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.

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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?

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.

Who is answerable?

Been stuck to the Live streaming news channels since 3 days. Tried to shop for people back home, but it was such a manual event. Came back and stuck glued again to the incessant firing and repeated fires in the hotels.

Called up mom 6 times over the 3 days. Called up another and screamed at him for being alone when there was clearly no concern for human life. Wanted to call up Manmohan Singh and ask him why he shot off a call to the Pakistan GOVERNMENT (not the people of pakistan) immediately. If we would have waited, we could have twisted their b***s and tore them apart.

Felt alone. Helpless. Leaderless. Felt like crying my heart out because of fear and utter betrayal by a government which just shits its pants or stuffs it with money. Desperately trying to work the permanent lump in the throat which threatens to burst into a full episode of sobbing.

Rajdeep Sardesai is right. What is on our priority? Health certainly isn’t. Education is a laugh. Freedom? Only in words, not in action. While watching the footage from a foreign land, I cringe when I see that familiar Indian police havildar holding that gun ever so carelessly and standing casually, waiting for nothing. Is this what the entire world gets to see? Callousless in the heart of terror?

And I DEMAND ACTION. Not just ‘Oh Pakistan, you did it.’ everytime something happens. I WANT AN ANSWER. I don’t need this meaningless childish fight between two countries.. they are just like us. To the Indian Government  – GROW UP. Realise that there’s more besides that soiled money in your underwear and offhand ‘It happens in big cities. Mumbai will go on.’ statements from your useless mouths.

F*t!

High frequency words – body fat percentage, low carb, glutes, Nikes, steroids, shin splints, pasta salad.. the list is endless.

Ask me, a hopeless soul trying to stay on a diet. I’m slapped everyday with e-newsletters and tips on how a banana is better than a burger or how to avoid eating highly refined foods. And all that while, I’ve been binging on rice and mango pickle.

Sigh.

One of the activities I try to do earnestly is to ‘get through the freaking door of the gym’. Take my word for it, exercising is great fun.. it’s getting your butt to the gym that takes a HUGE effort.

One of the first realizations I had was that the best bods were seen at the gym. Teenagers flexing their biceps, gals showing off their shapely figures, even the gym representatives wearing uniforms which exhibited body perfection.. it is such a setup! I mean, there’s no need for marketing this one, it’s already in your face!

So anyway, I decided to ignore the blatant swimsuit advertisements all around and made my way to the girls locker room. Half an hour later, I was having a minor heart attack on a treadmill. My neighbor had her tablet PC put up on the display to catch the latest music video while she ran. At the same time, she ticked off some items in her online exercise planner one by one so that her instructor could approve of it.. online. On the other side, a small chinese woman walked staidly, unnerved by the marathon speeds of some of the other teenagers on the 15 treadmills, 40 ellipticals and 20 steppers.

At the other end of the gym, some jocks had casually thrown their tees aside and were grunting on the rowing machine. From the opposite end, a glass wall allowed us a full view of the swimming pools – one a 25 m recreational pool and the other a 50 m olympic pool. With a sauna attached to it.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the university recreational center for you. I haven’t mentioned even 40% of it.

Did I also mention the various visual treats you get to see there? If not, I suggest everyone visit a gym atleast once. It’s EXACTLY like those TV shows. I’ve actually seen some boys gawk while an aerobics class was going on!

An hour later, I retreated to the locker room to change. And guess what, the shower cubicles are separated by only a curtain. While you’re busy holding that damned curtain in place and terrorized that someone will just rip it aside, all the other gals, frankly, couldn’t care less.

And if that’s not enough, my friend tells me that the men’s locker room has just a set of showers attached to a clear wall. He also reported seeing a lot of squirming Indian males there. Best of luck, pals! Don’t say I didn’t warn ya! *wink*

As I walked out, squeaky clean and tired, I was thinking of the various chores to do at home when this woman walked by.. all I could think of was,”WHOA! Woman! Did you just, like, forget your clothes back in the shower?!” Apparently, nudity is not something to be shy of, but to be appropriately displayed when you have a body worthy of it.

A year down, not only have I gotten used to the displays, I feel I might slip in some of the conservative mannerisms when I get back. The physical freedom here is a luxury, I must admit.

Top 5 Don’ts in the US – By Pilon

Now this guy has been here for over two years as an engineer for really big names. He’s seen it all – staying with a Russian female, having his hotel room burnt to ashes, getting squeezed in a car by a truck, and even worrying about insurance when his foot banged against a bannister. Many call him Pinak.. I call him a monkey! 🙂

And he’s now at the edge of a new tryst.. getting back to student life after more than 4 years. He’s currently seen biting his nails, finding out types of cheap food and their availability, updating his information on how he should be revising for exams and generally getting into prep mode (at least, that’s what all these ex-corporate folks say).

He has a few nuggets to offer, and a herculean task like writing about them only goes to show how strongly he feels about a part of life in USA.. so, without further ado..

PREEESSEEENNTTTTINNGGGGGG, PIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIINAAAAAAAAAAAAKKK! (God, I’ll love the expression on his face when he sees this.)

Top 5 “DON’Ts” in United States of America –

1) DO NOT fall for any form of ‘advertisement” thrown at you 24 hours a day. They’ll tell you to ‘buy’ a cheaply priced product or service to save(?!!) a lot of the green bills. This violates basic laws of logic and arithmetic, if you will. The thumb rule of “folding the bill and keeping it back in your pocket” is still the mantra!

2) DO NOT get into a motor accident. Well, accidents happen by accident. But as a driver, do everything you can to avoid them. The auto insurance company that projected itself as the best one to protect you in the beginning will demolish your sleep now. If you are at fault in the accident, the premiums will sky rocket and the thumb rule mentioned above will go down the drain. If you are not at fault, you still can’t make the scars on your vehicle and mind go away fully. It is just not worth it.

3) DO NOT eat what tastes the best. Eat what tastes second best. I know it is harsh but true. It is not just “bad” for your health like your parents kept telling you, it is a “ruin”. And the process is irreversible. Without any more details, I urge you to watch this 100 minute SUPERSIZE ME video –

4) DO NOT underestimate or misunderstand the word “CREDIT”. Be it your “CREDIT CARD” or (unfortunately) “CREDIT HISTORY”. The simple and harsh rule is “spend half of what you have”, and use your credit card as a monthly debit card. Remember, the credit card is a monthly loan. It is best to do away with that kind of system to begin with. But “credit history” scam does not let you do that. Use it with utmost caution. Swiping sound is music to ears, and “minimum due” sounds amazing. But the word APR is poisonous, and be aware of it. For some reason, it rhymes well with “bankruptcy”.

5) DO NOT come to a foreign country thinking it is a heaven. You will have / may have seen or heard only one side of the coin until you enter a different country. It has become very common to go and settle in foreign countries through “educational” gateways; no one is to be blamed for a human nature it is. Please, please keep in mind that the other side of the coin may be just as rusty. And, if you find it great, please remember that it does not officially give you rights to start giving (fake accented) bullshit to where you came from. :-))

I would highly, highly, highly (just that highly) recommend watching the SUPERSIZE ME video.. it’s a documentary which has effectively led me OFF McDonald’s and similar joints for the rest of my life. Yep. It’s just that good at convincing you to get off this marketing gimmick called ‘FAST FOOD’.