Monday, February 28, 2011

A Brain Aneurysm – as I understand it.

A brain aneurysm is a disorder in which weakness in the wall of an artery or vein in the brain causes a localized ballooning of the blood vessel there.

This weakness in the wall is supposed to be a congenital problem -something you are born with. High blood pressure, stress and time cause blood to push against this weak wall and one fine day a sneeze, a fall or a stressful situation can cause it to burst. Then you have a brain hemorrhage. Blood leaks into the brain. Depending on the amount of blood leaking you can end up with a terrible headache or a stroke or death.

Once you have an aneurysm – and it is detected due to a cautionary angiogram or a leak - it needs to be blocked/sealed so it cannot seep blood or burst. There are two ways to go about it – a brain surgery or endovascular coiling. Brain surgery – is surgery, they cut your skull and brain and get to the aneurysm and take care of it. A more recent – since 1991- method is coiling where a catheter is inserted up an artery and used to fill the aneurysm with platinum coils. It is less intrusive and has a faster recovery period. However this procedure is not available everywhere and is more expensive. In certain situations a surgery is the only way to go.

My mother had a brain hemorrhage but many stars lined up to ensure that the leak was very little – she was lying down when it happened ensuring she did not hit her head in a fall, her blood clots easily thus reducing blood flow, she was in a house with doctors so she was not moved around much and above all at 51 she is very young. She was in terrible pain for days and on steroids and pain killers for even more.
The pain after the aneurysm burst can be unbearable and spasms continue for 21 days after, until the blood is absorbed and the pressure in the brain released. The blood in the brain causes pressure and irritation. It is the amount of blood that determines your long term prognosis. Lesser the leakage the better it is.

Brain aneurysm can be detected by a brain angiogram but it is not cost effective (in India it costs about Rs 30K or $600 but I am sure it is way higher in the US) and can have medical complications. However I do hope that the cost and the risks associated with the procedure come down. As at this point I feel that if one has a family history of this issue and faces migraines scheduling a brain angiogram might not be a bad idea.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Medical tourism - the good and the bad

I had heard a lot about medical tourism. People coming to places like India for treatment. It is impossible to get a heart valve replacement for under 15k with quality care in the US (stay and medication included). They have packages for almost any treatment you want - nose job to brain surgery- and try to ensure that hospital facilities are at international standards.
However my stint here - and watching a Nigerian man in the bed next to mom's- made me realize that if you can afford it and the treatment is good then you should try to get treatment in your home country. A place where you understand the language, like the food, trust the environment and can have family and friends around. It is hard being sick but it is worse when you are in a foreign place. This goes for taking parents from India to the US for treatment too. The doctors and facilities are great here if you go to the high end hospitals- maybe better in some cases - and they will feel more at home. Emotional well being plays a huge role in getting better.

Positives (for foreigners):
  • It is cheap(er) than in places like US.
  • The waiting list (for things like heart valve replacement) is non existent as compared to UK.
  • There are clearly structured packaged for a service you want so you are know up front what you are paying.
  • Translators are available for patients that do not speak English or Hindi
  • There is a special lounge for international patients with tea and coffee, money exchange and news going on on TVs in different languages.
  • Plenty of bed and breakfast serving 'fish and chips' (meaning non India food if needed) for dinner have cropped up around the hospitals. They have websites and are very reasonably priced (under Rs 1000 per room + food per day). Many offer pickup and drop off to the hospitals.
  • If you are not Indian it is hard being sick in a strange country - in the ICU I have seen patients that don't feel at home - the accent, language and food (however continental they try to make it) is not home like.
  • Caretakers can feel a little lost. Indian ways are different - doctors are good but constantly on the phone, the staff might not understand you but will pretend they do.
  • Cleanliness is high compared to other places in India but still nowhere near US standards.

Personally for me, Apollo Delhi trying to be a huge medical tourist destination, really helped with my mom's recent visit to the ICU. The equipment (MRI and CT scanner, ER equipment, portable ECG and X-ray) was the latest, doctors and attending staff had impressive bedside manners (unlike the more arrogant and dismissive attitude I had see years ago). Cleanliness and niceness in dealing with the patient's attendants was worth noting.

