Last weekend, me and wife, visited the Kala Ghoda Arts Festival. The Kala Ghoda festival takes place once a year during Feb 1st week and is considered to be one of the premier art festivals in India. The sub-festivals feature the visual arts, dance, music, theatre, cinema, literature, lectures, seminars and workshops, heritage walks, special events for children, and a vibrant street festival. While my wife has been visiting this festival since quite a few years, I have only started attending since last couple of years. The festival lasts for 10 days and every time we plan to attend the festival early but end up attending only on the last or second last day when the crowd is at its peak. This year also it was no different. We attended on the second last day and being Saturday, the place was full of people. My purpose of attending the festival was to take pictures of the arts installation which are put up. I did manage to take a few pictures but considering the number of people who were attending, it was really difficult to get clean pictures. Also this year, I found the number of installations to be less as compared to the previous years. However, the number of stalls selling “art” stuff had increased. There were a lot of stalls who were selling clothes, shoes, accessories, and home decor making me wonder if it was really an arts festival or some shopping festival. Normally we spend considerable time going through the descriptions of the installations and visiting the different stalls. However, this year looking at the number of people, we kept our visit to just 4 hours. The overall experience wasn’t that great for me because of the sheer number of people. Being from Mumbai, I am used to crowds but this was just way too much for me. Probably next year, we will visit the festival early enough or probably on a weekday to enjoy to the fullest.
Day 86/ 365 – Freebies
The general elections are just around the corner and with it the offers for freebies have started flowing from the political parties. The other day I was watching TV and saw an advertisement paid by the Indian National Congress on legalizing slums under some scheme (I don’t remember the name). I was looking at the advertisement and realized that this is the very reason hard working middle class parents want their children to settle abroad. The whole idea of legalizing something which is illegal in the first place is just atrocious. Not only have these people been living on illegally occupied place and instead of penalizing them, the government, which in most cases is hand-in-glove when these slums come up, is now awarding this behaviour by making those slums legal. By making them legal, those slums can be demolished and the dwellers can be rehabilitated in proper apartments/ houses all at not cost to the dwellers, all at the expense of the middle class income tax payers.
When I look at such schemes, what bothers me is the most is what wrong have common people like me done? Here, I am trying to buy an apartment since last one year and have not been able to buy it due to high costs and government is doling out freebies to the people who have illegally occupied the land in the first place. I think I should have just got some shanty in some slum and wait for it to be legalized to get my own apartment – that too at free of cost. It just makes middle class people, who are trying to earn their daily living in a honest manner, look like fools.
What I would also like to say is that, I am not against government helping the people moving up the social ladder. But what I am against is government turning a blind eye to such illegal activities in the first place and then legalizing it. No political party is willing to take hard steps. It just makes me wonder if there is any hope for middle class people in this country.
Day 84/ 365 – Protest against toll payment
A couple of days back, Raj Thackeray – a politician, announced that people should no longer pay toll on the highways and if need me resort to violence. To carry out his diktat, his party members/ supporters started vandalizing toll booths across Maharashtra. I read about it in the newspapers and didn’t really think about it much, forgetting the fact that I use the Western Express highway to travel to work everyday and there are two toll booths that fall along my route to work. The next day while driving I encountered bumper to bumper traffic atleast a 1.5kms before the toll booth. I was thinking that the reason for such traffic could be an accident on the highway. However, on reaching closer to the toll booth, I saw a lot of people from his political party stopping cars and speaking with passengers. I was fearing the worst – that they might vandalize the car. On reaching my car, they requested me to not pay toll. I continued to move ahead and found the toll booth heavily guarded by the police. I was wondering how will someone avoid paying the toll with such heavy police presence. The entire ruckus cost me an extra 45 mins to reach work.
I wonder what do political parties achieve by such populist measures. As per Raj Thackeray, the companies should provide better amenities for the toll tax charged. I, in principle, agree to what he says and means. But I also would blame the government who agreed to the current agreement with the contractor. If the agreement does not mention anything about better amenities, then the contractor is not obliged to do anything. Incidentally, the agreement was signed by Shiva Sena, BJP combined (Raj Thackeray was earlier part of Shiva Sena). There is also other argument floating around which says that since the project cost is recovered, toll should not be collected. To makers of such argument, I just have a simple argument to offer – the contractor is in the business to make money and earn profits. No company is going to invest in India if politicians start putting perceived thresholds on profit. Currently we have a wave of populist measures which the governments are announcing, from AAP in Delhi to NCP Cong in Maharashtra. If you look at it, all subsidies are generally paid by the government and how does the government get money – from you and me. So indirectly the tax paying people end up footing the bill and at the same time increasing the debt. I wonder when will we have governments who really understand the need of the hour and stop implementing populist reforms just for votes.
