Thursday, September 29, 2011

Administrative efficiency

I belong to a generation of drivers in India when the driving licenses were written by hand and looked like a small book. After 12 years of driving around while carrying it in my pocket and through sweat, rain, mud and other elements of nature, it was tattered beyond recognition. So I decided to upgrade myself to the latest state-of-the-art Smart-card based driving license that the state government introduced a few years ago.

The Shiny New Driving License

Like I have already mentioned before, going to government offices in India is generally considered a nightmare. So we got agents everywhere (even outside the offices itself!) that promise to make your life easy. Most of them reign on FUD and tell you that its almost impossible to do any activity in a Government office without paying a bribe or spending insane amounts of time and several visits. So the naturally gullible citizen decides to pay the agent upfront to get her work done.

Now the brave soul I am, I have been experiencing India (Mumbai) in its element for a while now. So I decided, I take time off my priceless routine and actually experience how bad this license change procedure actually is.

The RTO in Vashi is situated inside the APMC (Sec-19) (not welcoming to begin with). I chose Tuesday morning as a strategic time to visit. Saturdays are nightmare to go to Government offices. There is a spill over crowd from the weekend that keeps Mondays busy. So generally Tuesday and Wednesday mornings are the best times to go.

When I reached the office, I was pleasantly surprised to see hardly any crowd. I approached an officer who helpfully guided me through the procedure. This is very unlike public perception that Government officials are rude. Well, to be fair, he was not all smiling and happy – but then I am not expecting that level of pretentious service from them. He even went through the pains of fixing my form for me (wherever I had left the simple form empty!).

He asked me to then go to the payment counter. I was assuming, I would be asked to pay more than the receipt (corruption for morons). But they charged me 250 rupees and provided me with a receipt for the same! That too with no complaints for not providing exact change (its a sin to carry higher value notes).

The receipt

Then, I was redirected to a room where my photo, thumb print and signature were taken. There too the lady official was sweet enough to warn me in advance “Sir, your photo will be taken now”. Most places where my ID photos are taken, I am caught unawares so my photo makes me look like a convict. Here, I could smile like an ape with a banana in his hand (well that part is my fault not theirs). She also asked me to verify that my signature made sense (cause you have to write on a touch-sensitive electronic pad!). Then she told me that the driving license would be delivered to my home address and I could go home now!

Total time in RTO office = 20 minutes. Total time spent by me in filling the form = half of it. I am mighty impressed by the way our RTO works. I am sad to see an article in DNA India that they did not have a similar experience in Andheri RTO.

Exactly 3 days later, I got my shiny new license in my mail delivered to my doorstep. Just for kicks, I asked a local agent how much would he charge me to get my license renewed. He said 1000 rupees. That's 4 times the amount that the RTO actually charges, and that too for doing nothing special!

The Envelope

Welcome to the new India. Like I said before, India at grassroots is not as corrupt as it is at the higher levels in the administration.

Saturday, September 24, 2011


Biology was never my subject of choice in school. Except for the birds and the bees part of it, I found everything else fairly boring. Last week however, I had the chance to do some research on a flower, so I thought I share with you some of my new found knowledge.

In India there is a flower popularly known as the “Brahma-Kamal”  which literally translated would stand for Brahma (the Hindu God of creation) Lotus the flower(And for a moment if you visualized Brahma whizzing around in a Lotus (car), don’t worry, you are not alone!). Now my knowledge of Brahma’s relation to the lotus is limited to the fact that he is supposed to be sitting in a lotus that grew out of Vishnu’s (the Hindu God of preservation) navel. Anyway, this flower is supposed to bring good luck. It blooms rarely and it blooms and wilts over one night. My mom has had the flowering plant potted for close to 5 years now and we never had a chance to see it bloom, till last week.

After seeing a bud, we were obviously excited, and we were all prepared for the flower to bloom. I took out my camera only to realize that it was no longer working. Luckily I could borrow a camera (Sony DSC-H10) from a friend of mine and all the pictures that I took are thanks to him. The funny part is – his camera was so sophisticated that however hard I tried, the flash kept whitewashing my entire image and I couldn’t take a picture at all. Finally I came up with this stupid idea that I would light the flower using an ordinary white-light based emergency lamp and then take pictures with the flash off. The pictures have been put here for your viewing pleasure.

