Andy Carvin's Waste of Bandwidth

August 1, 2006

Catching Up on Some Old Photo Albums

Filed under: Albania,Estonia,India,Travel,Turkey — Andy Carvin @ 6:00 pm

Since yesterday was the last day of the month, I decided to max out the remaining bandwidth in my two-gigs-a-month allotment from Flickr by uploading some photos from my previous travels. Before switching to a digital camera, I used to have my 35mm photos burned to a CD when I got them developed, leaving me with a batch of CDs just asking to be uploaded. So I’ve uploaded three new sets to Flickr:

alt="Indian kids, Jaipur"> href="">Rajasthan 2001: Our second trip to India, including Jaipur, Jodhpur, Jaisalmer, the Pushkar Camel Fair, Udaipur and Chittorgarh.
Gjirokastra houses Albania, Greece and Istanbul: Includes photos from Athens, Meteora, Metsovo, Thessaloniki, Gjirokastra and Istanbul.
alt="Onion Domes, St Basil's Cathedral"> href="">Russia & Estonia: My February 2002 trip to Moscow, St. Petersburg and Tallinn.

This brings my Flickr collection to 10,364 photos. Wonder how long it’ll take me to reach 20,000. -andy

March 7, 2005

Emus, Rest Stops and The Chocolate Debacle

Filed under: India — Andy Carvin @ 5:08 pm

I woke up unexpectedly at 6am Sunday when I received an unrequested wake-up call from the hotel asking me to get up, even though we wouldn’t be leaving Baramati until 8am. I was already packed, so I certainly didn’t need two hours to get ready. But once I was awake I couldn’t fall asleep very well, but I did my best to get a little extra shut-eye, particularly since I didn’t know when I’d get a chance to sleep again. Over the course of the day, we’d make our way to Mumbai, then I’d head to the airport in the evening for a 2am flight to Paris. I usually don’t sleep well on flights, so I faced the prospect of pulling an all-nighter on the 10-hour flight, then waiting six hours for my connection, then another eight hours to arrive in Boston around 3pm Monday. Not exactly my idea of fun.
Rather than driving directly back to Mumbai, the group would make two stops: one to a milk processing plant, another to an emu farm that also had a wireless Internet kiosk. I could understand why we were stopping at the emu farm, because it provided Internet access to the surrounding farms, but I didn’t really understand the milk processing plant. Perhaps I’d find out when we got there.
We had been invited to have breakfast at the milk plant, but during M S Swaminathan’s closing speech at the conference the previous night, he noted the problem that India’s milk farms have when it comes to keeping their products salmonella-free. That sapped the appetite out of some of us, so we grabbed a quick bite at the hotel prior to leaving Baramati: a simple breakfast consisting of fried eggs, toast and a spicy potato pancake that someone aptly described as a Maharashtra latke.
It took us an extra 40 minutes before we left the hotel, as the group had to split up into a convoy of Toyota 4X4s that would take some of us to the farms and at least one person directly to the Pune airport. Eventually we settled into our cars and began what would be a nine-hour journey.
Our first stop was the milk processing plant. Initially I’d expected to see an idyllic Indian farm with dairy cows joyfully giving milk, while a variety of funky technologies would be used to process and package it. Instead, I only got to see the latter; the processing plant was an industrial complex with nary a bovine in sight. We were led into the plant’s headquarters, where we were invited to have breakfast. It was a little awkward because most of us had eaten breakfast, but we did our best to accept modest portions and nosh on their food. Breakfast consisted of couscous and a very salty omelet, accompanied by the only fresh toast I ate in India. We were also served copious amounts of Tropicana orange juice; I politely declined my own carton’s worth because I had been suffering from heartburn since leaving Paris, and orange juice would have burned terribly. The waiter took the carton away from my placemat with a dejected look on his face.
After breakfast, we were silently led to a conference room, where a man walked over to a TV plugged in a video tape. For the next 15 minutes we watched the TV, learning that the milk processing plant was one of the largest in India, certified to meeting a long list of ISO standards that meant absolutely nothing to me. We also learned the plant is the exclusive supplier of processed cheese slices for McDonalds (though it was unclear that exclusivity pertained to India, the region or the entire planet), and served as the producer and packager of products ranging from Tropicana orange juices (oops!) and Lipton Iced Tea. The question regarding the scope of their McDonalds cheese monopoly lingered in my mind as the video ended, so when the man returned to eject the video tape, he led us back to our cars without saying a word. No questions, no tour, no cheese. I looked at my watch and wondered if this little excursion would cost me the chance to go into downtown Mumbai later this afternoon.
Our second stop, however, was much more interesting and enjoyable. We drove for some time into the outskirts of Baramati, passing through hundreds of acres of pomegranate orchards and grape vineyards. Baramati, it turns out, is one of India’s leading agricultural areas for table grapes. We’d previously seen row upon row of women selling enormous bushels of white grapes on dusty rugs along the roadside, while men generally seemed to sell the grapes from little carts. I wasn’t sure how they ever made money of the grapes, since the market seemed saturated with them, yet without any buyers. (Colin Maclay of Harvard’s Berkman Center later quipped that they weren’t selling the grapes but were waiting for them to turn into raisins.)
Now, though, we arrived at the farm; a pair of women with several young children pumped water from the farm’s well. We were greeted by the farmer, who invited us to walk with him to the emu pens. Passing the main house, we found ourselves in front of several large pens. In the first pen, dozens of young emus, no more than two feet tall, frolicked around with boundless energy, emitting a surprisingly relaxing coo noise reminiscent of doves. The emus darted in between each other, some moving in groups, others on their own. I saw one of the emus collapse to the ground and start rolling in the dirt; I cringed in horror thinking it was injured. It then kicked up the dirt, made a playful noise, then darted into another part of the flock. I then realized that emus throughout the pen were going through the same motions, dropping to the ground, rubbing into the dirt, then darting away. Either the dirt was an emu bird bath or part of an unspoken emu game.
