Saturday, November 29, 2008

Terror in Mumbai

Our past few days were spent watching in horror as the terror drama in Mumbai was unfolding. We are sad, frustrated and angry at the senseless killings of hundreds of innocents, the mindless violence and the destruction of an iconic building. The ordeal came to an end yesterday when the last of the terrorists was shot dead but it will take a long time for the city and the country to recover from this.

As the drama was unfolding on the television for over 60 hours, people in India and all over the world were watching in horror at the unbelievable turn of events. The terrorists targeted the heart of India's financial, entertainment and tourism capital by attacking Mumbai. A large number of foreigners were victims of the tragedy making this a truly global event that was covered in mainstream media around the world.

It is a sad commentary on the times that we live in when a group of less than a dozen individuals, armed to the teeth, can land in a major metro city in the world and generate such mayhem. This is a completely unjustified act of cowardice that serves no purpose. Many innocent lives were lost and families were destroyed as these young heartless terrorists continued on their rampage without any emotion or feeling.

We mourn with the families of those who died and were injured in this attack. We salute the brave men and women of the law enforcement force who risked their lives to save others. Several of them laid down their lives in the line of duty. Funerals are being held around the city for the victims of this tragedy. Memorial services are being held to honor the brave.

We hope that this incident will trigger action by the Indian government at the central and state levels to improve their preparedness in dealing with such incidents. This attack has exposed the inadequate level of preparations in major areas such as intelligence gathering, personnel training, upgrading weapons and equipment etc. Most importantly, the politicians must wake up to recognize the need for a coordinated response and leave aside their petty political differences to establish a strong anti-terror system that would ensure that such an attack would never happen on the country's soil again. Countries around the world must recognize that cooperation at a global level is required to combat and win this new "war".

Friday, November 21, 2008

Traveling on the Interstate ...

This week when I was returning from Chennai to Bangalore, I decided to drive down with Mohan. While the Chennai to Bangalore flight is about 45-50 minutes, the driving distance from the Bangalore airport to my house is about an hour and a half. The drive from the office in Chennai to the airport is about an hour. Add an hour long wait at the airport and the total travel time is about five hours. The train ride between the two cities is about the same and so is the drive time. So I thought .. what the heck!

Driving on the interstate highways (NH -> National Highway) is a bit different than cruising on the Golden State freeway. It took us about an hour to reach the highway. The distance was probably no more than 10 miles but by the time you navigate through the typical traffic in an Indian metro and make your way around the numerous road construction projects, it takes that long.

The ride on the highway itself was quite interesting. The highway is a four-lane highway with two lanes headed in either direction. The road itself is very good with beautiful landscaping etc. One thing that struck me was the large number of trucks headed in either direction. These ranged from the traditional lorries that have been plying on the Indian roads for decades to spanking new 18-wheelers. When one truck is attempting to pass another, you can be stuck behind both these guys for quite some time.

Another thing that jumps out at you is the darkness. We were driving in the night and I realized that the street lighting is minimum. This starts to become a real pain when you realize that the trucks do not have or do not use their indicators and are not well lit themselves. So, how do they manage? Well, it takes two to drive these large monsters - there is the driver who is doing the actual driving and then there is his assistant who is hanging out the other window waving signs to the other drivers on the street in order to communicate the driver's intent.

Then you have the foot traffic - people crossing the highway at random points. I am not sure how Mohan was able to spot these folks and managed to avoid hitting anyone but I am pretty sure that I don't have this skill.

Signs along the highway keep reminding you of stuff such as "Speed Kills", "Go slow, your family is waiting" etc. But just as you start to feel good about these, you see a sign "Hospital Ahead. Emergency services for Accident victims".

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Seat of Power and Monument of Love

The day after we finished celebrating Diwali, we headed out to Delhi and Agra for a short vacation. It has been over 20 years since either Mona and I have visited the Taj and we have never visited this Monument of Love together. So this has been on our list of places to visit for quite a few years.

Delhi is the Seat of Power in India and you can feel it when you arrive. We were immediately impressed with Delhi - good infrastructure, clean and wide roads, well behaved traffic etc. We stayed at a B&B tucked away in the exclusive Golf Links neighborhood of Delhi - a charming place in a cozy little area of the city. Sightseeing in Delhi is an unforgettable experience. You can live the history especially if you have grown up here and studied Indian history. Humayun's tomb is a world heritage site and fully deserves the status. The Red Fort brings stories during the Mughal era to life. Jama Masjid is a grand old mosque - another example of the incredible Mughal architecture. The visit to the Bahai temple was interesting. This lotus shaped building is a must-see when you are in Delhi. Akshar Dham is a modern temple with a fantastic architecture, beautiful carvings and a musical fountain that would rival Bellagios in Las Vegas.

Food in Delhi was a major highlight. We ate a lot of street food - our best kind - the succulent kababs served by Khan Chacha in Khan market. We stopped at a Dhaba on the way back from Delhi to Agra and had the best vegetarian Dhaba food that you can imagine. Some of the best street food can be found on the streets of Chandni Chowk where we tried a range of food from hot jalebis to an assortment of parathas to dahi ballas! Absolute foodie heaven!

Our visit to the Taj Mahal was awesome. The Taj is everything that you would expect and more. It is an amazing monument and you are rendered speechless when you first lay your eyes on it (even though you might have seen it before). For a change, we had a guide accompany us and he was able to give us (especially the children) some good insights into the history of the Taj. Fatehpur Sikri in Agra is an equally impressive monument. It is the city that Akbar had built but it was inhabited for only a short amount of time due to lack of adequate water. We also visited Akbar's tomb which is a simple tomb inside a magnificent monument.

Monday, November 03, 2008

Festival of Lights!!!

It is that time of the year again - the festival of Diwali is back! Last week, Diwali was celebrated all over the country including a big celebration in our building. The festivities began on Sunday, October 26th with a talent show. Ayaana performed a Bollywood dance number with a group of kids. As always, there was good food followed by music and dancing.

We went shopping for fireworks on Saturday and it was quite an experience for the children. We bought all our fireworks at a large makeshift market in a ground in JP Nagar. Huge crowds assembled on Monday and Tuesday night to burst the fire crackers. Aanish and Ayaana had a real blast. Flower pots, Sparklers, Snakes, Bombs, Rockets - there was enough for everyone. Ayaana had a minor accident on both days and ended up with a few blisters. But this did not diminish her enthusiasm.

Mona and I ended the celebration of the week with a fun dinner evening with friends. The day after, we left for a short vacation to Delhi. But more about that in my next post.