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Stray observations from my nine days in India

Started: 2012-07-26 19:35:20

Submitted: 2012-07-26 20:21:34

Visibility: World-readable

In which the intrepid narrator talks about things that didn't fit anywhere else

I present, for your amusement, a series of stray observations from my nine days in India, in no particular order, and with no overt connection to one another:

The Citibank ATM at the airport in Delhi gave me two Rs. 1000 notes. At the current exchange rate, these banknotes are worth almost exactly US$20, which is a standard and reasonable banknote in the United States, but in India, in terms of local purchasing power, they're worth far more. Exactly how much more is slippery, but consider food: In the United States, I'd expect to pay something on the order of US$6-8 for a dosa masala at a fast-casual restaurant (like my current favorite, Tiffin's, in Boulder); in India, I paid Rs. 90 for a dosa at an up-scale shopping mall, and I saw one road-side stand (where the food-safety standards were likely somewhat lacking) selling dosas for Rs. 10. Most indigenous goods cost, on average, one-fifth to one-tenth the price I'd expect to pay. (The average monument charged Rs. 100 (US$2) for admission for foreigners and Rs. 10 for admission to Indians.) So my Rs. 1000 bank notes were worth, in rough purchasing power parity, somewhere between US$100 and US$200. At that purchasing power, it's not especially surprising how much trouble I had using the banknotes to actually buy anything. I knew I'd have trouble breaking the notes, so I exchanged them at my hotel's front desk for far-more-manageable Rs. 100 notes. (I didn't have any trouble using the Rs. 100 notes to purchase anything -- except for one that tore down the middle (Indian banks don't accept torn notes) -- but two years ago the flight attendant gave me grief for trying to buy an Rs. 70 cup of chai with an Rs. 100 note.)

View out hotel window in Hyderabad
View out hotel window in Hyderabad

One evening in the office I saw a uniformed security guard escorting a differently-uniformed sweeper around as the sweeper emptied the trash.

Before I left, my brother Willy pointed out that I would be involved, first-hand, in technology transfer, which is a topic he's studying in graduate school, albeit in its historical context from the first several decades of Indian independence. He asked me to be on the lookout for instances of jugaad -- the Indian trait of making do with whatever one has. (Don't have a truck, and it's a long way from your farm to the village? Cobble one together with a cart and the motor from an irrigation pump. Bonus points because you can now drive your pump wherever you need it to be.) With the obvious caveat that I was in India to teach, not to learn (one might say, derisively, that I was there to outsource my own job, which is not entirely inaccurate, but in the short term I actually get to expand my empire by adding a team-member in India), so my ability to see an Indian workplace was somewhat slanted, I did not see anything I'd obviously identify as jugaad. I did see the influence of Indian bureaucracy inside the office: there were large bound log-books scattered at strategic intervals around the office in which various activities were recorded: the movement of dev boards from floor to floor, the distribution and return of the key for the office I occupied, and the issuance of chits for meals and snacks. (I saw a stack of similarly-bound log-books at the security desks on every floor, but I didn't stop to inquire as to their purpose.) The office itself was in some sort of special enterprise zone, where my employer could import hardware development and re-export the finished product without having to pay the import duties on foreign technology, the legacy of the Nehru-era outright prohibition on most foreign technology imports.

Jaeger at QIPL
Jaeger at QIPL

(Look carefully at the blue sign I'm partially obstructing, and you'll see that the office is a "bonded" enterprise zone.)