Beyond the main pen, there was another large pen, but this one was home to a sole adult emu. While not as large as an ostrich, the emu was enormous. I’ve heard stories of ostriches being able to kill a person by kicking them; this one, while perhaps not being able to make you meet your maker, it could certainly end your dancing career if it was so inclined. In between the two large pens was a smaller holding pen containing a large cage. Inside, several dozen baby emus, only a few days old, picked at some feed while making that same cute cooing noise.
The farmer then began explaining the history of the farm. He had previously been a chicken farmer, and was invited to host a computer kiosk utilizing wireless local loop technology to connect to the Internet. That way, he and his surrounding farmers could have up-to-date access to agricultural market prices and techniques. Not long after this, he was searching the Internet searching for a local source to buy chickens. He struck up an email correspondence with another farmer who’d started raising emus. He asked the other farmer why he’d want to raise such an unusual bird rather than a more typical farm animal, and he replied that five-star hotels across India were serving emu burgers, emu steaks and other flightless delicacies. Emus, apparently, were as hot as, well, ostrich meat. So the farmer ordered a few emus to give it a whirl. Soon, he was making 10 times more money he could have ever made as a chicken farmer.
Participants from the Baramati conference had visited the farm two years ago, and back then they had a few dozen emus. Now, there were literally hundreds. Besides the emus we met in the outdoor pen, there was an indoor pen with at least another 100 week-old emus running around. We were invited to enter that pen and take a look around; the emus never got too close, but it was pretty strange being surrounded by so many of these cute little birds. Meanwhile, another room contained a high-tech incubator that served as the temporary home to dozens of two-day-old emus, and another incubator reminiscent of a giant rotisserie oven that was used to keep hundreds of enormous black emu eggs warm and cozy until hatching.
As fascinating as the visit was, the experience got a lot of us talking about vegetarianism. “Every time I go on an agricultural site visit, I become a vegan for at least six months,” one of the group said. Fortunately, this farm was just the place where they raised the emus, but I couldn’t help thinking about their ultimate fate. Too bad the little ones grew up to be enormous animals; otherwise they’d make an adorable pet.
It took us a while to get organized and leave the farm. At first I couldn’t figure out what the delay was all about, but we soon learned that the person who’d left the hotel prior to us to go directly to the Pune airport had managed to have his bag stuck in one of our cars. This meant that all three cars would have to make a side-trip to Pune rather drive around the metropolis and proceed directly to Mumbai, adding at least an hour to our drive. I wasn’t particularly happy about the situation, but there wasn’t much we could do.
Back in the car, we headed off for Pune, only 100 kilometers away, but more than two hours’ drive due to the poor conditions of the roads. The roads actually weren’t as bad as I would have expected, but we found ourselves having to stop to allow goat herds and the occasional gaggle of buffalo to cross our path. I was sitting in the front passenger seat, so I kept leaning out the window to shoot photos and video clips.
About two-thirds of the way to Pune, we reached a medium-sized village. As we drove through town along a boulevard lined with peepul trees, we passed two bullock carts carrying a group of pilgrims. The bulls and the pilgrims were all covered in reddish-pink dye.
“Are they preparing for Holi?” I asked my colleague Archana, who lived in Mumbai.
“No, Holi is still a few weeks away,” she said. “There’s a community festival dedicated to one of the local gods, and they making their way to the festival.”
The driver offered to pull over the car so we could get out and watch the carts overtake us. I walked back down the road to meet the carts halfway and shot a short video, along with some photos. The pilgrims seemed to be evenly divided among those who wanted to wave and mug for the camera, those who were indifferent and those who didn’t want the attention, so I kept the video short to avoid causing offense. But they let me walk alongside the cart for a few moments as they caught up with our car, heading on their way.
Within the hour we arrived in Pune; a city with more than a million inhabitants, it’s still considered small and pleasant when compared to India’s megacities. Many affluent Indians actually choose to live in Pune, with its lack of humidity and rapidly-growing suburbs, and commute three hours by train into Mumbai. Pune was a bustling town, but didn’t seem to be saturated with people in the same way Mumbai is. Rolling down the window, I noticed how dry it was outside; the forecast for the day was to hit 100 degrees Fahrenheit, but the heat wasn’t extreme at all thanks to the constant dryness.
Eventually we arrived at the Taj Blue Diamond hotel. For some reason we didn’t park in the lot; instead we drove in and out, then park along a busy road, all three 4X4s lined in a row. We then stood around for about 30 minutes, trying to figure out what exactly was going on. Two or three times we were informed that the missing bag in question had been found, but then told it was a false alarm. In the meantime, a poor woman dressed in rags carrying a dirty, malnourished child went from car to car, banging loudly on each window, chanting the sad mantra, “five rupee, 10 rupee.” Meanwhile, several of us got out of the car, just to make sure that our bag wasn’t accidentally sent to the Pune airport.
Somehow the confusion got sorted out, so we were ready to hit the road. One car’s worth of people wanted to stay in Pune for lunch, while the rest of us wanted to make up for lost time and head for the Pune-Mumbai expressway. My bag was in the car that was staying for lunch, but it didn’t seem to matter, as all three cars would rendezvous at the Kohinoor Hotel near Mumbai’s airport well before 6pm, giving us plenty of time to be reunited with our luggage.
We started our drive out of Pune, passing through the army base of the Bombay Sappers, India’s mine and ordinance division. On one side of the road I saw signs for the Sapper’s boys school, the other side their high explosives depot. On the outskirts of the town we reached the Pune-Mumbai expressway, the only modern highway in India. Six lanes wide and only a few years’ old, the highway was a pleasure to drive, not unlike an American highway. Archana explained that the Indian government was in the process of creating similar highways throughout India, as part of a plan first initiated by former prime minister Vajpayee.
