Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Getting two wheeler driving license in India - My Experience

What does it take to get a two-wheeler driving license? How much fees do we have to pay? How long does it take to get a two-wheeler driving license? What should you practice to clear the driving test? The thought of even going to an RTO office would make people nervous - Hours of waiting under hot sun, inefficient processes, lousy work flow, lethargic employees, and the driving inspectors who think they are GOD. Each one of us, holding an Indian driving license, would definitely have a story to share. Here is mine. I'm going to share with you, my experience at the RTO office in Virugambakkam, Chennai.

I went to a nearby driving school (Anish Driving School) to apply for my two wheeler driving license. They charged me Rs.850. They asked me to show up on a Tuesday at the RTO office to get a Learners License Registration permit (also called as LLR). You need to show your identity/address proof to get the learners license. I spent nearly 3+ hours at the RTO office to just get an LLR.

I got my new Honda Aviator in August (3 months after I got my LLR). I started to learn driving with that. I have been using my scooter mostly for my daily commute to work. I wouldn't consider myself as an expert driver - but, I drive decent enough to maneuver through the Indian roads. I decided to take the driving test before my LLR expires. So, I scheduled my driving test for this week. I was asked to show up at the driving school by 8.45 am.

I went to the driving school, sharp by 8.45 am. However, the folks at the driving school were busy processing some last minute application forms. So, we left the driving school to the RTO office only by 9.30 am. I had to wait nearly for an hour outside the RTO office, under the hot sun. There is no shelter or place to sit outside the RTO office in Virugambakkam, Chennai. It is such a busy area with lots of shops & the road was crowded. Around 10.30 am, the driving school master came out of the RTO office, with a bunch of application forms, after paying the fees. He then asked us to assemble behind the Koyambedu Market for the driving test.

Two wheeler driving is typically self-learned. No body teaches for you. For the first time ever, my driving school master told us the rules of the driving test & asked us to go and practice for a while. We all rushed to the place behind the Koyambedu market, where the driving test was supposed to happen. Folks were lining up for their practice session, with lots of excitement & nervousness. It had rained in the morning. So, the area was exorbitantly sticky with vegetable wastes from the market. Some of the scooters even skidded, when the students were practicing there. All of us were seriously practicing to do an "8", with the two wheeler. It was like doing last minute preparations outside the exam hall. I had spent some significant time practicing over the weekend and today morning. So, I was confident enough.

The RTO inspector came to the spot at about 11.30 am. All of us parked our vehicles and watched him seriously. I have heard horror stories about RTO inspectors. They normally shout at people and some of them even throw the application forms on to your face. But the RTO inspector who came to the spot today treated us with some respect. He was patiently explaining the rules. Surprisingly, I didn't have much nervousness and there was no adrenaline rush. I did my "8" without any issues and I couldn't believe that I've CLEARED the driving test. I had to wait till all the other 20 folks completed their "8"s and some 10 folks to complete their car driving test. At 12.15 pm, we were asked to go back to the RTO office, for the photo shoot. We waited there for nearly an hour. Our driving school master came up with the application forms and asked us to stand in line for the photo shoot. All of us took photo shots and waited for another 30 minutes. We got our driving license (without lamination) and we had to stand in another queue to submit the same after verification. By the time the whole process was over, it was 1.45 pm.

We spent nearly 5 hours to get the driving license - though our presence was ACTUALLY needed only for 5 minutes (2 minutes to take the driving test + 2 minutes to appear for the photo shoot + 1 minute to verify the license). It looks like none of the processes/work flow has been automated. There is lots of places to fill/sign in the application.They collected nearly 5 passport size photos (3 during the LLR & 2 before the driving test). There is still bodies with ledgers, behind the counters. I saw computers only in the room where they took photo shots.

On an average, I believe at least 100 folks visit the RTO office in a given day. If each of them have to spend 5 hours (instead of 5 minutes), we are nearly wasting 20 man days everyday in a RTO office. If there are 10 such offices in Chennai, then we are wasting nearly 200 man days, everyday in just Chennai alone. Imagine how much time is wasted in waiting in RTO offices throughout India on a given day. Moreover, waiting in the RTO office really creates frustration. Since visiting RTO office is not an everyday affair, people & the government are not caring about it much. However, in countries like USA, the whole process will be completed in just 30 minutes. Getting a driving license in India isn't painful, but waiting in the queues really is. I wish government does something to minimize the waiting time in RTO offices. [Also read: Corruption free Chennai West RTO office]

I had taken some videos of the driving tests from my mobile. This should give an idea of what is expected from people during a two-wheeler driving test. 

Saturday, October 17, 2009

How to reduce the impact of climate change & global warming?

Global warming, climate changes and their impact are talked about in lengths, in all forms of media - TV, Radio, Newspapers & Internet. "Going Green" is the new buzz word. What should we do, to reduce the impact of climate change and global warming? Do we have to go back to the ancient world and live in forests, eating just fruits and vegetables? Do we have to sacrifice the pleasures of modern day life, to save this earth? How can we preserve the world we know, for our grand kids and our grand kids' grand kids?

