Saturday, January 26, 2008

Dharavi Redux

Man, I was wiped out emotionally and physically after our group walked through the Dharavi "slum" in Mumbai and heard about citizen unions seeking fair treatment as the valuable land gets redeveloped into highrises. As I mentioned in another post, even hedge funds are interested in Dharavi, one citizen activist told us. One thing that stands out looking back at one of my photos: a minaret stands tall among the shanty roofs. Thanks to Andre L. for sending this shot. It's in the recycling area, where a kid pointed a plastic machine gun at my head.

Davos on CSR

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) was a topic of discussion at the Davos confab this week. The New York Times business section's DealBook blogged about it, and included a YouTube Link to the panel discussion. PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi said philanthropic initiatives have unleashed the emotions of PepsiCo’s employees. Now to quantify the results ....

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

India Market

The Sensex, the Bombay Stock Exchange benchmark index including big names like ICICI bank and Tata Motors, has fallen about 14% since January 10, according to stats on LiveMint.com. When I arrived in India, India shares were at all-time highs. Talk about back to reality: much of my India blogging has been about for-profit efforts in India focused on the agricultural sector and other working poor who have been left out of the incredible run in India's market. Now, wealthy investors are getting hit as worries continue about a U.S./global recession. Mint, the publication I visited in Delhi a few days ago, published a column that says even funds have not been spared. (read it here) Some will argue there still isn't enough diversity or liquidity in India's market to shield fund investors. I think India shares will fall more before there is an investing opportunity. But there is one. For the banking and energy sectors, where domestic growth is a focus, the global economy may be less of a factor. I asked some business leaders we visited what happens if credit dries up, and international investors get scared? Even hedge funds are interested in Dharavi slum real estate in Mumbai. As you would expect, most were optimistic. But will the big, public companies planning more offerings continue to make "corporate social responsibility" a focus if their stock prices are plummeting? Stay tuned.

Road Home


I am back from India. Where's the chai? Where are the dosas? No goats in the road! NYC roads were empty tonight -- it's Martin Luther King day. After a pitstop in Philly with Paul K. -- my hero! he was waiting at customs and took me to dinner -- I passed out on the Amtrak ride home, and now cannot sleep. Ben of Columbia Cluster F provides some silly Bollywood video for laughs and background music. Had to have my shoes sprayed for hoof and mouth disease, but the Indian hermit crab in one of my shells was ok. Alas, it had already moved to the next life (my guess: he's wearing a turban and directing traffic in Delhi.) Good thing I bought some new red bed covers on my trip: it's 59 degrees in my apartment, which is legal at night.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Achtung, Baby!

Sunday I watched the sun rise on the shores of Mamallapuram, India, eating a green banana. After buying a rose-and-lime-hued silk sari for sewing something cool, and a long stop in the Mumbai airport, I am now waiting in Germany for the next leg.
The Frankfurt airport layover offers someone repeating "Inshallah" (if God's will - Arabic) into his cell phone, the smell of bacon mixed with duty-free perfume, overweight people gliding carts of luggage across the marble-and-chrome web of gates … it is all the more surreal after a trip to India. I am representing the tired and cash-poor: I still have a kurti on, and I have a stinky bag of exotic seashells from the Mamallapuram beach in my purse, though only $3 in cash thanks to the theft of $100 bucks sometime during the Tirupati temple visit.
We stumbled upon a garlic spread, one of four with our dosas eaten during our dusty, hot-air race to the Chennai airport Sunday. So I must smell very third world. No way to get to New York. Have to go to Philly.

Right Thing?


The overwhelming thing I keep thinking about after leaving India is that all my observations are not new, but not much has changed for the poor. Millions of people still live on $1 per day, which means a year of lentils and rice. Aid from the government and not-for-profit groups means there are schools everywhere. But the caste system still keeps people down. If your skin is too dark, some won’t marry you. If you are from a lower caste in general, there are still great barriers. If you are a Christian – typically a convert from a low caste – your access to government jobs is more limited. While we were in India, Buddhists and Hindus were clashing over the murder of a Buddhist monk in one state; in another, Christians and Hindus were scuffling. From the corporate representatives we talked to on our trip, and other conversations, the bottom line is that potential workers often lack applicable skills even when they have a good education. I hope we can make good on a sustainable work project for the village we visited outside of Mamallapuram. Our cheerful waitor-guide Lawrence maintains that everyone in his home village wants to work, but would prefer to not make the expensive, two-hour bus trip to Chennai. But Lawrence was distressed the morning we left. Seems his boss had approved his afternoon off Saturday, but was angry about it on Sunday. [Update: Lawrence emailed saying he lost his job.] We were profuse in saying we couldn’t promise anything, that we were visiting to see, learn and hopefully make connections. When I left, I was holding the hand of a little girl with a big smile and big eyes named Josephine. I asked, through a Tamil translator, what her dream is. Her answer: to be a doctor to help the children in her village. A few steps later, we walked past an emaciated man resting flat on a mat in front of his straw-roof hut. He couldn’t eat, he said. I held his hand for some time, and as I walked away still holding Josephine’s hand and surrounded by about 15 children, I tried to hide how upset I was by seeing him suffer. Was it the right thing to visit Lawrence’s village and then just leave?

