Tuesday, October 15, 2013

8 more and we've got a minyan

Saw the first kippah not on my own head this morning in the hotel lobby... naturally checking in just before I'm checking out.

Exit stage left...

"India: Continuing protests over Telangana statehood issue to cause further disruption, localised unrest in parts of Andhra Pradesh in coming days
Further travel disruption and localised unrest can be expected in parts of Andhra Pradesh state in the coming days and weeks, due to continuing demonstrations for and against the recent decision to create a separate state of Telangana from ten of the state's 23 districts. The following related events will also take place:
  • 17-19 October: Civic groups intend to protest outside central government offices in Andhra Pradesh.
  • 19 October: The YSR Congress party plans to rally in the state capital Hyderabad to denounce the division of Andhra Pradesh..."

Monday, October 14, 2013

Sunday with the Shahs

 A tip if you ever find yourself touring around Hyderabad... wear socks. Every site we went to today had at least one section where shoes were prohibited, and I cannot recommend going around in bare feet.
 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.
 Next to the Fort were the 7 burial places of the Qutub Shahs who reigned at Golconda. These massive tombs are simply massive empty buildings with a replica tomb on the ground floor and a real tomb underground. Nothing happens in them, they are simply visited by those who wish to commune with these former rulers. Next to the main tombs are some smaller tombs for relatives, court physicians, and even favored courtesans. The massive mortuary bath which put our chevra kadisha facilities to shame.
 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.
 My lasting impression from these sites were just how many "former owners" this area has had. These monuments represented a relatively small slice of the historical battles that went on for dominance here. A constant cycle of invasion, subjugation, treaty and invasion again persisted for millenia with most of those rulers conquests wiped away with them.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Dodged the bullet

 Cyclone Phailin made all the US news agencies as well, but thankfully due to aggressive evacuation by the Government of India, the damage is mostly to crops, with only a small handful of deaths.
 About a million people were evacuated. That's equivalent in size to the entire population of Washington, and many suburbs.
 Here in Hyderabad, we didn't see a drop of rain.

Saturday, October 12, 2013

Like a HyderaBoss

 If at first you don't succeed....
 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:


I realize this symbol was in sacred use long before it was misappropriated in Germany, but it's still arresting to see in casual use around the city.

Subha Nanavattri!

Happy Dussehra! Any special plans to celebrate the victory of Rama over the ten headed demon king Ravana as shown in Ramillas depicting the Ramayana? How about you, Rami?

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

Rain, rain, go away

And then this happened...


Eating out

 I can't remember the last time I've been asked to describe kashrut with this frequency. Possible factors include.

 - 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.

Ring Ring

 I realize that most of the ringtones that people use are not customized and just selected from what comes with on the phone, but I'm still amused at the variety of ringtones that I've heard around India. Just today, I've heard:

 Everybody Dance Now
 She'll Be Coming Round The Mountain When She Comes
 Hotel California
 We Wish You A Merry Christmas

 Truly an international language... one that's apparently incomprehensible.

Home away from Home

 Given the amount of time I've spent here, I haven't commented much on the hotel. It's my first 5 star hotel, and certainly the most posh place I've ever stayed. Manicured gardens, patio seating, a well appointed lobby, a spa that I was guaranteed never to see... all this for a daily rate that translates to about $80 per night, our about that of a red roof inn.
 The most striking thing about the hotel is how staff intensive it is. This is generally true in my observations about India ("why have one person do a job when you could hire three?"), but taken to the extreme here. Entering the hotel cannot be done without interacting with a minimum of ten people - half security and half hospitality. When you drive up, your car is searched by three guards who check the underbelly of the car as well as the trunk. At the door, there is someone who opens your door, and a separate guy whose job seems to be to wear cool outfits, have a funky mustache and say Namaste to everyone who approaches. Then you and any bags or briefcases you have go through separate security manned by separate guards. Once inside, there is another greeter, at least one concierge and someone who calls the elevator for you.... literally just pushes the button so you don't have to. All female staff are in identical ornate saris. 
 There were multiple cleaning staff just assigned to my floor who were constantly in my room emptying the trash, adjusting the bed and curtain settings for early morning, late morning, afternoon, evening, and bedtime, replacing the lily, or organizing my toiletries. They got creative at times and made animal sculptures out of my hands towels, paper flower arrangements on top of the tissue boxes, or leaving a pottery bowl filled with water with what appeared to be the head of a pink sunflower floating in it. Whenever I encountered any of the cleaning our concierge staff, they would engage me in a five minute conversation about how I was enjoying Hyderabad, how my project was progressing and whether there was anything at all they could do in order to make my stay more pleasant.
 Although the area of Banjara Hills is considered posh, given the rest of the Indian milieu, it's still bracing to see a Cartier store in the hotel lobby. Other high end shops (Burberry, Helvetica, etc.) are in the rear of the hotel.
There are some strange aspects to the place like the clown that sits in the lobby each Sunday making balloon animals or the fact that staff are always plying you with business cards. Overall though, it's a pretty magnificent place to hang out.
 My main caveat has less to do with the hotel itself and more to do with visiting India. My typical M.O. when I travel is to finish my business and then explore. Once the whistle blows, if there's a museum, a park, a minyan, a minor league ballpark or a piece of roadside eccentrica, that's where you'll find me. When you have to schedule a driver, because driving yourself is insane, walking is severely limited and public transportation is out of the question, it cuts down on the whimsy. I felt trapped, especially in the evenings, and that - among other factors - would restrict my enthusiasm about any return trip.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

Pity the man in the middle

Not for all the tea in India

My limited understanding is that tea played a significant role in the early geopolitics of India. Given that, you'd think they would be expert in drinking it. Instead, Indians drink tea like Americans drink coffee. Rather than plagiarize, I'll just link you here: http://en.ilovecoffee.jp/posts/view/71
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.