With my light eyes and brown hair - the foreign look- it was assumed I was a foreigner at many points. When it meant easy access to visit my mom I put on an accent and really rode the medical tourism train. So for me medical tourism is good. Very good.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Learning about “Bijili Pani” – Water Electricity

Ashvin learnt about electricity by coming to India. I remember the first time (for him) the power went putting the TV off. He cried. Ankit explained that the electricity was gone and a generator would bring it back. It was too many big words in a dark room. Now he shouts “power is gone”, “electric is out” without blinking an eye.

Today the water in our house was off for six hours. This happened an hour before we were expecting some guests. Having occasional water or electricity outages in not unheard of in Indian but we live in a community with 24x7 water supply and it was a first for us. I felt a little like Ashvin did when the lights went off. A little scared and a little lost.

Then I called our supermarket and for three dollars (Rs150) we had 12 liters of bottled water delivered. Lalitha procured three bucketsful of water to wash up dishes in. We had almost everything under control – everything except the flushes. You could eat and drink but kinda had to avoid the loo.

Electricity and Water – if you are lucky you don’t think of it much till your TV and flush stops working. No wonder politicians in India win on basis of promising “bijili pani” – water and electricity.


Growing up in India lack of 24hr water and electricity supply was an expected part of life -

• My parents had a nursing home thus had to supply 24hr water and electricity to the patients via a generator and water pump. Every now and then we would notice that the power supply got weak. My mother would wait for a power outage once it was dark in the evening and then have the generator powered off all of a sudden. There would be a few people on watch and notice all the shops/shacks in the neighborhood that lost power too. This would let us know who was tapping power from our generator.

• We thought Ranchi (a town bigger than the one I grew up in) was so ‘awesome’ in power management not cause they had more hours of power than my town but because they published the timings when you’d have power in the newspaper. They load balanced the power across different pockets in town and published the timings in the newspaper.

• Backup power and water is (and should be your) biggest criteria when looking for a place to live in in India.

• Read as a FB status (Prashant Gaurav) - Dear Electricity Board : I WILL BURN YOU ******** TO THE GROUND IF THE POWER GOES WHILE THERE IS A WORLD CUP MATCH IN PROGRESS.

Saturday, February 19, 2011


Took our cook to the local market and came back with all of these - tried to get the Hindi and Kannada names too so do correct and help me where I am off :)
Also ate some raw mango and coal roasted corn on the cob today.

Friday, February 18, 2011

You get what you pay for

My maid, cook, and gardener each get paid less than $150 each a month. This is more than double of what they get paid in regular (non expat) houses. I know many people pay way lesser and negotiate what meals they can eat at the house and bargain for every little thing. I would understand it if these folks themselves were short on money but many I encounter are most certainly not. For most it is a mindset - to get the most you can for the least you can pay, even when it means shortchanging someone to who change actually matters.

I agree with not getting ripped off or getting taken advantage of but when you pay IKEA prices you can’t expect Bloomingdales quality. For pennies you will get the work done but yes, you will have to micromanage and not grumble about lack of quality, honesty and loyalty.

When I moved here I found out the previous pay for the people I was employing. I could afford it so I gave them a raise and had a little talk with them. I told them what my expectations were and very clearly explained that I was not going to micromanage but at the same time I would not stand bad work. I expected quality, honesty and loyalty.

Six months later I must say I have it good. I do not have to micromanage; they show up on time and get the work done. I am in what many Indian housewives would call “household help nirvana”. I am sure I could squeeze a little more out of each of them. I am sure I could fire one of them and get the others to suck up the work but then I would not be writing this post. I would be screaming at one of them and then calling my mom and telling her how horrible help in India is. Yes, I would certainly get what I paid for.

I have been warned that once bitten I will change my tone about household help - bitten means cheated in some way. I am sure I will be disappointed and more cautious but I am unwilling to throw away something good I have going out of that fear.

The fear that I am working on instead is that of my kids growing up expecting people doing things for them and not valuing it.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Swimming lessons

On my post about moving to an Indian school I had mentioned that the US style of teaching is "nurture" based and the Indian style is more about throwing you into a pool of data. The swimming lessons are no different. Ankit went for multiple swimming classes at the Pro Club in Redmond. Ashvin got his lessons here at the Palm Meadows’ pool.

