Archive for the “India” Category

I don’t even think I need to add any clever comments to this one… stands on its own.

Raju Raghuvanshi was greeted with cries of “ghost” and neighbours locking doors when he returned from a short spell in jail to his village in Madhya Pradesh.

He had fallen ill in prison and was taken to hospital. Relatives heard he had died and performed his last rites.

“I have now to prove that I am alive,” he said. “But I will have them punished.”

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I should make some more entries about India. After all, I never talked about the Rat Temple, or the Lake Palace Hotel, or the death train to Bikaner. I never mentioned our awful behavior at the Orient Express, the last week at work, or my two week long bill fiasco with the Taj. I will miss using the words “fiasco” and “debacle”. I got a lot of mileage out of them in India.

My first time driving after I got back to the US two cars ran into each other right in front of me going 70 miles per hour. It was a pretty vicious accident. “Welcome home,” I thought. I found it ironic that I’d spent 5 months in the worst traffic I’d ever seen in Delhi and hadn’t gotten nearly so close to a wreck.

Yesterday was my first back at the office. My work area was exactly how I left it….papers still on the floor and stuff all over my desk. Nothing at all had moved, and I even had someone work from my cube temporarly for a few weeks. I also found it ironic how much effort I’d spent in India to keep their cleaners from moving my stuff (which failed misreably), while I succeeded in the US without even trying.

I was immediately impressed on arrival in Atlanta with the efficiency of the US. It strikes me everytime I come back home at passport control. People stand in lines…and the lines move, and there are an adequate number of them. They have signs in multiple languages all over the place telling you where to go and reminding you to have your passport and papers ready in an effort to save time and increase efficiency.

India is a free-for-all….a melange of ambiguity….all things at once, excelling at nothing, forever smiling….never efficient. If the shortest distance between two points is a straight line, India is surely the longest.

I have fond memories of India. I don’t want anyone to think I don’t love and respect it. Brian Allex told me his in-laws (who are from India) read the website, even the “not so complimentary” things. He said they enjoyed it and laughed and said it really does happen like that.

So here I am back in Atlanta. My first week back hasn’t been the best, I will admit. Sarah has been nice, and I saw my mom, and work hasn’t been too busy yet….so I guess I should count my blessings….even though I no longer have a laundry service, a chauffeur, live in a 5 star hotel, have more money than I can spend, and an amazing, constantly entertaining country to keep me amused.

My life has been so strange.

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So I leave India in 3 days to go back to the US.

I have no idea how long you have to be somewhere before it begins to feel like home, but as I walked through the lobby of the hotel, wandered around the market, watched TV, and ordered room service today…I realize that India is home….and part of me will be sad to leave it.

The Taj Palace has become one oversized apartment….albeit with restaurants, bars, gyms, laundry, and concierge available 24/7. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t feel like a home though…..its just bigger and with more amenities than most.

I likely know more of Delhi than I do of Atlanta. I know how much a taxi fare is to almost anywhere in the city. When the cabbies don’t know the way, I can direct them. I know how to get anything I need…whether it be medicine, movies, food, alcohol, trinkets, entertainment, etc. In India that is a great feat….there are markets for almost every need spread across the whole city: spice markets, gold markets, car parts markets, leather markets, textile markets, household goods markets…anything you can think of….except Wal Mart. You’ve got to know where things are and what you can trust though or even the simplest tasks can drive you nuts.

And certain things about India are irreplaceable in the US. I will never be able to afford laundry and cleaning service like this again. I will never be able to hire drivers to take me around a city all day and wait for like 15 bucks. I will never have so much free time again. I will never live so close to my friends again. The number of folks I know living at the Taj has dwindled to just a few now, but for most of my trip there were 10 or more of us here….no car needed. Even small things….like living in a hotel it is impossible to lock yourself out of your room or lose your keys. They’ll just give you a new one and let you in.

