Wednesday, December 20, 2006

R2I - Extremely affordable medical care, comparatively

So, I fell ill. Nothing major. Just a temperature, with a very bad throat, and dry cough. I was hoping it would heal on its own, mostly cause I don't typically like to got to the docs, and kind of hope for the body to fight the infection by itself. Anyway, this time around, I had to go to a doc, cause it got really bad. So, I went to this doc that my mom recommended highly. I liked the doc, talking was easy with her, and the diagnosis was quick. As I was leaving, I asked her how much was her fee? I was blown-over when she said "Rs. 30/-" (65 cents)! However, I must agree that her office was pretty basic and had no pleasing interiors, unlike a typical doctor's office in the U.S. The prescribed medicines cost me Rs. 120/- ($2.6!), now this included an antibiotic as well. Overall, it cost me $3.25!

In the US, with the PPO plan we had, I would have to just pay a co-pay of $15 at the doctor's office and about $5-10 as co-pay for the antibiotic. The cough syrup would have probably been covered 100%. Anyway, this is just from my purse. The insurance would have been charged 100s for the whole thing!!! Where is $3.25 and where's 100s of dollars?

We had to take my kids a while ago to a pediatrician. We took them to one of repute. We were pretty happy with his office/setup, his interaction with the kids, the speed of diagnosis etc. Each visit cost us Rs. 150/- ($3.25) and the total cost of medicines for bothe kids about Rs. 200/- ($4.35). Overall costing us a total of $10.85 for both my kids, consultaion and medicines inclusive. In the US, 2 consultations would have a co-pay of $30, and the meds probably fully covered, cause there was no anti-biotic.

And here's the clincher, all of this medical expenditure is covered 100% by my hub's company, where as in the US the co-pay is from our pocket. So, the same exercise cost me $0 here, and would have cost me about $55 there! And this is only for a regular cold+fever. If it was anything more, and required a slight procedure, then what would cost about a couple of thousands of rupees (approximately $50), will cost thousands of dollars in the U.S. And in the PPO insurance plan we had, we would have to pay upto 20% of the total expenditure and other hospital fees. Sometimes it makes you wonder how much fluff encompasses the actual medical cost there.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

"Iron-man" at your service

A few days ago I wrote about the common services that you can enjoy at your doorstep in Bangalore, here. But I consciously did not write about the ironing service, because THIS service deserved its own post. I am not really dependant on this service, preferring to just iron my clothes at home. My husband, however, is a true appreciator of the "iron-man". Hub has always HATED ironing his shirts and trousers, mostly cause he found it extremely painful to get the creases right. I am sure a lot of us will agree that men's clothes are so much harder to iron than women's. In the SF bay area, he often wore clothes that were either easy to iron, or those that retained some from a previous wear! However, here he is getting spoilt silly!
Typically, this service has a "working model". It is mostly family run, with all the nuclear family members involved with one setup. The 'iron-family' that has our area under its "jurisdiction" consists of 3 people - dad, mom, and a young son. There is an unsaid law amongst the 'iron-men'. They don't infringe on the next guy's area/customers. This family always comes to our street early every Sunday morning. Their usual spot is under a particular tree on the pavement. The boy goes to the homes of his regular customers and collects clothes for ironing. He does not pain the others who are not his usual customers by begging for business. However, others are welcome to give him their clothes if they want to.

He then takes the collected clothes to their mobile ironing board, which is nothing but the flat push cart that is used by street hawkers and vendors. A couple of huge and heavy iron boxes heated with coal accompany the board. They fill the heated coal from the top of the iron box. The heaviness of the iron box makes all the difference in the result of the finished product.

The 'iron-man' and his wife do a fantastic job of ironing. The boy delivers the ironed clothes - nice and very crip, ready for use.

Those familiar with this service will know or recollect from memory the distinct smell of these ironed clothes. I guess the unique smell is from the old iron box, the coal, the backing cloth that is used on the ironing-board etc. I have come to associate this smell with crispness!

It costs Rs. 2.5/- (about 5 cents!) for a piece in this area. A piece can be a shirt, trouser, dress, etc. Sarees cost Rs. 6/- or more. Now, these prices may vary depending on the area. In apartment buildings, there is usually an 'iron-man' in the basement parking lot. And mostly he is there everyday of the week at your service.

