India Travel Advisory

For Westerners who come to India

I hate it when foreigners come to India and diss about it for being poor. India is a rich country. It is the people who are poor. We have been independent for only a few decades but we have remained a democracy. The US was a democracy for over 200 years but it went through a civil war and gave women the vote only in 1920. Let us not discuss about Red Indians or Blacks.

Many Westerners come to India and the experience leaves them shocked. From news journalists to TV documentary makers, there is no dearth of people willing to exploit the image of a dirty poor miserable shocking India. Every year, Western and Indian photographers descend on the banks of Ganga in Varanasi to photograph ash-covered sadhus because Western news publications are never tired of publishing such photos. Most Indians do not even know these people but somehow these sadhus have become our unwanted brand ambassadors.

In the age of the Internet, a lot of kids armed with selfie sticks are giving the same old spots 360° coverage. When will this stop?

It is as if foreigners will never learn how big or varied India is. If you are coming to India, it is always better to know in advance what to expect and what not to. Whatever you think of India after that is an informed opinion. We are guilty as charged. Otherwise, you are just annoying.

  • The ‘foreigner’ tag: If you are from the West, then this is how we know you. There is no malice intended. We have no other word to adequately describe you until we know which country you are from. Usually, it saves a lot of explanation. There is an online video channel by a British-South African expatriate who walks around Chinese streets and acts offended when amused kids on the street call him out as a ‘foreigner’ to their friends. As if to correct them, he usually responds with an annoyed “Hello, Chinese person.” I am not particularly happy with this situation either. When people from India’s North-East visit the other places in India, sometimes they get called ‘Chinese’. People are ignorant so do not get offended. It can happen to anyone. Indians are a very welcoming people and we treat our guests with great respect.
  • Everyone is ‘looking’ at you: A strange-looking stranger in a strange land will get strange looks. A 6-foot-plus WWE wrestler came to India and he was so overwhelmed by the crowds here that he left the country as quickly as he could. There are many unfunny online videos of tourists, Western women particularly, who get so unnerved that they visibly start crying over their selfie sticks.

    Every day, thousands of people are coming to cities from rural areas and they have not seen a foreigner in their life. In some areas, you are what a traveling carnival is to a kid. Most of these problems can be eliminated simply by changing your dressing style or by sticking to the usual stomping grounds for tourists.

  • Where have all the women gone? Men are leering at me!: Major Indian railway stations are not located in the best foreign tourist-friendly locations. These stations are very big transportation hubs. That is, the areas around such a railway station is mostly used by people who ship all kinds of products to various places in that state and abroad. When we get out of such a station, we quickly take a vehicle out to our residential area. We do not stick around in the Indian equivalent of a commercial district. People who you find around big train stations are all men because they are either traders or transporters. The traders are busy people and they will not even look at you whoever you are. The transporters are not real transporters but carriers. They are all men because they have to do the back-breaking work of transporting heavy stuff through narrow alleyways and cavernous stairs. When you go there with a selfie stick, these men are thinking, “What is this idiotic woman doing here? Why doesn’t she go to the usual tourist places?”
  • Your ‘hotel’ is not good?: When we travel to a new city, we usually stay in a relative’s or friend’s place. We do not have a culture of staying at lodges or hotels. India does have lodges and hotels but this business is totally ‘unregulated’. This means that there is no basic standard. The quality, hygiene and safety of these places depends entirely on the fares. You should not go to the cheapest place and expect it have basic standards. It is cheap because they have no standards. If you want standards, you need to pay a little more at a better establishment.
  • Carry toilet paper everywhere: India manufactures everything and you can buy almost all household goods in any city or town, big or small. Except the toilet paper. Not all shops stock it. If you are travelling to unknown places, carry one roll with you. One for each person. We do not mess around with paper. It is disgusting to use just paper. Learn to use water or else carry a toilet roll. Before you decide to stay at a place, ask if the room has a toilet with a water jet. The water jet is a fantastic thing. If you use it once, you will never go back to paper. This is the hygienic way. It is the greatest invention since indoor plumbing. If you cannot get the water gun, get a bidet add-on kit.

    Asians do not understand why Westerners have the bath and the toilet in the same room. Westerners even have the medicine cabinet and drinking water tap there. This is very revolting. In Indian homes, the toilet and bathroom are separate. Do not take your toothbrush and go to a toilet. In lodges/hotels, the bath and toilet are in the same room because real estate is expensive.

