Some Ranting

The iPhone

Yes we had several discussions about why the iPhone 4 is no better than the EVO or whatever else. But that doesn’t make me want to any less. However, when people in the US are paying about 10 grand for the phone on a 2-year contract, in India – the supposedly poorer country – we pay 35 grand or more for the phone.

The reason – there is no “contract” here for the phone. Now I don’t know why exactly but I read somewhere that this is mainly because the providers – Airtel and Vodafone – believe that the contract system is not really honored in India and that there are shops that can “break” the phone in every alley in India. Well, that is true. We are notoriously unscrupulous at times and look for loopholes just for the sake of it.

But it does annoy the hell out of me that I have to pay the full price simply because… I live here?

And that I have to go without an iPhone because I cannot afford to pay 40 grand. Does anyone know if there are special corporate schemes or something?

A part of me laughs at it saying we bought this upon ourselves. A while ago, when I still lived abroad, there was a rush of Indians who came back to India after buying Nokia N79s on contract. They would upgrade their phone to the latest scheme or whatever and then just come back, without even bothering to cancel the connection. The service provider, after several futile attempts to collect the bill had to just give up. They did the same with credit cards too… get about 6… swipe them like crazy before you return home and then… hey!

Of course, this caused a problem for us because by the time we got there, the government was just catching on and Indians historically had been assigned a horrible credit rating. So even to open an account for electricity – and yes, you needed an account – it was sheer drama.

Immigration

A friend of mine forwarded a mail about potential changes in the Australian Immigration Policy. It is based on what Australia has been saying for a while – they would choose to give residency for people who have the skills that they need. There has been a rant against this issue for a while, mostly from students who were studying there and hoping to get PR based on that.

According to this article, however, the minister can veto any possible application and the applicant has no powers to appeal. Okay, I admit that is harsh. And perhaps a little short sighted as well…

But the article went on an Australia-bashing session, talking about how the government took money from international students during the recession and now is tossing out all their hopes of PR into the ocean.

How many people went there with the sole purpose of getting a visa? So if they paid more for their education, was it equivalent to buying their residency?

For once, the logic of both sides fails me. Why would anyone go and do a hairdressers course in a new country? Or cookery? Why were these professions even on the “skilled list”. The government should’ve pruned the list a long time ago. And doing so now in an abrupt manner and tossing all those people who have made their lives in Australia and are contributing to the society is just plain… mean. Or a “I really don’t know what to do” mechanism.

Further applicants can be stopped. People who have just applied or come into the country can be asked not to apply unless they really qualify.

But I wonder – was this a reaction to the racial allegations that arose earlier this year? All the furore from India about the alleged racial attacks and deaths? Is that when Australia woke up and realised they had enough people to sustain a good economy? Or that their smooth mechanism was breaking down?

Photo of the day: Today’s photo is my own. I took this about… 4 years ago on an expedition. I’ll tell the story some other time, but I’ve long lost contact with the woman in the photo. If someone knows her, please do let me know.

 


The women’s train

Am I am on a blogging spree? I am on a blogging spree. I like reading stuff that makes me think and reminds me of things I wanted to say anyway.

I read this article on my new fav magazine Caravan (can’t link it unfortunately) about women in India traveling alone and the perils it involves. Rather, the reactions it involves.

And I wondered about all those times I traveled alone and faced “you did what?!” expressions and outright questions. And the follow-up of “but why”. Their expressions remained dubious despite my explanations, which is why I stopped explaining why I traveled alone.

The first time I did, for a long trip, was to Sydney. I had time after a work trip and figured I could use to roam around. Why waste two days as I was already there? So I packed my bag and happily wandered around the Circular Quay, the shops and whatever else that caught my eye and plopped myself down in a park and read a novel when I didn’t feel like roaming around anymore. That was perhaps the revealing moment when I looked around me and saw plenty of people sitting around and reading books, writing, listening to music or just staring into the sky.

