What you get when the airline substitutes your kosher meal with a "fruit tray".
Thursday, October 17, 2013
Tuesday, October 15, 2013
- : Civic groups intend to protest outside central government offices in Andhra Pradesh.
- : The YSR Congress party plans to rally in the state capital Hyderabad to denounce the division of Andhra Pradesh..."
Monday, October 14, 2013
On Sunday, we took half the day off to tour, and spent it at three sites.
First was the Birla Temple, a massive creation overlooking all of Hyderabad. Unconscionably, cameras were prohibited, so I can only attempt to briefly describe the floor to ceiling intricately carved solid marble, the breathtaking views of a city of over 8 million people that ranged literally as far as the eye could see, and the alcoves in every corner of the temple, each with its own idol. Devotees line up, place a donation in the lockbox in front of each idol, fold their hands, offer a brief silent prayer, and move on. Shirtless monks sweep up with bundles of sticks, change out any wilted flowers, and lie about the temple. (The sweeping is no mean feat, and apart from my hotel, the temple itself was by far the cleanest place I've been in the country.) There were no guides available in the temple, which made me all the more aware of just how ignorant I am of Hinduism. I was able to take a few pictures of the temple from the parking lot at least.
We moved on from there to sites associated with the 7 Qutub Shahs who founded Hyderabad and ruled it around 850 years ago. Fortunately there we were able to get guides to explain what we were seeing. Each of our guides at these sites inflated their prices by 10x , but our negotiating brought it back down to close to what was listed in the guide books. At Golconda Fort, we meandered through the archways of what was once a massive seat of government, diamond trading center and home to 5,000 residents including 5,000 slaves. An amazing number of these residents were connected to the Shah's harem of over 350 wives and over a thousand eunuch guards. The four massive wheels which brought water up to the four internal reservoirs were turned all day by twenty slaves each. An innovative Persian engineer created an acoustics scheme that allowed for a signaling system with clapping at the front gate to be heard at the doorway to the throne room. This could be used as an early warning system as well, as an 8 kilometer tunnel large enough for the Shah to ride on horseback led from the throne room to the Charminar at the city center. The massive Kohinoor diamond that graces the British crown was mined near and traded at Golconda Fort. Both a mosque and a Hindu temple are built in various places on the site. The Fort, like so many sites here, was dilapidated and strewn with garbage, but no less fascinating for the mess.
Many of the tombs have large mosques built next to them, each of which was used once and once only for the funeral prayers for that Shah. Next to many of these mosques there are smaller mosques, built there by the Sunni Musliims who came later and didn't respect the Shia prayer halls already in place. The preservation of these sites were due to these prayer spaces, as the conquering rulers could not destroy the sites without riling the population.
Sunday, October 13, 2013
Saturday, October 12, 2013
Undeterred by last week's Shabbas walk fiasco, I set out again in the afternoon with the goal of reaching Hussein Sagar, the large man made lake in the middle of Hyderabad with its enormous Buddha statue. With corrected bearings and more appropriate dress, I quickly arrived at the first landmark I could observe from my hotel room window, the bright orange MORE Superstore. My confidence building, I passed through an upper class condominium community, with the entrance to each gated community dripping with yellow and orange marigold garlands in honor of the holiday this week. Even in these more upscale areas, the roads are still hazardous, but that did not deter the family of five I saw put putting by on the same motorcycle.
To keep my heading, I violated my "one turn" rule, made it across a bustling road and continued down a smaller alley. My path emerged onto a legitimate boulevard - intact sidewalks, planters along the median, and well behaved traffic! I realized a bit further on that this was Raj Bhavan Road which includes the Governor's Residence, the headquarters of the Hyderabad Police and the State Police traffic division headquarters. So that explains that.
