Happy Thanksgiving from Hyderabad

posted by on 2007.11.22, under India, Travel

Happy Thanksgiving to all back home. This morning while walking the streets of India , I spotted a turkey, and chased it. Unlike Lil Bush’s friend in picture above, the turkey made a run for it. I didn’t have the determination to continue chasing it, however I hope that visual adds to the enjoyment of your day. Don’t worry about me, I will be also celebrating my favorite holiday eating turkey at either one of 2 thanksgiving parties. Only regrets are that I will be missing the football, my mom’s sweet potato dish and indo-stuffing, and the company of our closest friends and family. Does anyone have the recipe for Turkey Tikka?

6 days left in Hyderabad, a lot to be thankful for…. so to anyone who still reads this, my most sincere thanks to you all.


Dancing on the street

posted by on 2007.11.21, under India, Travel

Yes. My business is with weddings. I read about weddings, I study them, I pretend to plan them, and some nights I crash them. Today was sort of one of those nights.

Tonight, I didn’t really crash a wedding, as it was a friend of a friend’s neighbors wedding, and for some reason since I was on a distribution list on an email invitation (probably by accident) I was was drawn to a Telugu wedding.

These weddings go on for days. We were told to show up to the family’s house at 8pm for just a small portion of the celebration. We were informed that the wedding party would make their way back there around that time in an outside procession of song and dance, traveling from the venue a few kilometers away to the house. Having waited until nearly midnight, we finally made our way outside when we heard the thumping beats from the drums.

As Hyderabad slept, 60 people gathered around a bridal couple riding in a horse carriage decorated with brilliant flower arrangements. The outfits resembled imagery I have seen in classical paintings of historical India. Ten men were leading the procession, pounding on drums that hung from their shoulders. They played variations of the Bhangra music that my heart beats to. Within minutes of arriving to the scene, our group of foreigners were immediately welcomed and invited to dance next in the middle of the group of young people while the elders and newly weds watched. Only half of our group accepted the generous offer to join the party. I admit that I felt awkward dancing sober with complete strangers at a wedding where I didn’t even know the bride and grooms name. However, it would be poor form to turn down an opportunity to display my gracious Bhangra moves to the present company. Instantly, the shoulders started moving back and forth while the fingers went up in the air rotating the wrist in a motion that has to drive the ladies wild. I admit, I am no Shahid Kapur, but this Hyderabadass can hold his own to the Punjabi sounds.

Fireworks were going off, and the drummers played more intensely. I couldn’t believe the police had not locked all of us in jail for the noise. It was hours after midnight. When we reached the house, half our group had dispersed and the rest were fatigued so we called it a night. I spotted Satyam enjoying the parade from a distance. He ran up to us and complimented one of the girls who was dancing with us. Keep in mind that Nafessa is a seasoned dancer, and was even in a music video for an Indian band.

I, on the other hand have no official training. I admit that I am usually a horrible dancer- the thumbs go up and the shoulders move way too fast so I normally avoid dancing in public. Bhangra is my specialty, and I was a bit insecure that Satyam only complimented the girl and did not say anything about me. I asked him how my dancing was….. there was an awkward pause followed by a blatant lie “you were…… ok, sir,” then looking at Nafessa “You were very good!” That damn Satyam…..had to pull that in front of the girls. Needless to say, my self-esteem would suffer for months. It was an outstanding night, even with Satyam’s comment. One of the girls in the group was in euphoria afterwards, having always dreamed to be part of such a wedding that she had grown up watching in movies. It really was a phenomenal way to celebrate a wedding, this a auspicious Wednesday night.

*To my colleagues and friends back home…I may have found a new profession tonight. If I ever suddenly leave the US again, and move to India, you should know that I have left the western world to learn how to master the Dhol drum, and can be found on the streets of India on various other auspicious days playing in these wedding processions. Don’t worry Eddie, I will continue to market TheWedLink in between songs if this happens.

Punjabi MC-ly

Sunday at the park

posted by on 2007.11.18, under India, Shameless Plug, Travel

Nov 14th is Children’s day in India. The universal date is actually Nov 20th, but in honor of PanditJawaharial Nehru, India’s first prime minister who was very fond of children, the holiday is celebrated on his birthday.

