What I don’t like about US of A

Travelling to US is always a matter of pleasure. I love being driven around in limos, friends making time to take you out in their shining cars and helping you shop (though they may never do that with their wives, but when you land in US, they consider it their sacred duty to show you all the local attractions), no need to clean and cook, and the flights with free booze.

But there are a few things I am totally pissed with. And someone with yellow hair and a grumpy face should listen and act upon it.

I can’t figure out why they must use tissues. I mean, wastage of paper, environment and all that shit apart, you hate the feel of it, butt. In fact, it feels shit hole hard! (pun intended) There is water everywhere, in the taps, shower, tub, bottles, fountains, but not a drop to jet wash the most vulnerable part of your anatomy. Being a जुगाड़ू Indian, water bottles come to the rescue, somehow reminding me of the times of toilet an old katha.

Why does everything have to be in dollars? In the world of Uber, Google maps and Amazon delivery, data is a basic necessity. But being the बनिया that you are, you don’t turn it on as every time you do, you can hear the meter turning nickels into quarters. and quickly turn it off again. And how do you shop? I mean everything gets totally multiplied by the cheap Indian mind-set and then you expostulate, 30$ (in disbelief), you mean 2000 Rs, soooo expensive, and refuse to buy it, (But then go to India and pay 5000 Rs for something worse). It is called misplaced patriotism.

Breakfast not included! Any self-respecting Indian always desires to chooses a hotel that provides free wifi and breakfast while paying no more than 120$ per night and if he finds one, Eureka! I mean, who on earth would pay 12$ (plus taxes plus gratuity) for toast and cornflakes and potatoes which is what a typical vegetarian ends up eating. Hence you skip breakfast (unless of course the company is paying for it).

These long flights are so cramped. Normally everything long is good, long legs, long.. oops, change the topic. but flights – when in cattle class, isn’t the best for your back and your legs, specially in your late forties. You can’t catch a wink; it is smelly all around with people releasing odours and socks which have no means to get out of the aircraft pores, and it is cold, the thin blanket is mostly useless. Your neck keeps rolling off, literally, and the foot starts swelling. So, though you intended to work, you end up watching worthless movies fiddling with earphones that don’t work very well and a screen that needs you to tap thrice to achieve any result (much like are you sure, are you very sure of the Microsoft fame). The only saving grace are when she asks you “and what would you like to drink, madam”.

This is followed by the lag of the jet. Sleepy in Seattle at 3 in the afternoon bang in the middle of a meeting doesn’t send the right message though everyone is looking at you in amazement, you survived 10+10 hours of flight, you are a hero. Interestingly you will find, for most folks here, Hawaii is the biggest adventure of their life. You drink some water, doesn’t work, and you hardly listen to the discussion around, focussing on fighting the deadly sleep, which finally you get rid of as soon as the meeting is over. Phew! By that time sleep is so upset with you, she refuses to come back when you need her. So, you are wide awake watching whatever it is ABC is telecasting at midnight. After a lot of cajoling, you manage to land into a slumber only to feel roaring awake at 3 am.

Who imagined getting a nice warm cuppa tea can be such a pain in the same body part discussed above. One would tend to believe that chai latte is the easiest thing to make other than Maggi. But you know, these guys have no bloody idea. They think dipping a porous bag in warm water and pointing you towards sugar sachet is the definition of making tea. And they charge you bloody 3$ (and some cents) for something which is barely lukewarm. So, in mutiny, I carry my own tea bags from desh. But my hotel refuses to provide milk powder (or creamer as they call it here, Americans are probably the ones who would call Rose by the name of crimson and get away with it). Since I have not developed the taste for black tea so far. I called and asked for it, and the girl refused to understand me, maybe it is my hinglish, i was tempted to resort to साली, दूध माँगा था, but resisted. So, black tea it is. Next time I resolved to carry my own Nestle dairy whitener.

And the food. I love the cuisines, trying various veggies and fruits and breads and chutneys and salads. But why do we say only Gujjus make food that is sweet, everything here is either cheesy or sweet, sometimes both. After a week, I am so missing, दाल चावल, curries and the spices. I almost salivate when I check out the Indian food available online, but I take one look at the price and realise that delivery charge is more than the cost of the dish, so swallow my saliva and pride and survive on my cold storage पूरीs. Yeah, पूरी and भुजिया is heaven when in the Americas.

The next time you travel to this part of the world, all fellow desi travellers are advised to add as a necessary part of their survival kit

  • A mug (or spare water bottles)
  • Tea bags and creamer
  • पूरी and भुजिया

And definitely leave behind your mental calculator.

But what happens only in America is having an ex-marine, future SeattlePD, muscular, tanned, girl in shorts driving your cab.

