Italian language course

I have joined Italian language course. I have always wanted to learn any foreign language but there was not much opportunity for me in Varanasi as BHU and Sampoornanand Sanskrit Universitiy were the only two places in Varanasi teaching foreign languages and BHU did not allow outers and going to Sampooranand was just like waste of time. I was not so interested in Italian but I enrolled for the classes thinking that if I would wait for BHU or any other place then I would not be able to learn anything for years.

I wanted to learn German and Sampoornanand University offers 6 months diploma courses in six or seven foreign languages and German is also one of them. I had enrolled for German classes about four years ago but did not go there because they were just not running the classes properly and I was so worried about it. The other students at the university told me to not worry about it because they give certificate to each and every student whoever enrolls for the program, even if they do not pass the final exam. So finally I decided to stop going there.

This Italian language course is run by an Italian institution called Centro Risorse India. Centro Risorse India doesn’t only teach Italian to Indians but they also help Italian students in India and I work as translator at Centro Risorse India Varanasi branch. The whole course is of 50 hours, 3 hours on every weekends. The classes take place at a school near Godoulia. They have two teachers. One of them is an Indian girl from Delhi who also works for Centro Resource India, Pune center and other girl is an Italian scholar who speaks good Hindi.

There are 6 students including me. One of them is also a tour guide and works with Japanese tourists. Other one is a Hindi teacher. Our teachers are very good. They are not using that traditional method of teaching where they use only books to teach. They put us in different kinds of games, role plays and make us talk often. I don’t really know how long would it take me to start speaking or writing in Italian but it seems so hard and confusing. The pronunciation and grammar is something completely new to me. I will try my best but lets see how long does it take.

Driving License in India

I have gotten my driving license about 8 years ago but I thought to write my experience at the RTO (Road Transport Office) office today. Actually my friend was talking about applying for a driving license today and it made me remember my experience and I decided to write about it. I was 20 years old when I applied for my driving license so about seven years ago. The RTO office was about 25 KMs from the city area and the city transport system crazy as it is now so I asked my friend to take his motorbike to go there. We reached at the RTO office and this office also looked as crazy as other Indian government offices.

The office was so crowded, full with people and animals, believe me there were dogs and cows sitting inside the office premises. People were chewing paan and spitting all over the office, the whole floor was red because of spit of the paan. There were touts (commission men) wandering here and there, looking for new confused face like I had. One of them came to me and asked if I needed a driving license and of course I wanted one so I told him yes. And then he said that he would help me getting the license but he wanted some money for it.

My other friends had suggested me to not go to RTO office to get license as fake licenses were easily sold in the market but I did not want to do any illegal work. I had met an advocate asking about the procedure of getting a license and he told me that I could get it even without going to the RTO office only by giving some extra money. My advocate said that money is everything at RTO office, if you spend money, you get whatever you want, otherwise nothing. But I had thought to go to the RTO office and let things go on in front of me.

So I told that commission man that I did not want his help but he kept coming to me asking if I needed his help and I told him again and again that I did not want any help. We were looking for any information center but actually there was no such place where people could get any information. We asked someone among the general public about the procedure and they told me to get a form first. We went to the form counter and there was a long queue. I was in the queue for a while and when my turn came, I saw a blind person giving the forms.

I was surprised to see a blind person working with such an important work of giving right forms and dealing with money. Actually government has a scheme of providing jobs to handicapped people which sounds fine but giving forms and dealing with money job to a blind person? Well, he was doing fine. He had different kind of forms for different kind of licenses and other works and he had organized the forms in such a beautiful manner that he knew where what kind of forms were kept. I asked him to give a form for a learning license, they issue learning license first and after one month permanent license is issued, and asked him the price for it. He said Rs. 10 and I gave it to him and came out of the queue.

I was looking at the form and I noticed that print rate of the form was only Rs. 2. I went back to him asking why he charged me Rs. 10 instead of Rs.2 and he said that he gave me a wrong form by mistake. He asked my form back and as I returned him the form, he returned my money saying that form for driving license was already sold out and he did not have it any more. The commission guy I had met earlier showed up again saying that it is true that the print rate is only Rs. 2 but it is sold for Rs. 10. I did not have any other option than paying him Rs. 10.

