Wednesday, 2 January, 2008


3rd Dec Takeoff from Mumbai
Today is Nina’s (my sister-in-law) birthday.

And we’re off to NZ, via KL.

We’ve been in Bombay International Airport before, including the times when we took an Air India flight to Delhi. (They’re really cheap, but take too long, because your co-passengers’ papers are being processed.) The airport is a mess. And it’s being renovated, in the peak of the tourist season. You wait for an hour in a ‘lounge’ that’s meant for half or perhaps a quarter the number it currently ‘serves’.

Anyway, our flight is an hour or so late taking off. Malaysian Airlines is nice, and the wait staff, both hostesses and pursers, better looking than their peers in Air India.

But they don’t seem to be ‘a world apart’ - as ‘globetrotters’ would tell you within five minutes of opening on the subject.

4th Dec Kuala Lumpur
Today is G2’s (my brother’s) birthday.

The flight takes around 4½ hours. Kuala Lumpur airport and Kuala Lumpur are everything that Indian airports and Indian cities are not, but I won’t waste any time describing either.

Instead, let me make a few quick observations.
· Before we start comparing our hellhole airports with airports like KL we need to note something very simple: KL airport is further from the city centre than any Indian city’s airport. It takes about an hour to go to KL via jam-free concretised road. The train ride takes an hour, plus about 45 minutes by bus.

You can do a lot more at an airport so far from the city than one that, thanks to the spread of the city, is now in the middle of a residential neighbourhood (like Bombay’s is).

· KL is far smaller than our cities, and seems a good deal smaller. Maybe with all its suburbs KL is as big as an Indian city, if not bigger. But if the ‘big business’ area, the markets, and posh neighbourhoods are how you define a city, KL is a town compared to our cities. It’s what Simla, or even Bangalore, could have become had they got some planning and regulation. Actually, KL looks very much like the white town of colonial Indian cities. One suspects it works like one too, for Southeast Asia.

· The mall at Petronas Tower is almost thrice the size of the biggest mall we have seen in India, in Delhi, Bangalore and Mumbai. But one wonders how many such malls are there in KL. And how many of the buyers are from KL.

· The bookshop at the mall is larger too; but the books are the same as I see in India.

· Finally, there seemed to be far fewer Malays per sqkm than Indians. Their population density, even in their capital, is probably smaller than ours. (I mean to put in the figures sometime.)

What I am getting at is this: I wish while contrasting Indians and Southeast Asians, people get down to the basic stuff, like population, area, GDP, etc first, then got into lectures on how lazy Indians are.

It’s like you do with a regression equation – use the data to see how much of the variation you can readily and easily explain, then get into the theoretical stuff to ‘explain’ the remaining differences. Sometimes, the readily unexplainable stuff turns out be quite insignificant, attributable to chance.

Before I sign off, Malay kids have the most ‘attitude’.

PS: My cousin, Chotu, had her first child today. A girl.

5th Dec Arrival at Auckland
Today is Nobo’s birthday.

We reach at around noon NZ time.

My sister-in-law (Nobo’s sister) and her husband own three houses here. In Bombay, we can’t even imagine owning one.

We get through without too much trouble at the airport, but their restrictions on what you can bring in seem excessive to me, especially for an island country where contamination can arrive via the sea and through migratory birds.

We spend the day helping clean my sister-in-law’s villa.

Here shops run from 8 am to 5 pm, the hours when one is least likely to shop! Strange.

Also, one gets the distinct impression from my sister-in-law’s conversation that the national pastime is suing each other.

6th Dec Jetlag
I sleep till 4.30 pm, making up for the two nights spent without sleep during the flight.

I’m itching to get out and explore. I haven’t checked my mail. Or sent a congratulatory message to Chotu.

7th Dec Back to the airport
Spent most of the day at the house. But went to see the School of Education where my sister-in-law studied for her certificate in early childhood education. Everything is very neat and tidy here, and very insipid.