(Also read: A Journey from Non-Vegetarian to Raw-Vegetarian)

A friend of mine forwarded me a "Youtube" video which prompted me to write this blog. This is the video of a young girl who addressed a UN meeting on the issue of environment.

What are some simple changes that you can bring in your life to reduce the impact of climate change & global warming? Here are 5 things you can do to reduce the impact of climate change & global warming.

1) Planting trees around your home or in some of the empty lands that you own. Think about the number of trees that we have to bring down during our life time. Just look around ... identify the number of wooden items around you - house/office structures, tables, chairs, cabinets, papers/books/notepads, paper towels, all the way to tiny little match sticks. All these things are made out of wood. So, how many trees have we planted since we were born to compensate for this?

2) Saying NO to paper/plastic bags during shopping. Carrying "cloth bags" to shops (and re-using plastic bags several times) reduces the carbon foot print. Since some forms of plastic cannot be recylced easily, the use of plastic creates a huge problem. Moreover, the cost involved to recycle a plastic bag is more than the cost involved to manufacture one. So, the manufacturers don't show interest in recycling plastic bags. A weekly shopping trip results in at least 10 - 15 plastic bags. In a year, we would've used nearly 800 bags. Imagine how much plastic use we can reduce if we just start to carry "cloth bags" to shop.

3) Wisely using water - Not wasting water and properly using it (during our showers, mouth wash, hand wash, watering lawns etc.,). Even a state like California declared drought last year because of the lack of rains. Water saved is water produced.

4) Avoiding/Minimizing the consumption of animal food. It takes more resources (land/water/fodder etc.,) to produce animal food than what is required to produce grains/vegetables. "There's nothing so pervasively damaging to our environment - and to world hunger - than eating animal products". This article gives you lots of facts regarding how animal food impacts the environment.

A friend of mine asked me "If everyone becomes a vegetarian, what happens to the ecosystem? Who'll maintain the food pyramid/chain?". My response to him was simple. "Today, do you think humans are letting these poor creatures to breed at their normal pace? We (humans) are growing thousands & thousands of cattle/birds (& forcing them to breed in an abnormal way) just to satisfy our appetite. If we let them to breed on their 'normal pace', then I believe the 'layers' underneath humans in the food pyramid/chain, will help to ensure the balance in the ecosystem".

Also read: Sunday - a day of mass murders in India,   Why am I a Vegan?

5) Drive your motor vehicle only when it is absolutely required. This is easier said than done. However, we can bring small changes to our lifestyle such as combining multiple trips into one, taking a walk to nearby places, using public transportation, car pooling, and biking.

Start to educate the people you know about climate change/global warming and their impact. You might have heard this several times during your life - "You'll learn a lot only when you start to teach". When you begin to teach others about global warming/climate change, you tend to learn more about it. This will motivate you to strictly adhere to your 'environmental friendly' life style.

Many a times, we don't realize the seriousness of the climate change. We may not see the end of the world during our life time. However, think of our grand kids or our grand kids' grand kids. They are going to live in a world that is completely torn apart by the global warming. Some of the small islands like Maldives will vanish out of the map because of increasing sea levels (due to the melting of glaciers).

Changing our life style to be 'environmental friendly' is definitely tough. But, if we are conscious about the impacts of environmental change/global warming, we can easily bring small changes into our life style. We all know that 'small droplets can form an ocean'. Why not make our small contribution towards making this world greener? 

Let us preserve the world we love/live for our grand kids & our grand kids' grand kids. 

Diwali without sparks, but doesn't miss the mark

It is nearly 7 years since I celebrated my last Diwali at "home". Running down the memory lane, Diwali always has been very special. Getting up very early in the morning, taking an oil bath, wearing brand new dresses, day full of delicious food, special occasion sweets/savories, oh... how can I forget the smell and sound of crackers. In fact, on the day of Diwali, most of us are woken up only by the sound of the crackers. As a kid, I never had a proper sleep on the day before Diwali. Primarily because of the curiosity/excitement and partly because people start to fire high sounding crackers very early in the morning. I'm sure this is not a one-off experience. Many of you would've had a similar experience during your childhood.

Things have changed drastically over the last several years. Today, I was waiting for the cracker noise to wake me up. But, I didn't hear any cracker sound until 7 am in the morning. So, I was very disappointed. Later, I learned that there is a rule not to fire crackers between 10 pm - 6 am. My mom/wife have been literally living in the kitchen for the last 2 days, preparing lots of delicious food, non-stop.