Somewhere between Pune and Mumbai, we stopped at a highway rest stop. Like American rest stops, this place had a selection of restaurants. But thankfully there weren’t any McDonalds or Pizza Huts or Arby’s; instead, we found a courtyard of kiosks each selling regional cuisines from all over India. Whether you were looking for a snack from Maharashtra, Gujarat, Punjab, Tamil Nadu or Bengal, you’d find whatever your stomach desired. Archana explained how it worked. First, you went to a central kiosk to pay for your meal. They’d ring it up for you and give you a receipt, which you would bring to the appropriate kiosks. If you ordered everything from one kiosk, you’d be squared away; otherwise, they would rip of part of the receipt representing what you’d just picked up there, then you would go to the next kiosk and pick up more food.
Our group scattered throughout the courtyard. Colin Maclay and I went straight for the Maharashtran kiosk and ordered two potato patties, each placed in a hamburger bun and drizzled with a sweet sauce. They put several chilis on the side as well; I spared my stomach and skipped them but Colin showed no such restrain. Meanwhile, the patties were spicy as hell anyway, so after eating them I went to a small pastry kiosk to buy a selections of sweets to share with the group and negate the burn on my tongue. Colin, still hungry, ordered a bal puri chaat, a spicy snack mix that was custom mixed for him.
We hung out for a little while in the packed courtyard, finishing our lunches and sampling the sweets I’d purchased. The best of the lot was a shredded wheat square that melted in your mouth like cotton candy. My next favorite was a diamond-shaped cookie made of cashew paste, coated with silver leaf on one side; Susanne and I had tried them in Rajasthan two years ago. My least favorite turned out to be an orange ball of semolina couscous, pressed and soaked in a sugary syrup that had no discernable flavor. Meanwhile, Archana showed up with a scorching hot plate of jalabi, an orange syrup dough shaped like pretzels, fried in oil, and served fresh. I’d seen jalabi on every trip to India but had never tasted them before. They were truly sinful, the crunch of the dough contrasting with a squirt of syrup and oil. One jalabi was more than enough.
Back on the road to Mumbai, Archana offered to have us over for tea at her suburban flat. As we approached the city, we veered off the highway towards an enclave of apartments and shopping complexes, all of which had been built in the last few years. The site was an enormous construction project, with most of the buildings still being completed. Eventually, hundreds of thousands of middle-class Mumbaikars would call this place home.
We pulled into Archana’s apartment complex, much to the surprise of the other two cars, who had no idea why we’d left the highway and gone here. A quick explanation sorted out their confusion, and we went upstairs to her flat, where we were greeted by her mother, younger sister and two little dogs. We relaxed in the apartment as her mother made masala chai and one of the dogs nipped at me, with MTV India running in the background. It was one of the few times I’ve been invited into an Indian home, so I was honored to spend part of the afternoon there drinking tea and chatting.
Once we had polished off our cups of chai, we returned to the cars and continued towards Mumbai, crossing a small mountain range that separated the humid megacity with the more comfortable suburbs, then following a long causeway that brought us to the islands of Mumbai. Traffic — human, vehicular and otherwise — picked up significantly as we entered the city, slowing down our rate of transit. It took us another 90 minutes to get the hotel, which wasn’t bad since we were driving on a Sunday rather than a weekday. Otherwise the drive could have been an hour longer. I recognized much of the last 30 minutes of the drive into the northern enclave of Andheri, home to our hotel, but that didn’t stop us from taking a right at the last light rather than a left, delaying our arrival to the hotel by another 10 minutes.
Finally, we pulled into the hotel just after 5pm. In the car we’d talked about going into Mumbai for a few hours before heading to the airport, but as staggered into the hotel lobby, I decided I was in no condition to commute yet another 90 minutes into the city and out just for a couple hours of sightseeing in the dark. Others in our group hadn’t spent any time in Mumbai at all, while I had a great day with Rohit and Dina earlier in the week. So while Archana led a small contingent of people back into the city, I commandeered one of the hotel rooms for a few hours, which would give me time to shower and relax before heading for the airport at 11pm.
After settling into our rooms, several people went down to the bar for some tea or beer, depending on how healthy they were feeling. In the meantime, I opened my laptop bag and discovered in horror that the two bars of chocolate I’d bought in Paris and forgotten about had melted some time that afternoon, probably at the rest stop. So rather than joining the group downstairs, I spent the next 30 minutes emptying out my backpack, scraping out as much chocolate as possible, and sopping up the rest with toilet paper and a couple of handtowels that turned black as oil rags. Eventually, I left the backpack directly under the air conditioner, hoping it would harden the remaining chocolate, then went downstairs to join Colin, Tom and Chris. Colin enjoyed his small pitcher of beer while Tom and Chris, who were sick and sicker personified, drank masala chair. I joined them for a cup, then returned to the room to excavate more chocolate from my bag and watch Meet The Parents on Indian cable TV.
At 11pm, Raul, Jen and I shared a ride to the airport. I was able to jump to the front of the line because of my frequent flier status, but my luck apparently stopped there, where I was unable to get a complimentary upgrade to business class. It was a 10-hour flight to Paris, and we wouldn’t take up til 2:30am or later, so coach class was probably going to be hellish. I still had a couple of hours before boarding, so Jen and I joined Paul Moritz, a retired Microsoft exec who managed the rollout of Windows. We relaxed in the lounge and compared purchased we’d made over the years on our business trips, from miniature paintings to marble table tops.
After Paul and Jen left for their flight to Amsterdam, I wandered through the duty free shops before settling at the gate, where I joined a group of French students watching a bad Bollywood musical that appeared to focus on a gang of middle-aged Mumbai thugs who dressed like the characters in Michael Jackson’s Beat It video. Amazingly, my stars fell into alignment when my name was called a few minutes before boarding. A Delta agent handed me a new boarding pass marked Seat 1B: business class. Walking on a pillow of imaginary clouds, I smiled the whole way down the jetway, settling into my seat next to a Keralan man living in North Carolina, traveling the world as a representative for Ruby Tuesday’s restaurants. We chatted and swapped business travel stories until the flight took off just after 3am; I then put on my eye shades, leaned back as far as I could, and drifted into sleep.