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Goodbye to India

Will leave Mamallapurem for Chennai on Sunday morning, and then the long journey home begins. India is truly an amazing world unto itself. It really is several countries, cultures and economies rolled into one. Desert, tropics, urban, rural, white and black, spicy and sweet. My Jaipur driver Anil called today to say goodbye. His lawyer-client from Delhi also called to connect me with his relatives on the East Coast.
Lawrence, our waitor here at the oceanfront hotel hopes to help his village and himself, and we have exchanged addresses and ideas. All in all, this place is really sacred and words cannot possibly sum it all up. Photos will help, and I promise to upload more as time permits. Lots of love.

Village Visit

Over chai masala at the beachfront cafe this morning, our waitor negotiated the day off so he could take us to his village, Kuppaiyanallur, in the ricefields about 2 hours from here. So we piled into the 1950s-style white taxi and headed to a place unknown, passing cows, goats, rich green rice fields and people with bundles of dried rice stalks.
We learned much about village life here, which for Lawrence, our intrepid waitor, is complicated by the fact that he is a Christian -- ditto for his village, where there is a church built by French Catholics. They established a school, but Lawrence says the Christian converts in the South of India were from mostly lower castes and cannot get government jobs. He has two certificates, one in steel manufacturing and another in catering. He says he makes $2 per day plus tips.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Seashells, Seashore


Mamallapuram couldn't seem further away from Jaipur, the desert city in Rajasthan that I fell in love with when I arrived in India. The drive to Chennai, in the state of Tamil Nadu, was crazy. Seems the driver was avoiding tolls without telling us so he could make what amounted to $3 more for the fare. The result was great for us: we traveled through small villages full of goats, where the homes have colored walls, there are rich green rice fields and banana trees. Hindu women were washing clothes in rivers, Muslim women were wandering though markets in their black burkas, and we were in the back seat listening to Bollywood and taking photos. We didn't have reservations for Mamalapuram, but as luck would have it -- we wandered down an alley after seeing three terrible or expensive places, and found a literal sanctuary -- modern building, palm trees holding an orchestra of birds, right on the beach, where the fish and prawns are caught daily and served up at a seaside cafe. Waitors, like all the men here, wear dothis, a skirt-like short that is smart in the heat. Probably will stay here two nights and dispense with Punducherry. There are tons of seashells if you look. A man outside our hotel will make a pair of sandals for me for $10. At night, however, there are lots of mosquitoes and men from Kasmir -- here for a political respite -- selling jewelry.

St. Thomas

Before departing Chennai today for Mamalapuram, we visited a Christian Church in Chennai where St. Thomas is buried. He was martyred here. I really needed to light a candle! Someone stole $100 cash from my wallet -- narrowed to one of the drivers in the famous temple city of Tirupati ironically. The good news is, Delhi Belly has mysteriously subsided, so has cough, now my only grievance is swatting mosquitoes in the tropical south and trying to avoid gorgeous sea urchins on the beach. I was extremely upset about the money, upon discovering it missing, but have to be realistic about all my under-valued purchases here. To wit: for 180 rupees, or just more than $4, I purchased a five-day supply of Indian-made Cipro, a five-day supply of a recommended antibiotic, and enough Ibuprofin to get me through 2008. I don't plan on using any of them, but having them in my over-weight luggage (now three bags and counting!) seems to have scared illness away. Back on the subject, my porter in Chennai comforted me and professed his Christianity when he saw how upset I was (about the money) -- she said, "Madam, think about the Lord. He will help you. IT's all that matters."

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Holy Temple?