How does a Hyderabadass celebrate this holiday? How about by spending a Sunday afternoon in a park with 30 kids playing cricket, tag, having 3 legged races, learning how to eat rice with my hands south Indian style, being drenched in water fountains by  mischievous little girls, carrying tired kids on my shoulders while letting others play with my mobile phone and finally getting genuine goodbye hugs after 5 hours of solid fun. Today I spent Children’s Day playing in a park with these young suffering victims infected by HIV and AIDS.

It is estimated that there are between 2 million to 3.6 million people infected with HIV in India, ranking it third behind Nigeria and South Africa in the list of most infected countries in the world. Less than 15% of these people receive antiretroviral drugs (AVRs), a treatment proven to significantly delay the progression from HIV to AIDS. Ironically, this treatment has been available to rich countries since 1996.

The UN has stated the following:

  • India’s adult HIV prevalence will peak at 1.9% in 2019.
  • The number of AIDS deaths in India (which was estimated at 2.7 million for the period 1980-2000) will rise to 12.3 million during 2000-15, and to 49.5 million during 2015-50.
  • Economic growth in India will slow by almost a percentage point per year as a result of AIDS by 2019.

Nonetheless this community face tremendous hardships in India. I learned from the folks doing social work with them that victims have faced violent attacks, rejection from families and communities, refusal of medical treatment, and even denial of the last rites before dying. Few are informed how they can prevent other diseases. Volunteers and non-profits are also faced with resistance with their efforts to help the victims. I was disgusted to hear that for every four people infected with HIV, at least one will be refused medical treatment in India.

The children I met today are thankfully unaware of the politics, but many of them have lost their parents because of this epidemic. A few of them were coughing throughout the day. Some cried, others consoled them, but at the end of the day they were all smiling. I have never seen such a caring group of kids get along so well, enjoying the simple games and toys we brought to the park. I can only imagine what their eyes have seen so far in life, and a day in the park spent with 4 big people with funny accents eliminated any need for misbehaving.

I couldn’t talk to most of the kids since they spoke only Telugu, yet we had no problem communicating. One of the kids, named Akhil, was one of the smartest 11 year old kids I have ever met. He spoke 4 languages including English, and offered to translate for us if our other methods of communication failed. obviously leader of the group, he was responsible for much of the success of the activities. At one point of the day he took one of the adult volunteers for a walk to the museum while sharing his passion for history. His father had taken him to that museum many times, but had recently died from AIDS.

Akhil returned from the museum with a ball for the other kids to play with, and began an unorganized game of tag/ dodgeball/ volleyball/ football/ tug-o -war/ monkey-in-the-middle/keep away. I had been nourished earlier by a generous serving of yellow rice. There was no silverware, so I was forced to eat rice for the first time with my hands, and I must declare that eating rice by hand is no easy task for someone raised in the US. The kids exploded in laughter at my pathetic attempts, but after they taught me how to hold my hands I figured out how to properly finish the meal.

During the madness of the next 5 hour recess, the kids found their way to the fountain, and started a massive water fight. 4 young girls conspiring against me tricked me into getting close enough to the oasis so that they could mercilessly drench me. One of the other volunteers had also been trapped and tried to make a run for it, but slipped and fell! Everyone erupted into laughter –  it was slapstick humor you’d find in a movie. Later in the afternoon, this same character, my buddy Sanjay, was tied up by the kids and used as a trampoline.

During this comic display of pranks, I secretly sent Satyam, my driver, to pick up a cricket set from the nearby store. When he returned with the sporting goods, the boys were absolutely thrilled, jumping around all over the place waiting to play the beloved national sport. When language does me no good here in India, cricket never has failed in helping me connect with people.

The cricket match went into intermission so that we could all jump into a large tug-o-war contest that started across the park.  This was followed by a self-organized 3 legged race. Satyam tried to manage the madness by organizing activities. He was the expert with explaining the rules to the kids and is a surprisingly resourceful, acting like eagle scouts at times. At one point he single handedly challenged a dozen kids in a tug-o-war match, but his raw strength could not prevail over the euphoric kids. I have never seen him so happy. He admitted that he wish he had brought his own son to the park that day.