So I offered him Rs. 10 and he just did not want to sell the form to me. Finally I asked my friend to go in the queue and get the form and this is how I got the form. We filled up the form and went back to another counter to deposit the fee. The counter was supposed to get closed at 2 PM and it was only 1.15 or something and the counter was already closed. I saw a fat lady sitting behind the counter glass and eating something. I asked her why the counter was closed only at 1.15 and she said that it was not 1.15 but it was 2.15. I told her that it was only 1.15 but she said yes, 1.15 but in my clock, it was 2.15 in her clock.

The guy standing behind me asked me to show her some money so I showed her a bill of Rs. 20 and she opened the counter and this is how I was able to deposit the fee. Now it was turn of a written exam but I was a little bit concerned about it because there is not traffic rule in practice in Varanasi and I was not very well aware of them. I saw other guys offering some money to the examiner and we decided to go for the exam first and then give money according to how exam would go.

Exam was not tough and I was confident that I would pass it. After the exam, I went to examiner and asked him to see I was pass or not and he asked me to come later. But then I said that I had not given any money to him and I wanted to make sure that I was pass otherwise I would give some money to him. He looked at my paper and said that I was pass. I think he was the only honest person I met at the RTO, honest in the sense that at least he told me the reality that I was pass rather than asking for a bribe by saying that I was fail. He asked me to come after three days to see the result.

I again went to the RTO after three days and saw the result and I had passed the exam. Now I was supposed to get my learning license. The person giving the license wanted Rs. 100 but I bargained and finally I ended up giving Rs. 50 and got my learning license. After two or three months, I went to the RTO again to get my permanent license. They put me in an interview. The interview was not tough at all. They just asked me my vehicle registration number and a few other basic questions. Actually they are supposed to put all the applicants in a practical driving test but they just don’t do it.

After the interview, they asked me to come after a week to collect my license. I went to the office again after a week and had to bribe an officer again. The officer giving the license looked at my name and asked if I was a Bramhin and I said yes and then he said that he was also a Bramhin and in fact he lived closed to my home but we did not know each other. He asked for a bribe of Rs. 150 but I did not want to give this much. I started bargaining by saying that I was a student but he did not want to hear anything.

He said something really interesting that he charges Rs. 200 to other people but since I was a Bramhin, same caste as him, he was charging only Rs. 150 to me but I had also decided that I would not him Rs. 150 for sure. We talked for a while and I finally I gave him Rs. 75 and said that this is all I had. He took this money and gave my license but asked me to not tell anyone that I had given only Rs. 75 as rate for others is different. I am happy that I have a license but I still think about that blind man, that fat lady and that crazy Bramhin guy who gave me discount only because I was also a Bramhin.

Sometimes I think that I should have given some money to my advocate and get my license at home but then I think that if I have to live in India then I must need to learn to bribe and that experience at RTO at least taught me how to buy a government officer in India. I always think that I will not bribe any government officer but when it comes to getting some work done, there is no hope at all and I bribe again and again. But I hope that technology will change something, maybe not in my life time but someday for sure.

Hindu at Taj Mahal’s Namaz

I have always been interested in different religions, particularly in Islam and finally I got an opportunity to learn something about it. I shared the apartment with a Muslim guy named Sana in Gwalior during my tour guide training and now we are very good friends. We shared the apartment for 6 weeks in Gwalior and then traveled together for next one week in Jaipur and Agra and I stayed at his apartment in Delhi. I had always wanted to learn about Namaz (the prayer to Allah). I was in Agra on Id and I was staying with Sana, his friend Khesal and Prem. We were staying at hardly five minutes walk from Taj Mahal.

