Tuesday, August 30, 2005

Indian Student Abroad

I had crossed the threshold of my home on a fateful day in July, 5 years ago, with a head full of dreams and a heart full of hope.. My soul had soared and my feet had danced with excitement.. I came to the Americas in pursuit of my destiny.. I was dazzled by the pristine cleanliness and efficiency of everywhere I looked.. Here were airconditioned rooms, microwave ovens, swimming pools and huge department stores. Here were the scones and doughnuts from my english story books.. Even the greenery was so vibrant and untouched by dust and soot.. Here was freedom at last and an infinite scope to achieve, all the good things.. As the days rolled by, the glamour faded away. I can hardly remember now, how I spent the five past years in the US...

Here, amongst strangers who have grown to be my surrogate family I have learnt to huddle together, often not through choice.. I learnt to trust and mistrust.. made some friends and then got thrown apart from them by the slightest change in circumstances.. guess we are too old to make new friends anymore.. it is now my wont to be a passive onlooker while sojourner buddies metamorphosed into someone-i-used-to-know. How many passed me by! Just keep busy went the common wisdom and I followed it to the letter. Separated by an insurmountable barrier from mainstream society, I feel abandoned by friends and family I knew back home. Birthdays, graduations, weddings, promotions and then occasional lonely musings of what the hell went wrong with me and the nasty little voice of what did he or she do right.. not knowing whether I have funding tomorrow, not knowing whether I will have a job when I am done with this, not knowing if my old parents will survive to see me fulfill our dreams...

Of course you cant tell at all from looking at my confident ways.. thanks to a deep rooted sense of self preservation, there are no breaks in the front I present to the world!

We are intimate bed fellows here who dont intrude upon each other's private hells - a strange cocktail of the east and the west. We call before we visit a friend, have turkey at thanksgiving and party at Halloween. We smirk at health consciousness and hold close the Indian tradition of oil and spice. We champion the ability to abuse a priviledge, returning used items after months of purchase.. Our chilvary dries up when we meet a fellow Indian, the newly learnt custom to greet 'Hi' is hardly ever performed for one of our own with as much zest.. seldom look at each other in the eye.. never park your car near other Indian cars fearing a 'dungdang'.. If an Indian student produces extraordinary work we are quick to suspect plagiarism! Same faces, same jokes, same food, same bitchings, same insecurities.. united we stand in our sameness.. but thoroughly divided we are in our hearts.. But just ask an Indian if he is proud of being an Indian.. but of course!!! what was I thinking ! We are always bursting with patriotic pride. We frown upon westeners when we congregate and lecture on Indian values espousing all that we
were taught to value in the orient.. And yet in our body language there is this strange hankering to be accepted by the Americans.. a shameless hankering for which we value their opinions more than our own...

I miss my dream.. its now in tatters as I round one corner and the next. Visits to India form the high point of my life and even that is hollow as I grow more and more estranged from the India I used to know...

Thursday, August 18, 2005

daisies by the road

Sometimes it seems so pointless... an ugly belch and a whimper, a thorougly ignominous low... keeps coming back... Should we then give up now ? Just amble around in the background shadows, never the sanctimonious goat, never the rebellious voice of righteousness... Form no beliefs and thus not be dogmatic. Never love and thus insure the heart against hurt. All the little compromises needlessly executed with indifference.. It does get you around the corners... Yes, you could thwart thus, the inner battle.. but you will have lost the war.

Life is a journey. And every moment of that journey counts. You fight to get here and there, but you are neither here nor there too long, its what's between here and there thats the most of life. Happiness can truly be achieved only in the gracious acceptance of the pursuit and the struggle for survival, in the concious daily investment of energy and emotions to achieve your dreams... in cultivating an appreciation for the daisies on the road.. thats what makes the ocassional successes, the ones we count as milestones in our lives, truly memorable.

Saturday, August 13, 2005

Odd Rememberances

If I close my eyes, I can still taste the fuchka; taste the semi-ripe guavas in strong rock salt and the cheap pop corn… I can still hear the busses and their conductors screeching by at evening rush hour on the other side of the road... still see the state busses that rushed through without giving you any chance to wave as much as a finger at them… and the public busses that raced each other dangerously in a bid to draw the maximum passengers… and the mini busses that you could waltz up to and still find waiting patiently for you to the immense irritation of all within its tiny confines. I can still feel the warm evening breeze on my sweat stricken brows… still smell the fetid smoke and dust and sweaty perfumes on the hot sweltering evening in downtown Calcutta. I used to stand at the westward entrance of the Rabindra Sadan Metro station, whispering longing last words to my boy friend after having spent hours with him lounging on the grounds of Nandan and the Victoria Memorial. The year was 2000. The bridge that now shuts off the sky wasn’t there then and you could gaze up from the square cemented tiles of the pavement next to the Calcutta club to catch a glimpse of the pigeons flying by.

Perhaps you have noticed the old man in dirty white kurta and dhoti who sold us the fuchkas then; sporting his dirty white mustache, always on that same spot from right at 4:00 in the evening, selling his wonderfully crisp fuchkas with its delicious potato filling and the divine tamarind juice. The image is etched indelibly in the memory of my youth. The endless nudging of his patrons gathered around him, holding the saal leaf folded like a cup, awaiting his or her turn as the man counted out the crisp balls overflowing with the juice. He would skip you on a round if you were too slow to gulp down your last serving… and he would keep an indubitable count!

Nandan and the Victoria Memorial always swam with people – of all ages, castes and creed... Victoria drew more of the fat middle-aged folks for their brisk evening walks by the lake and perhaps for the covert reason of looking furtively around corners at young couples making out. It was a strangely invigorating atmosphere, with the cool breeze and the beauty of the parks and the white marble palace to feast ones eyes on. But the dirty knowing glances flying around intruded upon one’s intimate moments and destroyed the wonderful feelings intent on appreciating the surroundings or your partner. Inevitably, there were also the hawkers preying upon the young lovers with exorbitantly priced teas, coffees, lozenges and nuts. And the street children smiling and angling the couples for a rupee or two.

Nandan had a slightly different flavor – a more intellectual appeal with the loose white kurta n jeans clad men and women smoking like chimneys. And there was the cafĂ© Amontron to energize you when you needed it after hours of talk, talk and more talk. There were the artists and the revolutionaries, the film critics and the college goers' throngs, the theatre geeks and the music lovers all sandwiched there in a hapless bundle of endless chatter and more.

We were busy in that midst, a pair of dry leaves driven by a hunger we hardly understood raging in our souls. The physical hunger of youth, the emotional hunger of incognizance and the intellectual hunger fanned by the years at the Bengal Engineering College spent in frustrating emptiness.

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Seven

Must we reason all the time ? Having reasoned thus, here's seven.... Its as many as colors of a rainbow and notes of all the music in the world - I find that intriguing. There are even 7 steps to take together in the ancient hindu marriage rites. Is it but a chance reflection of the more deep relation between colors and music and human emotions ? Why the 7 seas, why the 7 sins, why the 7 wonders ? And 7 days of the week !

Even Lord Voldermort caught on and has 7 horcruxes !!!

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