    Our streets may be dirty but our homes are always clean. We do not bring the footwear into our homes. We leave it outside. In many English-language movies and TV programmes, we see foreigners touching the toilet seat, puking over it, sobbing over it and (in one movie) even washing the hair! It is not a piece of furniture! Do not touch toilet surfaces even if it is your home. Squat toilets are the natural way of emptying the bowels. And, you will not be picking up germs from previous performers.
  • Wear a saree properly: If you decide to wear a saree, learn it to do it carefully. When Western women wear sarees, they walk like men. I do not know if Indian women walk differently but it looks really funny when foreigners do it. If you want to wear a more convenient Indian attire, then there is the modern churidhar. It comes in all kinds of fashions and sizes. If you still feel intimidated by the presence of men on the street, then throw its duppatta around your head like Benazir Bhutto. You will become invisible. It is the greatest disguise in the world. No, it is not cultural appropriation if you wear Indian clothes. Wear them whenever you want when you go back. Indians are always happy when foreigners use Indian stuff abroad. The Chinese also feel the same way. So do all normal people in the world. Do not listen to morons.
  • Get an idea of India’s foreign exchange rate: Under pressure from IMF and World Bank, one US dollar buys 68 Indian rupees. With 68 rupees, you can buy meals for two or three people. If you are a student with only the money made from waiting tables, then hitch-hiking in Europe will be a happier option. If not, you will be hunting for the cheapest option available for everything and India will disappoint you. When you buy stuff, you will find everything cheap. India is great for that kind of shopping. But, when you stay at a place, do not skimp on class or comfort.
  • Stomach bug: Foreign tourists are often advised to drink only from water bottles because tap water is unreliable. This is because sewerage lines and drinking water lines often run side-by-side to each other. Several illegal connections are made to these lines and the pilferers leave behind leaks. This results in contamination of water. In urban areas, people use tap water only for cleaning purposes. Drinking water is usually boiled before drinking. Others have immunity to survive anything. If you stay for several days in India, it is quite possible that you will go down with a stomach bug. It will not kill you but after a few days of it you will have lifelong immunity. Nevertheless, always carry a water bottle with you or drink only boiled water. Get a water filter if you stay for more than a few weeks. Chlorination of water is an exact science and you are most likely to overshoot the mark and kill useful gut bacteria required for digestion.
  • Tender Coconut Water: If you end up consuming something questionable, you can usually fix it by drinking two tender coconuts – the water-rich ones, not the fleshy sweet ones. This will fix most cases of food poisoning. However, it also increases 1 and 2 urgency so be ready for it. Apparently, this also clears UTIs.
  • Fried or boiled, not raw: When you are at home (in your home country), you should try to eat more raw foods. When you are traveling (in any foreign country), you should only eat food that is fried or boiled. Being sick while traveling is extremely stressful for everyone and is not worth the risk.
  • Rice or roti: Indian meals are usually based around rice or roti (chappathi or naan). Learn to break off a piece of roti with just one hand – your right hand. Don’t use both hands and freak everyone out. You take one piece of the roti, fold it into two, near-drop it over some side dish, grab a bit of the dish into that fold and then stick the stuffed roll in your mouth. You will burn your esophagus. With rice, you mix sambar, kozhambu, rasam or curds (in that order but not together) into the rice. Then, you take dollops of vegetable side dishes (poriyal, kootu, chutney, pickle, appalam/puppadum) on the mixed rice, pick a handful and drop it in your mouth. Some items like cloves and curry leaves are used in cooking. You are not supposed to eat them. You leave them in a corner of your plate for these ingredients. (You can also drop off pieces of chilly there if you find them. Hot stuff is usually balanced off with curd. If you eat too many chilly pieces, you may go down with the stomach bug. This will not give you any immunity because it is caused by an intestinal irritant.) They have been added only for the aroma and/or their digestive/medicinal/preservative properties, not for their taste. Onion rings are usually offered with non-vegetarian meals to aid in digestion. Don’t drink curry or some side dish as if it were soup or porridge. If it is a non-vegetarian curry, some amount of oil will be floating over contents. Mix it up with a spoon or your finger. Payasam, buttermilk, and other semi-solid stuff can be taken like coffee or tea. Sweets are consumed last. Breakfast dishes like idly and dosa have to be consumed in a slightly different style but you will easily figure that out.

2020 #JokeBook: 2020 #Jokes complete – More needs to be written

There is no space for political jokes because everyone is offended easily.

CNN report - #BlueForSudan hashtag offends Na'vi
I wrote a lot of political jokes yesterday and today, and reached the target of 2020 jokes. Unfortunately, this is not enough. Given the level of censorship and the need to control the narrative in the West, I do not think the jokes I have written will be welcome there. Even journalists lack a sense of humour and get offended easily. They mistake rhetorical claims and sarcastic observations as serious assertions. This book will not survive there.