My husband is actually in the heaven of ironed clothes now. :)

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

For a cuppa filter coffee

One late afternoon, I was on MG road trying to kill time before meeting my husband. I was browsing through some stores and doing some shopping/window shopping. Since my return from the US, I have been getting used to my mom's first class South Indian filter coffee everyday at around 4.30 pm. Typically, I don't drink too much coffee and am not an afficionado by any measure. Infact, for all the years in the US, all I had on a daily basis was a cup of instant coffee with hot milk in the mornings. :) When on the road, I have enjoyed Starbucks too.

Anyway, as I strolled along I realized that it was my coffee time, 'mom's South Indian filter coffee' time. I was at The Bombay Store, and the nearest coffee joint is the Cafe Coffee Day(CCD), which is adjacent to it. I went to the counter to take a look at the menu. There were the typical espressos, cappuccinos, lattes, decafs, and the like. So I asked the guy at the counter if they served the regular South Indian filter coffee, after all I am in South India, aren't I? And there was no such coffee available. Also I noticed that the per cup coffee prices ranged from the early to the late 30s. I next headed towards Barista, further down from CCD. I could smell the cappuccinos and espressos as I neared Barista. I didn't even bother going in. I wanted my South Indian filter coffee, and that was that.

I walked down further and the very familiar coffee smell greeted me from the India Coffee House (ICH). I walked in and to my surprise the table right next to the big window overlooking MG road was available! I sat at the table facing the window and ordered for a coffee right away. The waiter brought me a cuppa Kapi. No frills and no jazz, just the way I wanted it. The saucer had water droplets, having just been washed. It was a nice big cup of fresh South Indian filter coffee, just like mom's.

After I got the coffee, I ordered a masala dosa. He brought it almost immediately. Nice and very home-made. Loved the simplicity of both my dosa and coffee. I noticed that the menu card hadn't changed in all the years. And the prices were down right low! Right in the middle of MG Road and I just had to pay a total of Rs. 22/-!! Amazing! (Any coffee at CCD was around Rs. 35/-)

I enjoyed the window view as I cleaned off my cup and plate. Nothing had changed. The ICH has probably remained the same for all the 60 odd years. The same old ceiling fans, a few old posters and hangings on the walls, the same red+white uniforms on the waiters, a few tourists, and some regulars. It had the old Bangalore colonial hangover and I was almost transported back in time.
View from the window
There has been the rumor that ICH is going to be razed to the ground, like everything old in the city. The location is very prime. In fact, I am surprised it is still standing what with the espressos becoming the norm in the trendier parts of town. I don't know for how long it is going to be around, but thanks to ICH, I hardly missed my mom's coffee that evening. And my hub got to meet a happy camper!

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Auto, an (in)convenient mode of transport

Well, the auto has been around for a long time on the Indian roads and needs no introduction. It is an easy mode of commute. The biggest plus is that you can just hop in and out. You don't have to worry about the lack of parking space for your car or the availability of public transport, the bus. You definitely don't have to drive, especially in the crowded/narrow roads. An auto ride is not too expensive. It is Rs.6/- per kilometer, with a minimum of at least Rs. 12/- per ride.

The downside is that you are exposed to the air and noise pollution, since the auto is open on both sides. By the time you commute for about 10 kms, you have a distinct exhaust smell in your hair and clothes. The exhaust smell can also make you feel nauseas. Since the smog checks have become fairly strict, the cars, 2-wheelers, and some autos are almost smoke-free. However, there are some autos and buses that are still very polluting. See pics below.
Smoke from auto exhausts

The second issue is that of the auto fare meter. Most autos still have the "dreaded" mechanical fare meter. Why "dreaded"? Cause they are most often tampered with and read anywhere between 5-20 % more than the actual price. There are very few autos that do not have tampered meters. How do I know this? I have had to go to the same place everyday from home and I have been engaging autos by default. However, I am yet to come across 2 mechanical auto meters that have read the same price at the destination! So, what have I been doing of late? I just tell the auto guy that his meter is faulty and that I have been doing the exact same route everyday and know the exact distance and price. Amazingly enough, the auto guys just accept what I say without any arguments. Clearly implying that their meters are faulty!

