Sunday, June 12, 2011

Don’t buy a house in Mumbai

1. INR 1 Crore is the erstwhile INR 30 lacs a few years back

You won’t find a house which costs less than INR 1 Crore (USD 230k or USD 0.23 Mn) – a modest 2 Bedroom Hall Kitchen (2 BHK) of size 1000 Square Feet (super built up, your carpet area or living area would only be 650 Square Feet) with one parking – Stilt / Open. This house is located not in the heart of the city, but spread across the suburbs on the outskirts.

2. The cost of your car parking lot would be 2-3 times the cost of your car!

You end up paying about INR 0.5 Mn (USD 12k) for buying a car parking space in your apartment. The cost of typical Indian small cars is almost less than this. A Tata Nano – the world’s cheapest car costs anywhere between INR 0.1 Mn – INR 0.2 Mn (USD 3k – 5k). It such a pity that the cost of parking your car in your apartment is more expensive than the cost of your car! Add to this – the fact that you spend more time on roads driving your car than in your apartment. Hence in your lifetime, you pay more money to have an empty square box called parking space for your car.

3. Maybe getting your dream girl is easy these days, but not your dream house!

The builder lobby is the real political nerve center in the city and probably in the country! These are the times when the Housing Loan rates from Banks are already at an all time high – to arrest inflation and curb house hoarding by the affluent. In the low interest regime, a lot of affluent folks ended up taking advantage of low rates and buying 2-3 houses and giving them on rent. To arrest this, the government increased the interest rates. At the same time, the builder lobby was still strong enough to hold on to the exorbitant rates for the properties they were developing. In between these two extremities of high interest regime and exorbitant rates charged by builders, the genuine home buyer still continues to dream about his dream house!

4. Builders escape any scrutiny or regulation that you, I or even the Telecom , Financial or Insurance sectors enjoy in our country.

To keep you in check in your personal life – you have your family, in your professional life you have your bosses – who ensure you don’t go overboard on any aspect that is not in line with them. Real Estate Companies / Builders are the only entities that are not yet regulated by any government body. They continue to get away with charging money for the views you may get from your apartment (even though you may be seeing some slums or greenery which will soon become extinct). For using the staircase and all common areas, you end up paying 30%+ more than what is mentioned in your agreement papers! This is the Super Built area! While buying your apartment, you pay the builder for the Super Built up area of the house, which is nowhere mentioned in any of the authorized legal papers, except for the brochures he prints to lure you into buying the house! The builders also charge money for parking lot – stilt as well as open! I have seen cases where most of the builders take this money in cash, don’t give you any receipt and just issue an allotment letter. What I mention here is not explosive truth that is being written for the first time! It just reflects that they can get away with what they want and no one can question / correct them. They have greased the government at the right levels and continue to go uncontrolled with a smile on their face and wiping their asses with the hard earned money that you and I earn after paying 30% tax to the government! Soon, the builders will only use INR 1000 currency notes as toilet paper!

5. Mumbai is sadistic enough to keep you out of your home:

The house that you buy for INR 1 Crore is the one that will serve you well for those 6-7 hours of sleep at night, when you enter your house exhausted after travel and office pressures! In a city like Mumbai, you can easily spend anywhere between 8 hours and 18 hours outside of your house each day – in Office, Roads, Traffic Jams, Restaurant Queues, Car Parking Queues or even waiting for your lift to take you down from your 24th floor apartment to the Ground Floor! This is true not only in the suburbs, but also in the heart of the city. INR 1 Crore is too high a cost to pay for a guest house where you spent 7 hours average per day over the weekdays and 48 hours in the weekend. Over the weekend, once can still debate the time one spends at home as it is usually loaded with shopping, socializing, meeting friends and relatives, watching movies etc.

6. Home Loan = Additional stress level + Limited resources for other expenses

The house you buy by taking a huge mortgage loan ensures that you are tensed for the next twenty years (the tenure of your home loan). It will ensure that you are on a shoe string budget and make you evaluate every dime you spend on other expenses like buying a better laptop or even getting that neat Jockey underpants you desired! In addition the cost of maintenance per month for your apartment would be anywhere between INR 10,000 – INR 15,000 (includes the maintenance towards society, modest electricity bill, water charges). The money would perhaps be the monthly gross income (including taxes) for atleast 40 % of the working age population! You may fear that seeing you smile, the builder may charge an extra “Happiness cost to you” as a line item on your Housing Payment papers!

