Thursday, 4 December, 2008

Mumbai Manoos

I have always suspected that Mumbai is nothing but a glorified transit-camp-casino in the minds of its dwellers. People dream, land up here and at the back of their minds, home is somewhere far away. The migrants have land to till and to go back to. The middle class yearn for their ‘native’. And the rich, well they will always have multiple homes of convenience. Till of course, the city makes you an addict. To the opportunities. To the pace of life. To the comfort and the freedom of not being judged constantly.

The indiscriminate firing in Mumbai on 26.11.08 undid the work of all the political parties trying to divide vote banks on caste and regional lines. It brought Mumbai residents (or as I would like to call them, the Mumbai Manoos) together like never before. The attack wasn’t localized to trains or the buses. Random people – CEOs and the 5 Star rich, Omelet Pav sellers, train travelers and western tourists were among the people caught unawares.

The Mumbai Manoos - all the people who work, live and dare to call this city their home - are out on the streets and demanding some concrete action, demanding security and a better life in their ‘working home’. Well the city is (inefficiently) built for work not for a comfortable life.

The middle and upper middle class of these Mumbai Manoos, generally immune to most things, have been galvanized into action, as the huge gathering on 03.12.08 at the Gateway of India proves. More rallies have been planned. Voices are being raised. The hawks are out, demanding an attack as an answer to this seemingly proxy war emanating from Pakistani soil. The live telecasts and a bit of prodding by the newscasters has done its bit no doubt. Asking questions, as someone rightly said, that should have been asked by our politicians to the Pakistanis.

The people in power treat the city like the natives of the Amazon rainforests do. Slash and burn, extract their pound of flesh, make the most out of their years in power before getting booted out.

One can only hope that the sense of outrage and the ownership of the Mumbai Manoos lingers on and reaches the thick-skinned, Gordon Gecko-esque politicians. Like Prannoy Roy put it, enough is enough.

Monday, 10 November, 2008

The True 'I' Phone

Every phone that I look at, has some disappointment in store. Doesn't have GPS. Or doesn't have WiFi, or doesn't have a good enough camera, or doesn't have a good battery life, etc.
How about Nokia (could be anyone actually, including Google and Apple) introducing a micro-site that lets registered users drag and drop the style, shape and features that they want, which then gets shipped in say 30 days. If Dell can do it, if car companies can do it, so can mobile manufacturers.

Mumbai Taxis - How About Comfortable Sedans?

The Government of Maharashtra has approved the Maruti Suzuki Omni and the Hyundai Santro as replacements for the good old Premier Padminis.
The Omni as a Taxi is like an auto rickshaw on four wheels. The Santro is going to be cramped. Have they forgotten that we don't want a point-to-point people mover that either has suspension built for carrying goods or a cramped hatchback that can't be of much use at Airports or Railway stations? Imagine lifting a huge bag on the roof of the Santro. Because the back will house the CNG tank.
The approved vehicles can at best be great for 5 rupee share-a-cab rides.
Question: Why doesn't the Government use part of the cess and tax collected on fuel sales, and the ever-increasing toll charges to part-subsidize the overhaul of the Taxi fleet? The excuse that this money is being is being used to improve roads and infrastructure is not quite palatable any more.
Suggestions: Tata Indigo CS, Renault Logan, maybe even a stripped down Swift DZire.


On 21st October 2008, Raj decides to target the North Indians working in Mumbai. I land from Chennai and get the news that the Mumbai shutdown is indeed serious, and there is no way to go from airport to home, a ride of Rs40 by Auto and Rs 90 odd by Taxi.
So me, the Maharashtrian, requests North Indian cool cabbie from UP to drop me. He, cooly, demands Rs500 for the 'riks' to be taken. No one else is agreeing to leave the airport taxi stand.
After humming and hawwing and realising the irony of the whole situation, I agree.
So now I've decided to hire a non-maharashtrian driver, cook, domestic help and so on as my little way of balancing the moronic anti-Indian behaviour by the politically motivated.

Tuesday, 26 August, 2008

iPhone - Getting Stuck

Getting started:
1.The shiny pin hooked to the black brochure in the iPhone box, is the pin with which you pop out the SIM card from its slot on top of the instrument.
2. Once switched on (it came pre-charged) the USB plug icon pointing to an iTunes logo on the active screen means you have to connect the instrument into a web-connected iTunes from your computer to complete the registration process.

Well, no one explained this and the illustrated iPhone Manual doesn't have a clearly spelt out 'Getting started' section to help awestruck people like me. A bit cryptic. Reminded me of the Monolith in 2001: A Space Odyssey.

The Vodafone store at Lower Parel is strange. They handed me a receipt of purchase which stated 'Deposits and Charges' with a code which only they can figure is an iPhone sold.
Had to insist on a receipt which plainly stated that an iPhone with Part number and IMEI number was sold to me. Then another round of haggling to get myself a copy of the 'Agreement' that I signed with Apple.
The reason given: Sir, that is the format.
How can that be a bill of purchase. Has everyone before me bought it this way, too excited about getting an official piece to bother about a proper bill?

