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Regaining what we lost

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During my overseas travels, I would often say (boast?) that:

  • New Zealand is one of the most peaceful countries on earth.
  • New Zealand Police normally do not carry arms.
  • New Zealand politicians and other leaders are extremely approachable. They often drive their own cars and travel economy class like all New Zealanders do. Only our Prime Minister has a security person when in public.

My overseas friends would confirm that they had heard same / similar opinions about New Zealand. Those who had visited would recount good memories of their visit.

One day, one person changed it all. [Christchurch mosque shootings, 15 March 2019]

The question now is, “how do we regain what we lost?”

I feel we should not take any knee-jerk reactions due to this incident. Even if changes are necessary, for example, with the gun control laws, they should be well-considered / well-discussed and debated decisions, rather than “heat of the moment knee-jerk reactions”. There is no need to swing from one end to the other, although inevitably, a few things may need to change.

I have been fortunate enough to have travelled to many countries all over the world. Friends, family members and colleague often ask me if I feel safe in a particular country or city, and how do I judge it. My answer always is:

  • The less police / security persons I see, the safer I feel at any place.
  • The presence of families and children in public area, particularly after sunset, makes me feel safer at any place.

Too much police / security presence can be unnerving, as we found out this week. The presence of Police helicopter circling over us had, for many residents, exactly the opposite effect than the desired! The stated official purpose was to provide “assurance” to the community, but it’s presence had many residents “worried”.

I recall a story from several years back. For a week, I had hosted guests from the Middle East. On the last day of the visit, they said, “Shirish, you have done so much for us, and shown us many places here, but we have not seen one thing at Christchurch.”

“What is that?”, I asked.

“In the whole week here, we haven’t seen even one officer of New Zealand Police”, was their reply, being so used to police presence back in their country!

I took them to Christchurch Central Police Station, where they not only “saw” an officer, but the lovely officer smilingly obliged and allowed the visitors to take photos with him and his police car!

This is the Christchurch, this is the New Zealand we like, and others envy.
Let us do everything we can, individually and collectively, to regain it.

I end this write up with a poem which my daughter Neha wrote and sent from London upon receiving the news of the incidents:

To Christchurch & its people,

Too many innocent lives lost
Too many prayers left unanswered
Too many people hurt
Too many dreams shattered

Too much hate in the world
Just too much anger
How did it come to this?
Is all of the world now in danger?

The people of Christchurch, we like our red and black
But not the red that comes with blood stains
Not the black that accompanies a terror attack

Christchurch will be back up though,
Once again rising from the ashes
Once again, our people will find that smile
After we’ve wiped tears off each other’s eyelashes

Christchurch is my home, as it is yours
I hope you all feel safe again, albeit with horrific scars
I wish for this paradise to be beautiful again
I hope you see your prayers weren’t in vain

Link to this article, published in the local newspaper

60 years of Ambassadors

This write-up was written aboard a Silk Air flight. No internet search engine was used while writing this.

I learnt on a recent Silk Air flight that Ambassador cars were first rolled out in 1958.

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Picture courtesy: http://www.autowpaper.com

So, 2018 marks 60 years of these venerable vehicles in India.

I grew up in an era of less cars, both in variety and numbers. It would be fair to say that Ambassador cars were the kings of Indian roads; while Fiat Premier Padmini cars were the queens.

Produced at Hindustan Motors in Calcutta, it is no surprise that almost all cars in Calcutta those days were Ambassadors. This included all yellow & black taxis as well as private and government cars.

But across the country in Bombay, it was a different story. The entire city taxi fleet of yellow & black taxis in Bombay was Fiat / Premier Padmini. However when it came to outstation taxis – such as Bombay-Poona or Bombay-Nasik taxis, the entire fleet was Ambassadors.

In the national capital Delhi, all city taxis, tourist taxis and government vehicles (including VIP cars) were Ambassadors!

All over India, a tourist taxi almost always meant an Ambassador vehicle. Such was their popularity. White was the dominant colour – when it came to tourist taxis as well as government/ VIP vehicles.

The main feature of Ambassadors was spaciousness and comfort. 3 + 3 seating was normal and comfortable. I am not going to attempt a guess on the maximum number an Ambassador could carry, but I recall Nasik-Kasara taxis carried at least 10, including the driver. It was not uncommon, in mofussil areas, to find a passenger between the driver and his door!

