Thursday, December 8, 2011

October Saturday

Umm... 2 shirts, 2 jackets, 2 pants, gloves, muffler ... the Alps don't care. You freeze if you are on a motorcycle.

But then, your day includes 160 kms of half-frozen riding fun, over 500m "mountains" that lead you to 1000m mountains, across fields of frozen grass, through tiny towns that seem to only live off motorists and motorcyclists that pass by, through valleys cooled by the long shadows of mountains that surround them; over deep narrow gorges that make any climber's eyes sparkle, passing by hours of watching cars race across narrow mountain roads.

It's morning, 8 am. You grab a cuppa coffee from a small make-shift snack joint, exchange a few sentences about warm gear with the motorcycle riding cops who are there to block traffic for the car rally, and amble off into the spectator zones to find a good spot. A few hours later, after watching close to 50 cars roar into, and out of, the curve you prop open your backpack. Settle down into the now-unfrozen grass, and prepare your sandwiches. The sun has been good.

For the next leg of the rally, you head to a different section. You pass through 2 tiny villages, stopping by at various places on the way to take pictures. Frequently, the road is just a one way affair - you have to stop to let the car approaching from the opposite direction pass. Sometimes, even the motorcycle has to stop to let the car go safely. And those rally driver idiots are gonna vroom past these places.
Aiglun, nestled in the mountains
You reach the finish point of the stage, a small village perched in the mountains. Park the motorcycle and  hike along to find a good spot. Now, you are not on the plains as before. There are some sharp bends in the road, next to which run some tiny trails that lead you to a nice vantage point with an overhead view of the bend. You grab a spot along with 20 others. From here, you see all the cars mid-turn, in all their rubber-burning glory. The light is fading, so for the final few cars, you decided to go into the inside of the turn. Makes for great pics.

A few dozen pics later, you realize you are tired. You walk back to your motorcycle, gobble down a few more sandwiches and head back home. It's been a great day.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

A list

A little list of things/seemingly crazy adventures I want to go on soon (5 years?), in not any particular order:

- Tour du Mont Blanc (TMB). And if I get really ambitious, the GR5.
- The Pandharpur Yatra. The approximately 250 km route. I have no interest in the religious significance, but am only intrigued by the idea of walking along with half a million people.
- On a similar note, the Road to Santiago. If one begins in Arles, it's a little more than 1300 km. Again, no interest in the religious significance. This one ranks with the GR5 in difficulty (mental, more than physical).
- A really random, backpacking kinda trip in India.
Any of the trips on this website.
- A week/month long backpacking/hitchhiking trip across Europe... or just France.
- The GR20 in Corsica. This one seems most accessible to me right now. Just need to work on my fitness.

There are more things out there that tempt me. But right now, this list is what comes to mind.

Donations will be accepted.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

The misfit. The rebel. The troublemaker.

I am not much into music, but when I wanted to buy a music player for my sister and my dad, I bought an iPod. I couldn't afford the data plans when the iPhone debuted. By the time I could, I'd turned into a Linux loving geek which led me to getting myself an Android phone. There is no denying how I wanted my phone to work like. Even as a kid in India in the late 90s I knew how an Apple computer looked like. I've not owned an Apple product yet, but I know the influence of half the gadgets I want or have or have used.

I'm not an Apple fan by any means, but it's not difficult to have a sense of respect for Steve Jobs. A good start is to watch the excellent movie Pirates of the Silicon Valley. The movie ends at the point where Steve Jobs came back to Apple years after being forced out. To get a sense of what happened next, read this article. And then this. And of course, this video. Few people have changed the way people behave, live, and use technology as much as he has.

He influenced the direction of technology for the last 12-13 years (that I experienced) and I'm pretty sure his influence will last the next 5 at the very least...

"Stay hungry, stay foolish."

Wednesday, September 14, 2011


In the US, I quickly developed a reputation as the guy who fell off a bicycle and had to go to a hospital. Now, I'm known as the guy who keeps fixing his motorcycle. And sometimes the camera.

