Category Archives: india

money in Calcutta

NEWS ITEM: ‘Few takers for 1,000-rupee notes in Kolkata’ (Times of India, 16th August 2011)

The article states:

The city where the cheapest bus ride is five bucks and the base metro fare even cheaper doesn’t have much of an appetite for the ‘big note'[…] It’d rather make do with small change — there is a perennial shortage of coins in Kolkata[…]You would hardly find an ATM in Kolkata that dispenses 1000 rupee notes. “Customers here don’t like getting thousand rupee notes,” said an official of UBI. “Customers are apprehensive about the 1000 note. They fear the notes could be fake,” he added.

I will go one step further. Even 500-rupee notes are not wanted in Calcutta! Rs500 notes (like $10) are considered ‘big notes’ and roundly denied by shopkeepers.

I tried one day as an experiment to pay for things with a 500-rupee note. First I went to a bunch of Barabazaar restaurants. I tried to order Rs20 lassis and pay with a 500. I was turned away at three restaurants.

Next I went to three or four restaurants along Chowringhee. I was flatly turned away at each place as soon as they saw a Rs500 bill come out of my pocket. It is a big disconcerting: India is the sort of place where, in general, everyone is jumping over everyone else to sell you something, anything: but really, all it takes to make a tout go away is a glimpse of a Rs500 note.

Finally, on a whim, I bought a two-litre bottle of water (Rs25) at a Muslim stall near New Market. They made a big production out of it, going on at length about how I was cleaning them out of change, and then emptying a drawer of change, trying to throw in soap, shampoo, and “biscuit” as substitutes for change, but in the end I got my Rs475.

I went to take the metro (where, as the article notes, rides go for about Rs3) and when I got to front of the line I saw a poor fellow waiting there, looking sullen and dejected.

“I need to buy a metro ticket, but they don’t have change!” he cried, waving a bill around in the air. “Do you have change for a 500?”


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the world of rice, pt. 1

On returning to my house after some absence, I was surprised to discover a shiny silver packet in my cupboard. A number of items had appeared in my house, due to various comers-and-goers watching the place whilst I was away: a 1970s-era book-and-LP set about the U.S. Civil War, a pile of 8-track tapes, a jar of pineapple salsa, and a number of other inexplicable items. However, my greedy eyes immediately set upon this foil package as being of the most interest due to the foodstuff contained within: basmati rice!

The small shiny packet, pictured above, proclaimed itself to be ‘Shrilalmahal’ (all one word) ‘Excellent Quality’ basmati rice, and what was more, was labeled ‘SAMPLE (No Commercial Value)’. One the front, as you can see, ‘rice’ is written in a variety of languages- no Hindi, funnily enough, although the company is based in Delhi and has a plant in Haryana. In fact, the company has gone to the trouble of placing Arabic on the package- at a first casual glance, I assumed it to be Urdu, but when I examined the package closer, I saw it to be Arabic, in Kufic script no less (القصر الاحمر, i.e., al-Qasr al-aHmr, Lal Mahal [Red Fort] in Arabic)- not sure what the reasoning is behind this. (I was also proud of myself for being able to read Kufic, which is a bit decorative for my tastes).

A blurb on the back of the package stated that ‘ShriLal Mahal Basmati rice is the choice brand with all the leading chain and Restaurants in different part of the world’ (sic) and went on to tout that said rice was ‘Sugar free & Fat free’, like all the other rice in the world.

I had no idea where this rice could have come from, but while cleaning up the house I found a couple of back issues of Femina magazine, the popular Indian women’s monthly. I was interested in a few articles touted on the cover- ‘Why Bengalis Look So Happy at the Table’ and ‘Israel, for a Med holiday that packs a punch’ (I was hoping the title was a political statement, but I didn’t see occupation mentioned once in the feature). In any case, buried within the magazine, at page 216, I found a full-page advertisement for Shri Lal Mahal rice, and it occurred to me that the rice sample must have been a free gift that came with the magazine, as is common in India when pavement-sellers have not managed to steal the free gift out of the magazine before you buy it.

The ad, in typical Indian hyperbole, describes the rice as ‘suitable for all ages’ and continues:

Espesially [sic] grown paddy that is aged for 2 years… in a way to evidently make it the healthiest…


I visited the Shri Lal Mahal website and found a looping commercial (warning, just starts playing of its own accord) full of singing and dancing. There were also a lot of grammatically-questionable sentences. I also noted that in addition to rice, Shri Lal Mahal is in the business of washing powder (“Pleasant Fragrance”) and scrap metal (Ferrous Metal Scrap, Non Ferrous Metal Scrap, Lead Scrap – “the unblemished quality of our products has fetched us the accolades of our clients spread across the world,” they note).