The electronic fare meter is SUCH a welcome change. It not only shows the running price, but also the running distance in kms. Makes it very easy to know the exact price for the ride. Unfortunately, the digital meters are seen very sparingly in the Bangalore autos.

Another very positive development is the "identity display system". Every auto must display certain details (see left) of the driver. In case you need to go to the police for some reason, you have enough info to track the driver.

Bangalore also has the "pre-paid" scheme. But the pre-paid autos are only available at some fixed spots like the railway stations, Bangalore city bus stand, M.G. road, airport, etc.

Overall, in Bangalore, an auto is alright if you have to just get from place A to place B, on occasions. But, it definitely cannot be a mode of transport for your regular everyday commute, more so because of the continuous exposure to air pollution.

Friday, December 08, 2006

The peddling Bollywood celebrities

It is astonishing to see how Bollywood celebrities peddle anything and everything! Celebrity faces adorn every hoarding, wall, screen, gadget that there is to adorn. If you go to an appliance store, you can easily identify every LG appliance that there is in the store, cause all of them have a big huge face of Abhishek Bachchan's on them. When you are at an appliance store, it is real funny to have Abhishek Bachchan stare at you from all corners.

Amitabh endorses a huge range of products - Pepsi, Emami, Dabur, Parker pens, Reid and Taylor, Eveready batteries, Cadbury's etc. He is truly the Lord of Endorsements. Shahrukh Khan can easily be called the Ad Khan. He endorses Pepsi, Hyundai, Airtel, Videocon, Sun Feast, Tag Heur, Emami, Mayur Suitings, Lux(!), ICICI and more.

Hoardings with stars and their products can be spotted through out the city. You have the Bachchans, Khans, Aishwarya Rais, Kareena Kapoors staring at you from everywhere. All of this is really good for the product brand name, but not so much for the celebrity brand name, IMHO. After all, the "stars" just become peddlers at the end of the day. Such an overkill.

In contrast, you hardly ever see Hollywood stars promoting products in the US. They do promote goods in other countries for very hefty amounts, but at least you are not seeing them endorsing goods in the US. The paparazzi cover them enough and the stars appear on enough and more TV talk shows to promote their movies/books/agenda. If they were to endorse goods as well, it would have been a bit much.

What prompted me to write this post was seeing this new Shahrukh Khan's Videocon ad.
Seriously, what is he doing in this ad? :-O

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

R2I - No ocean to keep families apart

The proximity of our near and dear ones is a big plus on returning home. Typically parents are getting old and their dependencies, increasing. It is very easy on the nerves to not have the oceans and mountains keeping you apart, especially when there is a health crisis.

Both hub and I are only kids to our respective parents and we wanted to be here for emergencies that might arise. I would have hated to receive a really tragic news in the middle of the night and not be able to come home right away. What with 2 young'uns and all. Though both sets of parents have visited us before, I didn't see it happening again cause of different health complications. And that wasn't comforting at all.

It is an absolute joy to watch the children interact and play with their grandparents. And it seems to be doing a whole lot of good to the grandparents as well. Something to keep them young and spirited .... company of the very young. The nearness and proximity is easy on their nerves as well. For them, the huge geographical divide and the tiring and long international air travels are things of the past. :)

Saturday, December 02, 2006

R2I - Our boxes are here!

And it feels so surreal. All the meticulous packing in our Calif garage, then sending the boxes away in a truck and now seeing them here in our Bangalore home, feels strange. It took exactly 2 months for these boxes to travel the seas and get here.
We used WorldWide Ocean and Air Shipping Lines Inc. for shipping. We are really very happy with their service. They picked up the boxes from our Calif home and delivered it at home here. They also delivered it in the promised time frame. They kept the paper work easy and simple. After the boxes arrived here, my hubby had to go to the customs to get the boxes cleared, and pay some duty. Once the boxes were out of the customs, the shipping company did the rest of the delivery. It cost us about $1 per pound (lb), though that is not how they charged for the shipping.

