the great repatriation (welcome to united state)

But first, two pics of my trip (solo) to the Wagah border closing:

No but seriously, it was really fun and I highly recommend it.

 

I’m back in America now, for good.  I’ve waited a while to post because:

1. I’m back in America why would I want to be doing anything other than wandering around staring at everything and eating All The Food, and

2. I wanted to get some perspective on the repatriation process to see how long it would take to feel “normal.”

The answer is four-five weeks to feel okay, and two months to feel pretty much Amurrican.  It took about four weeks to stop thinking someone was going to kidnap me at any moment and put me back on Air India to Mumbai.  It took about that long to stop stock-piling fresh berries and compulsively watching HBOGo.  It took two months to realize I don’t have the right clothes for almost any occasion.

Obviously, living in India has had a permanent impact on the way I view the world and I’m thankful every day that I was able to have such an earth-shattering (literally?) experience.  I’m also thankful every day that I get to leave such experiences.

I’ve made this chart of how the general adjustment period works (for me, at least), broken down week by week.

That’s the general flow of things.  But you shouldn’t just take my word for it.  I asked my friends who’ve immigrated back (only those who were in India for similarly long periods of time, although to be honest, I’m starting to think only 1yr+ is what matters) what their experiences were like.  About twenty of my friends took a little survey I made, and here are their responses [I gave them the option of writing in their own answers at the bottom of each question]:

Good lord, I do miss the mangoes.

A lot of my friends left at the same time, and we’ve been trying to talk it out as we go through this weird transition.  One commonality is that many of us still find ourselves perpetually geared up for a fight, particularly with people in the service industry.  When I have to call to make a doctor’s appointment, pay for a taxi, or call the plumber, I immediately begin loudly yelling in basic English, ready to start cursing in Hindi.  But my doctor’s office is really polite, my plumber speaks English, and taxi drivers always have change.  Stores have everything in stock, places have addresses, and most things are done correctly the first time – but my blood still boils in anticipation of a battle of wills.  When I wear shorts, I’m ready to passionately defend this “position on Western wear” but somehow no one cares.

I also have very few fears left – fear of being the only one in the room who [x], fear of being misunderstood, fear of being eaten alive by bugs, fear of being in a meeting that’s literally in another language, fear of something undefined streaming down my legs, fear of being stranded somewhere unsafe at night – been there, done that, horribly embarrassed myself, ready to move on.  Bring your worst, business school and then the rest of my career, I’ve already seen some shit.

As for this blog, I think it’s mostly over.  Maybe I’ll go back on and rant if I feel the need.  I am going to be writing for a few other people though, and I’ll post some round-ups of those links.  I think I’ll also post a round-up of my favorite angry commenters.  How many times can people call me a whore on the internet?  Let’s find out.  TOGETHER.  

I love you,

Hilary

 

MMNFD, though not really that numbing since it’s what I saw every day:

Foreign Policy had some amazing short responses to the Great Indian Rumor Mill:

  • India will be the world’s next great power: Not so fast
  • India’s growth is inevitable: No
  • India can help contain China: Hardly
  • Tensions with Pakistan have eased: Not really
  • India will be a good global citizen: Perhaps
  • India will have serious power projection capabilities: Not quite
  • Hindu-Muslim tensions are history: Unfortunately, no
  • India can be America’s most useful ally: Probably not
[Special thanks to CM, the light of my life and the only one left in Delhi.]

Also, just what the hell is this shit?!

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applying to business school from India: part two

For me, the easiest part of applying to business school was writing the essays.  Essay questions for potential schools included: “Talk about a significant cross-cultural experience.” HA.  I was honestly tempted just to be like, “Well, I wake up to the doorbell of someone coming to clean up pigeon carcasses off my windowsill, then I take a rickshaw across a river of poop from the slums to my office of 3,400 Indians. That’s all before 9am.”  Editing to 500 words was a bit of a challenge.

One of the hardest parts was learning about the schools from so far away.  I have no idea how Indian applicants handle this component.  Since I couldn’t run off and visit every school, I based a lot of my decisions about which schools to apply to and how to approach the applications on internet rumors, online brochures, and pure speculation.  I had a few family friends who connected me with people who gave some guidance, but for the most part I was kind of feeling around in the dark.

For better or worse, since India is such a huge market for MBA programs in the US, many of the top schools have info sessions in Mumbai or Delhi.

The first and only info session I went to was for Dartmouth.  The admissions woman organizing the event was a blonde American woman.  She and I were the only two white people, and two of very few women in the room.

Everyone else were Indian young men, some in work clothes and some in plain clothes.  Most had the low-slung backpacks that I’ve learned to absolutely detest during my time in India.

