Monday, May 21, 2012

Taming of the madam

Two year ago we were waiting for our shipment of furniture to arrive in India. A ship somewhere near Mumbai dumped its cargo into the ocean. It was not ours but it caused enough of a wave to cause our shipment to be delayed by a few weeks. After putting all the data in spreadsheets and discussing options it was decided that we would move into the house we had rented and find some rental furniture to tide us through.

So Madam Mallika- still fresh from Seattle – with her high expectations and rolling eyes went with the relocation agent to a rental shop in Russell Market.

Russell Market is an old school Indian market. You can buy literally anything and everything here – fresh veggies, meat, fish, carpets, dishes, hardware, clothes and paraphernalia in little shops tucked in small lanes I have not dared ventured into. It is also one of the dirtiest and trashiest markets around.

Long story short, I was put in the capable hands of Mr Pervez. He must have seen many like this Madam cause he was patient. Very patient as I shook my head in disbelief and horror at the dirty, dusty furniture in the showroom. Dismantled beds and dusty sofas were stacked in multiple floors in a storage building. I could not believe that I had to choose from that mess. I repeatedly asked him if there was anything better. I moaned, I groaned and I grumbled. He let me take my time, promised me that the furniture would be cleaned and polished before it came to me, even conjured up a new mattress that would remain in its plastic cover till it came to my house.  A torturous hour later I resigned and picked up two beds, a dining table, living room furniture and a big TV.  Side tables and a TV stand were thrown in and the whole rental for two months – with delivery, setup and pickup – was under $200. I won’t be surprised or blame him if he added a bit extra for dealing with me.

Last week - two years later - our furniture was packed and shipped off back to US. I landed back in Russell market. I sent my driver off to pick up some fresh fish as I grabbed a few shopping bags and made my way to Adams Furniture Rentals. There was goop on the road and piles of cauliflowers leaves left on the pavement. I navigated them and stopped to take photos of some birds bathing in a pail of water. I met Mr Pervez again. We went to the building of dusty furniture. Ten minutes later I had three beds, a dining table and my couches.  The dining table and chairs were mismatched but I was not buying them or planning to get my kids married on them. Mr Pervez and I chatted about India and US. I told his staff to ensure everything was cleaned and polished. They smiled, I smiled and I paid.

Half an hour later I had posed with a huge necklace, bought two kilo of lychees, enjoyed a tender coconut and was on my way home with some good fish fillet for dinner.

I am not sure if Mr. Pervez cut off a few dollars for my good behavior but I must say I saw him smile as I walked away. Another Madam had been tamed by India.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Drinking the Indian Way - Black Dog and Soda

Had written this Thursday, February 17, 2011 - somehow it never got published. Wonder if sampling for the blog had anything to do with it ;)

Coaster has a famous Indian movie dialog -
"Jab main black dog peeta hoon,
mere seenay me kaley kuttey bhaunkney lagte hain"
Translated -"When I drink Black Dog, Black Dogs
start to bark in my chest"

Peeyush always drank his scotch on the rocks so I was surprised when at a party he asked for coke to be mixed with it. “Black Dog” he said, referring to the scotch, “You can’t drink it without coke”. Yes, it is that bad. Most Indians here drink hard liquor (wine attributes to less than 3% of the total alcohol sales) and cheaper scotches mixed with soda seems to be the way to down it.

Maybe due to excessive hard alcohol drinking, India has been a little judgmental about people that drink. “He does not drink” is still considered a plus on your marriage biodata (more on that someday). I was reading a blog about alcohol sales in the US by a friend of mine and got thinking of how India has progressed on the drinking front. I see more people (women and girls especially) drink at bars and can firmly attest to the fact that I have seen as many girls throw up drunk here in my last six months as I had seen in the US in the last six years. The concept of drinking has made it to the youngsters, the concept of moderation and drinking to enjoy a drink and not to get drunk is still on its way.

Couple of things that have stood out negatively here are excessive drinking, hypocrisy and bringing down all scotch to the Black dog level (meaning diluting it). On the positive front social drinking is popular and there is a vast vareity at most bars to enjoy. Wine clubs are also making a foothold so the future looks more drinkable.

Few Indian drinking nuances-
1. Most people will not drink in front of their parents. It is not just about the lecture you might get, unless they drink and offer you a drink it is considered a sign of disrespect.

  • My dad would hide his glass of scotch under the table if he heard my grandma come.
  • My cousins have walked around with an opaque glass wrapped by a napkin at a party trying to conceal the golden liquid inside.

2. Alcohol shops are 'shady' places often with a curtain to protect the identity of the people in there. Else they have iron bars all over the facade. I have never bought a bottle of alcohol from a regular alcohol store in India. I think I’d be rather uncomfortable walking into one of these joints. I saw the sign of one at a mall but it was tucked away in some forsaken corner.

3. Drinking amongst the lower income class is still considered taboo and it often done in extreme - hard alcohol with the purpose of getting drunk. Drinking for pleasure is not the norm.

4. In general drinking amongst the younger and higher income class is not a big taboo (except for point 1 - away from the family) and people dole out US prices for drinks at a bar without much thought. Top drinks are - scotch (with soda) or beer for the guys, vodka for the ladies - though the choices are many and I have sat with indulgers of sake, brandy, gin and tonic etc.

5. Wine is … hmm… bad. India is getting into the wine scene and I have had some decent wine at not so decent prices here. There is some 300% tax on wine and due to low inventory movement the wine list is usually limited. Don't make the mistake of ordering by the glass, the bottle is the way to go.

6. When visiting India be nice and bring over a bottle of scotch (not black dog) for a friend. Alcohol is taxed very high here and a bottle of Blue label ($140 at duty free can go for around $400 in stores here). Ensure they try it soda free and you will be doing double goodness – teaching someone to drink for pleasure.

On drinking for pleasure - recently, a friend was disgusted when she saw good some really scotch being mixed with Sprite. She walked off.  I would have done that too - with the bottle in my hand. Bottle of sprite that is (in case my inlaws are reading this)