Day 80/ 365 – A visit to Asmita School
Last Sunday, me and Geeta, were invited to the Asmita School at Jogeshwari by a friend who was the chief guest for the flag hoisting ceremony on the occasion of the Republic Day. Apparently our common friend, along with his family and friends, has decided to help the school out in whatever possible manner. Asmita School supports education of kids who are from “not well to do” families. The parents of these children are normally daily wage earners and most of them are not educated at all. Asmita School provides education in Marathi and English medium to these children. We had an opportunity to meet some of the special educators who work with these children to enable them to realize their full and true potential. Most of them worked on a part-time basis and have been associated with various other schools. They have been bringing all their knowledge and experience to help the kids out at this school, which is great. We also got to visit the Balwadi, where kids from nursery to Sr. Kg, are being taught. To reach Balwadi, we walked through the slum which was behind the school. I was amazed to see the talent some of these children have. A couple of children recited shlokas in Sanskrit, while some others spoke in English, Hindi and Marathi about the Republican Day. The children also performed Koli Dance and another Goan dance while we were there. The teachers in this school teach in both Marathi and English so that the child can get admission into any other school if his/ her parents so desire.
I found the work done by the charity organization to be really good. Looking at schools, facilities etc. I felt they were doing a really good job in making these children ready for a good future. I shudder to think that if we didn’t have NGO’s such as these, so many children would have either been begging on the streets or would have taken a life of crime or would have probably become daily wage earners like their parents with no real scope of future. While the NGO is doing its bit to help, I must also appreciate the parents of these kids who are sending them to school to get educated and move ahead in life. Overall, it was a very unique and humbling experience.
Day 76/ 365 – Almost killed someone…
Last night after finishing work, I was driving back home listening to music, windows rolled down, enjoying the empty roads. I had just crossed the National Park flyover and there was a stretch of road where there were no street lights. I saw a small crowd gathered around a rickshaw on the left side of the road, but I was in the right lane didnt really care much when all of a sudden a man with suitcase who was crossing the highway came in front of the car and this wasnt even an intersection. The time to react for me very less and I hit the brakes right away and car swerved and skidded and I avoided hitting that person. I was in complete daze for the next few moments trying to understand what had just happened. At the same time, I realized I was shaking head to toe in sheer panic. Since all this happened so quickly, I was already near the Magathane flyover when I decided to stop the car for a few minutes to calm myself down.
I just started thinking what would have happened if I had hit that person. He would have probably died or atleast would have been in the hospital for a very long time and I could have been arrested by the police for reckless driving or involuntary manslaughter, even though it wasn’t my fault. The problem in India is anytime you have hit a person, and even though you are not fault, you are assumed guilty. Why? Just because you were driving the car and the “poor” man was just trying to cross the road. Even though there is a pedestrian bridges and subway built at various points on highway, people still choose to cross the road. Just a few meters ahead of the spot where this event happened, there was a footover bridge which was built so that people can safely cross. However, the man chose to cross the road. Still the police would have held me responsible saying I was speeding, or driving recklessly or in worst case scenario would say I was driving drunk.
The problem with us is that we dont tend to obey rules and I dont why. The same person who has been breaking all the traffic rules in India will obey all the rules whenever he/ she goes abroad. The part of the problem is that rules cant be implemented in India looking at number of people vs. the number of traffic policemen we have. Plus our cops are paid poorly so bribing them usually ensures that people get away with any type of traffic violation. Anyways, I am just venting right now on what could have happened etc. I am just hoping that the person who was crossing today realizes that he is very fortunate to be alive today and hopefully does not repeat the same thing again.
Day 74/ 365 – Mumbai Marathon
Yesterday, I participated in Standard Chartered Mumbai Marathon in the half marathon category. I have been running the half marathon for the last 5 years and this was the first time when I was running without any practice. I started to practice sometime around Oct/ Nov for this year’s marathon but because of scheduling conflicts I was not able to prepare for it all. I started running around 5:30 am in the morning; but then there would be sometimes I would reach home from work around 4 am and sometimes around 6 am and would be like super exhausted and just didn’t feel like going for a run(mainly because I would be tired and just felt like hitting the bed).
So I reached the race start point on time at 6 am and was hoped for the best. I did get to see John Abraham (who is the event ambassador for SCMM) and started running hoping that I would be able to complete the race. I was targeting to complete by 2 hours 45 mins and I decided to join the 2 hour 45 mins bus. I kept following the group for 6 kms before the lack of practice caught up with me and I started walking. After walking for a couple of kms, I started to run again however by this time my lack of practice had really started to hurt my legs. I was cramping up and was in some pain. At around 12 kms mark, I stopped running altogether and decided to walk to the finish line no matter how long it took. In between I met Prem, my old colleague and we talked together for a few kms before he took to finish the race.
Post this experience, I am not sure if I am going to participate in any further marathons unless I am able to practice regularly.
PS: A shoutout to all Mumbaikars for coming out to support the runners. It is really amazing to see so many people out on the streets cheering the runners and offering them with biscuits, water, bananas, and in some cases jalebis!! You guys are awesome!!!
