Monday, January 18, 2010

Everyday life in India


So life is very different over here, but there are two things in particular that fascinate me – shopping and mobile phones


As previously mentioned shops do not make life easy over here – well easy compared to shopping in Ireland. In Ireland we have large supermarkets that will sell you just about anything all under one roof. In India every shop sells something different. I have identified which shop sells coffee, which has toilet roll (sometimes – although this shop is closing down so the hunt begins again), which sells milk etc.

The best part of the whole shopping experience is the shop security guy.

All the major chain stores have security at their entrance and exit points (usually two separate doors). At the entrance point you must leave all bags outside. There must be a big problem with theft over here. I can understand with such a large percentage of the population being below the poverty line that this is possible. The security guard will give you a tag which allows you reclaim your personal property once you have finished shopping. But generally they don’t take responsibility for mobile phones, Ipods etc, so I have learned to leave these at home if shopping as without a bag how are you supposed to mind them? !

It’s when leaving a shop that the real fun starts. Firstly at the check out all plastic bags are sealed – again to ensure you steal nothing on the way out. This of course is one of the many reasons Indian streets are so dirty - there's no recycling as it's impossible to re-use some stores plastic bags. The staff member at the till then stamps your receipt to say ‘paid’, even though it’s clear from the receipt that you have. You then have to produce your receipt to the exit security guard to prove that you have paid for the bags you are carrying. This is the funniest bit as generally the security guard is standing so near the cash point that they actually watch you pay in the first place. Again then they stamp your receipt to allow you to exit the shop.

I don’t know for sure but I am assuming this is some way of giving people employment. Here in India anyone with a work card (a registration card that gives them the right to work) is entitled to a minimum of 100 days paid work per year. If they apply to the government to find them a job and they cannot be found one in a certain period of time they are then entitled to a social welfare payment. This is also one of the reasons you see so many female construction and road-side workers.

Mobile phones

Over 5 million people sign up for a mobile phone every month in India. The competition between the various brands is intense. Every shop front (small traders in hut-like premises) here advertises one brand of mobile phone or another, even if they don’t sell phones or credit. But most shops do sell credit – grocers, pharmacists, even the bakery sells phone credit. The commission must be great !

I’ve signed up with an Indian mobile phone company as I got a lot of free texts at the start (all now used up), but their service is quite different from what I’ve been used to at home

Firstly, every time I text or make a call I immediately get a text from them updating my credit balance – a really good idea. But then it’s all down-hill after that.

I’m not exaggerating when I say I get at least 10 texts or calls every day trying to sell me more credit, internet access and even a dating service. Generally they are all in Oriya or Hindi, but as I’m seeing them so often I am getting used to them.

When you phone another Indian mobile phone with the intention of speaking with someone you have to hear a marketing sales pitch in Hindi, with beautiful background music, before the phone actually starts to ring.

With my network I get quite philosophical messages from them on a regular basis such as ‘Imagination in the one weapon in the war against reality’ which arrived this morning. From time to time I even get a text wishing me ‘good night’.

And then – the icing on the cake – there is no voicemail set up on the Indian mobile network, so everyone just answers their phone whenever it rings, even in the middle of office meetings.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Some Lingo !

Well having sat through a very long 2 days of a senior manager’s meeting I have decided to sit myself down and properly try to teach myself some Oriya

The meeting itself was very interesting for the most part – the most part being the part in English- but it was always the bits I was looking forward to, mainly the bits that would effect my role in HR, when people decided to speak in Oriya. In most cases this happened in the afternoon sessions, when some of my colleagues were starting to get tired and it was easier for them to turn to their native language. Even though it was frustrating I could completely understand, as I would probably have done the same.

I’ve had an Oriya book since leaving Delhi, but had thought I’d be ok for a year with my few words of Hindi. But in reality that hasn’t been the case. The people I meet every day, rickshaw drivers, shop assistants all speak Oriya. I’ve been getting away with bargaining the cost of a rickshaw journey in English and mostly numbers here are spoken in English mid-sentence and saying ‘thank you’ (danyavad) as it’s the same in both languages. But apart from that I am beginning to realize it could be worth forcing myself to learn some Oriya for the next 10 months. I definitely need to know the different fruit and veg in Oriya as most market traders trade in Oriya, having no English due to their level (or lack of) education.

