Monday, October 22, 2012

A dash of Melbourne

Right in the center of the Federation square, a few feet away from where I stand, an Australian free-lance artist juggles three fire-torches in the air, enthralling a multi-cultural audience comprising hugely of Aussie nationals and a whole bunch of Asians - mostly Chinese, Koreans and Indians. Every few minutes, there’s a spattering of jokes in his act, some lame, some witty. Across the street, teen kids dance to punk music as a crowd gathers to watch them. A few blocks away solo guitarists play their instruments and croon along. Along Swanston street, there’s a sprinkling of spray paint artists too - mesmerizing people with their skills. Armed with brochures and tourism pamphlets about the city and my newfound knowledge about the upcoming Arts festival, I attribute the presence of artists to the festival, but I soon learn from the locals that a lot of it is a common occurrence.  

Flinders Street Station, Melbourne, Australia
Flinders Street Station, Melbourne
There are hundreds of people walking the streets, people coming back from work, people walking to their shifts, some using the omnipresent public transport, some eating, gossiping, biding time. From Mumbai to Minneapolis to Melbourne (leaving aside the ones I have lived in for shorter durations), I have loved each and every city I have lived in for reasons I cannot even begin to list. Minnesota kindled in me the love of driving. Driving down those non-populated streets, long winding roads and open freeways with the wind on my face was always an adrenaline rush. I have since concluded that people who do not drive are definitely missing out on that one high! But a true Mumbaiite at heart, I have also always been a city girl. I have loved the feel of being one in the crowd, having your own unique pace and yet being one with the mass. And now, Melbourne has brought me back full circle. Not in a position to own a car right now, I whisper a silent Thank you for the myriad forms of public transport in Melbourne, be it the trams I have come to love in such a short period of time, the trains, the buses or variations of the said like the City Circle Tram. We talk about the upcoming Monorails and Metro rail in Mumbai, wonder if it would help with the ever booming population. Talking of population, did you know that India produces an Australia every year in terms of births? 

I grab a cup of coffee from a local Australian deli, there are scores of them - Aussies seem to be a patriotic lot, I don’t see many big brand names or store chains, local produce is well marketed. Passing by fast food restaurants, I notice Indians manning every other counter, sometimes successive ones too. Many more pass us by every few steps. My husband and I are astounded. Stretching our legs under a Subway awning, I strike up a conversation with the Aussie store manager of Subway while my husband chats away on a work call. I ask him about his experiences with Indian employees, I am curious. He tells me they make great employees because they are hard working and trustworthy. He tells me he would rather trust an Indian with money during an evening when he needs to step out rather than an Australian teenager or a European. We talk about the shifts they work, the fact that most are students but some are wives of working men too. He tells me about racist customers too, the feelings of anger that arise within them when they see hordes of Indians landing well-paying jobs in the city. He doesn’t try to justify their actions, he’s simply stating his experiences. I wonder if his words are sugar-coated because he’s talking to an Indian, but then he stumps me with a hard-fact, something that I also believe to be true. He tells me Indians majorly lack customer service as a skill and that it’s not an individual who’s at fault but the culture. He tells me he’s been to India and he’s learnt Indians do not believe that customers need to be pleased. If one isn’t the next would be, if he also isn’t, then there’s always another one in line. We chat some more, I thank him for his honesty and get back to walking and observing people around me.

On the train I observe Aussie women, who seem to be more aggressive and not particularly beautiful. Many have told me that Indian women symbolize beauty. I do agree to a large extent. There’s an earthy beauty, a  compassion in Indian women that I haven’t seen elsewhere, not that I am an expert on the multitude of cultures in the world. American women exude a sense of confidence that I have always admired. The Chinese women I see come across as dainty and refined, petite elegance. Every spoken sentence has the word ‘mate’ thrown in! Quite a few Aussie men, many more than usual, seem feminine. I reflect that Aussies don’t use the Golden words of Please, Thank You, Excuse Me and Sorry as much as Minnesotans did. Again, I cannot generalize Minnesotans to Americans, but having stayed in a quaint little Minnesota suburb for a good part of my life, I cannot help but compare the two. 

