Saturday, December 06, 2014

Preparing for a trip to Kenya

This is my Nth trip to Kenya, primarily Nairobi in the last 6 months. I have spent 90% of my time till date in this beautiful country. The experience has been amazing and enriching. I have met people from various countries across the globe, observed the life of a Kenyan closely, basked in the natural beauty of this country and as a result changed for the better, as a human being.

Like always,  I am planning to write a series of posts about the experiences I have gathered, Inshallah! Time will tell, whether, like always, I will fail. :-) But, like the journey of an engineering degree starts with the first back, I will start with this introductory post, my first step. This one is just about how to prepare for a trip to Kenya, from India that is.
If you are travelling for the first time to Africa, your trip preparations should start at least 45 days in advance. This is mainly for the yellow fever and oral polio vaccine that one needs to take before coming to this country. Mind you, you can't take the shots from any five star hospital like Apollo. But you need to visit a sarkari health centre designated in your city/ state to give these vaccines (Google for your location). They will give you a yellow card with date and stamp indicating that you have taken the shots. You can travel only 30 days after taking these shots(this is a bit disputed rule. I have heard another version that says 10 days moratorium).
The next activity is booking your tickets. Kenya Airways operates 2 direct flights from Mumbai and one from Delhi. The flight time is about 6 hours from Amchi Mumbai and 7.5 hours from The Capital City. This airline is the equivalent of Air India. Cheap, convenient and sucks on service. There is an alternative for you to take the route via Doha or Dubai. With that you spend about a day travelling in extreme luxury that the economy class of any airline in the world can offer. I prefer suffering for a shorter time though! Book in advance to get real cheap deals on flights.
Visa can be secured at your local embassy or also on arrival. The on-arrival visitor visa costs USD50 and is a single entry visa valid for 90 days. The visa on arrival is simple and is the most effective option if you are here on a one-off trips and purely for pleasure. 
Once you are here, there is a lot to do. Plan well and plan in advance to make the best of the time. Best time to visit is between August to October since you can witness the large scale wild migration at Masai Mara (which I could not visit ... yet). Details posts on places I visited will hopefully follow. If you have any more tips and tricks about travelling to Kenya or Africa, or if you have any queries, do post in comments. 

Wednesday, November 05, 2014

The disconnected world

So, the world is a global village! Stuff and people moves across continent in days if not hours. Information travels in milliseconds and technology changes every hour. So when someone wears a fine pair of snickers, they don't really care if it was manufactured in a sweatshop in Bangladesh in totally inhuman working conditions. They just buy them in an air conditioned shop (or better still, on line from the comfort of the couch). Everyone is in for a 'good deal'. The person who has provided us with the product or service is in some far away land majority of the time. This has made us all ungrateful. If the Internet 

Now, Imagine a world about 50 years ago. People cared more than they do now. Because everyone who catered to you, lived around you. It was a more human world.People cared about other people. Your tailor mattered to you. Even if you had a fight with him, he was still part of your village and your world. So was the carpenter, the mail man, the farmer ...everyone. Well, not any more.

Which is why in most of the industries stress levels are rising. Consumers/ customers have stopped caring about their providers. All they care about is the product / service and the price. It's a disconnected world now!

Sunday, September 28, 2014

What development do we need

India has elected a new government based on the promise of development. Wider roads, more free water, more industry, better power (electricity) supply etc. And within days of swearing in, this government has kicked into action to deliver. Deliver, it will, what we expect.
But have we 'base-lined' our definition of development? 
As a nation, development or growth still is measured in terms of GDP, roads, FDI, malls, construction, number of millionaires and everything that can be counted! There is no real measure for inclusive growth. What developed nation would have people dying of hunger? Would GDP measure the plundering of natural resources and the irreversible nature of this 'growth'? Is this growth healthy? It is time we start looking at other nations who have plateaued on development and learn from their experience. Course correction for such a large country will be painful. But sooner the better.
And the government needs to lead the way. Instead of giving in to the popular notions of development, the government at each level needs to make people realise that we need to re-align ourselves. If we keep following the uni-directional, non sustainable development model, we will soon realise we have nowhere left to go!
In another post, I will also illustrate how this principal also applies at a personal level.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Learning from a business trip

I am currently on a short business trip to Nairobi, Kenya. While I sat in my overnight flight from Mumbai to Nairobi, tired from all the running around I had to do, I decided to learn from this experience. The overweight luggage, carrying things I didn't need, hat books to carry etc. Now, the experiences here are personal. So, to some of you, it may be quite obvious or irrelevant. But, pick what you like.

1.  Starting early - start everything early. Start packing early. Start weighing your luggage early, contact the hotel early. Book the cab early. Do everything earlier than you think is 'sufficient'. People may think you are crazy. But they are not going to run around for you. So screw them!