A comedian cannot be too political. Politics tends to be divisive. But, politicians provide the best material. Art Buchwald said he endorsed Reagan because he knew Regan would provide the best material for his column. What a dilemma!

Another problem with some of the jokes is their longevity. In a few years, people will not have the context for these jokes and the jokes will not be funny anymore. For example, in this CNN joke, unless you are familiar with the film Avatar and Social Media, it is not funny. However, I can tell this physics joke to a student in China and it will still be funny.

A neutron and a neutrino walk into a bar
A neutron and a neutrino walk into a bar and order drinks. To the neutron, the bartender says, “For you, no charge!”. To the neutrino, the bartender, “That will be two bucks.” The neutrino is upset by this and says, “Hey, I am also neutral.” For that, the bartender says, “Yeah, but he carries more weight.”

I read some out-of-copyright jokebooks published many decades ago. They are not funny now. Were they funny in their time? A clever joke here, a turn of phrase there, but the bulk of these books had nothing great or substantial. I would like my book to be dense with jokes of high quality that can transcend generations.

I need to write at least 400 more extra jokes to account for this loss and for the possible existence of already published jokes. When it is done, the Indian edition will have all the jokes. Foreign editions will not have most of these chapters – ‘Political Jokes’ and ‘News & Journalism Jokes’ and some other snowflake-unfriendly jokes.

2020 JokeBook: I can write poems for no rhyme or reason – 1920 jokes completed

Phobia and mania jokes shoot towards 300

I can’t remember how or why I started writing this book but it has been one of the most useful decisions I made in my life. In the last week, I discovered that I can write poems! In all my life, I’ve written one or two immature little poems in Tamizh (lost 20 years ago) and only one in English (remains classified) but the three new poems that I have written are top notch. They are super funny and they rhyme. It took only a few minutes.

Here are two of the poems. The terrorist who bites the grenade has been done before but not this way. I am very proud of it.

Ze Music and Ze Women of Russia

Two video playlists for the best music from Russia and beyond

When I was a kid, we were all supporters of the Soviet Union (USSR). The USSR had militarily supported India in many of its conflicts. During the 1962 war, China occupied Aksai Chin and Arunachal Pradesh. Nehru wrote to President Kennedy and it was American military support that made the Chinese withdraw from Arunachal Pradesh. By Nixon’s time, the American balance towards India vis-a-vis Pakistan had “tilted” to the other side as Sy Hersh described it. Indira Gandhi was irritated by Nixon’s attitude (no thanks to the humanoid Henry Kissinger) and she flew to Moscow from Washington. India has been in the USSR camp ever since and (despite all the pretensions at the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) summits) Russia has been our best friend. Even in Nehru’s time, Russia had helped us set up huge steel plants. They even put our man Rakesh Sharma in space.

When I was going through my short-wave radio listening phase, I caught Moscow Radio a few times. Their music was surprisingly more electronic than VOA. It was surprising because the USSR was going through the deep end of a socialist downturn as defence spending had become a big part of Russian economy. When the USSR broke up, Yeltsin-backed Western cronies were looting Russia and transferring wealth abroad by tens of billions. The majority of the Russian people were suddenly pushed to the brink of poverty. All of us Indians who supported the USSR were saddened by what was happening there. Then, in a move that surprised everyone around the world, Yeltsin turned over power to a former KGB agent named Vladimir Putin and took a deep nap in a cemetery. Good riddance. Russia was then being harassed by terrorists from places like Chechnya but Putin set everything to order. He took control of the oil industry, plugged all the leakage of Russian wealth to foreign shell companies. Today, Russia is flourishing again. Instead of rapprochement, the US opposed Russia’s entry to the WTO for several years for some reason or other but Putin took time to cultivate economic ties with Western European countries despite US interference. The US intelligence establishment remained hostile to Russia because they seemed to be extremely upset with Putin for some reason. No matter who was President in the US, Russia was subjected to numerous sanctions and other international obstacles. Putin was always one step ahead of them. He showed the Americans what statecraft was.

American public’s attitude towards Russia was shaped by the Cold War and the many spy novels and movies that were made with Russia as the villain. However, there were lots of Americans who were of Russian descent and many of them were well established in arts and entertainment. You will find famous Russian songs in American movies performed of course by American musicians. Recently, I found a Russian song in WC Fields movie “Never Give A Sucker An Even Chance”. The tunes seemed already familiar to me thanks to movies of Mosfilm Studios shown on DoorDarshan. Songs like “Ochi Chornya” and “Kalinka” have some sort of quality that seems to be unique to Russian music. Russian musical instruments like the balalaika are big contributors to the likeability to Russian folk songs. Old Russian songs also have a Christian hymn feel to them because of the heavy reliance of chorus singing.

