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Wednesday
Jul062005

Elephanta Caves - Three heads are better than one

This is another snippet of our recent India trip. My in-laws decided to treat us to a "elephanta caves trip" for our anniversary. Unfortunatly we had to fly back to the US on the same night. But we did have a great time. We travelled by car, boat, train and plane in 24 hours.. the bullock cart or horse cart would have completed the transport gamut.

First we went to the Gateway of India by Car. This was followed by a boat ride to the elephanta island. This almost takes two hours and we passed many tredging boats, oil tankers, defense ships etc. My father in law who is a shipping expert, gave me a detailed acccount of every type of vessel we saw on the water. My daughter was also running around the boat. It was very pleasant.

When we got off the boat though, it was extremely hot. Luckily there was a train to take us to the base of the caves. It was more like an open toy train but it pulled a 120 people comfortably. It was a relief, for such a hot day.

We went on to climb to the top of the mountain to reach the caves. The steps were very steep. We decided that my wife should go on a hand carried chair (palanquin of sorts). Four guys carry this chair to the top for a fee. Our first plan was to have our daughter go in the chair with my wife. She insisted on climbing the stairs on her own and just as the guys went out of sight promptly raised her hands towards me and gave the signal "carry me !".

This slowed us down a bit and by the time we reached the top, I was drenched and had to get rid of my shirt. My mother in law's leg started swelling as well. So the girls decided to take rest inside the caves while the boys decided to go explore.

The size of the sculptures and the pillars were amazing. Here are some sample pictures.

The best part was the three headed Shiva which had a beatific expression.
After taking pictures we made our way back to the boat.
It was a strenous trip but we were all happy. The day was coming to a close and by night we would be on a plane and trip would be behind us. My in-laws made our anniversary a memorable one.

Tuesday
Jul052005

Getting Naked (not a NC17 post)

In my recent swimming classes, I am being exposed ! to the public shower. Having never used a public shower in my life (other than in temple ponds and the like) I was quite shocked to see that 90% of the guys walk in naked ! My wife confirmed that the same thing was true in the ladies shower room.

My daughter, who has so far been protected from having to see naked adults walking freely was naturally curious in that shower. When my wife and daughter had come to watch my first swimming lesson, my daughter wanted to go to the restroom. My wife took her to the ladies restroom and came back with a glum look on her face. My daughter was staring at the other ladies in there who were walking around.

It is going to get worse when I take my kid to the "parents and tots" class. I am sure she will stare longer when she sees a bunch of naked guys walking around, unless my wife agrees to come to every lesson with us. This brings me to the fundamental question..

How do you tell a kid that it is not okay to get naked in front of others when so many people around us are immune to it ? Even if I shower with my trunks on and use a towel when I change, I cannot expect the other people in the shower to do the same thing. In fact the two other guys in the shower were looking at me like there was somthing wrong with me. I am pretty sure I am no homophobe, but it is something in the way that I was raised that makes me uneasy about this whole shower business. But teaching my kid what accepted levels of nudity in front of others (shower or otherwise) is going to be a challenge. Lets see how my engineering brain deals with this one !

Monday
Jul042005

Swimming of Age !

You have all heard of the phrase "coming of age". Swimming of Age is what is happening in my life now.

To set the background for this story, it all started when I was five years old. Some astrologer, unknown to me, decides to tell my overprotective mother that her son will have a near death or deadly experience if he goes in the water. In spite of living 5 minutes away from the beach, I had to stay content with watching the waves and maybe putting my feet in knee deep water. Any deeper and I would have to deal with mom.

Life went on and in sixth grade when my english teacher started teaching us grammar from "Wren and Martin" (remember the big fat red book), she wrote "Swimming is a good exercise" and underlined swimming, (for the curious folks, she was teaching us "gerunds"). Having put a "note to self" in class that day, I rolled on the floor at home trying to force my parents to sign me up for swimming lessons. My father said "whatever your mom says" and mom said "NO".

Life continued to go on and I came to grad school in United States. We went to Lake George in upstate New York where me and my buddy Suresh went to waist deep water. Suresh didnt know how to swim either but he was optimistic that in case we slip and fall, the lifeguard will take care of us. He ventured a few feet forward. The point that I have to make here is that suresh is almost a foot taller than me. A tug boat went past us and suddenly i was nose deep in water! I grabbed suresh and in the process pulled him down. A few tense moments later we were both standing again. Maybe mom and the goddamn astrologer were right ?

A few more years pass by and I am a dad now. I decided that my toddler should not be "aquatically challenged". So I went to sign her up for swimming lessons. The class was called "parents and tots" and the swim center said "one parent should accompany the child in water. It is preferable that the parent can swim and that way the kid is encouraged to take to the water". I had my defence "I dont know how to swim", but my wife had two things going for her. She didnt know how to swim and she was pregnant. So, "yours truly" signed up for swimming lessons and I had exactly one month to learn to float.

I have gone for two classes and I can now float. But I did create a scene at the swim center where I lost my balance learning to kick and I surfaced gasping for breath. My teacher, a very patient woman exclaimed " you are in 4 feet water. Didnt I tell you that anytime you feel uncomfortable, all you have to do is stand up ? ". Now this may seem funny to you, but that is what I call "Swimming of Age".

Sunday
Jul032005

Oakland Zoo - Toddler tested, Dad approved !

