Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Indian Independence day

In the meanwhile I had found my own place to stay, although it will turn out to be only for a short-term. The “looking for a flat odyssey” is still not over, so you’ll have to wait for some information on the Indian life style. Today it will be about the 15th August, which is the Indian Independence day and basically brings all Indians up on their roofs.
Already on Saturday, the day before Independence Day, I came in touch with some history of India. I was planning to visit the India Gate as it is one of the famous Delhi sights, but due to the preparations for the big day, it was closed and locked behind fences. The picture I took from far is no point sharing it with you. Standing there without a clue what to do I was kind of only waiting for the heavy monsoon showers which came over the city as soon as I knew that I can’t go to the gate. In the same time a rickshaw driver passed by and offered his service, respectively a tour to a lot of sights. I didn’t wanted his whole tour, because it seems a bit too much of a hustle to me, if I would have done his sight-jumping tour. It wouldn’t have been much of actually seeing and getting the intention of the particular sight, because he just would have given me some time for taking pictures. “We drive there, and there…and you can make pictures, and come back and then we go there, and there…” he always said. I suppose that most of you have the approach of taking your time when you wanna relax and really get into the presence of you actions. Hurrying was none of my intentions, but standing in the rain also didn’t seem to amusing, especially since you never know when the monsoon rain stops. Thus I told him to just drop me off at the Gandhi Smriti – the Gandhi House – and let me do my way of sight seeing, and so it was ok for him. The rain became really heavy and there were almost no cars or rickshaws on the street anymore. When we arrived at the Gandhi museum, which is actually the house where he was living in his last years of life, the driver told me that he’ll wait for me and that we can go to other sights afterward ;-)…Well, I again could just tell him to leave and offered him a reasonable charge for his service, but he didn’t gave up. Since he was an old man already he also tried to get with “I’m driving rickshaw for my whole life and you really think I won’t wait for you!?”. So you see that language barriers also exist in India, because that was not the question at all. Anyway, after ensuring my that it is not a big deal for him to wait about one and a half hours, I finally went in the Gandhi House. Story to be continued…
Since it was raining, there must have been only ten tourists on and in the entire property and museum and that was pretty cool, because the experience gained a lot of quality. Besides getting to know all the facts of Gandhi’s life and stations in his life, which were shown in pictures, texts and puppet scenes, you really can feel a peaceful atmosphere and a good vibe around the area. It will move you, when you read what he has done for mankind and especially how he achieved his vision of a free India, independent from its conqueror England. He did it without any violence! India gained its independence on the 15th August 1947 and not even half a year later Gandhi was shot down. “Mahatma Gandhi’s death shocked Delhi and the whole of India with ‘the impact of atomic force’…” (The Hindu, 31 January 1948) and millions of people have been on the streets to give him his last honors.
Gandhi actually spent the few last month of his life in that house, where the museum is located nowadays. Thus I got the opportunity to see his room, which just had all the basic stuff. In my opinion the world would be much better, if most of mankind would disclaim their unsustainable and consumptive life style and prevent the earth from damages. So therefore Gandhi was not just an non-violent revolutionist, but also a great man of sustainability!

“Simplicity is the essence of universality.”

Since it was raining cats and dogs, I was really delighted to here that there will a movie on Gandhi to be shown in the museum in some minutes, so I went outside to tell the driver not to wait for me anymore, but it was still the same difficult…I sometimes think that Indian people’s work attitude is similar to the European car industry’s market understanding some years back. They both do not ‘work’ according to the demand! While in Europa all the Opel’s and VW’s almost got bankrupt, because they manufactured products which nobody ever wanted to buy, here in India people also try to sell you things most of us don’t need or at least don’t see a use in them the way they are presented to us. In my case I really had to give me best in explaining the rickshaw driver that I don’t want his fast-forward ride through the city. Although being in a calm Gandhi-like mood it was still a bit annoying when the other one didn’t want to understand. At the end a gave him a reasonable price for driving and waiting for me and I was running back into the museum. Just to give you an example how a heavy monsoon rain looks like, the following picture it took – totally wet, but in the house again – from Gandhi’s veranda.