2.  Invest in bags - If you are a frequent air traveller, invest in good bags. Light, sturdy and those that will keeps your stuff in place. My biggest mistake on this trip was to carry a suitcase that was utilised only 70%. There are multiple problems with this. Firstly, the bag eats into your luggage weight limit permissible on the aircraft. Secondly, since the stuff inside is not packed tightly, it moves around. When I opened the bag midway (you'll know why as you read on) I saw all my neatly ironed clothes had become a mess. It could also be a good idea to split the stuff into 2 bags if you don't have just the right size.
Also, buy a good overnighter with a smaller laptop bag inside. This helps you utilise the 8Kg/ 10Kg cabin baggage limit effectively. And the laptop bag inside is what you carry to client site.


3.  Pick stuff wisely - pack depending on where you are going to stay. If you are going to be put up at a decent hotel or service apartment, don't bother packing towels, toiletries etc.If in doubt, don't hesitate to speak to the hotel. These things add weight and once you check-in you realise you wasted time, space and weight.

4.  Books - I am not much of a kindle guy. But on trips, I feel like I should give it a try. My criteria of choosing books for a trip is I pick books that I won't get on line. So I carry Marathi books. Other I can get to read on iPad via the Kindle app. If you are Kindle friendly, nothing like it!

5.  Medicines - you don't get all medicines everywhere. Always carry a the basic ones on you. Some countries don't allow some medicines carried into their borders. On landing you may have to dispose them off, but I would rather do that than being sick alone with no access to basic medication.

6.  Connectivity - This is my second trip to Nairobi. The first one was for just 2 days. I didn't take a mobile connection then. I incurred huge costs on international roaming. This time around, I took a connection as soon as I landed and it's turning out to be the wisest decision. 
Irrespective of the length of your stay, if you can quickly get a local number for cheap, get it! Connecting with local friends, calling a cab, calling home, staying in touch on Whatsapp, all becomes easy. And remember, it also helps other people call you!

7.  Eatables - Call the hotel and find out if they serve Indian cuisine (most do). You don't need to stuff your bag with eatables then. I am carrying 4 packs of biscuits this time which I could have totally avoided.

This is it for now. If  you've got any, do share!

Friday, June 27, 2014

How to pay property tax in Hyderabad

It's that time of the year when the GHMC property tax notice has reached you and you want to pay the tax before deadline (30th June 2014) without attracting penalty.
While GHMC tells you there are multiple ways of paying, ranging from online (most convenient) to visiting the circle office (least convenient), all of them have their plus and minus points.
While online payment is most convenient, most of the time it doesn't work and an error is thrown . You end up wondering if it really got paid or not.
Paying at the Municipality circle office is the most sure shot way, but they follow strict office timings (which coincide with your office timings), are crowded and they accept only DDs.
From my experience, the most convenient way to pay GHMC property tax is through APonline or eSeva counters. These have extended working hours, are plenty in numbers and are not much crowded. The only flip side is they accept cash only. Moreover, they charge a commission of Rs.10 per Rs.1000 paid as tax. So, if you pay a property tax is Rs.2455, you will have to pay a commission of Rs.20. But, please remember that you would have to pay this in case of online payment or DD as well.
So, go and pay your tax now! Be a responsible citizen!

Monday, April 28, 2014

He now wants a smartphone

My father is a doctor and will turn 62 in a few months. He contested the Lok Sabha election in March 2014. And all the volunteers who worked for him told him he now needs a smart phone. So that they could connect with him on WhatsApp. So he asked me for advise on buying a smart phone.
I, on the other hand, am trying to run away from a hand held device. The only utility that my existing device has is it let's me remain connected with my official email and chat while on the move. I am thinking I will trade my device for my father's conventional mobile phone. I will do it as an experiment.
The experiment will server quite a few purposes. One, it will help my father get used to a touch based, low battery smart phone. Two, it will allow me get used to a life without a smart phone. And three, for the time being, we won't add to the unnecessary stuff in the world by just going ahead and buying a new phone for my father. Let's see how that goes.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

The politics of pupular decisions

Two years ago when the BJP Government came to power, they reduced the VAT on Petrol to 0.1%. This was one of the most popular decision by this government. It also received a wide national publicity. All the countrymen applauded the Goa government's decision and judged Goa to be a progressive state just based on the fuel prices. There is no doubt Goa is a progressive state, but this is a wrong measure!
The Goa government's intention was probably to insulate the common man from increase in petroleum prices. But, in my opinion, there are better ways of doing this. How about overhauling the public transport? Since the implementation of this VAT reduction, Goa has lost about Rs.300 crore worth of potential revenue. Had this money been used for a up-gradation of state owned public transport, it would have had a far wider impact than reduction in Petrol VAT. Not to forget, it would have generated revenue, jobs and made the roads in Goa far more free.
The Goa government already distributes a lot of money to the public through many schemes (like unemployment stipend, widow pension, DA for housewives etc.). I am sure this would take care of petrol price rise as well. Instead the government should concentrate on giving employment opportunity to Goans.
But, the governments are increasingly becoming populists. They sacrifice long term visions for short term popularity and gains. 
It's high time governments stop giving fish to people and teach them fishing instead!