A gleaming office park the size of an entire suburb with no residential or retail, just IT companies, some domestic but predominantly foreign. Clean streets and clean architectural lines unlike anything anywhere else in the city. Hand soap and toilet paper in the bathrooms.
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.

Here comes the rain again

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

Sweet ride

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

A brief spin around Hyderabad

 Although the team worked through Shabbat without me, we took a break Sunday morning before getting back to meetings, and did a little bit poc touring around Hyderabad. Our first destination was the Charminar, the iconic monument at the center of Hyderabad, whose name aptly describes its appearance as "four minarets". You can look up the history if you're interested, I won't drag you through it here. Admission to the charminar was 100 rupees, or the equivalent of a buck fifty. It cost another 25 rupees for the privilege of taking pictures. The price for my Indian colleague to join us was 5 rupees (less than a dime).
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.
 We were able to tour the first flour of the charminar which is about 3 or 4 stories up. We were told that the top floor has been closed off for about 10 years because too many people were committing suicide by jumping off. We determined that if the project takes a turn for the worse, we'll refer to it as "taking to the top of the charminar".
From the Charminar we had a clear view of the Mecca Masjid, a mega-mosque sized for 10,000 worshipers. That's a minyan to the 5th power.
On our typically hair raising car ride across town, we were passing through one particularly chaotic intersection, and were pulled over by a traffic policeman. Harsh words were exchanged, documents were passed back and forth, gestures were made enthusiastically. I couldn't understand a word that was said, but my colleague described the infraction to me afterwards as a failure of driver to wear a white or khaki shirt while driving more than 2 people as a taxi. Honestly, if I were to sit by the side of the road for an hour and make a catalog of the traffic infractions at that intersection and order them by severity and frequency, this one wouldn't rate before the last few pages of a phone book sized tome. The incident ended with no written documentation and a few bills passed through the window. Our suspicion is that it had less to do with the color of the driver's shirt and more to do with the color of the passengers' skin.
 Our second stop was Chowmullah Palace. Much of the discussion in both places centered around the nizams, the Islamic rulers of the area. This Palace was the residence to many of the nizams, whose line still exists today. The nizam in control of Hyderabad at the time of the Indian revolution actually wanted to federate with Pakistan instead of India, but was geographically challenged. His successor had a story that sounded a lot like The King and I - he decided that he would open a university (the first in the city and the first university to teach in Urdu) so that his family and people could be educated and modernity brought to the area... unfortunately this was 50 years after the time depicted in the play. The palace now has an eclectic and somewhat dilapidated collection of furniture, photography, chandeliers, swords, china sets and classic cars, because why not. Each of the nizams had a large museum style display with a picture of them and a short hagiography of their glorious accomplishment. Once I stepped back from the display, we noticed that the pictures of the nizams were copies, each photo-shopped with new facial hair or a different color scabbard to differentiate them.
 We worked the rest of the day, but we'll try to take in some more sights around Hyderabad next Sunday.

Not going anywhere for a while?

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

Stop Sound Horn OK

My Shabbas walk today had what I thought was a very modest goal. There is a large man made lake called Hussain Sagar with a large Buddha statue in the middle of it which I can see from my window. I thought I would stroll over there and walk the Necklace Road surrounding the lake, then back to the hotel. I thought wrong.
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?"
    but rather
   "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.

Shavua tov

Friday, October 4, 2013

Shabbat Shalom

Big country

For anyone paying way too close attention, today's explosion in India is about a 14 hour drive north of my current location. Relative to Washington, I think that would be the equivalent of a bombing in the arctic circle. Everything here is fine.


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.
4) Repeat.

The street crossing strategy is
1) Cross.*
  * 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

Awkward secession

Apparently the government that I came here to work for seceded yesterday. Should make for a productive trip...

Good Morning Hyderabad

Home Sweet Home

Appreciate the courtesy, but...

Right now my driver is responding to every question with "sir", without specifying whether that means yes or no.

Not in Kansas anymore

On the way from the airport to the hotel, I've passed multiple roadside shrines with statues of gods festooned with Christmas lights. It's 6 AM and there are people praying there.

Horrifyingly familiar

The muzak in the Hyderabad airport baggage claim area was Lady Gaga "Born This Way" and Bette Midler "Wind Beneath My Wings". Apparently our number one export is Adult Contemporary.

The air conditioning in the multi faith room in Heathrow airport is not functioning

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.