Thursday, March 29, 2007

Making the grade

I attended my first parent/teacher conference at Indus yesterday and had quite an experience. My last such conference in India was probably over three decades ago when I was the student being discussed at such a conference. We never had a formal conference in those days and it was just a quick discussion on the report card.

At Indus, the middle school conference was held in the massive indoor sports complex. Teachers were seated at separate tables in the large gymnasium. Parents picked up the child's report card at the entrance and met each teacher individually. The teachers gave out the results of the latest exam and had a frank and critical discussion about your child's performance.

From what we heard, grade 8 is a tough one to manage. Kids are going through a transition period and beginning to rebel. The chemistry teacher was expressing his relief at being assigned only a single 8th grade section to teach (out of 3!). The english teacher was highly critical of the inability of today's children to write well and speak effectively. Her students find her attempts at teaching them Queen's English humorous. The computer teacher was wondering why children from the US and UK are better behaved than the Indian kids - can you believe that?

Fifth graders on the other hand appear to be a delightful bunch and all the teachers seem to be happy and excited to work with them.

The IB curriculum does sound very interesting and the approach to education (learn, think, analyze, apply) makes a lot of sense. The experience is different and hopefully will give our kids a broader perspective on the world and people!

Monday, March 19, 2007

Failure is not an option

India is in the midst of cricket fever! World cup 2007 is being played in West Indies and as always the country of a billion cricket fans are glued to their TV sets and radios to follow the action. And the fans are expecting the best from the "men in blue" during this world cup.

Alas, the Indian team did not live up to the expectations. India lost the very first match against Bangladesh and the Indian fans were not happy. And I am not talking about being disappointed that your team did not win. I am talking about being seriously unhappy.

Effigies of the Indian team were burnt the day after the match. Angered fans ransacked the property of one of the Indian batsmen, Mahendra Singh Dhoni (see attached photo). This property was gifted to Dhoni by the government and the fans felt that he does not deserve it. The cover photo on Times of India showed a group of women with batting pads challenging the India team to a match with them. There were protest marches, poster burnings and other equally exciting events throughout the country.

Cricket is serious business here and is not for the faint of heart!

Friday, March 16, 2007

The bag that could but wouldn't

If you are on the road a lot, you have probably had a baggage problem or two on a few trips. So a story about lost/delayed baggage is not real exciting. But I had quite an adventure earlier this week and felt that I must absolutely share it with my friends.

This incident happened during my trip to Birmingham, Alabama earlier this week. We were scheduled to leave from LA on Tuesday afternoon on a United flight via Denver. Our plane landed in Denver ahead of schedule but due to gate congestion, sat on the runway for over 45 minutes. We had less than 15 minutes to make our connecting flight but we made it (sans a few calories lost in the mad dash!). But guess, who (or what) didn't make it? Yes - my brown duffel!

The next flight from Denver to Birmingham was scheduled to arrive the following afternoon at 1pm. And we were scheduled to be on the same plane for our return flight at 1:30pm. I was on the phone with representatives from United (friendly CSRs from India and Phillipines) begging them to route my bag back to LA and NOT send it to Birmingham. I was scheduled to be on a flight back to Bangalore on the same day and I had to have my bag. After several calls to United, I received assurances that the bag would be routed back to LA.

The bag was routed to Birmingham.

Of course, not having a clue as to the location of the bag at any given point, I had accounted for this possibility. I must have spoken to the entire staff of United at the Birmingham airport because the Sikora Bag seemed to have been designated a celebrity status. When the plane arrived from Denver, the ticket agent asked the baggage handlers to locate the bag, retag it and leave it on the aircraft. This must have been the turning point in the story. As it turns out, the bag was on this plane and was thankfully not unloaded.

My duffel made finally made it back to LA on the same flight with me. Happy Ending!

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Fast food nation!!

I never thought I would say this but I love junk food! I have never been a big fan of hamburgers etc. but something about being away for a few months has made a difference.

It's great to be back in Los Angeles. I have been here for less than a week and I have had close to half dozen hamburgers and chicken sandwiches with fries in that time. My recent one was a hamburger meal at 12:30AM in Birmingham, Alabama at a McDonalds! How much more American can I get?

It was good while it lasted but now I am craving again for some good Sambar Rice. Glad that I am headed back to Bangalore tonight.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

The drive to be first!

Indians want to get ahead!

No, I am not talking about space exploration or software development or business process outsourcing or even medical research. I am referring to the inherent drive to be the first in a queue! In India, you will notice that the queues work a bit differently. I am referring to queues in banks, airports, movie theaters etc.

Three characteristics about queues jump out at you here - they are generally very long, they move extremely slowly and people are constantly cutting in, shoving and pushing to get ahead quicker. People seem to take this need to move forward rapidly within a queue at any cost as their birthright and appear confused when others get offended at their behavior.

An example to highlight this phenomenon.

I was at the Bangalore international airport and there was a huge line to get in. Either a breakdown in the security equipment or some inefficient bureaucracy had created a bottleneck. Many folks were waiting patiently in the slow moving queue for nearly half hour just to gain entry into the airport building. Meanwhile, I could see some passengers simply walking past the queue and attempting to enter the building at the front of the line. One such gentleman standing next to me and attempting to enter the line behind me got yelled at by folks further back in the line. However, this did not seem to bother him and he somehow managed to work himself into the queue ahead of many other folks while shaking his head in puzzlement at the anger of his fellow passengers. About 10 minutes later, a similar thing occurred with another passenger. The gentleman who had cut in to the line earlier was furious and indignant that someone would behave in such a manner.

Go figure!

Monday, March 05, 2007

Rang Barse

Yesterday Indians celebrated the colorful festival of Holi! Holi is celebrated each year at this time of the year and people throw colored water and powder at each other in celebration during this festival. Of course, as is common with most Indian festivals, there is a lot of fun, food, music and dancing.

While Holi is celebrated to welcome the onset of Spring, it has it's origins in ancient Hindu mythology. As the legend goes, King Hiranyakashyap was the king of demons and a staunch enemy of Hindu god, Vishnu. His son, Prahlad was a devotee of Vishnu and as such the king ordered him to death. Prahlad survived a fall from a mountain, a herd of elephants and other attempts at his life. Finally, the king's wife, Holika was assigned the task of killing the boy. Holika had a boon that would allow her to remain unharmed even if she was set on fire. So she held Prahlad and sat on a large bonfire. But miraculously, Prahlad survived while Holika burnt to ashes. During Holi, a large bonfire is let to commemorate this event.

The association at the building had organized a Holi event at our complex. This was a two-day affair that started on Saturday with a talent show for children and a dinner. It was a great opportunity to meet with many of our neighbours. The talent show was cute. Next day, the festivities started at 10am in the morning when over a hundred people took part in the throwing of colors. Mona and I have not celebrated Holi in 20 years and of course the kids have never experienced this. Needless to say, they had a blast. They had a complete license to do what they wanted and they made full use of it. Against the background of loud Bollywood music, we had a blast playing holi for hours.