Journey to Ahmedabad

An American’s journey from financial insecurity to retirement and financial freedom in a third world country

Assorted Treatments

I think I am less vulnerable than a white female foreigner. Nandeeta says no; in India, the white woman would get more respect that me. I asked Nandeeta, a native of Delhi, what would happen if the woman who cleans the shop tries to walk into the hotel. She replies that there is no way that woman would be allowed to enter.

I also experience many opposite reactions, especially in bureaucratic circumstances. In Customs, Immigration, walking past a police man or army officer in the airport, I do not feel privileged. To the police, I have as much potential to be a problem as anyone; certainly some of them may have dealt with drunken, obnoxious foreigners. However, as a polite person who often smiles, says hello, and waits patiently when necessary, I usually get treated well. I have read some commentary online that Americans are sometimes considered insincere because they are always smiling and polite no matter how they might be feeling. I do see most Indians being pretty blunt and open with their feelings.

Riding alone on the metro, many people look at me and look away when I look back. But on almost every metro ride, someone has reached out to be friendly and helpful. A young guy gave up his seat for me (I wanted to refuse but I forget that I’m 67; I used to give up my seat for older folks. So surreal…). Another time, a man showed me a better way to get to my destination.

Yesterday marks 90 days since I entered India on May 20. I’ve learned a lot; I have a lot more to learn. On September 23, I will be giving a lecture on predatory leadership at an academic conference in Pune, about 600 miles south of Delhi. I will return to the U.S. briefly next April. Before then, I will be traveling with my friends to various places around India, and to Thailand and Singapore; maybe also to visit my respected sister, Binita, in Nepal. Life the past couple of years in Florida was fairly static. The adventure here has been varied and unpredictable. May the stories continue…

Downsides and Upsides of Being a Foreigner

Then there are those who try to rip me off; often they succeed. For example, to ride a tuk-tuk from my home to the metro is 100 rupees for a local. I have to pay 150 rupees or I will not get a ride. Now, 50 rupees is only about 75 cents. I would discount it; Nandeeta points out that the little difference adds up to $200/year. Add in all the other circumstances in which I am charged more, just because I am a foreigner, the difference will add up to thousands of dollars per year.

For example, I want to complain to Apple U.S. about my treatment at the Apple repair shop in Connaught Place. A neighbor who does IT for Adobe told me how I could have been scammed.

My Macbook Pro started behaving badly. I went to the main Apple repair place in Delhi; this is supposed to be Apple’s presence in India. They charged 2,500 rupees for a diagnosis (about $45). They said that the logic board was fried; I would need a new one for 40,000 rupees (about $600). I said I would think about it (don’t get my social security until the 4th week of each month). My neighbor took it to an Apple repair place nearby where I live (My apartment in Exotica Fresco in Noida is about 18 miles east of Delhi). He came back and said it was repaired for 1,500 rupees (about $23). He also said that if I had taken the laptop in myself, I probably would have been charged four times as much. And if I was simply standing beside my IT friend when he took it in, he probably wold have been charged double. He also said that a logic board doesn’t cost 40,000 rupees; the cost is double ($1,200 us). What the folks at Apple Delhi would have done is taken my 40,000 rupees, fixed the problem for probably 750 rupees and made over 39,000 rupees profit.

However, there are more upsides than down; excellent friends, great food, an apartment that would cost $2000 or more in the U.S. for about $200/mo here; a meal in a good restaurant for $4-$6; etc.

The Imperial Hotel

I live about 18 miles east of Delhi in the city of Noida which is in the state of Uttar Pradesh (UP). From the border of Delhi, UP extends east where it eventually borders the country of Nepal.

Imperial Hotel Greeter

Imperial Hotel Greeter

Almost daily I make the hour long commute to New Delhi where I spend the afternoon working on projects with my friends, Joshi and Nandeeta, in their shop, Vedanta Cottage Exposition, located directly behind one of the finest five star hotels in the world, the Imperial Hotel. For the experience, I once spent a night in the hotel; it was a wonderful self indulgence that I highly recommend.