It is perhaps a paradox that the original Morris “Minor” in UK became Ambassador in India, certainly not a minor!  In fact, it was the most spacious car in those days. [Post script: a friend corrected me that “Ambassador” design was based on “Morris Oxford”, not “Minor”]

A person of 5’6” height could lie down on the rear seat and relax reasonably well while the Ambassador negotiated the roads to its destination. With no cell phones those days, one could either relax during the travel, enjoy the countryside, or chat with co-passengers, if present, or the driver. [‘Chat’ in those days did not involve a keyboard!]

You may laugh when I say that another nice feature of Ambassadors was that you could roll down all 4 windows fully. Reading this may seem strange in 2018, but the rear windows in Premier Padmini did not go down fully, making it somewhat awkward. In those days, taxis and many tourist cars were non-AC, so a half-open window (of Padmini) was not as good as the fully open window of an Ambassador!

It is also perhaps a tribute to the original designers that the design of Ambassador has hardly changed over the years, except for superficial / cosmetic changes, marketed as ‘Mark II’, ‘Mark III’ and so on.

How long these fine machines will continue on Indian roads is anyone’s guess; but let us take a moment to celebrate “60 years of Ambassadors”.

Did/does anyone in your family/ friend circle own an Ambassador? I invite you to share your experiences and stories, for the benefit of others.

By Shirish Paranjape

shirishparanjape1@gmail.com

Which will be my 50th?

In Feb 2017, I travelled to Qatar, making it the 49th country I have visited.

It is due to my job and the many roles I have played at AuCom that I have had the opportunity and privilege to visit so many countries, many of them more than once. The one thing I realized on each trip is that I automatically “represent” two countries and cultures – those of New Zealand and India. People I meet are curious to know about both these places. I consider myself fortunate to be in this position on a social level, while also representing a New Zealand based export-oriented company offering hi-tech product to the whole world.

A huge part of my experience has been positive, and I would not hesitate to visit any of these places again, should there be an opportunity.

Here are some musings about these travels over the period. The countries are listed in the sequence I first visited them.

Home: India

1. Nepal (1981). My first “foreign trip” was anything but glamorous. As an engineering university student, I travelled with a few classmates to Nepal. From Bhopal in central India, we travelled by train (economy class) to Gorakhpur and then by an ordinary state transport bus to the border village of Sonauli, and crossed the Indo-Nepal border by foot to reach Bhairawa on the Nepalese side. In those days, we had no passports or other fancy IDs, just our university student ID card was enough. 9/11 changed it all, didn’t it?

Our bus journey from Bhairawa to Kathmandu was affected by landslides, necessitating an unplanned overnight halt along the way.

I recall 2 other aspects of interest during this maiden foreign trip:

  • 1 Indian Rupee gave 1.5 Nepalese Currency, so we felt “richer” in Nepal.
  • Coca-Cola was available in Nepal. This was a novelty for Indian tourists, as the same was not available in India back then. [Coca Cola was away from India during 1977-1993].

2. USA (1995). This was my first “real” foreign visit. A British Airways Boeing 747 brought me from Bombay to London, from where a connecting London-Boston service took me to Boston. Boston was impressive. The taxi ride from Logan international airport to downtown passed under the sea, which was something new for me. Another element of surprise for me was when a cruise on a fairly large boat departed with just 2 passengers on board. The boat had a staff of 3, which outnumbered us paying passengers. Those were also the days when foreign exchange obtained in India was recorded on the rear pages of the passport!

Later visits to USA allowed me to explore and enjoy many famous attractions including The Statue of Liberty, The Empire State Building, The Golden Gate Bridge, Grand Canyon National Park, Hoover Dam, Universal Studios, Sears Tower, Las Vegas and so on.

3. UK (1995). London was my weekend stopover on the return journey from Boston to Bombay. What impressed me most was the efficiency of the public transport – The Tube and London buses. Another special memory was the visit to Greenwich to stand at the Prime Meridian. A very special feeling!

4. Thailand (2001). An urgent visit to a steel plant in Thailand, some 7 hours car drive from Bangkok – was the reason for my 4th overseas visit. I was impressed with the roads and systems, not only in Bangkok city but also rural Bangkok. This was the first time I was visiting a rural part of another country, a place where I could not speak the local language. The method of communication – signs and smiles!

5. New Zealand (2002). When NZ government decided to approve my residence visa, I found myself travelling to Christchurch, via Singapore – the latter being just a transit halt. Christchurch international airport, and indeed the city itself, was totally different than the cities which I had visited (Boston, London, Bangkok) or had seen through Hollywood films. I was amazed at the vastness of greenery, and then the total absence of any hi-rise buildings as I came from airport to Avonhead.

