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Posts Tagged ‘La Paloma’

In India, there are times when you can get frustrated, and others when you just have to laugh at the constant absurdity of life here.

About a month and a half ago I wrote about how a leakage from our terrace had caused our downstairs neighbors’ ceiling to collapse. One would assume by now that this entire ordeal would be over, right? Au contraire.

The first round of porch construction

The original work included ripping up the entire side of our porch to get into the piping system. What had been quoted to us as taking a week instead took three. And it wasn’t hard to see why: the workmen would show up two hours late every day; they would then take a two or three hour lunch; in the afternoon one guy would work while the others sat around. And then every night we got the icing on the cake: they would declare that they needed to stay late, because they weren’t finished. I’m sure they saw this as the perfect overtime scam. Unfortunately for them, we would always kick them out.

But after weeks of cement dust in the house and an unusable terrace and cranky workers and shouts about overtime, they were finished. They just had to replace the wooden siding.

Except that the siding they used originally was no longer available. They, of course, hadn’t checked to see whether this was the case prior to finishing. So it took another week to find a solution (they ended up painting siding to try and closely match the original).

I couldn’t have cared less about whether the wood matched the original. I was just happy to have my house back. And I was happy that my neighbors would finally get to replace their ceiling.

So you can imagine my joy when Nigel, the supervisor, knocked on my door a few weeks ago.

“Ma’am, there has been a problem with the construction,” he said, pretending to be nonchalant.
“What kind of problem?”
“Well, there is still some leakage.”

I liked the phrase ‘still some leakage’, as though it implied that something had been done and there was only a little bit left to be fixed. It turned out that they hadn’t really known anything about where the leak was coming from – they had just made a guess and hoped for the best. The guess, shockingly, was wrong.

I made them wait three weeks while Daniel’s parents were here – I wasn’t going to have them come all the way to India and then have to live with construction!

After they pulled up some of the tiles

But now the time had come again. This time, I made them bring an engineer with blueprints of the building to try and prove to me that they suddenly understood the problem. They started by pulling up a few tiles to see where the crack in the ceiling really was. Eventually it led to tearing out the whole left side of the terrace.

This time around, I wasn’t going to agree so readily. I tried to ask as many questions as I could to understand the whole process. But the response to every question always somehow included ‘but ma’am, you’re foreign, so you don’t understand the way Indians do things.’

Our newly destructed terrace and the many workers

But the joke is on them: we’ve lived here now for almost six months and at least we know how to make a few more demands, Indian-style – we called the head boss and made him come over and speak to his workers; we got a written work plan detailing what needs to be done every day; we’re having someone come from the head office to supervise every day to make sure work gets done; Daniel even got the company to give half the workers wages to him so they have an incentive to finish in time.

And most importantly: I made sure they already had purchased the tiles before they started. For me, that’s progress. A sign that maybe we’re adapting to India a little better than perhaps the construction supervisors would have liked us too.

But of course, I’ve lived here long enough to also know that all of those assurances still will probably mean it will all take much longer than they’ve quoted. Luckily, I’m taking my new Indian self back to America for the holidays – so I luckily won’t be around to see! It’s the best of both my worlds.

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I know I’ve been having some technical difficulties here of late, but I didn’t expect for the actual sky to fall down.

Early Sunday morning, as I was just starting to wake up with my first cup of tea in my pajamas, I got a knock on my door from one of our downstairs neighbors.

“Do you mind coming to look at something? I’m really sorry to bother you,” she said, tentatively. I didn’t know what could be so important that early, but I said yes and started walking down the stairs with her.

“I just thought you should see this,” she said. I was now really curious. We walked into the apartment and I gasped- all of the plaster from the ceiling in their bedroom had fallen down. The light fixture was hanging by a cord, dangling precariously. I could see every beam and it was clear that the damage had come from some water damage above. Her boyfriend was talking angrily in Hindi to a construction worker who was assessing the damage. I realized we were standing right below our terrace.

“When did this happen?” I asked. I didn’t want to ask how it happened, since I was pretty sure it was coming from somewhere in our apartment.

She explained that the night before she and her boyfriend had heard a crash while they had guests over- luckily they had been in the living room. They came into the room and saw the damage. They had called their landlord who obviously had contacted the builder of the building.

We decided to go up to the terrace and try to figure out where it was all coming from. It became pretty obvious once we saw that the space where rain water was supposed to drain was directly above the area where the ceiling had collapsed.

The builder’s ‘man’ arrived and tried to smooth-talk us all. Oh, it will only take a few days to fix. Oh, it’s not a big deal. Oh, this is pretty standard.

We insisted on getting their time-line in writing. Suddenly they weren’t such smooth talkers. Eventually we got them to agree to a timetable in writing and we concluded that they would start working on Tuesday.

It’s sometimes a scary thing in India when you consider the lax building codes and standards. Another friend of ours also had her ceiling collapse a few weeks ago – and hers included beams and everything, so I guess we got lucky. In the US we take for granted the stringent standards and building codes – it would make news if a part of a building collapsed. But here, it’s not really something anyone would bat an eye at. Now I know this post has probably scared my mother so I’m going to say this: the areas of the ceiling that collpased were cosmetic and fell because they were damaged by water. All the structure and beams were thankfully intact and show no signs of wear! But its still a bit jarring to see everyone so blase about something that could have potentially been dangerous.