An Evening of Drama

Filed under: India — Andy Carvin @ 5:01 pm

At the conclusion of the Baramati conference sessions Saturday evening, the organizers of the conference treated us to a viewing of the movie Shwaas, which was perhaps the most depressing movie I’ve seen since Schindler’s List. The plot: A village boy from Maharashtra and his grandfather travel to The Big City at the urging of their local doctor. They have an appointment with an “Onco Specialist,” which doesn’t mean anything to them; they just know he is a good doctor and he will know how to treat the boy’s failing eyesight.
The grandfather soon learns that the boy has bilateral retinal blastoma, an aggressive eye cancer that will kill him if they don’t operate in a matter of days. The problem is that the operation would require removing both of the eight-year-old’s eyes. The first half of the movie deals with the grandfather, doctor and social worker agonizing over who is going to break the bad news to the boy, and the second half the audience gets to agonize over the grandfather’s indecision as to whether to allow the surgery and take away the boy’s eyesight or allow him to die with his vision intact.
The movie had its moments; there were well-done flashback scenes to life in their village, a lush ocean-side paradise where everyone is happy, the coconuts are plump, and the cows’ udders overflow with delicious milk. Also, the film did an excellent job at capturing the fear and frustration of an uneducated, illiterate grandfather having to deal with modern healthcare for the first time, including hospital paperwork, strict appointment schedules, and doctors who always seem like they’d rather be doing something else than curing your grandson. However, watching the movie unfold and the struggle the grandfather and the boy go through, including their eventual decision, was quite difficult. There is nothing more unpleasant to watch than a young boy screaming and fighting as he’s given MRI scans, hypodermic injections and other procedures. And in the end, you just can’t avoid the fact that a decision has to be made. There are several moments in the film that were quite poignant, but still, it was emotionally exhausting to watch, particularly when you can hear a sizable minority within the audience sobbing their eyes out. (Sorry, no pun intended.)
When the movie ended, everyone walked out in silence. Meanwhile, those participants who skipped the movie were lounging under the stars, enjoying their Indian buffet and desserts with a perfect breeze keeping them cool. I came out to the buffet and had a few spoonfuls of banana soufflé and half a piece of naan. For some reason I lost my appetite. -andy

March 6, 2005

Almost Time to Go Home

Filed under: India — Andy Carvin @ 8:26 am

It’s 7pm in Mumbai and I’m chilling for a few hours at the Kohinoor Hotel prior to going to the airport. We had a crazy day today, leaving Baramati for breakfast at a milk factory, then touring an emu farm with a wireless kiosk for local farmers. We then made our way to Mumbai for the next six hours, stopping at an enormous rest stop for lunch and snacks. One of our Indian colleagues had us over for tea, where we got to me her family and two dogs. Eventually, we reached the Kohinoor, where some people quickly left for the airport, others left for the bar, still others left for the city — and I spent about 30 minutes cleaning up melted duty-free French chocolate that I’d forgotten about in my computer bag.
Since the hotel has broadband, I’m catching up on email one last time before having a quick drink downstairs, perhaps a shower, then off to the airport. So the next time I’m online will either be during my six-hour layover in Paris or in Boston… -andy

March 3, 2005

A Day in Mumbai: The Professor and Sammy Davis Jr.