The Final Diagnosis

If you now take a view of your house vs your car in Mumbai, you will see that immaterial of how many flyovers get built, how many metro’s are commissioned, you will always spend more time travelling throughout the city and in between traffic jams than anywhere else. You will end up having time for yourself - to think only during that time. Hence, it makes sense to have a decent car (probably with a chauffer), thus ensuring the comfort of your personal space that is used most of the time. The chartered accountant will argue that the car depreciates 20% each year and the house is a visible asset that appreciates and hence advise you to invest in the house. However, there is something beyond asset value, rate of returns and depreciation, which is - living the present comfortably, without frowns or worries about giving away 50-60% of your monthly take home salary towards your house to build a long term asset.

It makes sense to

A) Buy a decent car and employ a chauffer.

B) Rent a house in Mumbai and DON’t buy one (Rent in Mumbai has not increased at the rate at which housing costs have increased)

C) Invest 23-30% of the money you will spend in Mumbai to buy a house (around INR 25 lacs – INR 30 lacs) to buy a house in a Tier II non metropolitan city in India. It will be more spacious and give you decent monetary returns and better quality of life in the long term!

Obituary Note from the Builder to the Genuine Home Buyer

Genuine home buyer in Mumbai – may your soul rest in peace. It was a pity for you that Mumbai has gone down to the dogs. You as a genuine buyer were barking and bitching about it throughout your life. We, the Builders and real estate companies are unmoved by your whims and fancies. While the government is looking the other way, we can get away with what we want. We are the new Invincibles!

(PS: Ensure you deposit INR 10 lacs (INR 1 Mn)to our account, as your spirit may wander in the premises of my apartment complex! And yes, we can’t give you any receipt! If you want the graveyard view, we charge INR 5 lacs  (INR 0.5 Mn) extra !)

Thursday, June 09, 2011

Encounter with a German with Indian hangover at Oslo

It was one of those weekday evenings, which is like many others that you live throughout your working life. It is marred by suits, crisp shirts, polished shoes and a packed calendar at the start of the day that make you nervous in the morning and tired and stress free by night. It was a Wednesday evening and about three weeks before my last day in Norway. I was transitioning my role, responsibilities and customer relationships to my successor. We had returned after having a meeting followed by dinner with customer at a place which was about two hours away from Oslo by Train. It would have been around 10 pm when we had alighted out of the NSB train at National Theatret railway station at Oslo.

Just before the train came to a halt, i saw an old lady who would probably be in her late 50's. She was lean, relaxed and looked a weary traveler with a check in baggage that had weathered many a countries and a small trolly cabin baggage. The lady had gathered all her luggage around her and patiently waiting for the train to halt and doors to open so that she could alight. Very rarely does the gentleman in me wake up. Since i was not carrying any bag this time, i voluntarily offered to lift her heavy cabin baggage and place it on the train platform. Having done that, my colleague / successor immediately mirrored me and took her cabin baggage. Once we were at the platform and all the passengers started rushing towards the exits of the station, she paused and asked us "Are you from India". We answered in unison "Yes". She smiled and said she had lived many years there. This lady did not look Indian or Asian in any aspect. Over talks we realized she was originally from Germany but had travelled enough over the years. Her command over English also underlined the fact. Over conversations, we decided to walk down the long lonely platform of the station and took the escalators to travel up by two floors to reach the entrance of the railway station. The lady was thanking us for helping her and on the way and was interested to know about our backgrounds. So as two suit laden gentleman walked across the station with a lady and her bags in tow. we looked like her personally armed bodyguards out of a Hollywood movie!

The lady was a part of a cult in India called "Ananda Marga". It is one of those many organizations which preach ancient scriptures, Yoga and some teachings of the universe and life from Hindu religion. She had spent an impressive number of years (maybe greater than 10) in India and across the globe. Several other volunteers and peers like her travelled across the world to organize relief in places of floods, famine, earthquake or other natural / man made disasters. She also had a Hindu name christened to her by her Guru, prefixed by the word "Didi" which fondly means "sister" in Hindi. For sake of protecting her identity, i wish to not name her, but her pronunciations of her name and other Sanskrit / Hindi words were second to none.