India is charming even in its disarray. It is always in your face, and it makes it harder to feel disconnected than back home where everything can seem so transactional. India’s extreme poverty is living right on top of its blistering progress. There are people living in tents right beside my high rise office….living under bridges right outside 5 star hotels. There is almost no where in the city that you can escape it….and some parts where it is so overwhelming it makes you embarrassed.

That’s one of the things that always strikes me about traveling: everything becomes normal after a while. The illogic of India comes to have a reassuring consistency to it; the begging children become the backdrop of traffic lights; cows are the city scenary; time is a vague quantity not to be counted.

India offers everything I have ever seen. It is beautiful and large, spritual and crass, old, naive, childlike, proud, hopeful, sad, and disordered. It is not my favorite place I have ever been, but it is the most complex.

I am happy to go back to the US. It is time. India can drive you crazy. It is amazing how similar the stories are that expats tell about the madness of trying to do anything here. I have often thought that if I stayed longer or had a more open mind that I would cease to get so frustrated by it….but having spoken to others that have been living and doing business here for decades I see that India is an immoveable force that will thwart your every effort. It will charm you and defeat you at the same time.

So I will be back in the US next week. For those of you who know me, my phone number will be the same and I will be home for the holidays if you happen to be in Easley.

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Ok…this is a slightly edited version of a story that was an edited version of the original story, but it is still very, very funny:

We ate Thanksgiving dinner at the Marriott. There was a special foreigner section of the buffet with flat tasteless turkey and yummy garlic mashed potatoes along with several unidentified gravies that didn’t taste anything at all like Thanksgiving. I had mostly pasta, prawns, and cheese.

The girl that came with us said she was itching to do a little partying so after dinner we went up to the Marriott lounge and had free drinks (one of the advantages of being on a long term assignment).

There were lots of shots and beers and merriment….and then it was time to go home with a good buzz and a full stomach. Overall, a nice night. The chick (hereafter known as Carolyn to protect the innocent) seemed fine on the way out. I wasn’t that drunk and neither was Sarah (which is also a fake name).

A few minutes into the taxi ride Carolyn reaches over and starts holding my hand. I was like, “Shit, this chick is nuts…but whatever.” Then a minute or so later she puts her head on my shoulder. Then I was thinking, “Ok. She is just drunk. Let her sleep.”

Then she started making these gurgling noises every once in a while, but I was talking to Sarah so I didn’t pay it much attention except to say, “This fucking chick is going to throw up on me….that would be so funny.”

But when it really happened it wasn’t so funny.

Carolyn didn’t just puke in the car…she puked on me. Remember her head was lying on my shoulder so it went all the way down my shirt and pants. I distinctly remember thinking, “Wow. Vomit is very warm….and it smells bad too.” I also remember thinking, “I can’t believe this bitch threw up on me.”

So by this time we are back at the Taj Palace. There is nothing that screams “I’ve got class” like pulling into a 5 star hotel with vomit all over your clothes. The taxi driver wasn’t so happy either.

I figured it was over though….that Carolyn would apologize, I would take a shower and send my dry cleaning bill to her when she sobered up….but no: She was too drunk to get out of the car. And she had kept throwing up after I propped her up, so now she is sitting in a pool of stinky warm vomit in the cab and can’t hold her head up.

Then I started laughing because the hotel staff brings out a wheel chair to carry this chick to her room. They have to pick her up out of the taxi and sit her and her vomit down in the wheelchair to take her upstairs. The lobby of the Taj Palace is all marble with chandelier lighting, fresh flowers, and an army of staff to greet you (or take care of drunk foreigners as the case may be).

So we get upstairs and the staff dumps her out of the wheelchair onto the bed….which is now covered in puke. The staff didn’t know what else to do so we said we would just take care of her ourselves.

I immediately head to her mini-bar and crack open an over-priced beer. There has to be some kind of compensation right?

My first thought was just tuck her in and let her sleep it off…..but then we realized she was on her back and might puke again and choke on her own vomit in the night… Sarah suggested we put her in the shower and maybe it would sober her up enough to do something with her. At this point she is like an invalid. She doesn’t even know she is wallowing around on her bed in her own vomit, which is now all in her hair.

