Some people back home call me Mowgli

posted by on 2007.10.17, under Humor, India, Travel

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.


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Monkey Noises

posted by on 2007.09.23, under Humor, India, Travel

Its 6am Sunday morning, and all I wanted to say is that I was woken up, from a chaotic cluster of sounds from monkey’s in the back yard jungle. Where am I?

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Biryani Nation

posted by on 2007.09.13, under Humor, India, Travel

I have a confession to make. Today, for the first time in 18 months I ate a meal at McDonald’s. A last minute decision, after finding out that the only Mexican restaurant in town was closed, I chose the golden arches. Call it homesickness, wanting to see a familiar face, or logo for that matter, or the country music lovin‘ cowboy hat wearin’ Midwest side of me coming out, demanding to be a part of some form of globalization that I had not intentionally created, I dined with Ronald this afternoon. Truth be told, it was the only place I knew that I could grab a bite in 10 minutes.

It was splendid meal, to my surprise the service was unlike any Mcdonald’s I have been to. The meal came out to only $1.50 USD. I was shocked to see a woman in the restaurant requesting that an employee charge her cell phone while she ate her Chicken Maharaja Mac. They had no problem serving her request.

My meal consisted of a McAloo Tikka burger (Fried breaded potato & peas patty that is flavoured with a special spice mix,) , coca-cola (which is far inferior to the local Thumbs Up beverage), and french fries. When I finished, my table was cleared for me, and I left content, yet guilty of replacing my usual Biryani meal, a rice dish Hyderabad is world famous for. Biryani was also a product of globalization centuries ago, but instead of being from the Americans, it was the Iranians who gifted this meal to the folks in Hyderabad, and the rest of India for that matter.

With all the changes that the corporation decided to implement into their menu here in Hyderabad, they struck a right balance of incorporating the multinational brand here, with the charm that McDonald’s is famous for, while catering to the local taste of the people in India. An advertising agency, who’s name escapes me, recently coined the word “glocal” in their campaigns. (global + local)

McDonald’s even have created a different menu for locations in North India vs West India. My aunt’s husband, a successful businessman in Mumbai told me that McDonald’s success in the city, apparent by their many locations around the city, home delivery, and veg menu was contrasted completely by KFC. They are apparently perceived as being just another American company trying to exploit the exploding population with an American product, without changing it to fit the people here. They are not glocal. Driving home today, I saw a billboard saying that KFC was the best Chicken dinner meal in the World. They have failed to realize that they face a tougher competitor, Tandoori Chicken. If you have ever tasted yourself will understand that KFC stands no chance to becoming a widely adopted meal over here. There are just like Hollywood, who have failed at trying to promote their films in India for many years. , India, unlike other countries around, has not really adopted American movies into their lives, as Bollywood is far too popular over here, producing 3x as many films as the people in LA. Tollywood, slightly smaller but with just as loyal of a fan base, has also shown a strong presence, with actors that can split bullets in half in mid air, and other action-related phenomenons. In fact, 99% of revenue made in the film industry in India has been from Indian productions. The guys at Sony are finally taking a smart approach, by starting to fund movies made here, written for and produced by Indians. Can we expect to see KFC Tandoori chicken on the menu soon?

McDonald’s here is actually what seems to be a classy restaurant, in the most expensive part of town, offering something that the locals appreciate, and enjoy. The crowd was upper class, dressed well, enjoying the social gathering of the establishment. The only hassle with the experience was having to go through security to get in the place, due to terrorist threats at this time because of the Ganesh Chaturthi festival this weekend, and recent bombings in the city.