I guess I was accustomed by then to travelling alone. I traveled alone to Australia, I would often take trips to Brisbane to meet friends and would be alone in the train. I never considered this ‘journeys’, though in a sense they were. But I guess people do not take ‘vacation’ trips alone. But then, none of the trips except for Italy was a vacation. They were desperate attempts to get away from the city.

Back on track, when I told people I was going alone to Italy, there were tons of horrified expressions. So I had to give them a lame explanation about how  my friend cancelled on me, omitting the part that my friend cancelled about a month or more before I was supposed to leave and I could’ve called off the entire thing. But I wanted to go.

My first solo trip in India was to Pondicherry. A number of circumstances forced me to go alone and I was shit scared. I wanted to go but I was shit shit shit scared. I’d heard plenty of stories about what happen to women in India traveling alone. And it is true. You don’t see people traveling alone in India much, except for some white women or men. Indian women and alone? Yet to find one. But I took off… ran into a few guys just celebrating finishing college. They were the nice sort who helped me find a hotel, though I moved out of there in half a day (the rooms were miserable for me). I also met a French guy who ended up being a really close friend. Of course, nobody there thought I was Indian. Every auto guy, bus and whoever else thought I was of Indian origin from somewhere else. Because Indian women do not travel alone.

And apparently that is a widely known fact because even when I was in Italy people kept asking me ‘where are you from’ and the conversation would inevitably continue to ‘Indian from England?’ and I’d have to roll my eyes and say ‘no indian from India’. In the end, I would just recite a monologue saying “yes, I’m Indian. From India. And my parents know that i’m here alone and they are perfectly okay with it and I did not have to threaten them with anything to let me come here alone.”

They were convinced. And these were second- or third-generation Indian immigrants. Or Bangladeshis.

I haven’t really traveled alone much since then… I haven’t traveled much since then actually… but… I like the charm of being by myself. I like to wander around, thoughts running silently in my head, absorbing the place. And then I like to meet my friends and have a good time, talking and enjoying. It is different when you are alone… the way you perceive things is completely different. And you meet people faster, so technically you are not alone. And these new people – you are not obliged to hang around with them if you are getting bored. And the adventure of meeting someone new, learning something interesting.

My current favorite method is half a day with friends and half a day without them. But that is simply not possible in India. A woman alone attracts attention, no matter how subtle you try to be. I have learnt to simply ignore everyone and walk around, and they think I’m a ‘firang’ anyway, despite my skin color… or maybe because of the skin color I don’t get hassled much because they think i’m a half-firang.

But it is surprising that with all the women traveling around, we still don’t see acceptance anywhere. Yes, I’ve read the articles too quoting statistics about how more women are traveling.  But do you really see it happening? It is one in a hundred. We are still the freaks, the eccentrics.

I didn’t start traveling alone by choice but now I like having the choice, the couple of hours of freedom to myself in a group. I like the combination of both.

there is this organization – Women in Wanderlust – that arranges trips only for women. A fantastic step in a country like India. Women are getting out of the hosue without the men. But the men are allowing them cuz there are no other men around. And the adventure isn’t about traveling in a pack. It is about being able to get out alone. Rent a room alone for yourself, being able to sit in a restaurant alone and order a meal and not be hassled. Or being able to handle the hassle. About knowing how to take care of yourself and handle yourself.

Are we ever going to see that? Am I ever going to stop getting ‘are you nuts’ look when I tell someone I took a trip alone?

Racism? Mugging?

A friend of mine sent me this link on Outlook about racial attacks in Melbourne. By far, the most balanced article I’ve seen in Indian or Australian media so far.

The Indian media+government have been screaming their heads off calling this racism while the Australian media+government have been playing it down. And we wonder what the truth is.

The Indian media tends to exaggerate, as I can say from personal experience. A couple of years ago when I was still living in Australia, when they found one of the suspects of the Glasgow bombing incident living in Gold Coast, the Indian media reported that Indians were being bashed up in Australia. The truth – no one I ever met was even aware that the guy had been living there. The Australian media picked it up only after a week or so. But that didn’t stop our parents from panicking about the situation and calling us asking if we were okay and how was the situation.

