Wordsmith’s rambling guide in living in Indian cities (2014 +)
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[This post is addressed to 20+ Indians as well as those non-Indians who will choose to live in an Indian city]
I have lived, on and off ( 8 months on an average per year) for last twelve years in Calcutta and that makes 96 months – 24 months away from the magic figure of 120 months which in modern living qualifies one to own a home in a city – 120 months EMI contract for home loan. This gives me some authority to write this guide for a ‘special’ and ‘specialized’ kind of living.
Calcutta has been a city of settlers since early 1700s. The tradition continues. The tips, let me again remind you is for a special kind of temperament.
Observation, Knowledge, Application (OKA) : The best drainage system and overall city planning India had was in Horroppa and Mohenjadaro. This remains valid still today. Urban development in Indian cities is not necessarily linked to better, smoother and aesthetically beautiful living. There appears to be a fundamental conflict of Eastern mind ( honourable exception : Japan and Singapore) with technological application and urban-infrastructure. Be critical about the convenience and smoothness of life as told.
OKA-2: India’s core genius lies in synthesis and not analysis as far as food is concerned. Hence, food in most of the hi-end are in-authentic in a sense of more synthetic. In general, this inauthenticity is directly proportional to the higher end. In Indian cities, do research and you shall get best of everything in obscure places rather than the ‘happening’ places. That explains the mirabilis Indica – there is almost no institution in India where you can have food which is eaten in the household. Hence the only option is to befriend an Indian and get a dinner invitation.
OKA-3 : John Stuart Mill argued and rightly that he need not go to parties and places having invisible social elevators because as a scholar he is already at the topmost station of life. Every party, clubbing are an implant. I always wonder, everytime I go to Esplanade that why we do not have a Piazza which was a need for a tropical city. Only explanation appears to me that British thought that they would stay here for some geological aeons and with inevitable climate change, Calcutta will become more like London and will be inconvenient if we have an open Piazza. Avoid all parties and clubbing because it is too artificial and from OKA-1, it will drain your energy.
OKA-4 : A Bengali Babu used to admonish his English and European friends of the danger of working hard in a tropical climate. He was right. Many young Ox-Cam man, the flower of British youth were consumed by the tropical climate and also by the overwork in establishing the Nuevo Pax Romana in the Eastern Termimus of Europe : Calcutta. Choose a vocation / profession that does not demand hard work. Unless you have genetic immunity, you shall die young or in middle-age if you do not heed to this notice.
OKA-5 : One of the greatest sons of Bengal – Hutum – Babu Kaliprasanna Singha used to write kind of small snippets in his Naksha. None of the intellectuals of Bengal since then could penetrate into a behaviour pattern he observed. He codified it in an elegant formula and every day, I find the formula confirmed by observation., He mentioned a word – shakh – which is combination of fancy, hobby, fetish, habit and then comes the generalization, no less powerful than Saha ionisation formula.
Calcutta citizens are ruled by their shakh. To satisfy the shakh, one does by wasting millions and one does using pennies but shakh is to be satisfied at any cost.
The corrollary is clear : Do not be ruled by shakh. Be away from those who are governed by shakh.
OKA-6 : In Calcutta, you will be considered a great man if you are simply not rude and speak respectfully and with genuine feeling to people like waiters, parking slot officials, tellers, peons, ATM security guards, auto-wallahs, rickshaw pullers, taxi-drivers, hotel securities, pan-sellers and such officials, professionals and freelancers. The reward is tremendous so much so that your millionaire friends will envy you. In these decades, I have a rich collection of these people and they are like a committee. Here are some services I get which I am sure you never got.
- Advance SMS from the chef / waiter if there is a good and fresh fish preparation.
- A mission critical and timed intimation of availability of parking slots and best parking slots
- intimation that ATM is not working
- Insider information – priceless information as which officer is to be approached for loan.
- getting best vegetables (and also not the best ones)
- Public bus waiting at your doorstep with a sms
- Taxi Drivers giving you clue about best eatingh places for breakfast, dinner and lunch – locality wise and reference to the owner directly
- In Government offices, your work will be done a jiffy. This includes passport renewal, birth and death certificate, trade license, tax return – almost everything of federal and state.
Be respectful and really interested in these people. They can do things for you which none can do for you. Even if you are nephew of so and so.
OKA-7 : This is very very important and is at the heart of all economic thinking since Ancient Greece to Professor Amartya Sen. For spending as mentioned in OKA-6, behave as if you are a king (retail spend). For liabilities to institutions (Bank EMI, malls, consumables, other city tricks like Holiday etc, car loan), behave as if you are beggar and avoid them as much as you can. The result : you shall have more to behave like a king to people who will make sure you get facilities which a king will not get. Really !
OKA-8 : Every Calcutta citizen will be unanimous in advocating development. However, very few has any idea what it is and how it will take shape and how it may affect him. I am writing this as I saw a builder’s advert in a road where he compared his tallish tower as of living in Manhattan. So be it. However, if you are 20+, you need this Machiavellian advice, here and now
One of my classmates was born in North London in the seventies and the family had a home, a place with front-yard and back-yard. With development and what not, the prices escalated and now he told me while he is not able to afford the same home for his children : My city has become the playground of trans-national plutocrats.
Development will ask its price. You may be geograophical beneficiary of the worshipped development but at a certain point, your very wish will throw you into the periphery. On this process, you have no control. Hence think !
OKA-9 : If you are really interested to enjoy in an Indian city, do the following in order
- Try to connect to freelancers and time rich and cash poor species. They will give you information which will enrich you if you have the good sense
- Avoid the so-called successful ones – they are overworked, possessed, serving many masters, no time and most important – they may die young.
- Visit the parks where you will find old men who will make you a philosopher. You shall learn direct training and verbatim commentary on profound issues like a) Cross Cultural Marriages b) Frustration c) Growth and its victims. You will also learn the art of listening. I have now such 7-8 ‘mentors’ who made me realize that my work towards Wordsmith Ashram is a proper move.
- If you are looking for a girlfriend with wife-worthiness, small establishments is the niche.
- If you are looking for a boyfriend with husband-worthiness, small establishments is the niche.
- The greatest problem of Indian older generation is loneliness. In their youth, the issue was money and consumables. Columbus, amend in the immigration law of 1965 in the US, fanatic focus on score, study and rank in entrance tests, genetic plus all combine made dollars in and malls sprouting but the senders of the dollars are all away. If you just have the patience of listening, you have all. I lived in a Salt Lake house like a Rajah just becasue the landlord – a Bengali gentleman of old school liked myself listenting to him attentively. He offered me a rental which was 50% than market price !
- Read the history of the land written by those who were not tenured professors, hacks, academic turned politicians, party-men, media-men ( In India, men and women who are 30 – 40 and are in India were were all at the bottom 20% of the talent scale. They went in this direction because in their 20+, they were not qualified to go anywhere. So, I always read Indian media men / women with this immutable statistic and fact)
OKA-10 : The final one. If you are really interested to live in the city for some time like a Rajah (not like most of its inhabitants), go further from the centre and get hold of a living space at the least price and least running cost. Do not lose heart. The city will spread and you will be city-dweller. This place will have all those people whom I advised you to be-friend. They will be your friends. As the city expands, their land title will rise and many will be offered very high prices by promoters. They will need a friend whom they can trust.
You are that friend