Seeing our stuff from there made me miss our Calif home. We loved our home, the community, our wonderful neighbors, the beautiful mountains, park etc. When I missed everything, I was just glad that we still had our home there. We may never really go back for good, but when I do miss our home, I don't have to feel real terrible. :)

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

WalMart will be here

India's Bharti Group (yes, the same group that owns Airtel - the largest mobile service provider in India) struck a deal with US retail giant WalMart to launch the first mega-retail store joint venture in the country. The joint venture is apparently planning on several hundred stores across the country.
Other mega-retailers in the Indian market: Big Bazaar is a chain of super-stores in India currently with 29 outlets, owned by the Pantaloon Group. Reliance Fresh of Reliance Industries opened new retail stores in Hyderabad earlier this month. European-based Metro AG launched its wholesale Cash & Carry stores in Bangalore in 2003.

In a city like Bangalore, there really isn't the kind of space for a super-store within city-limits. That will push these stores to the periphery. The roads and the traffic make commute to and from anywhere a nightmare. That said, I am not sure how much of an effort a regular guy would make just to get to a WalMart. However, the current Big Bazaars are attracting a decent amount of crowd. People, I think, are making the extra effort to get to a Big Bazaar just for the novelty of it.

It is said that India has over 15 million small shops, the highest density of retail outlets in the world. The tie-up between WalMart and Bharti is meant to be a direct assault on these small shops. I don't see the super-stores completely taking over the small guys, only cause the small shops are such a part and parcel of everyday Indian life. People are used to just walking to the nearest mom-and-pop store to buy stuff. But if the retail giants do manage to uproot the smaller guys, that will change the Indian city scenario. I will definitely miss the India specific shopping experience if WalMarts become the norm. Ugh!

Regular small shops in Bangalore

The Bharti-WalMart venture promises low prices, especially for the estimated 300 million-strong middle class. It is reported that the regular shops are too small to offer the choice or discounts available to a major retailer that buys globally like WalMart. Yes, that maybe true. However, the personal feel of a small store can NEVER be got at a WalMart. It does look like the price and the novelty of a super-store is likely to decide the future of the Indian retail industry.

Big Plus: WalMart has been sourcing clothing and textiles worth billions of dollars from India. The continued exporting opportunity will definitely benefit India and Indians.

"The secret of successful retailing is to give your customers what they want" Sam Walton wrote in his autobiography. How much of that will hold true for the Indian consumer is to be seen!

Monday, November 27, 2006

Service at your doorstep

One of the best perks of living in Bangalore is that literally everything is delivered or available at your doorstep. The local grocers are more than happy to take your orders over the phone and get their boys to deliver the grocery right at your doorstep for free! So is the local pharmacist now. Trust Chemists and Druggists is a pharmacy chain in Bangalore. (I am not sure if they have stores in rest of India.) If you call and ask for a refill of your medicines or order over-the-counter medicines, you can have them delivered at your doorstep between 9 am and 9 pm. The only clause is the distance from the store to your home. As long as it is within reasonable distance, they will do it for free. The milk vendors deliver milk everyday for a nominal charge. And the newspapers are ofcourse delivered to your door.

Not to mention, the variety of hawkers/vendors who do their business on the streets. They sell all of these and more at your doorstep - vegetables, fruits, flowers, puffed rice, stainless steel pots and pans, plastic boxes and containers, cleaning supplies, sarees, some electrical appliances, etc.
A local vegetable hawker

Hawkers are a familiar sight on any Indian city/town street and often sell their produce/goods for a cheaper price than the store prices. The produce that they sell are fresh and good. One must not discount the personal interaction that comes with such a setup. Typically, hawkers have some regular customers, and provide their loyal services to these regulars. (The boy in the above pic comes by everyday to check if my mom needs any produce!)

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Greater Bangalore

The State Government has set in motion the proposal to constitute a Greater Bangalore Authority by merging the following areas:

1. The areas already in the jurisidiction of BMP
2. City Municipal Councils (CMC) of
  • Rajarajeshwarinagar
  • Dasarahalli
  • Bommanahalli
  • Krishnarajapuram
  • Mahadevapura
  • Byatarayanapura
  • Yelahanka
3. Kengeri Town Municipal Council (TMC)
4. 111 villages
  • 1 village in Anekal taluk
  • 46 in Bangalore East taluk
  • 37 in Bangalore South taluk
  • 27 villages in Bangalore North taluk
Image Courtesy: The Hindu

The new authority will have 140 wards compared to the existing 100 of the BMP.