The pseudo BrahmakamalDutchman's Pipe

Another angleClose up

Now for some trivia. Being the wanna-be geek I am, I obviously did some googling around before posting this blog. Apparently, the flower that is actually termed the “Brahmakamal” is Saussurea obvallata and is found in the Himalayas. It looks like the one shown below:

The real Bramhakamal

The flower that grew in our house was actually  a Epiphyllum oxypetalum (also known as Dutchman’s pipe, Night queen or Nishigandhi). It is a type of cactus (a variety of nightblooming Cereus). And there goes away all my luck! How I wish I hadn’t googled and remained happy with the fact that there was indeed good luck blooming in our house!

Monday, September 12, 2011

Sweaty encounter

Bumped into some more celebrities this weekend. However since I have already finished my quota of celebrity spotting on this blog, I think I will let you know a retro celebrity incident that happened to me a long while ago.

For the few of you who do not know, I am quite a pseudo-adventure junkie. By pseudo I mean, I love adventure, but I am such a chicken that I do things that I know are statistically safe. So I don’t do death defying stunts, but I like things like sitting on a roller coaster and shouting away to glory.

Reverse Bungee

Singapore (at that time) just had 2 adventurous things to do for the roller coaster aficionado – a Reverse Bungee and an Extreme swing. Being a student also entitled me to a student discount. That's the reason I did that quite a few times (yeah call me a cheapskate). One of the times while I was standing in a queue and was just about to sit on the Reverse Bungee, a bunch of burly guys came out of no where, pushed me aside and let through a petit looking guy who at that time seemed a bit weird to me. I was annoyed obviously (after having waited in anticipation and building up all the excitement it was obviously disheartening). Also Singaporeans are generally so disciplined  that even if in the middle of a busy mall you start walking behind a random person, everyone around you will all of a sudden start following you two in a single file line (very much unlike my Mumbai).

But when the guy got onto the ride, I suddenly noticed a lot of 16 something girls shouting out to him. That's the time I realized the entire place behind me was packed with at least 100 odd girls who were screaming at the top of their voice some name that I could not decipher. I figured he must be some sort of a rock star musician from a boy band. I meekly waited for him to finish his ride.

Now people who have sat on a roller coaster know that once the ride starts, you involuntarily start shrieking and shouting. I could see his face, he was shit scared, but still he had to put up a brave face for all his pretty fans. I can go all “Mom I wanna pee, I wanna pee” on a roller coaster and no one would even bother to see who is saying that.

Anyways after the ride was over and he was done waving to his fans and blowing kisses he walked down to me and actually said, “Thanks bud” and shook my hand. Now, I still don’t have a clue who he was, but that was the first time in my life that 100 odd gals looked at me (well yeah they were disappointed why they weren’t lucky enough to get to shake hands with this guy!). Anyways, his hands were sweaty, so I just smiled and casually wiped my hands on my friend’s shirt while he was not looking.

I will always wonder, which celebrity I actually shook sweaty hands with!

Monday, September 5, 2011

The gloved threat

The Central Food Safety and Standard Act, 2006 (India) has now mandated that all people handling food will have to wear aprons and gloves. If someone is found violating the rule, they would be fined up to Rs. 100,000 (close to $2500).

The interesting part though is – there is no mandate on how often should the gloves be changed (or if they have to be changed at all!). I know of a food vendor (who incidentally serves my lunch everyday) who dons a plastic glove early in the morning and reuses the same glove the entire day (or rather I doubt he has ever even bothered to buy a new one). Rather than only handling food (which I believe is the intent of the glove), he handles everything and anything from tables, chairs, pens, plates, spoons and worst – currency notes! Now, research has proved several times that currency notes are carriers of all kinds of disease causing bacteria.

If this is not enough, I have seen him scratch and do all sorts of funny stuff with his gloved hand. We believe that putting oil in our hair nourishes them. This vendor religiously oils his hair everyday. Having done so (and Mumbai being a warm and humid city) his scalp too itches at times. This sensation is relieved by him by gently scratching with his gloved hand.

Sometimes I wonder, if he had directly used his bare hands, I am sure he might have washed them once a while and kept them cleaner than the way he treats his plastic gloves. I have pointed out to him on several occasions that he shouldn’t be handling money and food with the same hand. But he gives me that typical Indian look that says “Dude, are you from a foreign country? This is as hygienic that I can be!” (For the Bambaiya’s he literally means – “Khane ka to kha, nahi to nikal patli gali se”).

Sigh, another well intentioned policy, that is bound to be misused again.