March 11, 2008

Pure Genius

I applied the Blog Readability Test to ARNABlog to measure the intellectual capacity of my readers. A reading level equivalent to that possessed by a genius is required to comprehend the full depth and breadth of ARNABlog according to the test results. I could not find a corresponding tool to gauge the writing level of the blog author but I would assume it is greater than or equal to the reading level.

March 03, 2008

To and FRO

If you are a foreigner planning to work, study, or travel within India for more than 180 consecutive days without leaving the country, then you are required to register your details with the closest Foreigner's Regional Registration Office (FRRO) or Foreigner's Registration Office (FRO) within two weeks of your arrival. Five other law abiding non-citizens and I decided to fulfill our legal duty soon after our arrival in Hyderabad. Our first stop was Satyam City Center in Begumpet (across the street from popular department store Shopper's Stop). One of the better furnished Satyam office's, here we picked up letters attesting to our proof of employment and other required documentation.

A foreigner is required to submit the following (from the Indian Bureau of Immigration):
  • 4 recent passport size photographs (the remaining 16-20 photos in the set became valuable collectors items among the female interns)
  • Photocopy of passport photo page and a valid Indian Visa page
  • Proof of residential address in India (electricity bill from the landlord and a letter stating that we lived there)
  • Documents of identification
  • In case of Employment Visa, request letter, undertaking, contract agreement from employer
With documents in hand, we arrived at the police headquarters. We were promptly directed towards the authorities responsible for foreigner registration. Initially reluctant to process our documents since we had arrived after lunchtime, after some light persuasion they agreed to do what they could. We were herded into a crowded room with boxes full of overflowing stacks of paper and rows of men with stamps. They inspected our documents, frowned, and approved them with authority. We were then told to wait outside. Several hours later a kindly clerk gave each of us slips containing an identification number and a date when a letter stating that we had registered with the FRO would be ready for pickup. This letter is collected by Indian authorities when you are leaving the country. If you do not have this document then, you may be deported from the country as punishment. Unfortunately before my letter was ready, I had been transferred to Bangalore and did not get the chance to pick it up.

After I had alerted Satyam's foreign affairs department that I had not transferred my registration from Hyderabad to Bangalore, they directed me to do so post haste. I made my way back to Hyderabad for 5 days, spending a few extra days reuniting with old friends, eating biryani, and inspecting pearls. The FRO had relocated from the old police headquarters to an even older one so the surroundings were once again unfamiliar. The officers in charge were disgruntled at first since I did not have my identification slip and gave me a lecture about irresponsible foreigners thinking they can come to India and do whatever they want. They saw my passport and then lightened up when they realized I was a Bengali. After explaining the Satyam diet and why I looked different from my picture, they allowed me to bypass the long lineup so that I could immediately finish my paperwork. The staff were friendly and helpful, especially the ones that were not snoozing or reading the newspaper. They passed around my picture and chuckled. First I retrieved my letter stating I was registered as a foreigner in Hyderabad. Then I applied for deregistration from Hyderabad. After I was granted this, I requested that my information be forwarded to Bangalore so that I could register there. I did not want to further increase India's population count by being registered at more than one place at a time.

Back in Bangalore, I went to the FRO and let them know that I had given them permission to receive my original paperwork from Hyderabad. They stamped my documents and told me to write a letter to the Hyderabad FRO stating that the Bangalore FRO had noted my arrival and were ready to receive any documentation that they may have concerning me. I followed instructions, but several more trips to the FRO were in vain as the documents never arrived from Hyderabad. The on duty clerk finished his crossword puzzle and informed me that there was no problem and whatever documentation I had collected over the year would be enough to ensure my departure from India.

February 25, 2008

The Measure of a Man: Waist to Hip Ratio

The Waist to Hip ratio, or WHR for short, is a useful metric for quickly sizing up the overall health, fertility, and desirability of an individual. Calculated by taking the circumference of the waist and dividing it by the circumference of the hips, this heuristic cuts through boundaries of time and culture. Whether a society prefers a full figure or a waif-like one, the desired ratio still remains the same - 0.7 for women and 0.9 for men. Surveys in many different countries have trended towards this 0.7 value. Research has shown that there is a link between a mother's WHR and the cognitive abilities of her child, making it an useful metric for ARNABride candidates. The hourglass figure and the vital statistics of 36-24-36 all allude to this magic number that acts as a rule of thumb for calculating the fecundity of a female.

