Bye bye Amerikas

Loved the 2 years here. Leaving on May 25th, and so this blog ends. It was a pleasure, ladies and gentlemen.

All comments and brickbats welcome. Will leave a forwarding address, but I seriously wonder if anyone reads this blog anymore.

Of Language – I

Contrary to some Indian jingoistic opinions, which are usually a consequence of either the American capitalistic or protectionist policies, my experience of the United States has been a pretty secular and productive one. People are generally in the mood to get things done, rather than yak about inequities (if there are any). Barring a few idiots in the local metro-bus, most Americans welcome aliens like me with open arms, sometimes inviting us for Thanksgiving dinner or asking us for a baseball game.

After two years, my amalgamation here has been so complete that only when I see telugu movies (which is rarely the case these days, what with the dry spell since Happy Days) do I realize that I am in a foreign land. But this incident struck a note, an interesting one at that.

So there I was, at Costco, on an early Saturday morning at 10 am (yes, it’s early!). For those of you  new to the Costco culture, it is the equivalent of an Indian wholesale godown, only that the humongous bags of rice or dal are replaced with purple boxes of raisin bran cereal or 3 pound nets of potatoes. The pyramidal arrangement of watermelons or oranges is replaced with small 2 or 3 pound packages of ready-to-carry apples imported from China. The familiar jute bag Indian families use for shopping are substituted by railway cargo style ‘shopping carts’ and new age polythene bags, often packed using double their numbers to ensure that they don’t tear.

And there I was with my buddies, pushing one shopping cart in front and pulling one from behind after a friend of mine apparently got lost between the colossal racks, trying to look for a shaving kit (When he found it  ultimately, he didn’t take it because not only did the economies of scale not allow him to grab just the blades, but also forced him to buy another razor). On the numerous rounds we had already taken inside Costco that day, there were two old ladies, peering about excitedly in the medicine section.

As it happened, one of them approached me while I was red in the face trying to both push and pull two carts. With bright eyes and a Sunday smile, she said, “Excuse me.. you  seem to have done a lot of shopping.. could you tell me where.. oh, excuse me (bending forward), do you speak E-N-G-L-I-S-H?”

It was then that my enthusiastic Indian head waggling abruptly stopped. My eyes became wider and I shrank and inflated at the same time, and shortly, after a brief two seconds, I was able to look into her eyes, bend a little and could hear myself replying with an over-emphasized ‘YES.’.

“Oh, that is good. Would you know where Claritin is available?”, she asked, her smile being ever so genuine and respectful.

“I believe that you would find it in the thirrrrd aisle from herrrre, though that’s one thing I haven’t bought.”, I joked in an unusually bad imitation of an Indian accent that I seemed to have put on instantly to convince her that I did know the language, although not with the same accent.

“Thank you very much. Have a great day!”, she said, and trundled along.

For all my two years here, it was the first time when I was asked if I knew English, and rather than being mature about it, I conjured an image of myself being an ape, scratching my ears as if I seriously wouldn’t have been able to comprehend if she would have continued to talk. There are  many Spanish speaking folk, a lot of Indians and more Chinese, who stay here, probably getting by without using this ubiquitous language, it seems.

Although not a wee bit racist, not one bit condescending, and in no means disrespectful, it did remind me of my colour in a foreign land that I was foreign.

Spring?!

A long due post on yet another clueless property of the Americas – the version of spring.

Coming from tropical countries like India, one is inclined to think that spring is all about chirping birds and flowering trees and in general, quite some sun. One usually celebrates either the harvesting time or Holi, with lots of colour and smiles being the theme of the season.

That’s just a tropical thing, I guess. This year in America, spring is.. well, not.

March is here, and it snowed twice in the last 20 days. It feels really odd (of being in a land far, far away¹) , when I find myself walking to school in three layers of clothing, and Ma talks about the sweltering heat and 3 hour power cuts in Hyderabad.

Spring break’s here, and it’s as gloomy and depressing as a december evening. Sometimes I wish the sky would open up like a big blockbuster movie and give an apt reason for calling it ‘torrential rain’, rather than just drizzling like a very sad and long running soap starring Alok Nath².

I just miss you, Sun.

1 – Shrek was the inspiration. Donkey helped too. 🙂

2 – Please god, spare us the agony of another ‘Thoda hai, thode ki zaroorat hai’.

Change… really?

Every time I see an Indian security guard, I get this unfortunately vivid recollection of a memory.. one of those I’d rather not remember. And it happens unfailingly every time a movie comes on or I walk past a corporate office.