Ankit's class consisted of a group of children (3-5) sitting on the side on the pool taken turn by turn into the water by the instructor. They were acclimatized and gently taught to blow bubbles and kick. They played with toys and slowly became comfortable in the water and over months learnt how to swim along. I did think that it was a little slow and over gentle at times but in due time he learnt how to swim.

Ashvin went for personal coaching. I went for the first class to see what the teaching style was like. All seemed good. He was held and taken for a kicking and then splashing stint around the pool. They played a bit and blew bubbles. I felt good and then leaving him with my mom went off to the US for two weeks. The next lesson was a little different. It seems that after teaching him how to kick, move his arms and blow bubbles the instructor threw him towards the side of the pool and let him 'swim' to the edge. It freaked my mom out but she was not sure if this is what I had signed him up for. Ashvin did not like swimming that day and had to be cajoled into going for the next class. My mother had a chat with the instructor and he was gentler - not throwing but gently pushing him towards the edge. When I returned I almost had a heart attack watching Ashvin hold his breath and wriggle his way to the side of the pool. I was tempted to pull him out but he reached the point of getting it. So I held my mommy heart tight and watched him closely. It has been four classes since. The attached video shows a happy camper getting to the side of the pool. They are going to work on his stroke now.

He can swim but I am still not sure if I'd have sent him for the class if I had known how it would proceed. He is one stubborn determined creature and really wanted to learn how to swim but I can see kids being scarred. It's like one bad dentist can scar you for life.

At some $60 a month for thirty minutes of lessons a week I must have paid over $1200 by the time Ankit could swim on his own. For $30 a month for private lessons twice a week I have ended up paying $90 for Ashvin to learn swimming. India has proven itself way ahead in cheap labor and cost cutting but once again the nurturing angle was missing. I am glad Ashvin has come out swimming and not freaked out by the throw you in the pool experience.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Musical Mutiny - Customer Support in India

Ashvin insisted he go for a music class as Ankit goes for one. The music class was in a building very close to where we live and run by a couple that hired some music teachers. It was the only music school around and was very conveniently located. I did not have much trouble signing him up and paid up for the six months like they asked. In January the classes stopped suddenly. Ashvin was sad and I was surprised. The reason was they did not have enough kids for the class. Almost overnight 90% of the parents had pulled their children from the class.

I was very curious about the happenings at the music school - was it some inappropriate behavior, a health hazard? I was out of town most of December and January so had missed it. Chatting up the neighbors I found out that there had been a meeting at a neighboring house. It appears that the person running the place had let the success go to her head. Customer service had deteriorated and she was not being nice to most parents. The ask for six months of tuition in advance was also not appreciated. So a covert meeting was called and mutiny ensued. The music school was boycotted.

While I was growing up in a small town in India I encountered many a rude shopkeeper and if someone had a monopoly in town and was nice to you they were ranked pretty high on the Mother Teresa scale.

Back to the music school - It sucks because it was right around the corner and I am a lazy mom. It sucks because now I have to entertain him musically at home during Ankit's class. It sucks because I obviously missed an entertaining meeting where I am sure I would learnt a lot and had more spice for this post. The only non-sucky part was seeing that lack of customer service is not something people - even in India - are willing to sit back and take.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Valentines in India - $80 six course dinner, wine, a cooking class and a great memory.

India has changed. You will keep hearing this from me. This thought crossed my mind quite a few times during dinner last night. We have grown up and changed too I guess. Fourteen years ago in India our funds to enjoy a valentine's dinner were meager (nowhere near a $100) so I can't say I am comparing apples to apples. But I must say that the apples we had last night were rather delicious.

We were invited to a "Cook for Love" event at Caperberry - a Spanish inspired European fusion restaurant. Chef Abhijit Saha – great conversationalist and cook - taught us how to make champagne soaked strawberry and chocolate desert (Peeyush has learnt how to make pretty nice white chocolate garnish rolls). Desert making was fun but the dinner after, with never ending plates of delicious food, was something else. Orange and Carrot sphere, Prawns and pear salad, spaghetti with truffle oil, pear sorbet, lamb shanks, the strawberry chocolate dessert, and petit fours, served with four glasses of paired wines left me tipsy and pleasantly surprised.