We ended the day sitting in a circle sharing fruit. Akhil quickly offered his fruit to us, uncertain that there would be enough for everyone. All of the other kids followed his lead, in a very generous gesture. It turned out that there was enough to go around, but the gesture is something that I will not forget. There was something about observing Akhil that hinted that he has a greater purpose in life. He was the only kid I noticed who wasn’t smiling during the playtime.  His maturity was that of a much older philosopher and his confidence made it easy to forget that he was also an HIV AIDS patient.

This child taught me a lesson in humility today, on  Children’s Day , 2007 in Hyderabad, India. Despite only knowing us for a few hours, he and his friends wanted to share everything they possibly could with us. While saying goodbye my heart sank. Today was a highlight for us all but we will probably never see each other again. I still remember the “fun big people” I looked up to when I was a kid, but also remember the sadness I felt when they left. Today I had the same feeling as those childhood memories despite being on the other end of the goodbye. I nearly broke down when Akhil came to me to say bye and wrote my number on his hand, saying that he wanted to call me and the other volunteers to his summer camp. Unfortunately I don’t have a number to give Akhil to reach me at next summer, as I am leaving Hyderabad in 10 days. The fun I had today I now know will be impossible to ever repeat again. I guess sometimes life gifts us with these opportunities to remind ourselves what is truly important.



Satyam and the carrot juice

posted by on 2007.11.16, under Humor, India, Travel

I am a big fan of carrot and apple juice, and it has become a daily beverage choice for me out here, as I can get it made fresh at one of the many street juice vendors for under 50 cents. After being cheated a few times at local restaurants, Satyam volunteered to pick up my takeaway orders for me at places I am not sure about. While heading to the office one day, we stopped by a juicer and I told Satyam to get a carrot/apple juice. 10 minutes later he came back with a juice that resembled nothing close to the orange color or texture of the vegetable juice. Instead he brought one of the worst tasting, over sweetened drinks I have had in my life. I drank it out of guilt, but nearly puked afterwards. I asked him if he was sure if it was “carrot juice” 2 times and he smiled and said “sir, I am sure of it”

Well, needless to say, I held of on such juice orders for a few weeks, and the mystery drink that I had that day was not mentioned. This week the story came out. I came to the car from the gym with a carrot juice, and decided to show him what it looked like. He saw it, at once started laughing. He then admitted that he thought I said “Curd Juice.” (We still have issues with pronunciation)

The juicer was extremely confused why anyone would order curd juice. (Curd is a yogurt substance south Indians eat with rice daily to conclude every meal) Satyam has actually taken the trouble to buy the curd separately from a different store, and custom order my juice. He is really silly sometimes. For anyone who hasn’t tried Curd and Apple juice…you are best off avoiding it altogether.


Foreign Films

posted by on 2007.11.14, under India, Travel

Sometimes I feel like my life is like a foreign film. A better man than myself would have certainly learned the local language by now, and I really don’t have an excuse worth mentioning here. I have found myself several times around a group of friends who are native Telugu speakers and while they will make every effort to speak directly to me in English, they immediately go back to Telugu when talking amongst each other in front of me. It is very awkward, but understandable.

So, while wonderful conversation goes on around me I have developed a tendency to try to guess what the people are saying, similar to how I would in a foreign film. It really gives a new appreciation for observing body language, tonality and timing in speech, facial expressions, and other non verbal cues. On a road trip we played a game between myself and a Telugu fellow who barely spoke English. We would play a song in English and he would try to explain what he thought the lyrics were in Telugu. Then they did the reverse for me with Telugu songs, having be try to interpret what they meant in English. I failed miserably, but the car had a blast listening to me try. They call the language the Italian of the East, and it truly is a beautiful language to listen to.

