Dharavi

April 1, 2014 at 19:54

We had a day of sightseeing around the city the other day. More specifically, sightseeing in Dharavi. We don’t have any pictures, as picture taking is not allowed in there, of respect to the people who live there.

Dharavi is a slum lodged north from the intersection of, and in between the western and central railroads in Mumbai, west of Bandra and Mahim. Sporting an impressive million people over two square kilometers, it is arguably the biggest slum in all of India.

We had a tour with Be The Local. It is a fantastic little company based in the center of the city-within-the-city. The founder is a student at a Mumbai-based college who was finding himself rather tired of trying to find a part-time job to pay his dues through college. A Dharavi local himself, he got a brilliant idea: Arranging tourist trips into the slum areas! Your first thought may be that going on such a tour is making commerce on frolicking through other people’s misfortune. But that is where you would be dead wrong. The tour is all about showing what Dharavi is truly about, an area with huge industries, people working, children playing, schools, doctors, shops, restaurants – you name it.

I admit that in the beginning I thought the tour would be a sort of “sunshine-trip” through the good parts of the slum. I was wrong. The slum itself is a good place, and I’m thinking that from now, I won’t even call it a slum.

We started our tour at the ticket office of the nearby Mahim station, where our guide Ahad picked us up. We walked on, crossing the overpass into this fascinating area. The first part we saw was the recycling plants. People working on sorting, crushing and working plastic waste into small pellets that can be reused. They also recycle aluminum through a rigorous process, creating large bars that are sold off for profit. Both materials are either gathered around Mumbai, or bought from people who gather it. They say 40 % of all recycling in Mumbai is done in Dharavi.

Further inside, we got to take a look at the biggest industries in the area, pottery, textile and leather. It was really amazing to see that the prejudiced ideas of a slum with the apathetic faces of the poor and sick was replaced with the reality of smiling and skilled craftsmen and -women creating high quality goods to be sold to an international market. 80 % of all leather made in India is from Dharavi, and it is the chief export in their – yes, you will not believe this – 1 billion dollar economy.

We walked through the housing quarters as well. That was amazing almost to the emotional. We crouched through narrow corridors between the houses just wide enough to fit a person, and not quite high enough to keep the power cables and steel bars a safe clearing from the top of our heads. It was dark and warm, but on both sides we passed apartments where people were sleeping, eating and just plain living. The most peculiar thing was that in the midst of these dark and clammy alleys, were very high quality and clean, though small, apartments. They are actually available for rent from as low as four dollars a month.

We went on through the area, and there was one thing that we all agreed upon. Never anywhere before have we seen children so happy. It was amazing to see how the children blissfully roamed the streets laughing and playing cricket or tag.

We also visited the main office of Be the Local and got to meet the guys behind the concept. The company aims at giving part-time jobs to Dharavi locals who are studying at the universities, by having them guide tourists through different tours of Dharavi, or Mumbai in general. It’s strictly a for-profit business with the fortunate side effect of giving back to the society. Our guide Ahad was a third year student at Mumbai University, on his way to a bachelor in accounting and finance.

We finished the tour shortly after, an amazing experience richer, and with a good deal of presumptions hacked away. I for one, knowing that most of the people of Dharavi are not rich, will never ever address them as poor either.

Thank you, Dharavi, for giving us a day so full of good experiences. We are definitely never going to forget the vibrant life that you hold!

Best regards, Marius

Daily life

March 13, 2014 at 21:27

This is it! :-)

We finally had a few days in a row that were more or less routine. We’ve been running up and down mountains for the last month+ trying to get everything sorted with the apartment, paychecks, work, phone, internet access, you name it. Our free time has generally been spent exploring new restaurants, areas, temples, shopping malls and other fun stuff. But these last couple of days we have been able to just quietly sit down and reflect on the matter that we are actually living in the second biggest city in the world.