Many of you have seen me in my red Ganesh t-shirt – I will have the chance to wear this shirt while celebrating this festival in Mumbai with my family this weekend. I read articles today, saying how the idols were going to be bigger than last year, up to 15 meters in height, while the mayor of Mumbai request to keep the size of the idols under 8 meters, to try to prevent pollution in the Arabian sea. Speaking of which, the Tsunami warning was called off this morning, after the Earthquake in Indonesia’s Sumatra Island, topped 8 on the Richter scale. I had an aqaintance in college that had the last name Richter, and used to tell women that they topped 8 on his Richter scale, in hopes to charm them. That line can’t possibly have any success in either Hyderabad or East Lansing, that one thing I am sure of.

My driver Satyam told me his wife is expecting a child in 8 months. There will be exactly the same number of years in age between his children as there are between my younger brother and I. I have decided to explore the possibility of writing a story about this experience with Satyam, and the conversations we try to have in our 3 hours together. He has told me about all the opportunities he has missed in his life which he wishes he would have taken, told me about how 15 years working a government job resulted in the branch just one day closing and him being out of work, after only taking the job because his mother was a servant for a government officer, and that seemed to be the best career path.
Perhaps it will be tale along the lines of “The Pursuit of Happiness,” and Satyam can come out ahead in the end. Maybe even I can have Will Smith play the role, filmed here in Hyderabad…..

Just this Monday , Satyam gave me a gift, motivational posters on success to put in my office. He told me he believed in the words on them, and that he wants me to do well.If you have any ideas or suggestions for a kind gesture I can offer him especially with news of a new child on the way, please post a comment. I finally realized this blog required registering to post such things. Really annoying, I have since changed that setting so you won’t have to deal with any hassles with such things going forward. (This is stuff I am working to keep off the site I am building)


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Going to the Chapel

posted by on 2007.09.02, under Humor, India, Travel

5:30 am – my driver pounds on my door to remind me of my plans to go to the only English catholic service in the church in my area…. damnit!

I had mentioned to him that I would like to meet some English speaking folks in the area, so I planned on an early Sunday morning. I arrived at the 60 year old church about 10 minutes early, so I decided to go in and spend some time collecting my thoughts, and catching up on sleep. At this particular church, shoes were not allowed inside, so I had to leave my dress shoes outside, where it was raining.

Just as the service started, I was suddenly publicly scolded by an elderly woman in a sari, who spoke no English, but just made hand gestures at me and yelled at me in Telugu. I genuinely tried to understand her communication, but gave up a few minutes into the confrontation and put my head down and shrugged. I hoped she would lose interest and let me be. Moments later, an nun informed me that I had to move immediately. I had been sitting in the women’s side of the church!

I turned around at once (I was sitting in the front row) and noticed a complete gender segregation of the church. Slightly embarrassed, I got up and moved to a row on the men’s side. A group of 5 men simultaneously stood up, shook there heads and quickly left the row to move elsewhere. Perhaps I had offended them with my unintentional attempt of trying to break the local custom. It was then the fear of my possible demise in this city out of arrogance and ignorance became apparent.

The priest spent an hour speaking of being humble, but I couldn’t stop thinking about the several men who let me embarrass myself. At least they could have warned me during the 10 minutes I sat praying in the women’s side of the church, like the outstanding catholic that I am. On a side note, the music at this service was particularly interesting. They had a keyboard with drum beats that resembled techno or trance music in the background of the hymns and songs, which people were singing completely off key, but loud. I found it ironic that such music, which I have only experienced in Ecstasy filled clubs and beach parties was played in such a sacred place, where I was forced to remove my shoes, and sit only with men, (some of which refused to sit anywhere near me)

I form no judgment on today’s events – I was in the wrong. Hyderabad- 1, Jason – 0. Upon returning home, I engaged in a 2 hour series of stories from Uncle, who taught me ancient Hindu tales and how they have been used in modern politics both in India and around the world, especially Germany – completely fascinating. Out of frustration with my constant disruption of the social norms in this area, I told my driver to go home and hang out with his boy, and decided to spend the day in solitude writing and reading, and let Hyderabad carry on without me this Sunday afternoon.

Most humbly,


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