League teams play a cricket match on a sunny day at Fawkner Park, Melbourne.
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Flash-forward a few days. Jogging/walking along the trails of the Fawkner park we find dozens of men indulging in the one sport that the nation is famous for internationally, CRICKET! On about six of the eight grounds in the park, we see padded and gloved professional uniformed Aussie men along with an Indian/Pakistani or two in their midst enjoying the sport as typical white-hat umpires stand by observing. Now, these look more like the Australian players on television, the non-feminine kinds! On the sidelines, other men work at net practice or cheer their fellow mates on the ground. The atmosphere is rife with excitement and every few minutes we hear cheers and yells as someone is declared out. In the other two grounds, un-uniformed regular-wear tracksuit clad Indian/Pakistani men with unrequited love for cricket indulge themselves in an intense game. My husband is elated, he looks like he’s finally attained Nirvana. I strongly believe that if you put him on an island with cricket gear and just enough of them to play a game, he’ll gladly stay stranded. On the way to the city, the light towers of the Melbourne Cricket Ground - the famous MCG, loom high on our right. He can't wait to visit. 

Little penguins come waddling in at Penguin Island, Melbourne
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Over the weekend, we pay a visit to the Melbourne visitor center and lap up information about the areas around Melbourne. Philip Island looks promising, we’re told that thousands of penguins waddle into the island every evening. So does Ocean Road, looking at the pictures I am already transported to a world of my dreams. We discuss some more and leave the place armed with more brochures. Through phone calls and Facebook, we find out about a couple of our friends in the vicinity. I learn about a long-lost relative of mine staying close by and I think of catching up! Around us, posters of the fast-approaching Melbourne cup are in full display; the Derby horse races which are touted to bring the nation to a stop! I chat with a dear friend of mine in Sydney and we make plans to meet sometime around the Australian Open. Back home, our families are eager to know how we’re managing and curious to learn more about the new continent. From hearsay, they’ve gathered that racism is rampant. We assure them that so far, we haven’t witnessed any such incidents. 

Outside, it rains a little and the sun plays a game of hide-n-seek with us. Spring is slowly giving way to summer, temperatures are on the rise. The cost of living in Australia is way more expensive than in US or India, we figure. We still have to find an apartment to move to, the company provided accommodation will last us a week more. Groceries to be purchased, internet, utilities to be set up. A regular member already at the city library, I apply to jobs and scout for apartments in parallel. Sure, moving entails a lot of work. But the promise of a land unseen, of new sights and experiences, new friends and acquaintances keeps us going. It’s already been a week and it feels like we landed just yesterday. The Hindu festivals are all lined up along with the Christian ones - Halloween’s just around the corner. My friend tells me New Year in Sydney is supposed to be magical. I sigh. There’s so much more of the world to be taken in, yet so less time!

Upon my arrival, a good friend of mine emailed me, suggesting that I pen a post titled ‘USA to AUS: Been there and beyond’. A little too early to do that, but, how could I resist? And hence, this post is simply a bowlful of my musings in this new foreign land, that for the next three months, I would call home. 
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Sunday, October 7, 2012

In the blink of an eye

Elated to announce that this post won the Gold Batom at the October 2012 BAT 32! 
This post has been published by me as a part of the Blog-a-Ton 32; the thirty-second edition of the online marathon of Bloggers; where we decide and we write. To be part of the next edition, visit and start following Blog-a-Ton. The theme for the month is 'An Untold Story'
“Your name?”
“Yogesh Kamlakar”  
“Address? Phone number? Given to Constable Kadam?”
“Mmm.. Yes Sir, I don’t want any trouble Sir”.
“What did you see? State it clearly.” 
“He was speeding Sir. On his bike. Didn’t stop at the signal. Swerved. Got onto the footpath, hit the man. They started fighting Sir. That man tried to interrupt but .. ” He says, pointing to the injured man being tended to by medical personnel in the ambulance. 
“Who took out the hockey stick?”
“I don’t know Sir.” 
“If I find out you are lying, I’ll come after you. What about the tube light, where did that come from?”
“I really don’t know Sir, I told you whatever I know, please can I go?” 
“Hmm. You can go for now. We’ll call you if we need anything else.”