Home: Christchurch, New Zealand

6. Australia (2002). My work at Christchurch necessitated a short visit to Sydney to conduct a training. My Indian-Australian friends showed me around. What a beautiful city Sydney is, I thought! During later visits, I enjoyed The Great Ocean Road, the Gold and Sunshine Coasts, the Australian Open and many other things Australia offers.

7. Taiwan (2003). Another customer site requirement found me travelling to Taiwan. Seeing Taipei 100 was amazing. I also wondered at the roading system in Taipei and surrounds, and marvelled at the number of automobiles using the same. Another impression was the huge number of long-distance double-decker buses operating to and from Taipei.

8. Japan (2003). Admittedly, this was only a transit halt at the huge glass and metal structure of Osaka Kansai airport.

9. Singapore (2004). We stopped over at Singapore for a short break on our way from Christchurch to Bombay for our first holiday trip to India from New Zealand.

10. India (2004). It seems strange that I list India which was once my home. Visiting India as a Kiwi offers a different experience in many ways than I was used to having while India was home.

11. Italy (2005). AuCom’s participation in a trade fair was the reason for me needing to travel to Milan Italy. The preparation for this visit involved first visiting the Italian consulate at Wellington for a personal interview to obtain a visa. This was also my first time in mainland Europe. The lasting memory from this trip is the many tram rides I took to explore the nice things the city of Milan offers to visitors and an evening trip to Lake Como, the birthplace of scientist Alessandro Volta. A day-trip to Venice completed the experience. During later trips, I have enjoyed the many attractions of Rome, Pisa, Florence etc.

12. Germany (2005). A long stop-over at Frankfurt allowed me to enter Germany for the first time, and to have a quick look around in downtown Frankfurt. The one thing I remember wondering was the sheer expanse of Frankfurt airport! Later visits helped me explore many other cities including Munich, Hamburg etc. For me, the Miniature World at Hamburg is one of the best places in the world anyone can spend the day at.

13. Brazil (2005). The very next month called for another trip, this time to Brazil. Latin America is often intriguing to people – it is so different to other parts of the world in many ways. This turned out to be the first of many visits I would make, not only to Brazil but other parts of Latin America. I have visited many parts of Brazil, including Salvador in the north and Porto Alegre in the south – but Rio de Janeiro still eludes me!

14. Malaysia (2006). I celebrated my birthday in 2006 at Christchurch, in flights and finally at Kuala Lumpur. My site was in the new capital city Putrajaya, which was a very pleasant experience. I was also lucky enough to visit the Petronas Twin Towers at Kuala Lumpur. A later family visit to KL involved an overnight train journey on KTM from Singapore.

15. Mexico (2006). Later in the year was my first visit to Mexico. This was to the city of Monterrey. Although we arrived without our checked-in bags, everything else was nice about this city. Our bags turned up a few hours before we were leaving for our next destination – Brazil!

16. UAE (2007). In early 2007, I visited Dubai for the first time. The metro was under construction, the bus service was sparse, and many roads were dug up. I did not like Dubai in this visit. The redeeming feature was being able to meet old friends and cousin at Dubai. Later visits provided the opportunity to visit Burj Khalifa – the tallest building in the world; Burj-Al-Arab, the only 7-star hotel in the world and its “highest-in-the-world bar”; Dubai Metro – world’s largest driverless metro system, and several other attractions of Dubai.

17. Slovakia (2007). This was quite a special visit. Having been used to Czechoslovakia, in my geography lessons, it was interesting to visit one half of this once-united country. Capital Bratislava gave me the first glimpse of the so-called Eastern-bloc countries.

18. Austria (2007). I used a Sunday while at Bratislava to visit Vienna (Austria) for a day trip, travelling both ways by train. An interesting aspect was that the passport is checked on the train, while the train is in motion.

19. Turkey (2007). Late in 2007 was my first trip to Turkey, and I recall crossing from Europe (Istanbul Ataturk airport) to Asia (Istanbul city, Asia part, and onwards to capital Ankara. The Bosphorus strait, which separates Europe and Asia, has a very special charm.

20. Ukraine (2007). The year ended with me travelling to Ukraine – actually to Sevastopol in Crimea region. My return journey was from Simferopol to Kiev on a (then) domestic flight. Now these two cities are in two different countries, sadly. This was my first glimpse of an erstwhile USSR nation. During my short stay, I saw a “submarine museum” and a centuries-old winery.

