If It's Sunday, It Must Be Mumbai
By drapeau on Feb 24, 2005
On Sunday afternoon, I flew from Chennai to Mumbai as a transition day for business with partners in Pune on Monday and Tuesday. But first, I gotta mention one brief moment from dinner on Saturday in Chennai.
The restaurant at the Sheraton in Chennai was quite good, and there was live music: a group of musicians playing Indian instruments. I'm enjoying listening to the music in the background, when all of a sudden I hear "Happy Birthday To You" being played by these musicians. I tell ya, it really grooves when that little ditty is accompanied by a good hand-drummer. Weird? Absolutely. Disorienting? You betcha, pal. Amusing? Amusing as hell, yes.
You walk into the hotel and you start to believe, though. I get treated with obsequiously great service. The lobby is gorgeous; the rooms are clean and beautiful. I'll get to happy hour in a minute, but I should digress here to talk about the drive into the city from the airport.
Flying into Mumbai was different than flying into the other cities in India I visited on this trip (Bangalore, Pune, Chennai). Mumbai was the only city in which I could see clear signs of extreme poverty. There were rows upon rows of shacks made of aluminum grille or other temporary-looking material, packed together in stark contrast to the other more sturdy buildings in the city. It was a bit shocking to see it. I could see destitution much more readily than I could in the other Indian cities I visited.
On the other hand, roads seemed to make more sense to me on the short drive we had to Mumbai. There were more cars on the road, roads were wider and seemed more like what I'm used to seeing in the U.S., a little.
So coming into the ITC Sheraton Grand Central was quite a contrast to the ride from the airport itself. And pretty soon, I admit that I got into the spirit of being pampered by the hotel, which brings me to happy hour.
There's not much more to say about Mumbai because the stay was brief; the next morning we set out in a cab (we were driven by somebody, of course; we didn't drive ourselves) from Mumbai to Pune. This was along NH4 (National Highway 4), where the posted speed limit is 80kph but the speed we drove whenever the road conditions permitted it was about 150kph. That is almost three times as fast as I've gone by car in Bangalore and man, was it nice. The trip took about two and a half hours.
Coming Into Pune
Leaving Mumbai, I left behind some pretty dry land; coming into Pune looked to me kind of like coming into Bangalore in the sense that it felt like a smaller city. There was a ton of new housing being built, and the feeling I got was that it was being built for repatriated Indians who were used to living in Silicon Valley apartments and condos (for you Bay Area citizens, think about the Rivermark complex in Santa Clara, next to the Sun campus on Montague Expressway). It looks to me as if Pune is going to become in five years what Bangalore is now, which is nice, but crowded with traffic.
There was a business meeting in early afternoon that went well (for Sun partner engineering folks, you've either already been sent a copy of my meeting notes or can ask to see them if you really need to know). The weather was like California in late spring: kind of dry, a small breeze blowing, and about 80 degrees. Best weather I experienced the whole trip.
That night, a few of us Sun folks met up for happy hour in the hotel, then dinner. I'm going to conclude this blog entry with a description of this little incident. First, a little bit of personal information about me.
(WARNING: If you are a professional lounge musician or avid amateur karaoke singer, you may want to skip this section to avoid having your feelings hurt.)
When I listen to songs, I have great difficulty hearing the lyrics. I naturally tend to focus on the music, the instruments and maybe the voice of the singer, but almost never the lyrics. I'm lyrically-impaired, you might say. Also, if I'm in conversation with somebody and there's live music playing nearby, it's difficult for me to hear the conversation in front of me because the music is often catching my attention.
So, I'm sitting with three of my Sun colleagues and we're having a pretty interesting conversation about arranged marriages and such. Behind us is a young, slender Indian guy with glasses and a mustache; he looks like an IT professional, but really he's the happy hour lounge entertainment for the evening and I find the performer distracting.
It's not as if the guy's a great performer. For one thing, after watching him "play" the keyboard for a few moments I realize that the keyboard is doing most of the playing for him. And another: the guy has decided to leave absolutely no distance between his vocal cords and the microphone (I hope they swab those things between performers), and evidently it's a good idea that his voice coach must have given him because even with the mic stuffed into his mouth, I can still barely hear him singing. And that's a good thing, because the IT-nerd-slash-Prince-wannabe has an effeminate voice that I happen to find fascinating the way that I also find automobile accidents or the Ultimate Fighting Championship (favorite fighter: Royce Gracie) morbidly compelling. I just cannot believe that anybody has allowed this guy to perform in public. I mean, the Taj Blue Diamond in Pune, India is a nice hotel! Really! And this guy is the entertainment.
So I'm missing out on some good arranged marriage conversation but I work my way back to it, finally thinking I'm able to let it go and not pay too much attention to this guy's rendition of Shania Twain's "You're Still The One" (really, he actually sang that song, which I used to like before last week). And then, the reason I'm even writing about this guy at all, happens. He's in the middle of "performing" a new song (where the word "performing" is defined as "looking at his play list to see what two-digit number to enter into the keyboard's vast memory of cheesy songs so he can start singing along karaoke style"), when his cell phone rings...and HE TAKES THE CALL.
Maybe this is the Big Lesson that P Diddy and Britney Spears and Madonna and Elton John and Frank Sinatra and the troubadours of medieval Europe learned: in the middle of singing your big hit number, you go ahead and let your cell phone's voice mail answer for ya. But no, not this guy; whoever it was who called was important enough that the guy picked up the phone and started talking. Of course, the synthesizer didn't get the hint; it kept playing its part.
I'd say "Only in India", except I'm deeply worried that this kind of quality of low-level entertainment is available all around the world.
By the way, it is "Tequila Fest" week at the Taj in Pune; drop by during happy hour sometime and enjoy the ambiance.