Though the buildings in front of me blocked my view, my sense was the the lake was just on the other side. Unfortunately, there was also a light rail line in front of me, and my newfound boldness crossing streets did not carry over to train tracks. I picked a direction and walked, in the hopes of finding something resembling a pedestrian cut-through before running out of road and becoming hopelessly lost. Just as the road ended, fortune smiled, and I found a train station that included an elevated walkway to the other side of the tracks. Entering the station, I saw a dog and goat snuggled up together, apparently waiting for the next train. While crossing over the tracks, a train approached the station. From a distance, it looked almost like a centipede, with scores of legs sticking out on both sides of the train. As it approached, it became clear that those were people hanging out the sides of the train, adding another entry to the ledger of potentially lethal transportation options in this country.
Exiting the far side of the train station, I found myself on Necklace Road, the vehicle and pedestrian promenade that circles Hussein Sagar! I started around the lake. Vendors were selling fruit, ice cream, vegetables, peanuts and corn roasted right before your eyes, fresh sweet lime (water, fresh crushed lime and sugar), dosas, and a variety of other options I couldn't identify. Business wasn't exactly brisk, but there were a fair number of people in the narrow lakeside park, doing cartwheels, playing catch and chasing after each other in the Indian equivalent of blind man's bluff. It was natural to see young couples canoodling on the benches, though bracing when the woman is wearing a full burqa.
Before you get too halcyon an image, the walk along the lake is punctuated by signs with messages like "Keep Hussein Sagar clean, it is our legacy!" and such. There is a two foot ring of sludge and garbage around the entire lake, and people casually relieve themselves on the shoreline. The retaining wall, safety fence, part of the promenade and at least a few small boating slips have all crumbled into the lake. The odor is unpleasant and the various entertainment facilities that have sprung up at intervals around the lake are threadbare at best, and more commonly decrepit.
From the shoreline, I could see the Buddha statue in the southern park of the lake. Now I like big Buddhas, and I can't deny, but this one has a particularly odd story. It's carved from a single piece of granite, is 60 feet tall and weighs 350 tons. After it was carved, the roads of Hyderabad were widened to accommodate its arrival. A platform was erected in the lake to hold. Unfortunately, when the massive statue was moved to a barge to transport it to the platform, it made it less than half way and then tipped and sank, killing ten people. It took years to salvage the Buddha, but it now stands proudly on the platform (dubbed "The Rock of Gibraltar"), is accessible by ferry and is lit an eerie red at night.
Among other sights, I passed a handicraft show, a political rally, and a massive monument to a former chief minister that requires you to remove your shoes to enter. After making it a quarter of the way around the lake, I decided it was probably best to make it back to the hotel before dark, and retraced my steps successfully prior to nightfall. Sum total: 11 kilometers of round-trip walking in about 3 hours.
I'll have to take another spin around when I can use a camera, but at least I can give you an overview of my route from my hotel window:
By the way, Dussehra occurs in the month of Ashvin, which started right around the same time as Cheshvan. Also, it is also pronounced Dasara and occurs on the tenth (asara) of the month. Just saying.
Friday, October 11, 2013
- Everyone I deal with here goes out to lunch every day (the observed cost of a full lunch is about US$3), so it's much more obvious that I'm not eating.
- I'm eating even less than I do in similar situations in the US. The lack of ubiquitous hashgachot, the dearth of packaged food and drink, and the food safety concerns regarding green salads mean that I'm literally ordering the fruit plate.
- Indians are very frum about their diets. Most are vegetarian, and I haven't seen a single facility that sells beef. Even McDonalds has an all chicken menu. Many restaurants have Jain options, which are even more machmir. In Hyderabad specifically, there are many halal choices. There is general amazement that these aren't sufficient.
- Jews in the US are about 2% of the population. Jews in India are about 2% of 1% of the population. It's novel.
- Indians think of themselves as quite cosmopolitan and accommodating. Frequently, I've gotten the reaction "Certainly the hotel can get kosher food for you" or "Well, if we were in [Bangalore/Dehli/Mumbai] you would get kosher food, there are lots of Israelis there." Nope and nope.
In the meantime, my suitcase of granola bars, beef jerky, almonds and tuna fish is holding out quite well, and supplies of fruit and bottled water at the hotel are plentiful.