Chennai is now very different from the Madras that I saw, growing up. There are not THAT many shops selling crackers. People (at least the educated), are more aware of the impacts of bursting crackers. Hearing repeatedly about global warming & climate changes in TV/Radio & News, people to some extent, have minimized the bursting of crackers. Moreover, TV channels are competing with each other to glue their audience to the couch by broadcasting 'highly tempting' programs. People don't even mind the non-stop advertisements. Almost all the TV channels are broadcasting 'thiraiikku vandhu sila madhangaleay aana" kind movies (i.e., very recent movies). In another 20 years or so, I believe people will almost drop the habit of bursting crackers on the Diwali day.

Diwali is still comparable to Christmas celebrations in US. Diwali creates a busy shopping season. Shops are offering deep discounts to attract buyers during the tough times. People spend a lot of money on dresses, house hold items, gold etc., There are new movies released during Diwali (Aadhavan from Suriya & Peranmai from Jeyam Ravi).

Overall, it is wonderful to celebrate Diwali in India. It gives an opportunity to call friends/relatives, whom we haven't touch based for a long time. It gives an opportunity for us to exchange sweets with neighbors. It also, brings lots of excitement to kids. In simple words, Diwali is fun ... fun... nothing but fun.

Also read:

Ganesh Chathurthi in India

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Two wheeler service - Can't escape from those long lines and hours of waiting

I spent nearly 2+ hours this week to get my new Honda Aviator serviced (Note: This is just the drop-off & pick-up time. Doesn't include the time taken to service the vehicle). I've read from forums that Honda Service in India, is pretty bad. I went through that experience for the first time. Here is how the story goes.

This week, my Honda Aviator said it is ready for its first service. I called JSP Honda on Saturday and they recommended me to bring the vehicle on a week day. I decided to take my vehicle on Monday morning right when they open, so that, I can avoid a long queue. I reached the service station sharp at 7.30 am. To my surprise, there were about 30 other folks, waiting with their 2 wheelers, already. Also, the place in which the customers were asked to line up with their vehicles was very untidy and unhygienic. There were broken bottles, piles of trash including worn out sleeping mats, and some smell of urine. I don't know why nobody whined about the pathetic condition of that place.

The service engineers(?), came with their notepads at about 7.45 am. They started taking down details related to the vehicle and the service requirements, from the waiting customers. By the time my turn came, it was about 8.15 am. I finished the formalities and handed over my vehicle key to the service engineer. I wanted to complain regarding the untidy state of the location in which the customers have to wait, to handover their vehicles. Unfortunately, none of the administrative staff were available that early in the morning. So, I came out and took a share auto to work. I spent about 1 hour to just leave my vehicle for service.

In the evening, I got a call from a lady rep saying that my vehicle was ready for pick-up. I went to the service center by 5.30 pm. I was told that my 'paper work' is not ready and I was asked to wait. While I was waiting, I met the Service Center Manager and complained to him regarding the unhygienic condition of the location where the vehicles are 'received' from the customer. I also filled a formal 'complaint' form and handed it over to him. He appreciated the feedback and told that necessary action will be taken. I'm hoping that the facility will be clean when I go for my next service. It took another 30 minutes for my paper work to be available. I was charged Rs.150 for the first service (though it is technically free, but they charge for oil and other things). I had reported about 3 issues in the morning. I asked the person in the counter regarding the status of the 3 issues that I reported. The response was "most likely the issues would've been fixed, Sir! Otherwise, they would've made a note in the report". It took me an hour to get my vehicle and leave.

I hadn't owned any vehicle previously, in India. So, I was quite surprised with the amount of time someone has to spend in the service center just to drop the vehicle & pick it up from service. Hopefully, somebody will minimize the waiting time in the service centers with a magic wand.

Also read:

Got the two wheeler driving license - after hours of waiting

Saturday, October 10, 2009

R2I - How can I get my Social Security benefits/money?

Are you planning to Return to India (R2I)? Are you wondering whether you'll be eligible for the Social Security Benefits when you retire? This blog post is aimed at answering some of your concerns/questions regarding Social Security benefits/account. I've compiled it like a FAQ for easy reading.
  • Can I get my Social Security contributions when I return back to India?
  • Will I be eligible for Social Security benefits when I reach the retirement age?
          It depends. You should've got atleast 40 credits for you to be eligible for Social Security benefits.
  • How do I earn a Social Security Credit?
          According to SSA website "When you work and pay Social Security taxes, you earn up to a maximum of four credits for each year" For more details look at Social Security website.
  • How long would it take for me to earn 40 credits?
          It would approximately take 10 years for you to earn 40 credits.

          "The amount of earnings it takes to earn a credit changes each year. In the year 2009, you must earn $1,090 in covered earnings to get one Social Security or Medicare work credit and $4,360 to get the maximum four credits for the year". Refer to Social Security website for up to date information.
  • How do I notify Social Security Administration (SSA) about my change in address?
          SSA doesn't maintain your address records if you are not getting benefits currently (i.e., until you reach your retirement age). SSA gets the information from IRS (Internal Revenue Service). So, keep the IRS informed about your change of address. You can notify IRS regarding the address change by using Form 8822.
  • Will I get my SSA benefits when I reach the retirement age?
          Yes, according to the SSA website - if you have earned 40 credits.
  • Will I get my SSA benefits even if I'm not in US during my retirement?
          Yes (You can read the "Your Payments while you are outside US" question in SSA website)
  • Will I get my SSA benefits, even if I am NOT a US Citizen? (added later based on readers' feedback)
          Yes. You'll get your SSA benefits, even if you are NOT a US citizen, during your retirement.