There was a nice Powerpoint presentation, and some handouts and that all went ok.  One overly well-dressed man came in late, and loudly sat down in the front row.  After this presentation, there was a question and answer panel with some alumnae, and that’s when things started to go downhill.  The five or so all-male alums from India all went around and introduced themselves, their career history and some story about their time at Tuck.

A few of the alums mentioned the informal cricket team at Tuck.

I could hear ears perk up all over the room.

Criiiiickkkkuuuuttttt??  

Indians frickin’ love cricket.  Literally nothing in the whole world will get Indians fired up like cricket.  Not even Bollywood anymore.  Go ahead, call me a racist.

Hands started to go up around the room.

“Yes, hello I am a graduate of [some acronym I can’t remember] with [some grade percentage that doesn’t make sense to me].  What are my chances of getting in and also how often does the cricket club play?”

“Uh, myself [some Indian name, like anyone cares].  Basically, I am from [somewhere, again, who cares].  I am having a question about internships.  And also whether the cricket club practices on weekends or weekdays.”

 
Some common themes emerged 1. randomly rattling off your test scores to a room of strangers, 2. asking whether or not you will get in, and 3. obsessing over what I imagine is a pretty minor part of the Tuck community, the cricket club.

 

 

After everyone had obviously decided to apply to Tuck to further their cricket career, the guy in the front row with the pointy white shiny cowboy boots and hair highlights shot up his hand.

“Well, I’m mostly interested in luxury goods.  What kind of programs does Tuck have for luxury goods and what kind of luxury goods industry leaders can I make connections with in the luxury goods industry?  Because I work in luxury goods.  Like my family is from a luxury goods background and I want to pursue luxury goods.”

Got it.  Luxury goods.  Obviously someone didn’t Google image New Hampshire.  Best of luck with your search, bro.

On the way out, I heard the luxury goods guy harassing one of the alums about opportunities in luxury goods.

Eventually, I finished all my applications despite my pathetic internet connection and got all my recommendations in on time.  Then it was just waiting.


MMNFD: In 2011-2012, India finally got a school onto the top 300 of the Times Higher Education World University Rankings.  Indian Institute of Technology, Bombay, placed in the 301-350 range.  

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Applying to business school from India: part 1

I thought you might want to know a bit about what it was like to apply to American business schools from India.  There were definitely some moments that I feel made this more of an interesting experience than if I went through the process in the US.  Am I glad I applied from here? No, not really.  Do I think it gave me an advantage? No, not really.

The first step in most people’s business school journey is the dreaded GMAT.  This exam is something of a meta-exam in that it first examines your ability to comprehend its (TOTALLY CONFUSING MINDMELD OF A) format, and then examines your actual knowledge.  I was too terrified/uninformed to take a course, so I just studied the one book I could find at my local bookstore.  The test-prep books had one shelf, compared to the “Spirituality/Self” section that had several rows.  In hindsight I probably should have picked up a few things there as well – maybe some more “spirituality/self” might have served me just as well.

In any event, I studied as hard as someone with mounting disdain for any task and a general aversion to numbers really can.  The book kept saying things like “As you’ll remember from high school math…” and I was like, “Haha what?”  Exponents – long time no see.

I scheduled my test.  I had dinner with a friend the night before.  I did not have a glass of wine, which he kept suggesting would help me relax.  I spent a good part of the night wide awake, kicking myself for not having the wine.

Getting to the exam center was a particular source of anxiety.  Mumbai’s traffic is literally the worst in the world.  Delhi was technically ranked the worst, but anyone will tell you that Mumbai is infinitely worse.  This means it could take anywhere from 12 minutes to 2.5 hours to travel to the testing center, in Andheri East.  Even though I had scoped out the location in advance, I still got there over an hour early.

The place was actually quite nice, though it goes almost without saying that everyone stared at me like I was an alien and there was definitely some BO coming from several of my fellow test takers. I was fortunate not to be seated next to them during the actual exam.  In my head, I congratulated on having already beaten those kids, since there’s no way they would get through the interview stage, at least at an American school.  At a certain point we were asked to lock up all our possessions and any jewelry “except rakhi threads” (devotional bracelets given between bothers and sisters).  I tried to pass my spare hair elastic off as a rakhi thread and was successful.  So far so good!

Once I began the test, I started reading the directions in my head in an Indian aunty accent, to envision what my testmates were going through.  “Beti, you are hawing thirdy-sewen maths questions…”  This became kind of addictive.  Don’t ever do this, with probably any foreign accent, during an exam.

I’ll admit it, the test was hard for me.  I would say, “Oh, keeping track of the complicated timing and not playing a bunch of mind games with myself really made me sweat,” but sweat is no longer something I can joke about.  The testing center was extremely temperate and it was one of only a handful of moments I’ve had in India during which I was not sweating.

Overall the test went well, I guess.  I left, had my celebratory granola bar in the rickshaw home, and felt pretty good.

But not great.