Today, in modern Russia, musicians are doing better than ever. Technically, they are lock step with the West. Most of their music videos seemed to be derived from Western hits. I stopped watching MTV long ago. I hate the current crop of American pop artists because they are horrible. Watching Russians play the same music is better. It is not that there are no good American artists. No, the problem is that American music industry is a cartel. Good artists are not given opportunity and filthy ones rises to the top there. The only way good artists in America can make money is with live performances, not by music CD sales or streaming revenue. If you look at the charts, a handful of music companies control everything. In the 80s and 90s, thanks to advances in electronics available to the public, the number of independent music groups exploded in the West and a great deal of memorable music was made. Now, the music is barely tolerable and everyone forgets what the last year’s hit was because it is by the same old ugly people. In Russia, Ukraine and much of Eastern Europe, there is much variety. The women are stunningly beautiful. (They are not like the GMO-corn-fed Botox-injected plastic surgery-gone-bad horror stories of America. There is nobody in the US music charts who can compare to the likes of Anna Sedokova, Katya Bazhenova, Olya Polyakova, Tatyana Kotova, Vera Brezhneva or Zlataslava. These Russian stars are very down-to-earth and are not the stuck-up boors you find in the West. Even though some Russian female artists have “enhanced” themselves, most of them naturally look great. If they are not lanky and lean, they are are still fit and spunky. Thanks to Putin banning GMO foods, most Russians are still healthy.) For these reasons, their music videos are watchable. Forget that many of them are ripoffs. Russian music videos are fun not only because of the use of traditional Russian musical instruments but also thanks to the uniquely Russian humour. Russian music is currently in the state that the West was in those two great but gone decades. This is probably the best time for Russian music before consolidation ruins all creativity.

One more thing, it is not just Russia. Ukraine seems to have a lot of great pop stars. Olya Polyakova (Любовь-Морковь) is an example. Her videos are funny, have great tunes and she packs as much oomph as anybody else. An Indian will find no difference between Russian and Ukrainian songs. (It is again extremely sad that the US government had set Russia and Ukraine to fight.)

I created two playlists of what I think are popular music videos from the former Soviet republics. Ukrainian Olya Polyakova has the most songs – Lyubov-Morkov – Любовь-Морковь, Happy New Year – С новым Годом!, Lyuli – Люли, Shlop – Шлёпки and Него – Первое лето без. Russian singer Zlataslava has two – 100 – Пудов and Bitter – Горько. Some videos are about the musical instrument balalaika. (The accordion is another instrument that seemed to be there in all Russian music.) Payushchie Trusy (Пающие трусы) is a Ukrainian group that is just as funny as Olya Polyakova of which “Glamur – Премьера” is the funniest. Their sense of humour is a bit over the top but no adult will be harmed by watching them. Raisa Prikolnaya seems to be like Russia’s Usha Uthup. Her song Musiki (Мужики) is difficult to find because of the many tribute videos with photos or clips of younger Russian women. The Russian version of Batman (Бэтмен) is a very funny video. Hey Sokoli is a wonderful song from Poland about a Kossack girl that is also popular in Ukraine and Slovakia. (DoorDarshan used to have a Soviet cartoon I think simply named as the Kossacks.) Ukrainoychka by the lanky Ukrainian women seems to be a folk song. The song Štefan by Slovakian group Hrdza is in the Rusyn language, not Russian. Hrdza has also performed a Welcome to Slovakia video for foreign tourists to Slovakia. I don’t think that tune is original. I’ve heard that before like many of these videos. This can be frustrating because it becomes impossible to recall the original subsequently. One Ukrainian group is named in English – “Made In Ukraine”. Their song Smuglyanka is a military song from the Soviet times. Blestyashchiye (Блестящие) is an all-girl Russian group. Their song “Novogodnaya Pesnya – Happy New Year – Новогодняя песня” sounds like a lullaby and features a younger Anna Cemenovich.

There are a few other songs that I am unable to find now because I browse anonymously. I will update the playlists in future if I find them.

Here is the lyrics for Hey Sokoly.

Hei, des tam de chorni vodi,
Sivna konia kozak molodyi
Plache moloda divicheena,
Yide kozak zukrayini.

Hei! Hei! Hei, Sokoli!
Ominaite horiilisi doli.
Dzee, Dzee, Dzee, dzveenochku,

Hei! Hei! Hei, Sokoli!
Ominaite horiilisi doli.
Dzee, Dzee, Dzee, dzveenochku,

Don’t play these video playlists without a sub-woofer.