As the conversation became more interesting, we decided to walk her a bit more further than we had initially intended to. We decided to slide her 40 kg luggage for over 20 minutes to the pier at Aker Brygge, where all the ferry's hop on and hop off passengers. Over the walk, i exchanged notes on Yoga, the book "Autobiography of a Yogi" and about "Paramguru Mahavatar Babaji". I was sharing also my own experiences of meditation when i was onto it years back. Her reflections and intelligent discussions on the subject with rich insights on Indian history and Yogic art were phenomenal. She mentioned that she was now coming to Norway for a short assignment and was pleased to find shelter in a small island off Oslo. Typically, people like her from the Ananda Marga (the meaning of which is "Path to Happiness" in English) live off such help from kind hearted people. They typically have their institutions in rural areas or off farms, so that they can cultivate their own food and consume it. They believe in being self sufficient internally than having to buy things from the market.

Since it was just two - three weeks since another Indian religious guru Sri Sathya Sai Baba had met his end, i asked her if she knew about him. Sri Sathya Sai Baba of Puttaparthi had a huge following from India and all over the world. Its difficult for anyone to not know him. During his last rites, all the major cults had been to see him one last time. I remembered seeing the controversial peer Swami Nithyananda attending Sri Sathya Sai Baba's last rites in a newspaper clipping on the internet. We spoke about the reputational risks in philosophies like these as a lot of Genuine Baba's turn out to be scamsters and don't have a clean image. She was honest enough to admit that her cult also had experienced some allegations years back, but still those who believed continued with it. The conviction with which she spoke also highlighted the mind share that these guru's are able to have on their disciples over a period of time. Some of these Guru's would be actually the best "Salesmen" ever known. Selling something for money (short term) is one thing and selling something for nothing and yet gain their patronage for life (long term) is all together a different ball game.

We finally saw her off at the ship terminal till she boarded the ferry and waved her hand at us and thanked us profusely. We waved back at her, smiled and wished her all the best. I was smitten by this unique experience of meeting a European with more of Indian culture and knowledge of Sanskrit, yoga than an Indian in Europe was some experience.

The moonlight shone over the horizon. The ripples over the calm sea were colored with moonlight in patches as if by design than by accident. Staring blankly on the ships and private boats parked around the banks of the sea, my mind was wondering - Why did we meet Didi? What is it that the supreme forces of nature wanted me to experience out of this meeting? Is there more to life than just the capitalist undying quench to travel, earn, slog your assess off and yet be disappointed with what you have and strive for more? Is it important for us to appreciate and ingrain the deep reserves of mythology, scriptures, yoga that the rich culture of India brings along? Has the West now let go off plundering material wealth off India and looked forward to soak itself in our cultural richness to find their lost path? While they were finding their lost path's, are we Indians loosing our sense of direction by looking westwards for everything?

I keep thinking..and so will you!

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Happy Bday!

Happy Bday to me
Happy Bday to me
Happy Bday dear DC
Happy Bday to me!

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Turning and going straight ahead of 30!

Getting on the wrong side of 30's for the second consecutive year in a few hours! Cant believe time has flown so fast! Its as if only yesterday i fell down my bicycle, had my first crush, tried my first cigarette or had my first beer!  I have tried 1 of 2 things that i am educated about getting onto the 30's. First is that i saw the movie - " Turning 30" by Gul Panag. Pretty engrossing  - i must say! Second is that i haven't tried "30+" capsules that Jitendra recommended in those advertisements in late 80's and early 90's! Maybe its time to heed into vitamins, dietary changes to bring the weight which is numerically now equal to my year of birth! Lets hope i visit this blog in a years time with a trimmer waistline! Adios...

Sunday, June 05, 2011

The best things about staying in Norway – Part 1

I have spent close to two years in one of the most beautiful countries on earth. Lasted two winters, summers and in two cities. Travelled quiet a bit in the country to various places and here is a list of the best things of staying in Norway or visiting it as a tourist.

#1 Experience Natural Beauty at its best

Norway is one of the most beautiful and unexplored places on earth. The checklist of the typical tourist to Europe typically features all the commercial places – like Switzerland, Italy, France, UK, Spain, Germany and Greece. It however misses the Scandinavian countries – Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Finland for some reason. If there is one place you need to add to see one of the most beautiful sequences of Mountains and pristine seas – the combination also called fjords, Norway is the place to be!