Filed under: India — Andy Carvin @ 10:37 pm
woman in mumbai

A woman looks out over the harbor in Mumbai, India

Thanks to the multiple delays of my Delta flight from Paris, I finally arrived in Mumbai some time after 2am on Tuesday. Immigration procedures were very quick; there were enough agents so I didn’t have to wait in line, and he processed my passport and visa quickly. My baggage pickup wasn’t so efficient, though; it took about 30 minutes for the bags to arrive on the proper carousel, so by the time I found my ride to the hotel it was well past 3am. At least the hotel was only a 10 minute drive from the airport.
Even though I was exhausted from the flight, I was too wired to fall asleep. I tossed and turned for a while; the last time I remember glancing at the clock it was a few minutes before 5am. Nonetheless, I still requested a wake-up call for 9am; masochistic it may have been, but this would be my only free day in India, so I wanted to make the most of it.
I dragged myself downstairs to breakfast just before 9:30am, feasting on a chili and cilantro omelet and a generous bowl of sliced papaya. The coffee was scorching hot — so hot that I only got to have a few sips of it before going back upstairs to prepare for the day.
I didn’t have a detailed plan for the day, apart from contacting Rohit Gupta and Dina Mehta, hopefully getting together with them at one point or another. Both of them are contributors to the blog, but I got to know them while volunteering as a contributor to the TsunamiHelp blog, since they were integrally involved in the effort in the days and weeks after the tsunami. I called Dina first; she had clients in from the US, but she would probably be able to get together for coffee after 2pm. Rohit, meanwhile, was free all day, so we decided to rendezvous at the hotel later that morning, then head into Mumbai and play it by ear.
Once Rohit got to the hotel, we caught an autorickshaw to the local commuter train station. Being on the north side of the city, it could take as long as two hours to get into Mumbai by car, but taking a train would cut that time in half or less. The autorickshaw weaved through the traffic, honking constantly while evading other autoricks, pedestrians, bicycles, street children, street dogs, and the occasional cow. I was a long, long away from the orderly streets of Paris and Geneva, and I loved every moment of it.
We eventually arrived at the Andheri train station, which was jammed with commuters coming and going from Mumbai. Rohit bought a small book of ticket stubs, then stamped them in a machine; we then walked briskly across the station in search of the next train. On one platform, crowds of men jammed themselves into a train car. Rohit paused for a moment, looked around, then motioned for me to follow him. “Yeah, this is an express; let’s go,” he said. We quickly jumped onto the train and squeezed our way in. At first it seemed horribly crowded, but as we worked our way into the train, I realized it was just the usual bottleneck of people crammed around the doors.
As the train took us south to Mumbai, we talked about blogging and podcasting. I pulled out my iPod and demonstrated its iTalk recorder; several men on the train stared at me for the entire ride. It didn’t seem to have anything to do with the iPod, since they’d been staring at me since the moment I’d gotten on the train. I’d forgotten what it was like to have people staring at me with such determination. I was the only person in the train car who wasn’t Indian, and even though Mumbai is a very cosmopolitan city, I seemed to draw a lot of attention.
We arrived in downtown Mumbai about 30 minutes later. Rohit suggested that we get lunch with his publisher, whose shop was just a few blocks away. It was a hot, humid day — par for the course in Mumbai, but since I’d just arrived from frigid Paris and snowy Geneva, the heat was a shock to my system. I polished off my first bottle of water as we walked to the shop; I immediately began wondering when I should pick up another bottle or two.
As we walked through the crowded streets, dodging autorickshaws and bicycles, I began to notice random landmarks and buildings that looked familiar. I’d only been to Mumbai once before, but it was only for an afternoon, and my camera batteries had died, so I didn’t manage to take many photos to preserve the memories. Nonetheless, I sensed I was in familiar surroundings, somewhere in the southern part of the city. Hopefully I’d get my bearings at some time during the day.
Soon we arrived at the book shop; Rohit and his publisher gave each other a big hug, then suggested we go to a Gujarati restaurant around the corner. We hiked down the street past street vendors selling roasted nuts and plates of biryani rice, once again hugging the sidewalk to avoid getting squashed by an autorickshaw. At the restaurant, we each ordered a vegetarian thali platter featuring a selection of around half a dozen Gujarati curries, accompanied by chappati bread, rice, salted buttermilk and half a ball of gulab jamun for dessert.
After lunch, Rohit’s colleague returned to work; meanwhile, he and I began walking to the Mocha Coffee shop, where we planned to meet Dina Mehta. After walking several blocks, I saw a Victorian-era building that looked familiar; across the street was a long grassy maidan, or mall, full of people picnicking and playing cricket. Suddenly, I recognized exactly where I was — we were next to the Eros Theatre, an art deco movie theatre.
“I’ve been here!,” I said proudly. “Susanne and I saw the movie Lagaan here.”
“Are you a cricket fan?” Rohit asked.
“Would you believe that everything I know about cricket I learned from that movie? Pretty sad, isn’t it.”

Dina and Rohit

Dina Mehta and Rohit Gupta exchange info on their mobile phones at Mocha in Mumbai.

We walked west towards Back Bay and the Arabian Sea, passing airline offices and Orange mobile phone stores. Soon we arrived at Mocha, a hip café packed with young Mumbaikars talking on their cell phones and smoking shisha water pipes. Rohit and I grabbed an outside table, waiting for Dina to arrive. She got to the café a few minutes later, and soon we were ordering raspberry milkshakes and chatting about blogging, Mumbai, Delhi and other common topics of interest. Dina hadn’t eaten lunch yet, so she ordered a panini, while I gave into temptation and ordered a cherry-flavored shisha.
“You should bring a shisha home with you,” Rohit suggested. “They’re very cheap here.”
“Yeah, but if I did that, I’d be tempted to use it,” I said, “and it’s better if I save it for special occasions — particularly when I’m traveling overseas.”
Meanwhile, I pulled out my iPod so we could record a podcast. We didn’t have any particular agenda in mind; instead, we just wanted to record some of our conversation. I recorded about 15 minutes of chatting, mindful of the fact that the Internet connection at the hotel might not be fast enough to post such a large file very easily.
Eventually, Dina had to return to her clients, so we parted ways. Rohit and I walked back towards the maidan, following it towards Colaba, the historic heart of Mumbai. Rohit told the story of the founding of Bombay, in which a Portuguese Jewish botanist was working in Goa, south of Bombay, when the Catholic church there decided it was time to bring the Inquisition to Goa. The botanist, who had hid his religion from the authorities, feared he would be found out, so he requested permission to relocate his research to the island of Bombay, so he could study hemp. With that, Mumbai’s history as a settled community began.
“So you’re telling me that Bombay was founded by a Jewish botanist pretending to be Catholic who leased a piece of land to get away from the Church and focus on studying pot?” I asked.
“Yes, that’s pretty much it,” Rohit replied, laughing.
Since then, of course, Mumbai has grown into megacity of the first degree, a juggernaut of a metropolis. But walking the streets of Colaba I got a distinctly different impression of the modern city I’d seen so far. Colaba was green, relatively quiet, with old colonial buildings stretching down each street. Small groups of tourists rode by in horse carriages. There was something almost New Orleans-like to Colaba — the last thing I expected to find here in Mumbai.
We continued our walk towards the Colaba waterfront as Rohit told stories about Mumbai. Along with being a blogger and published short story author, Rohit has worked as a professional storyteller, focusing on the fringe history of Mumbai. He talked about the founding of the Taj Mahal Hotel, the most famous hotel in the city. The founder of the Tata industrial empire was denied entry to one of the city’s most prestigious hotels because he was Indian, not British. In response to the insult, he decide to become a hotel entrepreneur, building the most posh hotel the city had ever seen, and one that would not turn away Indian guests. The hotel that dissed Mr. Tata is long gone, but his Taj Mahal still reigns as the grand dame of Mumbai hotels.