Not just the streets were flooded, but also the entire garden! Anyway it was still relaxing to spend the day before Indian Independence Day in memory of Gandhi. The following pictures are from the almost spiritual gardens of the Gandhi Smriti.

If anybody ever wondered, what round circle there is on the Indian flag, then here is the story and relation the the nations pre-eminent political and spiritual leader during the Indian independence movement. Gandhi was always making the thread for his cloth on his own spinning wheel to encourage all people in India not to buy all the stuff the English brought them. In this way he also made the Indian economy getting started, because people realized that they can live on their own working skills and manpower. To always remember this fact, the Indian flag carries a spinning wheel in the middle.
To also finish the story line of the driver and myself, it turned out that he was still waiting in front of the museum, so I at least let him drive me home, because I spent too much hours in the Gandhi Smriti as I could still have done more sight-seeing. Some weeks later I got told by an Indian friend (thanks to Karan) that he might have been influenced by his nature: Never being alone! So, if you see it this way my loyal friend was just taking good care of me and wanted to accompany the ‘lonely’ European.

The 15th August, birthday of a great country, started with sleeping very long ;-) ..My first three weeks in India had been quite exhausting, mostly in a positive meaning. After lunch I did what every Indian is doing on this day. It takes some preparations, but I had done them the day before… I’m not talking about the big military parade infront the Red Fort, but about flying kites. I invited some friends, climbed up the roof of the house where I was living at this time and tried to make it look like Indians were doing it. Sure, I must admit that we didn’t had the time of practicing as much as the kids were doing it some weeks already, but nevertheless we sucked really much! First, the colorful, thin-paper kites have to get on the rope, which holds them into the air and believe me, this is a secret technology on its own. Second, you have to throw it into the air and pull slightly on the rope, when the kite’s nose looks up. But since there is not wind at all, it is really hard to get it up. After getting a lot hand signals from other roofs, me landlord helped us to bring it into the air. Finally, the kite flies until we had it in our hands… We tried it hard until it was dark already, but it seems we still have to work quite hard until the Republic day in January!

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Incredible India

The fact that I haven’t been blogging for quite a long time shouldn’t make you worried about me, because I’m fine. It’s changing from time to time, due to different reasons, but I’m fine. Actually I’m having a really good time again, so that prevented me from blogging! Today I want to tell you about my first week at work and all the other things what happened.
After having a quite relaxing weekend at Hannah’s place (remember her as the other intern, who had a place to stay for me at the beginning) and getting over my first India shock, I was driving to work the first time. The GTZ office for energy issues (Indo-German-Energy-Programme, IGEN) is located in R.K. Puram, a district in the west of South Delhi. We share the big office building (have a look on the next picture) with the Bureau of Energy Efficiency (BEE) and the Central Energy Authority (CEA), and respectively the Water Commission… They are all very important, if you consider that the Indian economical growth is restricted by its energy capacity! Without a growing energy supply India – one of the big and important emerging markets in the world – can not keep up with its expectations. So in this terms the building looks kind of shabby, but its still a Government owned building, where the military is present for security issues and checking your permission and identity every day.