I ended up using the rice yesterday to create a dish I call “Jaan-tar Mantar”. It has nothing to do with the similarly-named observatory in Delhi, but rather comes from the Hindi jaan (darling, my love) and the Turkish mantar (mushroom); thus, mushroom, my love. And a love affair it certainly was, albeit one that came to a close as I licked the last grain of 18.00mm Shri Lal Mahal rice from the plate and smacked my lips in a most atrocious manner for a while.

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Walking around Seattle on a warmish summer’s eve, I came across a man in a tree and two large women in salwar kameezes at the base. I wandered over and found that they were up someone’s cherry tree; the man was at the top, tossing down the ripest cherries to the ladies, who put them in plastic bags. I picked a few cherries myself, at which they exchanged some words in a foreign tongue. On my asking what language they were speaking, I was told it was Bangla. At this I became excited and trotted out some of my limited stock of Bangla words, but they told me they were not from West Bengal, but from Bangladesh, and the words I was spouting were meaningless to them, the eastern dialect being apparently drastically different (“some same” they told me).

I asked them how they said goodbye in Bangladeshi Bengali and they told me “khuda hafiz”, at which I became excited and said “Like in Urdu!”, but they just looked confused and gave me some more cherries.

In any case, not knowing anything about East Bengal (though they assured me Dacca was nice), let us move to West Bengal, about which I was planning on writing something anyhow. Let us focus a little on Gariahat Road.

Gariahat Road is a street in Calcutta- supposedly a pretty ritzy area, but like most high-end districts in India, you wouldn’t know it if you weren’t assured it was. But it’s a nice place, and perhaps increasingly known for its shopping. I’m not sure that there’s anything around there for the tourist, but the locals love it:

I am a huge New Market fan, but getting there is a hassle. For lots of Bengali bhadraloks and bhadramahilas, the Gariahat pavement flea markets have become an easy substitute to battling it out to Esplanade every once in a while. You get almost everything at Gariahat[:] clothing, accessories, shoes, trinkets, bed linen, street food and more… But yes, there are people who love their Gariahat pavement as much as my parents’ generation enjoyed their days out at New Market…

That said,

[t]he clothing you get at Gariahat is, in my humble opinion, tacky. Hours of searching, of pushing behind hanger after hanger and you just might find a piece you mildly like. The hawkers maintain that their things are “exclusively imported” from Bangkok or China… Gariahat tee shirts sometimes carry labels of “small”, “medium” and “large”. When you put one small tee over a large one, you’ll see they are roughly the same size. The kurtas are not meant for anyone of less than elephantine dimensions. In winter, colourful rags are put up for sale under the name of shawls and stoles.

(Malini Bhattacharya, ‘How the other half shops’, Statesman, 2010)

Gariahat flyover (streets are empty as it's Holi)

street hawkers

These street sellers, or ‘hawkers’ in the Indian parlance, line the streets with these various items, and they seem to do a brisk trade with local women. They even have their own website, the ‘Gariahat Indira Hawkers Union’; they give a bit of history there:

Hawkers first came to Ballygunge (Gariahat) in around the year 1951 after the partition of india . They mainly consisted of the refugees from East Pakisthan  now Bangladesh . They started selling their wares from the streets in around Ballygunge Station along Rashbehari Avenue and Gariahat Road. Early records show that they sold their merchandise from  gunny sacks along the footpath of these roads… Not much has changed from the stalls then and as seen today. Every night these make-shift stalls had to be dismantled and the merchandise removed to a safe location for storage. (sic, source)

Today the stalls are not generally dismantled, but there are still hawkers who pack everything up in gunny sacks at the end of each night and move the items elsewhere- into the apartment I was staying in, even, and they’d be back at 6am the next morning to haul the whole lot back down to the street again.

packing up a stall at the end of the night

The markets continue up and down Rash Behari Avenue, and that I’ll save for another post.

Pani puri man, Gariahat

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indianisms, cont’d

(See explanation of Indianisms)

Grammar: article missing off of the U.S., the U.S.A., the United States, the States: in American, it is incorrect to leave off the article (‘the’) when referring to the U.S., etc. (except in adjectival uses, headlines, etc: Millions of U.S. weapons have been given to Pakistan.  U.S. President wanted for war crimes.). In India, the ‘the’ is almost universally ignored/dropped. This is quite common among English-language learners worldwide, but in India one hears it from the educated class as well.