Everybody Dance Now
She'll Be Coming Round The Mountain When She Comes
We Wish You A Merry Christmas
Truly an international language... one that's apparently incomprehensible.
Thursday, October 10, 2013
Indians are the same way. A typical tea is an espresso size paper cup with half a cup of milk, 3 packets of sugar, and - rumor has it - some tea. It's really gross.
All of this characterizes the relatively new area just outside of Hyderabad officially named Hi-Tech City, but broadly known as Cyberabad. Catchy, no?
Even independent of the contrasts with the rest of the city, the scale of it is jaw dropping. The thousands of people flocking here with us in the morning on our way to the IBM office within gave many, many faces to the faceless notion of outsourcing, and from what I'm told, this pales in comparison to Mumbai, Bangalore and Pune, India's silicon trinity. Although still apparently a predominantly male workforce, I'm getting accustomed to seeing women, even high ranking ones, in the workplace who stick to traditional dress. Not a pantsuit in sight.
I've been to many vacant IBM offices emptied by the combination of teleworking and downsizing, but not here... the place is buzzing. I have met the future and it drives a Tata Indigo.
The monsoon season is over, but you wouldn't know it based on yesterday's weather. It was represented by the locals as a full on storm, but to my eyes it wasn't so different from the fiercest rains that we see in Silver Spring. The difference wasn't in what came down from the sky, but what happens when it hits the ground. The drainage is non existent. The building is so dense that water pools quickly and deeply, even in covered areas. Streams form in alleys and rivers on roads. Much of life ceases or slows, but of course we were hitting the highway regardless. Fortunately, even the suicide kings of the Indian roadways recognize the hazard of piloting a flimsy motorbike through a foot or more of standing water. We saw hundreds of bikes and their riders stashed under bridges and awnings waiting for a break in the weather... which meant they weren't cutting us off on the slick roads.
Tuesday, October 8, 2013
As an alternative to all the traffic stories I've told so far, take a police jeep to lunch. True, you'll have to give up niceties like windows, doors, seatbelts, handles and shocks, but the traffic parts in front of you like the Red Sea, and you can literally park in the middle of the street in front if your destination and know that the car will be there when you get back. I could get used to this.
Monday, October 7, 2013
I was curious that the charminar was still standing despite the series of rulers that held sway here. I assumed the next victor would have demolished it. The secret in preserving it was that they put a mosque on the top floor, so it could not be demolished without inciting the local Muslim population.
Everything I read in cultural preparation for businesses practices in India has so far held true. Two lessons to share right off the bat.
1. Patience > punctuality
None of the meetings I have attended so far have started with one hour of their specified start time. There is no willingness to proceed even informally until the principal has arrived and he (so far it has always been a he) is typically the last to arrive. I can't imagine even the most patient Americans weathering this type of delay with equanimity, butt it appears to be quite common here, as advertised.
This lateness can in no way be confused for laziness, as the hours that are kept here are lunatic. Granted, they are in crisis mode right now, but no one ever appears to leave, and many of our customer staff worked through the weekend. This includes the staff that is responsible for constantly plying us with bottled water, tea, coffee, and cookies.
2. Heads move
Over the course of a conversation, the heads of your audience will nod up and down, shake left to right and gyrate like a bobble head. This does not mean, respectively, that they are agreeing with you, that they are disagreeing with you, or that they are a giveaway at a baseball game. It simply means that they are listening.
I got off my plane on Friday at 5 AM, and gave my first presentation at 11 AM. Top of mind was staying conscious and coherent, and I was thrown off by people apparently disagreeing or indicating confusion, when all they were doing was the body language for "go on".
Saturday, October 5, 2013
Before departing, I studied 3 different maps, all of which showed an easy path... really just a few streets away from me. I was working without an eruv, so I had literally just the clothes on my back, but could not conscience staying holed up on my hotel room, or even my posh hotel for the whole of the day. I scrutinized the most detailed map, memorized the few street names that I thought I would encounter, and set off.
Walking out of the gated hotel complex, I already drew the curious, concerned and bemused looks of the hotel's security cadre who pressed me with many offers of cab rides, not understanding why I was walking towards the hotel gates on foot. I assured them that I had not lost my mind and was just going for a walk.