Formal tour is over, and left group at Hyderabad with overnight train to Tirupati, the site of the Tirumala shrine – Lonely Planet says the number of daily devotees – 40,000 to 60,000 -- rivals Jerusalem and Mecca. Train was great, with a two-bed, locked cabin, and worn linens/steel-hole toilet outweighed by air conditioning and a power plug for phones and laptop. We hired a taxi to take us 18 km up a mountain to the temple "staging" area. One window for tickets, another for a stamp, a third for leaving shoes and cameras. Then the line to the temple. Somewhere into the third hour of waiting in a line that snaked through an underground cage, thankfully with open air, I found myself remembering the Bible verse about “love is not insisting on your own way.” Groups of men, some looking like monks in black waist wraps, open shirts and bead necklaces, would rush the front of the line, belongings bagged and balanced on their heads. This happened at about 5 points, and everyone would push from behind. I eventually got separated from our driver (a Muslim) and from Del, who I am traveling with. But three women in front of me kept encouraging me to push into them to stick with them. Finally, we reached the inner sanctum, and finally there were what appeared to be scouts who pushed you past. After they did so with me, they realized I was foreign and yanked me back. “See the God?” The ladies ahead of me reappeared and insisted I get holy water at the end. You had to push to get out, too, after circling the small shrine. For all this, you get a bag of six sugar balls the size of a fist, filled with a few raisins, cashews and cardamom pods. Our bare feet were filthy at the end; thankfully I had socks on, at least.

Men, Women, White, Black

We have only seen one other “white” person here in Tirupati. The Bliss Hotel is quiet and comfortable, with marble floors and masala chai and dosas among the many room service options. But it smells like moth balls. No one really speaks English, although everyone says “yes madam” or attempts it, so you are left mostly puzzled. I can’t say exactly that the men in the south are more prejudiced, since consistently so far in India it is clear that women are seen but not heard. But now that I am traveling with a man, it’s downright obvious. Last night at dinner, Del, who is married and 28, was given the only menu. We had to ask for one for me. He was asked for his order first. I was given the bill. When negotiating on prices, for the three-hour car-ride to Chennai, I had no negotiating power.

Sankranthi,


Monday and Tuesday were a big festival here called Sankranthi. It felt a bit like Sunday with shops closed and slightly less honking on the roads, if that’s possible, in Hyderabad. The other outward, and enjoyable, observance: the sky is full of kites, and the roofs are full of boys and men yanking on strings. Roadside stands have giant spools of colored thread and the 12-inch-square kites made of tissue paper. You can see children collecting downed paper kites. Also, people decorate an especially colorful path in front of their doorway with geometric, circular designs that they color in with pink, blue, yellow and other colors. Talked to my driver-friend Anil in Jaipur on the phone, and he said he didn’t have to work Tuesday, so he and his son were flying kites all day.

Taj Mahal


Our hotel Agra, the Jaypee, was the most luxe, and a nice respite before waking at 6 a.m. to race off to the Taj Mahal. It is really a wonder. I feel a bit naïve because I forgot it was a Muslim ruler’s construction. The large-domed building honors the wife of said ruler; she died after giving birth to 10+ children. It was built by hand, and one must walk in stocking feet around it – which has the nice effect of polishing the marble floors. It was freeeeeeezing there; but took tons of photos as the morning light changed the colors of the dome from grey to pink to white. Definitely one of those places one must visit in a lifetime. You come down quickly upon departure: the hawkers are unrelenting with “marble” boxes and carved-stone elephants, which are beautiful and cheap, but each got crushed in my suitcase.

Ugh. Still Sick

My coughing has not subsided, though the infection has cleared up. Now, the problem really is that my digestion is not normal. When our Columbia group visited the Lifespring Hospital, an interesting chain of for-profit clinics focused on poor women and children, I was able to speak with a doctor on the phone. He thinks I have an “amoebic” digestion infection versus a bacterial one. So he had his wife, a doctor at the clinic who got me on the phone, write a prescription. Now, to find the pills. So far, no one has them – and when you go to the chemist, they just give you the plastic pack of pills with no description of what the pills are for, and what the side effects are. The one we found in Tirupati was open-air. Two women in saris next to me were mulling an eye medication with the participation of about three men behind the counter.