Sana is a different kind of Muslim. I remember him once telling that he was an atheist whereas Khesal was really strict Muslim. He used to go for Namaz by leaving the class during training period. Sana was open for everything, even for drinking which is completely prohibited in Islam. It was Id day and Sana and Khesal both wanted to go for Namaz at Taj Mahal. Id is a day when entry is free to Taj Mahal so they decided to go to Taj Mahal for Namaz. I also asked Sana and Khesal to take me with them. Sana was open for it but Khesal seemed a bit concerned taking me to a mosque.I had already talked about Namaz with Khesal on the night before to Id and I had some idea about how it would be like and I was so excited for it but I was a bit scared also at the same time.

I did not want somebody to stop me and tell to leave the mosque because I was a Hindu. I talked about it with Sana and he said everything would be fine if I follow his instructions. He asked me to hide the red thread I had over my wrist and asked me to take care of my Janeu so that nobody could see it. I was excited for the Namaz but I was feeling a bit scared. I asked my friend Prem to come with us to the Namaz and he seemed okay at first but later he said that he did not want to come with us. He was also a kind of Hindu who did not know Hinduism well because Hinduism teaches to respect all the religions. Well, I went to the Taj Mahal for Namaz with Sana and Prem.

I bought a handkerchief to cover my head and was pretending to be a familiar guy to Islam. I think there were at least twenty to thirty thousand people at Taj Mahal for Namaz and I am sure that I was only Hindu there, and worst thing about me was that I was a Bramhin. Finally the Namaz was started and now I was seriously concerned about me doing anything stupid. Sana had already taught me basics of Namaz and I was just looking at other people around me with my half opened eyes but still I made a mistake but fortunately Sana saw me making this mistake and stopped me from doing so. Sana had told me that people repeat Ayats of Kuran during the Namaz but I did not know anything so I started repeating the Gayatri Mantra and somehow I was able to complete the Namaz without anybody letting know that I was a Bramhin doing Namaz there.

I was so happy to have completed the Namaz. Sana had told me that the people who do Namaz regularly never get any joint pains because they have to sit and stand up several times and now I seriously believe it. I think I had to sit down, band my whole body and put my head on the ground and then stand up for at least five times and the right way to perform Namaz is to perform it five times a day. So I am sure that if anybody is performing Namaz for five times a day, he would never get any joint pains and it is a very good physical exercise. After performing the Namaz, I went in the Muslim neighborhood right behind the Taj and saw Muslism celebrating the festival. It was really a nice experience performing the Namaz and I would really love to learn it properly and would love to whenever I get anyone like Sana who secures my safety and take cares of me.

Tourism in Amritsar

Lahore 23 Kms

Lahore 23 Kms

I went to Amritsar after submitting documents tour guide license at India tourism office at New Delhi. I had already heard a lot about the flag ceremony that takes place at Wagah India-Pakistan border and this was the main reason why I wanted visit Amritsar. I was supposed to arrive Amritsar on the evening of 9th but I arrived on the afternoon of 10th as my train was delayed by 17 hours. I just looked for a hotel near the railway station, put my stuff in my room and head immediately to Wagah because the parade was supposed to start at 4.30 Pm. I had enough time to reach Wagah before the parade starts, but I wanted to be there early to see what was going on.

Yea, but corrupest

Yea, but the most corrupt

The bus left me two kilometers before the border and then I had to take a rickshaw. There were a few things that I really wanted to do in Amritsar and watching people was one of them and that I why I decided to take a bus so that I can talk with more people and see them. The bus was completely full but fortunately I got a seat. I arrived at Wagah border at 3 o’clock but it was the trade time and the border entrance was not open for general public, only traders were allowed to enter to do their business. Wagah border was also like other tourist places in India.

These guys have really tough life

These guys have really tough life

There were not many shops but they a few restaurants and convenient stores and these shops had touts working for them. Several people came to me who wanted to eat or drink something at their brother’s restaurant but I think they did not know that I was from Benares where whole tourism industry is dependent on touts and I was very well aware of it. Anyways, I was not hungry at all so my rickshaw driver did not get any commission. Wagah border was the first place in India I had ever been where they were really taking care of the time.

