Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Anatomy of a Bribe

So last night we were with a friend driving to an Italian restaurant for dinner. She makes an illegal U-turn, and we get pulled over by the cops. Our friend says, "oh great, here we go. Watch and learn."

Cop: "License."
Friend: "Sorry Sahib. I wasn't paying attention."
Cop: "License."
Friend: "There were so many cars, Sahib, I got confused for a moment. It won't happen again."
Cop: "License."
Friend: "My brother, please let me go. I wont make the mistake again."
Cop: "Madam, please come outside and bring your license."
Friend: "Sahib, I don't have much time, can't we just be done now. Lets just finish the bill now."
Cop: "Madam, please come."

Our friend steps out of the car, walks over to a shack filled with cops. In this city, the cops set up a special booth on the side of a given roundabout. A cop stands outside and points at drivers, indicating they need to pull over. The "processing center" is where a few other cops formalize the tickets, or gather whiskey money, depending on the time of month.

Friend returns to the car a few minutes later. "Okay, just waiting for my change. All I had was a 500 note."

Cop taps on my window. I roll down the window.

Cop: "Sir, please remember to have your seat belt fastened at all times."
Me: "But I do have my seat belt on."

Cop, annoyed at my ignorance, with closed fist, reaches into the car and plops some notes onto the seat, then says, "yes, please remember safety at all times." He walks off.

We drive away. My friend starts laughing, "my change please. Gosh I wish I would have had a 100 note, would have saved me 100 rupees. I had to bargain down to 200 for a couple minutes. Its tough, you know, they see this huge car, and the rate quadruples."

I ask, "so what are the rates?"

Friend: "10 for a bike, 20 for a rickshaw, 50 for a scooter, 100 for a nice motorcycle or tiny car, 200 for a big car."

I say, "And what if you actually paid the ticket?"

Friend: "300. But I have to go across town to pay the ticket. Would have taken me an hour."

Me: "And why all the sneakiness?"

Friend: "Well they are really careful since a lot of journalists set up anti-corruption sting operations, with mobile phone videos and the like. Technically, with this entire transaction, we have no idea if we paid a bribe, or a reduced ticket on the spot. And also, whenever they are fund raising for the police department, there is nothing you can do, you have to pay the ticket. That's when their superior officers are present and watching."

Me: "And by your guess, what percentage of folks pay the bribe?"

Friend: "Maybe 1 in a hundred does not."

And on a final note, if you enjoyed this post, you should check out these recent NPR podcasts on corruption in India:

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Norbulingka Institute Preserves Tibetan Culture

We spent a wonderful afternoon at the Norbulingka Institute in Dharamsala. It feels amazing to escape the hot, dusty, chaotic horn honking streets of India into the peaceful and incredibly colorful temple complex. We particularly enjoyed watching the Tibetan craftsmen making huge Buddha statues. On our next trip we will definitely have to stay a few nights in the guest house.

And a few words from the Dalai Lama on the Norbulinka Institute: "Buddhism changed the whole Tibetan way of life, giving rise to a more compassionate community, in which there is a more peaceful attitude towards ourselves, towards our fellow human beings, towards animals and towards the environment. In today's world there’s a lot of talk about peace and non-violence, but the real factor in creating genuine peace is compassion, not just education and technology. Where there is compassion, a sense of community, a sense of respect for others' rights is automatic. In order to promote compassion, it is not sufficient just to talk; it needs to be spread through example. I believe that our peaceful and compassionate Tibetan society is such an example; that’s why it is worth preserving, and I am pleased to see that in its work to keep Tibetan culture alive, the Norbulingka Institute is actively contributing to that task."

Don't miss the lovely doll museum. This blue one below is about 3 apples tall.

A lively exchange of ideas amongst a group of female monks.

A monk listens in to glean a few enlightening words from Princess Leia and her wise brother.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Tossed to the Facebook Backshelf

Last night, at dinner here in a small village high above Dharamsala, with our new friends from Sweden and Austria, someone mentioned their grandparents just had their 60th anniversary. I said, "That's so wonderful, to enjoy such a long marriage. Unfortunately, perhaps the last generation to stay married. Since then, we've all learned to throw away our spoons, plates, and cameras, why not out marriages too." A bit cynical, unfortunately, and I'm not sure how the thought popped into my head, but I fear there is some truth to it.

100 years ago, even something as simple as a spoon was considered a permanent heirloom, to be washed, polished, reused, and ultimately handed down to a subsequent generation. Nowadays, not only do we presume plastic spoons are to be tossed, even our formalware might get a Martha Stewart inspired overhaul every few years, just to keep us current on the latest designs. With rapid advances in electronics, we know ahead of time our new iPhone 4 will be uncool, and fit for the tossing a mere couple few years after its purchase. Its a rare first generation Indian immigrants' child that can't remember vinyl runners winding down hallways, up stairs, sprawling over chairs, and wrapped around the sofa. That generation, born in an impoverished pre-partition agrarian India, cherished their goods, and made great efforts to preserve them well into the future. Not only did that generation cherish their goods, but also their social relationships.