“Your name?”
“Geeta Iyer, I stay in that building. See that white tower? Up on the 15th floor. I saw everything and came running down when it happened. I saw it from the start itself when he.. ” Her glance falls on the blotched stains of red interspersed with broken glass and tree twigs all around her on the pavement and she inadvertently shudders. 
“Just answer my questions. No need to talk more than that.”
“Who started tahe fight?”
“Don’t know but the pedestrian was at fault. He walked into oncoming traffic. How can you blame that biker?” She says shaking her head, looking over at the ambulance, her face clearly displaying compassion for the good-looking man. 
“That’s the biker?”
“Then what? He’s the biker. Poor guy.”
“Then who are they?” Inspector Sinha asks pointing to the patchy white sheet covered twin bodies laid out neatly side by side on one end of the road. 
“That one is the man who walked into traffic. The other is the guy who tried to help the biker. Don’t blame the biker Sir, it wasn’t his fault.” 


“Your name?”
“Dr. Pradhan, MGM hospital. I have already supplied my credentials to the officer in charge.”
“What are your findings Doctor?”
“I cannot state with certainty yet, we will have to take him to the hospital. He needs to be checked out.”
“I am not talking about the one alive. He will live. And he will have to answer.”
“The biker died of blunt force trauma. “ Dr. Pradhan says pointing to the body on the left. 
“How do you know he’s the biker?” Inspector Sinha questions, curious if bodies could tell you that.
“That’s what your men told me. I assumed they found out about it from the people who saw it go down.” 
“Hmm. Please proceed”. Inspector Sinha says noncommittally. 
“Either from the hockey stick or from falling on the road. I found traces of cement and tar on his head wound but that could have been from the earlier scuffles too. Or from the fall, he wasn’t even wearing a helmet. Hard to tell yet.”
“Hmm. And the other?” Asks the Inspector. 
Several high pitched wails start out to his right, unnerving him momentarily. A quick glance confirms that its someone who knows at least one of the victims. Police personnel never brought the families to the crime scenes, there was too much gory stuff there to get over in a lifetime. Images of crime scenes could haunt them forever. Official procedures mandated that family be taken to the hospital. Which meant, someone here had to know the family to have called them. And he had to find out who that was.

“Stab wound to his chest. With a piece of glass. Some of it is still in him. He bled out almost instantly. Poor guy, caught in the middle of it. No wonder there aren’t any good samaritans left anymore” continues Dr. Pradhan as Inspector Sinha starts scratching his beard. A couple of constables try to console the stricken family members, a few more attempt to contain the spilling crowd. 
“I need to take the pedestrian to the hospital. I want to make sure he doesn’t have any concussions.” says Dr. Pradhan.
“I am not done with his statement yet.”
“You’ll have to do that at the hospital.”
Inspector Sinha waves an irritated hand at him. 