And I felt really bad for our neighbors – they were getting the ceiling of their other room checked out a well, which would mean a hole carved in their second bedroom’s ceiling. They had no full roof to sleep under! After everyone left, Daniel offered our neighbors some beer – I thought we might as well enjoy the terrace if it was wreaking so much havoc. They agreed and we ended up spending the rest of the afternoon enjoying some beer, then lunch, then a cup of tea all a few feet from the drainage that had made their sky fall in. It was a lemonade from lemons moment – we all might have to deal with a lot of builders over the next few weeks, but at least we got to know the people who live in such close proximity.

We’ll see whether the builders show up tomorrow.

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Among my many grievances about India’s (lack of) addresses, it has always struck me as particularly bizarre that rickshaw drivers won’t know basic street names but can accurately point out the home of every Bollywood star.

Instead of saying, “I need to go to Bandstand”, you can just say “Shahrukh Khan’s house.”

It’s uncanny – If you get into a rickshaw armed only with a street name, you’ll never get where you’re going; but if you’re going somewhere near a Bollywood star’s home, you’re sure to find your way.

It’s especially true in my little suburb of Bandra. In recent years it has become well known as a Bollywood stomping ground and every day there’s some new story about someone moving out here. It reminds me of how whenever any movie star moves out to Brooklyn there suddenly becomes a lot of press about how Brooklyn is the new hip place to live – even though it’s clearly nothing new.

I mention all of this, because I have just discovered the root of the loud construction that began a few days ago- and while inconvenient, it may prove to be useful when I’m trying to direct people to my building.

After her daily rounds of gossip with the doorman and other people who work in the building, Nisha was very excited to inform me that a Bollywood ‘star’ and her athlete fiancé have purchased the entire fourth floor of our building (I’m not going to mention names since this blog is searchable and I don’t want to give out anyone’s home address…).

I, of course, being the silly white person that I am, had not heard of either of the people in question, but Nisha’s level of interest seemed to indicate that it was a big deal. She quickly rattled off all the movies the woman had starred in. So who was I to argue with that?

On the other hand, when I mentioned it to a friend here, he felt the fiancé was actually the bigger celebrity and that the starlet was “a-list; not A-list.” So who knows? Either way, it can’t hurt in a building that no one can ever find.

And if you’re really curious about who the couple is: don’t worry, I’m sure the rickshaw drivers will be able to tell you soon enough.

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I am beginning to understand the root of “Indian Time” a little bit better. It’s not (as my Indian friends at home would have me believe) just an Indian way of life where they are allowed to be late to things because its inherent to Indians.

I think in actuality it’s related to something much simpler. Indians are late to everything because, at least here in Mumbai, there are NO STREET ADDRESSES.

That’s right. Street addresses do not exist. In fact, street names are barely recognized. Instead, there’s a system, that doesn’t work, of just telling someone what ‘landmark’ you’re near, and then hoping for the best. But when they say landmark, they just mean another place or business. So when we give someone directions to our apartment, it goes something like this:

“It’s La Paloma, it’s on St Cyril Road across from St Anthony’s road. Do you know it? Ok, well do you know where Turner Road is? It’s off Turner Road, towards St Andrews College. No? Do you know where Holy Family Hospital is? How about the American Express bakery? Yes? You want me to meet you there and then show you? Ok. I’ll meet you at the bakery.”

This is really how it has to be done. Because you can’t just say “Oh when you get to the bakery go straight, turn right on St Dominic and then left on St Cyril because NONE of these roads would have a sign indicating that that is actually the name of the street.

Not to mention that the main road, Turner Road, actually (if you look at a map) technically changes into Gurunanak Marg right before our house – but no one knows that. To them it’s still just Turner Road. Even after it THEN turns into Perry Rd.

And you’d think you could solve this problem with a driver, but you can’t. Today I wanted to go a store to buy some Indian style clothes. The store is well known and its called FabIndia (I could delve into the awesomeness of that name, but I won’t now). And when you look it up online the address is: Navroze Building, Next To HDFC Bank, Pali Hill (Yes, that is the actual full address). So you’d think you could find it easily – but you would be wrong.

When we went to Pali Hill (an area in Bandra), near the market there is an HDFC Bank but no FabIndia. We drove around, asked around, looked around. Nothing. We finally called FabIndia and solved the mystery. We were meant to know its next to the OTHER HDFC bank in Pali Hill. Up Zigzag road. Not by the market. Obviously.

This applies to any address. For example, one of my personal favorites is the address for Phoebe’s groomer. It is (and I mean this is the actual mailing address):

Tail Waggers Pet Salon
Near Hotel Mini Punjab
Pali Village Behind Hawaiian Shack
16th Road
Bandra West, Mumbai 400050

It’s hilarious, completely Indian and yet an all encompassing theory to explain the Indian loose relationship with time. It’s inherently frustrating but you can’t help but love a city where people find their way around SOLELY based on trusting everyone’s local knowledge.

So if you want to come visit me, just remember: La Paloma doesn’t exist. Just go to the tree in the middle of the road in St Anthonys Rd next to the hospital, next to Lemongrass Restaurant, next to CitiBank, next to Crosswords bookshop. Then ask someone where to go. And don’t worry if you’re late- we’re all on ‘Indian Time’ here.

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