Wednesday, 14 March 2012

India travelogue - No country for old men

Day 3 in Cyberabad

Went to Ramoji film city yesterday. Got a bit late getting ready in the morning and missed the 0825 bus from Paryatak Bhavan  in Greenlands and so we had to take a Meru Cab all the way.

It turned out to be a long drive through Begumpet and Secunderabad to exit the city on the Vijaywada highway. Passed  familiar parts of the city: Sangeet cinema where V and I would often go to see a movie when we lived here some 30 years ago;  Tarnaka and National Institute of Nutrition, and Habshiguda where we lived after getting married. Uppal was the outer limit of the twin cities when I knew it. Beyond that its all new to me. What used to be a road going through empty farm land is now a bustling 4 lane road with shops, malls,  a Big Bazaar and restaurants and hotels on both sides.  And granite/marble outlets.  I come to the conclusion that just like cranes dotting a city skyline are indicative of a buidling boom in progress, in India, the number of outlets dealing in marble or granite gives the best measure of building activity. Counted at least 50 of them before reaching Hayathnagar.

Ramoji Film city is a marvel in its own right; its a theme park, film production facility and tourist attraction all in one 2000 acre campus. Its quite a remarkable achievement of one man's vision.

A large party of girls from St Ann's school in Bolarum, assorted tourist groups from all parts of India and families of various sizes. For a working day, it was good to see so many people out to enjoy themselves and yet the facilities and the infrastructure handled it all easily.

The entertainment was pretty good too. A delay in the start of one of the shows gave the audience, including the St Ann's contingent, the opportunity to provide their own entertainment in the form of impromptu dancing to whatever bollywood song was on the PA system. A semi-competitive spirit seemed spontaneously to emerge with groups in different parts of the huge auditorium trying to outdo each other.

It dawned on me that the vast majority of the audience were under 25. Suddenly I realised first hand the implications of what is a well known demographic statistic; this is a young country with the proportion of under 25s set to rise even further.

No country for old men or women, India.

Its the young you see everywhere, they supply the services and the labour and also consume the product or the service.

Back home after a long day I check with the railway reservation website ( to discover that we are still on the waiting list for the journey to Nagpur. No option but to try and book tatkal (Emergency) tickets. These special tickets are open for booking a day before the journey but demand is high and only the first few in the queue have any chance of getting it.
So off I go to Khairatabad station at 7.15.  The counter opens at 8.00 but the queue had already built up with 20 or so people ahead of me already. Doesn't look hopeful. At 7.30 I learn from others in the queue that you need a photocopy of your photo-id to apply for a tatkal ticket. I remember reading something about this but assumed you needed to produce a photo id and so I was carrying my PAN card, but a photocopy? That’s a bit much; what do they want to do with it? Frame it?

But I’m told it is a must, without it my application for tatkal tickets won't even be considered.

My situation looks increasingly hopeless. I went off in search of a xerox shop - at 7.45 am nothing is open except tea stalls and petrol stations.  One stationery shop with a photocopying machine is just about opening but No, he isn’t really open until 8.30; the lad who operates the photocopier doesn’t come in till then. Cant I operate the machine? I ask. He is aghast at the suggestion; No way he says. The guy is clearly getting annoyed at my inexplicable persistence, so I give up..

Then I notice that the Khairatabad branch of ICICI Bank is just about opening but the armed guard shuts the door after letting in a pair of staff members and takes his place in a plastic chair by the door, rifle by his side. I decide to try my luck.  They are just opening up the branch he tells me, the bank itself is open for business only at 8. That's too late for me, so I plead my case for special treatment. Finally I manage to sweet talk him to helping me ('I am an ICICI bank customer with xx lakhs on deposit, a photocopy isn’t asking much'). He must be the first Indian official not to be a job's worth. He agrees to do it himslef, goes back inside, locks the door and goes away with my PAN Card, and returns a few minutes later with the all important photocopy. Quite remarkable I thought to myself even as I invoke god's blessings on him and his kids. He smiles and waves away my gratitude, addressing me as uncle-ji - Ive made his day and learned that there may still be a place for old-ish looking  men in this country.

I may have been pleased with my success of  getting a photocopy of a document at 7.50 am but Indian Railways proves altogether more intractable.  

My place in the queue has been maintained by friendly fellow sufferers who are pleasantly surprised at my triumphant return with the necessary photocopy just as the counter was opening. They agree the pointlessness of the photocopy-of-id requirement but philosophically shrug their shoulders in a gesture that indicates the futility of arguing with it. By the time my turn comes up at the counter, all that is left is a position on the waiting list even in the tatkal quota. That's of little use to me, so I turn down the offer and walk away with a photocopy (of my PAN card) that I did not want and without the tatkal tickets that I did want. You win some, you loose more. 

I cross the road back onto Rajbhavan Road towards home taking advantage of a lull in traffic at the lights that I thought was good  driving behaviour.

No such thing.

All the traffic on Khairatabad cross roads had been held up to allow a motorcade of important looking cars to sweep down Banjara Hills into Raj Bhavan Road. A  Merc with darkened windows, police jeeps with sirens going in the anemic way only Indian police cars do, and a couple of white Ambassadors with guys in impressive military uniforms. No autos in sight but manage to hop into a bus with a couple of seats spare!

Back home I decide to solve the problem of how to travel to Nagpur by throwing money at it.  I went on the net, logged into  and within minutes I had booked flights to Nagpur on Sunday. We'll get there 4 hours later than we would have by train. It took me longer to learn that buying emergency quota rail tickets is not straightforward, while booking a flight, provided you have the means to pay, is relatively simple. Let's not even consider the carbon factor, after flights from and back to England are taken into account, this is a relatively small extra puff.

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