A friend of mine invited me to see the hindi movie Oh Shanti Om tonight. It was the first time I watched a hindi movie here without subtitles or my cousin to translate all the dialogue to me. I was surprised on how well I was able to follow along. Living my 3 month Bollywood film here in Hyderabad made it possible to enjoy this movie just on Shahrukh Khan’s overacting (surprisingly, this was his first movie I enjoyed his performance in ), and the expressions on the face of the gorgeous Deepika Padukone. The movie was interesting, as it was a spoof of the old Bollywood movies. My favorite part of it was a colorful musical scene with Deepika acting with Bollywood actors in famous classic movies from the 70’s using effective editing techniques. Also, the bright colors and wild outfits have a total different look when seen on the big screen versus my laptop, and I found a new appreciation for set design and cinematography in this genre of film making. The movie synopsis can be found here. The song is still stuck in my head. All the most famous people that work in this town were in this movie, it was like the all star game for Bollywood, goofy masala movie that is not meant to be taken seriously. All the gossip on the movie related to the fact that Khan was able to develop abs for this movie. They are not there in the first half of the movie, but somehow magically appear after intermission. There was suspicion that they were air brushed on, and I am curious how long they had to stop filming so that he could build the muscle for them. And, yes, they have intermission for movies here, like a musical theatre performance would have. The movie was over 3 hours long, and the intermission was much needed. English movies also have these intermission, but are awkward pauses in the movies, unlike the planned Hindi movies who incorporate the break into the screenplay, pace and intensity of the movie.

I guess Deepika is not even 20 yet, and this was her first film, after being a famous model. One of the girls who was in our group is from the same school Deepika went to, and the girls mother met Deepika at a school function and scolded her for not studying hard enough. The actresses marketability for advertising endorsement increased ten fold after her role in this movie, co staring with Khan. She can now make rupees 80 lakh’s for an advertising endorsement. I will have to do some tough negotiating to get her to endorse TheWedLink on our India launch.

In other important news, in a foreign land called America there is a new business starting up that I know you all wanted to hear about. You might have heard of the concept of a “wing man.” Well, instead of rolling to a bar with your buddies and trying your luck meeting women, a company has started a dating service that replaces your male friend with a paid “wingwoman” who supposedly is able to make friends with the girl the customer is interested in, and introduce the customer in such a way that takes away the pressure of pick up lines, CB’s, and other reservations that the girl might have with strange men approaching them in a bar. The wingwomen cost $75/hour, and will only meet in public places.

Personally, I think it is a ridiculous concept, that is probably crazy enough to work. I pity the women who are fools to the wingwomen scheme, and wonder how they will react when they find out that their new romance was actually initiated by a professional woman paid 1/4 the rate of a prostitute. It is an interesting approach to dating services though, and if it brings joy in people’s lives, then i give it my seal of approval. Perhaps it will be a source of more users of TheWedLink.


Green Marketing in India

posted by on 2007.11.13, under Entrepreneurship, India, Travel

Sustainability has become a global buzzword. There are obvious trends with automobiles, hotels, manufacturing, and other sectors that drive companies to promote anything they do that helps the environment.

In India pollution is obviously a problem that the government is trying to control. Recently a list of the top ten polluting cities in the world was released, and 2 cities in India made the top 5. (Sukinda and Vapi). I have mentioned the traffic problems here, and as you can guess, over 70% of the pollution in the country is estimated to be caused by the vehicles. Interesting enough, there are only 7 cars owned for every 1000 people compared to western ratio where nearly 350-500 cars are owned for every 1000 people. With a growing middle class, India is estimated to add 2 million cars (passenger vehicles) to the roads by 2010. The manufacturers are marketing new cars that are as low as $2,500.

I can’t imagine what the traffic will be like in 2010 with sales of cars doubling per year. I have noticed that the government is slowly trying to control the traffic. Last week the 100,000 auto-rickshaws were on strike in Hyderabad. In 3 days the government has caught over 1000 of these 3 wheeled taxis having tampered meters, and is looking to enforce digital meters as a consequence. Even if the meters are installed free of cost, the drivers are refusing to install the meters. They are also demanding to carry 8 school children instead of 6.

Some people think that the move is a subtle move to get these vehicles off the roads. A proposal was recently introduced to replace all auto-rickshaws with taxis to ease traffic congestion by offering 4 year loans with cheaper interest rates. The private sector is also trying to help the cause by introducing a car that runs on air.

