Flaneuring with a baby

Soon after we got married, the wife and I figured out that we like to travel differently. She likes to go and hang out in hotels, getting room service and maybe even watching TV, and not doing much. I’m much more of an active traveller, wanting to explore places, walk around, eat in random places, etc.

Our disagreements on how to travel have reached such a level that on a couple of trips, we actually split up, with her staying at the hotel and me roaming alone. However, roaming a city alone is not so much fun, so I’m trying to recruit a partner for that. And rather than “searching all over town while holding a baby in my arms” (a Kannada proverb), I want to train the (not so proverbial) baby!

Today was the first such day of “training”, and we are in Munich. The wife had some work here today and tomorrow, and this was a great opportunity for the daughter and I to flaneur by ourselves (ok she doesn’t have a say in this!).

So day one went off quite well, though I sometimes think I gave in a bit too much to her interests. The walk through the old town of Munich (around Marienplatz) lasted not more than an hour before we were in the gardens – first briefly at the Hofgarten and then later at the Englischer Garten (English Garden, which is larger than both Hyde Park and Central Park) where we went cycling.

To be honest, the walk around Marienplatz was a bit of a bore even for me. The place is full of fashion outlets, and there isn’t much to “do”. It also didn’t help matters that we were walking around on full stomachs – we had eaten massive dinners last night, and even though we woke up late and had a small breakfast, we weren’t hungry (I made the mistake of going to a chain coffee shop for breakfast. The coffee was atrocious and the food also unspectacular).

One of the keys to effective flaneuring (to borrow a word from Nassim Taleb) is the willingness to try out interesting food and drink you come across on the way. This means travelling on a light enough stomach, so that you can eat whatever you want without constraint. The full stomach thanks to the bad breakfast this morning meant that we couldn’t partake in any of the interesting looking foods on offer, thus significantly diminishing our experience.

Another necessary condition for good flaneuring is the availability of good public transport – sometimes you can just get bored of the place you are in and want a change of scenery. At other times, you’ll want to be at a specific place that is too far away to walk to. In both situations, availability of dense public transport network (and low marginal cost of travel – such as a day travel card) can really help.

Through the morning, though, whenever Berry saw a bicycle, she would scream “bike-u bike-u” (she’s got this very Kannada habit of ending every noun in “u”. So car-u, pant-u, dog-u etc) and demand to sit on it. So when we got near the English Gardens (where I’d heard it’s good to bike), I had the problem of trying to find a bike rental store.

We walked around till we encountered a public WiFi hotspot (Munich has lots of those!), where I found the addresses of a few cycle rental shops. And one was right at the edge of the English Gardens, and I had to take the U-bahn (underground metro) to get there. It was an extremely peaceful ride (I pride myself on adjusting myself easily to public transport in new cities), though we had to change trains.

We borrowed an electric bike with a child seat from MUC Bike. It’s like a normal cycle except there’s a Lithium ion battery backup, to give you that extra power in case you’re tired. And we went round the park, watching ducks in several places, and playing on the swing (Berry only). The cycle returned, and a quick beer and pretzel later, we were on our way back to the hotel!

Overall I think it went well. There is one noticeable area of improvement- food. I need to optimise for both of us, and we sometimes have different food preferences, and I end up making poor choices. Like I asked for rice with today’s lunch even though there were already potatoes in the dish (since Berry likes rice). As it happened, she wasn’t so hungry and we ended throwing the rice!

The plan for tomorrow is to go see the Deutsches Museum. Let’s see how that goes!

Car Ownership

People, especially in the US, make a big deal about home ownership. In fact a large part of the current economic meltdown has its roots in the American craze for home ownership. Fannie and Freddie were created to help home loans become cheaper, then there was the CDO wave. Then came subprime. NINJA (no income no job amortized). All that. Boom. Bust. Jai.

A related concept that no one seems to talk about is car ownership. They say that the safety of a neighbourhood goes up if the proportion of owner-occupied homes goes up. And this is the underlying theory behind most of the home ownership craze.

|||ly, road safety is directly proportional to the proportion of owner-driven vehicles on the road. Take Bangalore for example. Till the late 90s, the traffic there was excellent and well-behaved. Some roads were already clogged, yes. But drivers were in general very well behaved. And the reason behind that was that most people owned their bikes and cars. They had a greater incentive to make sure that there was no damage done to their vehicles nad drove more carefully.