My first day was a bit chaotic, because not only there has been the most commonly known issue of getting things arranged and being introduced to people on a first day, but also because there were not even a computer available. For me it meant that I either could go home again, or I find myself something to do. At the end I was reading a study on the Indian energy market, which gave me a broad insight of the actual resource situation, power plant capacities, energy strategies, market stakeholders, energy tariffs and the energy problems India is facing. The time passed by really quickly and our whole energy team was supposed to meet in the Imperial Hotel, which is considered as one of the best hotels of India. Surely it was not my welcome party, but since one very honourable senior manager left India they pleasured all of us with a farewell party. Besides big words from some of the official IGEN heads, my boss also welcomed me in the team again. That evening was very crazy, because we were treated like royals, the food was very delicious and we had heaps of good wine. A spiritual Indian band was playing traditional music, while literately thousands of servants were taking care of us. Honestly I felt to be in a wrong world. My little episode of going to the bathroom can proof that perfectly. As I already had experienced there is staff for anything, but the bathroom was just the next level. This guy was opening the door for me, saying “Hello, Sir!”, guiding me to the toilet, opening the water tap, giving me soap and towel and opening the door for me again. Isn’t that crazy!? The whole evening was so far away from my first arrival impressions and just showed me the other side of the wide range of the Incredible India. I was really lucky to be involved in these circumstances already after the few days I’ve been here, but my Indian colleagues told me that similar incredible stories are happening all the time! This is what makes India magic.
Three days later we had another reason to celebrate. Now it was my official welcome and Hannah’s goodbye partying. It started with me coming too late, because I was still working an proposal translation for a Photovoltaic roof top project, which had to be on the table of the Federal Environment Ministry (BMU) on the next day. Then I had to walk forever to get some money to pay a riksha and finally my driver also had to ask five guys how we get to the bar, where we were supposed to meet. Here’s picture of my hero on that day, because due to him I still got one beer before we left into a restaurant.

Again the evening was long and we ended up in a expat club with music for everybody except for me ;-)
Over the week I got an old laptop and could start accomplishing some tasks. Since then I’m creating a database for all the IGEN stakeholders and interested parties, so people here can handle the data in an easy way. There is a big mess of several lists, but after reading about MS Access in a few weeks it all will be redundant. Another task was to look through the Terms of Reference for a study, which is to be conducted for evaluating the geothermal energy potential and all important facts around. GTZ is supporting the Indian progress by setting up the right business environment, so that Indian and German companies feel like participating at the market. Exploring geothermal energy resources is in line with India’s energy strategy, because they basically need every energy source available. In the long run it’s preferable renewable energy.
The people at work are pretty nice and always open for a chat. Apart from the BEE people, the share of Indians and Germans in GTZ is almost equal in our team. Also in the office there are also people for all sort of issues, e.g. the chai walla (that are the people bringing you tea or coffee to your desk) or people for carrying heavy folders. At lunch time the Indian usually unpack their food from little bowls, but we always ordered food. You may think everything is cheap here, but it is not. My colleagues are used to buy food for around 350 Rupees (almost 6 Euro) each, which one can’t afford from his internship pay check for a long time. I stopped doing this in the meanwhile and eat in the canteen that everybody told us not to go to, because we would get ill. Well, so far the 20 Rupees per meal (we have Thalis, a plate with different stuff, every day) are a pretty good investment.
In my first week I basically had to adjust to my new day rhythm, so I usually came home very tired and haven’t done too much in the evening. But I also shifted to another friend’s place where I could stay for another 10 days and look to find my own place to stay. When I have managed the “looking for a flat odyssey” I write another blog on it.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

