Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Monkey-ing Around

I've often stated that living in Hyderabad is a bit like living at the zoo. Only on the other side of the fence. It's a common sight to see a minagerie of wildlife daily: cows, boars, camels, oxen, buffalo, peacocks, rats, cats, dogs, and lizards, just roaming freely (with the exception of the camels). We also have a bit of a monkey situation.
Every year our neighborhood is "blessed" with a set of twins. Twin monkies that is. While they are very small, mom and dad will accompany them for their afternoon playtime which consists of running along balcony walls, swinging from window ledges, and jumping around in a tree, they're now big enough to venture out on their own.
Living in a such a densely populated area, the monkies are in no way afraid of humans. If anything, they are curious. Nothing seems to scare them away and any human intervention only fuels their curiosity. Take a look at some video I shot last week.
Before I took this clip, the monkies had been playing first on my balcony. They had shredded up the everygreen bush outside my front door and had generally made a mess of the stairwell, so my watchman attempted to scare them away. They ran across the lane onto the apartment building directly across from ours. Our neighbor, who didn't know the monkies were on the prowl, did not see them but quickly discovered their presence.

The poor dear has something taken from her, the monkeys play around with it a little, then are chased off. You'll see the harrowing attempt by Ramu to scare them away and their clearly frightened reaction to his shouting and chasing them. Watch the getaway here.


Wednesday, March 20, 2013

3 Sure Signs Summer Has Arrived

This will be my third summer in Hyderabad. While I am thankful to not have to deal with a mid-western Winter, an Indian Summer certainly presents some challenges. Today I'll share with you the signs that indicate Summer is officially upon us, and the challenges we face as a result.
Sign 1: The weather report. There's not much use even checking the weather report during the summer months. It will be 100+ every day, with 0% chance of rain, and virtually no breeze. The snapshot of the 10 day forecast from www.weather.com I'm sharing with you, shows a pretty typical week, however I must point out that we're just in the beginning stages of the season. Within a few weeks the temps will hit 115 degrees and pretty much stay that way until the rains come. Now really, I don't find much difference between 105 and 115. Hot is hot. How do we keep cool? We don't. I mean, all this crap about "But it's a dry heat" is exactly that. Crap.
Sign 2: Blackouts. This is an except from a news article found in the Times of India newspaper on March 7th. Please pay special attention to the last sentence. 
That's right, we're looking at 6 hours a day of no electricity. No air conditioner. No ceiling fan. No ice cubes. Nada. Just hot, sticky, suffocating air.The city simply cannot keep up with the rising demand for electricity. Noting the temperatures, and the desire to have fans or air coolers running at all times, just puts further strain on the already overburdened grid and leaves us in sweaty darkness for several hours a day.  We'll generally have 3-4 outages per day, ranging anywhere from 1-2 hours each. Sometimes they'll print the schedule in the paper so you can plan accordingly but I find more often that the power cuts are kind of sprung on us and varying times daily. 
This year we have finally taken measures to combat the outages, and had a power inverter installed in our apartment. It's basically a $300 battery pack that will automatically kick on when the power goes out and keep a few lights and fans running for anywhere from 2-4 hours. It's not powerful enough to run appliances, including our television, and the electrician warned against keeping the laptop charging on the inverter as that will draw more power, hence decreasing the time things can run on the battery. As I'm currently working night shifts, I'm really relying on this little contraption. The power going out and the ceiling fan kicking off serve as an alarm clock. Since I sleep during the day, when ALL of the power cuts occur, I'm getting woken up every few hours as the fan kicks off, immediately breaking into a sweat, and finding it impossible to fall back asleep due to a combination of heat and street noise. I'm counting on this to solve all those problems. Let's hope it doesn't disappoint.
Sign 3: The Water Tanker. Our Summer sign indicators conclude with the Indian Water Tanker. Just as the city can't keep up with our electricity needs. Neither can they keep up with the demand for some high quality H20. As we noted in our first summer sign, there's no rain.

When ground water gets low, we call in the Water Tanker. The tanker will deliver approximately 5000 liters of water for rs500, or $10. During the hottest summer months, the tanker will come once per day and empty it's contents into an underground holding tank. The watchman then controls the times throughout the day that water is available by turning off the pump for what feels like 23 hours a day, and giving you two 30 minute opportunities per day to run around and fill up as many containers as you can before he shuts the water off again. If you think the fan is an alarm clock for me, you should see me spring into action when I hear that water motor kick on. I'll spring out of bed from a dead sleep and frantically start filling buckets to keep in the bathroom for bathing and even flushing, if required. In the past few summers, I've developed the skill of being able to shave, bathe, and wash/condition my hair, in less than 2 gallons of water. I could probably do it in less if I really put my mind to it.
So there you have it. The three sure signs of Indian summer.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

A Dogs Life

To put it mildly, Indians don't like dogs. There seems to be a lot of reasons for this. Some view dogs as demons, others view them as unclean (beyond the obvious fact that they've never had a bath in their lives) due to religious reasons. The fact that so many of them are essentially wild and constantly fighting other dogs for territorial rights or food can lead many to feel they may become vicious towards a human who crosses their path. If you hear a dog howling it means you'll face bad luck. The solution to this is to throw rocks at them. Chase them away. Don't let them come near you.
Coming from a dog loving culture and always having canine companions while growing up, I have zero fear of dogs and a massive sympathy towards the scores of stray dogs I see on a daily basis. It was really hard when I first came here, seeing so many strays everywhere I looked. My heart broke. I had to try to thicken my own skin and realize I can't save them all and I can't change an entire population's view towards them. What I could do, however is adopt a few, figuratively speaking.
Let me tell you the story of Steppy.
He was dubbed Steppy by Lakshmi's daughter Leila, because when he first came to our place, he was limping pretty badly. He's since healed up and for a stray, seems to be a relatively robust dog.  I started off feeding Steppy by throwing food off my balcony. I found that even though he may not get regular meals, he certainly has a particular preferences when it comes to food. Steppy's a pure carnivore. He's the least bit interested in crackers, rotis, or sandwiches, and will only eat chicken or mutton thrown down.
When he first started hanging around, our watchman would go to any means necessary to chase him away. After repeated scoldings from my side, that's for the most part stopped, and Steppy has earned his keep by not allowing any other dog to loiter in our lane.
One day I was sitting out on the balcony, and saw the kids hitting the dog. Steppy was just sort of standing there taking it.  So I went down, and started petting the dog saying "Steppy's nice." Although it took some time for them to have the courage to touch him in a gentle way, they reciprocated and started petting Steppy as well. This has since progressed into Steppy being the "safe zone" during a game of tag between the kids. Everyone has to race and try to reach Steppy before being tagged. The dog loves it.
Steppy has also taken to following me every time I leave the house. If I go to the store, he'll tag along and stand outside the entrance waiting for me to come out. He also escorts me to my pick up point daily where I wait for my office cab. Many mornings he's waiting again at the pick up point when I get dropped off and skips along beside me all the way home, bopping his nose against my hand in a plea for attention.
He really is a sweet dog, and while he may be riddled with fleas and filthy beyond belief, I can't help but feel that we are lucky to have him around. He's served as a tool to help teach Leila and Doni that not all dogs should be feared and that we shouldn't go out of our way to hurt them. Steppy's reward is a safe place to lay, food, water, and attention on a regular basis. He's only one dog, but it's a small difference we can make in this Dog Eat Dog world.