Once emerging from the hotel, I sympathized with their confusion.
I was immediately disoriented. Banjara Hills, the ritzy area of Hyderabad where I'm located, is not only faithful to its name, but tremendously overbuilt, meaning that there is no visibility beyond your current street. I could not figure out which way I had been looking from my own hotel room. I decided to just head off in one direction and correct course as need be. The sidewalks were a crumbling mess, so I did my best to keep from sliding into the street, and the constant stream of noisy traffic that occupied it. The traffic had no such reciprocal grace, with motorbikes often using the sidewalk as a passing lane. I came to my first intersection and quickly realized that this was no cake walk. Despite 3 traffic policemen holed up in a tiny metal turret in the middle of the road, I could not discern a single traffic rule that was being observed. Motorbikes were using the outermost lane to go in the opposing direction of traffic. No vehicle was clearly in one lane, and generally meandered across lanes amongst a mass of others doing the same. A solid red light (which I assume means the same thing as in the US) was being universally disregarded, which is to say not one car, not a few cars, but EVERY car was proceeding as if neither the light nor the cops existed at all.
I made the strategic decision to walk on the side of the street I was already on, though I was completely unaware if it was the direction that I intended to go.
At this point, I realized another obstacle - no street signs. I walked for block after block with absolutely no indication of what road I was on or passing. I was leaving a mental trail of breadcrumbs, but didn't dare leave my straight path without seeing at least one official sign indicating where I was. I walked for about 40 minutes without finding one.
On this path, I entered what I believe to be the high end shopping district of Banjara Hills. I will make a meager to communicate in words the relentless assault on the senses that this represented. (I will have to go back there with a camera, because there's no other real way to capture it.)
It is so *busy*, a throbbing mass of economy. The closest sense equivalents I can summon are Times Square in New York and the shuk in Jerusalem, but run down compared to either. Every square inch of space is occupied by cracked signage, deteriorated posters, rubble and humanity. English is prominent, though both the spelling and grammar are horrendous ("Rash Driving Makes Thrills And Kills". The colloquialisms are botched (an eyeglass shop called "Spects"). Even when correct, the effects are often hilarious ("Genius College"). A disturbingly high percentage of the people pictured in ads, especially women, are white. The views inside the shops though confirm that this is a luxe destination. Some exclusive American and European brands poke through, and the tech advertising is extremely high end, with the largest spaces reserved for mobile technology not yet available in the States.
There is absolutely conformity or predictability in architecture with high end frosted glass behemoth malls overrun by decrepit concrete eyesores that their own architects would condemn on site. There is every style of business here, but the one that was the most jarring to me was small hospitals tucked into ground floor storefronts, sandwiched in between a luggage store and a dosa shop, complete with tiny ambulances smaller than a minivan double parked on the sidewalk and a guy on a stool with a machete selling papayas off of a card table sitting out front. What little sidewalks there are are devote to commerce or parking, which means the endless stream of people walk in the shoulder and first lane of the road, mingled with traffic weaving in, around and through them. There are many times at which moving vehicles will go around both sides of a pedestrian simultaneously. The dress of the pedestrians themselves varies wildly, ranging from modern fashion to full chadors to jeans and T-shirts to beggar's garb to florid saris. I am the only person in sight wearing shorts. Doh.
The noise never stops. Yes, there is chatter and construction and engines, but the horns. Oh, the car horns. They are loud and incessant and apparently quite versatile. Just today, I heard car horns used to express the following sentiments:
"Hey, buddy, I'm planning to cut you off."
"No way I'm going to let you cut me off."
"Ha, ha, I just cut you off anyway."
"I can't believe you just cut me off."
"Hey everyone, my car horn is in good working order!"
