Saturday, May 22, 2010

We are fine

With the news of the terrible plane crash in Mangalore, we have gotten lots of calls, and I just wanted to say that we are fine. Mangalore is not Bangalore, although it is in the same state of Karnataka. It is along the coast, with Goa to the North and Kerala to the south, so the list of fatalities reads like the rainbow that South India is -- Christians, Muslims, and Hindus. Wedding season is starting, so lots of folks who work in the Gulf come back for family events, certainly laden with lots of gold and electronics.

Watching the live coverage this morning (my visiting mother-in-law mentioned it to me as soon as I woke up, and she was watching it non-stop, a change from watching her religious channel) reminded me of some of the challenges that India faces when confronting a disaster. First of all, there are people everywhere. That might help in rescuing survivors when there is no other other emergency response, but it is awfully dangerous to have normal folks within a few feet of a burning aircraft. This is a result of there not being a clear emergency response protocol, and no one being in charge. This is seen over and over, certainly everywhere in the world, but few places carry it off with the aplomb that is seen here. The emergency vehicles that appear, eventually, are rather sad looking. Then, of course, the different politicians are blaming each other, and the foreign pilot brings out the xenophobic worst of the Indians. Seems to me that more investigation into the process by which this airport just got certified for international flights might be worthwhile -- as one can see the cutting of corners everywhere as folks rush to keep up with demand for transportation, housing, education, and many of the other things that go along with economic development.

By tonight things are still tragic, but the State has gotten its act together a bit. As this is a story that is making the front page of newspapers worldwide, there are floodlights under which emergency workers are retrieving bodies. Finally the public's access has been limited, with the space cordoned off. There have been press conferences by different folks involved every once in a while, and emergency numbers are flashing on all channels (okay, well not the cricket channels, the movie channels in all languages, the shopping channels, the religious channels, nor the cartoon channels -- but there are still lots and lots of others). Eventually the authorities will hear more details about what really happened, and hopefully the public will learn about them too.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Being counted

We missed participating (or being counted) by the US Census, but are being counted here in India. Two men knocked at our door and gave us a form, shown below, and informed us that they would return in a few days to pick it up.
The two men are school teachers, and this is "supplementary" duty, similar to their election service -- sometimes it seems that teachers here are performing all these other duties more than they are teaching.The form is simple -- no computer generated bubble forms.The form requests: Name, gender, date of birth, place of birth, educational qualification, relationship, occupation, marital status, names of parents, permanent address, number of years at this address, if we are members of a scheduled caste or scheduled tribe (SC/ST), nationality, election card number, home/cel phone numbers, and the overall number of males and females in the household.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Comments on today's Hindu newspaper

Rather than post photos right now (later I'll do that as I have lots of great shots), I thought I'd just give some quick reaction to today's edition of The Hindu (May 15, 2010). The electronic version doesn't have quite the same impact as the printed form (often the case I think, this isn't particular to this newspaper), although you can read some of the entire articles there.

Front page: Left half (from under headlines to bottom of page) is full of an add from an jewellers advertising gold. Pages 2 and 3 are all gold ads too, as is half of page 4, as tomorrow is Akshaya Tritiya, when it is an auspicious day here in Karataka to buy and wear gold jewelry to help you bring more wealth to you and your family. I look at all the heavy gold and think about how that money could be used on productive investment, but then I'm a geeky economist, and I do appreciate how for many folks here, especially those outside the formal financial system, gold serves as a great store of wealth than can be controlled by women. But still, most of the folks buying the huge amounts are not those outside the formal financial system.

The other half of the front page is pretty depressing too: a picture with the title "Thailand on the boil" highlighting the unrest in Thailand, followed by "Constable killed as terrorists strike in Hyderabad Old City" and then "Mayapuri scrap market still in danger, says Greenpeace". The Hyderabad article points at simmering problems, where the concerns about the Pakistani state should be secondary compared to concern about less official types. The scrap market article is about radioactive waste, following contamination material having killed one and injured others at Delhi University after having dismantled radioactive equipment.

The small photos as teasers for other articles (immediately below the name of the newspaper) are "Government Taken to Task", "28 Persons Electrocuted", "Ruben Wants to Go Home", and "Hussey Stars for Australia." The "Government" article is about a central government official publicly admonishing the state government for not nominating new heads of agricultural universities; "Ruben" covers the human interest story of the sole survivor of a plane crash in Libya; and "Hussey" is about cricket, the obsession here. The "28 Persons Electrocuted" is the one that drew my attention. On page 19 there was a photo and a short article explaining that they were returning from a marriage when their bus hit a high-voltage wire -- their bus had an iron box and other luggage on top, and it came in contact with the wire near Madla in Madhya Pradesh. 23 women, 3 boys, and 2 men. Very sad, but surprising that more incidents don't occur given the overloaded buses and trucks on the one hand, and dangling and low hanging wires on the other.

Page 9 has another sad story: "Two killed as lorry ploughs through several vehicles: Motorists have little elbow room thank to bus stops on either side of road" where the driver of an overloaded truck (some might argue persuasively that there are no other types here) with timber lost control and "rammed into a goods autorickshaw ferrying empty domestic gas cylinders. It then ploughed through two scooters before hitting the bus." A few things here: the two who died were on a scooter. If the cylinders had been full, the possibility for more damage might exist (although I'm sure my energy friends would say that it is safe). If the bus hadn't been there and the bus had moved into the bus stand, more would have been injured certainly. Here's more from the article: "The presence of bus stops on either side of the 80-foot Hennur Road has been causing problems for motorists. "If two buses stop on both the sides, there is hardly any space for other motorists," said S. Ekambaram, a resident of the area. Local people complained of difficulty in crossing the busy road. "We use the raised pedestrian crossing just at the slope of the flyover. But it hardly helps us as the height of crossing has reduced because of the layers of asphalt," Mr. Ekambaram said. The Banaswadi Traffic Police, how arrested driver Saleem, said his driving license had expired." So here we see issues of: placement of bus stops, lack of pedestrian crossing, and an expired driver's license, all issues that are relevant all over Bangalore.

While there are days when one is hopeful about the future here, there are times when hope is tough to find.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Volcanic ash refugees in Frankfurt

We traveled through Frankfurt Airport six days after long haul flights resumed out of it, yet there were still cots and travelers stuck on them.The stores of folded up cots -- no longer needed -- were still close at hand in case they were needed again.

Saturday, May 1, 2010

Back in Bangalore: Bananas

To show the contrast of last week with tulips in the Netherlands and Bangalore, I'll focus today on bananas (and soon, mangoes!). Above, a banana plantation in North Bangalore, just off Bellary Road.
New shoots.
The banana flower. You can buy these in the market to cook too.
You can see the flower at the bottom of the bunch of bananas.
Sticks are placed to support the weight of the banana-laden trees.
They grow upwards, just in case you've never seen them grow.
After they harvest the bananas, they chop down the tree, and start again. At a wholesaler. Just missing a shot at a retail store (although I've shown those in earlier posts, and of us eating some yummy bananas. Below are shots of the field when done.