Friday, January 11, 2008

E-choupal


Today we finally found ourselves in the real countryside, Hathras, a town about 4 hours outside Delhi, with goats and cows and, most importantly, some really beautiful people. The road was very rugged and the roadside life was raw and fascinating. But finally, the air was fresh, mostly. The purpose of the trip was to learn about a venture that is designed to give farmers a more equitable payment for their grain, a majority of which is exported thanks to increased productivity from fertilizer and pesticides. The result is the elimination of the local middle man, who kept much of the the profit at the local market, and instead the use of E-Choupal. This group has created its own central gathering place -- choupal in Hindi -- in the form of Internet pricing information that can be emailed or send via cell phone text to the village-appointed middleman, who gets a small fee. In turn, E-choupal gets grain for products it makes at cost, and provides a store with reasonably-priced goods (it felt like a Kmart, and felt a little too consumer-driven) After the explanation, we went to the village to see the Internet connection in one home. It seemed all the children in the village followed us there, and they had as much fun as we did staring back and forth. I even got to hold a baby whose mother said to me, laughing, but maybe not really, "We can be best friends. Take me with you." Here's a photo of her. Holding the baby is an older relative she insisted I include.

Another girl offered me her goat -- I asked if I could take a picture instead. Earlier in the day, we got forced dances from chained monkeys at bus pitstops. People make them climb on sticks and even paint their faces.
The bulls' horns are painted blue, I saw a dog that had half its body painted pink, a young boy had black eyeliner on, elephants get painted with flowers, and the tamed monkeys had lipstick and raccoon eyes. There isn't a stitch of this place that is without color. It's just fantastic. Except that the people we met today lack in finances and education what they have in the colors of the rainbow.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Icy ICICI

Mint, the Indian business daily with WSJ ties, reported Thursday that the retail banking arm of India's ICICI has resorted to sending thugs to beat customers who don't pay back their loans. Banks apparently have little experience in collections, since few Indians have been borrowers, or had access to money for mortgages, car loans and other needs. You may recall we met with a foundation-fund set up by ICICI Monday that is supporting rural artisans. The company announced Monday that it is doing a public offering for its investment banking arm, and the stock moved up. Of course, none of these details were sewn together for or by us during or after our visit. But they served some great juice and a nice lunch.

Clouds


When we were flying into Delhi, the pilot said, "The weather is .... smoke."
Here is the view from the bus on our early-morning drive today. It's not the window. It's haze from people burning off the morning chill with a little curbside fire, or burning a lamp at a market stall, or the diesel vehicles. An Indian-American family who gave me a ride to my hotel -- they wouldn't take money for the 45-minute journey -- told me the air quality was much worse until public vehicles in Delhi were required to use compressed gas as fuel.

Gone Native


So here I am in my new orange kurta (kurti?) at today's sight-seeing trip to Qutb Minar complex, a series of structures and ruins that date to the onset of Islamic (Afghan) rule in India.
The tower in the shots was started in 1193. The column I am leaning on has Hindu reliefs which were defaced by the new rulers. It was a bit of a zoo. Curious teen boys alternately listened to our Indian guide speak English and stared at the blond American women with naked legs. In turn, we had a field day taking photos of people in all forms of headdress and shawl, with saris thrown in. I wonder if the young woman surrounded by other girls is engaged? She's really full of jewelry compared to most girls.

Adding to the chaos, there were parakeets flying around. It doesn't seem to ruffle anyone's feathers that Delhi is the Muslim capital of India. People live in harmony here, and there are few Muslim women with their full face covered in Delhi; I suspect many I saw with the hijab in Mumbai reflect the city's gateway from places like Dubai.



We got a nice group photo too -- not everyone made it in -- because the light was just right.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Dead Girls


We learned from the health programming director of the American India Foundation today that girl fetuses are aborted here in surprising number, because girls are not valued. See photo of beggar girl who was among the many children on the street who have come up to my taxi over recent days. It is a startling reality that in a place where women have positions in parliament and there are temples everywhere to the goddess Shiva that people murder unborn girls -- and expats come back to India to do so, according to AIF leaders. Beautiful, colorful Rajasthan -- the state where Jaipur is located -- along with far-northern state Kashmir ... are among the states with the highest rates of girl infanticide. No dowries to pay, etc.