Yes, personal safety also plays an impact and is independent of whose vehicle the driver is driving, but I think in the progression of severity of accidents, vehicle safety gets compromised before personal safety. In other words, there is a one-way implication here – if you drive keeping in mind the aim of not damaging your vehicle, it is more likely that you are not going to get injured. The reverse doesn’t necessarily hold. And that is why car ownership is so important.

So what happened in Bangalore in the early 2000s when traffic suddenly became horrible? This thing called BPO happened, which brought with it the mostly chauffeur-driven taxis. Now, on one hand, these guys had perverse incentives as their efficiency was measured on the speed from which they got from point A to point B. Apart from this, most of them were not driving their own vehicles (this was a departure from the earlier wave of taxis and autos, most of which were owner-driven) and so they didn’t care so much about damaging their vehicles, which led them to drive more rashly.

Similar is the case with Delhi, which is known to have always had horrible traffic. Being the political capital, Delhi has always had a reasonably high proportion of chauffeur-driven cars. Which is why, for a long time, its roads have been known to be rasher than roads in other cities. And things still haven’t improved.

The thing with car ownership is that it forms a positive-feedback loop. Suppose the number of chauffeur-driven cars goes up. Then, the traffic in general becomes more rasher. And driving becomes more of a headache for you. Which increases your incentive to employ someone to drive your car. Which further pushes up the proportion of chauffeur-driven cars. This is what has happened in Delhi over the last 50 years. This is what has happened in Bangalore over the last 10 years.

In order to make our streets safer, we need to incentivize people to drive their own cars and bikes (one clarification – by own, I mean either your own or something that belongs to close family or friends; in both cases, incentive to keep vehicle safe is high). If I’m not wrong, people can claim tax exemption against the salaries they pay their driver. This needs to go first. Next, insurance companies need to have different levels of payout for self-driven and driver-driven accidents (I know this is going to be hard to be implement).

Yes, this might increase unemployment since driving other people’s vehicles is a major occupation nowadays. But is greater unemployment too high a price in order to ensure greater safety? (ok I can quickly think of one counterargument for this – if people become unemployed, the chances they’ll become goons rises, which makes society in general less safe)

Sit down behind the wheel, and be counted. Say no to drivers. Drive your own car. It is in your own, your car’s , other people’s and other people’s cars’ interest. You don’t need to be driven. You need to be in the driver’s seat.

Bangalore Trip

So I went to Bangalore on Thursday. And returned yesterday afternoon. It was a fairly eventful trip – just that most of the events that took place during the trip were planned. There weren’t too many surprises – either positive or negative, and this lack of volatility meant that it was a good trip overall.

I had ended my last post hoping that my bike would start. And start it did, dutifully. Unfortunately, it was to tell Jai later during the day, when it abruptly stopped somewhere in Gandhibazaar market. It was quite hot and I had to push it around a fair distance to find a garage that was open in order to get it repaired.

The thing with automobile repair shops is that most of them are owned by Muslims, and thus have their weekly holiday on Friday. While it might be convenient in normal times since you can leave your bike for service on a Sunday, it can be death when your bike breaks down on Friday afternoon. I had to go past two or three closed auto repair shops that day before I found a “Sowmya bike point” where my spark plug got replaced.

Two of my three breakfasts were consumed at Darshinis. Actually, on Friday, I had my breakfast in three installments. Saturday was the usual Masala Dosa at the Adigas in Jayanagar 4th block. Dinner on Saturday was at Shiok, the first time I was visiting it at the new location. The food, as usual, was excellent. One extremely under-rated starter at Shiok is Choo Chee Potatoes. I strongly recommend you to try it out the next time. I left the choice of my drink to Madhu Menon, and he recommended some pink stuff for me.

I met Baada, Harithekid and PGK at Shiok. I was meeting PGK for the first time. I was already a bit disoriented when I had arrived at Shiok (my head had gone blank a couple of times earlier that day, leading me to take an auto to Shiok rather than putting bike), and combine that with the pink drink and I think I’ve forgotten what PGK looks like. All I remember is that he too had a pink drink – which was different from mine.