21. Tajikistan (2008). Having been asked to attend a start-up at a customer in Tajikistan, my first doubt was, “where in the world is this place”, followed by – “where do I apply for visa?” and “how do I reach this place?” The embassy nearest to New Zealand was in Washington DC (USA) – which granted me my visa, allowing me to travel to this Central Asian nation via Istanbul Turkey. The lasting memory for me at Tajikistan is of the two ladies in the company guest house trying to understand what would be acceptable food for me, being a vegetarian. They really put in 100% effort to serve me vegetarian food – something normally unheard of locally!  

22. Canada (2008). My first visit to Canada was due to some crazy travel routing. To return from Sao Paulo Brazil to New Zealand, I chose the route via Vancouver instead of conventional routes via Los Angeles or Santiago Chile, eliciting some questioning by immigration officers. My later visits for a family holiday to Vancouver, Ottawa, Toronto and Niagara Falls followed a more conventional route. I have been on the top of CN Tower, seen Niagara falls during the day and night, as well as been fortunate enough to visit the Canadian parliament and the supreme court.

23. Peru (2009). I remember my visit to Peru for a few things. First, a ride in a very tiny aircraft, with 1+1 seating, to a destination 4000 meters above mean sea level. The site we were visiting was a gold mine. Second, Lima’s Larco Mar shopping complex which literally hangs on a cliff, near the Pacific Ocean. Third, I was treated to a free lunch by the Indian Consulate at Lima, when I was able to attend the Indian Independence Day celebrations there.

24. Hong Kong (2009). This was a stop-over visit during my return from Taipei to New Zealand. One of the fascinating things In this city is the laser show held every night on the harbour. Another is the huge fleet of double-decker trams with the driver in central position (width-wise) – which is quite unique. The cable car going to the hill-top is a good attraction too.

25. Oman (2010). The small size of Muscat airport (in 2010) took me by surprise. Compared to the hustle and bustle of Dubai, Muscat did seem to be a very laid back place, in some ways nicer than its illustrious neighbour.

26. Sri Lanka (2010). For all Indians, (Sri) Lanka is part of the mythology, therefore it was very interesting to visit this neighbour. During the days I spent at Colombo, there was a big Bollywood event there, and therefore it seemed the entire movie fraternity from Bombay had descended upon Colombo. The train ride from Colombo to Kandy and back was interesting too.

27. Chile (2010). Having visited Santiago and Vina-del-Mar more than once, I can safely say Chile is one of my favourite destinations in Latin America.

28. South Africa (2010). I spent a few days at Jo’burg and Durban. I liked Durban – it had a more “family feel” and appeared safer. I had the privilege to visit Pietermaritzburg train station in South Africa. This visit was even more special because I visited on Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday. A later visit to Jo’burg helped me complete riding underground metro trains on 6 continents.

29. Hungary (2010). Having seen and heard so much about Budapest, my visit to this city was really enjoyable. The city is bestowed with so many nice attractions served well by an excellent public transport system. Visiting the baths and riding one of the oldest subways (metro) in the world was very special.

30. China (2010). I was so impressed with my experiences during my maiden visit to China that I wrote several pages on the flight from Beijing to Singapore, and published them later. Visits to The Great Wall, Tianmen Square etc. were special, as was my experience with the Maglev train connecting Shanghai Pudong airport with downtown and Chinese High Speed trains.

31. Indonesia (2011). I was lucky enough to visit Manado, not a usual destination in Indonesia. This province is a Christian-majority province in a Muslim-majority country, and also has some Hindu influence – which made it a very special experience.

32. Argentina (2012). The thing I recall most is how beautiful Buenos Aires city looks from the sky at night. The two other things which really awed me are: a) the immense Rio-de-plata – which is a river but seems like a sea, and b) the main thoroughfare “Avenue 9th of July” – the widest avenue in the world.

33. Colombia (2012). I had heard so much about this country and its capital Bogota, whose airport is at 2548 m above mean sea level. My many visits to this country have always been nice, thanks to the warmth of the welcome Colombians extend to those visiting them. My visit to Medellin (the city of perpetual spring) was special – this is a place where many cable car routes are part of city’s integrated metro transport system. In Bogota, I visited a mine 180 m below ground level, and a cathedral 1000 m above ground level – both in the same weekend.

34. Saudi Arabia (2012). Sadly, I have to say I found this the most unwelcoming country I have visited. From the visa application process to the immigration process at the airport – it is somehow not a pleasant experience. Having said that, Dammam offered a much more relaxed experience than the capital Riyadh.

35. Kuwait (2013). I spent only 1 day (2 nights) here but was disappointed that the oil wealth has perhaps not been used properly for civic amenities.

