Brooklyn, NY

Holiday Party

Well, our apartment is still a bloody mess and of course nobody has showed up yet to start painting the walls, so they are still dusty with cement droppings everywhere. On the upside, we got rid of our entirely overpriced and underperforming internet cable service. The bastards had charged us almost $100/month for a broadband connection that was 56kps dial-up at best. But Ksenia finally took matters into her hands and went down to MTNL, the semi-government telephone provider.

Back when we had moved in, MTNL weren’t able to get us a working phone connection for ages, but I had been told that once they install DSL, it is actually very fast and cheap. We had tried at some point, but nothing ever happened after they determined that the phone lines in our building are crap. Funnily enough, they had left the DSL router in our apartment for about two months. Phone bills come every other month, so we weren’t all that pleased when we discovered a few weeks ago that they were charging us for DSL service anyways.

However, to our great surprise, two days after Ksenia went to their office (it’s a decrepit building that looks more like a prison, and the office rooms look more like disorganized torture chambers), they installed DSL and everything worked. Well, they couldn’t be bothered or were incapable to get their DSL play nicely with our router, but that was to be expected, and we took care of that ourselves. But since then, speed is great, Vonage works, and we are happy.

There were more positive developments this week. Our new maid started and she’s great. She is Karilyn’s maid’s aunt, a bit older, and positively pleasant. She actually figured out to best mop the terrace, which is really advanced service. Also, Deepak, our trusted driver, keeps cracking us up. He always seems incredibly disappointed when we tell him that he doesn’t have to work tomorrow and asks but why, Sir? And when Ksenia told him that on Saturdays I am her driver, he cracked up laughing. If I happen to see him in the evening when he drops off the car at work, he always tries to drive me all the way home, even though that means he’s got to take the train all the way back to his home, and he can’t believe that I of course insist to drop him off near where he lives and drive myself.

Ksenia tries to teach him a bit more English, so by now he knows that it’s not something something but a little bit. Apparently, it took him quite a while to learn the words a lot, inside, outside, and flyoverflyover is what Indians call the highway bridges that cross local roads, and Deepak would always call them flowers instead. Anyways, we are overpaying him by quite a bit, but he’s great.

Finally, yesterday was my company’s year-end party at the JW Marriott. The theme was Bollywood Bash and it really was the strangest company party I have ever been to. In New York, the company usually pays for some professional entertainment at these sorts of events – some band and/or acrobats or whatever. In Mumbai, employees insist that they will provide the entertainment themselves, no outside help needed.

So they had a sort of competition with a number of Bollywood movie scenes being re-enacted, including the costumes, dance and singing. Of course, I didn’t understand a word, but within minutes, the crowd of about 500 was absolutely ecstatically screaming and cheering. The whole thing culminated in senior managers doing an absolutely gay looking and incredibly funny dance scene, and that kicked off the open floor with hours of Bollywood dance music (interrupted with a bit of Smells Like Teen Spirit, oddly enough).

There was plenty of food, but no tables. I had wondered about that at the beginning, but I then realized that nobody needs any tables, because absolutely everybody was dancing like crazy. And I mean like crazy – dancing at Indian office parties apparently does not mean to shake your leg a little, trying not to make a complete ass of yourself. No, making a complete ass of yourself is the absolute requirement here, it is in fact the whole point.

Rather than just dance, you have to re-enact the dance scene of the movie that the song originated from. I had seen a bit of that in clubs, but I had not realized that my colleagues apparently were all total experts in Bollywood movies, because they re-enacted, and how! Grown-up men in their 40s doing the silliest dance moves imaginable, the arms waving wildly in the air, legs all over the place, hips going left and right, and pelvis going back and forth. The whole deal, for hours, and unlike in New York, they weren’t even slightly drunk. It was quite a scene, and of course the only one making an ass of himself was me, by trying very hard not to make an ass of himself…

So this was a pretty good week, I have to say.

On The Streets

It’s no secret that very large numbers of Indians are dirt poor, literally. While the middle class is growing in numbers by 10% or so per year, hundreds of millions are very poor. Most Indians still depend on a good Monsoon season – if it rains well, there will be food on the table, if it doesn’t, then maybe not. So millions of them try to get out of the rural areas and migrate to the cities, where they will most likely live in shanty towns, under bridges, right next to sewage and traffic lines. As we get driven around in our car, we see these shanties everywhere. Many families seem to have absolutely nothing, except the dirty shoddy clothes that they are wearing. Many families have miniscule tents made up of plastic wrap and cardboard, with no protection whatsoever against the sometimes heavy rains. Many have slightly less improvised tents or shacks made of plywood or sheet metals. Finally, there’s many families in miniscule brick housing, maybe 10 by 10 feet. As we drive by, these families live literally a few feet away from the traffic, and we can see them sitting on the floors of their homes, eating with their hands. Sometimes they wash outside on the street with a plastic bowl of brown water. There are no toilets anywhere it seems, so business is taken care of on the streets.

Kids are playing around everywhere. The dirt and garbage that makes up their playgrounds is often unbelievable. The kids don’t seem to care, they just laugh and play. At other times, some of them run around between cars at intersections, begging for money, often with their parents sitting around at the corner. I had expected to find a lot more beggars in India, but while there are many, it is not quite as bad as I thought. Around The Gateway of India and other tourist spots, there’s quite few, although most of them are actually hawkers, who can be quite persistent and aggressive. Road junctions and, even more so, churches are pretty much the only places where they will come to ask for money. Any Indian volunteer social services group tells people, especially foreigners, not to give any money, especially not to kids, and we never do, so when we saw some Western tourist hand a kid Rs5 without even stopping or looking much at the kid, we were quite pissed off.

On the other hand, I am also not sure it’s such a great idea to take a picture of them, but I have somehow convinced myself that they probably think it’s fun, so there’s no harm done. Given all the constant staring and mostly very friendly, but still quite annoying, attention that we are receiving just walking around minding our own business, I very much doubt that the Western concept of privacy has a lot ov value here. Obviously, I would take a picture of a muslim woman, but I guess a kid is ok, begging or not.