Tag Archives: people


Dani’s twin sisters are in India, along with appropriate significant others. Holger was also in Bangalore due to a business trip a couple of weeks ago, when this story took place. So we all piled into the car and drove to Tiruvannamalai to show them the temple there. It started off well. The drive there is always beautiful, we stopped at the roadside at one point to let the kids collect Tamarind and we had a nice biryani (rice based casserole) for lunch at a restaurant in Tiruvannamalai. Then we went to the temple.

The Shiva temple in Tiruvannamalai is magnificent, as I have said before. We strolled in took in the architecture and atmosphere and went straight to the temple elephant so that the kids could get blessings from it. Shortly before reaching the elephant, a beggar woman approached us. Somehow, we managed to get past her without her following and we reached the pachyderm safely. Charlotte emptied my pocket of coins; giving one at a time to the elephant. It takes the coin, gives it to its handler and then touches your forehead with its trunk in blessing. Sammy was too frightened to try it.

Just as we were about to move on, a man smiled and stepped next to me. He loitered for some time. This is usually the signal that he is the insidious bastard type of tout. Then he started with a song and dance about how he needed 100 rupees to get back to Chennai. I told him to get lost. I loathe professional beggars with the fury of a thousand suns. Any able bodied person who consciously chooses to beg instead work is not a good person in my book. Tellingly, the one phrase in Kannada that I know is to tell such people to get a job.

He left to look for another mark and I continued on my merry way.

A while later, we were lounging near one of the small shrines near the eastern gopura. I stepped away to photograph temple monkeys. Another fellow came up to me. This one was wearing the saffron (orange) dhoti of a devout Hindu sadu. He started to tell me that he lost his pass and needed help. I mentally groaned. “Here we go again. Why won’t these people leave me alone?” Saffron dhoti or no, my patience was at an end.

You would not do this if I was Indian!

I turned and walked away.

He stammered…

I am not a beggar! All Indians are not beggars!

Then he walked away.

A short while later, he returned. I had moved over to the tank (artificial pond) to watch a kingfisher hunt, but the others had remained in place. He pointed to me and said to Holger.

Your friend said that all Indians are beggars! We are not beggars!

He went on accosting Holger for a few minutes. I never said that and don’t think it, so I don’t know where he came up with that idea. As far as I could tell, there are four possible reasons he acted that way:

1 – He was just unbalanced.

2 (the cynical version) – he was just using it as a psychological lever to pull at our heartstrings and do a scam. After all, nobody wants to think of themselves as bigots and people may be inclined to try and prove that they are not under such conditions.

3 (slightly less cynical) – He was trying to scam me, but was still genuinely offended at my gruff response.

4 – He was genuinely the engineer that he claimed to be and genuinely in need of help and had no clue what a riff-raff magnet foreigners are. Middle class Indians are often shocked at some of the experiences I’ve had. I distinctly remember Siva being wide eyed about the guy asking for my socks. If he does not personally know any foreigners, he may be unaware of this and not understand my reaction.

I do wonder what it was.


Pic of the Day – The Porter

When we were at the Amber fort in Jaipur, I went off wandering through the maze of rooms in the palace. As I rounded a bend, I ran into one of the female construction porters that seem to be at the Amber fort doing renovation work. She whispered to me in a hushed tone:

Photo? Photo?

She was interested in having her picture taken (for a tip of course) and also seemed to want not to be too loud about it. She was very photogenic. Interestingly, there were a couple of things that we did not notice until afterwards. Firstly, her top shirt button is unbuttoned. Secondly, she has relatively good teeth. Thirdly, she looked straight into the camera and struck a pose.

Either I found a model working undercover, or a most unusual porter.



Uncle… water?

As I sat at the computer, I heard the jangle of bangles on the stairs. I turned around and nothing was there. Was that sound coming from inside our house, or outside? The walls of the neighboring houses are only a few feet away and they reflect sound very well. Also, the house has many windows and they are usually open. I can hear the neighbor’s speaking and washing dishes as if it is the next room. I looked away for a moment and then a small voice startled me…

Uncle… water?

It was them! There are two small Kannadiga schoolgirls who have taken up the habit of stopping by our house for water during the past week. They asked for water one evening and we gave them water. They have taken up the habit of coming here every day. Daniela (“auntie”) usually gives them chocolates. I think they come here more for the chocolates than the water. They probably have the task of getting water and they go where the sweets are.

As is the ritual of the past week, I took them to the kitchen to put filtered water into the bottles that they brought, tapwater into a big plastic jug that appears to be how they hold their wash water and gave them sweets. They were delighted by a small Cadbury’s chocolate bar that Charlotte brought home from trick-or-treating on Halloween and was not interested in eating herself.

They are cute! Still… I’m not thrilled that they came into the house without ringing. Since I can’t speak Kannada and their English is limited to the words “water”, “sweets”, “chocolate”, “auntie” and “uncle”, it is a bit hard to tell them that I want them to ring at the door, not just invite themselves in.

