Monsoon’s Diary

“Rain and High tide pour misery on Mumbaikars” – screams today’s Mumbai edition of Times of India. I find this inimical response so ironical and take this with a pinch of salt.  Till the end of May when my cousin Surya (Sun) was scorching the length and breadth of India – a great country in this planet, one thing in everybody’s lips was – “When will “I” arrive this year”?  But when I arrive and decidedly with a bang, I notice that the tunes of the thankless human beings have changed just in a week.   It’s been a week since I decided to make my  annual presence felt in India starting from the West coast, Kerala, Mangalore and then finally hitting the commercial capital – Mumbai and then will move on to other parts of the country except certain pockets.  I normally take a break in September and then visit again via the eastern coast – Orissa, Tamil Nadu,.. in Oct/ November in another avatar.  The ride to this country is one which I enjoy every year and for many reasons.

monsoon

The fact that my arrival on time and presence in many parts of the country decide the economic fortunes of the country gives me a high. Economists start forecasting a bullish GDP growth and government authorities rush to announce the good news when I behave properly. After all good rains ensure a good crop and they say that the farmer community happily spends the surplus disposable income on consumer durables, clothes, better lifestyle for their children and what have you, thereby pushing growth.

While on GDP forecasts I like to be on the right side, the other forecasts where I have fun in proving wrong is of the Met department and those “MRF” guys.  So invariably I make sure that they get it wrong:) Do you like it if somebody starts predicting your behavior in advance on your face???  Or do they ask me before they do their predictions? I see that today the department has warned the Mumbaikars to brace for heavy rains in the next two days.  Well, now you know what is going to happen and let me let the cat out of the bag. You can coolly walk without even an umbrella in the next 2 days!  When the MRF guys start advertising that the MRF Rain day is 2 days away – I ensure that they get it wrong. But does it matter?  Irrespective of whether they get it right or not, they have been doing this branding for decades now. And there is the “betting economy” around me – reason enough for me to behave arbitrarily. Ofcourse once in a while I do toe the line of the Met department – that is purely out of sympathy with the guys there so that they don’t lose their jobs!

But one set of guys who I wish, do lose their jobs year after year are the ones in the Municipal Corporation in Mumbai (BMC). They do a shoddy job of the road maintenance and I have to hear from you guys day in day out as you suffer in traffic jams for hours together during my season.  BMC-Contractor nexus and the ensuing corruption ensure that instead of a permanent solution of having “Monsoon proof” roads you have last minute patch of the pot holes. When I visit Mumbai for 3 months and see the city from the top, I feel that it should be re-named as “Moonbai” as the surface resembles craters of the Moon!!!  In between potholes you find bits of pieces of road. I find it extremely ironical that the people of Mumbai don’t realize that they are being taken for a literal roller coaster ride and keep voting for the same party term after term. They should visit the southern state of Kerala where also I play around quite a bit, but the authorities there have cracked the road issue and I don’t find such pathetic roads as in Mumbai. Guess in Mumbai the authorities just eat your funds.

Talking of eating, hot tea with samosas, pakoras, bajiyas and all those panoply of oil smacked snacks find their place in the Sun or rather Monsoon during these months when I visit.  I keep hearing that there is a lot of romanticism around just sitting, watching me – drinking copious cups of tea and polishing snack plates without doing any work. I feel that in this “I” am only an excuse. Like they say, “Men just don’t need any reason to drink”, I guess people don’t need any reason to just laze around.

Surprisingly the lawmakers in India – the MPs don’t laze around when I’m around. Parliament session is called around this time and the whole session is named after me as the “Monsoon session”! It’s another matter that no legislative business happens these days in the Parliament with walk outs becoming the norm. Ordinary citizen calls for “Bandhs” to protest while the privileged ones (MPs) call for “Walk outs” to protest.  All work and no walk outs make the Indian ruling Jacks dull boys you see!!!