I have had good food at five star restaurants here but this was a little different - global and a little more accessible. It was creative and nicely presented. In learning how to make the desert I heard the chef repeat how you can get gelatin leaves, good chocolate, glucose syrup in stores here.

The price for the cooking class, the wine paired dinner and goody bag to take home (aprons, photos, candles and chocolates) was under around $80 for both of us. To those far away it might be worth flying down to Bangalore for next Valentines.
Also seen - flower bouquets of all shapes and colors - many with little teddy bears in them. Resturants decorated with uncountable red heart shaped balloons. People selling roses at traffic lights.

Have experiences that make memories

Boulder Outdoor Survial School 2010
Last year Peeyush had read about how experiences are better than material goods (with respect to things you spend money on). They give you more satisfaction and happiness long term. It had sounded about right to me so we had planned trips and dinners based on this philosophy. Last night, at dinner with some amazing friends, this ante was upped - have experiences that make memories.
You can have lots of experiences but not all of them will make a memory. Something - good or bad or funny - has to happen for that moment to be etched into a memory. So the next time you are planning something for the weekend or have a trip coming up try making a memory.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Volunteering and being uplifted

I went to a convent school today, run by nuns, for mentally challenged kids -ranging from down syndrome to slow learners with recurring epileptic fits. When I mentioned this to a few friends they said "must have been sad". Actually it was not. It was rather uplifting. I went with a friend who volunteers and teaches them yoga. I was in a room full of sixty children between ages 5-16. Some were lying down and a few nuns sat near ones not feeling well but there were others happily doing yoga and helping each other.

They stretched and balanced and were trying to do their pose extra well so they'd be called out in front of the class to demonstrate. When someone was called up front she/he would do it seriously but proudly, always be beaming and grinning by the end. Everyone else clapped for them. The youngest and the most enthuastic was around five and snuck to the front of the class twice to get an applause.

I know their whole day is not a yoga class and I know that the nuns work hard. The kids have fits and lots of other problems. Their life is not easy but it is not dark and gloomy and sad.

At the end of the session a 14 year old boy came up and shook hands with me. He hung around for a bit and smiled a lot. He likes to flirt with young women they told me. Well, I guess I was young. I was flattered and yes, very uplifted.

Volunteering - I have offered to teach the nuns how to use a computer they have been given. If approval comes through I'll work on that and getting information on the children, their history and all paperwork categorized and uploaded. This is step one towards gaining a non-microsoft identity. Day one, step one.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Cultural Awareness 101 - Right but not right.

A maid working for an American family went sobbing to the Indian neighbors. Asked them to talk to 'sir' as his behavior was causing her great grief at home. It turned out that sir had been making her sit on the dining table to eat with them and smiling and talking to her nicely. Sounds good on paper but in a country where there is a huge class divide this behavior had gotten her husband extremely suspicious. He had walked by the house on occasion and was sure there were unchastely events happening beyond the dining table.

Today I stopped for lunch at a fast food place (kathi kabab roll for those that have to know). I ordered my food then something for our driver. When the food arrived I realized that I had not asked for his food to go. I called him up to ask him to come in and eat. I was going to sit at another table. I could sense his immense discomfort as he refused politely. Then I felt really uncomfortable as I asked them to wrap up and take the food to the car. It was weird and I was glad when we did not discuss this on my getting back into the car.

I guess I am learning too like the poor American dude, it is not always the intentions that matter, right for one maybe downright (uncomfortably) wrong for another.

A smile and a roll on a dining table - ughh, now it sounds bad on paper too.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Leaving Microsoft and climbing other mountains

After almost 10 years of being at Microsoft I am quitting. Quitting sounds harsh so I will say leaving. I am leaving Microsoft today. It has been quite a journey. Most of it rather wonderful. It is the only place I have worked so I have nothing to compare it with but with all the fun I had there I guess I lucked out.

I remember being the "I am sorry” girl. I walked into offices apologizing, sorry that I was there, a newbie, not knowing anything, intimidated by everyone and everything. Then I met people who mentored me and taught by example. I learnt from the best and the worst. Learnt what to be and not to be. I grew up there.