BSF office at Wagah

BSF office at Wagah

The border was supposed to get closed for traders at 3.30 and it closed right at 3.30. After the border was closed for traders, tourists were asked to make a queue. I think there were around 3,000 people to attend the parade. There were a few rickshaws also who were telling that if someone goes with them, they will get the seat in front but I did not know how this was possible but actually it was true. There were two gates, about 500 meters away from each other. We were in queue at the first gate but the security check was in between the first and second gate. People were shouting Vande Matram and Bharat Mata ki jai and were so excited to get in.

When will we become perfect

What the hell is this?

It was all about arriving at the security check first in order to get a front seat at the parade place and rickshaws are definitely faster than normal walking speed. The first gate was opened at 4 o’clock and everybody started running to the second gate where there was a security check. Everybody was checked properly and were sent to the parade place. I was so happy to see the management but suddenly I saw something that again made me feel like we are still India. There were two policemen sitting on horses but again there was a dog standing next to them. What if the had a bomb inside his body?

BSF flag

BSF flag

I am never ever surprised to see wild animals just anywhere in India, even inside the government offices or just anywhere but near the high security zone? It was something that really surprised me. Well, the parade started at 4.30 and it was something that I am not going to forget in near future, maybe never. The parade was just awesome. There were about 3,000-4,000 people from India side but not many from Pakistan side. The Pakistan side sitting arrangement could also be seen from India side. I think there were hardly 300-400 people. I think it was just because they just don’t have as many people as us, after all we are over a billion people now.

You see this everywhere in Amritsar

You see this everywhere in Amritsar

People were shouting and jumping to encourage their side army. I was talking with locals about why such parade is organized and they told me that the idea behind it is to bring Indians and Pakistanis closer but I don’t think it is working that way. The Indian and Pakistani army men doing the parade were pretending to be so aggressive against each other and I think this is what people want to see. It was so fun. I liked it. The parade lasted for lasted for 45 minutes and finally flags were taken down from both sides and were kept in the offices.

One of the best things I had ever seen

One of the best things I had ever seen

After the parade ended and I was on my way back to the bus, I saw something that doubled my happiness. I saw females securing our border, it was really a great feeling to see females in our army. In a male dominant India society where most of women still manage only kitchen, it was a great feeling to see females securing ourselves and our border. I had already seen female police in the cities, and they look crazy and fat and lazy like male police but these females at the border seemed like they really work hard. They were managing the crowd and doing security check for females. But they were not only associated with females, they were managing male visitors as well.

Volunteers at the shoe stand

Volunteers at the shoe stand

They looked fit, they were confident, they were smart and they were really doing something. It was just amazing feeling to see them. After attending the parade I took a bus back to Amritsar and went to Swarn Mandir (Golden Temple). This temple was beautiful and really huge. I had already heard about Sikhs at the Gurudwaras cleaning the shoes of the visitors for religious reasons but I never thought that this tradition is really important for Sikhs. They had at least 10 huge shoe stands for visitors and they had volunteers working there to arrange shoes of the visitors. There were two people at each shoe stand and they seemed eager to manage the shoes.

The Golden temple

The Golden temple

Visitors don’t even needed to bring their shoes near the shoe stand, all they need to do is that take their shoes off and put it on the counter and then the volunteers would take the shoes and put them in stand. Visitors were not allowed to enter in the Golden temple without covering their head with any cloth. They had a counter where they were offering free small piece of clothes to the visitors. I also grabbed one and entered in the Golden temple. Amritsar was seriously cold. The maximum temperature was 10 degree and minimum was 0.8 on the day I was in Amritsar and walking barefoot on wet white marbled temple was making it more cold.

