Monday, November 30, 2009

The week from hell in Kalyani Nagar (Nov 23-29...)

I had a crazy week. There are crazy ones, and then there are ones like this one, when it's all so clear, my neighborhood is simply an overflow center from the nearby mental hospital.

I guess things started getting bad around Tuesday night... Leena picked me up from work Tuesday and told me about a goat in our building that Mr. C. got as an Eid al-Adha sacrifice (he's a Muslim, despite having a very non-Muslim last name) and how the watchman was appointed goatherd for the week to deal with it.

Tuesday night around 3am or so some of the feral dogs on the street (yes, in Indian cities there's packs of feral dogs all over, probably thriving because it's tropical, no cold winter to kill them off, and Indians in general litter like crazy so there's plenty of food there for the dogs, and plenty of rats as well) attacked it, wherever it was nearby. Dogs barking and growling, a goat bleating and screaming, and eventually joined by men yelling while they tried to break the dogs away...

If only that was the worst, it wouldn't have been such a rotten week...

Tuesday there was a big, huge, pink festival sort of tent in the next building's parking lot, a sure sign of noise to come. The buildings are very close, so that's like right underneath our window. Tuesday night there was lots of banging and clanging as caterers were setting up folding chairs and dropping trays of silverware and all that kind of thing. (And I must be turning into one hell of a curmudgeon to be upset by happy events, like weddings...)

Wednesday night we heard crying pretty nonstop from Mrs. R.'s apartment, and lots of people coming and going with the door wide open. It was sad sort of crying, which is unusual since about the only time we hear her is when she's screaming in anger at servants, laborers, neighbors and police officers... We guessed, and later confirmed that Mr. R. died.

Thursday morning was by far the worst... My morning nap was interrupted early by Mrs. R.'s guests' drivers outside yelling and washing cars and making a lot of noise.

And then a little before dawn Mr. C. drunkenly roaring at the watchman to get his goat back here immediately. So, the goat came back, and I don't know if it was pain, cold, hunger, boredom or just wanted attention but it was screaming and bleating almost nonstop. Probably not hunger because it would stop occasionally to eat some leaves around, then scream some more, and probably not cold because it's not that cold for a furry animal. At one point even Leena woke up yelling "if that fucking thing doesn't shut up I'm gonna to kill it myself."

Oh, but even that got drowned out eventually, a little before 8am... That's when the band for the wedding under the pink tent started warming up. Like most bands in India that play at weddings and festivals, they have no skill, they're probably doing it because their father did it, and his father did it... It was just the trumpet players and the drummers getting warmed up, and none of them playing the same song at the same time or the same speed so it was just cacophonic noise, and deafeningly loud, echoing off all the buildings with not a quiet spot in the apart.

One Thanksgiving that I was thankful to go to work!

Even now Mrs. R.'s guests' drivers are still making noise all around the place, with nothing to do but talk, and for laborers, talk is never done in a quiet, conversational tone of voice, always yelled across the yard. At least as the weekend wore on it seemed to be wealthier and wealthier visitors, as Mercedes Benz cars don't make as much noise as Marutis...

The goat was screaming until Saturday afternoon, when after a few really, really painful ones it was quiet. Shortly after that I saw some guys loading what appeared to be wet butcher blocks onto their motorcycles and ride off, so I assume that was finished. The gossip amongst the servants is that Mr. C. did it far back in his yard, right under Mrs. R.'s apartment and called her name for her attention before slaughtering the goat, just to offend her, since by religious she's a strict vegetarian who doesn't kill things, and a freshly grieving widow...

While hardly anyone gets along in this building, the two of them have the most raging, long running feud going on that's left each of them slightly bloodied over the years from physically fighting. It's their feud that brings the police here more than any other.

I've been so stressed out this week that I've broken down and hit the chemicals... Potato chips, mainly. I was doing good for a few weeks at not eating any and getting slightly less chubby, but when it gets stressful resistance is just so much harder... I come home from work and just stuff my mouth with that junk and it's like an instant touch of relief with the crunch and the salt. But even a few days of that and I feel fatter and have more trouble breathing and pimples...

On the more ironic front, last week I began to read Hamlet for the first time. On Wednesday I read the scene in which Claudius tells Hamlet:

'Tis sweet and commendable in your nature Hamlet,
to give these mourning duties to your father:
But you must know, your father lost a father,
That father lost, lost his, and the survivor bound
In filial obligation, for some term
To do obsequious sorrow.
An understanding simple, and unschool'd:
For, what we know must be, and is as common
As any the most vulgar thing to sense...

And then a few hours later, the commonness showed, and a neighbor died.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Update on the Filthy Yard Across the Street

A couple of weeks ago I walked out and found that the yard has been cleaned up a bit. The rubble and the shrubs have all been removed and the area now looks flat. There's a gate in front with some watchmen there all the time.

And a sign at the entrance that says Dana Builders.

Builders... Uh oh... That means new construction, doesn't it? Leena's father, who keeps up with these things around town, says there's going to be a high rise apartment building going in there...