It quickly became apparent that a shower required her to stand up, so we ran a bath instead. I had little desire to see Carolyn naked, but it seemed pointless to put her in the bath covered in puke…so we decided to strip her down to her bra and panties.

We took off her shirt. She had no idea what planet she was on. I could’ve shaved her eyebrow and she wouldn’t have known. Then we took off her pants. She had on a nice pair of grey cotton granny panties with a large wet spot in the crotch area: She’d fucking peed in her pants.

I took a swig of beer and laughed my ass off. It just keeps getting better and better. I was still wearing the same clothes….puke and all.

Sarah and I together could not get this girl into the bathtub no matter what we did. She was like a wet towel….totally incontinent, unaware….didn’t respond to anything we said.

After we laughed for good long while we decided to put her back on the bed face down and hopefully she wouldn’t roll over. We went back an hour later to check on her, getting security to let us in. As expected, she hadn’t moved. Just lying in her own vomit face down. The look on the security guys’ faces was priceless.

I called her the next day to ask how she was. She said she’d thrown up all morning and still didn’t feel well. She didn’t even remember throwing up on me…..said she was really confused when she woke up in her bra and panties in a pool of vomit with a bunch of open beers and a wheelchair in her room.

“I bet,” I said.

Oh yeah….we did happen to snap a picture:

Notice the puke on my pants and the wheelchair in the background.

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I haven’t been around to write anything. I saw some really cool stuff on my trip through Rajisthan and had an interesting time to say the least. I will post some pics over the next few days and figure out something to say about it all.

Work is very slow this week because it is Thanksgiving in the US and all my coachees are in training. I am writing this and waiting on a cab and trying to find some music to buy on iTunes. My trip is drawing to a close more or less…surely I will talk more about that later.

No matter how old you get it seems we are still capable of acting like a bunch of drunk teenagers even when there are good intentions and a realization that it is happening. I admit I do not always understand.

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KOLKATA, India – A woman receiving treatment for diabetes at a state-run hospital in eastern India lost one of her eyes after ants nibbled away at it, officials said on Tuesday.

On Monday, the patient

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These are two of my favorite stories about India. India is a strange and beautiful place that contains everything we have to offer, the best and the worst, the highest and the lowest….just not the fastest or most logical. India makes me question whether rationality is just a point of view.

Cows in S. Delhi:

A few months back the government decided there were too many cows in the streets of South Delhi. So the government masterminds came up with a very sound, very Indian policy: Offer a $50 reward for every cow rounded-up in S. Delhi.

Well, 50 bucks is a shitload of money in India where every street is lined with families living in tents….if they even have a tent. Sensing an opportunity to make a small fortune, Indians simply rounded-up cows from N. Delhi, W. Delhi, E. Delhi, the outskirts, and the villages…and brought them all to S. Delhi looking for their $50.

The government realized this and refused to pay unless you could prove that your cow is actually from S. Delhi. Since there is no way to prove it, the people just turned around and went home empty handed….leaving the cows in S. Delhi.

That is about as India as it gets: Create a policy to remove cows and you get a policy that brings in more cows.

Guest of the Week:

At the hotel I have learned there is “Guest of the Week” program. When you are Guest of the Week you have your picture posted in several employee locations, and all staff know who you are. For the entire week the door is opened for you with double the effort and diligence. Special attention is paid to your comings and goings. Your requests are ignored and side stepped with twice the regret as usual.

The only problem is that you, as the Guest of the Week, are completely ignorant of your status. Apparently I have been guest of the week twice and I am told it is a great honor. I wonder if they posted a new picture of me behind the bell desk or if it is the same one from when I checked in?


What kind of guest recognition program does not tell the guest they are being recognized? What good is a guest benefit that has no recognizable benefit for the guest???

Its like being Employee of the Month and not knowing it, not getting anything extra. Its just the same as not being Employee of the Month.

I admit I do not understand why these things happen with such frequency here. I think when I come to understand the mind of India, I will have lost my own.

