India continues to amaze me in both its digital and analog flavors


Earlier this month, I took a few weeks vacation in India. Usually I visit India every year – some times multiple times a year. But this time I was there after two years and I had a few good surprises. I locked away my laptop before I left – which is perhaps the best decision I made in the last month !

Immigration at Chennai airport on way in, and Trivandrum airport on my way out were both a breeze. No more paper forms – everything is digital. I don’t know for sure if they upgraded baggage handling, but every time I was in a plane the bags came out super quick. Airports have great WiFi connections too . I was especially impressed with the Chennai airport – very clean , lot of shopping and eating choices as well . I might have over dosed on filter coffee the two days I spent in Chennai šŸ™‚

We celebrated my dad’s 70th birthday while we were there. Since my sister and I both live here, we did have some worries on organizing a large party remotely. We had no reason to worry – we could do everything online from here and the hotel took care of everything at the highest standards. I remember how much we had to run around just ten years ago when we had his 60th birthday party.

My favorite mode of transportation within the city is the three wheeler auto rickshaw . It’s also a big thrill for my daughter šŸ™‚ . This time however I found uber to be fairly mainstream and not much more expensive than the autorickshaw . Availability is still spotty , but it still was a very convenient and economical option . I was also surprised at how well google maps work there – even though a lot of roads are unmarked or terribly marked with conflicting names and multiple house numbers and all that .

It was a lot of fun taking an early morning walk through my old neighborhood . Especially nostalgic to visit the house I grew up in and see the tile of a German Shepherd that my parents gifted me for axing some test in middle school šŸ™‚

Clean as ever and most of the historic buildings seem to be well preserved. Traffic seemed to be about ten times what it used to be in my childhood , but TRIVANDRUM is still thankfully sleepy compared to the big metros .

I spent a half day at the SCMS college delivering the keynote on AI at their international web services computing seminar. It was a great event and the next day I saw wide coverage in the prominent newspapers. Unfortunately what was attributed to me in some of the reporting had no relationship to what I actually said. Oh well šŸ™‚

It was also a lot of fun to show my Alma Mater to my wife and daughter . My Grandfather , my father and I all attended the University of Kerala .

The food (especially fish and crab) was amazing as always – except for one incident of food poisoning that ruined a couple of days for me . And it happened at my favorite childhood fast food place . I don’t think I will ever eat there again. On the bright side, this time I ate more of mom’s cooking than restaurant food . So – No complaints !

One thing I am very careful when returning to India is the water I drink . This time I didn’t stick to bottled water – mostly because I liberally patronized the fresh juice vendors in every corner. Nothing beats the taste of fresh squeezed juice – with Musambi being my all time favorite. And it costs less than $1 !

Thanks to a lot of family events, I couldn’t catch up with several childhood friends this time – except four . And I am so grateful that I could hang out with them briefly, catching up , eating and singing

Thanks to these conversations – I have a new found appreciation of how the demonetization efforts of central government screwed over the small business owners in Kerala . It seems to have brought down consumer spending to an all time low and some people had to close down for good. I also learnt how terribly GST has been rolled out – a process disaster and a technical disaster to go with it.

Then there were the temple visits – including my firm favorite Sree Padmanabha Temple which is an architecture master piece, and thanks to recent discovery of treasures – it is also the richest religious institution in the world

It’s traditional practice to break coconuts in front of the Ganapathy temple and I did so . And in the process I aggravated a shoulder injury that I thought had gone away . A doctor visit , X-rays and 3 days of physiotherapy later – I am on the mend thankfully . I was quite impressed with the Ananthapuri hospital – very clean , and efficient and mostly digitized workflows. For the standard of care I received – it’s as good , if not better than what I would get back in US . And all of this cost me about $30. Several friends pointed out that this is still expensive for majority of Indians – but I think India is headed the right way on healthcare front if what I saw is mainstream experience .

As much as I enjoyed the visit, in a few days I started missing my fur kids Hobo and Ollie. And then I met my aunt’s adorable Pomeranian puppy Roxie – and I was in my happy place again šŸ™‚

The last two days were spent at the beach with extended family from all over the globe for a reunion – and with monsoon in full swing. In my own very biased view – I think KERALA has the best beaches on the planet . Super clean , easily accessible, surrounded by greenery and relatively inexpensive to have a good time .

The reentry to work was rather abrupt – I landed on a Monday evening. I was up at 5AM answering calls from my boss and that afternoon had to fly to NY to meet my client . I woke up there in midtown with a craving for filter coffee the next morning . All I need was to take a ten minute walk to Saravana Bhavan on Lexington Ave to get my Indian Hangover taken care of . And that evening I checked out an Indo-Chinese place on the same street for dinner . It was almost like I was transported back to India !

The world is truly flat šŸ™‚

Now I am back to what I do every time I come back from India – debating with myself whether I can retire there at least part time in future .

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