Today we went to the Oakland Zoo. I have been pushing my wife for this trip for at least since the beginning of spring. Many of my friends have told me that this zoo is really kid friendly. My brother in law is visiting us for the long weekend and I got some help from him to make this trip possible.

This zoo is really toddler friendly. Almost everyone walking around had a kid stroller. I have visited many zoo's across the United States but the usual crowd is a mix of animal lovers and conservationists but this zoo presented an unusual number of kids in the under 5 age group. There were plenty of places to absorb the kids interest. They gave us combs to brush the goats ! which my daughter loved.

There were plenty of spaces where you could sit and feed your child, provided she was in the mood to eat. In spite of the portable DVD player blaring out "barney is a dinosaur" our little one gave us a tough time. A lot of distraction can work against you in cases like this.
The cafe had the chairs located in shaded areas so you didnt have to endure the sun. Not to mention the nice settings for the animals and they covered the most important wild ones. They even had a special australian section with wallabys and emus !Almost all the animals looked healthy except for the camels which apparently are healthy but due to the season are shedding their hair (so they looked diseased and my daughter thought they were dying!).

The sky ride was amazing but I could only take my daughter. Pregnant women werent allowed. I guess that makes sense because once you get on this ride you cant get out (you are literally going on top of all the wild animal enclosures) and they were very strict about the rule, which also made sense since I counted at least 8-10 pregnant women walking around the zoo today.

My daughter loved the sky ride. She saw the elephant taking a bath from the top and she couldnt stop talking about it for the next 15 minutes. We also saw the african sand setting with the giraffe's which was really well made.
The Bison herd is also visible on another hill from the sky ride (only way to see them I guess).

We went to take a closer look at the elephants by popular demand and took photographs.

We came down and went on the train. This was another big hit. The only thing was that they charge you separately for the sky ride, train ride and all the other little rides for kids. That would be okay except they accept only cash at the counters and if you dont have cash you are out of luck because the ATM at the gift shop doesnt work. They would only give you cash if you bought stuff for six bucks or more. We were going to buy something to remember the trip anyways, so we got some magnets, finger puppets and the likes to get the cash. On the whole the trip was a big sucess, especially for the toddler.

Friday
Jul012005

Bribes - Changes over time

70's :

When I was still a little boy, Bribes were considered shameful. People who took bribes were talked about in my house in hushed tones. (we are taking lower middle class perceptions here).

80's :

Bribes were more commonplace in real life, movies. We used to talk about how friends and relatives who were known to take or give bribes werent being punished by god and seemed to be living more comfortably ! The taboo was slowly lifting.

90's

Bribes were legalized thanks to terms like "capitation fee" for college admissions and "fast track" fee for jumping the line in telephone exchanges. We are talking about the sprouting of "self financing colleges" in the month or so of Janaki's Chief Ministership. These things were considered bad things at one time. But most of these colleges have developed over time and are now producing high quality engineering graduates who have taken the world by surprise. Today, the average Chennaivasi has a cell phone and those land line connections which required an 8000 rupee payment (instead of the 3000) for jumping the line are long forgotten. People get used to the concept that given the extra payment, we can get faster access to phones, education, bisleri water and Gods like Thiruppathi Balaji and Madurai Meenakshi.

Now :

Bribes are a common theme in tamil movies today (Vivek's comedy in general, Anniyan etc. are classic examples) and Tamil Serials (even today in some serial my wife was watching, a cop takes bribes collected by his subordinates and hands it back to an old man!) and not to mention, in real life. The derogatory connotation seems to be only in movies and teleserials. The average man has either accepted it or legitimized it. But reality is that, now you are forced to give the bribe and sugarcoat it in other terms. Lower middle class folks who were trying to balance their budgets are now doing the same thing but instead of bargaining with mango vendors and dress sellers, they are now trying to minimize the bribes they have to give !

Future

Currently a lot of companies in India have a scheme of paying their employees a fixed income and a non fixed income (?!) which includes a bunch of allowances. Employees exploit this system where they claim medical expenses, petrol charges, haircuts and what not with the added advantage of not having to pay taxes on these amounts. This is a legitimate way to bribe employees. While these are not like stock options, they are the future of payscales in the country. Pretty soon, bribes as a term will not exist. It will be fully legitimized as "variable pay" and an auction type capitalistic system will evolve for the rich and a "fixed pay" system will be set up for the lowest common denominator. The people who cannot afford much will pay a minimum for the poorest form of any service (be it in terms of time, quality or quantity) and the people who can afford anything will bid for better quality service where quality is proportional to pay.

What is the downside ?

1. Honest people who delude themselves into thinking that bribes are bad get hurt : example is the honest priest in Pazhani (everyone has to get with the program !).

2. People like me who feel that gods should be bribe exempt, get hurt. My wifes ex-colleague from Bombay came to visit us when we were on vacation. He said "hi, why is it that we have different tickets for balaji temple and more money means faster access.. i havent seen that in any temple in the north or west!". My answer to him was that Balaji was a busy god and he has more demand than supply (only so many people can pass by his shrine in any given day and so his stock price is up!.

3. People who cross the borderline between bribery and thievery like the winch operator who makes you sit on the side if you dont pay extra or a temple employee who yells at people in a temple line but lets you bypass the line if you pass him a fiver hurt people.

There is no downside till everyone gets on the same page, but until then...