Gateway of India

The Gateway of India

Walking by the hotel, we crossed the street to visit the Gateway of India monument, an early 20th century arch built on the waterfront to commemorate a visit by the king of England. The Gateway is now one of India’s most famous landmarks, and tourists from across India and around the world flock to visit it and sit in its shade by the harbor. For the first time since I arrived in Mumbai, hustlers started to accost me, trying to get me to buy dolls, balloons, postcards, hash. Fortunately I had Rohit with me so they generally left me alone after we both ignored them for a while. On several occasions we had a number of children follow us, begging for money, but they weren’t particularly persistent. There were plenty of other marks they could target here on the waterfront. They could even get in line to talk with the pair of hippies sitting on a bench, who were hearing a pitch from an Indian man as to why they should be extras in a Bollywood film the next day.
Rohit and I walked clockwise around the Gateway, as the sun began to set over the island. Indian families were now picnicking in the small garden adjacent to the Gateway. “I went to a Greenpeace protest here recently,” Rohit said. “It was really cool.”
We departed the Gateway and walked northwest to Wellington Circle, then hugged the road north towards Horniman Circle. Along the way we passed some of Mumbai’s most important cultural institutions, including the modern art museum and the Asiatic Society library. “This area has some of the oldest buildings in Mumbai, dating to the early 1700s,” Rohit explained.
“So there’s nothing here from the Portuguese period?”
“No, what you see is from the East India Company onward.”
We talked a while about the East India Company, and how they rose from a merchant company to being the de facto rulers of India until the British Crown reasserted its authority. Soon, we reached the old customs house. Rohit started to describe the neighborhood’s history when suddenly an elderly Indian gentleman in a tie and dusty dress shirt came running over to us.
“You are talking about history? Let us talk about history!” the man said. He introduced himself as a retired law professor, and he immediately began enquiring into who we were, what we were doing there, and why we were interested in history.
“So where are you from, my friend?” he asked me.
“The USA, I live in Boston,” I replied.
“Now that is a city with history, my friend!” he exclaimed. “Tea party, seventeen hundred and seventy six…. a city with history! And let us not forget the Kennedys. I adore the Kennedys… but what a curse they have upon them. One brother, two brother, three brother dead, fourth brother not get White House because he crash and women drowns…”
“At Chappaquiddick,” I said.
“Yes, that is it, but I cannot pronounce such silly words,” he replied. “Chappa chappa chappa chappa….”
“…Quiddick,” I finished for him.
“Yes, it is a silly word that cannot be pronounced….
We spent the next several minutes discussing the Kennedys; he blamed the family curse on old Joe Kennedy’s bootlegging. “That man was a corrupt, corrupt bastard, corrupt I tell you,” he said, emphasizing each word. “His children pay the price for his bad deeds. And Jackie, too – she pay the price. Such an elegant woman, most beloved by India… So why you in India?”
“I’m here for a conference.”
“Conference? Whose conference?”
“It’s organized by the Grameen Foundation,” I replied.
“Grameen? Grameen? Never heard of them. I hope they are not one of these big, bad companies.”
“No, quite the opposite, they do very important work.”
“So they organize your conference?”
“Yes, and Microsoft, I believe,” I started to say, before recalling his previous comment about big businesses?
“Microsoft!” he retorted. “Oh, they are okay in my book.”
Rohit and I could hardly contain ourselves; we had somehow stumbled upon perhaps the most interesting man in all of Mumbai. Knowing I couldn’t let any other of his quips go to waste, I took out my iPod and started recording his stories, just as he began telling an Internet joke, as he called it: A woman goes to a curtain store and says, I need to buy curtains for my computer. Curtains? The man at the store asks. Why do you need curtains? It is a computer, ma’am. Because it has windows, she replies.
Yes, it was a terrible joke, but our new friend had us in hysterics. We hung around with him for another six or so minutes, appreciating his unique wisdom and capturing it on my iPod. He seemed to thoroughly enjoy the audience.
Eventually, we parted ways, as we crossed into Horniman Circle. The circle reminded me of Dupont Circle in DC, yet tropical: lush green plants, scores of people reading newspapers or snoozing, it was quite a community hub. Soon, though, Rohit got a call from his friend Matti, a Finnish PhD student who was studying in Mumbai and making a documentary with another Finn on globalization. We made arrangements to meet at a bar for drinks. “We’ll see you at the sports bar,” Rohit said over the phone.
We jumped into taxi and soon arrived at The Sports Bar. It turns out that was the name of the place, not a general description. Indeed, The Sports Bar was a sports bar; once you got inside past the guard, there was a row of booths on the left side of the room, each with its own flat-panel TV set into the wall. To the right, a long, diner-like bar sported mushroom-like stools and giant TV screens, all showing cricket. To the back, there was a basketball cage in which you could shoot hoops.
Matti and his friend were already there, sucking down two-for-one Kingfishers. We joined them for the evening, talking about documentaries and globalization and psychogeographic mapping and beer, in no particular order. Eventually, Matti’s girlfriend joined us, as did an Indian friend whom I was introduced to as Mr. Fear, because he’s doing his PhD dissertation on the study of fear. Apparently he spends his days reviewing crime scene reports and his nights visiting actual crime scenes with reporters. And some day he’d become Dr. Fear because of all of this hard work, but for now, he seemed pretty brain fried.
“Usually I try to make light of the basic crimes, just to keep some distance from it,” he said. “But once you start getting into cases like Child rape and such, it’s not very easy to make light of the situation.” I wonder if it’s too late to change thesis topics, I thought to myself.
We hung out at the bar for a few hours, enjoying the two-for-one beers and chatting about dissertations, real and imagined. Matti was a really fascinating guy, and his buddy seemed to be enjoying coming down to Mumbai from Finland to make his documentary. By 8pm, we were getting hungry, and I started thinking about when I’d need to head back to the hotel, since I’d have to get up early the next day for the six-hour drive to Baramati. But Rohit and friends were eager to hop to their next favorite joint, a place called Ghetto. Given my previous confusion over The Sports Bar, I didn’t know if ghetto was the name or a description.
Ghetto was at least a 20 minute drive away, so we hailed a taxi outside of the bar. “Hop on in, man,” an elderly taxi driver said to us, with an odd hipster American accent.
“Where you cats going?” he asked us. Rohit gave him directions while I pondered his accent. The man was clearly Indian, but he’d picked up some unusual speech patterns in his time as a cabby, apparently.
“What is your good name, sir?” Rohit asked him.
“You already know my name, because I’ve driven you before, but you’ve forgotten it,” he replied.
“No, sir, I don’t think you told me the last time you drove me,” Rohit insisted.
“I will give you a hint — my name is the name of an American artist with an eye patch.”
“Andy, this one’s for you,” Rohit said, leaning from the front seat. “Who’s an American artist with an eye patch?”
“Uh…. Dale Chilouly?” I replied, baffled by the question?
“Dale who???” the taxi driver replied, shocked I blew the question. “Not that muthafucka. A cool Daddy-O with class, with friends like Frank…”
“Uh… Sammy Davis Jr?” I replied, suddenly connecting the dots?
“You win, my man,” he replied. “I look like him, I talk like him, I have the same glasses, I am Mr. Sammy Davis. So are you guys looking to by any hash?”
I nearly wet my pants laughing. Where on earth did this guy come from? Meanwhile, Sammy kept at it for the next 20 minutes, including demonstrating his ability to swear in Finnish, then explaining in dramatic detail as to why he was the best drug connection in Colaba.
Sammy’s comedy act continued as we drove north to Ghetto, but then things took a turn for the worse when he decided to talk about politics.
“The US blames Bin Laden for 9/11, so they bomb Afghanistan even though Bin Laden is not in Afghanistan? And why are they doing it? For the Jews, that’s why!”
All of us glanced at each other with that last remark. Sammy kept talking and talking, explaining why the war in Afghanistan and Iraq were both done at the behest of Israel. Rohit looked at me apologetically and rolled his eyes. I shrugged my shoulders and tried to brush it off. It seemed harmless.
But Sammy kept at it. Apparently he’d struck his own nerve, and he wouldn’t stop talking until he’d had his fill of anti-Semitism. “And you know what about 9/11? No Jews died that day, because they were all warned. Every Jew in New York and Washington was warned by the Israeli consulate that morning so they wouldn’t go to work.”
“But what about me?” I jumped in. I’d had enough.
“What about you, man?”
“Why the hell wasn’t I warned?” I demanded. “I mean, there I was in downtown DC, just blocks from the White House, and no Israeli consulate or anything sent me an email telling me to play sick that day…. So either that means you’re totally full of it or somehow I got on Israel’s Pay No Mind list! Whadya think of that, Sammy? Do you think they just forgot to leave me a voicemail or something? Why the hell didn’t I get that memo?”
I kept at it for a while, stunning Sammy into a relative stutter compared to his previous confidence. Meanwhile, my cab mates were laughing wildly, egging me on to put this small-minded hep cat in his place.
“You know, I just remembered something. Let’s not forget who else is Jewish – your main man, Sammy Davis Jr!”
“Yes, that’s true, ” Sammy replied, “but…”
“But what?” I continued. “Do you think he would have gotten the memo from the Israeli consulate, or do black Jews not count? This must weigh heavily on your conscience, I bet….”
Sammy finally shut the hell up.

