Indian Karaoke is something that will always be dear to my anglo–indian/goan heart.
A few years back, joined by uncle in Karaoke bar in Bandra (Bombay) I serenaded the prettiest girl in the watering hole that night, to a tune which Tom Cruise brilliantly lip sang in a bar….”You’ve Lost That Loving Feeling”- Righteous Brothers. The duet was a hit, and the delivery couldn’t have gone better. Like George in Seinfeld’s “The Burning”, I decided to leave on a high note, and avoid the Japanese custom, which is translated to “empty orchestra,” for nearly 3 years, following Jerry’s advice: “Showmanship, George. When you hit that high note, you say goodnight and
walk off……That’s the way they do it in Vegas.”
Tonight, after being invited out to Hyderabad’s own “Ten Downing Street” – TDS as the locals call it, I was forced to take the mic up one more time. It may have been a pretty site, but it sounded awful. I was not too thrilled about singing karaoke without a wing man, my uncle in Bombay fills that void without a problem, but tonight, none of my table guests were willing to humiliate themselves. So I took the plunge alone, requested the song I knew I could win the people’s hearts with….after all the original singers of the song overdosed on Cocaine in a hotel in my hometown of Kalamazoo not too long ago – the least I could do was sing their song in my new home of Hyderabad.
The problem with Karaoke lay not in the vocalist, I am convinced. I can sing along to any song I know on the radio without missing a beat, maybe a few notes here and there if it is a Mariah Carey song, but I am confident that I can hold my own. No, my problem with this skill is having to adjust to video of a song when the timing of the highlighted words go off. Totally throws of my perception, and my sense of tone in consequence, resulting in sounds I would not wish upon anyone. That is exactly what happened tonight. There is nothing worse as a karaoke artist, than when the song starts skipping. At least the chorus came and I regained my composure leaving the song with some dignity, but I was secretly hurting inside….My street cred from Bombay 2 years back was no longer.
Some commentary on the night otherwise. The song selections were quite funny. Mostly slow love songs like “Lady in Red” and “Dream Dream Dream.” A few of my favorite songs, that have played in Indian parties without a fail for the past 20 years included “Coma coma coma coma coma Chameleon, they come and go, they come and go oh oh oh.” and “Give me Hope, Johanna”
One of the fellows in this pub tonight was heavy into gangster rap. He rapped the Puff Daddy part over Stings”Watching you” even though they monitor did not display them. He busted out 50 cent’s “In The Club.” Alanis Morresette’s annoying voice has plagued me in every bar since getting to India, and tonight, although her voice was replaced with some British woman’s, it just made things worse. I loathe the song “Ironic”
To conclude the night recap, I admit that I was not as considerate as I could have been been. My guilty feet walked me over to a man with no rhythm and stole the mic away for the last song of Karaoke at TDS. In tribute to my friend back in the US, who worships George Michaels, and has been known to rock the song “Careless Whisper,” I hijacked the stage and put some much needed soul into this classic. I believe George Michael has gone down a tough road recently, a few trips to prison in addition to his semi tarnished reputation overall. I still think we owe him a thank him, at least a mach3, for sharing this song with us. I want to believe that the crowd at TDS thanked me for sharing the song I selfishly stole from another with them tonight. The highlight was when the host of the night did a memorable harmonizing bit with me at the end during the words “now that your gone.”
I believe that I did redeem myself tonight from the earlier performance, leaving the night on top, like Costanza. It will take a lot of convincing for me to change this status, and take the mic again, but then again I am off to Bombay tomorrow.
The Games Indians Play
I continued the Expat experience tonight by attending an event hosted by TEA (Twin City Expat Association) The evening was spent in a gated community, called Whisper Valley. I came to know from a friend who’s uncle built the subdivision that this was the first gated community in the entire country.
The speaker at tonight’s event, V Raghunathan gave a brilliant presentation on the Indian mentality. His book, “The Games Indians Play” appears to be an economic study of the Indian mentality, using concepts from game theory and the prisoner’s dilemma to explain why things are done the way they are here. He claims not to be a reformist, however his book is meant to inspire change of his people, so that Indian’s can be a true force internationally.
He pointed out that many of the problems India faces, including corruption, water supply, garbage removal, and a general distrust from international trade is because of short sightedness as well as not enforcing public policy. He claims that Indians in general are very intelligent, however they make decisions that will benefit them in the immediate future, versus for long term satisfaction. He used the example of game of chess, and the difference between lightning chess and the conventional form of the game. In a fast paced chess match, the players only consider a few moves ahead, while in a slow, conventional form of the game, moves are thought out several steps in advance. While this mentality is good for the individual, he claimed that it has very negative consequences for the larger population.