I guess that's an upgrade, right?

Tuesday, September 6, 2011


"Umm, dude, we all would like to take you out for lunch..."

It's a weekend, so lunch is actually an amalgamation of breakfast, lunch and dinner. Generally speaking. I'm surprised... and being treated to "lunch" by flat-mates on your birthday is a nice surprise.

We pile into the car, and head off. Our crazy humor kicks off. One wants wine. Specifically white wine. Sweet, white wine. Fresh, sweet, white wine. Cold, fresh, sweet, white wine. We stop before someone punches us.

Someone orders steak. It comes with leaves and twigs. I order rabbit. It too comes with leaves and twigs. These guys hunted the animals down as they were lunching (the animals, not the guys). The rabbit was probably holding on to the tree really tight. They couldn't separate him from his food. I'm told to drink more wine. I protest saying the rabbit in my stomach will feel suffocated. I'm told that he can't complain, cos he has no face or mouth to protest with.

The waitress asks if we would like anything else. I'm almost forced to ask for a phone number for the dessert. Almost...

"Let's go have a drink at Wayne's... It's on us."  Damn, these guys wanna get me drunk. "Nah, I'm too full to drink." Eventually I get a drink. The bar has posters. Movies, bands. There's The Beatles right next to our table.

Something clicks in someone's head and they begin singing "We all live with the orange mandarin... orange mandarin"...

Heading back on the highway... most of us almost dozing off. We reach home. Park the car. The trash is full, I get it out. There's our lizard, Toby, on the can. I start putting the cover on my motorcycle. One calls out, "Hey look here, this is just amazing." I suspect Toby is up to something, but he (she?) was in the other direction. I amble up, see a balloon on a tree, a step ahead and 20 people shout out, "Surrrprriiiseee! Happpy --hoooot wooooot --- birthday to you...Joyeux anniversaire.... ... "

I see someone filming. 20 people staring at me, smiling, singing, I'm self conscious. I don't recognize a few. Oh, must be couchsurfers... I'm given more wine. The glass gets refilled quickly too. Hugs, bisous fly around. Flatmates magically arrange pizzas for the guests. The look on my face is -- whendidyouguysarrangeallthiswithoutmeknowningit?

Someone puts on "Aaj kal tere mere". I'm the only Indian in the group. Huh!

Some time later, we head to the beach. I've been handed a strange mixture of whiskey + red bull. I'm already reeling. A friend plays the guitar. He plays "Aicha"... halfway to the end, he switches it with my name and some impromptu lyrics. Then he starts playing "Tujhe dekha". Plays this song from Chahat (a movie I'd forgotten about.. and probably never seen). To repeat, I'm the only Indian... rather, Asian there.

Head back to the house. There's a cake. People sing Happy Birthday in English, French, Spanish, Italian, Arabic and then German.  They ask me for the Hindi version. I say there isn't. The ask me how to say it in Hindi. They learn the phrase in a few seconds and sing it to tune.

People make sure I get more wine. They see to it I will wake up with a headache at least.

I couldn't have asked for anything better. Thanks guys. :)
Psst: I'm getting a Kindle with what you all gave me. :)

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Motorcycle tales - redux

In this recounting of the further adventures concerning the motorcycle saga, we will learn how physical strength, high school chemistry, basic physics, pure mechanical engineering and a willingness to part with your money can all come together to fix the bike.

Last we checked up on the motorcycle, it had gotten new spark plugs, new battery, new air-filter, an oil change, new oil filter and a big ego.

Coming off months of storage, the bike starts off well, but there is just something wrong with the way it runs. A few days on, I start hearing explosions. No, not in my dreams. And not just me. Everyone hears them (just in case you think I am hallucinating). The motorcycle fires off a huge fire-smoke thingy after every few minutes. 3 cars crash because the drivers were dozing, my motorcycle woke them up startled and made them over-react. (Not really). I've stalked enough online motorcycle forums to realize this: unburnt hot fuel leaves engine, comes to exhaust where this hot fuel gets oxygen and explodes. In other words, carburettor is being a lazy ass.