But, one of the more comical stories I have heard in on this topic is an initiative being taken to promote cycle rickshaws. Since fuel prices in India are insulated from global crude prices, Indian Oil Marketing Companies (OMC) lose money everytime a sale is made. Public sector oil companies are losing Rs. 240 Crore per day, or $1,546,804 as a result. Private sectors apparently are still free to charge what they want, but their pumps have been shut down by “predatory pricing from public sector OMC’s.” Satya will tell you that the lines at the pumps are very long these days.

Now…here are the details to the solution called Indivelop, which the OMC’s are promoting. They will themselves adopt the cycle rickshaws (different than auto-rickshaws), redesign them while employing riders who will be properly uniformed, groomed, and given social security, shelter, health care and a savings account at no cost. The rickshaws would generate extra revenue by selling advertising slots on the vehicles, uniforms, and rickshaw stands. Riders are going to have to obtain a license to operate these vehicles, and they are looking at creating battery operated rickshaws as well. Kramer might have been on to something….



Soundtrack in my Tata Indica

posted by on 2007.11.12, under India, Travel

I had just finished a tough work out at my gym after traveling all night on a 10 hour 3rd class AC train from Tirupati back to Hyderabad. The weekend was something I had yet to experience here in a city that 50,000 pilgrims visit each day. Beautiful scenery – the pictures do more justice in summarizing it than my clumsy words.

But back to the drive home….I have had a lot of thoughts going through my mind the past weekend. The weekend was definitely a humbling experience for me, and I have been sentimental about leaving in less than a month. As luck would have it, I happened to be playing music on my computer in the soundsystem-less automobile. While on shuffle, the song “All My Life” by KC and JOJO came on. Satyam and I exchanged eye contact, I am almost certain he has never heard the song that I instantly traced back to my 8th grade crush at St. Monica’s graduation dance. The awkward moment, similar to the car scene with Chris Farley and David Spade from Tommy Boy, prompted us to both break into laughter, and I let the song play. While driving through hustling streets of Hyderabad to this R&B classic, I have to admit I let my emotions get the better of me.

I started to think about the sadness in my host mother’s eyes when the subject of me moving out comes up. She has told me many times she thinks of me like her sons who are now living in the US. The other night, I told her now she has 3 sons to visit next time she comes out.

I became a bit homesick when I saw how close the families in Tirupati were, and how the childhood friends behaved around each other. Their reactions to the Diwali gifts I presented them made the effort completely worth it. (I gave them each cricket jersey’s with the company logo on the front and their names on the back)

All the friends I have made out, Sainik, Sumpath, Kirthi, Nafessa, Ankur, Sharad, Srikant, Aditya, The neighborhood kids who I play cricket with once and awhile, the guys in my gym, my office friends and the various expats and other random friends here have been incredible, but I do miss those closest to me back home. My first friend was my driver, Satyam. We have finally reached an understanding with each other. He is more loyal to me than ever before.

He was driving with more ferocity today than I have ever seen him, and nearly got us into a fight at one point with a much larger SUV. I asked him what the problem was and he explained to me that tomorrow is a big day for him, and he is stressed out. He will be in court tomorrow fighting a case for his pension money. As I said before, he once had a decent government job for 12 years, until the division was shut down 5 years ago. He had saved 300 rupees a month in a retirement fund, and when the layoff happened, the money was never paid out to him and 8 other government employees.

They have been fighting the case for 4 years now, in and out of court every six months, just to get transferred to a new court the next time. The money he is owed is 1/3 the capital he needs to buy a car so that he can build his own business. He has had a tough time getting bank loans here, and if he is able to purchase his own car then he will be able to earn 2000 more rupees per month in profit after his loan payment and all other expenses. (He only earns 5000/month currently). Within three years, he will be making at least 15,000 rupees per month on the car, three times his currently salary. With a second child on the way, this is a move he needs to make soon.

I saw his face change, and light up when I told him that will not be giving him money, but will do what I can to help him obtain funding for his own business through a micro financial market. We are going to try to get Satyam his own car, so that he can pay off the loan in 3 years, make nearly 2x as much profit per month than his currently salary in the meantime until he can retain up to 4x his current salary once the car is paid for. He is a good man, and it saddens me to see a good man broken by a lack of education, misfortune, government inefficiencies, and endless court battles.