Rich vs, Poor


Started this packed day with a taxi ride to the Hindustan Times building this morning where I interviewed Raju Narisetti, the managing editor of Mint. It's a business daily started last year by the Hindustan Times and only has about 125,000 paid subscribers. [Correction: Mint has a distant rank compared to larger, established business dailies nationally, but does well in Delhi and Mumbai where it's concentrated for now.] But it has competitors beat on ethics, corrections and journalistic policies. (And on orange and lime color scheme, don't you think?) And the Wall Street Journal provides some content. Raju worked in the states, was a WSJ editor in Europe and moved his family to his home country a year ago. Then we met with the head of Fabindia, a for-profit retailer of clothing and other artisan Indian goods. Their profit margins are good, though Fabindia leaders won't say exactly how much the people doing weaving and hand-embroidery get for their efforts. Fab execs claim their efforts can stem the tide of migration from rural to urban areas. Bought some presents and "kurtas" -- the long blouses worn with tight pantaloons (cotton leggings). Then it was on to the American India Foundation, which got started after the big earthquake in Gujarat state. They collect about $7 million annually and use monies to jump-start rural and urban education, job training, collective and health initiatives. Last night, a prominent Columbia grad who's a private equity investor in India and Russia treated us to a cocktail buffet at the Taj Delhi. Not sure when I am going to have time to write, etc.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Take a Pill!

For a $1 delivery fee, the local chemist will deliver medication to your hotel. I am now taking Novamox LB antibiotic for my chest "infection" as they call it. A five-day supply cost $5. Cough syrup and lozenges were another $3 or so. With the 300-rupee doctor fee, it all comes out to the co-pay with insurance in the U.S.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Gujarati Thali


A word on food and drink: apart from completely avoiding the tap water, we are having a great time partaking of the cuisine here. Taj breakfasts are full dinners, though I have been sitting out. I have been drinking chai on the side of the road -- it's piping hot and safe -- and yesterday we had two fantastic meals out. Here is the photo of the thali-style sampler meal we had yesterday. It was something like $5, all you can eat, a fantastic decor. Hindus don't drink much alcohol as a rule and vegetarian, and we have ended up following suit. Hoping to avoid Delhi Belly.

White-washing


Miles of laundry was the subject of a photo opportunity yesterday. Right near a rail station is this famous spot where people stand in water all day and slap hotels' whites to cleanliness in little outdoor cubicles. Then things are neatly hung to dry. It was beautiful and neat, but the paradox as usual is that these workers make little for such hard work. India's contrasts once again.

Saris, Fabric


Indians don't think hand-woven fabric should be priced as high as manufactured product, according to representatives who spoke with us today from the Sandhi Foundation. (It works with ICICI bank's fund foundation). Artisans working in rural areas have little sense of monthly production deadlines or fashion in demand. The result makes it hard to set up efficient markets, but the banks and NGOs are trying. No matter how poor a woman, her sari also looks neat -- it's the benefit of draped fabric, which in India is so bright and lovely -- though brightest and boldest so far in Rajasthan, where workers balancing mud bowls on their heads were keenly aware of how turquoise and red blend together, or red and orange. Yesterday, student group leader Riddhi took us to her aunt's sari shop in Mumbai, where I bought a blouse with embroidery. Manufactured stitches on synthetic fabric. But I got the names of shops that sell the natural fabric that looks best for a salwar kamis -- the long top and skinny pants so many professional women wear in lieu of a sari.

Common Things


It's not unusual to see men getting haircuts on the sidewalk. Its common, too, to see men urinating on the side of the road. And even in busy Mumbai, I saw a goat on top of a Citibank sign, within 300 meters of our luxury hotel.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Hey, Ganesh!

Ganesh, the elephant god available in wood, bright orange, in all sizes, with several arms, is the subject of prayers for prosperity, and he wrote with part of his tusk -- so he's a patron for scribes too. Seems the invocations are working -- if you ignore the vast poor for a second -- because some businesses are growing exponentially. We toured 1298, an emergency ambulance service started by a handful of Indian MBAs who wanted to give back. They are growing from 10 private ambulances to 50, and they provide the service at low to no cost for people who need it. Wealthy going to private hospitals have to pay. Imagine: a country without ambulance service. The good news is, the constant two-tone whining of emergency vehicles so prevalent in Europe is totally absent here. But it is replaced with constant honking. Today, we visited Suzlon Energy, a fast-growing wind power company that recently acquired a German energy firm. It was in an office park, but I saw a man walking with a baby lamb on that was eating weeds growing between the sidewalk and fence guarding the complex. (see photo for the pedestrian-autorickshaw interface). They are selling turbines on the hope that wind power will be the solution to a 13% deficit in megawatts during peak usage. That's the reason for blackouts, which I experienced in Jaipur. And we also visited ICICI, where we heard from the leader of two funds being set up by ICICI, a big banking firm here, that is seeing outside investors to bolster the funds. The ultimate goal is to strengthen microfinancing of artisans, farmers and the poor with small loans. Roughly 60% of the population in India doesn't have access to traditional financing.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Dharavi Slum


