Thursday, July 21, 2011

Tales of two cities: Bangalore vs. Gurgaon

On a recent visit back to Bangalore that happened after one and half years of living in Gurgaon, most of my friends wanted to find out, "How is it living in Gurgaon?, How is it different from Bangalore?". Now this may seem like an odd question to some, esp. non-Indians living with a perception of a stereotypical India as a single entity. But within India, its a perfectly reasonable question. Because every city here has its own story that is created by its history, cultured by its people and shaped by its governments. So here's my analysis of the two cities, if nothing else, for the benefit of my expat brethren, who want to flock to them like bees to honey, as well as for the fact that there's much to talk about, by the way of compare and contrast.


Full meal: Because life is more than a box of chocolates in Bengalooru
A disclaimer before describing Bangalore (aka Bengalooru) is that it was almost a retirement colony until the world discovered its prowess as an IT mecca. Therefore, today Bangalore is the confluence of the extremes...young and old, modern and traditional, pubs and temples, yet surprisingly its intermingling has not resulted in a confused state of affairs, except for certain cases where city-politics and localism is involved. The city even has its own slogan: "Namma Bengalooru" (i.e. Our Bangalore) to inject harmony amongst its contrasting populace. Yet the hypocrisy somewhere creeps in when it is cited as Bangalore to the outside world, while being referred to as Bengalooru, in front of localities. The city is used by money-minting, pub-going, eternally young IT professionals while ruled by vermilion-dotted, kannad-speaking, old conservatives; each group sticking to its designated roles to avoid conflict. The old-school men and women here focus on real-estate and gold jewellery respectively and swear by their "full meal": a conglomeration of South Indian delicacies which when coalesced and devoured sequentially with rice provides for a complete gastronomic experience, while the neo-Bangaloreans talk about start-ups and organic-living as a means of asserting their identity. And on a special mention for the local autowallahs (rickshaw drivers) and cabbies, it would be surprising if they don't take you for a ride if you are fair-skinned and only speak in Hindi. Old prejudices die hard. But whatever little Bangalore loses on these grounds, it gains in terms of its weather. Have you ever experienced "weather paradise" in this world? Well, its either here or Hawaii. Only of course, the good weather when combined with pollutants create an allergen abode..but then what good is "Allegra" for?




Gurgaon, on the other hand, is a haven for the new and the hip. From the metro to the malls, its as if its residents want to escape anything that is old and past. Unlike Bangalore, which is intertwined with its old roots, Gurgaon has barricaded its old city into oblivion. People here have no qualms about shedding inhibitions and traditions. Mother-in-laws shed their sarees to don designer salwar-kameez, and daughter-in-laws shed their designer salwar-kameez for branded jeans and shorts. (Needless to say, the word "designer" has a new meaning and place in your life here. For if you don't oblige to "designer devta", you'll be an outcast.). Just like their lifestyle is designer, their food is "tandoori", everything from rotis to chicken. You can even get "tandoori tadka" on Chinese, if required and much to the chef's delight.  People do work hard here, but they "play" harder. Golf clubs and imported cars cater to men's fancies while salons and solitaires offer respite to women's existentialism. And while Bangaloreans can think like Americans, Gurgaonites can talk like them; no wonder Bangalore got IT, whereas Gurgaon picked up the call center business during the outsourcing boom. Compared to Bangalore though, you get the perception that the systems (and their workarounds such as 100% power backup) are more efficient here, infrastructure more sufficient, and education more accessible. But weather wise, if Bangalore weather is to die for, Gurgaon weather would make you die (well, at least cry). And you might run into trouble with the autowallahs/cabbies over here as well, if you are fair-skinned (of a  fairer sex variety) but cannot speak in Hindi. Not for any racial bias this time, but for your own safety.

Topographically as well, both the cities have interesting facets of their own. Gurgaon is on a mission to mark its territory vertically, while Bangalore wants to expand its reach horizontally. If one were to spatially relate the cities, Gurgaon could be extrapolated as "Dubai in a village", while Bangalore would be "a Mumbai done sunny-side up".  Which brings me to the only common denominator across the two cities: Traffic (here again, while the effect is the same, the cause quite different)..one jams due to narrow roads and the other because of high-rises. 

