Life [could use some more] beautiful…

..but the weather is absolutely brilliant. Bangalore temperatures have ranged from a blissful 70 F to a just-on-the-edge-of-lovely 85 F; there’s little rain falling everyday (aah the monsoons), and the sun is shining bright and strong when it is not raining.

The view outside my window when it is raining:

Holy Rain, Batman!
Holy Rain, Batman!

The same view, with no rain:

Holy Clear Skies, Batman!
Holy Clear Skies, Batman!

My three weeks in India have been part aggravation and part frustration (resulting from the aggravation!). It took 2 weeks for a bank and a phone company to recognize that (1) I am an Indian citizen (2) I now live in India. And the roadblock that stumped everyone was that my Indian passport, renewed in New York, had a Boston address listed in the address field. It was inconceivable to the many heads/eyes that viewed this document that any Indian passport that was not issued on Indian soil could be real…”haanh, this must be a forgery, yaar; this guy thinks he is very smart, he is trying to get one over us; i can’t approve this, I have to cover my a**” I’m offering them my money and they don’t want it because I lived in Jamaica Plain. *sigh + facepalm”

My plight highlights the red tape-ish bureaucratic backbone that still lives, and feeds, on the optimism and hopes of millions, nay, billions of Indians. I talked to my cousin who incidentally moved back to India 2 years ago, exactly to the date. And his wise advice was to take a deep breath and roll with it. I would have, if this happened 9 years ago. Now, having read about the fantastical (as they now seem!) stories of how “India has changed”, “This is the new India”, blah blah blah, etc, I have come to expect something better than “the same old, same old”. To clarify, those who know me are aware that I am a pretty flexible/adaptable guy. And I do not think I can ever be described as “entitled”. But this really gets my goat; what I see before me, based on my experience, is truth to the saying, “the more something changes, the more it remains the same”. On an upcoming obligatory post on traffic, remember another paraphrased quote,”the more something changes, the more terrifying it becomes”

My homecoming was tinged with a bit of sadness. A dear uncle passed on to the great Drama club in the sky. A lawyer by profession, an actor by hobby, he was a man full of humour and zest for life. Even though we have not been in touch for a while, I feel a tug when I realize that his smiling face will no longer greet me as he did, every time I walked into our ancestral house in Thanjavur. I travelled to Thanjavur a couple of times in the past three weeks, which is more than I have in the past 18 years. As a kid, I used to spend every one of my summers vacations in two cities – the ancestral (paternal) home in Thanjavur for 2 weeks every April, and then 1 month in Pune (maternal grandparents’ home) till mid-May. The trip to Thanjavur was usually a family affair, with the family (dad, mom, three sons) crammed into a Maruti Suzuki 800 for ~8 hours. Madonna’s material girl was the soundtrack for those journeys. Not all 8 hours but often enough that the song stuck with me. MJ’s Bad, Elvis, and the Beatles filled out the rest. The trip to Pune was by train, a 20 hour journey. It was usually me and my younger brother, or sometimes me alone. The Udyan Express was the preferred train, leaving Bangalore at 8.30 pm and reaching Pune at 4.30 pm. Those were the days when it wasn’t considered dangerous to send a 12 year old and a 9 year old alone by train. Parents saw us off in Bangalore, talked to the families seated around us, asking them to keep an eye on the two brats, and make sure that we did not get into any trouble. I was in charge of the younger brat, to make sure that he did not get down at a station stop and get left behind on a station stop midway (and he vice versa, though it did lead to some what-we-then-thought were hilarious pranks where one of us got into the car behind ours and when the other had all but given up hope that he was on the train, we would present ourself with a flourish and a “ta-da”; i believe some of my {and his} mental scars from those “jokes” still exist). Word soon got around and “the two brave kids travelling alone” were adopted by the whole car full of families, We were never short of food and drink. I miss those days – trust came easily, not just to us but to everyone on the train. We were picked up by the maternal relative units on the other end of the journey, and our newfound friends and family on the train disappeared along their own paths. But while we were on the train, the cohesion and unity felt solid and real.
I haven’t reflected much on how these vacations away from my family but they gave rise to the independent me, the one making his own decision, whether good or bad. What I think I missed was a way to evaluate and get feedback on my life, my choices and my decisions. I’m doing that now, albeit on the will-o-wisp of a fragile memory. I increasingly find myself turning to these thoughts as my mood “glooms”, and for some reason, childhood always lessens the load.

More on that later, i have a traffic rant to write

Stranger in a should-not-be-so-Strange Land

Let me tell you a story,
Of a man who returned home,
To restart his life again,
In the country of his birth,

In Bengaluru he landed,
With nary any proof of his identity,
Save his passport, renewed in the land where he had lived,
Believing that one booklet was all it would take,
To get himself started with a phone connection, bank account and ID card,

Oh, was he in for a rude shock,
When he found that his country had forgotten him,
And wanted him to prove he was who he said he was,
In the words of Yoda:
the documents they demanded, he did not have
In frustration he was, pulling out his meager hair,

Bank after bank he visited, more than once
oh the irony, he wanted to give them money,
And they would have none of it,
He got them a rental agreement as proof of address,
But in truth, they grudged him his passport,
In the Land of milk and honey, was it renewed, they said,
the address is Boston, they said,
No mention of India, they said.
But, it is an Indian passport, he said,
Why do you care where it was renewed, he said,
I have a separate proof of address, he said,

Cursed the British, he did, for introducing red tape
To the country world-famous for Customer Service since the times of Alexander, and before,
“Athithi Devo Bhavah” [The Guest is G_d] would have ensured a smooth passage, he thought
What options do I have – wail, rail and rant,
Or ask nicely,
So he did, ask nicely that is,

One Bank, HDFC, said, thy brother is you,
You are your brother,
Prove his identity and address, and
Prove your blood link to him,
And you have then proved who you are,
Aah, a DNA test, he said aloud,
now there is something I can understand, he thought
No, No, you need more more papers, they said,
And signatures, don’t forget the signatures
He set about getting those “more papers”
And two days later, he had money in his account,
Rather than in his suitcase/mattress,
But the respect for professionalism was all but shattered

Wait, there’s more,
To spare you the gory details, the phone shop took his money
And his application for a phone line,
And 10 days later, they say the same things that the bank says,
Stand up and face your accuser, Aircel,
you of the double standard,
You want separate proofs of identity and address,
But, like the bank, you want the address proof within your identity proof
Indian passport with Indian address
Why then do you ask for a separate proof of address,
Why, why, he ranted, at no one in particular,
Another battle to be fought, Welcome to India!

Ah, he thought, opening a bank account took a week,
And nary a phone connection in sight,
Which each would have taken all of 30 minutes,
In the Land Whence He came,
Is this the “New India” that he heard about,
I would prefer the “old India”, he though,
Where expectations of service and punctuality were not sky high,
Built by ad-meisters into a vision of utopia and heaven merged,
With no mention the gross inequality and greed that is evident before ones eyes
(But that is a story for another day )