Monday, March 22, 2010

Demystifying India: part 1

I have decided to start writing about this at multiple times in past but felt very strong motivation during the Brazil trip, so here it goes. I am going to try Demystifying some things about India as country and Indian people, to remove some myths and misconceptions and citing some similarities and differences with other countries/cultures in this series of blog posts.

How it started
As I was traveling in Brazil I came to know that people in Brazil (not necessarily Brazilians) had seen a Soap Opera which was based on India. Apparently the whole show was a big hit there and people had developed a great interest in Indian culture to the extend that Indian clothes and Indian music sounds like a hap thing.

This sounded cool in the first impression but as we become better friends I heard the real curios questions from the people. "Are you a Brahmin ? Are you very religious etc." and then some one showing some Bharanatyam steps and asking me to tell them more about Indian dances :).I quickly understood the series has yet again done the same thing many outsiders do in portraying a country, they mix all hetrogenous parts of the culture and apply them on one family and it feels like thats the typical lifestyle.
(Of course I have seen Hollywood movies and series and spend time in US to have an idea of this disparity).

So, bewildered as I was, I thought "Am I a brahmin?" probably second time in my life, the first being when I came to know there WAS a caste system in India. Nah, I cudn't judge if I was or not :)

About the Caste System
As against the first general impression people had/have, no modern India doesn't really have caste system practices of differentiating people in terms of discriminating them or bounded labour or whatever the caste system implies.

As it happens with the Surnames/Last names in Scotland or some other places its more like a symbolic or historical concept for most of us now. Like Scott Shoemaker doesn't mean Scott makes shoes,
Being a Brahmin doesn't mean I am priest or a very religious person anymore so does being a Kshatriya not enforces you to be a warrior :)

Of course there are parts of India which are socially backwards and backwards in terms of development and these things horrible as they are, are still practiced to various extends. Some would claim it means discrimination in terms of opportunities but as you would imagine there are laws against such acts. On the contrary the government encourages people who have been oppressed in past because of their caste to come to level playing field by reservations of various kinds.

Which of course is a debatable process of its own.
But the point is, when I studied in a school in a relatively small city of Jabalpur (may fall in top 30-40 cities) I never cared for my classmates' caste. We all had same privileges and opportunities. So was the case in my undergrad and post grad college in Hyderabad (a pretty important city) no discriminations but just merit based evaluation based on your performance. Taking further when private companies come to college for hiring the same thing goes on.

About Hindu/Hindi the Religion, the culture, the language
The friends from Argentina who had developed some interest about India was always confusing the use of word Hindu/Hindi/Indians and India :) as many of these should be very related but are not same.

Unlike most other countries India doesn't have a small set of Languages which everyone in the country knows. So as you talk to different group of people you most definitely end up learning more than one language. A good example I always tend to give is that when I joined my college most batches would know three languages 1. Their Mother Tongue, 2. Hindi and 3. English (not in that order always).
As you would realize Hindi is not mother tongue for a big percentage of Indians. In fact many of us may not need to learn/use Hindi all our life. This seems very contrasting to one Language countries like Brazil (pr), Argentina (es), USA and UK (en). etc. Another example of the diversity, when I joined my job my team of four people the only common language between any two people was English.

So yes, Indians don't always know Hindi, the language. Some people however use the word Hindi to mean the people of India. All I can say is that with all such diversity and recognition and respect for all religions, languages and backgrounds, calling Indians Hindi is inaccurate, though we may have such references in old writings and songs like one song says "Hindi hein hum" (Hindi we are).

Now Hindu, well Hindu is a word for a person following the religion of Hinduism like Catholics are people who follow Christianity and its relation with Hindi is almost same as that of Christianity with English. In most sense Religions aren't geographical while languages are. So all Indians are NOT Hindus, we have a diverse set of religions too! Of course all this makes India very different and interesting from many other places in the world.

More to come in next post on the series ..