“Your name?”
“Mohan Dixit. I’m his brother” He says, amidst sniffles, pointing to the sheet on the right, unable to look, desperately trying to hold himself together. Daylight gives way to dusk. Sinha worries about the impending night, it would slow down the investigation. So far, after talking to eighteen different witnesses, they weren’t anywhere close to confirming which of the three was the biker, which one the pedestrian and which one the good samaritan. He offers Mohan a glass of water. 
“Is that his bike?” Sinha asks.
“No Sir, he didn’t have one.”
Well, Sinha thinks, that narrows it down a bit.  
“But he always travelled pillion with his friends. Sometimes they lent him his bike too, though Dad disapproved. I don’t know all of Manish’s friends Sir. I wish I knew, I wish..” His eyes are consumed by sadness as his body is racked by sobs. 
Sinha sighs. Back to square one. 
Mohan’s eyes fall on a broken part of a hockey stick lying to one side, the head of the stick now a dark reddish brown. His breath catches as Inspector Sinha senses the realization hitting Mohan. Dried blood.
“Is that? Is that how?.. I will not leave that sonofabitch alive, how did he..” yells Mohan, anger pulsating through his veins, his muscles bulging as he strides toward the ambulance. Sinha struggles to pull him back just as two more constables come in to help. 
“You have to calm down. We don’t know that he killed your brother. Let us do our job and we will find out and let you know. Contain yourself, don’t make me arrest you for assault. Your family has enough on their mind right now.” Warns Sinha. He understands the pain Mohan is going through. The depressed mind simply wants a physical entity to blame and in Mohan’s eyes the only survivor is to blame. But Sinha can’t let emotions distract him now. He has to be insensitive to do his job right. 


“Is the traffic police responsible for this mishap? Have they been lax in monitoring the traffic?” 
Media vans descend on the scene like a pack of vultures and quick-to-place-blame journalists shove microphones into the faces of those they identify as the top cops associated with the investigation and stricken onlookers. Photographers click pictures from various angles incessantly. It is going to be a long night, thinks Sinha, as he proceeds to talk to the next eyewitness on his list. He has always known that they are not dependable, but of a group of forty-three people who saw the whole thing go down, he hopes some of their stories would add up and help them construct a sequence of events. 


Its late into the night when Sinha and his men wind up from the crime scene and move to the hospital. Glass pieces, twigs, the hockey stick and other possible tools of destruction are carefully bagged to be preserved as evidence. The crowd has trickled down to nothing. The media has moved on to juicier pastures. Municipality sweepers are asked to remove the broken glass, tree twigs and wash the area down. A few constables stay behind to supervise the wrap up activities. Tomorrow it would be business as usual, the road as heavily populated as always, traffic just as jammed as ever.  Its 5AM by the time a vague picture starts forming and the police start building a chronology. 

In a brief time span of 15 minutes, a minor brush-off has occurred, two men have exchanged verbal vilifications, got into a fist fight and come to blows. Of a group of more than 43 men and women, just one single soul has attempted to break up the fight, getting embroiled in it himself. Sinha wishes more had intervened as a group and kept them apart. 

What really transpired between the men might forever remain an untold story, thinks Sinha, but his entire being screams that this was an event that could have been completely avoided. If only the men had chosen to step back from the brush off, if only they had decided to lodge an FIR with the police instead of trying to handle it themselves. It was yet another incident of road rage, adding to the recent statistics of road rages alarmingly on the rise, one that has ended in two casualties, a man severely scarred for life, witnesses left to deal with nightmares and horrid images of the fight, and heart-stricken families left to mourn their losses for a long time to come. Why have humans become so intolerant of each other, thinks Sinha, as he walks towards the lobby for a cup of coffee so he can keep going. Its going to be a long day. 
The fellow Blog-a-Tonics who took part in this Blog-a-Ton and links to their respective posts can be checked here. To be part of the next edition, visit and start following Blog-a-Ton. Introduced By: Gayathri Kannan, Participation Count: 03
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Wednesday, October 3, 2012

India's Unreal Estate Market

The real estate market in India: Problems, prices and happenings.
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From times when a roof over the head, schools in the vicinity and day-to-day services nearby were the main requirements, house hunters now look for much more in and around a house. And be it an international airport close by or the famed 'Bollywood sign', a lavish golf course or simply something up for re-development, real estate agents are never far behind in trying to pitch customers the house of their dreams. Simply put, the rules of the game have changed. To read the complete article, click here.

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