I visit the Imperial daily for two reasons; to use their clean, western bathrooms and to purchase some of their wonderful pastries in the shop near the gentlemen’s bathroom. There is a public bathroom about a block away behind the shop; as one might expect, in a public bathroom in a third world country, the conditions are quite unsavory.

I make the walk to the Imperial at 7 p.m. because that is when the pastries are sold for half the price charged before 7 p.m.

Imperial alley guard

Imperial Alley Guard

I leave the shop and walk about thirty feet to a gate manned by snappily dressed security guards. When the guards see me, they smile and say, “Namaste, good day sir!” I reply in kind; we are all smiling.

Once past the gate, it is about a 70 meter walk to the front of the hotel. Clustered in the porte-cochére are more guards and an exotically dressed and mustachioed greeter with a turban. In order to enter the hotel, each person, including guests, goes through a metal detector and a guard runs a metal detector wand over each person as a second measure of security. Yesterday, the security guard waved me through without wanding me.

Imperial Entrance Reception

Imperial Entrance Reception

From the security checkpoint, I approach two sets of double glass doors. A female guard, also well dressed in a similar black and white uniform as the guards in the alley, opens the door and bids me hello.

I walk into the Imperial’s lavish lobby and stride past the concierge desk, check in desk, reading lounge and a number of shops, finally ending my journey at the men’s room. Usually when I enter the bathroom, nobody else is there. But when I leave the latrines and head for the sink, a uniformed man is always there to give me liquid soap from the dispenser and hand me a towel. How does he know? In the few times I’ve been in such bathrooms in the U.S., a tip is expected even though I find the man’s presence somewhat disconcerting and unwanted. But in the Imperial, the man will not expect a tip. The exchange is brief and friendly.

Exit the bathroom and enter the pastry shop. Displays of eclairs, Danish pastries, fruit and cheese covered croissants, muffins, cheese, veg and chicken filled patties, quiches, chocolate mouse tortes and more adorn the countertops. Usually 110 – 140 rupees ($1.60 – $2.00) most of the pastries are now available for eighty – ninety cents (the chocolate mouse tortes run about a dollar each after 7 pm). I usually buy three or four pieces; they are packed one or two to a bag; those bags are packed inside a sturdy Imperial Hotel carry bag that probably cost more than the pastries themselves. With my bounty in hand, I exit the hotel, repeating the smiling exchanges with all the staff, and return to the shop ready to begin the commute home where I will enjoy the pastries with dinner.

As I write these words, I am now reflecting on the cultural and sociological elements that inform this daily walk. As a white foreigner, I stand out. As a male white foreigner, I am something of a target for some; people assume that I have lots of money. Prices quoted to me will be double, triple, or even higher, than for a native Indian. If that Indian is seen with me and then comes back alone, he will be charged more just because he was seen with me.

Mubina’s family

Mubina's brother Soocter 2A lot of good things have happened in the month since my last post. I have made wonderful new friends here in Ahmedabad and I have learned to become fairly independent making my way around the city on my own. Since most auto rickshaw drivers do not speak English, often this requires that I email a map to myself of my destination so that I can show the auto rickshaw drivers where I want to go. Sometimes they look at the map on my phone, nod yes and after a few moments of driving, stop someplace where they can ask someone else how to get to the place I want to go.

Mubina's brother's family - heading out on the motorscooterOne of my best resources here has been the website couchsurfing.com (CS). On CS, members contact other members to see if they have room available for a traveler to stay for a couple of nights. More than just lodging, the membership is a very supportive resource for suggestions on what to do (and not to do) in their city, and often they are willing to get together with travelers to act as local guides or to just sit and enjoy coffee and discussions together. One of my CS friends, Mubina Quereshi, looked at my website on predatory leadership (PL) and introduced me to the director of an academic conference on literature, culture and world peace that will be held at the end of September. The director, Dr. Sudhir Nikam, invited to me deliver a lecture at the conference on the impact of PL on the topics of the conference. I’ve been writing and rewriting that lecture ever since.