And this week I have no excuse as my flat mate is gone on a field trip and so there’ll be no opportunities for gossiping in the evening. I am slowly realizing that Oriya will be more difficult than Hindi. In Oriya they rely heavily on a long ‘aw’ sound, which I sound very funny saying. It is already springing up in a lot of the vocabulary I am learning.

This coupled with 3 ways of saying ‘you’ I do wonder if I’ll ever get it.

My book says to leave the book at home and go out and practice so I guess I’ll have to.

I have also been advised that I will need Oriya if I get to go on a field trip to see a CYSD project which I hope to in the next month or so. CYSD work with remote tribal communities and it would be great if I could speak to the people I will be spending a few days with. One of my colleagues had advised me that the tribal communities would be able to understand my Hindi, but would not be able to reply to me in Hindi – so Oriya it is.

And then is it ‘Oriya’ or ‘Odiya’?

Am I living in ‘Orissa’ or ‘Odissa’?

It’s all down to where I am and to whom I am speaking. ‘Orissa’ and ‘Oriya’ is Hindi, but locally it’s ‘Odissa’ and ‘Odiya’. Most states here in India, and Odissa is no exception, are quite territorial and prefer to use their own native languages.

India has many languages, and yes I do mean languages, not dialects. Odiya may be a bit easier to learn if it was a dialect of Hindi, but unfortunately for me it’s a completely different language.

But just to confuse me I’ll have to keep up some Hindi. If I ever leave Odissa and decide to travel, being fluent (I wish !) in Odiya will be of no use to me whatsoever. I may as well be speaking Irish if I try Odiya outside the state. The official national language is Hindi, and most people in larger cities will understand, but after that having the state language is the safest bet. Unfortunately it’s a misconception that everyone here in India speaks English. Offices, Banks, Hotels are all fine with English, but after that it’s just pot luck.

On a final note – I wonder if my brain will ever start to register that when someone shakes their head from side to side they are saying ‘yes’. It’s still taking me a few seconds to realize they are agreeing with me and not saying ‘no’ as it would mean at home.

Tuesday, January 5, 2010

2010 begins ......

2010 started out with an office sport’s day. I went into the office on 1st January and proceeded to get some work done, when bit by bit my colleagues started arriving into the HR office to say ‘Happy New Year’ in English and to each teach me a few words in Oriya. When one realized I was actually working, he told me I should stop as no work is ever done on 1st January. It’s a pity I wasn’t told that the day before as I had been in the office since just after 8am and the first visitor I had to the office was after 10.30 !

It was explained to me that all they do here on 1st January is wish each other well, have a communal office lunch and play sports in the gardens for the afternoon. And to top it all off the person telling me this was handing me his resignation so he could go off for a year to be a VSO volunteer.

The afternoon was great fun. It was hilarious to watch a group of adults fight over the chairs in musical chairs. The way people walked slowly, then ran to be sure they were at a chair when the music stopped, just as children do was very funny. But then the real rivalry started – India vs Pakistan in a cricket match. The rules were changed slightly to ensure it didn’t go on forever, but as could have been predicted India won by 6 wickets (You will know that what I know of the rules of cricket could be written on the back of a postage stamp, but saying ‘won by 6 wickets’ sounds like I know something about the game. Damien if you’re reading this and a team can’t win by 6 wickets please let me know).

Naturally when the result was announced by our very fair referee it was time for chai. We all sat around the garden and it was after chai was served that the sign-song started. Soon enough there seemed to be a sing-off starting up from opposite sides of the circle of chairs – mind you this is a pure guess as it was all in Oriya or Hindi and my morning lessons wouldn’t have been enough for me to work this out, so instead I just sat back and enjoyed.

At the end of the afternoon we were all presented with our new year gift of a water bottle, a very important thing to have when in approx 6 weeks we’ll be facing into the summer heat over here. I’d like to say I’m looking forward to that, but I’m not sure. And this is
coming from the girl who has been cold the last few evenings when it has dipped below 20 degrees !