Le Music of Russia

Many of these videos are dance music. You need to listen to them on a music system (ie subwoofer) or headphones. The footwork of the girls in the Kalinka remix is amazing.

Le Women of Russia

The second playlist also has great music but is not family-friendly. I have not eaten an avocado yet. If you have, then you should not probably see the Nikita Avocado song. The song sounds great but something about the way it has been filmed tells you you should not.

Jokes: Hindsight walks into a bar and the bartender says it is 2020

I know it is not 2020 yet but I want to stake claim for coming up with this joke before anyone else. When it is the year 2020 or by the time this book is completed and published, almost everyone familiar with the ‘Hindsight is 20/20’ saying will be saying they invented it on their own.

Some of the newest jokes in my book “2020 Mint-Fresh Jokes For Everyone”

2020 Mint-Fresh Jokes

More jokes from my book “2020 Mint-Fresh Jokes For Everyone”

The hindsight joke is part of a “bar jokes” chapter.

Bar Jokes

Bar Jokes from my book 2020 Mint-Fresh Jokes For Everyone

BSNL is injecting ads into http websites

BSNL injects Javascript code into HTTP webpages, which makes them load ads and popups.

On my main computers/OSes, I use Linux with a firewall. The firewall allows only DNS (53), http (80) and https (443) outgoing requests. All other ports are blacklisted. When I send mail, I manually open the firewall and close it immediately afterward. The Javascript is loaded from a BSNL Internet Backbone IP on port number 3000. My firewall blocks all unwanted ports and this javascript was note loaded and I did not see any ads.

When browsing a newer version of Ubuntu where no firewall was installed, the ads got loaded. I have not installed the firewall because it has become obsolete and no available in newer Linux distributions. I use the new Ubuntu installation only when I have to book tickets on the IRCTC website, which does not work with old browsers.  After I looked up the syntax for IP tables, I blocked unwanted ports. Now, the ads do not get loaded.

But, this is still troublesome because most Linux users think that their OS is virus-free.

On the mobile, I have no firewall (and that is why I don’t do any financial transactions on the phone). I was surprised to see that my own website serving ads. My website does not have ads. It has no Google tracking/analytics code, social media sharing javascripts, and other junk that slows down websites. There is no Javascript other than what I had written on my own as part of my CMS – Subhash SqlSiteServer. One day when I was visiting my own website, I found the browser asking permission to open a popup. I examined the code of the web page and there was some Javascript in it. Who put it there? I noted that the URLs of the popup requests were similar to the ones I experienced on some other websites. On further examination, I found that these ads were injected by the ISP (BSNL) for all requests of http websites.

BSNL code injection

BSNL has injected Javacript code into my website, which is still on http.

I examined the Javascript code. It was obfuscated and downloads some of the c-r-a-p-p-i-e-s-t ads from several international and Indian ad sources. The Javascript encodes the BSNL subscriber’s IP, some unique subscriber ID, browser UA string, and some other data.

Ads are loaded from a dozen ad servers: Inmobi, Mobvista, Admaven, Adcash, etc.

Initially, I thought some hackers have taken control of BSNL DNS server. I emailed CERT-IN and got no response. It was clear that they knew what BSNL was doing and decided to be quiet.

Some years ago, I found that these ads also interfere with some files that Ubuntu or some application downloads for updates. This process was downloading a particular XML file and BSNL javascript code inside the XML made the program crash.

In the US too, ISPs tried this form of ads but I am not sure if it is still allowed. This problem affects HTTP sites and not HTTPS sites.

The HTTPS Everywhere propaganda people are using this to goad everyone to add SSL certificates to their sites. Google is the biggest beneficiary of this campaign. People are more likely to upgrade their Android phones the browsers are unable to access SSL sites and sites with newer certificates.

I have all forms of ad-blocking – ad-blocking HOSTS file, user scripts, user CSS, ad-safe DNS providers. All of this gets defeated if the ISP inject ads hosted from their own IP address. Lesson learned – never browse without a firewall. Block all unwanted ports. Constantly update your HOSTS files to ensure that no ads are ever displayed.

Good job, BSNL! Thanks for nothing.

Modi wants all Indians to conduct digital transactions and you are not helping, are you? What am I talking about? Even Modi’s app has been reported as a personal information stealer.

ISRO Weather Satellite Image for Indian Cloud Cover and Rain Forecast

Like the famed INSAT pictures that used to be shown on DoorDarshan and printed in newspapers, these images from newer Indian satellites will easily tell if it is going to rain in your area.

Bookmark this link. It is a static URL for a dynamic image where the picture changes every few hours but the URL remains the same.