Without going into too much detail about the various examples he spoke of, all which I have seen here first hand, I would encourage you to read this book. He is a very intelligent, highly articulate speaker, and his words really hit home for me tonight. One of the more humorous parts of the talk was discussing an insurance company in Bombay for people who ride the train. There is an actual company that charges a small fee per customer who ride the trains in Bombay, for the unusual situation where they are caught riding the train without a ticket. This insurance company will pay the fine for the illegal rider. Since the enforcement of this policy is so poor, the insurance company makes out with a profit, as they rarely pay out, and the riders get extremely cheap transportation, as their monthly insurance fees are much less than the cost of the ride. Take that on for size State Farm.
Tonight’s talk got me really interested in Game Theory. An example was given which talked about a hypothetical case where Bill Gates decides to give away $1 billion to a lucky person. The method for giving this money away is a strange one however, and involves writing letters to 20 people around the world. The letter congratulates each recipient as being one of the only 20 people considered for this donation. The recipients are given a list of 3 steps on how they will be able to receive the $1 billion.
Step1: Write back to Mr. Bill Gates, to inform him that you would like to receive the money.
Step2: Do not attempt to contact or track down any of the other 19 recipients. If you attempt to make such efforts, Gate’s team will find out and you will be disqualified.
Step3: You must be the only person to write back to Bill Gates. If any of the other 19 people, even just 1 other person writes a response, no one will receive the prize.
This dilemma is a curious one, as it is highly unlikely that Bill Gates will have to part with the money. Human tendency suggests that each person will likely take the chance of mailing a response, as they have nothing to lose by doing so. At an individual level, they are satisfied with this, as they would rather attempt to receive the prize than to let someone else get it by deciding to not send a response. They are all equally as intelligent in this scenario, and would rather screw the entire group over, than be screwed over themselves, by letting just 1 person write a response and receive the prize. So, what to do in this situation?
V Raghunathan tonight suggested that if each of the 20 recipients put 20 numbers in a bowl, guessing a number which if picked out at random would be the only way they would write back to Mr. Gates, the entire group would have a 38% chance of getting the prize, and at the end of the day the money would be donated rather than retained by Bill Gates.
I found this very interesting. He claimed that this mentality starts to explain the Nuclear arms build up between India and Pakistan, it explains how everyone is in a hurry here, even in holy temples causing fights, the frequency of running red lights and disregarding traffic laws, the low water pressure from everyone getting water pumps, eventually bringing the water pressure back to the origin, before the first guy discovered he could use his own water pump, only to be followed by his neighbor and their neighbor and so on and so forth.
Perhaps it explains why I got in a shouting match with the owner of Paradise restaurant, coincidentally the best Biryani in town. I ordered a Mutton Biryani for my driver, and 2 naans and Chicken Tikka Masala for myself. I heard my order called out and went to claim it, but was told I was in the wrong part of the restaurant. (They called the area “parcel pick up.” Ten minutes later a Muslim man, with a cigar in his mouth came up to me and took my receipt, bringing me back just the mutton biryani. When I asked him about the rest of the order, he pointed to my receipt saying that was all I had. I told him I had certainly ordered more food, and had payed 3x what the receipt was showing. The cashier came over to see what the fuss was about, and denied that I had payed him 200 rupees, which really took the cake. The owner pulled me aside, and insulted me, accusing me of trying to cheat the restaurant, and even taking my receipt from inside the dining hall and trying to use it to get free takeaway. I was outraged, and started to lose my temper, which is not a good thing, when just then a delivery boy called out my order again, “One Chicken Tikka Masala, one Mutton Biryani, and two Naan’s. Since it was an unusual order, it was quite obvious it was mine, as I had pleaded with him the previous 10 minutes that I had ordered that very combination. He finally gave in, gave me my food, and without apologizing for insulting me, told me “Sir, this is the system here, get used to it.” I held back every inclination I had of dumping the chicken tikka on his head and knocking that god damn cigar out of his mouth, and choked out the words, “No worries, it happens.” After all, this place does make the best biryani in town.
I think this was a good case of the Indian mentality, always assuming someone is trying to screw them over. Tit for tat, V Raghunathan called it, when people only remember their last encounter with someone, and make the decision to either cooperate, or defect for future dealings. This restaurant owner probably dealt with people trying to get free food from him, the place is always packed, and they do tremendous business, likely get ripped off once and a while by receipt scams. Guilty till proven innocent in a way, was the way I was treated. No “The Customer is always right” thoughts go on in food establishment like this. Perhaps, he was trying to defect on his deal with me recognizing my foreign accent, just like the cowardly chicken 65 guy. We will see what happens next time I go to Paradise, I think I am going to start sending my driver to pick up my food, these encounters are eventually going to end in something bad.