Up until now, it has felt a lot like a vacation in some regards, like we haven’t really been able to set any sort of roots. I think this week was for exactly that. I’ve gotten into things at work, and Andrea’s research is coming along well. We’ve spent some evenings just watching True Detective (which, I have to say I give 10/10, even though it disappointed me in the end – I think that says a lot) and relaxing.

I think Matthew McConaughey is racing towards one of the very best actors in Hollywood history! (courtesy of truedetectivequotes.blogspot.com)

So, we are basically settling into life here quite nicely. It’s been good to get a few days to breathe, because it won’t be calm for long here. Next week, on Monday, we have Holi coming up. It’s that festival where they throw colors at each other, the very same festival that is featured on every camera commercial in the world. :-)

Holi! (Courtesy of t2india.us)

Oh. And I need to find out how to pay my bills here. You would think you could just go the bank and pay them, but nooo. I have to get to a Vodafone shop to pay my phone bills, Airtel shop to pay for Internet, somewhere else I don’t know to pay for gas, and a different place yet again to pay for electricity.

… Incredible India!

Best regards, Marius

Slumdog Millionaire

March 7, 2014 at 06:27

During breakfast this morning, we were watching TV and the movie Slumdog Millionaire came on. We came in right around the scene where Jamal and his brother are sitting in an unfinished building looking out over their old slum, and we were like “Whoa!”, that looks familiar. We didn’t quite catch the exact whereabouts of their location, but it definitely looked like our home area, Hiranandani Gardens.

A shot from Slumdog Millionaire looking out on Hiranandani Gardens

We did some Googling and came up with this picture. Lo and Behold – this is almost the exact same view that we have from our apartment. In the bottom middle of the picture you can see a green area, that is the Heritage Park, in which I do my running in the morning. The two tall buildings you see center, are the same two buildings between which we took a picture of the fire a couple of weeks back (notably, the one on the right is Octavius, where we originally got our heart set on moving in). All the way to the right, behind Jamal’s back, is the Nomura building, where our neighbor works. Given, the movie was shot some years back and Hiranandani is evolving at a crazy rate, so there are a few more buildings now Most notably in this picture, there are now three more buildings to the far left. I dare say that had the scene been shot with the camera pointing in the other direction (left) you would have seen the building we live in (I don’t know if it had been built yet, though).

The view from our apartment

The view from our apartment

You can see from this picture the two buildings in the center, the heritage park, the Nomura building, the tiny slum, and the ridge in the background. In addition, you can see the three new buildings on the left. I took this picture out of the window in our bedroom this morning just to illustrate how close the two viewpoints are.

On further scrutiny we gathered where the picture was originally taken. I can’t really decide which of the two building in the following picture it is, but it has to be one of the two on the right, and my guess is the one in the center, Torino, and that Adonia, on the left hadn’t been built yet, as you can see straight “through” it to the Nomura compound.

Avalon and

Avalon and Torino, with Adonia on the left. This is also a view from our bedroom, only from a window in the other direction.

We thought it was rather fun, so I wanted to share it here:-)

Best regards, Marius

How to train your dragon

February 15, 2014 at 11:39

Okay. Maybe the title is a bit misleading. Or in fact, doesn’t have anything to do with the following post… But they do have HBO here, you know! I was watching “How to train your dragon” the other night and it got me thinking how much my cat looks like the dragon the kid rides, Toothless. See:

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Toothless!

But, oh, I digress. I was really going to write about how you get an apartment in  Hiranandani. It is not very simple, it seems. Luckily we have been able to get a really great apartment in the 28th floor of the Verona building here.

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Verona!

We only lease for six months, since we won’t be staying here longer than that, and leasing for that short of a period is almost impossible. We of course found our dream apartment in the Octavius building, very similar to the one we have moved into, only renovated this winter. The owner, however, requested a minimum 1 year lease, which meant that wasn’t going to happen.

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The view!

