alan little’s weblog archive for april 2008

airborne random trivia

27th April 2008 permanent link

Blogging in a SwissAir Airbus 330(*) somewhere over the Arabian Sea. In about an hour, for the third time I shall land at Mumbai airport and immediately(**) leave the city. I really ought to actually visit the place some time, it being supposedly one of the world’s great vibrant cities ’n’ all. I told a colleague who comes from Mumbai that I am afraid to go there having read Shantaram(***) and Sacred Games. Oh don’t worry he said, the gangsters only shoot each other. Mostly.

What do the local papers lead me to expect? A good week for reading Indian newspapers: they are full of the great national controversy about lewd, scantily clad cheerleaders in the new national cricket league Brian Micklethwait and Michael Jennings are so excited about(****). For purely cricket-related reasons in their cases I’m sure. I couldn’t care less about cricket. In other hotness-related news, Pune – which had pleasantly mild weather three weeks ago – is apparently now in the grip of its second highest ever recorded temperatures. Sounds like an excellent time to stay indoors and watch cricket.

(*) Note To Self: think twice before flying business class with SwissAir or in a small Airbus ever again. Food, comfort and entertainment in Lufthansa big planes are vastly superior. On the other hand, Lufthansa arrives in Mumbai at two in the morning, whereas I picked this flight because Swiss gets in at ten in the evening. Maybe reconsider tomorrow morning when I’ve had the chance to appreciate the extra four hours sleep.

(**) There’s actually nothing “immediate” about leaving Mumbai. Even at the dead of night, you have to drive for nearly an hour from the airport to get clear of the outermost new housing developments.

(***) Update 1st May: liking Shantaram doesn’t come under the heading of “only recommending books about India written by Brits” because (a) Gregory David Roberts isn’t a Brit, and (b) it’s a bestseller in India too, as I discovered today in Landmark Books in Pune. Not only that: in the paper yesterday I read about a real-life character on the colourful fringes of Mumbai’s criminal world. There is a new journalistic cliché for people like this. They aren’t “Dickensian” any more, they’re “like something out of Shantaram”.

(****) Update 3rd May: Brian is still excited, but as it turns out Michael disapproves.

two by two

20th April 2008 permanent link

monkeys elephants

Family trip to Munich zoo.

I suppose I could have claimed to have taken these in a park on the outskirts of Pune three weeks ago. Only people from Pune, and people who know that only South American monkeys have long prehensile tails, could have called my bluff. General knowledge from information placards at zoos is a wonderful thing – did you know polar bears are so well insulated that they are invisible to infrared sensors?

related entries: Photography

seven million gorillas?

20th April 2008 permanent link

Michael Jennings photographs me in a beer tent at Munich’s Frühlingsfest last weekend; I photograph Michael Jennings (and mess up my white balance. Don’t use flash if you can possibly avoid it, except outdoors in bright sunlight).

me michael jennings

I like to maintain regular social contact with my fellow bloggers. I had dinner with Michael Jennings in London in (I think) 2003, and lunch with Michael Blowhard in New York in 2005. (I said “regular”, not “frequent”). If any Indian bloggers would like to recommend a good South Indian restaurant in Pune the week after next, I’m up for suggestions.

moving beyond stretching

16th April 2008 permanent link

… if you aren't on your edge, the chances are good that your mind is wandering.
Steven Barnes on yoga asana practice

for some people – me, for example – being at some kind of personal physical limit seems to help with the focus.
me on yoga asana practice

related entries: Yoga

in spite of the gods

9th April 2008 permanent link

in spite of the gods

Currently reading …

One aspect of India’s economic growth and transformation in recent years is rising prices. English language books, which a few years ago were much cheaper than they were in the west, are now about half the price or more. Nevertheless I spent a happy half hour in Landmark Books in Pune last week.

Part of the loot was Edward Luce’s In Spite of the Gods: The Strange Rise of Modern India (the cover photo is of the English edition; the American one looks boring). Edward Luce knows far more about India than I do, having lived there for years rather than months and being married to an Indian lady. He is impatient with dewy-eyed hippies who imagine India is some kind of mystical-metaphysical paradise, and rightly so. I personally think yoga is a huge contribution to world culture – I hope this won’t surprise anybody – but India isn’t only yoga, any more than Europe is only Beethoven. If you want an affectionate but clear-eyed outsider’s look at what’s really going on there these days, this looks like it’s probably the book to read.

