Tuesday, May 5, 2009


As we complete a 3-week trip to the banyan city, I felt it would be worthwhile listing some of the things that stand out. Obviously the overall trip will always be fondly remembered since one gets to visit with family and loved ones. As these visits get fewer over the years, these memories are cherished more. But, in particular, I have focused on the changes I have seen in the eateries and development over the years. My perception was somewhat tempered by the ungodly temperatures we encountered in the burning April of 2009. (Sorry if this note is a little heavy-handed towards the end.)


To put it mildly, Baroda has seen a LOT of development and construction activity is rampant. Lots of malls have cropped up, as well as several restaurants. For me, some of the existing restaurants were new as I had not visited them in the years past. Most of the rickshaws have switched over to CNG (natural gas) from petrol and is a good sign.

Centre Square is one mall that has opened on Sarabhai road, next to the old Sarabhai Chemicals plant. It is a very nice facility with central air (a welcome respite on several hot days) and wonderfully clean public restrooms (yes, toilet paper available as well!). Some nice stores to keep you occupied including a very modern looking restaurant called Mantra on the top floor. There’s a Papa John’s pizza joint at the ground level. Across from Centre Square is another mall called Vadodara Central next to a super-store chain called Spencer’s. Both are quite nice.

Also a new Wal-Mart type store called More Mega Store has opened in Lal Baug and is a good one stop shop for daily needs, and then some. We also found a grocery shop called Mahalaxmi in Alkapuri that caters to NRI needs including baby food, cereal and pancake mixes. Worked out well for Meru.

Crosswords still remains the leading bookstore in town, we always find a few things to pick up there.

Eateries that are new in the last 3 years (or at least were new to me) as well as some of the old reliables:
· Copper Chimney – the chain from Bombay has opened a franchise in Baroda and is well worth a visit.
· Moti Mahal – another chain that has opened a branch in Baroda, excellent Butter Chicken.
· Peshawri (in Welcomgroup) – pretty much a replica of Bukhara in Delhi serving northwestern cuisine: tandoor cooking, no cutlery. Excellent food!
· Sankalp and Woodland – get your South Indian Idli-Dosa fix. Woodland also has good chaat.
· Daawat – a surprise discovery with very tasty vegetarian food.
· The Chocolate Room – just opened while we were there. The name says it all!
· Varietea – another coffee shop that opened during our visit. Very good.
· Chung Faa – best Indian Chinese in Baroda for over two decades.
· Lazeez – authentic mughlai food; biryani to die for.
· Frigtemp – the original fast food joint in Baroda, 30+ years old.
· San’s Sizzlers – just try it
I am sure I am missing quite a few places that we didn’t get to try out.


Overall, the costs have been rising and you will notice that the deals are getting less attractive. I suspect, in a few years, deals might be few and far between. But such is life, I suppose.

Traffic continues to grow at a reckless pace and construction leads to even more congested (I didn’t think it was possible) streets.

One restaurant that we looked forward to visiting, Melange in Alkapuri, has sadly closed and in its place, a new “Italian” chain has opened a branch, Little Italy. Good ambience but deserves a pass. Not so good Italian food and only vegetarian, I don’t think so.

Another restaurant (that should have closed but didn’t) that we gave a second try on this trip, Machhu Pichhu, disappointed us yet again and when we polled our friends, there was consensus on this verdict. It’s a shame since the ambience is quite nice.

Customer service can be spotty. Restaurants are excellent in general but in other stores it varies. For example, we spent a good amount of money at Optical Palace on several pairs of glasses. When two pairs (lower priced ones of the lot) didn’t have the right lenses and caused severe discomfort, they gave us the runaround instead of trying to retain a long time customer for future business. Trying to get some shirts exchanged (wrong sizes) was difficult at first, even though the incorrect sizes were provided by them!


There are two issues that I feel I must point out here and unfortunately my note will have to adopt a sadder tone. While everything listed above is mostly “fun and games”, this section is more serious and fairly alarming.

Civic sense: Actually, a lack thereof is what I am referring to. It has always amazed me how a society can just keep moving forward with an absolute disregard towards any sense of order and discipline. Allow me to explain. I have been visiting India roughly every other year since 1999. On EACH of my visits, I have had someone drive (in the opposite direction) towards my car, almost hit me and then question me why I am not paying attention to them! This does not happen once every visit but several times. I might point out that I am following the traffic rules and am driving in my lane. I cannot count the number of times I have seen people driving in the opposite direction; no, I am not referring to the shoulder side of the road but by the median!

A prime example is from this visit. We were returning from the More mega store and I followed the directions posted that took me to a one-way road and a railroad crossing. As I am crossing the railroad tracks, a car comes in the wrong direction and tries to squeeze past me. I roll down my window and say to him, “Excuse me! This is a one-way street and you are in the opposite direction.” He looks me right in the eye and says, not unkindly, “In India there is no such thing as one-way!”

I have seen this at every level: people cutting in line at grocery stores and elsewhere, running red lights, in public transport and even at the boarding gate for Lufthansa in Mumbai airport! By the time the gate agent announces that families with children can board first, there is a massive rush towards the gate and the agents helplessly let them in since everyone refuses to listen to the instructions. Ironically, this same lot behaves quite differently at the connecting flight in Frankfurt.

This is a mindset that has prevailed in the Indian society since... forever, it seems. At any traffic junction, you will find a deluge of vehicles inching forward slowly as the police personnel try in vain to keep the traffic flowing in sequence. There is no respect for the laws or for that matter, the police. As a result, there is utter chaos on the streets and driving is a very stressful and somewhat dangerous task here. There are near-misses at every corner. Nicks and dents are very common occurrences.

I think that this will be the single largest impediment to growth in coming years. As the growth rate stabilizes, the inefficiencies in the system will become more evident. The time and resource it takes to move goods/services from Point A to Point B is unbelievable. I am told that Indians will change and adapt but I find it very hard to believe that one fine day, everyone will start maintaining order. This is a mindset that is deeply ingrained and is not likely to change anytime soon.

Poverty: Last, but certainly not the least, is the issue of widespread disparity between the haves and the have-nots. Over the past decade, I have noted with pride the progress I have seen during each trip. Stores improve, the buildings improve, newer vehicles start showing up, etc. But sadly, the one that has not changed (in fact, it may have increased a little) is the number of beggars on each block.. Over the past decade, each time I visit India, I see large numbers of children (and adults) begging for the basic necessities – food, clothing and shelter.

While it is hard each time, this trip it was even more so because we now have Meru, our 16 month old son, with us and many of the children begging are close to his age. It just breaks my heart to see them and not do enough for them. After all, it is just plain dumb luck that Meru was born in a well-to-do household and is in more comfortable surroundings than these kids. On several occasions this trip, my wife broke into tears upon seeing this little kids that have been hardened beyond their years by their circumstances.

We try to help in whatever little way we can but it is temporary and doesn’t make a lasting difference. I do not have an answer for this problem but I feel that this issue needs to be a priority for a government that is overseeing such a steady growth in its economy. After all, certain basic amenities viz. food and education must be provided to these children for them to avail any opportunities in life. We came across a couple of charities that are addressing this issue but they are limited in number and their resources are strained.

What is more concerning is the attitude of the rest of the society towards the poor. The constant exposure to this poverty has almost made them immune and insensitive towards the plight. One can only hope that, at some point of time, this issue stops getting ignored and there can be some light at the end of the tunnel.