A few days later, I notice that fuel leaks out of the carburettor, into the air-filter and then out of the air-filter drain hose onto the ground. Again, in other words, carburettor is acting like 3 year old being force fed green veggies who then refuses to swallow. Previous attempts with carburettor have proved that I cannot dismantle it, let alone clean and inspect it.

1 month, 2 trips to the mechanic, and 250 € later, a grim news awaits: about a litre of water in fuel tank caused loads of  rust. Rust, that found its way to the carbs. Rust that blocked air, messed up fuel and caused explosions. Rust that, according to the mechanic, "cannot be removed. Even it can, there's no point because it'll come back". Yeaaaa, Mr. smart-alec, what's the point of repairing anything - it's all gonna get messed up again. You should just retire. Apparently, "the only option is to get a new tank". How much is the new tank? "Ah, forget about it. Worth more than the bike in it's current condition."

Yep, I know it looks gross.

Like any respectable nerd, I head back to the internet. Turns out if you like using acid (Hydrochloric) and anti-rust paint, you can get rid of the rust. Drain tank - fuel, water and all. Throw in Hcl, shake tank, drain, rinse with hot water, dry, paint with anti-rust paint, dry, tada! Except, France refuses to stock that particular anit-rust pain. A trip is made to local hardware shop, where I'm told that I should "get paint for motorcycle from the motorcycle shop".

More internet later, another technique is discovered - electrolysis. Fill tank with electrolyte (washing soda+water), make tank the cathode, provide a steel anode, connect power supply. Wait few hours. Astute readers will remember that there is an old battery lying around. I buy the rest of the stuff. Drain the tank. Except, there are hidden pockets with more fuel inside. Even the Italian pickpockets wouldn't be able to get their hands on them, they are that hidden. The best way to drain turns out to be: pick up tank, shake it like a Martini that 007 would want so that fuel pops out of those pockets and out the tank. Except tanks are not light.
I now have stronger arms...
To be sure, the electrolysis is repeated multiple times. The results of the exercise are visible when I play volleyball - faster serves and better smashes.

Drain electrolyte (shake it, daddy!), dry tank (hair dryer, air-mattress pump, fire of 10 burning suns), fix it back on the motorcycle. I now can fix the tank unaided in 5 minutes (or less). You know what they say about practice...

Deep breath, fill back the petrol. Motorcycle starts (of course, it would. There's nothing wrong with it except that rust, which has been removed).

1 week later, hear a couple of unnatural noises. Shrug it off. A few days later, while starting the bike, hear a loud noise. Like someone threw a spanner in a metal bucket and hit that metal bucket with a hammer. Motorcycle just about starts. Few hours later, when I need to start the bike, I need to push start it (Push bike, drop second gear, release clutch, vrroooooom). Charge battery overnight. Next day, bike doesn't start.

Put on your Sherlock Holmes cap. You hear something spinning, something clicking, but engine is not turning. Hmmm, battery was good but drains immediately. I.E trying to start bike is causing circuit to close with ultra low resistance and battery drains. Or, starter has issues. Open the left side of the engine, where the alternator resides.

Shock and horror await --->

Those black things are magnets. They aren't supposed to be crushed.
Order new rotor off the internet. Get the bolt off. To get this old rotor off, one needs a sliding hammer. What's that? Even the French don't know. Dammit. Read about various other hacks of getting the rotor off. I don't even find the tools for the other hacks. During one particular attempt, a piece of another bolt gets stuck inside.

Finally give up. Realize that removing this will take about 1 hour or so if done by a mechanic. Get an appointment with a mechanic (a different one). It's 20 days away. On the day, get your trusty flatmate to help you push the bike (with a dry weight of 170 kg). The mechanic asks you to come back in the evening. In the evening when you go back, he says when he checked it, he didn't have the right tools at hand. The tools are in his other place. One more day. He asks if he should also clean up all those crushed residue. I tell him he should.