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So everyone knows that Delhi got bombed. They blew up 3 markets and my inside connections at the embassy told me that they averted 1 other one (which didn’t make the news). The bomb squad guys staying at the Taj have been very edgy lately.

The markets they blew up actually weren’t particularly frequented by foreigners. These nuts weren’t targeting any group. They were looking for shock value. It is Diwali in India, which is the Indian equivalent to Christmas, so everyone on the planet was out at these markets shopping for presents.

I get confused by these terrorists because I don’t understand what they want. In Latin America it is common for the children of rich folks to be kidnapped for ransom. Ok….I get that. The kidnappers want money. But the terrorists don’t want anything. They don’t have any demands. How do you deal with that??

I’m not sure if it made the news in the US, but the president (or whatever you call him) of Iran made the comment that Israel should be “wiped off the map”. And the comment was made at a “World without Zionism” conference….which to me is the most bizarre part of it.

“World without Zionism”?? Substitute “Blacks” for “Zionism” and you’ve got the fucking KKK. The Iranian president spoke at a KKK rally??? I can’t even compute that. Should we get him a white hood?

So let’s envision that they get their way….that the US and Israel are wiped off the map. What then? Iran is still a minor backwards ass country filled with sand, a bunch of oil, and crazy sex-starved Arabs. They will not suddenly rise to prominence if we disappear.

That’s what I don’t get. Destroying us will gain them nothing. The standard of living for Iranians will not suddently rise to Israeli or US standards if we are destroyred. This is not a zero sum game. They will be saddled with the same poverty, the same insanity, the same reliance on oil, the same poor humanitarian record.

I simply do not understand other than to say these people are crazy and that the Crusades ended 800 years ago….get over it.

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Nothing particularly funny or interesting has happened in the past few days. If I were feeling creative I’m sure I could come up with something I could write about, but I think I’ll pass.

It strikes me right now that I haven’t spoken to anyone all day, other than room service for food and the guy who stepped into the steam room while I was leaving. I slept till noon almost and took a nap by the pool for an hour this afternoon.

I watched Castaway with Tom Hanks, or at least most of it. I watched the Aviator too….what a crappy movie that is. I tried to make some phone calls to the States as it feels weird to talk to no one, but no one is answering.

Whereas at home I would’ve had things to do that I was blowing off to do nothing on a Sunday….here I just do nothing and it seems fine.

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I’m losing pretty badly to India. It is a tough competitor, difficult to pin down exactly the strategy its using to humiliate me over and over. Everytime I think I score a small victory, India finds a way to snatch it from my grip.

Take today for instance:

Everyday we are driven to and from work. Everyday I wonder whether someone will be there to pick me up. We all complained because very often we get left without transportation, so (to my company’s credit) they changed our transportation vendor after many useless meetings and broken promises. Regardless, I was rid of Routes (the name of the vendor)……..but then India stepped in to thwart me.

Before it was just Routes, so if anything went wrong I could call them and lose my temper…not that it did any good since they still never showed up, but there was at least the illusion that it might have an impact.

The new arrangement is that if you are on a fixed schedule you go through the hotel, if you need something different you will get a spot rental through a new vendor. If you need to get yourself on a schedule you send an Excel spreadsheet to either the secretary, or one of the two travel desks, who then communicate the information to people at the hotel or new spot-rental vendor. Thus far there is no way to contact the car companies directly so outside of business hours if your schedule changes you just need to pray that a car shows up. And remember, this is the IMPROVED way of getting to and from work.

So we complain that transportation sucks and it gets changed, but then India steps in and ensures that the new arragement is actually worse than the original. But the real kicker is this: The hotel actually subcontracts its transportation as well…….to Routes.

So we replaced Routes with Routes and added a few layers of complexity and more points of contact in the process. Now I don’t even know who to yell at when things to go wrong…and they always do. Like this morning: 1 car for six people.

On the way out the door I give detailed instructions to the smiling vacant faces at Guest Services on where I want to redeem my Taj Inner Cirle Rewards points. I could write a whole book on the Taj points debacle. By the way, debacle and fiasco have become my new favorite words.