All the cottages look like the early 20th century cottages that they are. While it’s certainly admirable to preserve one’s heritage I suppose it’s abnormal to live in a museum. I’m sure there are a dozen laws against tearing down old buildings here, but I’d be surprised if they don’t have the opposite effect as intended, that is, they make people indifferent, if not hostile, to their past.

It’s similar with rituals and customs. Continue a few, you’d find them charming; preserve them all, they become ‘shackles’.

To return to the title, as far I remember around 40 to 50% of the staff at the airport seemed non-white. Yet non-whites are less than one-fourth of the population. Do they get only the ‘bad’ jobs?

8th Dec Mask
Bought a Mauri mask for Nobo from Queen Street, which is one of the main roads here. Bus rides, converted to Indian money, are some 15 to 17 times more expensive. Food costs about the same.

Had coffee at Starbucks. Most ordinary. Neither tastes nor smells any different from vending machine coffee. And the interior looks no different than café interiors anywhere in India. Wonder why it is such a big brand.

Went to a big Border store. The variety in Management and History is not as good as in Indian shops. Prices are thrice what they are in India. Suspect other sections are not much better. At least they didn’t occupy more space then their counterparts back home. Another disappointment.

The other tow bookshops we saw were worse.

The curio shops have Chinese and Korean shopkeepers selling to Chinese and Korean tourists. The cheapest thing costs NZ$ 25 or so. The equivalent piece in India would cost one-eighth, perhaps less.

9th Dec Just one more weekend to Christmas
Saw the Maritime Museum today, and very impressive it was. Yet the ticket price of NZ$ 16 each was, in my view, very expensive. The quayside is impressive.

The chap at the Sky Tower counter advised us not to spend NZ$ 50 because the view was bad owing to the clouds. That was impressive too.

Walked back from Queen St. It took us around 2 hours, and it was a pleasure to walk through the clean sidewalks by clean roads, with no beggars and tramps around.

But what struck me was the shops had shut by 6 or 7, and this was the only weekend before Christmas.

10th Dec Little One’s School
Took Nobo’s sister’s little daughter to her kindergarten today. Almost all the kids are Chinese!

Saw the NZ equivalent of budget store. Prices same as India, if not higher. Again, both sellers and buyers are almost Chinese.

11th Dec Bookshops
Went to One Tree Hill in the morning. I cannot imagine seeing something as incredibly beautiful in India. Correction, I cannot imagine something so well-maintained and beautiful in India. And a good deal of informative material was available for free there. Though the New Zealand natural ice-cream is rather yucky.

Saw one of their bigger bookshops and the University Book Shop. Both were very disappointing. The latter had less variety and volume than the most ordinary bookshop in India! And I’m in the largest city of a first world country!

Maybe they get great books in the library. Maybe they are backward. Maybe they just buy a few standard books – and don’t believe in variety for its own sake.

Maybe, just maybe, they need to be very afraid of India.

Let’s see.

12th Dec Mount Eden
Went to the highest point in Auckland, Mt Eden. Beautiful again. This place is pretty as a picture, but it’s neither a Constable nor a Turner – rather a second-grade Victorian master.

Also saw a Chinese fruit and vegetable mart. Very expensive, I thought, though great variety.

13th Dec Parnell & Victoria Market
Parnell is their Haus Khas village. Pretty shops selling knickknacks, furniture and accessories. Unlike Haus Khas, they have cafés.

There was Auckland Cathedral before, which is impressive for its stained glass windows. The orchestra was practising for the evening’s concert.

Victoria Market was a disappointment, but we saw two quite good bookshops. On our way back, a friendly bus driver from Malaysia told us a lot about where to go and advised us to apply for PR (Permanent Residence).

Ponosby, the ‘practical’ equivalent of Parnell is ok too – we saw it from the bus on the way back – but the shops didn’t seem to have anything we don’t find in India.