The next evening I go back. Another problem. That piece of the bolt that got stuck... remember it? It's really stuck. Mechanic angry. Says he's spent 3 and a half hours until now working on the bike. At 47€ per hour, it's already 165€. Thank heavens for those American credit cards. He asks me to come back the next evening.

Next evening, I'm told that everything is good now, except that the alternator is shot. The crushed magnets flying around probably damaged it. I tell him that there is no need to change it right now, it's not critical anyway. He says I should come back the next day then. The guy is driving me crazy now. I go back the next day around 2 pm, and he says he still hasn't finished it. He hadn't had time to do it. Frustrated, I push back the bike home - parts hanging around and all.

A few hours later, it is all fixed. The bike starts. Woo hoo!

The next day, a Sunday, the bike refuses to start again. I dismantle stuff, find nothing, put it back together. Push-starting works. Phew! Except the clutch setting is all wrong and it needs loads of pushing. I figure this out in the evening. Monday morning, fix the clutch and push start it. At work, spend about 30 minutes thinking it through.

Aha! The money-stealing, lazy-ass mechanic did not tighten the rotor correctly. Leave work, buy a torque wrench, get home, open bike, tighten rotor. Put back everything. Bike starts like nothing had ever happened to it.


Monday, August 1, 2011


You grow up believing a certain thing. You learn a certain way of life. You learn what is "right" and what is "good".

Then you travel to a new place.

Here, people eat beef, drink alcohol since teenage years, smoke stuff, leave home and become independent around the time they can vote, celebrate festivals you know about but are ignorant about the ones you care about, take off on unplanned hitch-hiking trips across several countries, aren't married even at 35, are perfectly okay joking about their beliefs and customs...

Over time, you adjust to certain things. Your digestive tract can handle assaults of heavy meat-based diet, alcohol affects you lesser and smoking of any kind still disgusts you. You enjoy the independence, love trips but still can't fathom the unplanned, time-unbound travels, and find your own way to share your festivals.

You realize that you can't really forsake "your culture" and start figuring out which parts of it work well with you and which don't. You love some traits and customs the "other cultures" have. But some of them still fall in the grey zone. You realize you still have a lot of soul-searching to do to decide how you want to live and be comfortable with the decisions you make.

There's still a lot to figure out.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Late Night

There is a faint recollection of an evening. But now it's late night. The difference and contrast amuses me. You are with your closest friends again. You are sitting in the same seat as before too, but you are not driving this time. You thought this kind of meet-up wouldn't happen, but it has already happened and you are on your way back.

This time it is late night. It is winter and half the car is freezing. The entire drive has been through heavy fog. In fact, one could look straight at the sun in broad daylight. You want to curl up under a blanket, be warm and comfortable... and that seems to be the last thing possible at this time.

Easy conversation is a distant memory. Everyone understands each other perfectly, but something still seems off. You thought you were back on great terms, but now you question yourself. At least we all understand each other... so well that sometimes we don't even have to wait for the sentence to begin to know what is going to be said. Knowing your friends so well is disconcerting.

There are no fireworks, no city skyline. Just the fog and the taillights of the truck you are following. I realize that I don't care for the city and neither did I care the last time. I just hope that the few of us who met, and the few others who couldn't make it, all get together somewhere. Sometime. Hopefully not too far in the future. The trip did not end in a city without fog... but let's hope that it will clear off soon.
 If this doesn't make sense, skip it. It was intended to be personal. And I wanted to publish it anyway.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Enchiladas and Mechanisms

A collection of posted status messages and unposted but intended tweets that might describe my trip to Mexico:

Pre (and during) flight:
- Me vs Airline Baggage restrictions
- Okay Lufthansa, I know they speak Spanish in Mexico, but that is no reason to send me to Madrid.
- 12 hours into the trip, I'm still on the same continent, closer to home than where I was 5 hours ago.

