Saturday, August 16, 2008
The Disembarking - Part 1
Among all foreign countries known to Indians, the US of A is unarguably the most popular. When an Indian uses the word “abroad”, it is the USA that is being referred to unless explicitly specified otherwise. And let me tell you, Indians use this word almost all the time. Someone’s sister’s son is going to the US for higher studies. Someone’s brother is working there. Someone’s daughter is settled in the US. Or someone’s neighbour is really lucky because she found a match for her daughter and the boy lives in the US.
So in all these years, I had heard more than my share of stories about the US of A. Different people hold different opinions, “feelings” and sentiments about this country. I was impressed at one point, intrigued at another, disappointed, angry, curious, disgusted, delighted, offended and awestruck upon hearing about this country from various people.
When someone asked me how I felt about the US of A, I said “Confusion”!
If I tell you about the motley mix of colours that were used to paint the picture of America in my mind by a motley mix of people, you will be confused too…
This motley mix of people can be classified into certain major categories. Again, this is a broad classification.
The proverbial foxes to whom the grapes are always sour.
The cynics who have negative things to say about everything and every subject and every issue in life.
The evangelists who know all with or without experience
The orthodox and conservative who cannot see anything above and beyond their beliefs and conventions and are scandalized by the very existence of the rest of the world that is different from them.
The patriots. Their only display of patriotism is by way of their living in this country.
Those who have been there and done it all.
Those whose mission in life is to go to America, mostly students and young professionals.
The following is a typical after lunch conversation especially when someone has just returned from America or someone is about to leave to America. There are representatives from all the categories mentioned above, each one trying their best to sound like an authority on the subject.
“These fellows have no love for their motherland I say. The country is in bad shape; instead of staying here and serving the nation they run away to America, lead a life of luxury and forget their motherland. What is the use of the government spending so much on their education?” says uncle who owns a coconut farm and who does not need to leave the village except when he needs to buy manure for his crop.
“It is not money. It is job satisfaction that is most rewarding.” Says the young man defensively, who has returned from USA after 2 years for a short visit.
“What is the use? No matter how rich these Indians become or how hard they work, they are still second rate citizens; they can never become first rate citizens. I have heard there is racial discrimination to quite an extent” retorts uncle, dismissing the young man’s argument.
“The roads are perfect; the air is pure and quality of life is better.” The young man will not give up.
The womenfolk who have no world outside the kitchen and who have been quiet all this while surprise everybody with their knowledge of the USA.
“What a society! They get married and divorced so many times and so easily as if it were like drinking water! Cheee (a sound made to express disgust). They celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary with pomp. You know why? Because it’s a rarity. There are a very few people who stay together that long” remarks an aunt as she grates coconut. Everyone laughs.
“The clothes they wear... my God… everything is to be seen…They kiss in public… have they any sense of shame?” so saying, aunt’s sister in law almost jumps from her chair.
“People mind their own business. It is a society that does not gossip all the time”, the young man gives a final try.
But unfortunately his sarcasm is lost on the gathering as a shrill cry follows soon after he has finished.
“You have to take an appointment before visiting your neighbour. How cold and distant people there must be! No one cares for anyone.”
That observation is from our neighbour whose visits to our house had never been predictable. She drops in at any time as she pleases even when she has no particular business at hand, just to make casual enquiries you know; like what is on the menu for dinner, why the 23 year old college girl is not married yet, how her married sister is getting along with her in laws etc etc…
“Children are sent away from parents when they turn 14. The kids have to then earn their own living by working in a store or waiting on customers at a restaurant. What detachment! Here in India, we cry even when our 45 year old grown up sons leave to a neighbouring town for a new job” adds her husband.
“But we will have to admit one thing. There is law and order. The government cares for its people. All people have access to all basic amenities. It’s really an advanced nation”, says the young man’s father who has visited the son while he was in the US.
“Yes. We agree. It would be nice to go there for a short visit. May be 3 months. Or 6 months at the maximum. Travel, see Niagra falls, statue of liberty, all the tall buildings and then return to our country. One should not settle there.” Finally when a consensus appears to have been reached, something happens.
The grandmother who we thought was almost deaf speaks from her bed without getting up.
“I believe there is no water in the toilets. Chee! I would not go there even if you gave me ten crore rupees!” she says.
The all time greatest idiosyncrasy of USA and the all time cause of disgust to all Indians is the use of paper in toilets. The orthodox Hindus who use buckets of water are most scandalized by this one thing.
By this time, the young man has had enough of the comprehensive analysis. He gets up quietly, walks to the bedroom and closes the door tight for an afternoon nap, while the conversation in the hall continues as more and more people join to make their zestful contributions.
Having grown up listening to many such conversations, my mind was in a state of confusion. I was caught up in a mental dichotomy.
At one point, when I was a student I had been eager to go to the USA.
Later I was not too sure. I thought maybe I would visit for a few months and return but not settle there…
Life moved on… my job, my friends, the malls in Bangalore that were an abundance of materials and that never let you feel, even for a moment, a scarcity of the good in life.
When the subject of USA was finally out of my mind, there arrived news from my manager of my impending visit to a client location for project requirements gathering.
In less than a week, I was on a plane, flying to the US of A!!!!