I don’t remember if I mentioned this, but I rehired Satyam. He showed me his wife’s medical history, which couldn’t have been faked since it traced back with official stamps over 7 years, it was quite depressing to see. I trusted that his owner had screwed him over in the deal, the demand is just not high enough to pay guys like Satyam a decent salary to be a driver anymore. I am paying the difference, and even loaned him 2000 rupees so that he could buy new clothes for his family for the current festival, a 10 day celebration where there are a few days you are supposed to wear only new outfits when joining your friends and family in celebration. His wife’s hospital bills made it impossible for him to do this, and I could see the regret in his eyes when he asked me for the money. He is far too old for this life of a driver, he has shown me moments of loyalty, such as when I left my wallet in the car going to subway, and had to cross the busy street to get back to it. Within seconds, he noticed my uneasiness of crossing the street and came running out with the wallet, telling me not to move, and confidently walking across the street to get it to me. After I finished my meal of two 6inch chicken tikka subs (they don’t sell foot longs here, and have different counters for veg and non veg orders), Satyam ran out once again and cross the road with me, standing between me and the coming traffic. It was a gesture, though small, that meant a lot to me, and made me thankful I brought him back.
Now, I want to pose a question to you Americans back home. Why is our economy so bad? This was asked to me by a Belgian guy at the Expat mixer. He got very passionate about the subject matter, and American’s over consumption, spending money they don’t have, and starting wars with countries for no reason etc. He started yelling about it to me at this event, perhaps for excess alcohol consumption, and I reminded him that he was standing on a patio of a majority American population and that he might want to take it easy. It was uncomfortable for us both, I agreed with his dislike of the Bush regime, but also reminded him that he has never been the US, and shouldn’t generalize the entire population of people from the little information he has. He felt really bad about his venting, and apologized to me. I told him there was no need for an apology, I am certainly not a politically correct person, and I appreciated his honesty, though unrefined, over fakeness and insincerity. I am starting to have an identify crisis though, as I don’t want to be associated as just another American as its not the best reputation to have internationally (found that out immediately during my stay in Europe), I am not accepted yet as an Indian, and for the most part am cool with that as I feel like a jack ass for not knowing the mother tongue. On top of this I was told by my cousin in Australia that I have developed a strange Indian accent through my 2 months here so far. As my Uncle Ferdie nicknamed me 2 years ago in Middlesex, England, perhaps I am just The Wanderer.
After the booze cruise, I took a few days of seclusion to do something completely random. I left the dust filled city and spent the day in the wild. I left Hyderabad at 4am for the temple of Lord Shiva in Srisailam and had no idea was to be in store for me. All I knew was that I had my trusted friends, Sainik and Sumpath, who we call Pilot (he is a pilot) at my side to experience this adventure.
Hours earlier, I was doing the booze cruise, getting back in touch with a side of me I thought I left in NYC, but before the sun could rise, I remembered where I was, and had a thrill of the path I was heading on. I have never spent more than a few hours at a time in a car in India, so this 6 hour trip really put me in my place. There was no more need for AC, as we were cruising with the windows down at a hot pace of 55mph, by far the fastest I have gone in a car here. I have no idea why Indian highways are full of speedbumps, or why the roads don’t give warning when approaching one.
The original plan was to leave the night before and not drive at 5am, but we found out that a 3 hour strip of the road is closed down after 6pm every day. Why would a major highway from one of the largest cities in the world to such a holy place visited by thousands of pilgrims shut down after sunset? Any guesses?
How about Tigers, Elephants, Sloth Bears, and tribals -yes, vicious tribals. Communist ones.
This week I made my way into the back country of India, the jungle. My friend Jake Thayer once nicknamed me Mowgli on a camping trip in Michigan, after I climbed a tree, and swung from a hose ties to it into a lake we were canoeing on. The name sort of just stuck with our friends, and though some might be offended by such a name, I sort of took pride in it, as I used to watch The Jungle book daily between the ages of 4-7.
Similar to the book, the Indian Jungle has a sense of mystery and uncertainty to it. I couldn’t help but let my mind imagine how many dangers presently lay in store for me. I must say, that the thought of it it is a bit of a natural high. We jumped off the main road when we saw our first tiger. This 30 footer symbolized the entrance of a road that would eventually take us into the deepest part of the jungle any man had gone before. (at least in my mind) I grabbed my battery-deprived camera, took a picture with the animal statue, hoped it was the closest I would get to the real thing, and jumped into the the SUV cleverly named “Tiger Patrol.”