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Biking fun! My new road bike and accessories

One of the luxuries you can't miss to afford living in the Bay Area is comfortable Cycling workouts. The weather is usually perfect and roads are pretty flat and smooth and quite a few have biking lanes. (Not forgetting to mention Google has recently released biking directions which adds favourably to this experience).

Bike purchase decision
So after discussing with few experienced bikers I decided to buy a good road bike, visited the performance biking shop nearby to realize they didn't sell Trek and then visited the Chain Reactions bicycle store in Redwood city on recommendation that they actually allow you to test ride your bike for 4 miles trail before buying it which is pretty important to decide buying a bike.

In chain reaction shop I tried a couple of bikes as usual as the price went up the feeling seemed to improve :) I also had a strong preference for color of the bike (and therefore looks of it), both these factors concluded on me buying a Trek 2.1 Alpha bike which is a Aluminum frame bike as that seems to be slightly more sturdier than Carbon frames and a good one to start biking. I must say after riding this for about 300 KMs or so I fell in love with this bike and kinda addicted to biking whenever possible.

From Biking

Road Biking shoes and Clip-on Pedals
After I put about 400 KMs or so and figured I am going to take it seriously and bought Road Biking shoes which made me switch the pedal to the Clip-on pedals. After getting them on and trying it I immediately felt I have definitely not thought well enough before deciding, as it was a major change and had a bit of learning curve during which biking became uncomfortable. Including a few falls as you are not accustomed to take off shoes from the pedal while stopping or just can't manage it in time.

This is how the pedal and shoes (with cleats) look like:

Anyways after trying it in the shop for a while and then adjusting the shoes a bit I came out and very soon had a fall :) and then few more later. I then turned to youtube for help and found these two good videos:

Weather has not been that great this winters so biking didn't work very well but its getting better now and last 2-3 weekends I have been pulling good distances. I was able to complete 40 miles in last attempt, which feels pretty good to sustain for a while and then improve upon. More on biking in next post.

Bay Area Salsa Rueda Festival 2010

Bay area Salsa Rueda festival 2010 the second of its kind was held from Feb 18-21st this year in San Francisco. If you a Salsa-Rueda dancer in the Area this is an event you cannot and shouldn't miss. Similar to last year the event offered a whole bunch of 1 hour workshops, evening performance shows by many Rueda groups and live music/DJ party for social dancing later in the evening until late night.

The event went for 4 days adding a day from last year and the excitement was there till the very last moment, though you could see with such intense dancing everyday most ppl were exhausted by Sunday afternoon :) And the Mega Rueda held on Sunday evening didn't turn out to be as much fun as last year. The Google Rueda group had group outing on Saturday, unfortunately not many from the big group could make it.

I have few videos from the event put on Youtube, trying to share some here too:

This year I experimented with the Intermediate class after trying beginners last year. The problem was at many time slots they didn't only had Advanced Rueda class or some other non Rueda workshop. Some one mentioned that based on the feedback last year they had a permanent Beginners' slot guess this years feedback will make sure they have so for Intermediate and Advanced ones too. Anyways in absence of Intermediate classes I decided to try few other things which turned out good experience. Specially some SalsaTon or plain Reggae classes where Marco Ravella from Canada gave some basics of body movements for all Cuban dancing styles with focus on Reggae where they are much more important.

Monday, March 01, 2010

Santa Barbara and LA trip

I just realized I have gotten careless about blogging trips in California. So trying to catch back on some.

Santa Barbara is a city called the American Riviera and has been pretty famous for its scenic beaches though various TV shows and movies. So on a long weekend we decided to give this city a visit. This city is reachable by either taking Highway 101 S like for LA or by the Scenic Highway CA-1 route. We decided to take CA-1 as we had loads of time :) We did trip on the Martin Luther King weekend (Jan 16-18th).

From Santa Barbara and LA trip

From Santa Barbara and LA trip

From Santa Barbara and LA trip