There are days I felt extremely stupid and days I wondered how some people had made their way into this great company. I cried at work a few times but laughed at work way many more times.

Microsoft is an amazing company, it does not just build software, it builds people too - you get educated there, you learn you can change disciplines and be anything you want to be as long as you work hard and are passionate about it. It hires the most diverse set of people and teaches you to respect and value diversity.

Over time I will have more posts of my time spent there but today I am overwhelmed by all the mails coming in from people I worked with. I am proud to have worked there.

In the coming months I will trek up to Everest Base Camp and get a plan going to climb Kilimanjaro. I will volunteer and then work on a startup and try to gain an identity that is not all about me working at Microsoft but I know I will be forever happy that I did work there.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The Sleeping Yogi

I am glad Yoga is a non-violent activity else I am sure the instructor would have killed us. Peeyush, my mom and I went for the group yoga session at a resort this weekend. Peeyush was still jetlagged from his recent trip and it was a nice warm afternoon. The moment the words "Let's try deep relaxation" were mentioned I started to giggle. It was more like a stifled giggle as I had just had a deep discussion with the Yoga instructor and told him how hard it was for me to relax, meditate etc. I really wanted to be a good student and attain some sense of yogaish meditative goodness.

I stifled my giggle and tried to concentrate on my breathing and on following the instructions. Then he snored. It was not like a loud snore but the deep relaxed slightly loud breathing that lets you know one is asleep. I smiled then dug my nails into my palms so I would not laugh. It was so hard to relax. For me that is. Peeyush had attained ultimate relaxation. The next ten minutes were agonizing. I heard my mom cough to cover up her laugh as I squeezed every muscle in my body to keep my giggles in.

I was so happy when the 'relaxation' was over. Our sitting-up woke Peeyush and he sat up looking all refreshed, smiling and very pleased with the nap he had relaxed into. Needless to say he chose to do the morning 6am Yoga session in the room, on the bed, where “Peeyush Yoga” is done best.

Women at work - dropping like flies on the way up the ladder.

"When a man is aggressive he is ambitious but when a woman is aggressive she is a b****. How do you expect a woman to be successful?" I heard this quite a few times, from women, over my last ten years at work. It was disappointing to know that women comprised only 3% of the executive layer. There were different programs and initiatives to see what could be done to bring more women into the workforce and grow the ones already there. I attended several interesting ones - about how not to be a prey and stand your ground, how to be confident about the nurturer you are. I heard female executives talk about their life stories and then found out that their husbands had quit work when they had a child. It was scary, it seemed like woman stagnated or fell off the ladder as they went up at work, or had spouses willing to quit work.

Women are hard workers, good managers, they are very good at understanding people but there are very few at the higher levels. Glass ceilings, having babies and time commitment were all words I heard attributing to this. In a frustrated discussion I once heard - “You can't have it all. You can't expect to manage work and life and children and expect happiness and success at each one of them". Then I read something about India that made me question the time commitment issue.

There are more women in the IT workforce in India than in the US (28% compared to US 26%). A big contributing factor is help at home. Middle class Indian women have domestic help and grandparents usually chip in when babies enter the picture. In US households chores make it harder for women (and some men too) to put in all the effort they need at work and I have seen way too many women drop out or go part time to balance it all.

Help at home seems to indicate that more women show up at work but not necessarily that more women are successful at work. There seem to be many other factors that impact woman rising to the higher levels at work. Reflecting back I can see these as a few -

