on how you look at it. I grew up driving Ambassadors, Fiats and Marutis and my favorite Kawasaki KB 100 RTZ (Are-Tee-Zed) on these roads. You leave me anywhere in the older part of Hyderabad (the pre-Hitec City area) and I can find my way back home. Every visit to India, there’s one thing I really really look forward to – driving on these roads.

Of course, the traffic in the 80s and 90s was very different from what it is now. The number of vehicles has gone up multifold; and drivers are forgetting the one thing they need to bring along when they hit the road – their brains. But hey, this is Hyderabad – sab chalta mian!

Here are a few observations that should help NRIs willing to take the plunge:

The Center Line

Yes there is a dotted line separating lanes. And drivers are absolutely aware of the line. Car drivers make sure they follow that line – right down the center. In fact if the car were to split in two (a la Sholay motorcycle) the right and left parts of the car would drive along the line in perfect symmetry.

The Stop Light

When the first rays of sun hit this beautiful planet, the birds start chirping – giving us dumb humans audible indication to wake up. Similarly when the stop light turns green, the entire traffic erupts in a medley of honking – the autorickshaws, the cars, the two wheelers. In other words, you can fall asleep at a stop light and you WILL be woken up.

The Road Crosser

Ah yes – that wonderful person that comes in all ages, hues and sizes. They can come in groups too. They look at your car – speeding at 40+ mph, raise their arm shoulder height parallel to the ground and open up their palm – the global hand gesture for stop. Only this comes with the nonchalant authority of a Hyderabadi. He doesn’t expect you to stop. He doesn’t stop if you don’t stop. You both are constantly moving in a well choreographed dance. Nobody gets hurt, nobody gets annoyed – except if he’s with a girl. Then his machismo surfaces and he yells a “Hoi” at you!

Your Peripheral Vision

I wore glasses when I lived in India. Had regular eye exams. But was never tested for peripheral vision. Never needed it. Hyderabadi drivers develop excellent perimetric senses. You never know from which side of your car the preteen dude will weave in – and out in a second.

The Natural Speed Bumps

The traffic races on that one stretch of road without speed bumps (called speed breakers here). And suddenly you see them – black on black, without the black and white markings to indicate there’s a breaker coming. Those natural speed breakers languidly crossing the road. But they do one thing better than humans don’t – they form a nice line/queue while crossing the road. Buffalos rock!

The Fluid State

Definition of Fluid:

substance, as a liquid or gas, that is capable of flowing and that changes its shape at a steady rate when acted upon by a force tending to change its shape.

Allow me to explain. If there is a gap – as in empty space – in the traffic, all vehicles rush to fill it. The fastest gets there first, and the vacuum left by him will be taken up by the fastest foot behind him, and so on. So the traffic is constantly moving, gravitating forward. Another physical science word comes to mind – Flux

Finally… Freedom!

Remember Mel Gibson’s final words in Braveheart? Let’s say you are in a massive rush to get to your destination. You can weave your way in and out, pass vehicles from left and right, recklessly enter oncoming lanes and cut in, and honk the living daylights out of every vehicle on the road. No blue lights chasing you, nobody calling 911 to report you. This is what ‘FREEEDOMMMM’ feels like on the road.

The Little Things

It’s a long way to Tipperary…

Saturday Sep 6, 2014 around 6:00 am Indian Standard Time

As Air India 952 touched down at the Rajiv Gandhi International Airport from Dubai, I felt relieved. Less than 24 hours ago I was sitting at the Gate in Orlando in a Delta 757 that was already 75 minutes delayed. Another 30 mins and I’d have missed my Atlanta – Dubai connection and cut short my 7 day visit by a day.

It has been nearly 20 years since I flew Air India. I had decent memories of my last AI flight, back in 1995 when I flew from JFK-HYD. Food was decent. Times were kept. A pretty flight attendant sitting in the jump seat in front of us giving us a run down of how desi passengers were mostly to blame for Air India’s reputation (“they don’t use the button to call us, some people try to touch us, they don’t flush toilets, they get drunk”). When they announced boarding at Gate C2 in Dubai, I expected them to call the Executive Class passengers in first. Given there were only about 20 Business Class seats on the A320 I was hoping for an easy boarding. Instead, they called for everyone to board. The typical desi frenzy broke out. Everybody trying to rush into the aircraft. That’s when you get the first taste of systematic chaos that is India. Fortunately I found my way in before most others. The moment they saw 2A on the boarding pass the gate agent smiled, and said “you can go in sir”

3 passengers in the Executive Class. Yes – 3. The portly Flight Attendant was pleasantly surprised when I wished him on entering the aircraft. He barely managed to mumble back “Good Morning”. I expected to be asked “Can I get something to drink?” immediately after sitting. Instead, they allowed about 50 passengers before the young man came and asked “Will you eat dinner sir? We have veg and non-veg” After confirming he meant after take off, I chose the orange juice from his tray of drinks.