36. France (2014). TGV, Eiffel Tower, Notre Dam, Louvre, Mona Lisa, food and wine – there are many reasons to visit and love this country. My first visit was to the charming city of Angouleme.

37. Netherlands (2014). I arrived on an overnight cruise from UK, visited the fantastic Kukenhof tulip gardens and Amsterdam before proceeding further. I need to visit again to explore better.

38. Belgium (2014). I spent just a few hours in this beautiful country, during a road journey from Amsterdam to Paris. This place needs another visit to do better justice to the same.

39. Switzerland (2014). Snow, clocks, mountain trains – Switzerland has it all. The journey to Jungfraujoch remains one of the most memorable train journeys for me.

40. Vatican (2014). A country entirely within the city of Rome, Vatican has a special place in our world. The long queue to enter the Basilica is well worth it.

41. El Salvador (2014). My only visit to this small Central American nation was pleasurable – thanks mainly to the hospitality of the locals.

42. Panama (2014). I consider myself lucky that I got to see the world famous Panama Canal, that too in its centenary year. Having read about Panama canal in geography lessons in school, it was a very special day when I saw the same.

43. Lebanon (2014). Once again, I was blown away by the kind hospitality of the locals when I visited Beirut. A visit to Byblos, one of the oldest cities in the world – is also not something which one gets to do every day! This small country has many historical and natural gems.

44. Denmark (2015). Having worked for many years at L&T, founded by 2 Danes, I was eager to visit Denmark. I finally got the opportunity in 2015. Apart from experiencing Nyhavn, I got to see The Little Mermaid, as well as the Danish parliament. One unique thing which I have seen only in Denmark is a continuous elevator. I am told there are only 2 such elevators – and I was fortunate to see both in the space of 3 days!

45. Sweden (2015). As I was in Copenhagen, I visited Malmo in Sweden using a 30-minute train ride over the Oresund bridge – simply to get a tick for another country! Of course, Sweden is much more than Malmo so I should be visiting it properly.

46. Iran (2015). This is another country where a visitor will get stumped by the hospitality of the hosts – in more ways than one. My second visit included Esfahan – an absolutely wonderful place with a river and many beautiful bridges across the river.

47. Poland (2016). Imagining that I was visiting yet another “eastern bloc” nation, I was astonished how different Warsaw was from what I had imagined. It was a very nice experience to be in Warsaw. The Polish train from there to Berlin was another impressive and memorable aspect of this visit.

48. Israel (2016). I stayed only a few days in this unique place which is the birthplace of several religions, and most of my time was at an industrial trade fair. Having heard many horror stories about their immigration procedure, I was pleasantly surprised at how I was “processed”, both on the way in and out. It took me by surprise that the signage on highways and at other places included Arabic, in addition to Hebrew and English!

49. Qatar (2017). I spent a few days in the capital city Doha. It is a city of contrasts, and full of ongoing construction activity – including several underground Metro lines – as it prepares for FIFA soccer world cup 2022 and beyond. One can feel that it is trying to emulate many aspects of Dubai, yet trying to create its own niche in the middle east.

That was numbers 1 through 49; which will be my 50th?

Post script:

I was overwhelmed by the comments and suggestions which I received on the article. As it turned out, Vietnam became my 50th.

50. Vietnam (2017). My wife Manik and I spent a few days at Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon) before embarking on our first ever cruise. Well this cruise may well become the subject of my next article, so please watch this space. In the few days we were at HCMC, we learnt a few things about this country’s troubled past, and how the society is trying to recover from it and move forward. The visit to Ku Chi killing fields was one of the highlights of our stay here. We were lucky to have stayed at The Reverie, which turned out to be one of the finest hotels I have ever stayed at.

51. Cambodia (2017). Our river cruise brought us to Cambodia, finishing at Siem Reap. Siem Reap and Cambodia were impressive! A huge majority of people spoke English, everyone transacted in US Dollars (no need to convert and do the maths), and it was very safe (unlike Vietnam). Visiting Angkor Wat – the largest monument in the world – was undoubtedly the highlight of our visit here. The locals were simple and helpful, which added to the positive experience.

52. Costa Rica (2017). I visited this country for just over 24 hours, as part of a series of seminars we conducted in Central America. San Jose city in particular, and Costa Rica in general impressed with its greenery and cleanliness. What struck me most was the immigration counters at the airport when I exited the country. These counters are the most “open” (in every sense) and among the friendliest I have come across anywhere. I would love to go there another time.