“Have you been to logodon?”

A few weeks ago I started hearing about some place in Ahmedabad that I should visit. It sounded like logodon. People would ask, “Have you been to logodon? Finally I learned that the actual name of the place is Law Garden – a street bordering a Law College (and somewhere there is a garden as well).

Last night my friend, Sumedha Sharma, brought me to this frenetic street scene known for its energetic and brightly colorful local culture. On the side of the street bordering the college, hundreds of college students hang out, doing whatever law students do at night. On the opposite side of the street, kind of like the Venice boardwalk, a string of booths runs for about half a kilometer, most of them selling the traditional dresses you see in the photo behind me and Sumedha.

Matt & Sumeha at Law Garden Navrati Festival Shop

Matt & Sumeha at Law Garden Navrati Festival Shop

These dresses are made and worn expressly for the Navratri Festival, a nine day celebration that happens in the late fall. The original meaning and purpose of the festival makes for some fascinating reading; too much info to present here. I recommend you google Navratri Festival; Quora explained it as follows: It is probably the most important Indian festival you have never heard of. Essentially, it is an art festival and the celebration of good over the evil (or positivity over negativity). The celebration is known by different names in different parts of Asia, such as the Nine Emperor Gods Festival in China. One could consider these festivals as Asia’s answer to Mardi Gras.

Getting Settled

So much life has happened in the past three weeks;
here is an encapsulation:

Luggage Fiasco

Shgam set me up in a nearby hotel for the 12 hour layover in Delhi. After I returned and checked in, I had about two hours to wait before boarding. A few minutes before boarding, Shagam had mentioned something about retagging my bags but if I left the boarding area, I would miss my flight. If I had been given this information earlier, I would have had time to do whatever was supposed to be done with the bags. What I really missed in the language challenges was that I needed to take my bags to Customs for screening and inspection. I got on the plane, expecting to retrieve my bags in Ahmedabad, as promised by Air Canada. Silly me.

On the flight I was fortunate to be sitting next to a Customs official named Sajan. We had a very pleasant conversation; I shared with him that I was flying to Ahmedabad to live in retirement. Sajan had no luggage but he hung out with me while we waited for my three pieces of luggage. To my surprise, the luggage never showed. Sajan took me to baggage claim where we filled out a claim. He then joined me in an auto rickshaw about half way to the Summit Hotel where Rajesh said I was to wait for a few days until he returned from his journey to Singapore. After Sajan exited the auto rickshaw, I proceeded to the hotel.

Nandeeta in front of her shop

Nandeeta in front of her shop

The Summit Hotel is owned by a family friend of Rajesh. I wound up staying there for a week; staff were all friendly and polite; the food was good; my only problem was that the Internet service was usually very poor. During the week, I logged into the Ahmedabad chapter of Couchsurfing.com (CS) and announced my presence in Ahmedabad. A number of CS members responded, met me for meals and made my introduction to Ahmedabad quite wonderful. One new friend in particular, Mubina Qureshi, made an amazing connection for me; after visiting my website on predatory leadership (impada.org), she introduced me to the producer of an upcoming conference on peace, culture and literature. With that introduction, I was invited to give the keynote presentation at the lecture coming up in September in a city called Pune (pronounced Poon-ay).

Rajesh showed up a week later; my luggage still had not arrived. Several CS friends had tried contacting Air Canada and Air India on my behalf; it was finally determined that I had to return to Delhi to deal wth Customs in order to get my bags. With the help of more kind people, including Joshi and Nandeeta of the Vedanta Cottage Exposition, after about four hours of going from department to department, I finally retrieved my luggage. Since then, Rajesh, and on occasion, Mubina, have been showing me around Ahmedabad. Among other things, I learned to pronounce the name of the city as “omnabad”.