The girl promises me everything and I tell her in advance, “Don’t call me and tell me that you’re sorry, but X or Y and Z. That’s all you people ever do is tell me what you CAN’T do. I have like a billion Taj points but I can’t redeem them anywhere. What good are they then??” My ire is already up. That is before we fit into the car like clowns into a phone booth.

We stop at Citibank at the ATM. It is out of money. We stop at a different one. It asks you to swipe your card and then you put in your pin number and then at the end right before the money comes out, it asks you to swipe your card again. Why??? Has my card somehow changed in the intervening 13 seconds since I inserted it the first time?? Did it expire maybe? India….that’s what it is. Complicating everything, with cable TV in the ATM booth but no trash can to put your receipts in, so everyone just throws them on the floor.

I have alot of papers on my desk at work in a very Elliott-centric filing system that works for me, but falls apart if someone moves my stuff… I got someone to write a post-it note in Hindi for the cleaners that says “Don’t touch the papers on this desk while cleaning.” All the cleaners know how to read Hindi….I asked.

Every flipping day my papers are moved, stacked neatly in weird places, far away from where they were the day before. They even pull up the post-it note from where it is taped and stack that too, so they obviously look at it. I got someone to write the note on a large piece of paper too and highlighted it with stars and tacked it up on the wall of my workspace….no dice. It isn’t the cleaners that move my shit everynight…..its India. It sneaks in and mocks my puny efforts to get something done……and it steals my damn pens.

So a Fortune 500 company should have more right?? Nope. We’ve all got great new computers and videoconferencing and ergonomic chairs….but nothing to write with. Pens are like currency in the office they are so scarce. I’ve only found one place on our two floors that has them, and they are locked up. They used to be in a different place when I first arrived, but India moved that and now I have to find someone to unlock the secret Pen Cabinet.

You think I’m making this shit up, but I’m not.

So they give us cell phones too. Mine sucks and the battery dies after less than 24 hours, so I can’t ever call anyone at night to fuss when my car doesn’t show up. I just borrow someone else’s phone. So I asked about getting a new battery thinking I would get the upper-hand, you know, score 1 for Elliott……how do you think that ended up? I got the battery….but it dies in a day too. They just replaced one old crappy battery with another one. I know how they got the replacement battery too. It was one another person had given back to them after making the same complaint I just had. Score another one for India.

Then there is the meeting room fiasco. You’re supposed to reserve your rooms in advance through this computer system we have that is fairly easy to use. Indians don’t do well with the concept of “in advance” so they just squat the rooms, or put a post-it note on the door saying its reserved like 2 minutes before they’re about to use it. This adds to my general feeling of panic during the day when I know nothing will ever happen in India.

Since I coach lots of people, I need large rooms…usually with projectors. I schedule these meetings days in advance and prepare and everything is ready, but then some group is in our fucking room when the time comes. It never fails.

So I started reserving through computer and with a post-it note. They don’t care about the computer reservation and they remove the post-it note….smiling the whole time like they’ve accomplished something just because they were able to get everyone together in one place, never mind they stole my room.

Then I got someone to be accountable for the rooms, so I would have someone to yell at when stuff went wrong. It doesn’t matter though, people are still there. They were there today too…..and the projector didn’t work. Nothing ever works. These rooms have hundreds of plugs and outlets….all useless. They like run an extension cord from the utility closet next door, and want you to thank them when they drag in a ten pound voltage converter from 1950 to help you plug in your American laptop, when the entire room is wired with American plugs….if only they worked.

So I kick the other people out of the room, and we start and then my phone rings. Everyone leaves their cell phones on in India, even in meetings, and they always answer them, no matter what. So I’ve started doing it too.

Its one of the Guest Services minions. They are useless, so I brace myself for what I already knew was coming: They cannot book my room with my inner circle points. That hotel is booked till next year. Which is complete bullshit.

