31 May 2010

Faits divers

Every day in the papers, apart from the headlines, I come across these intriguing, sometimes bizarre, often tragic stories. I’m including some examples below:

Man ‘robbed’ of one kidney

Bangalore: Raghavendra, 26, who went to Singapore, lured by the job market there, returned home after allegedly losing his kidney. The victim is a native of Kundapura, and has accused a family of stealing his kidney, without his knowledge and consent.

Police said Raghavendra has filed a complaint, saying he was lured to Singapore. He had met a person in Mangalore, who promised him a better job opportunity. When he landed in Bangalore, he was offered a job in Singapore.

“After the meeting in September last year, I was asked me to go through a medical test, which was conducted in Manipal Hospital. After the test, I had given my signatures on a few papers for passport and visa. As I am not well-versed in English, I just signed the papers without even reading the material. They told me this was the procedure, before flying to Singapore,’’ he said.

He says he received his passport and visa on December 17 last year and was taken to Singapore and operated in a hospital. “I was unconscious all through the surgery and later, I felt something wrong. When I inquired later, I was told there was a lump in my stomach, which had to be removed."

When he returned, Raghavendra got suspicious and went for a check-up to a hospital in Kundapur. He found his kidney missing. “Then I called up the family and questioned them, but they started threatening me. I was worried and fearing that my old parents would be upset, I did not make it public. But later, my health started deteriorating and I had severe back pain. I have now registered a police complaint," he added.

Police said Raghavendra was taken to Dr Ambedkar Medical College for a test and was asked to come on Wednesday. Investigations are on to see whether he has actually been cheated, police added.

Men pose as cops, take away jewellery

Bangalore: The two posed as policemen in mufti, and good samaritans at that. They approached two women who left a marriage hall in Basavanagudi, and advised them to take care of their jewellery and go home, as there was some commotion ahead.

The two ‘cops’ then hailed an autorickshaw, bundled them into it, and asked the autodriver to take care of the two women. Only after travelling for some distance did the women — Anasuya, 70, and her daughter Padmaja, 45 — realize that their jewellery worth Rs 3 lakh was missing.

According to police, while Anasuya and Padmaja were waiting for an autorickshaw at KR Road-HB Samaj Road Junction, the two men introduced themselves and warned them that a robbery had taken place ahead. They advised them to keep their jewellery safe in their bags.

They also offered to help them remove the jewellery, but the women declined, and put the jewels into their handbag. One of the men offered to lock it properly, and took the bag. Then, they hailed an auto.

It was the autodriver who grew suspicious, and after travelling some distance, asked the women about the men. When the women narrated what had happened, the driver pulled up the vehicle and asked them to check their jewellery. When they opened the bag, they found it missing.

Woman Kills Child, Self

Anita, 28, committed suicide with her daughter Harshita, 7, by jumping into an open well in Bagalur police station limits. According to police, Anita’s husband had deserted her sometime ago. She was living in a rented house and working with a private company. Recently, the company closed down and Anita did not had any source of income.

Couple Arrested

This couple looked like any other passengers on trains and buses. They would mingle easily with everyone and even offer soft drinks and tea to their co-passengers.

Passengers who succumbed to the drinks, laced with sleeping pills, would fall unconscious, and the couple would decamp with their valuables at the next station.

Upparpet police arrested the couple — Venkatesh, 28, and his wife Mamata, 21, residents of Bommanahalli. The accused had used this modus operandi to rob several passengers on trains like Bangalore-Mysore, Bangalore-Ramanagaram, Hassan-Arasikere and several other routes.

The police recovered 435 gm of gold, worth Rs 7 lakh. The couple had recently drugged a couple, Rajappa and Puttamma, at the Kempegowda bus station and stolen 170 gm of valuables, Rs 21,000 in cash and a debit card.

Fun Ride Turns Fatal

A fun ride on a tractor’s mudguard turned fatal for Vijay, 7, who was crushed under its rear wheel on Monday. The incident took place at 4 pm in Shanthipriya Layout, Electronic City. Vijay, who lives with his uncle, was playing with his friends when the tractor carrying a water tanker arrived to fill water. Since Vijay knew the driver, he boarded the tractor and sat on its bumper. When the driver moved the vehicle, Vijay fell down and was crushed under the rear wheel. Driver has been arrested.

Corpse lies on platform for hours

Bangalore: He could have been anyone — a young man, lying dead, his eyes open and facing the ground, face damaged, clothes torn, and his toes wounded. Flies and insects swarmed over him.

The corpse lay on Platform 4 at the City Railway Station. Passengers stopped to look, but all walked on. An aged person, Mrs Yashiya (name changed) decided to stick around and get the corpse a decent burial. She even kept her guest waiting, but her attempt went in vain.

Said Mrs Yashiya: “At 8.30 am, I came here to receive my guest. The train was delayed by more than an hour. I was looking for some space to sit when I spotted the body. I went to the coffee kiosk, where the attendant told me he knew about the corpse. Some other boys said the body was lying there for the past three days.”

“I went to the store room for help. The person there called a number but till I left, nobody had turned up. I stopped a railway policeman, but he just walked past. I also met one of the engineers, but he said it wasn’t his duty. Finally, I had to leave, it troubled me, I have seen even dead dogs on highways get a decent send-off,’’ she said.

By 11.30 am, a Railway Police official finally reached the spot. “This is a frequent sight here, particularly with handicapped beggars and child labourers who travel on trains. Some of them are found dead on platforms and while trying to cross tracks,’’ he said.