53. Honduras (2017). The same series of seminars brought me to San Pedro Sula city in Honduras. Compared to Costa Rica or Panama, one can feel that Honduras has some work to do. The fields – producing different kinds of agricultural produce – were immense. These are one of the mainstays of the economy. I also got a chance to visit a very old fort made by the Spanish to protect the country back then. The fort has the biggest collection of canons (now unused, obviously), which I have ever seen. The surprise was seeing Indian made Bajaj 3-wheeler auto rickshaws in good numbers in the rural coastal areas!

That completes the year 2017 for me. Who knows what 2018 has in store – please stay tuned!

Flying Fifty

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In 2017, I completed flying by 50 different airlines. I present some memories from some of these travel experiences. First, the list, arranged alphabetically.

Aero Mexico, Aerolineas Argentinas, Aerosvit, Air Canada, Air China
Air India, Air New Zealand, Alsie Express, Avianca, Blue 1

British Airways, China Airlines, COPA, Damania, Dragon Air
East-West Airlines, Emirates, Etihad, Eva Air, German Wings

GOL, Indian Airlines, Indigo, Jet Airways, Jetstar
Kingfisher Airlines, LAN Chile, LAN Peru, LC Burse, Lufthansa

Malaysian Airlines, Mexicana, Modiluft, Oceanair, Oman Air
Pacific Blue, Qantas, Royal Nepal Airlines, SAS, Silk Air

Singapore Airlines, South African Airlines, SriLankan, TAM, Turkish Airlines
United, US Airways, Varig, Vayudoot, Vistara

Seeing an aircraft take-off, fly or land is always a treat to the senses. Having spent my childhood at Indian Air Force stations including fighter squadrons, aircrafts were very near and dear to me.

1st flight: My first opportunity to fly came in January 1983, when a customer site south of Nagpur needed urgent attention. I still recall the moments when Indian Airlines’ Boeing 737 sped along the Bombay runway for its take-off. My first thought was, “how cool would it be if Indian Railways’ trains could run at this speed!” This journey on IC 129 marked a new land-mark in my life. There was no looking back now.

1st international flight: Another significant milestone was my first international flight. This was in May 1995. It was Bombay to London Heathrow by British Airways overnight service BA 141, operated with a Boeing 747 aircraft. I was simply awed by the sheer size and scale of the 747, and to this day, I believe that the Boeing 747 is the most magnificent passenger aircraft in the world.

Small aircraft: At the other end of the scale compared to 747 were the Fokker Friendship and Dornier aircrafts operated by Vayudoot. I recall a journey between Indore and Bombay where my seat was right behind the pilot, and I could see all his operations and manoeuvres. In addition to this journey, I travelled Delhi-Chandigarh and Calcutta-Shillong on Vayudoot (1981~1997).

Flying a tiny aircraft in Peru

Flying a tiny aircraft in Peru

Airbus A300: While Boeing 737 was the standard workhorse for Indian Airlines, it deployed the new wide-bodied Airbus A300 aircrafts on key trunk routes. I have to say travelling on a A300 was a totally different experience compared to Boeing 737. As per Wikipedia, Indian Airlines was the first airline in the world to deploy A300s on domestic routes.

Private carriers in India: When Indian skies were opened to private operators in 1991, many a new airline began operations. When I compare the “then and now” list, Jet Airways is the only one which has lasted the test of time!

  • Damania Airways (1993~97): I recall taking their D2-201 / 202 flights between Bombay and Calcutta. Back then, private airlines were allowed to serve alcohol on board, which presented some interesting stories!
  • East-West Airlines (1992~95): Somehow, this airline was always in the news for the wrong reasons. I flew them a number of times on their direct early morning Bombay-Vizag (via Hyderabad) flight, which offered a much better connection than the Indian Airlines Bombay-Hyderabad and mid-day Hyderabad-Vizag flight. This airline taught me to check if there indeed was a seat-vest under my seat!
  • Modiluft (1994~96): Although a joint venture of two giants – Modi Group (India) and Lufthansa (Germany), it was sad to see that the airline did not succeed. I flew them only once on their direct and unique Varanasi-Bombay service.
  • Kingfisher Airlines: This airline actually came more recently (2005), and was quick to rise and fall. I flew Bombay-Delhi-Bombay with them, at the positive peak of their popularity.
  • Jet Airways: This is the airline I have travelled most on, when in India. In one 12-month period, I clocked 75 flights with them! Back then, they ran an exceptionally good “Jet Privilege” frequent flyer program. I could use my frequent flyer miles for 2 adults to travel Bombay-Delhi-Bombay absolutely free – no taxes either. Not many airlines offer this these days. Also, whenever I tried to use my upgrade coupon, the check-in team would upgrade me for free! When I migrated to New Zealand, I had 5 unused upgrade vouchers, thanks to the generosity of Jet Airways.
  • Indigo: Since 2015, I have used Indigo many times on different routes. I am amazed by the sheer growth they have shown, and like their all A320 fleet. They very cleverly use their sign “6E” in their cabin announcements!
  • Vistara: A joint venture between Tata and Singapore Airlines; and the airline does show the good aspects of both. I have flown a few times with them, but their network is not as vast as Indigo or Jet Airways’.