I remember throughout my childhood, whenever my parents announced we were leaving for a vacation, to a place like California, we kids would get really excited; we presumed our time would be spent at Disneyland, or wandering the glammy streets of Beverly Hills. We'd be so annoyed to find the reality of us sitting in a dark house in a no name suburb for weeks in the relatively uncool (literally and figuratively) climes of Yuba City. Few of us in the modern generation can envision "sacrificing" our hard earned 2 weeks of vacation to visit second cousins in a non-descript locale, but this was normal for my parents, as these relationships were cherished in the old country, more generally, in pre-industrial society.

We of the modern world were raised early on to know that social connections, like spoons, were to be disposed of when the economic need had arisen. I recall being 8 years old, and extremely anxious about moving across the country, primarily because I was leaving my friend network behind. I of course thought I would return to visit, in the summers, or on holidays, but alas, that was never to be. They are friends whose names I can't recall enough to even locate them on Facebook. In the modern world, we know we have to pack up and move; we move for jobs, for college, for graduate school, for fun, for a change. Sometimes we return, but often we don't. I recall being 17 years old, 2000 miles away from home, and clinging to the phone, calling friends and family alike, in an attempt to keep these links real, alive, and relevant. Over time I learned that most folks loved the chats to keep up, some would even return calls, but a very rare few would actually initiate such communication. And then we face a great paradox of our time. Ancient eastern wisdom says, "be in the here and now, focus on the moment you are in, do not live in the past, or in the future, live now." And ultimately, when faced with this, the friends of where we are become more important than those of where we were. And indeed, like spoons, plates and cameras, even our friends, become disposable. I suppose there has been some improvement, for in recent years, we don't need to fully toss out friends, we can downgrade "real" friends to "just Facebook" friends.

I read somewhere that 100 years ago, the average person had 50 social contacts in their entire lives. This was because most existed in an agricultural economy, lived in a village, socialized primarily with fellow villagers, and only rarely ventured beyond the village. Now, its a truly uncool Facebook or Twitteroid that has a mere 50 "friends." We live in multiple cities, we vacation in multiple countries, we interact with humans we've never met, all of which means we have far more than 50 social contacts. Its significantly easier today to meet new people, and we do, so I suppose it is only inevitable that some we've met from before, disappear from our lives.

As we travel, on some level it makes me sad to know my kids have gotten used to entering a new place, playing for weeks with some local kids, and then leaving abruptly, never to see the kids again. My son, when he was 3, and we were spending time in Norway, became fond of our dear friend's nephews. He actually only spent perhaps 5 hours with them, but Nayan shrieked for over a week about wanting to see them again. I wonder if we aren't hardwired for longevity in social contacts, especially when we form an emotional bond, and if our modern world's new found fondness for "social disposability" isn't, well, unnatural.

Its become a ritual of ours, and most travelers nowadays, to exchange Facebook info, on departure. It makes saying goodbye easier, and it leaves future interaction possible. Facebook interaction is definitely lame while compared to real interaction, nonetheless, it does seem like a slight improvement over utterly disposable friends.

I'll leave you now with a slightly related, but nice little "Goodness, Gracious Me" clip.

Tuesday, June 01, 2010

Babas and Waterfalls in the Parvati Valley

The kids got out of school last week, and are off until the 15th of July, so we packed up, and ran for the hills. When we left Chandigarh, it was 46C and searing hot. 8 long and nauseous hours later, when we arrived outside Manikaran, it was a cool 25. Life is so much better when you can open the door, walk outside, and not immediately break out into a sweat. We spent a week outside Manikaran Sahib, and its nearest town called Kasol, in a fairly secluded cottage above a raging river in the spectacular Parvati Valley. Our hosts at Parvati Kuteer treated us well. We especially enjoyed the many local hikes we did in the valley. A short walk from our cabin is a mundir. I can't remember much about the history of the temple, other than this baba below from Rajasthan bought the place and told me he makes money off it now; also, the tree is 500 years old and marks the location of the original temple.

Nayan, my 8 year old son, and I were descending from a hike when Nayan said, "wow Papa, this place is just like hiking near Seattle." Right then the guy in the orange outfit below walked by asking me if I had seen his goat wander by. I said to Nayan, "just like hiking in the Cascades, except usually dread-locked sadhus don't wander by asking about their lost animals."

We spent much of our week in Kasol hiking and lounging near these pristine pools and waterfalls.

Guided hikes in India come with multiple gentlemen that carry your whiny kids. Its really great, as Ananya will certainly tell you.

Many of the areas we went to have little or no trails. Nayan is demonstrating the proper facial expressions to use when hacking through the jungle with a nice long machete.

One of the most beautiful waterfalls I've seen. Our guides hacked a trail through the jungle to get to this fall. The journey was a bit more adventurous then we normally take with the kids, but was well worth it.

A cool shot of a Ganeshji image outside the Babas place.

Father and daughter modeling fancy glasses.

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