More than garbage, it's the pollution in Mumbai that is most upsetting. I am having trouble breathing. We toured the Dharavi slum today after a thoughtful introduction from some activists who have gotten the residents involved in the government/private investor effort to put up high rises on the now-valuable land. Three train stations provide service to the area. Even hedge funds hvae been talking with activists about the investment risks! What surprised us most was the sophistication of the place; in fact, it is full of important and complex cottage industries, from leather tanneries and pottery manufacturing to plastic recycling. About 70% of the people are self-employed. There are restaurants, people have cell phones, there are schools and the kids have uniforms -- but don't get me wrong. It's the largest slum in Asia and the government is not providing sewage, toilets or other basic needs, and some of these dwellers only have a plastic roof over their head every night that they roll up before going off barefoot to a kiln that spews black soot. Sadness, anger, guilt, hope. Experienced lots of emotions for a day.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Mitra=Friend

In Hindi, the word mitra means friend, so when people cannot pronounce my name, I just say D and Mitra. And they get big smiles on their faces. It's 2 a.m. and I am staring at the darkened Indian Sea from a 20th-story Taj Resort hotel in Mumbai, a startling and frankly, kind of sad contrast to the colorful, wonderfully trusting and warm culture of Jaipur, Rajasthan that I left a few hours ago.
Yesterday, some guys I met who sell jewelry brought me to a Krishna festival where we drank hot chai. But don't worry, I haven't converted -- despite the red dot! People here are very aware of their Hindu faith, and explain the gods. Ajay(left) and Om (right) wanted me to meet them again Friday, but I went to a monkey temple and couldn't find their shop afterwards. Ajay, who’s 26, said he is an artist, and wanted me to leave my bags at his house and tool around the day I left. He thought we could be best friends. At the  monkey temple instead, I captured amazing images of temple drawings and monkeys wandering around. Then went to Jaipur's Maharaja Palace complex to see beautiful architecture -- Arabian influences reminiscent of southern Spain -- with fine paintings, 200-year-old silk saris and other things. Tonight, on the way to the aiport, my trusty driver Anil brought me to his modest home to meet his wife and kids. Off the busy main road to the highway, their building is a complex where some 60 members of his extended famliy live. Passed another sacred cow as we parked.
They served spicy sweet chutney on biscuits for me, and bought me a liter of water for the road, and we exchanged addresses for the next time I come. They showed me their wedding photos too -- 2000 people came. They looked like royalty, Anil in a red Rajasthani turban and his wife coated in gold, with a painted forehead and hennaed hands. He came in on a white horse. Really lovely family.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

Namaste Jaipur


Found a modern, clean, family-run home-stay for two nights -- complete with man-servant who cooks breakfast and dinner, and just a five-minute, thrilling auto-rickshaw ride through the chaos into the old city. $25 per night inclusive. Family grilled me on my backround and told me theirs: educated, from Kashmir, son-in-law works for LG. I couldn't identify the strange animal noises during the night -- woke up at 6 a.m. with the call to prayer, stepped out onto my veranda, and saw there was a cow, a peacock and a puppy in the neighbor's yard -- she was cooking over an open fire. I love traveling in traffic that is completely chaotic and I am fascinated by all the small, ingenious vehicle-contraptions on the road. The kids at right waved and said "Hello, Hello, where are you from?" Adorable faces. Yesterday, I found the Gem Palace and tried on some very yellow gold -- Pappu, one of the three 50-something sons running the 150-year old business, invited me for a drink and downed three scotch-and-waters while stalling, as it turned out. When we retuned to the gold-and-gem shop, they had the bracelet I had described earlier, plucked from the warehouse. They even gave me a throat syrup and a vapor concoction for my cold and sent me home with their driver, even after I didn't buy. The operation is a maze of rooms with modern and traditional decor, wall painting and vats -- literally -- of semi-precious stones. An entire sack of Lapis Lazuli. Outside, begging women wait. Pappu says they make too much money and just don't want to work. Clearly they are beautiful; I have decided not to give on the street, but did to them because it was New Year's Day.