A few minutes later, we arrived at Ghetto. I’d been thinking of just catching another cab and going back to the hotel, but my war of words with Sammy Davis had gotten me in a fighting mood, so I figured I needed to settle down with a beer and some food. Inside Ghetto, I found a dark, small bar with black lights illuminating the room; graffiti art of Jim Morrison and Jimi Hendrix dominated the walls, while Jeff Beck and the Grateful Dead dominated the juke box. Rohit ordered a pitcher while the rest of us got some food; I requested a chicken quesadilla, which fascinated me simply because I found it on a menu in Mumbai.
We hung out for a while, eating our food and picking up the conversation where we’d left it off before Sammy came into the picture. Rohit then introduced me to another friend who makes TV commercials for car companies and other big players in the Indian ad market.
But by 10pm, I didn’t think I’d be able to take it much longer. I still had some jetlag and I worried about how long it would take to drive back to the hotel; if traffic were bad, it could be two hours. So I bid goodbye to my new companions and grabbed a taxi, with Rohit explaining the directions. We drove for just over an hour; fortunately, the driver only got lost at the end of the trip, so we only went a few blocks out of the way. I returned to the hotel thoroughly exhausted. My mind flashed back to Ghetto; for a moment the Grateful Dead lyric “What a long, strange trip it’s been” popped into my mind, but I quickly dismissed it. Too clichéd. -andy

Arrival in Baramati

Filed under: India — Andy Carvin @ 8:51 am

After a six hour ride from Mumbai, I arrived in Baramati with the other international participants around 3pm this afternoon. We rode in a large air-conditioned bus, which was very comfortable, though I regret not bringing dramamine with me.
It’s now after 7pm, and we’re at the VIIT institute, which is hosting the conference. I’m running late for dinner, but i wanted to post a quick hello. I don’t know how often I’ll be able to post, because wi-fi isn’t working for me yet, and I’m not able to upload podcasts either. So that means any recordings I make here will have to be posted from Mumbai or from home early next week. Ah well.
Looking forward to the rest of the conference. Meanwhile, I’ll post my journal from Mumbai as soon as I’ve finished it… -andy