I managed to submit address change requests at most of the places I had intended to. I went to SBI and Karnataka Bank, and extended my fixed deposits – taking advantage of the insanely high prevailing rates. I visited one aunt for dinner on Friday, and another for lunch on Saturday.

The only time during the entire trip that I was consumed by NED was when I went to inspect my house in Bangalore. It was after a gap of almost ten years that I was seeing the house empty. It was at that moment I think – three months after I moved to Gurgaon – that it hit me that I don’t live in Bangalore any more. And that I don’t intend to return for a while. It took a maddening auto drive to Shiok to cure me of this bout of NED.

Friday evening was spent in the cantonment area, though I regret to inform you that I visited neither of MG Road and Brigade road. I met Udupa and Woreshtmax Vishnu for tea at Koshy’s, and on either side of tea, raided the Premier Bookshop. Unfortunately, I forgot to take pics as I had planned. The only picture of Premier that I now have is the one taken with Neha Jain’s wrist that appeared in the ToI on 26th July 2004 (I don’t have a scanned copy; a few hard copies of the clipping are there somewhere in my house in Jayanagar in Bangalore).

I spent all my coupons, and Shamanth’s coupons also. I still have Lakshana’s coupon with me, and I intend to mail it to her. Here is what I bought:

  • The Human Zoo  – Desmond Morris
  • The Selfish Gene – Richard Dawkins
  • An artist and a mathematician (a book about the fictional mathematician Nicholas Bourbaki; forgot the author)
  • India: A History – John Keay
  • Longitude
  • The Stuff of Thought – Steven Pinker

Once again, thanks to all those who recommended books to me. Unfortunately, a large number of those were not available at Premier. i’ll probably order them from Rediff Books once I’ve whittled down my have-and-unread list.

Bangalore Trip

I’m going to Bangalore tomorrow evening. Will be back on Sunday afternoon. My mother will be accompanying me to Gurgaon then.

It seems like there is a lot of work to do during my short stay there. Apart from the usual meeting relatives and friends, I have some tonnes of offical work to do which I hadn’t been able to do before moving to Gurgaon.

I need to give a change of address request to my banks, my brokerage accounts, my credit card account, etc. I need to take advantage of this temporary high-interest period in order to renew my fixed deposits. There are some other agreements which I’ll need to get prepared and sign. I need to go to Premier Bookshop and clear out my coupons.

As if all this was not enough, my mother had told me on Sunday that my market entry might be happening and I might even be required to meet a potential investor. Thankfully (?) that deal has fallen through before it even began, so I’m spared of that trouble.

Then, there is food. Two aunts have invited me to their homes for a meal apiece, but apart from that I’ve asked my mother not to cook for me. I will be putting a visit to Shiok, for the first time since it reopened. I still haven’t decided upon the places where I’ll eat breakfast, but the Adigas in Jayanagar 8th Block and SN in JP Nagar 2nd phase seem to be the favourites. I’ll probably have idli-vada-dosa for lunch also on one of the days.

This is the first time in almost 40 years that my mother will be moving out of Bangalore for an extended period of time, so there are thousands of relatives who expect us to visit them. I don’t think we’ll be able to entertain most of them, but still a few visits will have to be made.

Then, there is the meeting friends bit. I’ve set up two sets of meetings already, and I’m not sure if I’ll have time for more. Nevertheless, I think I must be having some time early on Saturday evening (5 to 7 types). So if you don’t belong to either of the two sets that I’ve mentioned here (if you do belong to either of those sets, you already know it) and want to meet me, give me a call. I also need to mention here that I won’t have net access from tomorrow afternoon to Sunday evening.

All in all, it seems like I have planned for a fairly heavy schedule for this visit to Bangalore, my first since I moved to Gurgaon. And all this heavy activity is contingent upon one thing – the condition of my bike. I don’t think I’ll be able to keep up with the schedule I’ve made for myself if I’m not able to use my bike. So please join me in praying that my bike is in good condition and won’t play truant during the length of my stay in Bangalore.