We are however, very happy with our new apartment, paid for all up front (yes, that’s what it takes to get a six month deal). Overall it is nice. We are going to decorate it a bit more here to make sure its nice and “homey”, so you’ll have to wait for the pictures until then.
But you can see the view from our living room:

I need to give a big thank you to Pritesh at Expatprops, and to Tina Nair who has guided us around Powai, looking at apartments. She’s been a great help, and if you are considering to move here, I would very much recommend that you let her and Pritesh sort you out!

A little info on what you may expect financially when leasing here:

1 month rent to broker
3 month rent deposit (this goes straight to the owner, no deposit account)
1 month rent up front (maybe more)
10 000 rupees for registration
15 000 rupees entrance fee (amount depends on building, some even charge exit-fee)
2 000 rupees for police fees (1500 if you go to the station, but that was advised against – they may charge you baksheesh on top)
1000 signatures on 100 formalities and documents

Luckily it all works out fine:-)

Best regards, Marius

Can I please help you, Sir?

February 10, 2014 at 15:12

Customer service ranges from extremely good to extremely horrible, and it has the ability to leave you smiling from ear to ear, or to leave you with grey hair (which you will probably have tore out of your own skull).

Like I’ve said earlier, the people here are really nice, and they want you all the best. The service at restaurants is great! Usually you have several people who are servicing your table when you eat, and you will get the manager over to ask if everything is okay. Food is prompt, delicious and well presented. Order water, and they will ask you if you want tap or bottle, room temperature or chilled, still or sparkling. Order a Coke and they will ask you to feel the bottle before they open to make sure if it is cold enough for your liking. They will even ask you if it is all right to pour it into the glass before they do so. The detail in the level of service is sometimes astounding!

Room service at the hotel.

Room service at the hotel.

Lunch at Le Pain Quotidien

Lunch at Le Pain Quotidien

Another thing that is over and above what you get in Norway, is home delivery for … everything. “A sofa? Alright, we’ll have it at your apartment tomorrow!” – “A slice of bread, you say? Will have it with you in 10 minutes!” – “Take out menu? No, you can take out anything. What do you want?” You can literally call the grocery shop and ask for a bottle of Coke, and they will bring it to your door, no extra charge! Especially good for those lazy days where you are tired of honking and just want to stay in:-)

The taxis and rickshaws are a bit different. Generally, they know how to take advantage of tourists, so one needs to be careful. It’s not like they are going to steal from you, they will just charge you more than the trip is worth, which isn’t going to be a considerable sum compared with what you would pay for a taxi in Norway. The Norwegian way to get a taxi in a different country is to always settle the price beforehand. This works fine a lot of places, but in Mumbai, you are going to get ripped off for sure. We did this the first couple of days when we went to work, and were reassured that it would cost about 200 rupees (NOK 20). “Fine”, we thought, comparing this to Norwegian prices, “That’s not so bad”. Well, we have learned that if you just tell them to put on the meter instead, it racks up to between 30-60 rupees (NOK 3-6). Of course, some will tell you “No” if you ask them to put on the meter. Then you just head over to a different cab or rickshaw. Mostly they will put it on themselves, if you don’t press them into saying a price beforehand.

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Rickshaw with the meter on.

The worst part of customer service in India is probably when you have to call your telephone company. The course of calling customer service goes a little like this: First, you have to spend the first minute listening to a prerecorded voice telling you everything you don’t need to know. After that you get to press the buttons to maneuver your way through the jungle of different issues that you may be facing. Please note here, that for Airtel, you HAVE TO listen to every option before you can make a selection. After reaching your destination, issue-wise, you will be on hold, waiting for your turn. And you will not like it. For some reason, they try to make you hang up by pushing the craziest trance/dance/dubstep waiting music straight on your ear. I stood 30 minutes in queue, with nothing other than a minute long dubstep version of Pink Floyds Shine on You Crazy Diamond on repeat. My favorite song in the entire world by the way. When talking to them, expect to get put on hold for every little question.