Joshi and Nandeeta

Joshi and Nandeeta in their shop in Delhi

Tarik at the Alpha Mall

Today I have arranged for Tarik, my “personal” auto driver, to take me to the Alpha Mall. I’ve been drinking those little probiotic bottles and I think that has been helpful in keeping me healthy; they are at the market in the mall. And I plan to take lots of video of Tarik’s frightening driving through the intense intersections of Ahmedabad.

As often happens, things do not turn out as one plans. I am reminded of an old Buddhist saying:

Whenever it begins is the right time
Whoever shows up are the right people
Whatever happens is the only thing that could have happened.
When it is over… it is over

It seemed to me that Tarik and I had a good connection in spite of the language barrier. The fact that I made an appointment for him to be my driver today meant something to him on a level that was unknown to me. He showed up today dressed very nicely, his demeanor was dignified. And when we started to drive, I noticed that he did not drive wild and crazy like I expected. He drove slow and dignified. How could I say, “Tarik, drive faster?” I could not. I went with the flow. And as I was to discover, it was not how we traveled, it is where we traveled that was unexpected and magical.

We went to the Alpha Mall first; I picked up more probiotic drinks and a couple of bananas. As we looked at prices in the stores, (Levis for 3,000 rupees – $45) Tarik said we should go to the bazaar, everything there is much cheaper.

Indian Autos

Indian Autos

Leaving the mall, we took major roads for a while, then the roads got smaller and smaller and eventually turned into narrow pathways shared by pedestrians, scooters and autos. If I understood Tarik correctly, we were in the oldest part of Ahmedabad, or in the oldest Islamic part of Ahmedabad. I was reminded of swap meets in the U.S. except here, the booths were lined up along the pathways. Eventually we came to a place with two kinds of mosques. One was very old and small. I had to take off my shoes and put my phone in my pocket. Inside I saw three tombs; from what I could understand, a famous leader was in one of the tombs. (Later, my couch surfing friend, Viplove, said that Tarik was referring to the Sultan Ahmed Shah, who founded Ahmedabad in 1414.) As we were alone, I asked Tarik if I could take a photo. He touched his ear and pointed up and said, “God”. So, no photo. We walked a little bit and came to a very large open air mosque that seemed as big as a football field. You will see a video of that mosque. Because of the time of day, Tarik said I could take a video.

mosque

It seemed like Tarik had given me a window into his world. I felt very honored. This was not a commercial or tourist part of the city; this was where residents lived their daily lives. Maybe I saw one European/Westerner the entire day.

Myra and Viplove

Myra and Viplove

A couch surfing friend, Viplove, is picking me up in a few minutes to take me to his home for dinner; I will meet his wife and 8 month old daughter. More to post later.

Trip to Ahmedabad

Brief blog spot; more extended writing may occur later. Landed in Delhi around 10:30 pm local time for a layover; final leg to Ahmedabad will occur tomorrow morning 6:30 am. When I began the journey in Orlando, Air Canada staff said I would get the final ticket for that last leg in Delhi. They did not tell me that the Air Canada ticket counter would be closed at that time, and that Air Canada would not actually fly that last leg itself because it wasn’t a domestic airline. Folks wearing military uniforms at various access points into airport waiting lounges were not helpful; I was eventually shunted back out to the open area outside protected airport areas.

A young man, nicely dressed in a dark suit made himself available; his name is Shgam;  pronounced “cheom”. He explained that a local domestic airline would actually take me to Ahmedabad; I explained that I had to talk with Air Canada first since (1) my flights are all paid for through Air Canada and (2) I have three suitcases sitting somewhere in Air Canada land. I have a tracking device called Trakdot in one of the suitcases; the trakdot app shows that the suitcase is in the airport – so at least one of the the suitcases is where it is supposed to be.
Shgam set me up at a nearby hotel where I am writing at the moment. I’ll be heading back to the airport at 3 am when, presumably, the Air Canada counter will be open.

Weather Report

Here’s the weather in Ahmedabad on May 18, 2016

AhmedabadWeather5-18-16

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