          Assuming that you are going to Return to India (with or without US Citizenship, doesn't matter), you  *ARE* eligible for SSA benefits if you have 40 credits. You can find more details here at SSA website

          India is one of the countries listed under "You are a citizen of one of the countries listed below, and the worker on whose record your benefits are based lived in the United States for at least 10 years or earned at least 40 credits under the U.S. Social Security system. If you are receiving benefits as a dependent or survivor ..."

  • Will I have to lose my Social Security savings, if I don't live in US for 10 years?
          Unfortunately, yes! You have to lose your SS savings, if you don't live in US for 10 years. India is still working with the US government for Indian citizens to 'transfer' the credit to Indian pension plan. But, this is definitely going to take a lot of time.
  • How do I apply for SSA benefits when I reach my retirement age?
          Contact your nearest US embassy/consulate. They'll assist you with the process.
  • How can I lock my SSN?
          Read the blog post How to apply for Credit Freeze during R2I?
  • Where can I find more information regarding Social Security Questions?

Note: The information included in this blog post is subject to change. Please read the FAQs in SSA website to get the up-to-date information

Related Posts:

R2I Checklist - 25 things to do
How to apply for Credit Freeze during R2I?

Swimming pool in Brownstone Apartments - Highly Recommended

 It is nearly 6 months since I returned from US. Since the day I landed in Chennai, my daughter has been asking me to take out for swimming. Swimming pools are very common in US. Almost, every other apartment/community in US, has a swimming pool. However, swimming pools are not very common yet, in India. Only a very few residential communities have swimming pools. I used to take my daughter to a pool at least once a month before. However, since landing in Chennai, I've deprived her from that experience. I learned about the wonderful swimming pool run by V.V. International School of Swimming, in Brownstone apartments, in Mahalingapuram (near to Loyola College). I called them today morning to find out some details.

We went to Brownstone Apartments at about noon. They charged Rs.70 each, for my daughter & me, for a 1 hour swimming session (It looks like the yearly membership costs Rs.5,500. They also conduct swimming lessons). The swimming pool was maintained well. The water was clean and there were not any dirt or debris, floating. There were at least 2 administrative folks to help the visitors. We went there by Saturday noon and the pool wasn't crowded at all. My daughter was initially hesitant (actually, scared!) to enter the pool. But, later she started liking the experience. I made her sit on an air-filled tube and she enjoyed the floating experience. We had a wonderful time there. It was very refreshing. We spent the full hour in the pool and came back extremely relaxed.

If you are in the Nungambakkam/Choolaimedu area and looking for a swimming pool/class, you should definitely consider V.V International School of Swimming, in Brownstone apartments.

Also read:

Smell of fresh air - rejuvenating
Chennai Marina Beach - Free Recreation

Metro water in Chennai - breeding red worms

Are you living in Chennai? Do you see Red Worms in drinking water? You aren't alone. Here is my side of the story.

My wife have been complaining about worms in the Metro water, for a while. I was ignoring her claims initially. But, when I looked at our overhead tank, it was full of worms. A single mug of water had nearly 10 - 15 worms. They were small, thin and in red color - glittering in the sun light. We had cleaned our water tank only a month back - paying someone Rs.400. I was surprised to see, so many worms in the tank. I decided to clean the water tank, myself. I spent nearly 2 hours cleaning the tank, with proper chemicals. In the next 2 days, we again saw worms in the water.

All along, I have been thinking that Metro Water would be of good quality. So, I didn't suspect that the Metro Water would have worms. Coincidentally, I saw a news article in "Thinathanthi" paper which talked about "Red Worms in Metro Water". The article said that the Metro Water authorities know about this issue and it is due to 'low chlorine levels in the drinking water'. The article also said that these "Worms are harmless" & if we just filter/heat the water it can be used for drinking and cooking purposes. I started doing some research on the Internet. I saw several outdated (3 years ago) articles that talked about worms in Metro Water. I didn't see any recent news articles. However, there were some user forums where people complained about "Red Worms in drinking water".

I thought this issue is 'confined' to very few areas in Chennai. But, in the recent days, I see many areas affected these Red Worms. There is also a speculation that drinking water is getting mixed with sewage due to leaks. However, Chennai Metropolitan Water Supply and Sewerage Board (CMWSSB) authorities have been denying the existence of these worms.