In Mexico, in the inter-city bus:
- Call off the search parties, these Mexican buses have free wifi!
- Am I in Mexico or am I doing the Pune-Satara leg in a Volvo?

In Guanajuato:
- This hotel room is better than home. #canIstayhereforever?
- Describing my research to people infinitely more qualified than me suddenly makes it interesting again.
- The curse of the light poles is now officially in Mexico too.
- Someone should export Mexican food to France
- Chili makes beer better. #micheladas

Mexico City!
- People who look like me, food stalls on the streets, shops selling bags, utensils etc, people shouting out the list of candies they are selling in the train: Looks like this place has been lifted out of Dadar in Mumbai.
- Dear pre-hispanic Mexicans: next time, please build the pyramids closer.
- Dear modern-day Mexicans: please explain how you drink so much.

- Dear Mexican airline people.... I was asking where the airline desk is, and you ushered me through security without a hitch. The fact that I got to the gate without a boarding pass is your fault, not mine. So why are you checking my bag when I want to go back out?
- If this bus has even a tiny accident, I'm gonna lose my knees. #stupid-leg-room.
- Heh.. there is a university in Cancun... yea.. right.. they "study"
- Okay.. I need some answers. Which idiot has been making Aztec sacrifices to the rain god? Here's something you should know: 1) Sacrifices are illegal. 2) Rain has been following me for days now
- Yay! Sunshine! No rain! waitaminute.....Who turned on the sauna?
- Someone replaced the sand on the beach with baby powder! Is it because this is the New World?
- And the water! Don't mess with my head. Just tell me how you made it so clear?

Journey back:
- Dear Lufthansa, you said it was a window seat. No seriously, you promised it was a window seat. This one is not even at the aisle.
- Apparently, it's okay to get duty-free Tequila in your backpack from Mexico to Frankfurt, but not okay to continue carrying it to Nice. So if you hear of a Tequila Party in Frankfurt, remember who actually bought it.

A little note:
Dear Mexicans, you are just like us Indians. We look the same. We eat spicy food. Our cities are overcrowded, and alive. The metros, trains, buses are full of stinky people who need a shower.
... And we all want to go to the US of A.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011


I pull out the brochures from the mailbox, walk up to my room, dump them on the bed. Their journey from mailbox to trash had a slight detour because I saw an offer for a tablet - seemed quite cheap. I can't really afford any gadgets right now (rather, I shouldn't), but once you find one interesting deal you want to make sure you don't miss any other possible ones.

5 minutes later they all end up in the trash anyway.

Nothing to cook in the house and it's past 8 pm. No supermarkets open anymore, and the choice is between a sandwich/kebab or something-from-groceries-bought-at-gas-station. Noble thoughts like "Let's save money and actually eat better" turn to "Pizza or sandwich?" on the 5 minute walk from home.

I enter the gas station, greet the cashier. I'm tired and on cruise-control mode. I know the layout of this place, and walk to the freezer. Pick up the cheese pizza automatically. Something catches my eye - the Kebab Pizza. I pick it up, turn it over to see the ingredients. My eyes skip over the Dutch (or German?) lists and suddenly pause at the list in English.

I just realize that I was looking for the ingredient list in French, with brain set to scan for the presence of "beouf". I smile to myself. But I still can't really speak the language! Conversations are a struggle. 

Then I realize that all those deals I was reading about were in French.

Monday, February 28, 2011

Anatomy of motorcycle repairs

"Change oil, remove battery and either drain out all the petrol or fill up the tank."
These are the tips I read for storing a bike for winter, 1 day before leaving for India. Naturally I scourge other websites which tell me that changing oil can be done later, after winter. When I plan to change the regulator that is apparently unrepairable.

After winter, I bring out the toolkit, fish out the pdf manual and scroll to the correct page. The battery-less laptop is upstairs, so I memorize the instructions, run down (so that I don't have enough time to forget). Start dismantling frame cover and seat.

