A few random notes about my Indian trip, which I was sure I had published, but just found sitting in my MarsEdit drafts.
Health-wise, it was “interesting”. It started off with itchy knees that I carelessly brought from Switzerland. A nice dermatologist near Pune University helped me get rid of it (cream, antihistaminics, and even anti-scabies stuff — it was my big fear). In Kerala, I awoke after a first night of sleep to tons of little itchy bites on my forearm. Bed bugs? Fear, yes, but it seems not: thorough examination and repeat nights with no incident thankfully ruled that out. The bites disappeared, but I’m still curious what caused them.
In Mysore, I carelessly dropped a hearing aid — which promptly died. With three weeks of holiday left to go, it was worth thinking up a solution to get it fixed before my return to Switzerland. I ended up testing Fedex in India for you. There is an office in Mysore, and I’m happy to say it was quite painless: 2800 INR, an announced shipping time of 4 days which they managed to keep. My audiologist was able to change the 70 CHF piece that needed it and send the hearing aid right back again. 140 CHF of shipping! I’m not sure how many days they promised him, but the package took longer to reach me in Kolkata than on the way out. Looking at the tracking data for both packages shows that some parts of the shipping process in India are still big black holes. 48 hours at Delhi airport? Heck. Probably lying in a pile somewhere while people had tea (yeah, I’m probably unfair).
Anyway, the package did reach me and I was very happy to have both ears again for the end of my stay. So, success.
Around the time of my arrival in Kolkata, one of my teeth started reacting really painfully to cold and hot. I’ve always had sensitive teeth (to cold), but this was beyond anything. It got worse and worse, to the extent that I just didn’t want to drink anymore. I needed a dentist. Knowing I have a bunch of 15-to-20-years-old fillings that will at some point need replacing, I figured that if I found a good dentist, I might as well do the work in India. Which I did. A two-session root canal treatment on a molar cost me about a tenth of the price it would have in Switzerland. The dentist in question did part of his training in the UK and worked with Somak and Aleika’s dentist in Birmingham, who recommended him and sent their files there. So, there we go. My first root canal, in Kolkata. The result is magical, I can tell you: no more pain. I think that tooth had been hurting me for a very long time, actually, but I didn’t really notice it until it got really bad.
Aside from the medical stuff, I experimented properly with radio-rickshaws in Pune — Autowale.in. After a couple of successful trips, I booked an auto to bring my parents back after New Year’s Eve party. That was a disaster. Whereas for my previous bookings I had received a call from the driver about an hour before to check the pick-up point, this time around we hadn’t heard anything 30 minutes before. We called. The driver said it would take him at least 90 minutes to get there as his auto had broken down. We called the booking centre to ask them to find a replacement, and we were told that there were no available cars and that we had to “find an alternative”. Try finding an alternative in the university campus around 1am on January first. Well, the Shindes made a bunch of calls, and the son of a neighbor left his party to drive my parents back to their hotel. In the meantime, I left a pretty upset note on Autowale’s Facebook wall. We were really pissed off. The happy ending to this story is that the incident did finally get internal attention at Autowale — they asked me for details and I got an e-mail apology from the CEO, saying this was indeed completely unacceptable and that they needed to find a solution so this kind of situation didn’t happen again. Well, I’m willing to give them another chance next time I’m in Pune. But they better not mess up again: when you book a radio auto it’s usually specifically because you know it will be very difficult to find a ride. Leaving you stranded is just disastrous!
In the “new things” department we also did quite a lot of “day trip with car” outings. Most of them good experiences, some of them a tiny bit sour when it came to payment. No huge disasters, though. Two memorable rides were those to and from Mysore. We took a car from Kannur to Mysore, through the mountains and the national park. Crap road but beautiful scenery. And then, from Mysore to Bangalore, that was more memorable in the “dreadful” category. One of my family members was sick (first part of the trip went OK, but by the time we reached Bangalore we were stopping the car every 10-15 minutes). We got stuck half an hour (thankfully not more) on Mysore road because a car had hit a school girl and killed her, we were told. (I saw an ambulance go by after, though, so I like to think that maybe she did make it after all.)
Indian roads are deadly. Those close shaves we sometimes admire are sometimes too close and end up shaving off a life. I think I had looked up number last year: something like 100’000 deaths per year on Indian roads. 4000 in Pune alone. (Check those numbers somewhere if you’re going to use them.) To compare, Switzerland (roughly the population of Pune): 350-400 a year. In Kolkata I saw quite a few ambulances go by (Akirno’s school is near a hospital). People don’t even make way for them — or worse, they cut them off. Last year when I was stuck in Bangalore traffic to go and take my bus to Kerala, there was an ambulance stuck with us. If you need an ambulance to get you fast to the hospital to stay alive, you’re probably dead. You’d better not need one.
In Kolkata we had a car with a driver at our disposal. I have to say it makes a world of difference when it comes to going out and getting stuff done. Having to find taxis and rickshaws is stressful, even when you’ve become used to it. Don’t get any grand visions about the car and driver though. Boot bashed in, screaming belt, and over the last days we had to push it to start it quite a few times. This did result in a change of cars, however.
In addition to Loki the annoying puppy, I got to meet Coco, the baby African Grey parrot. My first bird contact, really! Let me just say that bird feet are warm (was sure they were cold, silly me), and that I had a great time interacting with Coco and getting to know him. Birds are not boring at all and need a lot of attention! I was there for his first flight across the room — took us all by surprise, him too, probably.
To wrap up I’ll leave you with this article that appeared in Metro during my stay, about Presidency University and some of the infrastructure problems there. Sadly Somak forgot to tell the journalist about the giant rat that fell from the ceiling onto the instrument the students had spent a good long time calibrating so they could run their experiment, or the guy who was sitting hunched up on his chair in his office the first day he met him, because there was 10cm of water on the floor.