Its like when I went to Amritsar and tried to buy a train ticket back to Delhi and they told me every train was sold out….impossible. We were booking two days in advance and Indians never do anything in advance. Of course we did catch the train back to Delhi….and of course it wasn’t full. India had temporarily bought all the tickets and was laughing at me. India squats my rooms too, and is hoarding my pens. I bet it runs Routes as well.

I “talk” to the Guest Services girl for a while and give her more detailed instructions which I am sure she then promptly forgot….I’m still waiting to see what happens. I can already say for certain though that Taj Inner Circle is the devil and I’m not even sure the program really exists. Last Saturday we were out at a bar jamming to a techno version of Livin’ On A Prayer by Bon Jovi with the guys from the bomb squad and we met a girl that had just been hired by Taj Inner Circle. I could not laugh hard enough. I told her to run…quickly.

So I’ll skip stories about my actual work day…which should be the most stressful time of day….but it certainly isn’t. Work is easy compared to everything else.

Its time to go home then….so I get on the elevator. The elevators are great. Like everything in India, there are a great many of them, but which one will actually get you what you want?? There is the rub.

There are 8 elevators but the buttons to call the elevators do not call ALL the elevators, but just some of them. So you have to go press all the buttons. The elevators, in true Indian fashion, are spaced in such a way that you can’t see them all from one location, so you never know if one of the doors is opening or not. You have to keep turning around and walking back and forth to know if something arrives.

Well…the bell dings if a door opens, but it also dings if the elevator changes floors, and the walls are thinly insulated so you can hear the bells dinging for the floor above and below….so basically the damn thing dings all the time and never know if an elevator is there or not.

Also, only 4 of the elevators go to the parking garages, but everyone gets picked up/dropped off on these floors, so really only 4 elevators are useful. I find it quicker to take the elevator to zero, get out, walk outside, and then down some stairs to the parking levels. Score another one for India.

But what good does it do me to get to the parking level, because the car is never there. So you have to start making phone calls to all the foreigners and then the car people. I don’t even know who to call about the cars anymore….and my battery is always dead anyway and recpetion is shit on the parking levels. I usually just take my anti-seizure medicine and rock and back and forth in the corner like an invalid. Score some more for India.

Today the car actually showed up, but there were three of them instead of one. And one of them was for a girl at another hotel, but they called us to say the car was here…..or maybe India called.

Yeah…the ride home. That’s great too. No one obeys the traffic laws. No one drives in the lanes. Indian drivers seem to think its some kind of race or video game. They have these nifty street signs that say “Lane Driving is Safe Driving”, as if people need to be reminded that it is dangerous to fit 4 cars across on a two lane road.

And all the trucks say “Please Honk” on them. That is how they keep from hitting each other when they drive with a death wish. They constantly honk as if to say “Hello, my horn still works”. I saw two transfer trucks hit each other tonight in a fit of glass and bent metal. It was a non-incident. No one cared.

To give an idea how bad it is, you just have to look for the puke. The driving is so erratic, so stop and go, the roads so full of potholes….that people often get carsick, and they just puke out the windows and you see it on the sides of cars, buses, and public transport. Unless the view is blocked by the cows, or people peeing on the side of the street, or the family of 5 balanced on the scooter beside you all staring like they’ve never seen a white person.

When I get back to the hotel the girl who is now working at the Guest Relations desk knows nothing about the conversation that happened earlier and asks that I wait till tomorrow. Tomorrow I bet I get told the same thing. India is stuck in an eternal present.

Then I go back to my room and the Internet is out…again. Guess who I have to call to get the IT guy up??? Guest Relations. After calling them two more times, them replying “The guy is there” or “He already called you” when obviously nothing has happened….the guy finally shows up.

Its the same dude from yesterday and he immediately offers me the same crappy temporary fix he did yesterday with great satisfaction. I say, “So am I supposed to call you everyday for the next two months to come up here and rig my internet to work? Wouldn’t it make more sense to REALLY fix it?” I guess not though. He is definitely in cahoots with India. It is useless to resist. I am beaten again.

I know it seems like I am making all this up, but I’m not. I will get the upper hand eventually though. Even a broke clock is right twice a day…except in India.

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