Too many cooks…

I have been oblivious to this one rather typical indian mannerism… until now. If there is a problem to be solved, it is rarely tackled by the one person who has been designated to handle it; all of a sudden, there is a impromptu conference that surrounds the designated person.
I saw this at the Airport. One of the passengers had an immigration issue and she was directed to the officer who stood behind the counters. Immediately, without any prompting, a couple of his colleagues appeared {If only they had appeared to sit at the 3 empty counters that could have handled the early morning rush}, and all three heads bobbed in perfect rhythm while listening to the passenger’s lament. One can only hope they were able to solve the issue at hand. I saw this {newly observed} curious phenomenon at the bank. During my first visit, I sat at the desk of a “personal banker”. As I was explaining my bank woes, chronicled here, to the person behind the desk, we were joined by a couple of more people; Before my “banker” had a chance to respond, one of the uninvited guests started offering his 2 cents; and this started a to-and-fro between the three of them. Not only did the wunderkids not solve my problem, the solutions they offered turned out to be insufficient, requiring further visits to that desk.
This hasn’t bothered me at all but i’m aware of it so I can identify instances when it happens, as well as the rare times that it is absent. Why does it happen? Does this have to do with our national past-time of interfering in other people’s beeswax? Or is it because there is a certain level of incompetence that is acceptable here? With the latter, if you are willing to accept some level of incompetence, why should it be the face of your organization? This gets me thinking about a related field – availability of cheap labour. We have tons of it. we can crow all day about how we do not have a dishwasher in Indian homes because it is cheaper to pay for a person to do the dishes but it does not take away from the fact that most, if not all, of the cheap labour is unskilled. You need skills and training to develop competence, and that does not come cheap. Coming back to the 3-heads-are-better-than-one, is this mini-crowd sourcing useful at all? Your guess is as good as mine.

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 )

Why now, and Why this blog?

In 2005, I started blogging at Anna Mosaranna; that effort was more a travel aide during my summer in Israel rather than a true blog. When I returned to Boston in the fall fo 2005, the blog metamorphosed  into a somewhat weird version of an online diary, recording my thoughts and opinions {the updates were fairly infrequent, averaging 4 blog posts per year [a skewed representation as 2005-2008 were relatively prolific by my standards, at 41 posts/year, while 2009-2013 saw 2 per year]}.

In 2013, I underwent a battle with depression. I state this as a matter fo fact, rather than expound on the causes. It has been hard to admit it, leave alone talk about it. While I am fully aware of the biological impact, I remain blissfully unaware of societal and social impacts of depression {I’m looking at you, medical school training}. In my new role as a patient, I have come to understand the depth of social stigma that depression invokes {I expect the reception in the country of birth to be more extreme, though I won’t know until I re-enter polite society in India; the lack of understanding can be a heavier burden to bear than the symptoms themselves}. If I were in India when it all happened, I am sure that I would not have lacked for friends and family to rally around me, though I [probably] would not have been able to get the help of a therapist when I needed it the most; there is no blame to be passed around for that, only more education and awareness. Thank the Great-Social-Network-in-the-sky, I was bang in the center of the People’s Republic of Cambridge, Massachusetts, and employed by a hospital; needless to say, I passed the worst stages with flying colours. I was helped through this have a great support system [friends, family, colleagues, you know who you are!]. What I went thorough may have merely been a Big Boy variety of the traditional “i’ve got the blues” but it is not something to be glossed over. For me, as with any other person who feels like this, it was real, and it was tough. As a high functioning individual, it was as debilitating to find that I was unable to do the simple things in life; what made it worse was the feeling that no matter how much you try to “work through it” or “push through the bad times”, it was not working. It wasn’t until I admitted that I needed help that I started getting wrapping my brain around the situation.

..which brings me to my blog(/s). One of the main strategies that I {re} discovered about myself is that I express my feelings and emotions better when I write, as opposed to verbal or other means. In addition to this being my travel aide during my upcoming trips {like my previous blog effort}, I’m also using this blog as a means of therapy and to enlarge my horizons during my travels {and my further life journey}. You, my readers, are now MY armchair therapists {I can provide a certificate, if you so request!}. I don’t expect that I will be able to maintain any pre-established frequency, coherence or standard, so I haven’t set any of that. So what can you expect? More than a few random stream of consciousness thoughts, {i expect} a lot of rants, some photos {i’m not good with a camera so the strike rate of a bloggable picture is 0.03, i.e 3 passable ones among the hundred pics i’ve taken}, work stuff {i’m trying to redesign the site to link/host items related to evidence based medicine and nutrition, public health, program monitoring and evaluation, teaching statistics, and random other “stuff”}, and dramatic adventures, as they happen {I’m in India, land of Bollywood – even the simple act of buying milk can be turned into an adventure!}. My blog is my attempt to reconnect, and also make fresh new connections, both of which I’ve not been able to do well in my life; I am making an attempt to remedy that.

From Boston to Bangalore: I’m also coming back to {my olde towne} Bangalore, part of the “new” India, after 9 years in the comfortable cocoon of Boston. I expect some of the comparisons between these two cities might turn into rants, and some others into aforementioned adventures. For my perspective, nine years is a long enough time period to get accustomed to a particular way of life, but short of the time to required for my adaptability mechanisms to atrophy. I’m hoping that I will dive into a new {or a new but old, if one is picky} way of life with an open mind and wide open eyes {especially when crossing the road; I found out the hard way that my old Frogger skillz are not what they used to be}. I expect that I am now better informed and equipped to cope with whatever life has to throw at me, in comparison to my greenhorn ways when I landed in Boston in the fall fo 2004.

As Alexander III, of the Great fame, was rumored to have said, “Onward…”

What would you do if you got $500?

Tyler Cower, a practical economist, believes that money to individuals makes more sense than through foreign aid (read government bureaucracy). To back this up claim, Tyler will send one Indian $500 and five others $100 each through Western Union. This is in alignment with the principles he writes about in his new book, Discover Your Inner Economist. Those aforementioned principles are:

1. Cash is often the best form of aid.
2. Give to those who are not expecting it.
3. Don’t require the recipients to do anything costly to get the money.

Why India?
To no surprise, he loves the country! In his words, “been to India twice and both times I have been received with the utmost hospitality and enthusiasm. I loved the food, the music, the diversity, and the more-than-occasional chaos. Most of all I loved how the people engaged me so directly, and how every moment was so full of human drama and stories.”

What do you do?
Find a deserving Indian, and follow instructions on his blog