Without me realizing I do feel that I come down heavily on children.  They can’t play out in the open and that indeed makes them dull and if they do venture out – they can’t escape feeling under the weather!!! Doctors have a field day. My season is Diwali season for pharma companies!!!  And there is this whole range of business around Me. Umbrellas, Rain wear, Rain shoes,…,… Is the ubiquitous black umbrella part of folklore now? What I see is the more coloured variants resembling costumes from Rohit Shetty’s movies. I’ve no complaints though.

But you guys have many complaints when I don’t arrive on time or miss a season or be more generous in my presence in a year.  There are reasons for all of that. I’m not going to venture into listing up those here as they are well-known and documented. What I find interesting is people don’t follow the “Do’s” and “Don’ts” and then crib about me doing the damage. Also start trying to please me. For example people try to delight me with music. Mythology has it that I am associated with Raga – “Amirthavarshini” (Indian Carnatic) and RaagMegh Malhar” (Hindustani Classical). Yes these are indeed my favourites.  If they are not in your favorite lists yet, please do listen to “Sudhamayi” (Amirthavarshini) and Megh Malhar by Pandit Jasraj and add them.  I am also overwhelmed by the reference to me in many Indian movies – Hindi or regional. My picks from that is Ganan Ganan from Lagaan (That boy Rahman is a genius I say) and Classical and Play back singer Unnikrishnan’s Tamil film song “Mazhai, Mazhai”. Do click on the links to listen if you like.

I sincerely hope a day soon will come when people don’t accuse me of pouring misery in their lives for, my karma in life is to bring cheers to earth and humanity.  So to wind up, here’s  joke on me to cheer you up.

It was a year when there was no rain in Kerala. Obviously concerned, mallus all got together and did pujas, havans,.. to please the Rain God Varuna.

Varuna was pleased.

The next day it rained. And that too heavily.

Not in Kerala but in Dubai.

Mallus went and complained to Varuna

And Varuna said – “Seeing so many of you guys there I mistook Gulf coast for Kerala coast” !!! 😦

Joke courtesy: Sudarshan

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“Chinpressions” – Impressions from my 1st China visit

It was a country which I was eagerly looking forward to visit for quite some time simply for 3 reasons. One, Seeing is Believing.  Around 1990, the GDP of India and China were almost similar. Today 20 years hence, China’s GDP is 2.5 times bigger than ours!   Was keen to see this miraculous change. Two, my trip to China twice in the past got scuttled and hence that added to the eagerness this time around.  Three, was keen to know how a communist country has successfully “manufactured” Capitalism?

It was a short trip that too on business to Shanghai with little free time to discover the city fully.  Nevertheless that time was enough to feel spell-bound some times, amazed most of the times! The view of the city while landing reminded of Singapore with pretty views of symmetrical roads, tall buildings, and manicured golf courses –in short features of a planned city.  Once out of the airport I could see a sudden rush of the local people to smoke and poor me I was engulfed in a chamber of Carbon Monoxide!  With 350 mn. smokers, China is the smoking capital of the world. Later on I would read that smoking related diseases cost China up to US$47.6 bn. every year! (The Ministry of health was intending to include Anti-smoking drugs and related treatments in the nation’s public insurance system for this reason!) For a city which is supposed to be most populous city in China, what amazed me most was I never felt the city crowded and buzzing with people !!

The weather was absolutely pleasant at 18°C and coming from Mumbai which had already started to scorch with the advent of summer, it was indeed a welcome change !

In Shanghai I could see majority of cars on the road being Volkswagen (including the taxis).  I was told that depending upon where the factory was, companies get tax benefits and so the prices of a particular brand is lower in a region and that brand dominates that region. So Shanghai was VW city. While on the subject of cars, it was interesting to note that China became the world’s biggest market for BMW in April this year overtaking Uncle Sam!  By the way, China is already the largest market for BMW’s premium segment rival Audi.  While on cars, must add that 15th April the day I landed at Shanghai was the day of the “Shanghai Grand Prix”. Nico Rosberg won the race – but I was told that the race itself was boring as he led the race from start to finish !