After a few days, I started second guessing myself.  Falling prey to online forums and probably some self-importance, I decided to retake the test.  This was apparently where I had would have an experience more true to my other Indian experiences.

I had taken a different approach to studying this time, and was eager to see if I could bump my score up further.  During the first section of my retake, I felt totally fine.  I kept the Indian-accent instructions reading to a minimum and was proceeding nicely with the rest of the test.

Then, the inevitable happened.  I don’t know if it was stress or maybe just anything I have eaten in the past two years, but in the beginning of the math section, I felt an prolonged stomach gurgle.  At this point in my world travels, I’m pretty adept at self-diagnosis.  I can very much differentiate which stomach gurgles are just a gurgle, which gurgles will most likely require antibiotics, and which gurgles just require a good curl-up in the fetal position with some Pepto.  I started to sweat.  This would take a minute.  Or ten.

Probably about eight minutes later, I emerged from the test center bathroom. Nicely done, India, nicely done.  You won’t let me out without a fight, will you?

As a friend visiting the city just said, “When you visit India you realize that that guy just made up Shantaram (book about hippie in Mumbai) because otherwise the whole book would have been about his diarrhea.”  Truer words were never spoken.  Poop is a big part of our lives here.  When I write a book about my time in India, I will either call it “Taking the shits with the giggles,” or “Hold up sorry still on the toilet brb.”  “Sorry [prestigious business school], that one time I tried to take the GMAT I had to leave the room for an extended period of time,” is now also in the running.

Needless to say I did 90 points worse.

MMNFD: I got into business school anyway.

Oh, and India now has this amazing commercial for vaginal-area whitening cream called “Clean and Dry” (dry?) that involves cups of coffee, white pants, and car keys inside a lady’s shorts.    The best/angriest article I’ve read about this controversial ad was Mumbai Boss’ take.

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A note about the new format

Another Bandra graffito

 

I started to take ads on the blog.  That’s why you’ll see ads here now.  I have no idea how much money I will make from this, and it’s all going into a PayPal account that as far as I know isn’t a real thing.  I will change the content not at all except now I might just mention all the HOT NUDES GIRL PICS I post regularly, to drive up my page views.  But seriously it will encourage me to post more!

Apologies if they are annoying.

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faves

Here are some of my favorite things.

 

Favorite non-fiction book about India: In Spite of the Gods by Edward Luce


Favorite description of Mumbai in a book:

Ayyan loved this about the city – the humid crowds, the great perpetual squeeze, the silent vengeance of the poor.  In the miserly lifts and hand stuffed trains he often heard the relief of afternoon farts, saw scales on strange faces and the veins in their still eyes.  And the secret moustaches of women.  And the terrible green freshness when they had been newly removed with a thread.  He felt the shoves and pushes and the heaviness of paunches.  This unnerving constriction of Bombay he loved, because the congestion of hopeless shuffling human bodies he was born into was also, in a way, the fate of the rich.  On the streets, in the trains, in the paltry gardens and beaches, everybody was poor.  And that was fair.

(from Serious Men by Manu Joseph.  The book had a lot of covers.  Here’s why.)


 

 

 

 

 

 

Favorite fancy store I just found: Bungalow 8.  Since this sells housewares, as well as clothing, I reckon I could just move in.

 

Favorite Bollywood dance scene [IT’S ON A TRAIN YOU GUYS!!]:

 

Favorite source of roughage: Arugala and spinach salad with wasabi granola (and prawns) at Salt Water Café

shown here with beetroot, carrot, & ginger juice

 

Favorite fake macrobiotic café: The Yoga House

[I really like this place, but they really need to stop pretending they are macrobiotic.  Gwyneth would be so pissed, if she gets pissed.]

 

Favorite artisanal technique: Dhrangadhra stone carving

guess whose feet those are

 

Favorite jewelry style: polki

 

Favorite source of messages for me to bring back to Hillary Clinton from her NUMBER ONE FAN: Brittania Restaurant.  Also favorite berries pullao and Bombay Duck I guess.  Oh, and favorite place to peruse (forcedly) a sheathed photocopy of a manifesto called “Let’s Bring Back the Brits.”

Ignore the photo of the Queen Mother. At heart, Mr. Irani, 89, is Secretary Clinton's number one fan, as he will inform any Americans, regardless of what stage they are in their meals.

Favorite mind-boggler: WHAT AM I DOING FOR FOOD

 

Favorite source of mysterious foreigners who appear out of nowhere: Aer

 

Favorite soda: Schweppes Zero Cream Soda from Wellness Forever on Ambedkar Road

Favorite guilty pleasure: Double serving of bhindi fry and roomali rotiyon from Khane Khas [see, I even bring it to the airport:]

Favorite curiosity: visiting foreign investors who are bullish on India, and use that phrase specifically

[Apparently this photo is actually from Nebraska, but you get the point.]