Langar at the Golden temple

Langar at the Golden temple

The temple was beautiful and was really huge. The temple was crowded but there was very good management so I never felt like it was too crowded. I went inside the temple, spent sometime watching people, reading wall writings and came back to hotel. I went to the Golden temple again next morning and this time I spent more time there. There was volunteer working going on everywhere. Somebody was cleaning the floor, somebody was helping with their Langar facility, somebody was distributing medicines, someone was cleaning the dishes…

No words for this

I spent almost 4 hours in the Golden temple, had my lunch in the Langar and finally headed to Jaliawala Bagh. This place is known for massacre of 2000 Indians during British Raj. Now this place is converted into a memorial where they have an art gallery, the well where 120 people fell down while trying to escape, the walls where bullet marks are still there and a few other things. This was an emotional place for of the visitors. I heard many people talking about how cruel the massacre was, of course it was. I spent about two hours there and then headed to Maharaja Ranjit Singh museum.

Bullet marks

Bullet marks

This museum was a new museum but it had no power backup in case of power cut. I arrived there around 2 o’clock but they asked me come after 3 o’clock as it was power cut that time and they did not have any power backup. It was crazy to see that the government had spent such a good amount of money to built that museum but they did not spend a little bit of money to buy a generator for power backup. I just wandered around the museum for an hour and then finally came to the museum at 3 o’clock. The museum was a good place to learn about Mahraja Ranjeet Singh’s life.

This was the last place I visited in Amritsar and I think that this trip was ver

Delhi-Lahore bus

Delhi-Lahore bus

y successful as I got to learn about Sikh religion and saw flag ceremony at Wagah border. Everything was just awesome in Amritsar except temperature. I knew that it was going to be cold but I did not know that it would be this cold. The maximum temperature was 10 degree Celsius and minimum temperature was 0.8 on the day I was in Amritsar means too cold for me. I went to the railway station to enquire about my train and came to know that my train was canceled due to fog.

This was the worst thing happened with me during this trip. I felt like I was stuck in Amritsar. I tried to get a ticket in another train coming to Varanasi but there was no reservation in it. Finally I bought a ticket to Delhi by bribing Rs. 50 to reservation clerk and booked another ticket from Delhi to Varanasi. I feel like two days were not enough for Amritsar. I would like to visit that place again someday in near future.

Finally received tour guide license

I, receiving the certificate

I, receiving the certificate

I finally got my tour guide license on the 30th after three years of wait because I had applied for it in the year 2006. I started preparing for the entrance exam after applying for the license in 2006 and continued it for a few months but finally I stopped because the tour guide association of India sued the Indian government for issuing the license. They never want new people to come in the industry as they are afraid of loosing their bread and butter because most the old guides are not good. They got their license when it was so easy to get it. Now the process is tough but it will definitelyproduce better tour guides who are at least trained to not chew betel while talking with their clients:)

The certificate

The certificate

My brother Chandan, who is an escort, told me something really funny. He said that when he was in Benares last time with his group, he had hired a government approved tour guide who went with them for morning time boat ride. This tour guide started talking about Benares, Hindu religion, Benares culture and Ganga. He said several times that Ganga is not only a river for Hindus, she is considered as mother. After a few minutes when his speech ended, he started chewing betel and later spited it out in the river Ganga in front of his clients. The clients got really upset and they asked him if Hindus spit on their mother and he just did not have any answer. I hope the people who have attended this training program will not do such thing.

Sana and I at convocation hall

Sana and I at convocation hall

The tour guide training program was stopped several times because the tour guide association of India was alwayssuing the government. They sued the government first time right after the application forms were open and then it took few months to settle things, and then government organized entrance exam and then again tour guide association sued the government and the program was stopped again for a few months as the case was going on in Delhi High Court. Finally the government won the case and High Court of Delhi ordered the government to start the training as soon as possible so finally training was started after 3 years in August 2009.

Happy moment

Happy moments

The training was held at IITTM in Gwalior where I got to learn a lot. The total duration of training was 16 weeks- 6 weeks of classroom teaching and 10 weeks for field work. There were over 75 lectures in 6 weeks and I did wrote my research paper on Benares. I focused on cultural diversity of Benares. There was a written exam and an interview at the end of the program and I passed both and finally got the certificate. Now I have to go to Delhi to India tourism office with a police verification certificate and then they will issue me a provisional license which will be valid only for two months. And after two months my red card (the permanent license) will be issued. I hope they will not create any problem in Delhi.