Panic - "What does the regulator look like?!"

Run upstairs, stare at the photograph. Wonder if I am doing the right thing. Walk down, disconnect the regulator wires and start unscrewing the screws. A flimsy spanner screwdriver and rust on the threads ensures the following:
There is no way to put it back. Damn. Also realize that the new regulator has a slightly different shape and the screw would not fit anyway. "It wasn't all my fault", I convince myself. Use Velcro as a fix.

Ten thousand thundering typhoons! Bike still doesn't start.

Clean the spark plugs. Recharge battery for two days. Send out a "HEEEELLLP" post to motorcycle forums.

Next weekend:
Realize that I need to test the ignition coils. "Where are they?" The bike manual says, "under the petrol tank." Ouch. By now I am an expert at removing the frame covers. I take a deep breath and get to work at the petrol tank. Loosen the bolts. Try lifting the tank. It barely budges. Apparently I have to pull, tug, lift and wiggle the tank to get it to move. Swish, swish! Oh crap, the fuel moves around causing the tank to wobble almost out of control. Deep breath. Lift it and peek underneath - two fuel hoses. Rest the tank on the frame, run up read the manual. It says, "Turn the fuel cock to OFF position. Remove the fuel hoses." Hmmmm. Run down, tug at the hoses. They have been fixed by pressure clamps.

Re-adjust the tank on the frame so I can see the ignition coils. (Are they really the ignition coils?) Damn, I need a multi-meter. Put everything back.

The next weekend:
Procure a multi-meter. Test the resistances. Something is wrong, but you still cannot figure out what. Also, the resistances seem fine, i.e ignition coils might be okay. Pull hair out. Also, I *think* I did see the spark plugs spark when I last tested them with a charged battery. But the engine doesn't fire! I don't know what's wrong!

Realize I probably need a new battery. Order a new battery off the internet. Then realize that I might also need new spark plugs. Wait.

The weekend after that:
A friend takes pity on me and offers to help. Also, he has a ginormous tool-box with all kinds of spanners, wrenches and stuff. He has also successfully fixed his car from time to time. Kaching! We open the bike up. Successfully remove the tank and the hoses. Check the wiring, and the ignition coils - they are all fine. The scene is like this:
Yes, the manual is still a pdf on my laptop. And I figured out it's better to have the laptop downstairs. My friend then says, "Maybe the problem is not just the spark plug. Maybe your engine is not getting the correct air-fuel mix. We should check the carbs." Uh-huh.. have you done it before. "Ya, for a car, but never for a bike."

"Well, we are here anyway, let's do it", I say. "But let me take pics as we go, because the pdf doesn't really have great photos. There are too many hoses, pipes and wires running all around." I whip out the camera and the result is some amazing pictures that are of absolutely no help.

Cleaning the carbs seems too complicated. We start putting them back.

"Where did this hose go?" I ask.
"Dunno, check where the other end is", is the reply I get. So I tug at the hose. I start pulling it and it comes out completely. The other end isn't connected to *anything*. I stuff it back in. This makes no effing sense!

We put the stuff back. Apparently defeated.

The weekend AFTER that! (ya, this was a multi-week affair):
I buy the new spark plugs and the new air filter. Replace them. Figure out that the magical unknown hose was a water drain for the petrol tank. Use copious amounts of WD40 to destroy the rust at various places. Use copious amounts of chain oil to lubricate the damn thing. Fit the air filter, put the tank back, fix the new spark plug and connect the new battery.

Switch the fuel cock to the 'PRI' position, engage the choke. Pray and twist the key. The engine turns. Nothing. Twist again. Again the same. Twist again and pray..... IT'S ALIVE!!!!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011


After every trip to India (or from India to somewhere), I've written a post titled "Culture Shock". This one continues in the series, but I don't know if I should call it shock anymore. I'm not surprised by stuff, I expect it. I'm aware of the differences I see and didn't actually goof up, flinch or be shocked.