- insecurity. We tend to question ourselves more. Seeking more approval and affirmation than needed. Maybe years of evolution has made us less risk takers because the women that are confident and secure really do well.
- the need to please. Women are more likely to sacrifice their own needs to ensure those around them are happy. Whether this means taking more on at home or being less aggressive at work. The ones that stand their ground and put "me" in the "we" equation have a much better shot at doing well at work.
- trying to reach consensus. Most men get to a point and get done with it. Let’s say that equals 100% efficiency. I have noticed that women spend at least 25% of the time making sure everyone is comfortable and has reached some consensus during a meeting. It is almost as if you need the world to be at peace for work to get done. That simply makes us 75% efficient. Long term this is good for a team and does create a more cohesive team but with reorgs and constant shuffles in projects and team structure this 25% efficiency goes down the drain.
- socially it is more acceptable for a woman not to be ambitious or even quit her job. If eyebrows were raised every time a woman quit her job or did not get a promo I can tell you "the need to please" aspect would kick in and get her to do something about it.
- glass ceiling, men's club, inner circle. I went to talk to a VC once and was told that I'd do great opening an online boutique. I am sure I would but I am sure I'd do great starting a online voip marketplace but I guess I looked the boutique type. I had a guy friend admit he was rather intimidated when he walked into a women's conference and was the only guy in a hall with a hundred women. I attended meetings with over fifty people and was the only female there week after week. It is not easy being different and it gets harder as you climb up the ladder and you are among fewer and fewer similar people.

As workplaces realize and recognize women for the cohesive, less burnt out teams that they can build maybe more women will sift to the top and the glass ceiling will crack a little. Socially getting women to be more confident, little more self-centered and being a doer rather than a pleaser might help expand their 3% standing in the executive layer without them resorting to emulating men or being a b****. It will come from workplace programs and by examples but most of all by a change in social upbringing and drilling into our daughters that they will be mothers someday but that does not mean that they have to compromise on anything or second guess themselves. And teaching our sons that women are capable of being way more than just their moms.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Sammamish to Ramagondohalli

Sammamish, Snoqualmie, Issaquah, Snohomish - they were hard to pronounce and remember when I first moved to the Seattle area. We ended up living in Issaquah and then Sammamish, made many a trip to Snoqualmie, rafted in Wenatchee and crossed the Snohomish county quite a few times. We camped at Yakima and I just nodded at the name when we drove through Scappoise.

This weekend we went to Hessarghatta and frequent the Bannerghatta Zoo. Oh, now we live in Ramagondahalli, nearby there is Dommasandra, Pattareddypalya and HakkiPakki. I must say India beats the US in tongue twisty names.

But for us - Sammamish to Ramagondahalli - we are living it up in another place where you have to always spell out your address.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Moving from a US to an Indian School

Ankit studied in schools in Seattle till he was 11, we moved to India just as he started sixth grade and were tasked of looking at schools in Bangalore. We looked at what one would call a typical Indian school - Bishop Cottons, National Public School - with the Indian CBSE and ICSE syllabus. We looked alternative schools like the Valley School and International Schools like Indus, Canadian and TISB.

Looking at these schools made me realize how much India has changed from when we studied here and was amazed at the variety and variance in education options. These options come at a cost for sure (some schools in India rival ones in US at $25,000 a year). Then watching Ankit adapt was also very interesting.

For years in Seattle Ankit was used to getting A's and there were many kids who got A's. He learnt and excelled but was never pushed to be the best. There was no best. There was an A and an A+. Then he came to India. During his first test he was not sure what the numbers were next to questions (surprising I know as most Indians know this by the virtue of being born in India). Then he got his results. There was an A but there was also a mark there - 85/100. Then there was Rahul and other kids asking him not what grade he got but what his marks were. The marks were added and he knew exactly where he ranked in class. This has worked with Ankit - he is competitive and loves to study. He is no longer satisfied with an A or an A+. He wants to know where he lost half a mark.

Ankit explained the difference between the two systems beautifully - In the US they teach you a few facts but teach you how to make the connection between them, in India they teach you a lot of facts and you learn how to make the connection between them.

He has been lucky in a way; he learnt to learn and is now learning to be competitive, which in this global economy might not be a bad thing. While Ankit is thriving in a competitive environment it might suffocate the creativity of another child.

Based on this I have to say that while you cannot totally generalize education styles, social requirements and years of repetition have ingrained some principles into each system.
Generically the Indian system
• prepares children to read, absorb and memorize way more material than you'd think possible – preparation for college entrance exams can begin in 8th grade and most third graders can tell you what 13 x 13 is instantly.
• is competitive. Very competitive.
• has large class sizes with 'stricter' teachers – there are smaller classes in many schools but in general you can expect 30 plus children in a class. The teachers in India are shown more respect and are more like to threaten you with extra work and minus points in tests for misbehavior.
• places great value on academic excellence – prizes for coming first, ‘topping’ a test, getting into IIT are all praised and announced at multiple school events.