Saturday, 23 August, 2008

Pits And Troughs, Not Potholes

Streets in India should have two plates. One permanent with the name of the road (permanent that is, till the new elected government decides to change it to the new local hero, forgotten freedom fighter, top politician's father, mother, etc.) and one just under it with the road contractor's name and address. Not the name of the company that he owns, which he could shut down or deny any association with. But his own name and residential address.

Logan as Taxis

Figured that the Maruti Suzuki Esteem has finally been discontinued from production. Should get a long service award. One engine upgrade and a few bits and bobs in about 15 years.
Well I am still using my old faithful, which has been 'restored', that was the amount of work that has gone into it, so I should call it my new faithful. And no, I am not prone to calling it Sally or Linda or anything such.
I was wondering about all the AC cabs that have started up in Mumbai, all have bought Esteems of various colours. Must have been a win-win situation for Maruti Suzuki and the fleet owners.
My suggestion to the Govt. of Maharashtra and the Taximens' Union would be to strike a deal with Mahindra Logan and get the Logan to replace the horribly outdated rattletraps, the Premier Padminis.
The Logan is perfect taxi material - it's a low cost, solidly built car, perfect for BMC/MMRDA roads (whoever owns up to them), it spacious enough with a large boot, the diesel is modern and very drivable, and if the government gets into, they can push for a CNG variant too. And for Mahindra Logan, its a 35000 car market.
Meru has already deployed it in Hyderabad as a premium AC cab. But I'm sure a stripped down version can be made.
And why can't we have them all with AC as standard? So the passenger can decide AC or non AC fares.

Thursday, 31 July, 2008

Ho Chi Minh and Cu Chi

Vietnam was a big surprise. Clean, friendly, without much angst (have the tourist DoLLas helped overcome it?). Walked around for hours. Showed when I weighed myself back home, 2.5 kilos less in 5 days! My vegetarianism helped as I hardly ate anything. The typical SE Asian oil (palm oil?) is not something I will get used to in a hurry. I was busy absorbing everything - smells, food, people, poverty (in a respectable, clean and dignified sort of way) and surprising wealth. I had forgotten that the country was unified and it is communist. Well, except for the red flags with yellow stars waving about everywhere, one wouldn't notice.

We went to a few nightclubs, and I checked the vehicles parked on both sides of the road. There were Mercedes' and BMWs and nothing much else. Inside I was being my usual self and breathing 'aware' breaths to lessen the impact of ciggie smoke, otherwise my eyes start watering and I start sneezing, violently and continuously, anyway, I digress. So there were the Viet teenyboppers bopping in spiky haircuts, flashes of colour in their dark straight hair, tattoos and piercings galore, celebrating birthdays and beginning of weekends to black rap, DJed by a crew cut white guy. So I was smiling to myself, screwing my eyes shut to the strobe flash and had a what's happening here moment. Some far away black angst being celebrated here with so much enthusiasm! Have never understood it. Yes, they say music is universal but especially with regards to rap I disagree. What would nightclub goers in Lower Parel or Ho Chi Minh City and elsewhere have experienced that they swear by it so much?

The big surprise for me was that the Vietnam war was Vietcong Vs US and 5 other countries.

And I experienced the amazing Chi Tunnel system. 200+ kilometers of tunnels where, for close to 2 decades the resistance fighters lived (survived would be a better word) fought and made life hell for the US led 'liberation' forces. It was, to put it mildly, an extreme experience to crawl into a veritable foxhole for just 100 meters and imagine that 4000 odd men, women and children lived in the triple-storied tunnel structure 200 km long for 16 years and fought back with ingenious weapons, booby traps and lots of will power and not much else. Pointy hats off.

Tuesday, 29 July, 2008

Pump up the...

Filling fuel is painful now-a-days. I tend to gravitate towards the 'sada' fuel (88 Octane) every time a pump attendant asks. Now, why would I need higher Octane on my 11 year old carburettor car? Yes, a few would argue for it, but I suspect, there would be only a marginal increase in performance.

My regular, company-owned BPCL pump at Bandra-Kurla Complex has some strange rules. For the last few months they have stopped selling regular petrol and stock up only on Speed (88 Octane with additives) and Speed 97. There is no explanation for this strange behaviour. But inexplicably, they have a fuel additive on sale right there. So when I bought the additive and was about to add it to the tank before getting my weekly tank full, I discovered that only Speed was available. So now I'm stuck with a bottle of additive for the past few months and have to find a way to use it up somewhere.

Secondly, for the last few months, I have been arguing with the pump attendant and subsequently the manager, because when they swipe my credit card, they don't give me a bill, just a copy of my credit card receipt, which I am entitled to anyway. Thankfully last week, they gave me a printout which resembled a bill. Hope this moment of sagacity lasts.

Another thing that has quietly disappeared is what used to be a regular feature at better run fuel pumps. A bevy of attendants armed with squeegees and mops and suggestions to buy a dashboard cleaner and top up the oil and coolant, etc used to hover around expectantly. Where are those guys? Or will they appear only when a new customer care exercise is launched?