# 2 Travelling made simpler

With a robust public transportation system including Underground trains (also called T-Bane / Metro Rail), Trams (yes, still trams run between certain sections of Oslo!), Buses 24*7, you don’t need to rent a car to go sightseeing within Oslo. To travel from Oslo to other cities like Bergen, Stavanger, Trondheim etc, you have the overhead long distance trains run by the railway authority – NSB (similar to Indian Railways in India). You also have flights run by low cost airlines like Norwegian and others like SAS (Scandinavian Airlines). Long distance buses with varying fairs also ferry tourists and regular passengers between multiple cities. Apart from this, the Taxi’s are also available to ply between different points, but are very expensive and not recommended unless it is urgent.

# 3 They speak very good English

Norway is one of the few countries in Europe, where the tourist from an English speaking country can feel at home. Most of the Norwegians I came across during my stay  spoke very good English. They are happy to talk to you in English and assist you as required with a smile on their face. My experience in Germany was horrible as even a cab driver struggled to talk English in Cologne-Bonn and Frankfurt. The reason why they speak very good English is primarily due to the Oil boom of the sixties, which opened up the world to Norway. It is also due to the fact that most of the Norwegians move out of Norway for higher studies to a foreign country as the Government sponsors / gives incentives for the same. Hence they end up learning a new language and English is right up there as most of them ove to UK and USA. To add to this, with the explosion of satellite television, Norway opened doors to the American channels and movies in 1970’s and 1980’s. As a result people have grown up watching American sitcoms with the voice over in English – as is. Only subtitles are in Norwegian. All the travel books available in the Tourist Information Centers are in various languages including English. All in all, though you may see lot of signboards and information in Norwegian or Norsk, you can always request passers by for information in English if you don’t find anything printed in English.

To be continued…

Saturday, June 04, 2011

Mumbai -Car

If my experience of going by bus to office was one harrowing affair, from Day 2, I decided to reluctantly plunge into the other option – of taking my car to work. Our office has moved about 3-4 kms closer to home. This means I now need to commute for about 30 kms instead of 34 (each way). To commute to work from my place, I need to use a very creative combination of Bus, Train or Auto all the time, if I am not driving my car. Using this method of public transport takes about 2 hour each way. If I drive down my car – it takes somewhere between an hour and hour and a half each way. I decided to use this option, at the cost of my own personal stress of manoeuvring through narrow gaps in the traffic, day in and day out as my Swift chugs away to office and home.

I have seen people do a host of things while on their cars. Some who drive by themselves, always listen to music, attend phone calls or even cut nails (I know this sounds yuck!)while their hands are wrapped around the steering wheel! Some folks who have a driver for the car, sit back and read the newspapers and magazines, continue working on their computers or talking on their mobile phones. The latter is like a seamless transition to doing what you want and what is more productive from home onto your car and then finally onto your office and same thing in the reverse way. It of course comes with a cost – that of the Driver’s salary, overtime and other whims and fancies that they have. But nevertheless, it bails you out of the anxiety of driving in Mumbai roads.

Having spent a little more than 3 hours on my car each day since the last three days of this week, while commuting to and from office, I am beginning to think if the term “Mumbaikar” (it means Mumbai ite or person who hails from Mumbai in Marathi) is actually becoming “Mumbai Car”? People spent about 15-20% of the 24 hours in a day commuting in the city through various modes including cars. They may be spending more time in the car with themselves than with their family members at home. The car does become one of the most underrated assets on Mumbai’s roads. The most overrated and overpriced asset is of course housing in Mumbai as you pay a fortune to buy one, but have no time for yourself to spend at that home. Especially in a place like Mumbai, I see the car and driver both as an investment that contributes to your productivity. They are the winds of change that transport you between different environs like between home and office, home and gymnasium etc.

Lets see how long I last driving by myself to the city – everyday day in and day out. The temptation is too strong to hire a driver, but I somehow am not convinced of giving someone else the charge of taming my SWIFT while I sit behind and relax. Lets see…only time would tell.

Till then, continue enjoying your second home - the car!