And, during the climax of the late 90’s hit, I started to regret the fact that I only came here for 4 months. If I knew what sort of position I would be in out here at this time 3 months ago, I would have surely planned to stay here at least a year. The people make India the place it is. Not the beautiful scenery, the spicy food, the tropical climate, the exotic wildlife, the historical wealth and treasure-filled palace. It is inside the homes of the simple Indians where you find the beauty this country in unique for. And thanks to a bit of luck, a lack of planning, and a hyderabadass attitude I have been fortunate to get a glimpse of this amazing country….only to be left hungry for more, perhaps my next tenure here. I hope that my next trip here will be for a more noble cause, as I have truly been inspired by people like Nafessa and Leigh Anne who have a genuine passion for social change.

The song ended, as we over took and auto rickshaw aggressively, running a red light, and Satyam slamming on the horn to the mysterious soundtrack that plays in his mind while driving. I thought about the past 3 minutes, felt embarrassed that the song had such an effect on me this Monday evening. But much to my surprise, KC and JOJO were followed up by Jimi Hendrix’s “Crosstown Traffic.” A much more appropriate song for the occasion, and Satyam started comically bouncing his head in unison to the rhythm of the Experience. I reached home in no time.


The American Dollar

posted by on 2007.11.08, under India, News, Travel

It is a topic for discussion almost every time America come up in conversation out here, and it is something I can’t ignore while scanning my trusted news sources. Most of all, I am feeling the pains of this economic backlash first hand, as the value of the dollar to the rupee is at an all time low. Since my contract with our partners out here is fixed, they too are feeling the pinch, as the agreed price now is worth less than when we negotiated it. Other outsourcing companies that deal with Americans have experienced similar pain points, and have in some cases renegotiated the deals, or outsourced the project themselves to a country where the operations would turn a profit. There is talk about some Indian outsourcing companies setting up office in the US itself, as the operation costs would be cheaper to run there than in India, with the weak dollar.

My thoughts are that is seems like the best time to start a business outside the US, and convert those profits from the local currencies, such as the rupee, back to dollars to get an added boost from the exchange rate. US exports are improving because they are now affordable abroad, and helping to reduce the $800 billion trade deficit. So…how does TheWedLink export to India? (or any foreign country for that matter)

Perhaps there is an opportunity to piggyback on the matrimony sites, such as Shaadi.com or BharatMatrimony.com. These sites alone have arranged over 1.6 million weddings. TheWedLink, (or perhaps TheShaadiLink in this case) would happily help those couples, (who represent more than half of the total number of US wedding couples) make their wedding day spectacular, and share the memories with all their friends and families in the most simple and modern way possible. One thought I had was to employ the Eunuch as a secondary marketing distribution channel to get other families on the website….The Eunuchs as I said before have a network that somehow informs them of every single wedding and child birth in the cities they live in. I might have to work with them on their customer service, and sales approach, as I don’ want the company to be branded along with the negative opinions of this third gender of India, but perhaps it could be an amusing experiment. In all seriousness, we are learning about the Indian wedding industry as quickly as possible, and if the mix of what we can offer matches the demand, I will be happy to let you know when we and if we decide to put our fingers in the air and do the bhangra dance to launch our glocal version of the site here. Ideas are certainly welcomed on this topic