As we speed deeper and deeper away from the Tata Indica, and into land never traveled before by a westerner I started seeing monkey’s all over the place. These monkey’s look a bit sick, red faced, shameless, and not as smart as the monkey’s I hear about. They will steal your watch if you aren’t careful though. After about 10 minutes of staring into the trees, hoping to see some orange, we came across another SUV. This vehicle had been abandoned for several hours. I looked around for traces of human life, a turban or some chuppels (sandals) at least but found nothing of the sort. Of course, it was well explained to the group in Telegu that the vehicle ran out of gas the night before, and the passengers had to walk 3 miles in the Jungle, right at the 6pm closing time to get back to the road. With God’s good graces, Shere khan did not have these people for dinner, and they survived. We grabbed a tank of water from the car and continued our conquest.
I have heard of dangerous tribals, who decide toreject civilian life, and organize terrorist attacks that kill tourists. They run highly profitable smuggling businesses and constantly plot to take over Indian politics. These people are frequently sent to their maker by the many snakes and predators in the jungle. We rode by the Nazim’s hunting getaway house and soon made it to the most beautiful view in Andra Pradesh. We were standing next to a house that looked like an ancient artifact of the region, looking out at miles of jungle thousands of feet below us.
Then I noticed our vehicle was no where in site. Perhaps the driver felt the obligation to run an errand while I was on a Tiger Safari, leaving me and my friends out to dry if we were lucky enough to see what we had come to see. The only thing that helped our chances was that there were only 6 known tigers in the region. The tiger population here is unfortunately nearly extinct.
We played around this ruined house for a while, waiting for the driver to return. I felt more secure being 40 ft in the air, without a ledge or sturdy floors than I did on the ground with the reptiles and man eating cats below me. I did get weak in the knees at one point, and decided it was best to avoid such a silly fatality, and get back down to earth and take my chances with nature. Nature vs Nurture, Nature always wins. (Wedding Crashers)
Finally the car showed up, and we got in. My Telegu tour guide told us that the house used to be a guest house for tourists, because of the beautiful view, but the local tribals decided to bomb it only 3 years ago. I was shocked. These people were still around, and I am just glad I didn’t do anything to draw their attention today.
Unfortunately/Fortunately The ride back was tiger-less. We did see more monkey’s and even a group of deer, who had no fear of human interaction. Eventually made it to the temple. It is customary to remove shoes and I burned the most of the nerves off my feet during the 4k walk on black pavement to get there from the car. I was a bit ticked off to see that I was one of the few people to remove my shoes, as there was a local business that stored your shoes for you when you went inside the temple. The walk back proved to be worse, but I refused a piggy back ride from my 130lb driver.
The temple was fascinating, a lot of things going on. Long lines – you can’t escape crowds in India unless you decide to take mother nature on a date. The temple was built in the 1500’s, part of it was completely made of gold, and people were offering all of their hair on their head to the Lord Shiva in prayer. I have never seen so many bald men and women in one place. I was asked to shave my head, but I didn’t think it would be a good look for me at this point of my life. Apparently the hair collected at this temple, and others especially in Tirupati is a huge business for trade with Europe and the West. The temple in Tirupati collects a ridiculous amount of money ($300 million per year) through offerings made by the 20 million hindu pilgrims. For a business with very little overhead, its surprisingly a global phenomenon, started in the 60’s. The money is used for public affairs, people in Tirupati get a free place to stay for one night on their trip.
My first trip to a Hindu temple was met with a violent encounter. 2 Men got in a fight in the temple over their spot in line, starting hitting and pushing each other. I don’t understand everyone’s hurry. I live by the words in the movie Goodfella’s : “Pauli might have moved slow, but that was just because Pauli didn’t have to move for anyone.
I really enjoyed the beauty of India today, risked my neck, kept my hair and spent some time with the guys, who just enjoy their religious get aways from time to time. Beats the cement jungle any day.
First of all, for anyone that has been avidly reading my blog, I apologize. I have become totally infatuated with this city called Hyderabad, and have forgotten all about you.
That aside, tonight, I remembered you. Amid the collar popping, 3 open button down wearing, skirt flaunting, and snoop dog playing “drop it like its hot” crowd, I found you. I missed you.
Tonight I went on a fantastic, yes fantastic booze cruise.