March 2, 2005

Quick Update from Mumbai

Filed under: India — Andy Carvin @ 9:46 pm

It’s 8:15am here in Mumbai, and I’m packing my bags once again. In about 45 minutes I’m joining some of the other conference attendees downstairs, where we’ll take a bus first to Pune, then to Baramati. I’m under the impression the trip will take the better part of the day, but I could be wrong. I’ll find out soon.
I spent yesterday with video blogger Rohit Gupta, exploring Mumbai’s long history while discussing blogging, online discourse, ICTs for development and a host of other topics. We also spent time with Dina Mehta; Rohit and Dina are contributors to Worldchanging and were heavily involved in the TsunamiHelp blog in the days and weeks following the tsunami.
It was a long, fun day, and I haven’t had a chance to write it all down yet, so I post a blog about it later. I also recorded several podcasts, but it will be a while before I can upload all of them. The bandwidth at the hotel is rather slow, so I don’t think I can get any of them online before I leave in 40 minutes. I’ll do my best to get them posted from Baramati; otherwise, they’ll have to wait until I get home.
Anyway, better finish packing. -andy

March 1, 2005

Next Stop: Mumbai

Filed under: India — Andy Carvin @ 4:23 am

Hi everyone,
Right now I’m at the airport in Paris waiting for my flight to India. Apparently the flight is running at least an hour late because it originated in New York, which is getting hammered by snow. This means I probably won’t arrive in Mumbai until after 1am Wednesday – yikes! That’s unfortunate because I really want to spend my one free day in Mumbai visiting some telecentres and several colleagues. Hopefully I won’t be too much of a zombie to do this.
Had a wonderful evening last night with Grégoire Japiot of the Omidyar Network and his sister at her apartment near the Eiffel Tower. Grégoire brought several wines from Burgundy, including a tasty Chablis and two wonderful Pinot Noirs. He also brought a sampling of local cheeses to pair with the wines. We had a marvelous time. When I’m on my flight, I will write more about my last day in Paris, which included visits to the Louvre and the Cluny Museum of the Middle Ages. For now, though, I’m paying through the nose for wi-fi access, so I need to focus on email rather than writing my blog. Stay tuned… -andy

February 1, 2004

Rajasthan Photo Gallery Now Online

Filed under: India — Andy Carvin @ 9:13 am
the Pushkar Camel Fair
Livestock traders assemble at the Pushkar Camel Fair

As some of you know, I’ve spent the last couple of months pulling together some of the photos that Susanne and I took in Rajasthan, India in November 2001. Those photos have now been compiled into a new online gallery called Rajasthan: Land of Kings. This site features five separate photo galleries, including Jaipur, the Puskar Camel Fair, Jaisalmer, Udaipur and Chittorgarh. (I would have also included a gallery for Jodhpur, but unfortunately Ritz Camera somehow managed to forget to scan several rolls of film when I had the pictures developed two years ago, so it’ll have to wait until I can scan those pictures myself.)
Unlike previous galleries, I’ve kept the photos in bins based on who photographed the picture. So if you see a thumbnail of a picture and click on it, you’ll be able to look at the URL and see either my name or Susanne’s associated with it. It’s not the most elegant way of identified who took each pic, but hey, it works and it was a technical cinch, so I won’t complain if you won’t.
I’m also working on a travel journal for our Rajasthan trip. I recently discovered a journal with dozens of pages of notes from the trip, and I’m using it to write up a more detailed travelogue. Of course, this may take me months to complete, so I can’t promise when it will be ready. So stay tuned to the blog and I’ll be sure to post a note when you’ll be able to visit the travelogue…. -ac

June 20, 2002

Back from India & Bhutan

Filed under: India — Andy Carvin @ 8:58 pm

I just wanted to let you know that I’m back in DC, having
made the 8,000-mile trek back to the US from India and Bhutan. The launch of
our new collaboration with OneWorld South Asia, the Digital Opportunity
Channel ( was a great success. Despite working
last week under 115 degree temperatures (46 degrees celsius) and a stream of
power outages and network outages, the team at OneWorld South Asia and OW
International in London managed to complete the site and launch it in time
for Friday’s inaugural event in Delhi. Kanti Kumar and I introduced the
channel to a room full of reporters and local NGO colleagues, and we also
had presentations from OneWorld’s Anuradha Vittachi, DFID’s Yusuf Samiullah,
among others, including a demo by one of the developers of the Simputer, a
low-cost handheld computer being developed for illiterate and
limited-literate users.
I also managed to make a brief two-day visit to Bhutan, where I met with
officials in the capital city of Thimphu. Bhutan is truly a unique place, a
Himalayan Switzerland caught between ancient traditions and the pull of the
future. Bhutanese citizens dress in traditional local costumes, yet speak
fluent English due to the fact that all schooling is conducted in English
rather than the local languages of Dzongka and Sharchopkha. Several
cybercafes have opened up in Thimphu, though if the nation’s one ISP
(Druknet) goes down, all internet access goes down – as I discovered during
my second day in the country.
Among the meetings I had there, I visited the education ministry to meet
with the architect of Bhutan’s first national edtech plan. I also met with
staff of Bhutan’s directorate of technology, plus the publisher of their
national newspaper and the lead anchor of their tv/radio news service. (The
newspaper’s website,, hosts what is probably the first
indigenous open public discussion on Bhutan ever available to Bhutanese
citizens.) I visited a private school with one of the few Internet pc labs
in the country and met with its principal, who was eager to see the Internet
used more to improve student’s English skills. Lastly, I managed to spend
time in Thimphu’s first commercial IT training center, where everyone from
local students to civil servants are beginning to master numerous software
Of course, I’ll eventually publish an article about my experiences there,
but first I’ll spend some time getting over jetlag and Delhi Belly before
processing the dozens of pages of notes I took during my brief stay in
If you haven’t had a chance to visit our new site yet, please visit and let us know what you think. Additionally,
we’re really eager to publish articles and essays about digital divide
issues and ICT uses in global development, especially from local
perspectives in the developing world. If you have any interest in submitting
an article, by all means please email me.

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