The Dilemma

Our maid’s 34 year old son is sick. His doctors are not 100% certain, but it appears to be cancer and it appears to be too late to do anything about it. This is a familial tragedy in the making.

To date, we have paid for nearly all of his diagnosis and treatment. Unfortunately, we are starting to have second thoughts about the degree to which we help.

It started shortly after we hired her. She mentioned to me that she had been unemployed for seven months and had borrowed a considerable amount of money from a loanshark. We did not want her to be in debt to a loanshark, so we gave her the money to pay it off. A few weeks later, she had her purse stolen on payday. We decided to reimburse her for the lost money. We’ve given her extra money to send to her mother, to pay for dental care etc. I once saw her simply ask Daniela for 1500 rupees. To top it off, we pay her way above the going rate for domestic help.

And yet the hand is always extended. Daniela suggested that we split the next bill and her balance comes from her Christmas bonus (she is a Roman Catholic Anglo Indian, so she gets her annual bonus at Christmas instead of Diwalli). She started crying:

It would be a very sad Christmas.

She has this way of making us feel guilty.

In addition to the amount that we’ve fully covered, and in addition to the tens of thousands of rupees that we’ve given her as no strings attached additions to her salary, we’ve given additional advances for the medical coverage of her son equal to about one and a half month’s salary. I halfway suspect that when asked about paying it back, she will give us a sob story about sad Christmases and sick mothers. One of her brothers is an MD and the other is a chartered accountant. We get the feeling that we, the naive and stupidly generous foreigners, pick up the slack for a family all too happy to dump its problems on us.

Daniela and I are of two minds. On the one hand, we are simply sick of being regarded as a walking cash mashine. Our initial inclination towards generosity has been rewarded with more requests. We’re happy to be generous, but we don’t want to be taken for granted and we do expect the other party to be fair. Her hand is always out and we’ve not seen one single indication that she or her family is willing to step up to the plate. This suggests that we should cut her off from any extras, no discussion. On the other hand, her son is dying; so it’s not really a good time for rough statements about not being her endless source of cash.

Who ARE these people?

A couple of funny things that happens when we go out in places where westerners are few and far between. The first always starts…

Which country are you from?

There are always enough curious and sociable people to make walking two hundred meters (1/8 mile) take ages. It gives a practical example to furlongs per fortnight. Between conversations, people also ask us to pose for photos.

But the really strange thing is when random strangers come up to you and say

Take my photograph

I always thought that Charlotte was a ham, with the way that she loves to be photographes and poses. She is camera shy in comparison to these people. But still… who the heck are these people that I’ve got pictures of in my camera memory?

Who are these people?

Who are these people?

And these people?

And these people?

Pulling a potted plant from a hat

While we were dodging elephant dung and toutish cows, two potted plants mysteriously appeared on our doorstep.

I had suspected the gardener as he had recently asked about when we will finally get potted plants for our front. The next day, more showed up. The following day, he showed up, beaming. He wanted to know what we thought of the plants. Charlotte loved them. Daniela and I agreed that we liked them, but we would rather have given the go-ahead before he added them. Nevertheless, we figured that there was no harm and decided that three hundred Rupees would probably cover his costs.

The day after that, a dozen more pots appeared.


Our own little Olympics

We had our own little Olympic experience this past weekend.

We went and ran in the Urban Stampede. It was a 4x5km relay race, for a total of 20km per team. It was a very interesting experience. It was a corporate relay race. All of the teams were fielded by companies in Bangalore; mostly IT firms and Banks. There were 78 teams present from 38 companies. Daniela and I were part of one of the two teams fielded by our company. Both were mixed teams in all respects. Of the 8 teammates, three were female and four were foreigners (American or German).

I was curious to see what an organized race would be like in India. In the west, there is a pretty standard “race” culture and it does not seem to matter what country the race is being held in, or whether it is a run only or a triathlon. We were expecting an organizational train wreck and were not expecting the race to get started until at least an hour after the scheduled start time. In fact it went off on time. In fact, it was just like running a race in the west, complete with the dance music at the start/finish line and the hyping up of the runners beforehand, etc. Both of SAP’s teams ran “middle of the pack”, but everyone had a good time.

The run route itself was a beautiful stretch, through farmland with a nice view of Nandi Hills shrouded in angry monsoon clouds. There was also somewhat of a collision of two Indias. Many farmers and laborers stopped working to watch the race. I wondered what these people were thinking. Here were all of these “techies” (the local term for anyone involved in technology companies) – people with astronomical incomes compared to laborers and who sit in comfortable, air conditioned offices – spending their Sunday morning running around and sweating profusely. Did they find it interesting? Absurd? Inquiring minds want to know!

An online gossip rag called MidDay has a video of the event.