Asked about the delay in action, he said: “We came as soon as we were informed. The corpse couldn’t have been here for three days. It must have happened around 4.30 am today.’’ The body was sent to Victoria Hospital mortuary by late afternoon. The youth’s identity is still unknown. “He must be from North India as he had a tattoo in Hindi. Looks like he was a beggar,” the official said.

23 May 2010

Mr Cab Driver

When I first moved here I wondered why people like to sleep in their cars during the day. After a while I noticed that these daytime sleepers were usually dressed in white. Then I realized that they were men working as drivers catching up on sleep!

Recently I was in an airport taxi coming back from the airport. It was around 1am. There was almost no traffic and the road was clear. But I noticed the car was slowing down and then accelerating… slowing down and then accelerating again. I glanced at the driver and realized that this slowing down – speeding up motion was happening in tandem with his eyelids which were drooping shut and then blinking opening again. For the rest of the ride home we tried to keep a conversation going to keep him from falling asleep at the wheel! When we finally reached home safe and sound I asked the driver if he was going home to catch up on some sleep. He told me that he had two more airport runs to do before he could call it a night!

Later a friend told me that the driver of an airport cab she was riding in recently had fallen asleep and drove right into the central divider! Luckily they were not hurt but the brand new cab was a wreck.

Maybe the new airport has something to do with taxi drivers' chronic sleep deprivation. The new airport is 40km away from the city centre. Most international flights arrive and take off after midnight and early morning domestic flights are common. Two new taxi companies have managed to secure a monopoly at the airport. In a way, these shiny brand-new white and green Mahindra Renault taxis have revolutionalized transportation in Bangalore. They’re air-conditioned, have ‘tamper-proof’ meters, GPS systems, offer printed receipts and even the option of paying by credit card. They can be booked by phone or via the Internet. A confirmation is sent to the customer by sms with the driver’s name and phone number.

These drivers usually speak some English. I often ask them about their working conditions and whether this new taxi system offers a good deal to them. Drivers have to go through a rigorous selection process and a training period during which they learn how to treat customers, and how to drive safely (!). They have to pay a daily fee to the cab company of 950 rupees. This is in addition to fuel costs which are paid out of their own pockets. The car belongs to the company but after a set number of years the driver can become the owner of his cab through some kind of leasing system. Maintenance costs are covered by the company.

In order to cover his daily costs and make a minimum daily wage, a driver has to make at least 3 return trips to the airport. (He’ll make 600-700 rupees per trip.) Apparently this is not easy. This is why these cab companies are difficult to book for trips within the city: somehow they are only available for airport trips. Drivers often give their mobile phone numbers to customers asking them to call them directly if they need an airport drop instead of contacting the call centre. I have even heard that some drivers pay bribes to call centre staff so that they get more customers!

In order to cover their expenses and make a living, these cab drivers have to take as many customers as possible, again preferably to the airport. They tend to drive fast and often dangerously (the faster they drive the more trips they’ll put in?). Since the peak time for airport drops is between 10pm and 1am and 4am and 7am, many work during the night. Then there’s all the airport pick-ups during the day. No wonder they’re sleep deprived!

Images © Meru Cabs

15 May 2010

Repair and reuse

My mixer-grinder stopped working. I was making hummus when the motor just gave up and the blade stopped rotating. The chick peas were only a half-ground mess. Time to get a new one, I thought… anyway one of the blades had broken into two and the handle of one of the jugs was about to fall off. But I didn’t rush out to buy a new one until not having a mixer-grinder started to become a real inconvenience.

A word here about mixer-grinders: no Indian household is complete without one. Each kitchen must have one – along with the compulsory pressure cooker and tawa (a flat pan used to make chappatis). A mixer-grinder is an integral part of every Indian kitchen, used to grind spices into powders, make idly and dosa batter and chop up coconut. You simply cannot live without one. Though I had managed to live without one before moving to India, my beloved mixie had become one of my most essential kitchen tools. Instead of grinding spices and mixing dosa batter though, I used mine to grind flax seeds and make hummus, amongst other things. The blender option is good for fruit smoothies. So when it stopped working I was at a loss.

I was on the way to the shop to look for a new mixer-grinder when I met my landlady. “Where are you going?” is one of her favourite questions. When I told her what had happened she was horrified: “How will you cook!?” she asked, aghast. I told her that since I’d had the mixer-grinder for three years, maybe it was time for a new one. She looked even more horrified. “Only three years? I’ve had my mixie for over 30 years and it’s still working! No, no, don’t buy a new one!” she begged me. She had a solution for me. “You can take it to the repairman!”

I had passed the little repair shops on the main road dozens of times where I’d see men tinkering around with screwdrivers and wires, but I hadn’t even thought of this option. Why? Because where I come from these little shops do not exist. If something breaks, you try to fix it. If you’re unsuccessful then you buy a new one. Why? Because appliances are usually cheaper to replace than to fix!

Not in India. India is the country of recycle, reuse and repair! So off I went to the repair shop. My mixer-grinder was not the only casualty. The repairman happened to be working on another mixie which seemed to be in far worse condition: the body had been opened up and a mess of wires was spilling all over the operation table. Mine was child’s play in comparison. The plastic disc which had worn out and stopped rotating was swiftly exchanged for another one. The broken blade was removed and replaced with an identical shiny brand-new one. Total repair time: 5 minutes. Cost: 70 rupees. My mixie was as good as new.

My landlady was happy my mixer-grinder had come back to life. “How much did you pay?” (another favourite question). “You see! I saved you 2000 rupees!” she told me proudly.

05 May 2010

Read the sign II

(Above image courtesy of Kristin Allen)

India must of the country of quirky signs. Following Part 1, here is Part 2 of 'Read the sign!'