– You are from U.S.; you wouldn’t understand (told to me in India) = Am. from the U.S.

Reports are coming in that the new generation iPad, the iPad2, will see the light of the day in Apple Stores across US on April 2… = Am. across the U.S. (web, 2011)

Epaper of Pune Times of India is the most important resource from me, a Puneite in US, to read news about Pune. (web)

– Bro[,] i m of indian origin and i live in US and i do feel proud when something good happens in India but I have seen people achieve great heights here… (web)

I am an Indian living in US and personally, I find BBC to be the most reliable source of news about the country. (web, 2007)

[T]raffic density in India is very low as compared to US. In US 600 out of 1000 people own a personal car and in India 6 out of 1000… [A]hmedabad expressway looks like any other freeway in US… (web)

Mahesh’s uncle who stays in US was the first one to be informed about the death by the university authorities. (Times of India, 2008)

My sister stays in US with her family there. (web, 2006)

There is separate quota for H1B visa for people who have graduated from USA… You can stay in USA till the time you want, earn money and then return if you want to. If you want to get settled in USA , GRE is best or the only option for you. (web, 2010)

So I was up the whole time, since those of you know I live in USA… (web, 2011)

– I got this phone yesterday, it rocks. I lived in States, so 4g is also available with Sprint… (web, 2010)

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indianisms, cont’d: to expire.

(See explanation of Indianisms)

To expire for to die, as in a person. I don’t believe we can ever say in American that a person has “expired”.


– My dog expired. (overheard in India)

Sri V. M. KALIPRASAD, Assistant Engineer (Graphics), The Hindu, expired on 27-2-2003 (The Hindu, obituaries, 2003).

With profound sorrow, it is brought to the notice of all the Jain community that Shri S.K. Jain… and Ms. Nandita Jain, Deputy Managing Director, Times of India Group of Newspapers expired in a helicopter crash… (Jain Ahimsa Times, 2001)

Gaurav, on the other hand, a resident of Bhiwandi, was admitted to Wadia hospital on September 7… According to hospital sources, he expired within a couple of hours of being admitted. (S. Tatke, Times of India, 2009)

Of course, I was hired, being the last reporter that the legendary Behram Contractor (editor of Afternoon) would hire. He expired 3 months after I joined (I had nothing to do with that!!). (, 2011)

Fighting for a noble cause she [Annie Besant] expired in India on September 20, 1933. (web)

She expired four days later on 15.1.1991 but not before she made two dying declarations… (Delhi High Court murder appeal, 2006)

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dhaula kuan

Dhaula Kuan is a freeway overpass and five-way intersection in South Delhi. It’s where National Highway 8 from Gurgaon comes in to greater Delhi, and it’s also the road to the airport.

Why do they call it Dhaula Kuan? Perhaps not one Delhiite in ten thousand knows the answer. One fellow who does have a few ideas is a Mr. Ronald V. Smith, who, despite his name, appears to be a through-and-through Indian. He has written a book called ‘The Delhi No-one Knows’ (you can read a profile of R.V. Smith done by M. A. Soofi here– please do take a look).

Smith writes in the Januray 15th 2007 issue of the Hindu that Dhaula Kuan takes its name from a well in the area, noting that the area around the well is fine for picnics, “especially when the weather is pleasant and people can sit it out in the open or under the trees the whole day”. As for the well, Smith concedes that little is known of it, only that it is a not-especially-impressive 200 years old. Since it is placed along the Gurgaon road, conjecture is that the Moghul leader Shah Alam had it built. Shah Alam was more of less a puppet figure whose empire consisted essentially of that road and the area around it, and he was fond of surveying his kingdom, often getting thirsty while on the road. There is a well-known saying about Shah Alam which runs thusly: “Az Dilli ta Palam, Badshah Shah Alam”, or ‘From Delhi to Palam (i.e., about 10 miles) is the kingdom of Shah Alam’. The quote still turns up in contemporary politics:

Participating in the debate on inflation, leader of the Opposition Jaswant Singh feigned sympathy with the plight of the prime minister. “Mr Singh’s prime ministership reminds me of the humiliating quip about Mughal emperor Shah Alam — Sultanat-e-Shah Alam, Az Dilli te Palam (The realm of Shah Alam extends from Delhi to Palam). In Mr Manmohan Singh’s case, it stretches from Race Course Road [the PM’s house – ed.] to Race Course Road,” Mr Jaswant Singh said (BJP likens PM to Shah Alam, Times of India wire, 2008)

In any case, we’re not sure who built the well, why, or why it’s named Dhaula Kuan (i.e., White Well). The ‘white’ part could refer to a fair-skinned lady, some say. Or perhaps it has to do with the sand around the well, which is white. In either case, “when passing by[,] do think of someone fair. Also, it may make the well blush” (Smith, 2007).