I’m not far into the book yet; I hope I don’t end up agreeing with the amazon reviewer who thinks it starts well but is ultimately disappointing.

“Without question the best book yet written on the New India”, says William Dalrymple, and Mark Tully rates it highly too, so why should you care what I think? Go ahead and read it, if you’re at all interested in the subject.

So, do I only recommend books about India written by Brits? Nope. I talked about Vikram Chandra’s hugely enjoyable Mumbai gangster novel Sacred Games last year. I also read Edward Luce’s friend Ramanchandra Guha’s India After Gandhi: The History of the World's Largest Democracy last year. I found it dry and overly political (one can’t complain that this isn’t clear from the subtitle), but nevertheless, it's informative and makes it clear just what a fragile miracle India’s democracy is.

india, india

6th April 2008 permanent link

Just back from a week long business trip in India. Mostly in Pune, with a day in Delhi. Very productive from a professional point of view and I had a great time, but the days were filled with doing business and in the evenings our Indian business partners took their duty of hospitality to guests very seriously. I had no time at all to get out and just wander about with a camera. (I did take lots of pictures of confidential business meetings; since I have no interest in losing my job they won’t be going anywhere near the internet)

I don’t think I got more than five hours sleep any night for the whole week, and now I have a touch of jetlag on top of that, so any kind of coherent joined-up writing is out of the question. Here instead are a few random jottings about impressions of India now versus India six years ago.

I’m aware that this is not a scientific like-for-like comparison – I’m sure six years ago it was already possible to spend a week going from air-conditioned upmarket hotels to air-conditioned tech company offices in air-conditioned company cars in big cities, just as I’m sure it’s still possible now to spend weeks attending yoga schools in charming small towns where most of your local acquaintances are very traditional brahmins.

There is a huge construction boom. Driving out of Mumbai on the Pune highway you go through miles and miles of new upmarket apartment developments. Lots of heavy goods traffic on the road in the dead of night, much of it construction steel. The price of construction steel has doubled in the past twelve months. There’s such a shortage of experienced building labour that employers are starting to have to treat and pay building workers decently. This last of course is a Good Thing.

building workers

The vehicles on the road are far more modern than they were. Mostly locally built modern Japanese small cars and motor bikes, where six years ago ancient Fiats, Morrises and Enfields dominated. There are still motor rickshaws still everywhere, though – even bicycle rickshaws in the outer suburbs of Delhi – and their drivers still live in slums in between the upmarket apartment developments and state of the art business parks.

Traffic in Pune is pretty heavy, but not as bad as Bangalore was six years ago. I’m told Bangalore is worse now. Traffic in Delhi is downright efficient, even though we were there during according to local papers the heaviest April rain in years.

I manage to fit in minimal yoga practices in my hotel room in the mornings, but have to time to get out and see interesting yoga-related sites in Pune. I subsequently figure out on google maps that the Iyengar Yoga Institute is in a part of town we drove through every day to get to the office, but I didn’t see it. My acquaintance with the Osho Ashram is limited to a drive by the front gate at the dead of night.

Compared to Mysore, Pune has no monkeys and astonishingly few cows and temples. This is probably more of a climate / culture / small town versus big industrial city difference than a 2002/2008 difference. I’m told there are dates on which devout Hindus have to make devotional offerings of food to cows. In Pune on these days people drive around for ages looking for cows to feed. In Mysore you would just open your front door and there would be one right there in the street.

Considering this was North India at the start of the Indian summer and supposed to be hot, the weather everywhere was mild and pleasant. Supposed to be low thirties (celsius) in Pune, but there’s a pleasant breeze all the time and it doesn’t feel hot. Hardly any mosquitos. Thirty six in Delhi the week before we arrive, apparently, but the day we are there it’s twenty and raining heavily, which is not supposed to happen in Delhi in April. No mosquitos there either.

North Indian food is very good, but in its rich restaurant version twice a day it gets heavy pretty quickly. I still prefer South Indian.

I’m not a fan of upmarket luxury hotels, but the Imperial in New Delhi is pretty amazing.

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