But I can't say I'm not confused by stuff... or find it worth not mentioning. So here goes a list.

1. Laws & common sense: we are flexible on them. On the plane to India, I was sitting next to this one Indian couple. To put it politely, they weren't frequent fliers. As the plane begins its descent to Mumbai Airport, the lady next to me fishes her cell phone out of her purse, looks at it and asks, "I didn't have network all this time, but do you think I can give a call to XYZ?"
I may have carried more than the permissible amount of wine in my luggage (wink wink). The customs officer looked at the luggage, smiled at me and waved me away.
and so on...

2. Languages: It was after many conversations with people (in Europe) that I realised that we Indians have multi-lingual conversations. Over the past year I've told many people about how I always mix 3 languages when I speak with my Indian friends. But that truly hit me now when I switched on the radio. Seriously, most of the radio jockeys on all the radio stations speak in 3 languages. In Maharashtra, it's Hindi, Marathi and English. In Goa, it was Hindi, Goan and English. I'm used to this, but it's only now that I find that fascinating.

3. Traffic: It seems that if I sit to drive a car, and the car is a left hand drive, I will drive like a law abiding American/European would. If the car is a right hand drive, I will drive like a zig-zagging, lane-hating, 2 inch clearance loving, over-speeding Indian would. I have no problems adjusting. Though I don't use the horn much.
Which makes me wonder how I would drive in England.

4. Costs: India seems to be unable to figure out whether to be expensive or cheap. I hired a cab to go from Mumbai to Pune (~150 kms). It cost me ~Rs. 1800 (= 30€ , or 40 US$). Not too expensive, right? But, a pair of jeans at a mall cost me the same amount. I wasn't buying ultra fancy big brand names. Probably buying them France would be cheaper. Three of us went to a fancy place for drinks, racked up a bill of ~Rs. 2000 (~30 €). Then we left the place, went to a roadside cart and had some of the tastiest scrambled eggs for Rs. 100 (2€). If you ask me if India is cheap, the most honest answer would be "It depends".

5. Physical contact: This leaves me stumped! How does a guy greet an old friend who is a girl? Obviously, 'bisous' are out of the question. (No seriously, don't ever go randomly kiss a girl. Unless she is your girlfriend. And even then, not in public.)

But do I hug, shake hands or wave a hello? If I met the same friend in the US, it would have been a no-brainer - hugs are okay. But in India, most of the times we just stand awkwardly not knowing what to do. Of course, there are some friends who will hug, some who will shake hands and some who will wave a hello. The problem is that there is no standard "code".

On the other hand, I'd always been a "hands-off" person until a couple of years ago and changed after leaving India... so maybe this problem exists entirely in my head.

6. Long distance calls! I'd forgotten that calling someone in another state costs you more. Or travelling to another state gets you roaming charges. But all this doesn't change the fact that one still picks up the phone and randomly calls any childhood/old friend and chats to eternity.

7. Call an hour or two before and announce to your relatives that you will be dropping by. Just to ensure that they aren't out when you visit.

8. Similarly, if you want to meet your friend, the house is a good place to do so. Bars/pubs aren't places you normally go to. Otherwise, there are coffee shops, malls, random college campuses or "tekdi"s. (Pune is surrounded small hills or tekdi's, and some of them are popular walking spots).

9. I think we might be the only place where the term " of marriageable age" exists. I'm not sure, but I haven't heard it being used by non-Indians yet. :P

10. We rarely live alone or away from family. Someone is always at home, and it is impossible to feel alone. We like sharing space. We stayed at my aunt's place just before I left for France, and at that time we were 10 adults living (comfortably) in a 2~3 bedroom apartment.
And then I landed in France, came over home on a Friday afternoon to a 3 bedroom apartment that was empty. The weekend was spent interacting with very few people (physically, not in the online sense). As a friend described it, I suffered from withdrawal symptoms. For those 2 days, saying I missed India would be an understatement.