Generically the US system
• is about learning and learning to learn – children learnt and knew what multiplication meant and how it worked however most fifth graders needed some time or a calculator to tell you what 15 x 26 is.
• prepares the children to ask more questions and explore – Ankit learnt about the life cycle of a butterfly by raising them in their class. They learnt Civics by forming a society and running for elections in fifth grade,
• encourages them to think outside the box – ideas were encouraged more than stressing on just the end result, egg drop competitions (dropping eggs in homemade contraptions from 100ft) were bigger events than general knowledge quizzes in school.
• has smaller classes with more approachable teachers.
• does not stress as much on academic competition. Academic competitiveness does not show up till high school and even then excelling academically in not as important as it is in India. Being the school's best basketball player is as good (if not better) than getting all A+'s

The above mentioned points are all generalizations – there is a more competitive streak in India and a more nurturing streak in the US – but the wonderful thing I discovered is that there are many options now in India. What style brings the best out in your child- it depends on the school, it depends on the teachers, and it depends on your child. You have to know your child and find what works best for them.

For a breakdown of schools in Bangalore please see

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Not automated but definitely optimized - The Indian Haunted House.

I took the kids to a movie theater in the mall to watch Megamind. I had checked the timing many times on their website but two Bollywood movies had been launched that day so my show had been ‘replaced’ by the time we reached there. I was disappointed but my kids have become way more resilient and opportunistic than ever since we move to India. Ashvin asked for ice cream while Ankit teamed up with his friend Malavika and cajoled me into getting tickets for the mall’s “haunted house”

I was skeptical about the haunted house - as I am of most things in a mall - but went along. Ankit’s friend was a screaming 15 year old girl (for real – not just a figure of speech) and screamed at everything. I started to enjoy myself, looking past the extremely plasticky skeletons and sad attempts at dusty old corpses. We finally screamed our way into a corridor of “body bags”. Malavika - hysterically screaming – refused to walk through it. I stood there trying to push her through when a dark man in a blond wig appeared. I freaked out for a bit before he told us to hurry up. This is a busy country and we were holding up the flow through the haunted house.

Yes, the ending included a bunch of people dressed in wigs and costume ready to scare the craziezzes out of you. Their gig included grabbing you if you were not scared or at least freaked out by the sheer sight of very Indian guys in a very blond wigs. And they doubled as security pushing the slowbiess out of the house. Talk about optimizing cheap manual labour.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

“Fighting with the milkman” aka “Not a foreigner anymore”

Milk shows up here in little plastic bags – sealed ziplocks – and you can buy them at a store or have them delivered at your doorstep. I went the delivery route. For that you can buy a coupon book in the beginning of the month and use them as needed. I bought a bunch of coupon books every month. The process was me asking how much a booklet cost, the milk delivery dude telling me the amount and me just paying for it without any questions – a really foreign move in India. This went on for six months.

So, yesterday the process started again. I was annoyed about fat free milk not showing up so I started talking to him and asked to buy a coupon book for that. He mentioned that it would be Rs 28/ltr. A few minutes later while calculating the price for the booklets he mentioned Rs 30/ltr. I picked that up and questioned him. He quickly agreed to Rs 28. Too quickly actually.

I paid up but then took a look at the price of the ziplock packets (in India everything has a price written on it). It was Rs 18/ltr. I know that here you pay 10% – 20% for delivery and even that is on the higher end but 60% was something you only did to foreigners.

So I called him up and he said he’d come. He didn’t. So I called again and he stopped picking up my call. And I got mad. Then I did the next Indian thing. I SMSed him. Wrote I was pissed and would report him ( no idea to whom but you threaten that here) and he showed up. We ‘talked’ and I got Rs 500 back from him.

I felt different. It was not the $10 I saved, or the fact that every gallon of milk was 50c cheaper now. He was still ripping me off but only as much as he would do to a lenient Indian. Not as much as he would to a clueless foreigner.

Now I am ready to learn some Kannada swear words and drive a car here.