Day 52/ 365 – House Hunt – Meeting with prospective seller
As mentioned in my earlier posts, I have been searching for a home for quite sometime. This weekend, we finally found something which we were interested in buying and so we asked the real estate agent to arrange a meeting with the seller this week. The meeting happened today and it didn’t go as planned. Since me and wife are both salaried professional, we wanted to get a home which would be financed by the bank. The bank normally finances 80-85% (depending on your credit scores and eligibility) of the agreement value. The seller however was only willing to make an agreement which was less than Rs. 49 lakh as he wanted to avoid the TDS (tax deductible at source) which needs to be paid if the agreement value is more than Rs. 49 lakhs. The total cost of the house was coming to 80 lakhs, so this would basically mean that bank would give a loan of Rs. 40 lakhs and the remaining 40 lakhs would need to be managed by me. I was very surprised on hearing this. The reason the seller cited for not making the agreement for more than Rs. 49 lakhs was that once the TDS is deducted, there is no guarantee that money would be refunded by the Income Tax officials. Apparently the seller had some really bad experiences with the tax authorities and he didn’t want to take any further chances. The estate agent asked me if there was anything I could work out. I replied in negative saying that since we are salaried, this does not work for us. The meeting finally ended with the estate agent promising to revert back to us with some kind of decision by the end of this week. Not feeling very hopeful about anything being worked out for this place.
Day 41/ 365 – House Hunt continues
After a lull of almost 5 months, I resumed house hunting a couple of weeks back. I am looking for something close to my house and prices in my area are simply too high. I went to check out a house at 15 mins walking distance from my current house. The house was a 1 room kitchen. The owner had converted the kitchen into a bedroom by converting the space in the passage into kitchen. The carpet area of the entire house was not more than 280 square feet, which is very tiny even by Mumbai standards. However, the location of the house was extremely good and the building was old with minimal water issues. But the price asked by the seller was really exorbitant. He was asking for Rs. 70,00,000 (70 lakhs). I was really surprised to hear the price and felt it was too high for the space which was available. I decided to measure the flat and it came only around 232 sq. feet. For such a small flat, I felt the asking price was too high and gave him an offer which he promptly refused. From there on, I moved to other flats and found the average sq. feet for 1 bedroom kitchen flats in my area is around 400-450 sq. feet and prices range anywhere between 70 lakhs to 85 lakhs. Oh and this amount does not include stamp duty and registration money which needs to be paid to the state government (all for doing nothing). I have been told by some agents to not calculate the price per sq.feet as it would always sound audacious. If I am considering buying a house in my area then the price I am paying is for the area. It is like the cost you pay for living in Orange County or Fairfax County, but I am not staying in the area which is even remotely close to that, so paying such absurd amount of money is just being plain stupid. I even found some sellers who were asking 50% money in cash and remaining in cheque. I started to wonder, where do these people come from and how should I person like myself arrange so much money in cash. Anyways the search is still on and I am hoping that I should be able to find something of my liking, within my budget very soon. Or may be I should play some lottery and hope to get lucky one day!!!
Day 12/ 365 – Vasai Virar Marathon
This year I have registered for Vasai Virar Marathon, which is scheduled to take place on Sunday, 27/10. I have never participated in this marathon, though I have been running the Mumbai Marathon since last 5 years. I remember running my first half marathon when me, and my best friends spent an entire night talking and then took an early morning train from Kharghar to CST to participate. I participated through a NGO then. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but at the same time was very enthusiastic for running in the event. The encouragement that people provided while running has been really great. Since then, every year I have been running Mumbai Marathon and get very excited to run. However, this time it is different. While I have gone ahead and collected the bib for the event, I am not sure if I am going to participate in the event. For this race, I haven’t been able to practice at all, due to change in the sleep cycle, and thus not very sure that I should be running for such a long distance. I tried running in the National Park over the last 2 weekends, but was not able to run more than 6 kms. So I am guessing, running a half marathon is going to be a huge struggle. Still in two minds about the race. Will probably decide if I am going or no.
Day 11/ 365 – Visit to South Mumbai
Today I went to the Press club located near CST to pick up my marathon bib for the Vasai Virar Marathon. I am running this marathon for the 1st time and as usual have not been able to prepare for it. I like traveling to South Mumbai, be it during mornings, afternoon, evenings or night. There is something beautiful about South Mumbai, which sadly is missing in the suburbs. Be it the art deco style buildings at Marine Drive or Victoria architecture which adorns the CST terminus, the cleanliness of the streets or the orderliness of the traffic (you wont find a lot of people breaking traffic rules here), the Khau Galli near Azad Maiden or the cafe’s at Colaba Causeway. Somehow I enjoy being there. The most likely reason for liking there would be – the long walks I used to have with my father when I was a kid. We would go to Fort area due to some or the other work and there was always more than one thing to do. So our preferred mode of travel would be walking. Me and dad would walk for many hours together – he would tell me where each street leads to. Since he was born and brought up there, he knew all the roads. We would go through the old Mumbai i.e. Girgaum area, where there are still chawls and buildings which are as old as 60-80 years in the narrow alleys and roads, to the swanky, post Mumbai. The best part is more often than not, we would always have lunch at an Irani eatery (which sadly no longer exists), called Bastani and have Chicken cutlet or egg pudding or just plain bun maska and chai. For me, that would be heaven. We would always ensure that we went for lunch there or if we were in Girgaum, then there is this famous vada wala, who sells sabu dana vada and piyush. There are lots of memories associated with South Mumbai for me and may be thats the reason why, I am more or less always ready to go back there.