That same afternoon I got very excited when having applied for a bank account 4 weeks ago a couriered envelope was sitting on my desk. I joyfully opened it thinking ‘finally my debit card’ to find the envelope contained no debit card and a cheque book which I will never use. I phoned my bank contact on Monday morning who 4 weeks earlier had told me how great the banking system is over here and that I’d have everything within 7 days to ask what had happened. As it turned out he was on his way to meet me at the office – quote ‘I’ll be there in 5 mins’ which actually was 1 ½ hours later - to then tell me I had to reapply for the debit card and sign another form. When asked for an explanation there was none. Thankfully my office colleagues were as annoyed as I was and I think he got the message, assuring me it would be couriered over to me within 7 days (I’m not holding my breath). It had all started out so great when he arrived to the office on my first day here with all the necessary forms and I didn’t have to go looking for a bank. Ah well, I guess it was too good to be true.

I had my first trip to Puri on Saturday. Approx 2 hours from
Bhubaneswar is the coastal town of Puri. We traveled by bus and believe me when I say I will never complain about Irish busses again. All the busses here are from times past, but having the habit of being early paid off as I got a seat. There is no particular schedule to busses over here. They just go when they are full – and I mean full as in no standing room left.

Puri is not really a seaside tourist resort as we’d know it. Certainly nothing like Goa which is further north. But tourists are discovering bit by bit it as it is meant to be good for surfers.

As it was just a day round trip we found a nice fish restaurant and shopped for some locally handmade nic-nacs to decorate our apartments. Naturally being a sea-view restaurant it was a bit pricy for the local market, but it sold fish. You need to be here to understand how excited I now get when I see fish or meat on a menu. My body won’t know what hit it when I come home in November and get back to eating a non-veg diet.(Still not brave enough to buy chicken from the local stalls!) Before heading home we took time to dip our toes in the reasonably warm water and watch the sun set.

Getting home was the adventure of the day. We had approached the bus from the rear and did not see the destination sign which would usually be on the front window. We confirmed that the bus was going to Bhubaneswar and just assumed it was going to stop at the bus depot where we had started out from. Of course nothing is that simple over here. My friend, AnnMarie got off the bus early as it passes her house, but I stayed on it until it stopped approx 300 metres further in. The driver got off and I thought maybe he’s gone out for chai – which wouldn’t be unusual. But I was completely wrong. They were changing drivers as the bus was going to Cuttack, not the local bus station. When the Indians on the bus saw me patiently sitting at the back they tried in their best Hinglish to advise me to get off. At this point it was after 9pm, very dark and I had no idea where in the city I was. I then passed a shop and bought some chocolate knowing that I’d be grateful for it by the time I reached home.

I then found an auto rickshaw and told him I needed to get to Ekamra Gardens (the local site auto drivers would know and from where I could then walk to my apartment). He quoted me Rs50 which was reasonable and off we went. He then brought me to another road and I finally worked out that he didn’t know where he was going. When it seemed to register he asked me for another Rs150. Even though he had very little English he understood the words ‘ripped off’ and ‘traffic police’ at which point I got out and walked away, not paying him a penny. He must have known he was in the wrong as he just drove away.

I then found another auto driver who told me he didn’t go to that side of the city but proceeded to flag down another auto and negotiated the trip for Rs80 for me, which considering the distance we then drove was very good. To be honest I would have paid Rs800 as I was at the point of needing that bar of chocolate. One of the good guys. And more importantly ‘thank you Cadburys’.

Normally I would have no issues with not knowing where I am, but over here it is rare to see a woman out after 9pm and even though it’s actually safe to be out, it just adds to the staring, which I have gotten used to in the day, but have yet to get used to in the dark.

My flat mate, Anouck, returned from her Christmas break, just in time for her birthday on Monday. We had a great night out at a city restaurant. It was very reasonably priced serving a mix of Indian and Thai food. Being Monday it wasn’t a mad night out. But plenty of those to come. We’re already arranging a Valentine’s Day party, a St Patrick’s Day party (of course!) the Jens’ birthday party (there are 2 Jens here and our birthdays are one after another) and I’m sure more birthdays throughout the year. Well, you know what they say ‘all work and no play makes Jen a dull girl’.

And all of this on top of 30 days annual leave and 13 public holidays. Really explains why they work 6 days per week over here.