Every car, rickshaw and moped each used their horn more often over the course of 2 blocks than I use my horn in an entire year. I finally saw a bumper sticker on one rickshaw (every rickshaw sports between 20 and 50 bumper stickers) that said in bright red letters, "Stop Sound Horn OK", and I felt an immediate sense of kinship with this lone and lonely ally in my silent protest against the din. Finally, I thought, someone realizes the utter pointlessness of this racket! Somehow, the awkward phrasing of the message only made it more sympathetic.
Of course, a few blocks further down, I saw another bumper sticker that said "Stop Please Sound Horn". Instantly deflated, I realized I had been duped by my earlier unknowing comrade, whose call was not
"Stop Sound Horn! OK?"
"Stop! Sound Horn OK!"
After 40 minutes of walking down Road No. 1, I decided I would brave crossing at a nominal crosswalk. I shamelessly positioned myself downstream from a young woman in a bright pink niqab and simply followed her lead, stepping directly into the traffic, and having faith that it would flow gracefully around me - or at least hit her first. Unfortunately, she abandoned me and went another direction halfway across the street. I panicked and broke into a jog across the rest of the street. I may have been honked at by a few drivers, but how is one to know? Emboldened by my success, I made one turn down another street, and finally caught the sign of a business that advertised its address as Road No. 10. I walked down it for about 20 minutes and then reversed course, braving a narrower section of the road when someone made a U-turn without warning, temporarily stopping traffic and giving me my big break.
I retraced my steps and made it back to the Taj Krishna. Re-entering the lobby gave me stark contrast as to how peaceful silence could be and how heavily perfumed the air was. I retrieved my book from the concierge, read for a few hours on the patio and went back up my room. I immediately got out my map to see where I had erred, and realized not only that I had gone in the exact opposite direction of my goal, but but my two hour walkabout had made negligible progress on the map, and this city is a very, very large place.
You win, Hyderabad. Tomorrow, I'll take a cab.
Friday, October 4, 2013
Walking across a street in downtown Hyderabad is the closest I will ever come to running with the bulls in Pamplona, except the bulls are quieter.
The driving methodology here is summed up as
1) Pound horn.
2) Pound accelerator.
3) Pound brake.
The street crossing strategy is
* wherever, whenever and at whichever speed you like paying no attention to the traffic moving around you like a river around a rock.
Also cars, auto rickshaws, and mopeds stream around buses and trucks like they were stationary objects.
The only consolation is that the roads are so congested that none of these mildly guided missiles can pick up much speed.
Thursday, October 3, 2013
En route to Hyderabad with a layover in Heathrow, I arrived with enough time to daven Shacharit. Whereas typically in the US I have no compunction about laying tefilin in an airport (or airplane for that matter), I'm attempting to respond to my wife's initiative to practice discretion on this trip. Good advice, but by no means my default setting. Fortunately, Heathrow is a beautiful, modern airport with excellent signage, so I quickly found my way to the "multi-faith room". (I made the bold assumption that it was also open to those observing only one faith.)
The room was a modest, cozy 8x10 space with no iconography whatsoever, a large rack of prayer mats, and a small side room for negelvasser/wudu (take your pick). It was already in use by a family whose young son was clearly worn out either from a long flight or a vigorous prayer session and had passed out in his prayer mat, reminiscent of so many in-shul shluffs that my kids have taken over the years. The father finished his zuhr before I finished my shacharit, so I didn't get to make conversation, but I'm reasonably certain it was the closest proximity either of us had prayed with either of the other's co-religionists.
(It occurred to me that I never see Muslims praying with siddurim. I've been davening for years, and I still couldn't make it through psukei d'zimrah without the full text before me. Are the salat simple and repetitive, or just well drilled? A concession to a 40-60% literacy rate?)
That said, the subject of the post is accurate. Hopefully the beit medrash in Hyderabad has a fan.
Tuesday, September 24, 2013
Without any popular demand whatsoever, I'm bringing back the blog for a short revival. I'm heading to Hyderabad, India for two weeks for a government project. The content of these posts will differ from my Kenya blog in the sense that I won't be posting any of the details of the day to day work, but I expect sufficient musings on the setting and surroundings to justify spilling some virtual ink.
I leave on Wednesday, thanks for coming along for the ride.