So whats my take? Well, if you want the best of both worlds(err..cities in this case), then move to Ahmedabad.

ps. If its not apparent to some, the unwarranted bias could be a result of the writer being originally from Ahmedabad.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Philosophy of Life by an Indian Carpenter

Remember that illiterate carpenter I had introduced in my earlier blogpost on Maid in India (Part 2)...Over the course of my book rack, I got to know him a lot better. Our conversation never ended without him giving an anecdotal story about his life, his experiences and his journey so far. The book rack is complete and I may not get to talk to him ever so often, maybe never. But his words will surely stay with me forever. The anecdotes, unfortunately have blurred in my memory but the quotes are stuck. Here are some of his words (almost verbatim) on topics as varied as his personality.

On Business
  • Charge less to the poor. Charge more to the wealthy.
  • Create wealth not to sustain yourself but to sustain the households of your employees.

On Roles of life
  • Respect everyone's role in life.  If the cook doesn't cook, you'll die of hunger. If the cleaners wont clean, you'll die of pungent smell.
  • You yourself have multiple roles to play. Play each one according to the need of others. Be a child with a child. Be a husband to a wife. But be a friend to a foe.

On Friendship
  • Friendship is not about showing off your worldly possessions; friendship is about showing off your true self.

On Challenge
  • Why fight with others? The only fight should be with yourself.

On Truth
  • Half truths will always haunt you. Truth is what will make you fearless.

On Meaning of Life

  • Pray for everyone. If everyone does the same, the good wishes will come back to you.
  • Everyone lives to die; those who live after death are the real men.
  • The true path of life is always difficult to walk on, but far more satisfying. And satisfaction (of a good life, of a good deed) is the currency of the soul.

I tell him I'm surprised at his philosophical expertise, esp. since he cannot read or write. He says, "I'm because I experience. I cant read words, but I do read people every day and process them through my heart." 

I ask whether I can blog (to him..write) about his words of wisdom. He says,  "Pls. do spread my word around. The world doesn't need everyone to be good. Only a few good men will do."

Nothing less than a certain "Jewish" carpenter..right?!



Friday, July 8, 2011

Delhi Belly with a conscience

I have been resisting the urge to do a piece on "Delhi Belly", but its been steering up a storm in my pysche as well as in this side of the globe. (The only contender thats giving "Google+" FB updates a stiff competition). So I let myself loose...In fact, thats the moral of the story, as I get it

The story is about 3 of the India's 20+ generation  that live on their own terms, make their own rules and of course have no hang-ups about sex and shit(ty) talk. (Btw, I'm hoping someone is patenting the "3 guys Bollywood formula". Nothing has succeeded like a "3 friends in a movie" in the recent past. I'm sure "Zindagi Na Milegi Dobara" will only prove this point further.)
Nitin is the stereotypical fat friend, whose love for sensory pleasures is intact, but the means are always questionable. (i.e If you can't have girls, pin-up photos would do. If you can't have chicken tikka in a restaurant, germ-ful hawker-handed ones would do.). Whereas Arup is your quintessential "loser" guy. He's talented but in a dead-end job. He's lovable but heart-broken. (Comes in handy when the filmmakers need to make a parody.) But both Arup and Nitin's characters are there to accentuate Tashi's
(the clear hero amongst the three...with a gorgeous, well-bred, girlfriend, non-chalant attitude and a head that can think on its feet.). Their love for mess and desire to hang-on tight to their hostel lives is what keeps them together. Crude language and cuss words come to them as naturally as their daily ablutions that are so gloriously elaborated in the movie.

But scratching the surface beyond the crassness and the unabashed language, what is the story telling us? Its giving us a peek into the lifestyle of a certain young Indian generation, albeit with jarring nakedness.
Interwoven throughout the movie are subtle(like the conclusion to Tashi's love triangle) and not-so subtle (like the disdain for the gifted Red Santro) endorsements of the fact that they have no qualms about prioritizing independence and individualism over money. While in the same vein, priortizing a comfortable life over love (as in Arup's girlfriend case.).

True to their cool attitude, they subscribe to the school of thought where two-timing is ok, lesbanism is empowering, and even blackmailing is fine if the blackmailee is cheating on his wife. But this is contrasted with their sub-conscious yet firmer beliefs such as "Friendship is forever", "Money is never more important than people in your life", and "Follow your passion (whether its about the girl or the job)".

So for all those who think that the movie has no messages...here's one that I found hidden in the layers of laughter and cuss language. Its that independence, passion and friendships should not be compromised, whatever the cost. Thats only apt, considering the rut of rat race we get subjected to, after college. Thanks to Aamir Khan for showing it in a way the rest of the 20+ generation would relate to or enjoy.

And for the rest of us...its ok to let yourself loose once in a while. (i.e. not be embarrassed to laugh at the toilet humor).