I do agree that GC is not a huge city like Melbourne where there is a little more global awareness. But in my time in Melbourne too, I didn’t see much racism.

People in the above quoted article say that racism has gone up in the past couple of years. Then again, so has the population of Indians and the economic conditions have changed. So what are the facts?

It is a fact that a very small percentage of Indians actually interact with the locals. Most Indians when they get there prefer to be within their own communities. Not just the nationality. The same community. The Gujratis, the Punjabis, the Teluguites, the Malyalis, the Bengalis, the Tamilians etc. They are shy and scared to interact with the locals or with any other country people actually. But that doesn’t stop them from making fun of the ‘goras’. That doesn’t stop them from leching at the girls walking around in skirts and shorts. That doesn’t stop them from saying that the white women are easy, even if they’ve never really been able to score with one. And they feel jealous of a guy who is dating a white girl, and raise eyebrows at a girl dating a white guy.

The Indians become more rigid and more backward when they get to a place like Australia which is laid back and easy going. True, a lot of Indians do come from small towns and cannot speak that great english. But nor do many of the Germans and French who get there. Or the Chinese. That doesn’t stop those people from interacting with the culture and adjusting to it. But we just lack the confidence to walk up to someone and speak to them, to make eye contact.

How does adjusting to a culture mean giving up what you hold special? Why do we keep harping that we are being treated unfairly when we do not step up to the plate? I have known several people who have made Australia their home and are as happy as any Australian.

Now to the Australians – yes, some of them are racist. Like the above article quotes those two parties. Those two parties represents the Australian counter parts of Shiv Sena or the RSS. If Bal Thackrey and either of those ministers got together, they’ll probably end up best friends. Those guys are voting for the ‘white guy’ and let me remind you that Australia is not about white people alone. It is not about Christians alone. Are Indians a threat to ‘white australians’ alone? What about the rest of the country? The Aboriginals, the Africans, the Chinese, the Greeks, the Italians… all those people who have made Australia their home over the years. They are as Australian as the ‘white’ guy, whoever he may be. Australia doesn’t promote one religion or one culture. So the people who say they do are racist.

And such people exist everywhere. People who beat up others because they belong to a different caste/sect/religion or even sex. Can we honestly say that doesn’t happen in India? And it is equally maddening when it happens here. Why should I forgive the Shiv Sena for advocating the ‘Only Marathi’ thing in Bombay? And why I should I forgive an Australian who says it is for white people only?

Australia has a history of racism and they are learning from their mistakes. Most people are easy going and great. And there are some who will push you away because you are Indian, Chinese or African or even French or German. Or English. Afterall, ‘pugs’ is the biggest insult you can hurl at an English guy in Australia. The Australian government needs to work to change those people (however that would be possible).

I met an Irish guy in Australia… and he told me that his boss refused to hire any Indians at all. He didn’t want to. But that doesn’t stop Indians from being everywhere. At all the 7/11s, at the restaurants, the fuel stations, behind the grocery counter. Yeah some of them work illegally and earn too much money. And they spend that on ipods, laptops, fancy phones and such. We do love our gadgets. And that does mark us as good targets for muggers. The Chinese and Japanese held that distinction for a while.

It is perhaps the way a culture grows. You’ll have to ask an anthropologist for that.

But the fact is both cultures need some adjustments. India needs to stop hyperventilating and Australia needs to stop treating this so casually.

And I really wish Indian guys started having a little more respect for women, anywhere in the world. Stop taking pictures of women in skirts and shorts. Yes everyone else does it but most other guys understand a ‘no’ a little easier than Indian guys. Stop thinking that a woman living alone, wearing skirts, drinking and having a mind of their own were ‘easy’.

Maybe getting the woodstock back would be some sort of a buffer to all this hatred.

Song of the day: Bob Marley – One Love