Thursday, August 31, 2006

Ticket to Ride

Last week we decided to get Indian driving licences. Rather than take the rigourous driving test we qualified by dint of having UK licences. We paid for the services of an agent to ease the form filling. This turned out to be well worth the money as there was plenty to fill in, and the forms weren't in English. There were also lots of people to see to get the requisite stamps, so the agent's knowledge of the office's geography was invaluable. After the agent filled in the forms we first had to satisfy the head man that we met the requirements. After a few long looks at our UK licences and accompanying documents he signed the form. On his desk was a voluminous tome entitled Driving Laws of Maharashtra. So there are driving laws, who knew? After that it was off to another desk, we just sat and waited as the agent handled it. Next up was the brave new world of biometrics. A webcam mugshot, thumbprint scan, signature on a graphics tablet, further form stamping and we were done. All that was left was for the forms to be taken for a final round of stamping and the agent said that he would courier the licences in a few days time.

As you can see a few days have passed. As you can see it is a smart card with photo id and a spot for your signature - or thumbprint if you're illiterate. The interesting bit is the vehicle category: LMV is a light motor vehicle otherwise known as a car. MCWG is a motorcycle with gears. Can I drive one? No comment other than that I am properly licensed. Anyway, I've had a look on the internet and know what all the levers and pedals do: what more do I need to know?

Tuesday, August 15, 2006


Now that the waters have receded it is possible to see the roads, or what is left of them. The picture here isn't Pune, our roads are in a much worse state. The problem is a recurring one: monsoon destroys road, contractors 'fix' road, monsoon destroys road. It's a combination of poor management by the local government and incompetence bordering on fraud on the part of the contractors. The newspaper has found no shortage of road related articles to fill its pages. Today we learn that almost £7m has been allotted this year for road projects of which less than £350,000 has been spent. £300,000 of that has been used up as an advance, so precious little has been spent on actually fixing stuff. The contractors seem to have little incentive to do a good job since they'll get paid again when it needs fixing next year. They are meant to provide free repairs for an agreed number of years after laying the road, but there seems to be an absence of enforcement in this particular area of policy. The end result is terrible roads and, with the amount of two wheeled traffic, more accidents. Travelling in an auto-rickshaw, with its minimal suspension, is a bone-shaking experience. It's also a wallet lightning experiences as the rickshaw-wallahs, not known for their fair and honest attitude towards fares, are hiking their prices even more. They do have a point though, the state of the roads means journeys take longer so their fuel costs are increased. As with most grim scenarios, humour is used to lighten the mood. I liked this joke from the paper: In India we drive on the left of the road, in Pune we drive on what's left of the road.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Independence Day

Tuesday, 15th August is a holiday, to celebrate independence from those nasty British types. There is a bit of a security scare here, heightened after the recent events in the UK, regarding the day itself. Sadly, it's not too hard to imagine some group planning such an event. Hopefully all will be well. On a lighter note the sports channel ESPN was advertising an independence day special during the recent England-Pakistan match. The advert was quite odd: it started off with black and white footage with a serious voiceover stating that on this day India had shaken off the imperial yoke. It then became much more cheerful and the footage shifted to cricket in colour. ESPN were going to celebrate the day with replays of famous thrashings of England at the hands of India. Good stuff I'm sure - I'll choose to remember the most recent match between the two sides though.

Roshni's nursery will be on holiday tomorrow too so they celebrated today and she came back with an Indian flag. I wanted to send her with one of these. It's the flag of British India for those who don't know - myself and San included until quite recently. However, San wasn't too keen on the idea and started muttering darkly about the Koh-i-noor.