Finally, as the topic of this post related to America and money markets, I heard something interesting which I wanted to share on here. Most of my thoughts recently have been on shifting from the US to India, and the financial implication of doing so, however even with a weak dollar and a struggling economy, there is no shortage of demand for immigrants coming into the US, especially from India. With the recently updated Immigration Policy, they number of Visa holders have been cut in half, and it is damn competitive to get to the US from India. Some of the factors that go under review is having a minimum balance in the bank of 30 lakh rupees. (3 million rupees, or about $76,000). You might be aware that due to high taxation in India, most of the wealth people have is hidden in black money. Those that don’t have 30 lakh’s to show can’t get a visa, and therefore a form of bridge financing was introduced in the banking system. Originating from private investors, who would float the money to show the required balance during the time of immigration, legal banks have started doing this, recognizing it as a profitable business. The customers are willing to pay something like 30,000 rupees for this service, or $760 (1% interest) for this short term loan, to reach the land of dreams. For those who qualify though, the competition has become so high, that there is a lottery system to pick who actually gets a visa, and the $200 dollars spent on a visa application is non refundable. Perhaps these Indians will start making threats like the Chinese to switch to euro’s eventually, or instead stick around and build enterprises here in the motherland. Schools like Indian School of Business (ISB) make a good argument to continue grad school here in India rather than going abroad to study like in the past. I n fact, American schools like Harvard are opening branches here itself in Hyderabad. It will be very interesting to see what happens in the upcoming years with immigration, education, and spending/selling dollars.


“Woman Like a Man”

posted by on 2007.11.07, under India, Shameless Plug, Travel

I met some of the worst Indian gangsters, street thugs, and criminals the other day. It was a really awkward encounter, as it happened at 8am outside the Imax theatre. I had met some friends for a treasure hunt, which is actually a race around Hyderabad that an automobile company organized, where 100’s of cars drove around finding clues, solving them, and racing to a final destination where they would be awarded something close to $5,000. My friend, a real estate agent invited me, and I thought that with my wit and his knowledge of the city, we might stand a chance. Needless to say, we only made it 8 out of the 10 stops before giving up and spending the afternoon at the water park resort.

The morning started on a very bad note, which I blame for our lack of concentration and stamina throughout the contest. Standing outside the theatre, a sudden commotion presented itself on our group. I only knew the fellow that invited me, but we were joined by a crew of 3 other guys, which under any other circumstance I would have felt comfortable to defend me in a fight. You learn a lot about people after just meeting them, and sharing such a confrontational experience with them, and watching them react. That is one thing I have learned in my travels…

This particular morning, the confrontation that took place was initiated by what the locals call “Hijaras,” or Eunuchs. To make a long story short, the belief is that these castrated men wearing saris have special powers which when used to curse someone who does not pay them money upon request, giving bad fortune to the cursed recipient. Most of these Eunuchs were born as men, but it is believed that some were actually born without male of female genitalia . The process of castration is something I would rather not discuss here, but if you would like to read about the origins of this community, please feel free at your leisure.

These people roll around town in groups, like gangs and harass the people that are frightened of them. They are some of the wealthiest people in town, earning something close to $100k per year supposedly. They have such a strong network, that they know about every wedding and child birth in town, and show up on the day of the family celebration and cause a ruckus, singing and dancing and disturbing the event until they are payed to leave. When this source of revenue is not enough, they just stroll around town, stopping cars, or approaching random folks, like the group I was with, and demand payment. When they are unsatisfied with the payment, or the response in general, they rudely flash their missing genitals, curse and touch the person in the most uncomfortable ways you can think of.

I have heard and seen these people before. They are rumored to have the strength or 3 men, being build like bulls, but as feminine as Martha Stewert. When the group of 5 of them approached us, I considered several ways I could react. I thought about my uncle in Canada, who told me he once got so irritated that he hit one in the face, and ran away. I thought about my friend, Ian, who usually handles situations like this in an effective manner, and decided he would probably do the same. We were being watched by a group of 50 or 60 people outside the park, who were mostly amused my my facial expressions at the time. As I prepared to go Oscar Del-D’Mello on a particular enu-thug, I looked at the guys faces around me, as they helplessly gave up the money being asked. I was shocked to see one of these Hijaras‘ grab a $20 bills from my friends wallet, and him just stand still. Fear is something the face never hides.

I gave these people 20 rupees, hoping that it would suffice. It just got them to bother me more. I decided that there was probably a good explanation why the men around me were so frightened, however I refused to pay out anymore, and ignored them until they finally left. Luckily one of the other guys gave them 700 rupees so they left. Their 10 minutes of harassment earned them the equivalent of $40. That is $240 per hour….the rate of a decent lawyer. (I know a few lawyers who might get along with these people)

I held back a lot of insults to the guys around me for their reaction to the situation, as they explained to me that they genuinely fear the curses that the Hijaras‘ put on them. Furthermore, they explained that if we were to put up a fight, the 50 – 60 people around us would have sided with the Hijaras and it would have been, as my friend Ian likes to say, “A really bad scene.” They were upset they lost so much money, but glad the the 3000 rupees in my wallet was safe. That is the part of the Indian mentality that has really touched me, the people who care more for their guests welfare than their own, even when money is involved.