The shocking insight into the poverty

The flight from Hamburg to Delhi via Dubai was pretty exhausting, because I couldn’t resist watching some movies (now I at least can recommend ‘Green Zone’ and ‘Invictus’ although Matt Damon is acting in both of them) and listening to the good old Bob Dylan instead of sleeping to adjust to the 3,5 hours time difference. I also had interesting company by an elderly woman who was going to Kabul (Afghanistan) to see her parents the first time after 18 year. In this sense our own parents shouldn’t take it so serious when we leave for half a year, or one year or even more, because we always have a realistic chance to come back. In times of war, nobody knows what’s gonna happen…
Although I was informed quiet well by friends about beginner mistakes and No-Go’s in India, I think I stepped in quiet a lot of them. Wondering around at the airport in Delhi isn’t good. There are just a way too many people offering services, so I got caught by a guy who help me dialling a telephone number, although none of us would need that kind of help. Anyway that was the beginning of my first trap. After not reaching the person by phone, he ordered me a taxi driver and I - exhausted, entirely wet from sweating in the humidity of about 35 degrees and not willing to argue - was suddenly sitting in a cab into the city. That wasn’t the plan, because friends told me earlier to buy a fixed taxi ticket from the nearby stand. Rates are fixed, so they cannot cheat on you. I’ll get to the point of that story later, cause it’s going to continue, but firstly we are on our way towards a new world. At the first meters I just thought we might be out of the city very far and that would explain, why everything looked so destroyed, unlikely to live in and also a bit lonely, but the closer we drove into the city, the more I realised that I’m in a very poor country now. I though “hm… it will take a while before I get used to the environment here, but that’s ok.” The streets became more crowded and it felt good to see people wearing this typical Indian cloth, something what I expected and this was the moment when I thought “yeah its gonna be a really nice time here…” The taxi driver was very friendly and asking me where I’m from. It didn’t take to long and we entered Delhi and suddenly my mood changed again, when I felt to be on a different planet! Ok, don’t think I’m too naive, but what I’ve seen you can’t believe if somebody is telling you about it. Photos also don’t touch you in that way. The streets were totally taken away, because at the moment they are rebuilding the city for the big event of the Commonwealth Games in October. All the construction and work was achieved by skinny people’s handcraft. They were carrying stones and soil on their heads. Others were sleeping in the mud, had taken all sort of stuff from construction sites to build little shelters for housing. Rikshas and other traffic participants were driving chaotically through this scenery and honking as much as possible. It seemed to me, that instead of a break they only got a honk and everybody is playing chicken game, where the one looses who’s leaving his lane first. Little kids were playing in flooded streets, where oil or some other chemical was the top layer. I was really shocked and upset about my first impressions. Then we stopped and I had to get off, because my driver was taking me into a sort travel agency. People were starring at me and I just wanted to get out of this situation, thinking if I’m “sure to live here for the next four month.” In that place they already knew how to treat a foreigner and by saying they saw a mobile cash machine in me, I don’t exaggerate. They offered me Hotels for more than 50 Euros although in the Lonely Planet it was stated with about 2 Euros. That there would have been neither running water nor electricity didn’t make it seem nicer. In the phone line with the hotels they always asked me, where I’m from, and when I once told them not to answer, the hotel was suddenly booked! I could help myself just by pulling the emergency break. I called Hannah, the girl that also works in my project and asked her to let me stay at her place for a night. Luckily she was kind enough to make it possible. After another taxi ride through a really poor area I arrived at Vasant Kunj, a district in the very south of Delhi. The “tourist” driver was done with me and wanted to have 1800 INR (that amount of Indian Rupees is equivalent to 30 Euros), which is quiet a lot if you imagine that a typical Indian can buy groceries for a month from that amount (thanks to Gitangali for the remarkable comparison).
Being at Hannah’s place let the world look better to me, because it was clean and felt save. She gave me a brief introduction to the Delhi life, and after I had refreshed myself I drove into the city with a Riksha. This was my first time going in a Riksha and I have to admit that it was fun from the beginning. Sure you have to get used to the driving habits here, and also trust the driver’s skills… and apart from the smog, and all the bumps making you jump on the back seat, I was smiling again. This time I went to a place called Khan Market and Pandara Road Market, which are both in the south of Delhi. They are kind of like everybody would expect Delhi to look like: dirty, chaotic and full of people… strange little shops and food stands, but it looked at least nicer and safer then where I’ve been earlier that day. Actually I was still not self confident enough to take picture, but at least I was on my way to get along in my brave new world. Since I haven’t had food for long I was going into a restaurant. It was quiet expensive for the common money terms, but again I was paying off my background. There I randomly met Hannah and Carsten, a GTZ consultant who I will work with… what a coincidence! In the evening they went to a party, but I stayed at home to relax a bit from all that things what happened in the last days. Also on Sunday I just left the house for getting some food and more impressions of where I’ll be living for the next time.
Here are some of my first pictures what I took, but believe me they are harmless compared to other areas I’ve seen. There I was just not able or in the mood of taking pics!

This is the nice and proteced area where I found a place for the first couple of days. There are gates, walls and staff looking for the inhabitants security...but "outside" it looks different...