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Hyderabad to Goa by Road...again

This is is update to my previous post on travelling from Hyderabad to Goa by road.
I did this trip again on 28th March 2014. But this time I took a different route.


This is a pretty decent road except for the road from Raichur to Belgaum. There are unmarked speed breakers that make it really horrid to drive on. We (I had a co-driver) did the distance in 12 hours with all breaks. Remember NOT to take the Khanapur --> Anamod route when going from Belgaum to Goa. Take the Chorla ghaat. And if you are taking the route for the first time, try to make it in the day time. Happy driving!

Wednesday, April 02, 2014

A new life

There comes a point in life where you start questioning everything. Call it mid life crisis or whatever you may, you want to know stuff, want to be more rooted and productive in every possible way. I have been living a pretty much a procrastinator's life all along. Looking for some greater good to happen. 
But today is the day. I was going through this website - www.storyofstuff.com  . It's not the first time I have come across this thought process. I have read about frugal living (www.raptitude.com), met a few people who believe & practise sustainable development/ livelihood. I have read books, attended seminars and thought I'd done my bit. But I always thought that it was some sort of a fad. I hadn't bought the idea completely. But today, I am sold on it!
I begin today by not using the air conditioner. I usually sleep in an air conditioned room; Telling myself that keeping it on for a couple of hours is not going to cause much harm! But today onward, I switch it off. I hope it is just the beginning. Let me see where I go from here. Stay with me!

Thursday, March 06, 2014

How to change flat ownership in GHMC records

It's been close to a year since we bought a new flat in Hyderabad. It has been one hell of a learning exercise for the sheer amount of paper work and procedures it involved before, during or after the purchase. Buying a house in Hyderabad has been an exciting and taxing journey, so far. All through this journey, I had a desire to document my experiences so that it would help others who wished to be helped. But luck, laziness and life kept me away from this. However, I'll at least start now with an account of what needs to be done to change the ownership records in GHMC [Greater Hyderabad Municipal Corporation].
The first time it struck me that I need to do this is when I received a property tax notice addressed to the previous owner of the flat (we made a second hand purchase). All along I thought once I had registered with the land records department, the government would take care of updating all other records. I was so wrong! So, I rushed to the nearest Municipal Citizen Service Center (CSC). I asked them if I should pay the property tax first or change the name. They advised me to pay the tax first as I would need the receipt for having my name updated. 
Paying property tax in Hyderabad is pretty easy. I just made a Demand Draft payable to 'Commissioner GHMC' and deposited it at the CSC along with the property tax receipt. That's it.
Now comes the difficult part. I need to update GHMC records to tell them that I am the owner of this flat; the process is called 'mutation'. For this, one needs -

  1. Latest Property tax notice - you got it
  2. Receipt of payment of the latest property tax - ditto
  3. Notarized copies of sale and link documents - if you are smart, you would have taken copies immediately after registration. If you are me, you would have to pay the bank to get the copies out. A notary will sign them as 'true copy' for a fee. They charged me Rs.750
  4. Encumbrance certificate - you should get it in 2/3 days at a MeeSeva centre. Charges Rs.250
  5. Indemnity bond - the notary will do this for you.
  6. The market value certificate - if your property registration is more than 3 months old, then you need to go back to land registration office (where you registered the sale deed) and get your property revalued. They will issue a certificate. Official charges Rs.10 :-)\
  7. A demand draft with a nominal fee for mutation.
None of the above is too difficult to do. So don't get an agent. He will simply make it look difficult!
Gather all of this and submit at the GHMC CSC. They send you an SMS with reference number once your documents are accepted. Then you will get an SMS update once the mutation certificate is ready. You're done!


Tuesday, January 28, 2014

How to have an effective communication with a toddler

I have a 27 month (2 year +)  old daughter and she is a handful. Hence, my opinion in this post is not based on hearsay or from other parenting blogs, but from our experiences with our daughter. And like most learning, these have also majorly come from failing to communicate in the first place. 