Thursday, June 02, 2011

I am not a Madrasi or a Bhaiyya

Have now completed exactly 8 days in India. Joined office early this week and was brave enough to take the bus the first day of the week. Some new changes in this experience of going to office. First thing, my wife dropped me by car at the bus depot, which is a neat progress and makes me dream of getting drunk at parties and not worrying about driving back home! So far, my dad has dropped me by scooter at the station or the bus stop for years that I have worked or studied. So a well deserved rest for dad as well!

Second thing is that I used an air conditioned (AC) Bus from the bus depot near my house to go to my office at Powai – which is roughly 30 kms from my house. In the last few years, all the Public Transportation authorities like BEST, NMMC ply AC buses which ferry bus loads of harried Mumbaikars from one end of the city to another. It is such a pleasant respite from the hot and sultry travel times that were full of grime, sweat and dust over the years that I used public transportation. One can listen to FM Radio, enjoy the coldness of air condition and travel across the city by observing life outside their windows with no frown on their brows or shirt sticking to their backs. Indeed a small revolution, which would further explode with the opening of Metro Rail services.Way to go Mumbai!

The third thing is that the political parties in Mumbai, which have a strong linguistic and sons of the soil agenda have slowly managed to hallucinate the common “Marathi Manoos”. They are seeing easy ways of attracting followers by inciting strong feelings of pride amongst the “Marathi Manoos” ( a local citizen of Mumbai). They do this to pull the carpet over their inability over the years to do anything good for the upliftment of the same people whose support they now try to garner by inciting strong regionalistic sentiments. The gentleman next to me was a stout, dark middle aged man who generously spread his weight in the seat. He had a family of three seated around him and in front of him. It was time for this gentleman to buy his tickets from the bus conductor. The bus conductor / ticket dispatcher walked towards us and asked him how many tickets he needed. The gentleman replied “4 Tickets. What is the price?” in Marathi language. The conductor replied “Teenshe Vees rupaye (meaning Rs. 320 in Marathi)”.

Maybe the marathi gentleman spoke too fast without understanding that the conductor had replied in Marathi. The gentleman spew his venom saying “Marathit bola nah. Me kaay madrasi nahee tar Bhaiyya nahee!” which meant “ Talk to me in Marathi, I am not a Madrasi or Bhaiyya”. For non Indians – Madrasi’s is a common Indian racist slur used to address all South Indians from the states of Tamil Nadu, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh and Karnataka. Bhaiyya is a common Indian racist slur used to address a lot of North Indians – especially from states of Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and around. Over the years, the politicians in Mumbai especially and rest of India have done well to divide people based on this difference in language and region a person belongs to. While the likes of US and UK look forward to shut doors for Indian nationals or make it more stringent as they don’t want the smart Indians taking their jobs, similarly politicians in Maharashtra have been vociferous to keep out the “Madrasi’s and Bhaiyyas” using similar protectionist measures. Though it has not been that effective, but still they have been effective in creating a false feeling of pride of being “Marathi Manoos” by arousing unwanted strong regionalistic sentiments. I have nothing against Maharashtrian or Marathi’s. In fact I speak, talk and read Marathi much better than my “Madrasi”. I enjoy watching Marathi Movies (from movies of Dada Kondke, Nilu Phule, Lakshmikant Berde, Ashok Saraf to recent movies like Jogwa, Natarang etc), have loads of Marathi friends and feel more at home in Maharashtra than Tamil Nadu. I have been born and brougt up here and taken Marathi as a language for more than five years at school. I can hum Marathi songs and still remember the TV serials like "Aavhaan", "Gotya", "Bhikajirao Karodpati", "Zopigelela zaaga zaala" and other such Marathi serials which i watched as a kid on National Television - Doordarshan (DD). My mom and dad can speak broken Marathi and understand it totally. They infact own and read Marathi cookbooks like "Ruchira" which typically dictates some pickle and lunch menus. My sister and wife can speak it as flawlessly as i can.

What has let me down is that the real issues of education, poverty, social upliftment, job training have been ignored in the quest for Marathi pride over no solid foundations. God bless Mumbai and the Marathi Manoos. My fingers crossed for all my fellow comrades out here!

Marathi manasa zaga ho ! (Awaken Oh Marathi Man!)