I wrote a haiku about it:
East, a new building
The end of the morning sun
No more rising moon

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Made for India?

One of the problems we have over and over is with a couple of CD players manufactured by big, reputable companies and sold here in India. Clearly they intended them for India since they came directly from the manufacturers, sealed in the boxes with Indian power cords.

But what we've found is that simply having an Indian power cord does not make the component actually made for India.

The first one we got was a Sony 3 disc CD changer system. Which is okay, but the big problem is that if the power ever goes out while it's in the process of switching discs then it jams and has to be taken to the repair shop to get unjammed. While this sort of thing might be fine in another country where the power goes out once or twice a year, usually in the middle of the night when it's less likely to be used, here in India where the power goes out multiple times a day, this is clearly not made for India.

The other one is a Bose tabletop CD player. Again, we bought it from the Bose dealer in Mumbai. It's big problem is that the slot loader jams with almost every Indian manufactured CD we put in it. Whether it jams when try to put it in, taking a little extra force, or we have to use a knife to try and pry them out when we're done, almost every CD manufactured in India gives us problems (of course, the general quality of goods manufactured in India is a topic for another rant). Sure, the problem is that the Indian CDs themselves feel slightly lighter, or often slightly off-center and often have somewhat ragged edges, but if a CD player can't handle them, it is clearly not made for India.

But if a product is made for India, it should be designed with these sorts of factors in mind. The manufacturers should test with Indian conditions and Indian products.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Wait. Wait. Wait... Did you see it? Did you blink?

My wife has a Plantronics Bluetooth headset and I just saw it charging on the floor and was reminded of how bad the UI for charging is.

The way it works is you plug it in, and while it's charging the red LED will flash on for a moment about once every 15-20 seconds. Not much longer than the blink of an eye. When it's done charging, it no longer flashes on.

What's really wrong with this is that in order to tell if it's charging or not, you can't just glance at it and see, you have to watch it. And even if you feel like you waited enough for the flashing light, maybe you blinked and missed it, so you have to wait longer.

A better UI would be to simply show the light while it's charging. Of course that has the downside that maybe if the light doesn't show it means it's not plugged in, or the switch is off.

Even better is it could flash more rapidly while it's charging and then stay on steady when it's finished. That way you can easily tell. Or two colours, one for charging and one for charged.

The way it is now stinks.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Maharashtra State Electric Board Sucks

That's another thing that's been increasingly frustrating, all the power failures here. The first year or so I thought it was kind of neat, a reminder I was living somewhere exotic and tropical, but over the last few years it's just gotten annoying. Maybe that's because the adventure has worn off, and maybe because I have Leena's frustration added to mine with it. It's worse for her because she really likes to watch TV and mostly likes food heated in the microwave.

And side effects of all the power failures fall on her... The MSEB is simply bloody incompetent. Last year was really bad, with the power out for seven scheduled hours a day for a good bit of the year, and this year was okay till a couple of months ago when the summer just wore on and on, when it's gotten unreliable with a lot of random outages.

I got upset when I found out that a portion of the power bill is fixed, so they continue to charge us that even when they don't provide service.

And we have other problems, unrelated to the power failures they rarely ever deliver a bill to us, the courier usually returns them because they can't find our address. Leena goes to the MSEB office almost monthly to get them to print a bill, but when the power's out they can't use their own branch office computers to look up our bill or print one.

But don't worry, their system that calculates late fees and interest has full UPS or generator backup!

Even if we get a bill one way or another, it's usually wrong. It turns out that if the power is out when the meter reader comes by to read the meter, then they give us an estimated bill, because they supplied us with a new, modern, fancy LCD digital meter, that doesn't display anything when the power's out...

And frequently the bill is wrong because somehow we keep shifting between residential and commercial status, which costs a lot more and a few times a year Leena has to make a few trips to their office (even more if the power's out) in order to get them to rectify that and recalculate it at residential rates.

Two years ago we got a gigantic bill, way out of proportion for the power we were using, like 30 times the normal bill. When Leena went to their office to inquire about it they said it was all late fees and interest because we hadn't been paying the full bills every month for several years, which of course surprised us mightily as we always paid the amount they billed us... With several trips there and hours and hours waiting, they figured out that the problem wasn't that we paid less than the bill, but that they were billing us less than they should've, but at least one computer was keeping track of the full amount the whole time. At first they told us we'd just have to pay it because we were late but Leena managed to fight it out with the managers and supervisors and point out that it was their fault we didn't get correct bills, we paid the amount they charged us in good faith.

And this is the power company supplying power to a major high-tech city in India?

And I come from a place where electricity has been more reliable than this for, oh, not long, maybe just a century. I miss the reliability, and the assumption that a bill is probably right, instead of probably wrong.

A lot the people at work have loud phone calls and then miss days or half days for similar work, with the MSEB, BSNL or their banks, all of which give them incorrect bills or statements, almost always to the institution's advantage. I guess part of what I'm tired of is that here in India, problems and failures like that are the norm, rather than the exception. And I miss a life where most things go smooth with only the occasional screw-up, and bills are probably right, instead of probably wrong.