Worms crawl out of taps in Saligramam - Chennai

Water with worms in Anna Nagar west 

Metro water is supposed to be used only for drinking/cooking purposes. But people store the water in sumps and start to use it for everything except for drinking (Yes! Many folks buy bottled/can water for drinking. Several other folks have costly water filtering systems in place). I'm not surprised why Metro Water authorities aren't taking a quick action. But, the folks who get affected the most are the poor folks who cannot afford to buy bottled/can water or costly water filters. If you are affected with the red worms, you should file a complaint now. You can do it online at Metro Water website. Hope Metro Water authorities solve this problem once for all - if not for the folks who 'misuse' the drinking water, but for the folks who really use the Metro Water for drinking/cooking only.

Note:  Metro Water website gives a lot of tips regarding the usage of water and maintenance of tanks/sumps. The wesbite also has lots of other useful information such as rainwater harvesting, online complaints, cash counters etc.,

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Lavish birthday party's cost = A poor child's education cost for 12 years

All of us love our kids, so much. In fact, they are our world. We would do anything for them. Our kids' birthdays are very special to us. Birthdays are definitely important milestones to celebrate. First of all, we want the birthday to be very memorable for our kids. Second of all, it is the right time for us to pat ourselves for our excellent work of managing them, another year.

Parents spend a lot of money to celebrate their kid's birthdays. We invite friends/relatives for an evening get together. We order food, cake & mementos. An average birthday party costs anywhere from $600 - $1000 (in US) & at least Rs.25,000 (in India). We all rejoice that evening. The kids definitely have lots of fun. They feel so special. Now, fast forward 25 years. Will our kid remember the 'grand birthday party' that we organized, 25 years ago (without us showing him/her the birthday photographs?). Will our friends/relatives remember all the birthday parties they attended?

So, what is my point, here? Am, I asking you NOT to celebrate birthdays? Am I asking you NOT to throw birthday parties? Am I trying to say that the money spent on birthday parties is a WASTE?

No... No... No...

As I said earlier, birthday celebrations are very important for kids. Some kids do remember whether you celebrated their birthdays or not. But, what they DON'T REMEMBER or what they DON'T CARE is 'How grand the celebration was'.

Do you know what difference you can make in the life of some people, if you are able to scale-down the magnitude of such birthday parties? With $600 you can sponsor a child's education up to +2 level (i.e., 14 years of education). With Rs.10,000 you can take care of all the expenses of a child for 1 year (including education). Imagine the difference you can make on the life of these kids. Your friends may forget the birthday parties in a year or so. But, these kids who are receiving your sponsorship will remember you forever. If you start to sponsor a child's education, up to +2, every year, by the time your kid turns 20, you would've changed the life of 20 kids. Imagine the satisfaction that you'll get by performing such a noble deed.

You may think, "Why should I cut-down on my kid's birthday party spending? I'll organize a big birthday bash & I'll also donate some money to support poor kids". The "conservative" in me, still feels that the money spent on the big birthday bash can help another poor kid. But, if you can help support a kid every year, that itself is wonderful. You'll be remembered very much for that noble deed. The famous motivational speaker Zig Ziglar said, "You can have everything you want, if you will just help enough other people get what they want!”

If you are interested, you can donate to Udavum Karangal. Donating to Udavum Karangal is very easy. You can do it from their web site, with your credit card. You'll get regular progress reports for the child you are sponsoring. 

(Note: I'm not associated with Udavum Karangal. But, I have been to their facilities in the past. They really do a good job of taking care of the kids & needy people. They really put your hard earned money to good use)

Sunday, October 4, 2009

How much money do you need to Return to India (R2I)?

Many of us decide to go to US to earn money. However, after being in US for a few years, we find it difficult to decide "How much money is enough to settle in India?". Yes! the cost of living in India has gone up significantly in the last decade.  So, you may be wondering "How much money should I have to Return to India (R2I)?" The right answer is "It depends".

I've made an attempt to capture the cost of living in Chennai (as of 2009). The expenses have of course, sky rocketed. Given below are the approximate expenses for a 5 members family (Husband, wife, kid, grand parents), leading a comfortable (but, not luxurious) life.

Settling costs (Rs. 60 Lakhs - Rs. 1.15 Crore)

Own House         - Rs. 50 lakhs - 1 crore 
                    (depending upon the location. These days, you can find great deals on real estates and rental properties in online websites such as Magic Bricks & MyDeals India)
Car               - Rs. 7 - 13 lakhs
Furnishing        - Rs. 3 lakh 

                    (bed, TV, refrigerator, A/C etc.,)

Monthly Expenses (~ Rs.27K per month)

Groceries                - Rs.8K
Vegetables/Fruits        - Rs.3K
Electricity              - Rs.1K
Gas Cylinders            - Rs.1K
Petrol/Diesel            - Rs.2K
Doctor Visits/Medicine   - Rs.1K
TV/Phone/Mobile/Internet - Rs.3K
Dining out               - Rs.3K
Recreation/Entertainment - Rs.3K
Wedding/Other Gifts/Toys - Rs.2K
Yearly Expenses (~ Rs. 80K per year)