Days before I was lucky to get sunburned to a crisp watching India play Australia in cricket.
As we speak, I have just had an intense confrontation with a guest in my humble abode. While watching the movie Hyderabad Blues, (more on this later) my eyes left the brilliant screen on my macbook for just a moment and landed on a reptile scaling my walls ever so suspiciously. The lizard, which was about a foot long, moved from one side of the room to the other before I could conclude my pathetic reaction. The fact that I had headphones on, probably contributed to the volume, but all I could think about the whole time was “Snake.” After consulting with a friend back in the US, who this room actually belongs to, I realized that I was under no threat of attack from the creature, and it would probably produce the same results as a night of taking my malaria tablets. Nonetheless, there was no way I could fall asleep with this stranger hiding behind my clock tonight, my Malaria pills main side effect involve some of the strangest, most vivid dreams I have experience.
Funny enough, this was my second encounter with a new animal. This morning, I went to my car, and was approached by 2 solid looking buffalo. These animals definitely own the road here, and they are not intimidated of humans. They in fact will nudge a gate of a house open, and make their way right into living area. See below.
I will try post a picture of the gang of dogs that usually hangs out in this area. They also pose a threat, as they roll 6 or 7 deep. Stray dogs are all over the place here.
Yesterday I saw two fellows riding camels passing by a store that said Kamel on it. I was so close to getting the picture, but unfortunately an Autorick got in my way just as I was able to get my camera ready. Just a few blocks from there, and my office, supposedly a wild cheetah found its way onto the streets and attacked numerous civilians. I have been suspicious that one of the early morning noises might be coming from a large cat in the jungle, potentially a Cheetah. I started going on my terrace with a camera to try to get a better look on what is going on there, but haven’t had much luck, will keep you posted though if this changes.
I see a lot of similarities with this place, and the cement jungle I was living in a few months ago.
Here is a picture of a mall I went to yesterday.
Probably not what you expected.
I felt like I was back at Crossroads Mall back home, and in fact spent a good amount of time in the Crossroads Bookstore, buying Indian Magazine among other books to entertain myself out here with. I was shocked to find an Indian Maxim. Someone had ripped the plastic covering off, so I was able to give it a read, and I must say, that Maxim India and the world I have seen in Hyderabad are nothing alike. There was nothing glocal about this magazine, except the women posing in the famous layouts were all Indian, and the riske articles written were by and for Indians, though in a tone not too far from home for an American like myself. Interesting read.
While at the mall I saw a TV similar to the HD TV I purchased before coming out here, but had to leave it with a friend because it exceeded my 50lb luggage limit. (and other things) It was listed as over $6,000, over 3x the price I payed for it. There is definitely a lot of purchasing power in this city, as even a microwave here costs +$200. Gas is way more expensive than the U, and I believe my phone and Internet costs are more when compared. Brands here carry more power than I think they do back home. A mixture of US, UK, and local brands, this mall was a logo overload for me. It was nice not having pushy salesmen in my face for once though. The highlight of the evening was spotting the infamous dollar store on the 3rd floor. I had a good laugh over that, and considered trying to buy something with my American currency.
There is about a 200% markup on tickets for the cricket match here on Friday between India and Australia. The 15,000 tickets were sold out in hours, as people slept outside the ticket office for nights waiting to get them. They are all on sale on the black market now, and range anywhere from $3 – $100. Apparently the commissioner of the stadium hot some heat from the media, as the stadium actually seats 30,000, but he had decided to reserve 15,000 seats for corporate sponsors. Today, a good portion of those tickets were instead put back on the market for the general public. I have decided to not go, as I think the game will be rained out, no refunds/make up matches here.
I referred to a movie called Hyderabad Blues earlier. It was not well done, and I may decide to write a post on it when I get heavy into my Bollywood movie reviews. All you should know about it, is its about an Indian from America, comes back to Hyderabad, hates the customs and traditions, gets pressured into marriage non stop, falls in love, yada yada yada. My only reason for bringing this up, is that the role played was the exact role which could have introduced me to Bollywood. All I need is one English speaking role, where I can utilize my pure American accent, while showcasing my extremely refined dance steps. Surely I can actor better than the ass clown that tried to be an ABCD (American Born Confused Desi) in Hyderabad Blues.
Bollywood movies watched so far….
- Being Cyrus
- Dil Chahta Hai
- Page 3
- Hyderabad Blues
Swades, also a story about an Indian coming back to his motherland from the US, is much better than Hyderabad Blues. I will look into writing short reviews for these movies and others I will be studying during my self education of Indian cinema, perhaps better suited for a separate blog altogether.