I finish off the Indian section with a narration about Indian Airlines. IA had some unique / popular routes; some aimed more at international tourists than domestic passengers. These include:

  • Bombay-Udaipur-Jodhpur-Jaipur-Delhi
  • Bombay-Indore-Bhopal-Gwalior-Delhi
  • Bombay-Aurangabad-Udaipur-Delhi
  • Varanasi-Khajuraho-Agra-Delhi
  • Delhi-Lucknow-Patna-Ranchi-Calcutta

International hand-over: When I migrated from India to New Zealand in January 2002, I used Air India’s Bombay-Singapore service to bring me to Singapore, from where an Air New Zealand Singapore-Christchurch service brought me at Christchurch.
To me, this was a perfect “handover” by the Indian national carrier to the New Zealand national carrier!
Sadly, Air New Zealand stopped this Christchurch-Singapore service in 2002.

1st transpolar flight: When I took Aerolineas Argentinas’ Auckland-Buenos Aires A340 service, I learnt that it was a transpolar flight…it flies over south pole! However, as both the onward and return journeys are through the night, I have not yet seen the South Pole.

Seats facing backwards: On an overnight flight by United from Mexico City to Sao Paulo Brazil, I saw that the business class seats faced backwards. This is also the only flight when flying long haul international, we were served a cold breakfast before arrival! Well, none of the US-based airlines are known for their service.

Asymmetrical seating: While it is common to have 1+2 seating on narrow-body aircrafts, the only time I have seen 2+3 asymmetrical seating was on a Boeing 717 aircraft on a Blue 1 service from Copenhagen to Paris CDG. This is also the only time I have flown a 717.

3+2 seating on Boeing 717

3+2 seating on Boeing 717

Small aircraft, big space: Alsie Express operates between Copenhagen and Sonderburg, both in Denmark. They operate ATR72 aircraft in a 2+2 seating plan. However, the leg space they provide in the all-economy cabin puts some business class cabins to shame! During the short 35 minute flight, they have a snack service – which includes tea/coffee and Danish chocolate. What more can one ask for!

Alsie Express, economy cabin

Alsie Express, economy cabin

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Singapore Airlines: I have flown with SQ – Singapore Airlines, and have also had the fortune of being their Gold Elite frequent flyer for many years. SQ really sets high standards in every aspect, and its goodness is well complemented by their nice and efficient hub – Singapore Changi airport. Silk Air, their low-cost subsidiary, too is quite a nice airline. Once, I was fortunate enough to be able to use my frequent flyer miles to upgrade to business class on Singapore Airlines’s Singapore to Christchurch overnight Boeing 777-200 service. Being an older aircraft, it had 1+2+1 seating – simply superb!

Singapore Airlines business class on 777-200 SIN-CHC service

Singapore Airlines business class on 777-200 SIN-CHC service

Emirates: Some 20 years ago, Emirates was a small airline, with big vision. One can experience this vision unfold, and grow, every day. They operate world’s largest fleet of Airbus A-380 double-decker wide-bodied 4-engine aircrafts, which has only business and first class on the upper deck. Having had the privilege of being upgraded more than once, I can safely say that there are not many who can rival an Emirates A380 business class experience. While Singapore Airlines never rewards its frequent flyers with complimentary upgrades,  Emirates do, and I hope this generosity continues.

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Dreamliner: Before Boeing 787 “Dreamliner” was officially launched, it visited Christchurch. I managed to get a sneak preview, thanks to a close friend.

Dreamliner 787 preview

A day with US Air Force Hercules C117: We were lucky to be invited to a special viewing of US Air Force’s Hercules C 117 which operates from Christchurch to Antarctica as part of US’ Antarctic expedition.

USAF Hercules C117 at Christchurch

USAF Hercules C117 at Christchurch – a very special experience!

I think I should stop, else I might miss the boarding call for the next flight!

Shirish, 10 February 2017

The silver spoon

Christchurch, January 2002
My arrival to New Zealand was a mixed bag.