Dresses for the family   - Rs.20K
Travel/Sightseeing       - Rs.25K
School expenses          - Rs.35K - 50K, per kid


- The above expenses do not include insurance payments, service/maintenance of items (car, A/C, refrigerator, washer etc.,). I'll update them when I get more details.
- In case you've decided to rent a house - renting a 3BHK house costs anywhere from 15K - 25K depending on the locality/facilities etc.,
- Some schools charge up to Rs.1 Lakh donation during the initial admission (Also read: Getting KG admission for a kid in school - the math behind it)

The money that you may need to settle in India is very subjective. It depends on your family size, life style, spending pattern, city in which you want to live etc., If you have spent 6 - 10 years in US and invested your savings wisely, you should be able to settle in India, very comfortably. At the end of the day, there is no end to the need for more money.

Related posts:

R2I Checklist
R2I - List of things to pack/bring from US
US to India Money Transfer Strategies
Cost to Company (CTC) - Peeling the Onion

Sunday - a day of mass murders in India

It is 4th of Oct, 2009. 2 days after the world celebrated Mahatma Gandhi's birthday. I stepped out of my house for my early morning walk. There is a meat shop near my house. The shop had a few skinned & decapitated goats hanging in the front. A huge truck was unloading carts of chicken into the shop. Each cart (of 5 ft x 5 ft size) carried about 10 chicken. There were about 15 carts. The chicken were closely packed and some of them were already half dead.There were flies buzzing all around the shop. Anyone who crosses the shop couldn't avoid staring at the dirty look of the shop and the bad small that comes out of it. Despite all of this, the shop was very crowded - with people who are buying chicken/mutton for their Sunday meal. This is a very common scene in India, on Sundays. Sunday is a day of mass murdering of goats/chicken in India.

The workers in the meat shop are not educated about cruelty to animals. Chicken are kept in small carts until their D-day arrives. Those poor creatures hardly find space to even stand comfortably inside those carts. Finally, the workers kill them by twisting their neck or by chopping-off their head. Even a prisoner with death sentence is treated properly in this world. Doctors ensure that the prisoner is in good health before being sentenced. However, these little creatures aren't treated properly. They haven't committed any crimes. They haven't done harm to others. But, they are killed in large volumes to satisfy the appetite of humans, who are higher-up in the food chain.

People also don't care about hygiene. The place in which these little creatures are kept is so untidy and unpleasant. There is always flies & crows surrounding them. The meat shop owners even preserve some of the unsold meat to sell in the next day. Buyers cannot ensure that the meat is of high quality. It is quite easy for people to get sick by consuming such meat. Also, this unhygienic environment is not good for the workers in the meat shop. Look at the short Youtube video below, to see the things in action:

The nation praises Gandhiji for his acts. But, somehow, the nation fails to recognize the importance of adopting vegetarian diet. Becoming a vegetarian is not tough, at all. I've successfully adopted vegetarian diet for nearly 10 years, now. I'm very active & healthy. I can proudly say that I haven't had any major illness/disease.

If you want to lead a healthy life... If you are against cruelty to animals... BE A VEGETARIAN !!!

Related post:

Why am I a Vegan?

R2I - List of things to pack/bring from US

Most of us would've landed in US with just 2 suitcases and a hand luggage. But, over a period of time, we would've accumulated a number of things. It is absolutely not possible to bring ALL the items back to India. So, you have to now make the hard decision of choosing the items that you want to bring back from US. For the folks with kids, the problem increases in magnitude. Are you confused about what to bring & what not to bring? This blog post is aimed at helping you to decide the items that you may want to bring back from US. Hopefully, you should be able to prepare a list of things/items to be shipped to India, after reading this post.