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The joys of being middle class

If there is one thing I have learnt in the decades spent on Earth is that there is no quick and easy way to make money or save money. Having grown up in a two frock childhood ( recall my blog https://myhumerousbone.wordpress.com/2015/09/25/the-two-frock-childhood/ ), I am most decidedly middle class and no matter how much I earn, I am not getting rid of that tag. There is something unbelievably sexy about being middle class, I can easily list the top 100 sheer pleasures of my middle class existence. We in India staunchly believe in the concept of जुगाड़  and if we find anything free anywhere, we grab it like our birthright. Even though we understand there is no way to make the quick buck, and we have read about being penny wise and pound foolish in school, we persist, just in case.

As a kid, I loved picking up all the सौफ at the restaurant. Open the tissue paper, pour it all in, hide it under the armpit and walk out nonchalantly. Assume nobody is watching. Later I did start wondering what the waiter, who I handed the miserly 5 Rs tip, would be thinking. Covertly sneaking a glance at him, I could see him shaking his head in a resigned manner – another middle class family. But who cared? We paid for the meal, but the free stuff gives infinitely more happiness.

All my college friends, the ones who stayed at the hostel would barge into any party/ wedding locally just to get good food. Hand over an envelop with a 100 Rs note ( +1 Re coin for शगुन ), 5 of them would eat like they had been starving for weeks. A low cost to pay for a hearty meal for so many.

Even middle class folks acquired some degree of sophistication over a period of time. They graduated to picking up all toiletries, slippers, and even toilet roll from the three star hotel where they stayed in for a day. The next level hit when you stay for three days and stash away everything every day, forcing the housekeeping to replenish the stock daily. Squeeze them dry. As you go for breakfast- which has to be included- ( no self respecting middle class Indian would ever stay in a hotel which does not include at least one free meal and these days, wifi), you pick up all the fruits and cakes and sandwiches you can safely carry, all the while eyeing the waiter, which would then serve as lunch. The level of sophistication only impacts the items you pick, not the intent. The better the hotel, more stuff you can pilferage.  Which one of us has not picked up Air India cutlery and the salt, pepper and ketchup sachets (and also the wet tissue)?

Once upon a time there was something called STD when calling friends and family used to be pretty expensive. We once got an opportunity to make free calls and I think we would have spent at least 3-4 hours, calling up every relative who existed in the diary, even ones who we may just wish Happy New Year once in a lifetime.  And of course, everyone spoke to everyone, 2 raised to n. Thrilled at the coup, we were mentally calculating how much money we saved that day, and phish, the motorcycle developed a problem and we spent a few thousands in its repair. That is when I realised that nothing in life is free.

Then there are these schemes, where you fill the “lucky draws” in every mall and you can win a free trip to Bangkok and other gifts of varying cost and taste. I hate filling that form and giving my number, I always tell them I am not lucky, but my husband fills it almost always. The ever optimist. Once we got a call, you have won a free gift and you need to come and collect it from somewhere about 20 kms away. This was our first time and we were excited enough to go. We spent 6 hours listening to the reasons why we should invest into some housing scheme and at the end, we got 6 bowls.  Trust me, I have got many such offers post this incident and I absolutely did not increase my bowl collection.

My husband loves credit cards. Firstly you save on the interest, secondly you get some “free gifts”, whether it is movie tickets, or a discounted spa visit or some money off on the next purchase, or maybe an extra 5% off at Shoppers Stop. So he has a box-ful of credit cards and tells me which one to use when going to the market. He even has which days to use which card so as to yield maximum yield. Well, I have no issues so long as he pays for them.

When my slippers are worn out, or break, I am reminded that it can be repaired at a lower cost till I yell. We like our “scents” which we buy when we see a 1+1 or better still, 1+2, and the whole family smells the same for the next 6 months. Haggling is a prime distraction whether it is with the haat vendor for Rs 20, or when buying a 55” TV, -can I get one more set of 3D glasses. I still can’t bring myself to buy a 4000 Rs dress because- कितना expensive है !  And I wear that salwaar which is torn from the bottom- घर में क्या फ़र्क़ पड़ता है। . Why can’t Anuraag wear this tricolor track suit, it just has India written all over it (and was given to his niece).  And because we store that non-working shredder for 3 years on top of that Godrej almirah (which itself is 20 year old) since  ‘ठीक हो जाएगा.  And if you don’t like the shirt you got as a gift, pass it on to someone you don’t like. If ever there is a competition in being middle class, we will win hands down.

We are also visually impaired to a large extent. The first thing we see when we open the newspaper is SALE. It is all pervasive. Sale, Sale go away, come back to haunt me another day. As Sheldon would have put it “It is a Singularly Addictive Literal Euphoria of the human mind leading to acquisition of impractical ensemble of unnecessary material possessions which necessitate quikr for clearance of the clutter” phew! But I don’t like sales, it takes away the sheer joy you feel after you have saved all of 100 Rs post haggling. Yeah, I am almost feeling like a pure proud middle class Indian.