Another thing that you have to get used to when dealing with people who are servicing you here, is the traditional Indian head shake. For me, I can usually tell what it means (it can be either yes or no) by the conversation itself. The problem is that often they do it just like a “no-head-shake” in Norway. And if you are standing next to a taxi driver asking if he can drive you somewhere, and he doesn’t say anything, just shaking his head, you are going to spend a few seconds looking stupid before he eventually beckons you into the car.

Best regards, Marius

Keep on Rickshawing in the FRRO World

February 4, 2014 at 19:37

Allright! So here we are. We’ve passed the one week mark of our stay here in Mumbai. The city is treating us good and we have closed a deal on an apartment, and are just waiting for the money transfer before we can move in. The apartment is in the Verona building in Hiranandani. We’ll be staying on the 28th floor, so we can expect quite the view.

This week started out with me going to the FRRO (Foreign Regional Registration Office). It is about an hour and a half drive (with heavy traffic) from where we live, next to the Victoria Terminus train station. That is sort of familiar land for us as we stayed at a hotel close by last time we were here, and we even took the train a few times. It was fun to be back! The FRRO is the office where all foreign nationals who have visa for more than 180 days need to register, or it will not be possible to open a bank account, get a post-paid phone plan and several other details.

 

Victoria Terminus shot on mobile camera in passing.

Victoria Terminus shot on mobile camera in passing.

The office itself is dreaded by all foreigners and you can read a million blog posts on it if you care to Google it. My trip there was rather problem free. Capgemini has an agent who handles expats going to FRRO, and he made sure all my papers were in order before I got there, and met me outside and pointed me in the right direction. He even knew a girl on the inside who fast tracked me a bit, and I was out before I knew it. So no horror story from me about the FRRO – almost. It turns out I didn’t need to register, as my visa is exactly 180 days. So I got a stamp on a piece of paper stating I don’t need to register. Now, here’s the thing: The apartment’s owner is waiting for me to open a bank account, so I can transfer funds there and he can cash the checks. I had gotten a check book from my bank, pending my account opening after I returned from FRRO, so I had already written up the checks for the owner and all was to be well. Only problem is, the trip to FRRO went so well that I didn’t even need to register – meaning – I could not open a bank acccount.

So now we are doing an online transfer of the funds, which it seems Indians are quite skeptical of. Well, I’m skeptical of checks, so I guess we’ll have to agree on having different views there. DnB (my bank) is saying I should expect the funds to be transferred within three days, but saying it could take about fifteen days at most. The owner of the flat, however, is saying no way on earth will it take more than two days. We’ll see. Hopefully he is right. We have to stay in a hotel until he gets the money, so if you are reading this, cross your fingers, and pray to whatever deity you have that he is right! :-)

This is getting to be a rather long post. I initially wanted to say something about working at Capgemini India, but I’ll wait for another day. Currently I haven’t actually started working, since Andrea and I are both doing an introductory program here. It is quite interesting to see how the Indian consultants are inaugurated here. It’s not really much different to how they do it in Norway. I will say this about Capgemini India before the next post, though: My colleagues are absolutely wonderful! They are always smiling, always helping and so warm and friendly that walking into the doors of the office, I feel really like I am at home.

Best regards, Marius

So it begins, this story…

January 28, 2014 at 19:59

In the first chapter of Shantaram, by Gregory David Roberts, he describes in detail the feeling of that first meeting with Mumbai. He describes the first thing you meet, the very distinctive smell, which he calls the worst good smell in the world. The next thing you notice is the heat. It’s a clammy, dense sort, and it will make you sweat more than you thought possible.

It’s true what he writes, about the smell and the heat. I know this from the last time we visited. Back then, we arrived in late July. It was the warmest I had ever felt, and the humidity was extreme. It took a few days just to get used to breathing. But this time, arriving in January, it wasn’t like that at all. The smell was still pretty distinct, but the temperature was just right. Coming from -15 degrees Celsius in Norway, to about 25 degrees here was a blessing. So what I feel I have the most in common with Gregory David Roberts on this visit is the premise, as he writes: “So it begins, this story, like everything else – with a woman, and a city, and a little bit of luck.”