  • Kids' stuff - Your kid's favorite toys, books, artwork, dresses etc., It is going to be very tough for the kids to cope up with this HUGE change (of moving to India). So, you should make sure that you bring all their 'favorite' items. For example, we brought all of my daughter's favorite toys. However, she still longs for some of the other toys that she played with, during her days in US. She recollects them, especially when we see some of our old pictures/videos.
  • Mementos - Things such as souvenirs, gifts, prizes, greeting cards, photos etc., These are some of the things that you cannot 'purchase' after coming back to India. So, I would highly recommend you to bring them back.
  • Electrical/Electronic Items - Almost all the electronic items are available in India, these days - including flat panel TVs, dish washer, microwave ovens etc., The price of electrical/electronic goods are higher when compared to their prices in US. There is atleast 10 - 20% difference in the price. So, use your discretion when deciding to bring electrical/electronic items from US. You can definitely bring back small items such as MP3 players, laptops, cameras, camcorders, DVD players, external HDD and music systems. You don't have to bring items such as TV, refrigerators, washing machines, vacuum cleaners, fans etc.,  (Also read: Goods in US market - lots of options & cheaper price)
    • Kitchen items - All types of utensils are available in India (in fact, most of the utensils that we used in US are the ones that we bought from India). High quality Teflon coated frying pans/utensils are still pricey in India. You may bring some of them if you like. However, if you are going to permanently settle in India, you have to buy them locally anyways after sometime. So, I would highly recommend to buy kitchen items locally & get used to them :)
    • Furniture - Wooden furniture are very cheap in India, when compared to their price in US. Moreover, you get wonderfully (& custom) designed furniture in India. You don't have to bring your beds/mattresses, as you can buy them locally here. If you are going to live with your parents, then most of the household items may already be there in your parents' place.  You may have to consult them before deciding what to bring and what not to bring. (Also read: Nilkamal's @home - Not designed for me)
    • Dresses - Bring back all of your high quality dress items from US. Though most of the dresses that we buy in US are 'Made in India', there is definitely a difference in the quality between "what we get in India" vs. "what is shipped to US".
    • Documents - Bring all of your educational/work/tax/stocks/bank/property/401k/legal documents back from US. Don't miss items such as your kid's birth certificate, medical documents, PIO card, school certificates etc., I would highly recommend you to convert most of the documents to digitized format (i.e., scan them and burn it in a DVD). That way, you can reduce some weight. Do carry a list of your friend's contact numbers & other important contact numbers in hard copy.
    • IP Phone - Get a subscription to an IP based phone service (such as Vonage, Skype, Magic Jack etc.,). I have personally found that Skype works well - it is cheap and the call quality is also great. You can use it like your regular phone - if you have bought a Skype compatible IP phone. (Also read: IP Phone - Magic Jack vs Vonage vs Skype)
    • Car - Most of the folks sell their Car/Vans before leaving US. The cars that we use in US may not be suited for Indian roads & traffic. I learned that the cars with Left Hand Side driver seat are banned in India. (Note: There is a huge difference in the price of cars in US & India. If you are buying an imported car, the price is way too high. For example, the cost of a Honda Civic in India is about Rs. 13 Lakhs (~$26K))
    You may have to clean-up and sell/donate a lot of items, during this process. You can use craigslist for selling your items to local people - so that, people will come to your home to pickup items & you don't have to ship them. You can donate your unwanted items that are in good condition, to Goodwill. You get tax exemption for the amount that you donated, if you get a receipt from the Goodwill store.

    Related posts:

    Return to India - 25 things to do
    Things to take care of, after R2I
    10 things to know if you are Returning to India

    Saturday, October 3, 2009

    Foliage trip - New Hampshire & Vermont (Fall Colors)

    New Hampshire

    1) White Mountains Places to See

    Address: 200 Kancamagus Highway, North Woodstock NH

    2) Mount Washington
                This is in White Mountains Region

    3) Kancamagus Scenic Byway

    4) Rocky Gorge Scenic Area
                Located along the Byway, 9 miles west of Conway.
                This is part of the Kancamagus Scenic Byway

    5) Flume Gorge
    This is in Franconia Notch State Park


    1) The Green Mountains

    Green Mountain National Forest
    231 North Main Street, Rutland, VT 05701

    2) Jenne Farm

    The Jenne Farm is in central Vermont, about a 15 minutes drive south of Woodstock on Route 106. If you are driving south on 106, go through South Woodstock, then follow the road up Reading Hill. After it crests and you start to go down, slow down and look for a small sign on the right hand side. (There will also be a sign for the Jenne Farm Road) See our road map of the area.

    3) Woodstock
                Marsh-Billings-Rockefeller NHP
    5302 River Rd, Woodstock, VT - (802) 457-2355 begin_of_the_skype_highlighting              (802) 457-2355      end_of_the_skype_highlighting begin_of_the_skype_highlighting              (802) 457-2355      end_of_the_skype_highlighting‎
    (Billings Farm & Museum)

    4) Quechee Gorge

    Route 4, Quechee, VT 05059 (Quechee State Park)

    5) Ascutney State Park
    1826 Black Mt. Road , Windsor, VT, 05089, Phone: 802-674-2060

    For Foliage Reports

    Also read:

    My personal trip experiences
    How do you plan a sightseeing trip in US? 
    Tips to get good deals on flight, hotel and car  

    A day at Arignar Anna Zoological Park, Vandalur

    We went to Vandalur Zoo, in Chennai on Oct 2nd (Gandhi Jayanthi holiday). The main objective of the trip was to show my daughter, all the animals in 'action'. We left home at about 9 am and took a train to Vandalur, from the Nungambakkam Railway Station. The train reached Vandalur station in about an hour. The zoo is about 0.5Km from the Vandalur station. We came out of the station and took an auto-rickshaw. We reached the Arignar Anna Zoological Park (aka Vandalur Zoo), at about 10.30 am. The entry fee was Rs.20 per adult and Rs.25 for a still camera (& a whopping Rs.150 for a camcorder. Thank God ! We didn't carry one :)).