1. Kids don't understand sarcasm
2 year old kids are at the very nascent stages of communication learning curve. They don't understand complex of figure of speech like sarcasm or rhetorical questions. I'm sure every parent is aware but this point gets missed in the heat of the moment. So when your kid has just emptied an entire glass full of juice on your couch and you should 'neat! that should make you happy. no?'. They don't know what you mean! You are only spending your intellect on something totally uncalled for.

2. They are allowed to shout; you are not.
It's not a parliament where you will win (or assume to have won) an argument by shouting on top of each other's voice. Kids will always win this. Shouting and screaming is a way of expression for the kids. They feel something and don't know how to express it. I hope that is not the case with most adults reading this. Hence, they are allowed shouting while you are not. :)

3. Create diversions
Kids easily get diverted. So keep diversions like music, books, toys, videos, pictures, crayons handy. Picking up a crying toddler and taking them to the balcony to show a street dog or a buffalo is an old trick in the book that we all tend to forget.

4. Prioritize
As a parent, your priorities will change. I'm sure you know that. But not in the long run like outings, late night parties, watching TV/ movies etc. but also at every instance. You may have to choose discipline over peace of mind, entertainment over cleanliness etc. Imagine you have invited guests over for dinner and your toddler decides that it is THE day to cling on to her favourite parent. "Why did she chose today? She does this on purpose! She wants to embarrass me" - You are bound to be irritated because you see a potential personal embarrassment! You are afraid the guests will have to face a half hearted welcome. But guess what? You haven't prioritized well. Which results in you shouting back at your kid instead of making the arrival of guests equally exciting for her.

5. Ask or walk away
When kids start crying unnecessarily (or so you think), don't tell them to stop crying as an immediate reaction. We all get irritated when a kid is crying in the vicinity. But research shows that is the intent of crying. Humans are programmed to be disturbed by a crying child so that the child's needs can be catered to. So, when your toddler begins to cry, ask her WHY she is crying? If you cannot hear her properly, tell her that you cannot make out what she wants to say because she is crying. If there is a genuine reason, address it or refer point 3 above :). If there is no reason the kid can give, it could be hunger, internal pain or discomfort that she has not experienced before etc. If it looks like a tantrum and diversion doesn't work, walk away. Just tell the kid that you are willing to talk once she has stopped crying. You may have to bear with the crying for a few minutes, but  you would have made a point.

There are many more aspects to communicating with a child. I hope as I learn from my experiences, I am able to articulate them for the readers.

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Consume or Create

This post is a result of a brief discussion I had with a dear friend over chai a few days ago.
At various levels of our existence, we are always consuming something. Water, food, literature, information, petrol, music and Oxygen if not doing anything else. If we choose to be, we can be consumers forever, almost parasites. But then there is a part of us that wants to be 'creative'. We want to be making something, creating something. And to be creating something, we should be well aware of the consumer. A good photographer should have seen a lot of good photographs. A good actor should have seen a lot of good performances. You get the point!
But then where do I draw the line? When does one say, 'Ok. I have seen enough, now let me do something about it!'. I am in a state right now where the social network and the Internet is showing diminishing returns. When someone shows me that '10 most beautiful photographs of 2013' post, I say to myself  "so what?". What have I done? I am not a bad or casual photographer either! Where are my 10 best images of 2013.When someone shares their travel experience, I realise I didn't go anywhere.
So, here is to less consumption and more creation. It's time to shape the proceedings and not be a passive looker!

Friday, January 03, 2014

Should water be free

Let me leave this question unanswered by telling you a tale of 2 states -

I belong to a place of abundant and free water - Goa. My village is self sustaining in terms of water ( in fact surplus) and hence water is free there. We have a well in our backyard that gives us enough water through the year. Though this is a function of geographical advantage that Goa has, we have taken extra efforts to deploy rain water harvesting to recharge our well. The government as well has a water shed development program across the state. In other words, we earn our water. 

I currently reside in a water deficit place - Hyderabad. Hyderabad is so unplanned and densely populated that it is almost impossible to make it self sustaining for water. Last summer, we ran out of water (like every other summer). Our bore-wells (that run thousands of feet deep) ran dry. The tankers took care of our water needs. These tankers were filled on government owned bore-wells in nearby villages. And one day the inevitable happened. The local farmers of these villages stopped all the tankers from filling water. The rate at which water was being pumped from these village bore-wells, lead to the water table depleting. The farmers did not get enough water for their crop. 

Tankers are merely a mode of transport. This problem would come even for piped water. The fact is urban dwellers are so arrogant and oblivious to the damage they cause. They assume they are entitled to all the resources whereas in reality, they are living off the villages. Even electricity comes from large hydro - electric power stations that are constructed by unsettling hundreds of villages. And we still want all of it free, or at half rate. We call it our basic need. I think the cities are like bakasurs (बकासुर )