Tuesday, April 20, 2010

#9 The view from the window

There is a famous Indian writer who once said that in India, all you have to do is peek outside your window and you will have a story.
Life in India changes every day and the view also changes.
Sometimes, you see children playing out on the street.
Sometimes, you see cows strolling, or planting down right in the middle of the street.
Sometimes, you see dogs walking in gangs..people and animals living symbiotic-ally
You see people of various professions carrying out their trade in plain sight - vegetable vendors, cobblers, dry-cleaners, road-sweepers you name it. They become a part of your day-day life. Life never seems empty.

In America, the view can be quiet unchanging because the element of people is taken out of the equation unless you actually go to the mall, and even there, things can be quiet formal and unchanging. I'm sure there are places in America (New York?) where the streets are not anything close to devoid of people, but that is more of an exception than the rule.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

#8 The languages

The language problem in India is something that will not be found anywhere else in the world.
English is spoken by the educated class, i.e the younger generation in general.
The older generation might speak a little English, but mostly the mother tongue.
The mother tongue might be different from the State language.
In my case, I was fluent in English. My parents were fluent in Telugu, my mother tongue.
Our maid servant was fluent only in Tamil. Most of the locals spoke only Kannada.
And some people who had settled down in city from North India spoke only Hindi.

My father once, while speaking on the phone, spoke a word that was a combination of two languages: Boloongo (a hybrid word from Boliye in Hindi and Sollongo in Tamil) that I couldn't stop laughing for quite some time after I heard that.
Puts the language problem in India in perspective.

What I love about America is that English is the only language you'll ever need to know...well unless you get real close to the Mexican border perhaps :)

#7 The traffic

Whenever I went back to India for visits, I was hounded by one handicap of mine - the inability to drive in India's manic traffic.
Firstly, I had gotten used to driving on the right hand side of the street in America. And even if I could reverse my brain and train it to drive on the left, I would still be too terrified to be able to drive.
Crossing the streets in India has to be preceded by a soft prayer. In most cases, you will manage to get half the way across before traffic surrounds you from all sides, threatening to dissect you in all directions like a lab-rat.
On the flip side, traffic in America is mostly well coordinated and people follow rules unless the traffic has been blocked for more than an hour or two on the freeway - in which case people ultimately resort to the Indian affliction of honking and cutting people off.
Moral of the story: people behave the same way when you put them under the same circumstances.

But what I love about America is that in most cases, you can be at your destination at a specified time if you plan for it.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

#6 Train Journeys

Train journeys in India are the closest you can get to watching life in all its registers.
It is literally a movie of life played on in front of you, on the stations, in the moving landscapes of towns and farmlands.
I've been on a train only once outside of India and it was on the Star Coastlight, one of the most celebrated train routes in America that traces its way from San Diego, on the Mexican border to Seattle close to the Canadian border. We switched trains in LA and then it was two days of spectacular landscapes that got better and better after we entered Oregon. It was Christmas time, so we woke up to snow falling on the coniferous trees. The glass-domed dining cart was fun because it gave us a 360 degree view of the canyons and the forests.
But it was still a one-dimensional experience. It missed the interaction of people, and the interaction with the stations.
On Indian trains, most times life-stories come spilling out in the midst of strangers whom you will never meet again.
On the Star Coastlight, all we found were grumpy people self-involved in their own peace and quiet. But the landscapes were the best you would ever find.

#5 The chaat stalls

Chaat has to be the tastiest dish in the world made from the simplest raw materials.
Also the simplicity of buying yourself a snack of a chaat by the roadside cannot be found anywhere, not even with the drive-thrus in America.
A typical chaat stall is just a cart with a hissing kerosene lamp. The vendor takes a big wok and mixes in the ingredients with his bare hands (don't ask about cleanliness)...and a few minutes later, the chaat is ready.
You do get chaat in America, especially in some Gujarati Indian restaurants, but the quality is nowhere close to what you get in the roadside stalls in India. Either they are too sweet or there's too much sev in it.
Indian roadside chaat rocks.

#4 Cricket

When I first came to America, we would play cricket in the parking lots with a ‘taped tennis ball.” Soon, we found out there were actual leagues in America. We would drive two hours to Los Angeles, the hub of cricket in Southern California, play for eight hours and drive back another two hours. Those were our weekends, cricket, cricket and cricket. And of course, the Monday morning blues would be acerbated by the sore muscles and the.

Back in India, cricket was steps away from home, one the street. We would put the wickets right in the middle of the street and let vehicles find their way around it like they would an adamant cow sitting in the middle of the road.

Indians live and breathe cricket. Indians are traditionally not a very sporty nation. The number of Olympic medals India has won in its history can probably be counted using just your fingers and toes. But Indians love their cricket and they are bloody good at it. The game that comes closest to cricket is baseball. But an Indian would never be able to replace cricket with baseball. I went to a baseball game once and sat there and watched. Nothing happened for nearly an hour and a half. Towards the end, someone hit the ball out of the park and people clapped. Then, it was over. Cricket, on the other hand can go on for days, the longer format being five whole days - without ever getting boring!

#3 Going to the temple

To find a real Hindu temple in America, you will probably have to drive half the way across America. By ‘real’, I mean complete with shikaras laden with god images and the works. The temple in my hometown, San Diego, is a tiny room in a commercial building next to the Indian grocery store, in the same complex that also housed a mosque. In India, going to the temple is often a pilgrimage. Often, people climb thousands of steps to the get the top of the hill that houses the temple.

In America, going to the temple was just a part of a pilgrimage that included buying groceries at the India store and having dinner at the Indian restaurant.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

#2 Grocery Shopping

Grocery shopping in America would be a five, maybe ten minute drive to the nearest grocery store. Then, more time would be spent in trying to decipher which aisle had what, in lugging around a cart full of groceries, standing in line, checking out and driving back.

In India, the groceries come to your doorstep. And if you are good at bargaining you can get away with half or less the market price quoted by the vendors. Yes, Indians are a lazy lot. And some of them are even proud to be lazy.

#1 Going to the Movies

In India, going to the movies is not just about watching the movies. It’s about shouting, screaming, throwing popcorn at strangers, whistling, dancing and having a jolly good time. The first time I went to the movies in America, my friend and I were joking during the movie when the guy in front turned and gave us a glare. I froze as if we had seen ghost. No, it wasn’t a horror movie. But I never ever uttered a word while watching a movie in America.