    The zoo has a very good collection of animals, birds & reptiles (including the high profiled ones such as Lions, Tigers, Elephants, Hippo, Giraffe, Zebra, Panther, Crocodiles, and Snakes). All the children, including my 3 year old daughter, were all very excited to see the animals in 'action'.

    I was quite amazed by the improvement in the infrastructure inside the Vandalur zoo. I had visited the zoo, 15 years back, with my friend. I still remember that my friend/I had to walk a lot to find a bench to sit & have our lunch. Now, there are wonderfully covered rest areas, all around the zoo. They have good drinking water facilities and rest rooms also. The rest rooms are also relatively clean (when compared to other public rest rooms) with adequate sources for water. There are trash bins located along the roads/exhibits. There are proper roads & sign boards everywhere. They've also improved the walkways around the exhibits. There is still some infrastructure projects that are in progress. The authorities have made sure that there are no plastic bags or papers flying around. They've strictly restricted the use of plastic items inside the zoo. I also see sign boards that 'warn' people against teasing/feeding animals.

    The zoo also has buses ('safaris') that take people around. They also have motor vehicles that take people around in groups. In addition, there are bikes (bicycles) that you can rent for Rs.20 per hour. There is only one restaurant (run by Tamilnadu Tourism Development Corporation) near the entrance. There is an ice cream shop & a snack bar inside the zoo. There was an awesome turnout on Oct 2nd (because of the public holiday). I'm not sure how crowded it will be during the regular days. They have a park with
    kids' play structures near the entrance. You can spend the whole day in the park, if you have kids. I'm still wondering why they haven't commercialized the place yet - with rides, restaurants, small theatres showing animal movies, & other paid services.

    We were completely exhausted by the time we stepped out. We took a bus to the Vandalur train station & got back to Nungambakkam by train. Overall, we enjoyed our short trip to Arignar Anna Zoological Park (Vandalur Zoo). I would highly recommend this place to anyone who visits Chennai, with kids.

    Also read:  

    Mahabalipuram, Muttukadu & Crocodile Park - A visit to ECR attractions 
    Anna Tower Park - A boon for Anna Nagar residents

    Thursday, October 1, 2009

    Unnai Pol Oruvan - Short 'n sweet

    I happened to watch this movie during my trip to Tuticorin. I watched this movie in Raja Complex theatre. They were selling Rs. 12.50 tickets for Rs. 70 at the ticket counter itself. The theatre was also in a pathetic condition. Fortunately, I had gotten tickets for the 'box' which had A/C. I don't know if the movie is really worth the Rs. 70 that I spent. But, the movie is good.

    I think they would've shot the whole movie in just a week's time. There are hardly 20 or 25 different locations in the entire movie. Kamal's role in this movie is very small. Mohan Lal's role is also very small. The new entrants Ganesh Venkatram and one more police officer have good roles in the movie. I think they also acted very well. They didn't appear to be 'junior' actors on the screen.

    This is a very short movie (just 2 hours). Kuddos to the screen play writer. The movie retains its pace till the end. The story moves very fast. People would've guessed towards the end 'What Kamal was trying to do'. So, the last 30 minutes were a bit 'dragging'. There are no songs (or the theatre in which I watched the movie, stripped off all the songs). I didn't miss the songs, anyway. Also, there is no comedy track.

    I believe this is a very low budget movie. May be, they would've spent the most money for paying, Kamal & Mohan Lal. Any ticket that you buy for more than Rs.50/- is not worth it. I would in fact, recommend watching the movie in a DVD. Coincidentally, this is the first movie that my daughter watched in a theatre.

    Is it a good movie? Yes! Is it an 'entertainer'? Definitely NOT!

    100th blog - first milestone

     It is approximately 2 years since I launched this blog. It started out as a diary ... but today, it has much more valuable information. On an average, I spend about 30 minutes to write a blog (concept -> writing -> formatting -> posting). I've spent nearly 2 full days of my life (50 hours) developing these 100 blog posts. I'm happy that I got an opportunity to explore & learn a lot of things, along the way. Blogging has become a habit, these days. I enjoy the process of assimilating my thoughts and presenting them in a short blog. My most happiest moments of blogging are when I hear from folks that "they find some of these posts, very useful".

    I've tried to cover a diverse set of topics - ranging from my US travel experiences, to Stock trading strategies to R2I/Post R2I life experiences. There is growing interest in the community for the R2I blogs. Thanks to Google Analytics - I can keep track of what people like & what people don't like.
    You get instant (actually not instant, but in a week or so) feedback.

    Blogging is definitely fun. If you have spare time, I would definitely encourage you to start blogging. Google has made it very simple for enthusiasts to kick start a blog. It takes only minutes to launch your blog. Blogging helps you to polish your writing skills. You'll feel good when you look at some of your old blog entries.

    I've enjoyed the ride so far. I'm hoping that my life will be filled with interesting things, that I can cherish and share with others. I'm continuing my blogging journey. See you at the next milestone. Until then, have fun reading my blogs. Don't forget to leave your comments. I definitely value them.

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