Apparently, there has been a long-pending demand for including the areas around Bangalore into the corporation area to ensure a comprehensive and uniform development of the city. The Government has taken the first steps by setting in motion the proposal to constitute a Greater Bangalore Authority. Now, the progress and the success of this authority remains to be seen! *rolls eyes cynically*

Info Courtesy: The Hindu

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Desi food in Des! Slurp! Slurp!

Nothing to beat it. Hot and Spicy ... very nice! From the 5 star hotels to the road side dhabhas/darshinis, food available here is simply superb. I had always HATED the coconut chutney served in the US, no matter how good the rest of the food was. And now here, I get to have the best spicy/hot coconut chutney. Finger-licking good!

The coconut chutney that eluded me! Yummy!

Not to mention having access to your mom's, MIL's, aunts', cousins' foods! And of course the temple and wedding foods! Yum, yum, yum! The full-fledged authentic meals served on banana leaves, now THAT is something you will never get in the US! If it was the banana leaf meals that I missed, it must be something else for another US Indian.

Special banana leaf meals

The bay area does have a decent number of temples and these temples do offer lots of food for people visiting the temple. However, the authenticity was what was missing from those foods, IMHO. Nothing like the specialty pulliyogre, laddoo, vada, etc that you get in the temples in India. This doesn't mean that I am a regular temple goer, hardly! But, when I do go, I definitely enjoy the authentic and yum-tasting prasads.

Lastly, being a vegetarian doesn't limit you in anyway when you are on the Indian road. :)

Saturday, November 18, 2006

What am I missing out on right now being here?

The price war for toys currently happening between Walmart and Toys"R"Us. I would have loved to buy toys for the next year if I were there. I am told about the toy shops here, but I am yet to visit a store. I do know that the regular American toys sell for about 4 times the retail price in the US!

PS: Hub and I also missed watching FOX news when the Republicans lost! We did get to watch CNN International here, but nothing like watching FOX when the Reps lose!! :)

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Why not to choose Bangalore

Before the 'why not to', let me briefly say why we chose Bangalore. Actually, there really wasn't a choice. Being from Bangalore, having family and property here, and with all the job opportunities here, we wouldn't have moved back to any other city in India.

, if we didn't have family here, we may have thought long about moving to Bangalore. Simply because it is unnecessarily expensive and very very clogged. Going anywhere in the city is such a task! The roads are clogged almost all the time of the week. Just a few wee hours and a few hours on Sunday is all the break you get from the bumper-to-bumper chaotic traffic.

The real estate is a whole different story. The prices go up every day!! A 3 bedroom apartment will cost you about 60+ (everything inclusive, not just the basic cost) lakhs today to buy, if its cost was about 50+ lakhs 6 months ago!!! Unbelievable! and the typical finishes given are just vitrified tiles and flush doors! I was told by some property developers that there are two reasons for the prices to be soaring high:
  1. The government put a clamp on converting agricultural lands. So, the land that is already available is all there is for development.
  2. Apparently, a lot of Mumbai based developers/business people are investing in properties in and around Bangalore, solely for the sake of investment. So, there is an artificial demand of sorts that is hiking the price.
The 60+ lakhs properties are pretty much from the tier 2 developers. If you want quality 3 bedroom apartments from tier 1 developers like Adarsh, Sobha , Total-environment, Prestige, you will not get one for less than 75 lakhs (everything inclusive, not just the basic cost). The prices go upto as much as 1 crore+ for 3 bedroom apartments, depending on the floor number, luxury/super luxury, size of the apartment etc. Now, isn't that atrocious by all standards? And since there really is no land for mass development within city limits, all these developments are happening on the city periphery. So, please also account for the commute to and from work if you reside in these places.

All this said, there isn't much logic trying to set up a place here from scratch if you have no family or property here. Personally, I don't see the point. Yes, the job opportunities, and the weather are pretty good. But, the traffic, real estate prices, lack of immediate family, school costs (another post) are all huge deterrents for non-Bangaloreans trying to re-locate to Bangalore from elsewhere.

PS: If you are reading this and want any kind of additional info, pl let me know.