I have my amazing wife with me to Mumbai, the city we, thanks to the hard work of good colleagues in Capgemini India, are fortunate enough to be able to visit and work in.

We arrived during the night to Tuesday, after a rather long trip from Oslo. We travelled with British Airways to London first. The plane from Oslo was unfortunately delayed, or as the stewardess so politely told me: “We’re not late, you probably just didn’t read the clock right.” Well, it turns out we WERE late. About 35 minutes. Which is a lot when transfer time is a mere hour. Fortunately, another steward moved us to the front of the plane so we could run from there. He also made sure someone met us so we could be fast-tracked through security. Thanks to that, and the fact that they checked us in even after the gate closed, we made it.

Flying over Dubai

Flying over Dubai

Landing in Mumbai, we went through security, customs and passport control with no big happenings, before we boarded a taxi the hotel had sent. What you’ll notice first and foremost, travelling by car through Mumbai, is the diversity in living standards, people, and architecture. The taxi took us through slums, fancy hotels, past Indians, both Hindu and Muslim, rich residential areas, forests and lakes, under a water pipe line, past homeless people and into our 12 stories hotel, Ramada. We were beat, and went to sleep pretty quickly.

The streets of Mumbai at night

The streets of Mumbai at night

The day following, we got up for breakfast, slept some more, and ordered a taxi to go to the R City Mall. We had to drive through Hiranandani, hopefully our home in a short while. It is absolutely huge, and we spent a few hours trekking through. After the obligatory vacation-coffee/frappuccino at Starbucks, we ate at T.G.I. Friday’s. The prices here are quite different from Norway. We ended up spending 1800 rupees for the two of us, or about 180 kroners. I dare the statement that it would have cost us three times as much back home.

Driving through Hiranandani.

Driving through Hiranandani.

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After buying a few things at a local store, we headed back to the hotel for the SKKY lounge experience. It’s a rooftop bar next to the hotel, with great food and great atmosphere, as you can see from the pictures.

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Best regards, Marius

Here we go!

January 25, 2014 at 21:55

All right!

The people at the visa application center now know us by name after we have called and called again to enquire the status of our applications.

Truth be told, I got my visa approved a long time ago, it’s only Andrea’s approval that we’ve been waiting for. Her visa-type took a while longer than mine.

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I waited outside the application center while Andrea went inside to pick up her passport. I took this amazingly boring picture to have something other than text in this post. :-)

So we’re leaving this Monday. Tickets and a week at hotel Ramada ordered in Powai. We are very happy that everything is sorted – and very nervous.

I’ll be posting more on Monday/Tuesday after we arrive in Mumbai, hopefully with more interesting pictures:-)

Beat regards, Marius

 

The beginning of a journey

January 4, 2014 at 18:37

This year shoots off with a bang. And I’m not talking about the fireworks either. Andrea and I are going to India in only a few short days.

So that means we are spending the first few days of this new year going from emotional extreme to emotional extreme. We are psyched to go, and are looking forward to this new challenge that we’ve worked towards for a while. At the same time it’s – how can I say this – fucking scary!

We’ve tried giving ourselves a good start, so we’ve booked a suite for two days at a five-star hotel close to where we are going to live. After that we are hoping our apartment will be ready. Capgemini in India have really done a great job setting everything up this far, so were not really worried about that part. But we are anxious to get settled and start our life there, away from the uncertainty of not knowing what the daily life will be.

We still have a few things to settle, important things, like visas, contracts and work permits, so we’ll see how that goes. Maybe we aren’t going anywhere after all. Haha! Imagine that! It would make me so sad, happy, relieved and stressed out at the same time. In other words, it wouldn’t make a difference to how I feel right now:-)

We’ll update as soon as we (hopefully/regrettably) leave for the busy streets of Hiranandani, Mumbai.

Best regards, Marius