Sunday, July 13, 2008

The Amrikan Dream

So finally, after months of waiting, getting bored, biting nails, spitting them, sweeping them, learning to cook, forgetting to cook, relearning, telling people “I’ll be there in the next couple of months”, getting frustrated, cursing Bush, I’ve finally landed in the USA (I’m not sure if ‘the’ should be used. Ashok, where art thou?). Right from when I was this small, I’ve had this next-to-heaven-and-chocolate-icecream image of the US. Coming from Hyderabad, where I wouldn’t be surprised if kindergarten kids are taught G for Green Card, I’ve always been curious about this country- sometimes a starry-eyed curiosity and sometimes a so-what’s-the-big-deal curiosity. As I stepped onto the New Orleans airport with my light cabin baggage and a heavier emotional one, I began feeling wet. I wasn’t crying or peeing, it was just so humid. I’ve been one of the strongest anti-humidity advocates, and in response, I’ve been sent to such places as Varanasi, Kuala Lumpur, and now Louisiana. But not wanting to curse the place on my first day, I quietly mopped my forehead.

The journey to Louisiana was long, but not really tiring. There was a small scare in the Paris-Houston flight. It wasn’t terrorists or hijackers or any of the AL XYZs. It was a couple that wanted me to exchange my aisle seat for a middle seat a few rows behind so that they could sit together. I almost declined, when I saw the real reason they wanted to sit together. Their babies! Middle seats are the most beautiful seats ever made by man, especially when they’re far away from babies. I instantly agreed to swap seats. My new co-passenger was only marginally better. He was watching some sitcom on his screen and laughing loud enough to make me miss the babies.

My first impressions of the US (or at least of the place I live in)

The city

There’s loads of space everywhere. Malls have parking lots bigger than the malls themselves. Everybody has a car, and hardly anybody drives bikes. And those who do drive bikes, drive those monster 1000+ cc ones that sound like a jet engine. You won’t find people driving small scooters with a packet of milk or a loaf of bread hanging from the handle. People assume other drivers follow the rules here, so they drive really fast and leave you little margin for error. For guys like me who’ve driven Scootys and other cute chutku vehicles, and on roads where lane markings are just rangoli, where the hand is the indicator, and expletives are traffic signals, the discipline here is scary. There are no nukkad stores where you can buy a Rin soap for 4 bucks and get a Boomer as change. It’s all very mally and superstorey here. In Rajat’s words ‘chaddi se lekar car ki tyre tak sab ek hi mall mein milta hai’. And as Sunil Chittappa said, every road here has a name, and so you hardly get aage-se-left-phir-deadend-pe-right kind of instructions here.

The People

People here are either behind the steering wheel or on their way to or from one when on the road. You hardly find people taking a walk on the roads. If they walk, it’s generally on the special pavement provided in the colony for people to take their dogs for a stroll. So far, I’ve found people polite and courteous. Many people ask me where I learned to speak English. They unfortunately still think about India as this country of malnourished children and overfed cows. And how they struggle with my name! Ash kay, Ashki, Akshi, Aaakshi, Aaakshaay, and Aaashkaay are just some of the bastardized versions of my name. But this one takes the cake, the icing, the cherry, and the wafer: Akjhay Rajagotalan. Most people give up on my last name, they’d rather read Braille.

The Lingo

Louisianians speak English with a characteristic drawl. Natives also bathe their talk with double negatives like ain’t not and don’t need no. Thanks to Hollywood, the accent is not very difficult to decode. One chap had a particularly amazing accent- “If yall don’ get yall cords (cards) I’ll cancelem, and make em new for you. You can go aunlaine and do yall transactions. And of course yall can curm (come) anytaim to the beyyynk and withdraaaw yer money.”
Talking of banks, I must admit I don’t understand the funda of keeping 2 accounts- one savings and one checking. The savings account gives an interest of –start the drum roll- hold your breath- 0.25%. What the hell will people keep money there for? To earn 2.5 dollars at the end of the year from a 1000-dollar deposit? I might be presumptuous by criticizing the 2-account theory, but I’d love to have somebody explain it to me.


Yes, I am cooking. Ankit and I cook, and we actually do a pretty good job. If you don’t believe me, just fly down on your expense; I’ll cook you a subsidised, insured meal. Ghar ka kaam sounds a lot more posh here- bartan maanjna, kapde dhona, and bazaar se saamaan khareedna become doing the dishes, doing the laundry, and shopping for groceries. I am still pathetic with my iron, and would much rather wear my shirts crumpled.


TV here is BORING and funny. News channels are full of Obama, McCain, and celebrity divorces. The news reports are filled with rhetoric, and are plain bad. Some of the advertisements are really amusing. Companies aggresively market products like pet hair remover (to remove your dog’s hair from the sofa) and polythene bags! You don’t need pet hair removers- you just need to whack the kutta’s bums the next times it slimbs the sofa. Attorneys, drug marketing companies, and insurance firms too make some weirdly amusing ads. VH1 and MTv rarely play music, and the radio plays awful rap music. Anyway now that I have my laptop (yippee J), I don’t need the TV for entertainment. I have also tested my webcam and mike thanks to Ketaki and Chitti-Chittappa, so staying in touch is a lot easier. I watched Jaane Tu Ya Jaane Na on the internet yesterday. It was a nice timepass movie. It was entertaining without being stupid- a complete antithesis of Priyadarshan’s funda. It’s a feel-good movie with a cliched plot, but it’s made well and I wouldn’t mind watching it again on the internet.


Chalo bhai, time to sleep now. One week in Amrika has been quite eventful. I’ve been hunting for a house and a car, and have run into some very interesting people in the process. I can probably describe that later. Good night. Let me see the American Dream!