Monday, November 13, 2006

Weather! Can't say enough!

Beautiful weather. So pleasant, so lovely. But ofcourse, having been brought up here in Bangalore, I know that it has changed a lot over the years. No more fog-filled slow mornings (sigh!), an actual need for a fan/AC (!!!), absolutely no need for warm clothes, and very hot Apr/Mays!!! Things have changed, but in spite of all that, the weather is AWESOME! I want to kiss this place. I can wear capris in December! Woo Hoo! Somehow, I find that so hard to get.

In contrast, winters in North Cali suck! The wet, very cold, dark days with nothing to do with the kids. And the colds and fevers! Gosh! Hated it! Hated especially the darkness from 4.30 pm till 7.00 am! Ugh!!!!! Depressing, gloomy days! Alright, alright, will stop with that! But, I am so thrilled to be here with so much of light and activity in Nov. Seriously, how can anybody be depressed or gloomy in India? :)

PS: Springs in Cali are so beautiful, they make up for all of winter's bad and more! :)

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Traffic! Less said the better!

OK, to begin with I must confess that I am a Bangalorean and love Bangalore, always have and always will. So, I am not going to do any 'Bangalore bashing'. However, it is really hard not to be frustrated with the traffic.

I am alright, in the sense, I am home most of the time and try and work/do stuff from home. But my hub needs to go to work on all weekdays. And by gosh, it sucks! His work place is a mere 12 kms from home, or 7.5 miles. And it takes him 45 mins one way on a good day. And it has taken him 2 hrs sometimes to commute 7.5 miles!!!! On most days, my hub is pretty tired coming home in the traffic. Then alone, he really is almost keen to move back to the SF bay area, where the commute and traffic are supposed to be "bad". We were about 10 miles away from his work and it took him anywhere between 15-25 mins to commute.

My cousin who lives in Nagarbhavi must commute to Whitefield on an everyday basis for work. Nagarbhavi is on the extreme west and Whitefield on the extreme east, but the distance is no more than 30 kms or about 19 miles! And he has a company provided van that picks up/drops off a bunch of people from his neighborhood to and from work. They leave really early to beat the traffic and it takes him about an hour in the morning, and about 2.5 hrs in the evening!!! Averaging about 3-4 hrs everyday on commute.

Work around for hub: Work from home on broadband. Leave home at 11.00 am and leave work at 4.00 pm. He is yet to put this plan into action. When he does, I will keep the blog updatted.

Familiar road sights ...

Can you imagine the plight of the patient in that ambulance?

Tuesday, November 07, 2006

School, the first order of business

Our oldest one was going to a montessori school in the bay area for almost a year when we moved. And since we moved in the middle of an academic year, Oct, school was pretty much our first priority on coming back to Bangalore. Since my parents live in Bangalore and since we were going to be staying with them for a start, I had asked them to look around for schools in their neighborhood even before we left Cali.

I made note of a few schools, but had pretty much made up my mind about the pre-school. She would go to one of the many Eurokids schools. Eurokids is a chain that provides Pre-School education in India. Eurokids website

Our daughter had already done phonics, writing and reading some 3 letter words. In comparison, she was doing slightly easier things at Eurokids. For her age (3+), she was eligible only for the nursery level. So, we went with it. Yep, she was going to forget a bit of her writing and reading, but that's all she was going to get for her age in any school here.

The reason for our move in Oct was also to be here for the application process to Kindergarten for next year into some of the good schools in Bangalore. The process starts now for Jun, next year. She turns 4 on Jun 1 and will be eligible for LKG. Since, we also plan to settle in the Outer ring road/Sarjapur road area, we will be applying for schools in that neighborhood. (Another post :) )

She started school here a couple of days after we landed! So far, she seems to like it at Eurokids. That's all we care right now. :)

Returned to Bang bang bangalore!!

Hub and I had always wanted to return to Bangalore from the U.S for a variety of reasons. There was not the typical x+1 factor for our move. We came up with the basis for the timeframe of our return ..... when the second child was about 1.5 yrs old. :)) We worked towards the move from around the time our second child was born. I am not wasting too much of my blog space for the pre-move, but am pretty much dedicating the blog to our post-move experiences. Hoping the postings will help the couple of souls who may find this blog!!