It happened about 9 years ago. There was a new guard hired in mom’s school.  He seemed to be the quiet and understated types, the ones who worked silently. And as usual, all the kids (read us) were creating a racket on the basketball court this particular evening, bickering over a foul and penalty.

Enter a small something. A ball of scraggly white with ears too big for his age. He was screaming at the top of his lungs, apparently having been scared away by a band of others in the neighbourhood. If he were clean and brown, I’d have mistaken him for a puppy version of my labrador.

Now as far as I can remember, everyone wanted the pup to shut up and asked this shy guard to do something about it. And guess what, mounted by all that pressure, he picked up a rock twice the size of that creature, walked towards it and from 6 feet away, hurled it with all his strength.

The howling stopped instantly.

We were all there, dumbstruck. We hadn’t done a thing to stop him as we watched him find the stone and throw it like a pitcher. I vaguely remember a friend lifting that dog and putting him near the trees.

No, I’m not recalling this memory to gain sympathy for that poor creature. Yes, I am scarred. No, I’m not looking for empathy either. Yes, I’m trying to ask why we keep shut when something matters to us.

Have we, as an Indian society,  really changed? How can an entire country be held ransom by some men who follow utterly untrue aspects of a religion and beat up women? How is it that when some ‘juvenile’ rears up his head post 26/11 and asks certain artists to get out of our country, nobody (not even the police) stops him? How can others stand it?

Have we truly become civilized?

Back

Every time I decide to stop writing on this one, I am surprised by the number of hits. Maybe I should actually start writing about periodic cycles of blog traffic.

Alright, alright.. bad joke.

Hmm.. so I’m back. From a fabulous vacation. I did not open one book, did not send one useful email and hardly talked to anyone I knew professionally. Instead, I ate like there’s no tomorrow, gallivanted around the country, fed stray puppies and took 500 photographs from my new camera. Ah, bliss!

When you know what they mean by ‘coming back to the real world’, you realize that the experience is akin to having been flying in the sky and then feel someone tug at your leg, saying ,”Hey, babe.. are you gonna come down the high post or what?”

The journey back was indifferent, the experience after, listless. Man, there’s no variety! There are no orange coloured shops saying ‘Sripullareddy Ghee Sweets Shop’ and the roads are looooooonnnnnggg and wiiinndddddiiiiinnngg (you get the picture). The trees are bare, the snow is just a tad bit comforting and the freaking heater won’t work!

Talk of hangovers.

Excuse me?!

It takes just 2 days for you to capture one of the MOST WANTED MEN in India? One quick covert operation, no casualties, no fights, no retaliation, nothing!

All I can see is the degree of knowledge you have about these terrorists and their exact locations. All I can make out is the fact that when the time comes, you CAN do what is needed, but mostly, you don’t.

And you still call them ‘stateless’?

What a fucking joke. *


* The White Tiger – by Aravind Adiga

I am answerable.

When 9/11 happened, I was still in college. Though I was old enough to understand the gravity of the horrendous act, I was not attached enough to empathize fully with those who had loved and lost. And as the events unfolded and war was declared, I thought it was the only right retaliation that one could think of.

Fast forward 2007. Mothers in America want their army sons back. Wives and children still wait for their dads to get back from Iraq and Afghanistan. Future soldiers leave, with their family in nervous resignation.

Come 2008. A group of highly intelligent men draw an elaborate plan to create panic and resurface themselves. And who do they find to be their softest target? The one country they could very well use as an easy pawn to get to the King.

This one pawn has the word corruption written all over it. It attaches itself to a bright middle class that has the capability to adjust very well to any laws of the world, but its own. And for good reason – its law enforcement is rotting.

And every time this pawn is pushed back (sometimes tragically), it points its dirty fingers at its neighbor, someone equally helpless to carry out any effective restraint. This neighboring pawn’s last queen was blown up in full public view, and was forgotten just as easily.

The problem is with me. I could not find the right kind of education, so I walked away to get some. I couldn’t find law and order, so I went away where I could feel safe. Even when I was there, I paid a traffic havildar 100 bucks when I was caught riding triples, and did not take the receipt knowing full well where the money would go.

I am responsible for the systemic corruption I have fed into my country. I am the cause for choosing a bunch of ignorant nincompoops called ‘my leaders’, who resigned their positions by force, not by choice. I am the reason why these so-called-ministers did not even deign to come down and talk to the victims, let alone say sorry.