A part of me wants to make a documentary on this community….It is really fascinating how they exist, and profit from human fear. The sad thing is that since they can’t reproduce, in many cases little boys are kidnapped and forced into this lifestyle. Some people also believe that since a homosexual lifestyle in India is prohibited, this is the alternative many young confused men seek. Young men are said to save up for months for the operation to join the community in some places, and it is estimated that the total population of these “girly men” is over one million people. They are arguably India’s “Third Gender.”

1 Month Left in Hyderabad

posted by on 2007.11.05, under India, Shameless Plug, Travel

My time is nearly up here, but the adventure seems to only be beginning. I had a lot of concerns about coming out to India for this project, many people have spoke quite negatively about working with Indian vendors, including even many Indians I spoke with. Some of the challenges were there when we started, but we found ways to work around them, and create a unique dynamic that seems to be working. Check out the office…

[The Office]
[Front of the Office]

[My receptionist Yaswanthi]

[Inside the US Embassy of Hyderabad]

[The Lounge]

[Marketing Dept]

[Engineering Dept]

[Sitting with the directors of Threshold -Bharath, Ram, Shiva, Nevine, Prashanth, and Ramu]

Business and money aside, I was very honored that they would think about inviting me to their hometown of Tirupati. This weekend is Diwali, the biggest festival in India, and everyone gets together with their families to celebrate the festival of lights. I grew up participating in dances at the Diwali function in Kalamazoo, much to my displeasure and my mothers amusement of forcing me to wear strange costumes, and involve myself in silly dance moves on stage while hundreds of Indians in the audiences clapped and whistled to their favorite songs.

At the time I was petrified of the whole thing, imagining what my American friends would say if they saw me like that, but today I am thankful I was forced to do it. Now, instead of wearing a costume, practicing dance moves for months, collecting a trophy and hiding any picture/video that could tie me to such an event, I am going to be joining 30,000 daily pilgrims along with the 5 founding members of my partnering company to one of the most beautiful parts of India to celebrate it in a small town with the local people. It should be a wild experience, and I am trying to prepare myself to adjust to any situation that might present itself to me, as every day is going to be something brand new for me.

I am anxious to meet the families of the men I work with. They have been raised to be outstanding gentleman, who truly care about each other and show a level of friendship which we do not see too often in the US. They all are roommates, business partners, and best friends, and I have felt the extension of this friendship through this thoughtful gesture of inviting me to Tirupati. It was nice enough for them to invite me to play on their cricket team. The 6 of us are usually good for 1 or 2 jokes each day, which really makes the environment in the office fun. I brought some trail mix to the office yesterday, which my mom had brought from the US. I offered this to a few people, saw a favorable response to the new food, and decided to walk around and offer some of the snack to the 20 some people in the office. It was damn amusing to see their reactions to the various mix or nuts, fruits and candy. One of the larger men in the office got the biggest laugh when he snatched the bag away from my hands when I offered him a handful. I finally had to tell him that he could get sick from too much trail mix, so that I could get some of the bag back. A mild mannered and entertaining fellow, he had the entire office hysterical with laughter at the time. I have noticed that remarks about peoples weight in the office is not offensive here, as its usually he first observation someone makes about you when meeting.

I have a pretty clever Diwali gift up my sleeve for the office, which I am working on getting. The season is very similar to Christmas, as many people exchange presents with friends and families. This morning, to start the celebration in the office, we had a pooja. The people in the office welcomed me to participate in the tradition, and I was given my first red dot on the forehead, drank coconut water, and was showered with flower petals on my hair. Very interesting way to spend a Monday morning in the office. They seemed thankful that I joined them without any hesitation. Enjoy the pictures coming soon….