It’s not uncommon to come into China with one’s own prejudices like – “everything would be cheap”. Well, it was not to be. I was in for surprise when I saw in a Hypermarket like Carrefour things were either more expensive or at similar price points as in India.  Also generally branded things in the malls/stores were expensive than India. Another myth which got busted during my conversations was that labour in China is very cheap. It seems that it is no longer the case. The minimum salary/month for a factory worker is fixed by the Govt. at US$ 200. And this is irrespective of the location within China it seems. What differ from company to company are the benefits like Overtime multipliers, housing,.. I’m sure there are cities in India/Indonesia/Vietnam where the labour costs are around US$80-US$100 /month.  However it is the manufacturing ecosystem which is prevailing in China which makes it the factory for the world.

While on this “low cost ” issue I would like to share this article from “The Economist” which I just stumbled upon which almost reinforces my above finding on ” Low Cost China myth”.

http://www.economist.com/node/21549956?fsrc=nlw|pub|4-25-2012|1503018|73958874|AP

Similarly as I prepared for the trip, I also was mentally preparing myself for the gastronomic ordeal I will have to go through being a Vegetarian. Well, it was not so bad.

Throughout my stay I never encountered the familiar trappings of an emerging economy like fleecing taxi drivers, beggars in the streets, touts in the markets,.. which reminded me of the fact that China is no more an emerging economy but an economy which has arrived. But some old habits die-hard. So you could see drivers honking loudly, cigarette butts all around, aggressive lane cutting while driving,… And interestingly in some of the buildings one could see rods protruding out of the windows and were used for hanging clothes. It is my usual habit on foreign trips to engage in friendly conversations with the cabbies to understand the country behind the headlines/breaking news.  However I couldn’t do this here due to the language barrier Great wall!

Since I couldn’t believe my eyes that things are so very expensive, I enquired at the hotel specifically for the market for cheap goods.  Then they told me the existence of “Official” fake markets where the “Louis Vuittons” and the “Burberrys” of the world get hawked by enterprising Chinese salesmen/girls to hapless ‘Gora’ tourists at sky rocketing prices. These are the epicenters for “IP” violations! The general rule here is to offer 10 % of the quoted price and settle down somewhere between 25 – 30 % of the original quoted price!!!  Shopping here could be a very unique and adventurous experience for many though I suspect not so much for us Indians!

FDI down for 5th month” screamed Shanghai Daily, “Fifth FDI fall amid EU woes” said China daily on the 18th April both leading English newspapers. This showed the importance the Chinese were attaching to FDI as a means for propelling their economy.  So here we are at China the capital of Communism expressing serious concerns of falling FDI while back home our communists and their ilk block FDI of any kind and treat it as a four letter word!

Maglev TrainTime to pack up – I was told not to miss on the Maglev train trip” experience to the airport. The Maglev (originating from Magnetic Levitation) trains have been operational in Shanghai from 2004 and connect the city to the Pudong International airport. A distance of about 29 kms. was covered in 7 mins. and 20 seconds flat!  At 301kmph the loudest noise was not of the ticking clock! Not surprisingly it is a tourist attraction in Shanghai today!

Few years ago the CM of Maharashtra said that they would transform Mumbai into Shanghai in 5 years.  Either he was blind or we the people who keep voting for their party are dumb, I don’t know. But the politicians who are running our country oblivious of the strides the world is making and failing our nation are certainly blind, deaf and dumb.

Pudong Intl AirportAs I was waiting for the boarding call near the gate at the swank Pudong International airport at the end of my visit, I couldn’t resist a key question.  If China has made such giant rapid strides which are visible and the Govt. has been an enabler in this transformation, why should it fear public opinion?  Why should there be such tight controls on freedom of expression? Why should Facebook/Twitter or for that matter WordPress be muzzled???  A three-day trip that too on business was too short to find answers to such intriguing questions.  Do you have any views on this? I would be keen to hear.