 

Favorite road feces: goat (it just rolls away usually)

 

Favorite threat: “I really want to come visit you!”

 

Favorite Indian news source: Firstpost.com

 

Favorite addition to my baking tool arsenal: tiny rolling pin, originally for chapatis, and now for single serving apple handpies and homemade pop-tarts made with minimal counter space

 

Favorite rarified view of the city: Dome at the InterContinental on Marine Drive.  For me, this has the edge over Aer because the chairs are more comfortable, there is a dome (!!!!), and it’s usually not filled with mystery people who look like they fell out of a SkyMall catalogue.

 

Favorite ‘keepin’ it real’ view of the city: Mahim Bay, not blocking your nose.

click on this pic to go to someone's nice photoblog.

 

Favorite smell: flower stand near Hill Road, Bandra

 

Favorite new ingredient: desiccated coconut

[shown here in Bon Appétit’s Ambrosia Macaroons, which I look forward to making again this Passover.  My pictures did not turn out so well.]

Favorite daydream: Whole Foods – I like to picture myself wandering down every aisle in my head, amassing thousands of dollars of things in my cart (equal parts fresh, leafy produce, prepared foods, and deep, dank meats and cheeses), get to the check-out, realize I live in India, and leave sobbing with just a handful of okra


Favorite homemade snack: sad handful of okra, covered in olive oil or cooking spray, salt, and curry powder, 12 minutes in the toaster oven at whatever is the one temperature my toaster oven uses.  I call these Witches Fingers to the no one else in my apartment who’s listening.

Again, my photos of these are awful so this is someone else's.

 

Favorite graffiti transformation:


(on Chapel Road in Bandra.  For the evolution of this piece, and some more info on The Wall Project, check out the awesome Bandra Project, which is also where I got the first photo from.)

Favorite dog-related grafitti:

 

Favorite source of fearmongering: my landlord


Favorite feeling: knowing that anywhere else I live couldn’t possibly throw me any curve balls at this point.

 

 

MMNFD: Mumbai “literally steeps in its own waste.”

If that’s not your style, here is a satellite picture of yesterday’s dust storm.   While this photo doesn’t verify this, I’m pretty sure this hit my lungs today (source):

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6 lessons from the only female vegetable seller in Pali Market

The vegetable market that I live on, Pali Market, is a fascinating microcosm.  I hope to write much more on this later, but in honor of the upcoming Indian holiday Women’s Day, I thought I’d start with this piece.  It’s about the one vegetable seller stall “manned” by a female (yes, I realize there are lots of female vegetable sellers.  But she’s the only one with a stall!). [for those of you non-Hinglish speakers, subziwalli is the feminine form of ‘vegetable seller’]

1. Go ahead – be the only woman.  I have no idea if this woman resents being the only woman among a street packed with men, but if she does, she definitely doesn’t show it.

2. Quote a fair price (and stick to it).  Contrary to what some Indians might think, I am actually aware of the market prices for vegetables, despite being a foreigner.  I recognize a fair price.  However, I am also willing to pay extra for the exotics, and for not needing to haggle.

3. Specialize.  Find out what you’re good at and be the best at it.  Subziwalli doesn’t bother with low-cost potatoes and as a result, every week I spring for the much higher-cost soya beans.

4. Be the first store open and the last one to close.  

5. Build a great team. Subziwalli has not one but two lackeys.

6. Never ignore the female demographic.  I don’t shop at any other vegetable stall because I want to support sabziwalli so much.  She is not the cheapest nor the closest to my house.

MMNFD: “Philomena Fernandes, one of the few woman autorickshaw drivers in Mumbai and the main breadwinner of her family of five, started driving an autorickshaw 17-years-ago…” [just read this whole story!]

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guess who?

Well, after a much needed, and still desired, break from this blog, I’m back.  I was very busy with some things, and comments like this one were not helping to encourage me to push through:

I have been posting other places though, so if you haven’t seen them already, here are some pieces I’ve written:

Do or Die: 20 New Year’s resolutions for Mumbai for CNNGo (I only wrote the first ten)

12 guidebook myths about India for CNNGo

WaterWalla: Making clean water a profitable enterprise for slumdwellers for Mahindra

I’ve gotten a lot of feedback that I am a no-good whiner, and more politely, that I should try to include more positive content.  I agree, and I am going to try to do that going forward [to be fair, a lot of the more upbeat posts were about my work, which I had to hide].  I am also going to post a bunch of business-related content in the next few weeks, just for fun.

 

I’ll ask you this: is there anything you want to ask me about living here? Anything you want me to write about?

 

MMNFD:  Indians donate the equivalent of 0.6 per cent of the country’s GDP to charity. While the US gives approximately 1.8 percent, and Brazil and China, by comparison, give just 0.3 per cent and 0.1 per cent of their GDP, respectively. [source, source]

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