14thDec Anya’s School
Anya (Nobo’s neice) studies in class 10 at Epsom Girl’s Grammar. The Asians seem to excel in the math and sciences, while the girls of European decent do better in the arts and sports. The Asians are, I thought, over-represented among the scholarship students, more so in recent years: They’d be about a third of the students but were half or three fourth of the scholarship students.

Maybe I’m obsessed with Asian, especially Indian, achievement. But we certainly need a confidence boost after four centuries of playing second fiddle – or was it the triangle?

The point is that brown and yellow people can do as well as whites on a level playing field. Maybe it’s not a level playing field though, because the former descend from the more industrious and intelligent – at least, the more adventurous – of their race and the latter come from a more dispersed population.

Even if genetics didn’t matter too much, the immigrant kids’ parents surely push them harder.

15th Dec Domain
Went to the museum at Domain. It’s smaller than Calcutta’s archaeological museum, but is far better maintained, though the War section was underwhelming.

The Mauri cultural performance (NZ$ 15 each) was disappointing, because the dances looked graceless, and the songs sounded childlike. Moreover, they hardly seemed to move their legs. I suppose the show had its merits, but I must be deprived of all appreciation of the primitive.

Didn’t see too many non-Caucasians in the museum. Wonder why Chinese and Japanese come all the way to NZ to shop for things they make.

Bought The Gossage Book at a second-hand bookshop called Hard to Find at Ponosby. This is a nice shop, with an impressive collection. I wonder how many copies of it exist in India. Strange I bought it when I have decided to bid goodbye to writing. Wonder what’s next for me…

16th Dec Devonport
Took the ferry to this beautiful island off the coast. It’s postcard perfect, in the dull way we have come to expect here. The view from Mt Victoria is great.

Saw a dance performance of Anya’s dance school today. At NZ$ 20 an adult ticket, the price was too high, compared to what one would’ve paid in India, for an amateur show. The show wasn’t anything to write home about – all white girls of Auckland and a quarter of the boys were on stage – although we felt very proud to see Anya on stage.

Both Indians and Chinese are fine dancers. Yet there were no choreographers of either race, and hardly any dancers. Has anyone researched and written about the new immigrants?

17th Dec Onehanga
Hard to Find has a big branch in Onehanga near where we stay. Took a bus there today morning. The shop is impressive alright, though I didn’t buy anything.

Onehanga looks poorer than Auckland. Probably is.

Walked back through Campbell Park (One Tree Hill) on my way back. It’s larger than I thought.

Overall, the impression is that here you are thoroughly deprived of that one that we Bengalis both despise and crave. Struggle.

18th Dec Rangitatau
Went to Rangitatau with Anya today. It’s an extinct volcano with no shops or cafes or hotels on it; indeed the only structures on it are a few unused cottage. The walk up was tiring but enjoyable too.

In the evening we celebrated Ma’s (my mother-in-law) 75th birthday (counting birth as the 1st birthday).

19th Dec Ma is ill
My mother-in-law suddenly took ill today morning.

20th Dec Waihiki
Ma was stable today so we went to Waihiki, yet another island near Auckland, and I thought it’d be very boring. Nothing except vineyard-restaurants and scenic walks. They even have a booklet on the walks!

I thought my apprehensions would be confirmed until we discovered the charming music museum and its even more charming trustee.

This gentlemen must be in his mid 60s, at least. But more fit than me. Had sailed to Java in his own boat… then over land to Singapore… sea to Madras… got a bike there to drive down to Bombay, then Delhi via Bhopal (at the fag end of the Indian summer, just before the monsoon – must have been killing for a New Zealander)… then Pakistan, Afghanistan (saw student riots there), Iran, Turkey, Greece, Italy, Austria, Germany… finally ending up in Belgium, where he lived for many years… and all this way back in 1968!

The gentleman who restores the pieces in the museum was, by profession, the manager of a paint shop.

These people know how to live.