On the positive side, my first job interview had gone well. I was hoping to get the job – it was in the same field that I had 20 years’ experience in.

On the other hand, I was looking for short term (~3 month) home-stay accommodation. Here I was, standing in front of Lynn, my potential land-lady.

Lynn explained that she did keep boarders, but her most recent experience had been shattering! Her tenant of over a year, another person of Indian origin, had abruptly left her place without informing her, and without paying about $250 of telephone call charges.

I could see that her anger was less about the money aspect, more about the feeling of betrayal and hurt – by someone who was close to her.

I waited for her verdict, but inside me I was losing hope that she might accept me as her tenant.

“I will keep you”, she eventually said, “let us give humanity another chance.”

When I left her place after 3 months to move into my “own” 3-bedroom rental house, she said that her faith in humanity had been restored!

Not only that, she very lovingly gifted me her spare TV, a study table and 2 chairs, a plate, a bowl and a spoon – as a starting point for my family life in New Zealand.

To this day, I use the spoon gifted by Lynn in the sugar container at our home – every single day. The small object is a constant reminder to me to be on the right side of humanity…..always.

The table and chairs find use in my study, where I receive clients for JP work.

This experience with a simple down-to-earth Kiwi lady taught me a valuable lesson in life.

“We are all the time representing our countries, our ethnicities.”

We do not need to be a member of a national sports team, a VIP delegation or a bearer of high office to represent our country. We do it all the time, everywhere – knowingly and unknowingly. Our face and our appearance automatically makes us represent our country.

We have no choice in this matter!

This is particularly important for those who belong to the ethnic and migrant communities (in New Zealand).

When we do something good and positive, we contribute to raising the profile of our country in others’ eyes.
On the other hand, any undesirable actions lower the profile of the entire community. Even more – because undesirable actions get reported more quickly and widely.

This power to “represent” your country does not change when you change your citizenship or passport. For example, if you look like an Indian, you will always be an Indian in the eyes of others around you. Therefore, it is up to us – each one of us – to contribute positively in raising the profile and the stature of our country and our community by our actions.

This brings me back to 2002. Where were we? ……. Yes, the interview.

Yes, I did succeed in my interview. I was offered a job at AuCom Electronics Limited, where I am working to this day.

At the time I joined, I was practically the first person of Indian origin at AuCom.

In 2015, when we celebrated Diwali [Indian festival of lights] by “shouting” morning tea for all staff at AuCom, there were no less than 31 items (savoury and sweet), lovingly brought in by 18 staff of Indian ethnicity who now work at AuCom.

The staff asked for this “Diwali feast” to become an annual affair! [We repeated this celebration in 2016 and 2017, so now an annual tradition at AuCom]

My wife Manik too was reportedly the first Indian at ANZ bank in the entire South Island, when she joined ANZ way back in 2002. ANZ too has much more ethnic diversity amongst its staff now.

When I look back, it gives me a sense of satisfaction that we could manage to get a job not only for ourselves, but that we have, in our own way, managed to make a positive contribution to the profile of Indian community at Christchurch.

Each of us can contribute in his or her own way to take our community profile to the next level. As they say, “Rome was not built in one day”. It will take one step at a time by each one of us to achieve the heights we wish to, as a respected community in New Zealand with many achievements to its credit.

Let us do our best to remain on the right side of humanity…… always.

Shirish Paranjape, JP (An Indian-Kiwi)

P.S. Lynn passed away some time back, but her lesson will remain with me lifelong.

First formal meeting on 14 Nov 2016

This is my first post as the Board member of Fendalton-Waimairi-Harewood community board. (FWH ward).

Let me share the events which have happened from the time the local election results were announced on 8 October 2016.

We have had a few sessions of training at the City Council buildings. The first one was attended by all elected representatives from Christchurch, while the second one included district councillors from outside Christchurch – from as far south as Waimate, and as far north as Hurunui.

In a separate session, all the councillors and community board members of FWH ward were “sworn in” and declarations signed with and in presence of the Hon. Mayor of Christchurch.

We – particularly the newbies – also got introduced to the City Council staff who support the FWH community board. These staff members use the Fendalton Service Centre as their office. This is also the location where the community board meetings are held, currently at 4 pm on Monday evenings, twice a month. Most of these meetings are open to members of public.

Our first “real” – if I can use the word – meeting is on Monday 14 November 2016. I have received a 72 page agenda – in electronic format. This is available on-line through this link.

I plan to keep you posted on items of interest to the community via this blog, Facebook, Neighbourly etc. Please stay tuned and do provide feedback.