A gentlemen must also pay attention to his WHR. The WHR gives an idea about the distribution of fat around the abdominal area. Belly fat is a key indicator of chronic health problems such as heart disease and diabetes. While measuring myself for a custom tailored shirt, I had collected all the values required to calculate my WHR. A regular in annual IT industry publications lists of sexiest software engineers, when I first returned from India I had the ideal male proportions of 0.9. Since starting my new job, my metabolism has been unable to keep pace with my enviable work ethic and my WHR has slipped into the 98th percentile. In the past corsets were used to artificially alter a person's WHR, but I find this to be an unappealing remedy.

February 17, 2008

Mysore to Ooty

Soon after my narrow escape from the clutches of death, my parents decided to drop by to see me. As the elderly are not as suited to handle the rigours of independent travel as our rugged protagonist, I arranged for an organized tour to the capital of the erstwhile kingdom of Mysore and to the scenic hill station of Ooty. I avoid these tours as they usually spend more time parked outside of restaurants and stores that paid them for their visitation rather than at actual sites of interest. Before arriving at Mysore, the tour bus we were on pulled into Srirangapatna, the stronghold of the legendary ruler of the kingdom - Tipu Sultan. A temple and ruins of the fortifications were all that remained.

About 140 km away from the hubbub of Bangalore, Mysore is a much more relaxed city with no tall buildings blocking the sunlight and little traffic. The roads are wide and the buildings majestic, especially when lit up at night to recreate its former glory days. Mysore is located at the base of the Chamundi Hills, which has a few temples located at the peak. I was equally shocked to see the gigantic statue of the demon Mahishasura atop Chamundi Hills and the many bottles littering this officially designated "plastic-free" zone. Undoubtedly, what makes Mysore's a must visit is the magnificent Mysore Palace. Completed in the early 1900's by Wodeyar kings, the palace combines many architectural styles seamlessly and is guarded by stone leopards at its gates. Satyam's bitter rival Infosys has a pineapple shaped training centre in Mysore that can house over 4000 employees at a time. It is the world's largest corporate training facility. As Bangalore becomes even more saturated, the IT industry will continue to expand into Mysore, whose relaxed atmosphere now reminds many people of what Bangalore was like 20 years ago. Another highlight was the Brindavan Gardens, situated beside a dam and decorated with dancing fountains and tourists.

A winding trip through some crusty roads, a border crossing between Karnataka and Tamil Nadu, some sari shopping, eating of vegetarian food, and an encounter with wildlife at Bandipur National Park occurred in quick succession. Before we knew it, we were some 7500 ft above sea level in Ootacamund, or Ooty for short. Aside from some spectacular views of the lands below, the 'Queen of Hill Stations' offers a cool climate to escape from the summer heat, relaxing walks in the botanical garden, and boat trips on the lake.

The other members of the tour were mainly newlywed couples of different shapes and sizes. About half of them were lost in Mysore, so our tour bus shrank in size into a much smaller one. My head brushed the thoughtfully carpeted rooftop even after I bent down. We were running behind schedule on the return journey. When we had retraced our steps to Mysore almost everyone in the city had fallen asleep and only one eatery was open. Idlis and dosas were eaten. The delay propagated through to our arrival in Bangalore, which was delayed from late night to somewhere around 4 am in the morning. The bus pulled over beside a gas station on the outskirts of Bangalore and an awkward hour was spent in silence on the bus, before it proceeded further into the city as dawn arrived. The passengers were then released into the arms of eager auto rickshaw drivers waiting to take them away.

February 11, 2008

Bangalore Riots: Aftermath

A narrow escape from death affects even the most stoic of men. Amid the chaos and rubble, I emerged unscathed save some cuts and bruises, but not everyone was as lucky. One child was killed and many others were injured. Store windows were left shattered and auto rickshaws were set ablaze. Curfew was enforced for the next several days and groups of people were not allowed to congregate or loiter around the streets together after 7pm. Lathi charges were carried out by the police. During this exercise, officers systematically proceed throughout many city blocks applying batons to buttocks to enforce law and order. A sense of unease permeated every crevice of the city, with tensions high and nerves on edge. It took more than a few days until life was back to normal. After examining my wounds my colleagues expressed deep sympathy for my ordeal. None of them had met with the same misfortune as I and were impressed at my survival skills. Later on they would chuckle at my narrow escape from a well deserved thrashing, but their immediate concern was touching.

Weeks later, tensions were again running high. This time the battleground was not religion, but the ownership of the water emanating from a river - the Cauvery - that spanned several neighbouring states. A Supreme Court decision was pending on who would get access to how much water, and regardless of the outcome many would be left unhappy with the decision. I was sent home early from work and told to remain inside so that the disgruntled masses would not get another chance to make mincemeat out of me. A statewide work stoppage (a bandh) was scheduled in advance for an upcoming Monday. With sufficient warning I was able to orchestrate my escape from Bangalore and spent the long weekend relaxing in my stronghold of Hyderabad.