Boarding door closed at 12:50am. Wow, on time departure! Clearly I was in luck! As we taxied towards takeoff, a lady FA walked around making sure we all had our seat belts strapped on. She has got to be the most unpleasant FA ever. She actually had a frown on her face. Sort of like “why the heck are you on my plane?” Once she figured I was from the US her expression and demeanor both changed. She became more respectful and actually managed to smile on a couple of occasions. Uncle Sam’s charm is universal!

The male FA came around after we reached cruising altitude and asked me what I wanted to drink. When asked what they had he lowered his voice and said “we have whiskey, rum, beer and wine” – sounding like he was letting us in on a secret. I chose Sula, the Indian red. I also chose to eat dinner – chicken. They served the wine and waited inordinately to serve dinner. Turns out Indian passengers like to finish the drinks and then eat dinner. The food was tasty and plentiful. I was famished having only airline food in the past 24 hours cutting across 9 time zones. I could eat idli if they served it cold on that flight.

I was the first one out of the aircraft at RGIA. I was met with 3 people at the end of the jetway. The guy rudely stopped me in my tracks and asked for my boarding pass. See, AI 952 is actually Dubai to Vishakapatnam route, with a 40 min stop over in Hyderabad. At HYD they want to make sure no VTZ passengers accidentally (or intentionally) get off. I wish though that they had announced BEFORE taking off to keep our boarding passes handy. I spent an excruciating 90 seconds fidgeting around my pockets trying to produce the runaway boarding pass. Found it eventually and still made it first out into the immigration area.

At 6:15am with hardly any expected international arrivals, the immigration officials were seen dozing off at their desks – literally. As I made my way to the area, one alert officer realized there were arriving passengers and waved me to his desk. I produced my US passport and PIO card while wishing him a very good morning. At that point he realized I was a foreign national and asked me to fill out an immigration form. Yeah – right there. Wouldn’t it have been nice if they gave us those forms in the plane and asked us to have them ready when we get to the desk? Convenience is taboo in this country.

As I walked out of the hall post immigration, I was stopped and asked to show the stamp and my boarding pass. I wondered why they wanted the boarding pass at that point. Luckily I had it tucked away in one of the pages in the passport. He saluted me and smiled a sheepish smile – the standard Indian method for seeking ‘bakshish’. I ignored. Bakshish for doing his job and checking if my passport had been stamped? No thank you! I slowly made my way to the baggage claim area. After making the customary “I have reached safely” and “I have arrived safely” phone calls respectively I decided to take a bio break. The attendant at the entrance to the men’s room did the bakshish salute as I parked my trolley. Seriously… bakshish for what? Watching me pee?

My two 60 lb suitcases arrived fairly quickly, making me the first to advance to the customs area. As I approached the scanner, in typical desi fashion this dude cut me off and plonked his carton of whatever on to the conveyor belt. The ensuing drama was worth watching. The customs officer (why are they all in plainclothes anyway?) asked – quite politely I might add – the man to unload even his wallet into the scanner. And the guy simply stood there staring, refusing to part with his beloved wallet. The officer got suspicious and said out loud “kuch hai kya purse mein?”. I am patiently waiting behind while the officer goaded and the man refused. Then the guy behind me shouts “kuch nahin hota mian… daal do purse… aage jaake us taraf se nikalta… kahin nahin jaata”. After about 4 mins I got impatient, unloaded my suitcases, picked them up on the other side and headed out, only to be stopped by another khaki wearing officer asking to check my passport and boarding card. OK that’s the third time they asked me for the boarding card. As I showed him the page with the immigration stamp he gave me the bakshish smile and said “kuch tho bhi do saab”. Again, the guy expected to be given bakshish for doing his job and checking my credentials one last time before I head out of the airport. I SMHed (learned that acronym recently. For the uninitiated, it stands for Shaking My Head) and walked purposefully towards the exit.

The last thoughts as I made my way out was how we are missing doing the little things right in India. Good airline with fairly new aircraft and a perfect, on time departure. But horribly unfriendly staff. Great food but no follow up, completely oblivious to international food habits. No immigration cards in the aircraft, or on arrival at the gate, or even a sign that says “Foreign Nationals – Please Fill Immigration Card HERE”. No heads up about keeping the boarding card handy. That bakshish smile wherever you go. The single conveyor belt for customs scanning for a 150 passenger aircraft. What will they do when a 747 arrives? How long will that line be? There are so many good things happening in this country. But to go from good to great, it’s the little things that matter.

I walked into the air that I grew up breathing, and for the first time ever I was first out of the aircraft, first out of immigration and first out of customs. Feels good to be home!