January 2006
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Saturday, January 21

(On the right, video of Hyderabad at night and during the day, 4.5MB; 1m and 45s; Quicktime)

It feels like it's been a month or so since I last wrote anything about anything that wasn't work-related. I don't understand how bloggers update their sites every few minutes -- it must involve having a very stable home life and faithful internet connection. Since I have neither, I find myself very challenged by the the internet's pressure to be current. Also, I don't know if this is just me or everybody, but if I am not angry or sad, as I was for the first six months here, I have to think harder about what and why I'm writing.

I am traveling a bit more for work too, which gives you more things to think about, but less time to write about them. On Monday, I'm going to Kathmandu, which saves me from having to return to my efforts to befriend the locals, now that my sister, who was here for a month, has left.

In the first week of January I went to a city in India that, as soon as you name it, brings forth two words in response. Biryani and pearls. Hyderabad, in Andhra Pradesh, is very famous for its pearls, particularly Basra pearls, which are not actually from Hyderabad but from Iraq. Or were. A Delhi jeweller (I have developed a new-found love of jewellery here, brought on by a visit to one jeweller's sanctum sanctorum and a look at the things he had bought from a former princess over very sweet tea. Um, we had the tea, not the princess.) said they are priceless now because you can't get them anymore, but whether this is because the oysters are all gone or the art of pearl diving has been lost in the Middle East, I really cannot say.

Anyway, I didn't really get to explore either the pearls or the culinary side of the city as I spent most of my time at a conference for expatriate Indians, alternately trying to interview participants and cursing the organizers for placing so many pretty sari-clad girls all over the convention center while giving them no information to impart. It was sort of like trying to get telephone customer service and getting transferred to lots of different people, except it was in person.

It turns out that distance really does make the heart grow fonder. All the Indians who were fourth or fifth generation were really delighted to be in India, even if India hadn't been very kind to them in the past. I'm thinking particularly of the contingent from the Reunion Islands who had to fight to be recognized as Indian -- they are the descendants of Indian sugar cane laborers taken there by the French. It was the same with many of the South Africans. Though I must say it is quite disconcerting how unmixed some of the expats looked, even after generations in their countries, except for the Israeli Indians. You would think there would have been more marrying "out" among the others as well.

In contrast to the above sort of expat, there were lots of Indian businessmen who had migrated in their early twenties and they were quite cynical about India and its hopes of being "world class," and were just itching to get back to the US, the UK or wherever. One man spent about an hour telling me how much better run things were in "his" country (that would be the United States).

I am glad I got a glimpse of old parts of the city, which in the evening, with the lights of various minarets --some of them quite different in shape from those on Delhi mosques -- and the fruit sellers and the bangle shops made me feel like I was seeing an illustration from a book on the Ottoman empire come to life. Something about the combination of bustling trade and medieval architecture. There was so much fun stuff to buy, like pomegranates and teeny-tiny grapes and shiny wooden spatulas and ice-cream. Our driver had a thing for ice-cream and kept pointing out all the ice-cream shops to us. There were lots of burkha-clad ladies buying bangles well into the night, and, according to my sister who wandered around on her own while I was working, shopping for pink stilettos in the daytime.

Wednesday, January 4

After not writing for two weeks, I feel that I should take up the keyboard again with some momentous and insightful entry. But I don’t have one.

This may be slightly belated – everyone always does this sort of thing on December 31 – but since it’s a year since I left my job in New York and about six months since I’ve been in India, I think it’s a good time to make a list. Or rather two lists: one of the often mundane things that have struck me about India in my time here so far, and another about things I’d like to find out more about or field trips I’d like to do.

List number one:
1. The privatization of life in urban India. Everything from clean drinking water to electricity, transport and security is now provided for out of people’s own pockets.
2. How you’re forbidden from taking pictures lots of places where it shouldn’t really matter (like malls). It isn't so much not being able to take the picture that bothers me, but the sense of prohibitions, particularly with regard to something that seems technological.
3. How many more cycle rickshaws – and women drivers - there seem to be in lots of places in the city
4. How crazy people are about brands
5. How angry (and fearful) people in Delhi are and how this is contributing to the general incivility of life
6. How PR people expect you to RSVP to their press releases

Places and things I’d like to know more about:
1. Ghaziabad
2. Where garbage goes
3. Resident Welfare Associations – who joins them and how they work
4. Kabbari wallas (rubbish buyers) – who they are and where the stuff you sell them goes
5. Are sex crimes really up – everyone calls Delhi the “rape capital” of India – or is just reporting of them up?
6. I’d love to spend a day each at NDTV, the nation’s premier 24-hour news station and its newest rival, CNN-IBN and the most-watched Hindi station, Aaj Tak, as well as at a newspaper like Dainik Jaigran to see how they make their editorial choices.

I have new project for this site, which is to periodically update a short videos about life in Delhi. Here are two: one of a wedding in the city (1 minute, 20 seconds; 2MB) and the other of driving to the airport at night (1 minute; 1.3MB).