(Again, saw few non-Caucasians here.)

We returned to find Ma’s illness has taken a turn for the worse.

21st Dec Clinic
Accompanied Ma to the clinic today morning. It looked and functioned exactly like clinics back home.

In the afternoon, a team from the hospital came to see Ma, a doctor and two nurses. Nice Chinese chap – the doctor – but shouts instead of speaking.

22nd Dec Savage Memorial
Saw the memorial put up by the Labour Party for the first Labour PM, Savage. It’s bigger than Raj Ghat, with a large garden atop a hill.

I’m hugely interested in NZ history right now. What sort of history can a nation of two million or so have – the present population of four million being reached in the last two decades or so… perhaps a little more.

23rd Dec Psychology
What I have heard over the last three weeks convinces me that ‘pop’ psychology is the occult of our times, an evil concoction of hogwash.

Took Ma to New Market in the evening. It’s the last Sunday before Christmas, but the place was deserted by 6 pm.

24th Dec Cox Bay Reserve
Bought a couple of books, saw their art gallery, and discovered this beautiful park where very few people seem to go.

25th Dec Christmas
Rains most of the day. Had New Zealand lamb.

26th Dec Wellington
Visited the capital. Small town really.

The national museum is ok (it has Rembrandts), the botanical garden is beautiful, as is the quaint cable car that connects you to the city. Borders Wellington was a disappointment.

The most unexpected and wonderful was Gandhiji’s statue in front of Wellington Railway Station!

The aeroplane ride to Wellington and the bus ride from it were both satisfactory; neither was impressive: the flight was 15 minutes late.

27th Dec Sky Tower
Went up the tallest building in the Southern Hemisphere. Must confess I was under-whelmed. All you get is a view of Auckland that any aeroplane takeoff would give you. There may have been some thrill in going up tall buildings a hundred years ago. Now it’s a show whose kick has long gone.

28th Dec Howick Historical Village
Reached this interesting museum after a good deal of walking. It’s actually a number of restored cottages, resembling a village settled by retired British soldiers (most of them had served in India) around the end of the 19th Century.

Why don’t Indian cities have things like this? The closest I have seen is the Manav Sangralaya in Bhopal, and that doesn’t come too close.

The manager there sweet talked us into buying a number of knickknacks, but no regrets as they were pretty.

29th Dec Takeoff from Auckland
We’re going back. I don’t think I’ll ever come back to NZ again, unless on business. It’s a feast that invariably leads to flatulence.

30th Dec Kuala Lumpur again
Bought two shoes and a few curios. Got on the Hop-on-hop-off bus again. This time it was torturous. Too slow. Couldn’t see the museums or the aviary as we had planned.

But the check-in was nice. You go to KL Sentral, check in, take your boarding pass, and take a shuttle train to the airport. The train takes only 28 minutes and stops inside the airport! Then all you have to do is go through security. Mumbai would need something like this if we shift the airport far from town.

Tried ice khalang, their national dessert. Sickening and overpriced concoction of rose syrup and crushed ice, but that’s the whole point of new experiences, which NZ doesn’t get: you need the chance of disappointment, at least, to really appreciate the delight of the good and great.

Landing in Bombay brought us back to the nightmare our country is. I wish I could continue to blame population for the hell we have turned India into, but I can’t.

When we spread out our purchases, I felt good that we had hardly spent at all. Just a few gifts for close relatives, and a few things for ourselves that we won’t get in India.

This trip was the longest holiday either of us has taken. In many - though, sadly, not all - ways, it was also the most enjoyable.


Anonymous said...

Pabitra, was just about to mail and ask you about NZ when I decided to check your blog... found a satisfyingly complete entry, and the holiday sounds great. Sounds like you had a more complicated response to the country that you'd expected tho (?) - Govind

N&P said...

I tried to see NZ through a direct marketing man's eyes. The result is far from satisfactory, but it is a beginning. PAC