I recently undertook a trip from Haryana to Delhi via Dhaula Kuan, which is why I mention the whole thing. I was in the exceedingly muddy town of Badshahpur- Bachapur, I called it, as I’d only heard it said: later I found it was actually Badshahpur, which makes more sense. On the main road in Badshahpur, I was taken in hand by a rickshaw driver who chatted amiably with me in Hindi, though I can’t say I understood it all. I was taken to a rickshaw, a group rickshaw, or auto in Indian English, the kind that fourteen people get in to- four in the extra-wide seat, four facing, four on the back bumper, one on either side of the driver on jump seats, then the driver, and then a fellow hanging off. We came to Rajiv Chowk- not the code name of Connaught Place, but a different Rajiv Chowk, which was a freeway overpass with a sign reading ‘Delhi, 33km’. The rickshaw driver called for all “Rajiv-Chowk-wallahs” to get off, we each paid Rs. 10, and then I sort of stumbled around in the dark trying to figure out how to get from there to Dhaula Kuan.

I crossed the street and found a number of people standing in the road waiting. Then a sort-of jeep came by and slowed down a bit, and men made to dash into it, and a fellow hanging out called out “Dhaula Kuan, Dhaula Kuan” and so I hopped in as well. After a few seconds, however, some cops in khaki came over, got in the jeep, and began arguing with the driver. It was in Hindi, but we were all in the back area and couldn’t hear much. The cops made everyone up front in the cab get out, began waving around some folded-up, laminated, hand-written papers (apparently the driver’s license), and eventually we were all hustled out the back of the jeep and the cops drive the empty white jeep away somewhere.

At that point a beat-up old ramshackle bus slowed down; on the side was written ‘Rajasthan Roadways’ in Hindi. It slowed, not stopped, and I pulled myself on. I sat in the back. There was a slick fellow in a black jacket that played dance-pop over his cell phone. An older man came round to collect money for tickets, but on asking me something- I didn’t hear him over the bus noise, but I assumed he asked where I was going- I responded ‘Dhaula Kuan’. He nodded and walked off without asking for any money. Free bus ride!

The bus passed some various military canteens and dormitories, and then slowed down. Two rustic fellows in beanies and scarves, each with large buckets of paint stored between their legs, turned round and asked me in Hindi if we were at Dhaula Kuan. I told them we were and we alighted. It was dark out and I saw only a pedestrian overpass, two fellows selling biscuits, chai, and running an STD phone line off an upturned wooden box, and a few people in a bus shelter. That was my first time to Dhaula Kuan, and I knew nothing of the well or of its storied place in history. But next time I end up there, you can be sure I will look for the well and report back to you.

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indianisms, cont’d.

(See explanation of Indianisms)

Grammar: Linking of preposition with noun/pronoun/etc. The most common of these is upto, not found outside of India so far as I know (we have into, and maybe onto, but not upto). However, it is not limited to up; in Indian English, any prepositions are freely linked.


What Bachelor Entrepreneurs are Upto? (web, 2010)

List of Publications produced upto March, 2010 (Government of India, 2010).

Serial Number and a Register Number of the Certificate issued tohim. (Andhra Pradesh government document).

The children in the Government Observation Homes and Juvenile and Special Homes are not supplied with banians and inner garments though clothing and bedding are supplied tothem as per rules. (Government of Tamil Nadu).

[N]o document purporting to transfer immovable property has been registered byme during the said fortnight… (Government of India Tax Office)

The same thing is happened withme at SBI HAL Branch Vimanapuru. (web, 2010)

I had a discussion here in my office with your Mr — and — who had come to discuss this issue withme after your initial mails in reply to my mail and our telephonic conversations. (web, 2011)

The focus of the Year is ‘CitySpaces’ and will deal withall aspects of urban life and development. (web, 2011).

The village of Rattoke is 64 km from Amritsar byroad on the Khem Karan-Gajal Road. (Government of Punjab)

What are the procedures to be undertaken inorder to get an admission for B-Tech in NIT, Calicut? (web, 2011)

More to come!

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