This is the beginning of my new life in India. I chose to start this journey at my family house where I spent the first 18 years of my life before I left for college. I have been here for a week and gotten over the jetlag with life falling into a languid rythm. I have 2 weeks to chill out before I jump into the fray again and I plan to make the best of it. I typically wake up around 7 or 8 am and join my mom for tea. Some days, I am lazy and my maid brings me tea in bed. Then, the local masseuse shows up to give me a one hour massage. He charges me Rs 30 and takes a Rs 20 tip only after much insisting. I wasn't too happy to get a male masseuse initially but when my mom asked me why I preferred a female masseuse, I dropped the topic quickly.
Around 11:30 am, one of my high school buddies picks me up in his car and we go to hang out at a local tea stall called Bawwaji. The tea stall takes its name after the owner who is a large amiable fellow. He makes the best tea in the city with his own special blend of masalas. Bawwaji is located under a huge peepal tree with wide branches that provide a leafy canopy to the regulars who are permanent fixtures at this charming tea stall. I have some friends here who are so regular here that they have suggested Bawwaji should cut them in as partners. The assembly is usually parked on large chunks of stones lying under the peepal tree. The Bawwaji tea stall is a social institution in Jamshedpur and it's significance is often underestimated by those who are not in the know. This is where the budding intellectuals of Jamshedpur gather to banter about everything under the sun. I am constantly amazed at the range of opinions to be found here, and especially the conviction with which they are delivered by self proclaimed 'experts', many of whom have acquired their worldly knowledge purely by imaginative speculation. If you want to learn how to BS convincingly about anything under the sun without a clue about it, you need to come here and spend a week. Of course, Lalu is considered to be a demi-God here. I have offered to finance a couple of the promising 'intellectuals' to go for national politics, but they politely declined, citing sheer laziness. It's a shame.
Most my high school friends who have remained here have now inherited businesses from their parents and lead fairly laid back lives. They get to work around 9:30-10 am, take a break at 11:30 to have some tea with friends at a neighboring tea stall, then the wives start calling to make sure they have lunch at home. So tea time expands into lunch time and predictably lunch is followed by an afternoon siesta till 3 pm. Of course, 3 pm is tea time again! Somewhere between 3-7, work gets done in a languid space under the hot summer sun, over endless endless cups of tea and debates over the next hot real estate opportunity.
My friends have been hanging out at the neighboring tea stall for the last 15-20 years and I was welcomed like the prodigal son who's been away for too long. It's been surprisingly easy to slip back into the local bihari slang, although I am still catching up on the local gossip. In this sleepy town, time stands still, people age well and the context of long discussions over tea and samosas hardly changes. I went for a drink to the local club ('Beldih Club' is the local country club for Tata bigwigs) and I was a bit apprehensive that no one would recognize me after all this time. The old security guard recognized me but mistook me for my brother and wondered how he had lost all his hair in the last 2 years when he saw him last! As I walked into the bar, I ran into a drinking buddy from the old days. He was a young manager at Tata Steel at the time and we used to chat up the girls in the club and exchange notes. Now he's happily married with twins and is a financial controller in Tata Steel, while I am still trying to chat up girls and running out of folks to exchange notes with. He was quite impressed with the Madison Avenue address on my business card and that's when I realized that even the street names in NYC have incredible brand equity in remote corners of the world. He insisted on inviting me to dinner to 'Equinox', the fancy new restaurant in town. As the evening wore on, it became evident from the number of people stopping by at our table that my old friend had matured into a powerful man over the last 15 years. The manager came up to us every 15 minutes, fawning over every little detail, topping up our glasses himself. At one point when the controller lamented to the manager about suffering from chicken deprivation, I fully expected the manager to profusely apologize for not finding the antidote for the bird flu epidemic in time for the controller's dinner. When that didn't happen, I chipped in some dark humor about adding beef to the menu. I sensed the beginning of an awkward silence rolling over the dinner table like a monsoon cloud waiting to burst. I quickly recovered the moment by switching the topic to the 'brilliant' chilli prawn preparation the chef had specially prepared for us. It was the best I could do and I'd like to think it worked.
In Jamshedour, dinner invitations come with veiled threats of embargoes and bodily harm, upon non-compliance. Having slipped back into Jamshedpur mode, I accepted every dinner invitation in the first four days and then I realized that every evening had a dinner conflict. This is a small town and people find out quickly if they get bumped on anyone's social calendar. Faced with an impending social disaster, I chose a simple but effective solution that required swift execution at very short notice. Yesterday evening, I threw a white gloved terrace party in my house and invited all my friends and their wives. The caterers came to my house yesterday evening, cleaned up my rooftop terrace and converted it into a tropical setting complete with plants, a corner bar with a canopy and soft yellow lamps on the boundary walls. We were served Tandoori grilled meats and vegetables all evening by white uniformed waiters who would have made any NYC restaurant proud. The amazing thing is it took me only 24 hours to organize a party like this for 30 people, whereas it will take me at least another week to get a post-paid mobile phone. Clearly, the catering market is more mature than the telecom and credit markets here! Cost of the party including tips: $12 a head! Welcome to India, baby!
The real estate market here has taken off like the rest of the country and shops on the main street are now selling at over Rs 10,000 per sq ft! Many of my cousins who inherited retail businesses in this remote town, now find themselves turning into dollar millionaires overnight. I am now looking at commercial and retail property deals for myself since rental yield are about 10-12% on average. Many of the houses in my neighborhood are being converted into condo apartments. I am afraid its going to ruin the charm of this neighborhood.