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 girl with the groot tattoo

tattoo

#Bizarre1

She was sitting diagonally across me in the flight.  Adorning a low back gown, quite an unsuitable garment for a flight, of course with a looong slit exposing most of her limb. The gown elegantly showed off a groot-like barren tree tattoo covering the exposed back (hence the backless). She seemed to have a great affinity towards being inked and pierced. I could see another tattoo around her neck extending all the way up to her ears and looking quite like a two headed snake but could not be sure as I could not stare too hard. Couple of more stars were visible on her right wrist. (of what I could see). She had four observable rings, one through her nose, two through her eyebrows and one on her lip. (Maybe more)

Her hair was confusing. Rooted as Brunette, a few centimeters later, became blonde and at the edges turned into a rainbow of greens and pinks. She had several wrist bands, I counted 7. Then she felt cold, and did something pretty funny, took out her jacket and put her arms through it and left the back open, well, (maybe only her arms felt cold, I am just a silent observer). She looked so cult like, I wouldn’t have been surprised if she brought out a dagger and started killing people around. But then this was a United flight and you get dragged out for far less reasons than this. After settling down on her seat, she took out her phone, adjusted her hair, said oats and took a selfie, (seems she had a phone full of selfies as I could see her later watching them narcisstically (the auto-correct insists that I must spell it as sarcastically- which is fine too).

A while before the plane landed, she spent half an hour making up, using a large convex mirror to observe and hide the blemishes better, face, eyes, lips, till she got it done to her satisfaction and certified by a pouting selfie again.

#Bizarre2

On the way to Los Angeles, I had plenty of time to observe the folks around. Wondered who next to choose for #weird

  • The tattooed guy at the metro station, with all four limbs fully tattooed in color.
  • The two guys who walked like one, step in step, one fair and other dark, the white fellow staring at the other in complete adoration, without blinking and without taking eyes away for a second. Unfortunately the duo ran away from the train (in unison) as soon as the guy in uniform came in to check the tickets, so the story ended there, without more ado, or was it duo.
  • The girl driving the sports car on Rodeo drive, wearing nothing save a half open shirt with one leg perched up on the seat, a gymnastic miracle of driving with one foot. Look pretty adventurous, sport.
  • And the award goes to

The big-bad-momma who pulled her child to her knees and gave him four hard spanks, which could be heard several meters away. The howling child, who suddenly stopped howling as he was too scared, and the bad momma held his face hard and shouted at him, scaring him to do her bid and listen to her, whatever the hell she was upset about. My hands itched to give her a similar slap. Nobody at the station objected, the guards around looked away. The platform full of people appeared stunned, everyone looked at her for a bit and then forced themselves to look away, knowing better than to intervene. The train came, they went away, but the resounding echo still lingered and while the child’s bottom may bear the marks for a few hours, his heart will bear the scars forever.

#Bizarre3

This time it was a whole breed. A bunch of people loitering at the airport, with an aura not unlike an Indian railway station. It was the noisiest gate in entire Frankfurt airport. It was a complete cacophony of humanity who insisted on speaking in loud volume at the silent airport and who had to play their whatsapp videos out loud for the world to hear with blasting Bollywood music. And then there was this guy who snored through all this, his torso occupying four chairs, while lot of others were standing, his T shirt well above his swollen torso. We Indians give too hoots about others’ discomfort.

As we boarded the aircraft, I realized, on just how dirty this noisy crowd could be just as I visited the loo. Eieeks, is that how they use it at their homes, tissues thrown all around, basin blocked, loo not flushed, I mean, come on, it is all well documented, well labeled, all you need to do is follow instructions beyond nature’s call as well. But no, Lufthansa is more Indian than India, but still not a part of Swacha Bharat looks like (Microsoft has yet to add the word Swacha in its dictionary, Mr Gates, are you listening?).

By the time the flight landed in India, I deduced that this noisy, dirty crowd was also unruly. The air hostess kept on repeating, please sit down, the plane hasn’t reached its destination yet, please sit down as her voice raised a few decibels, and people just ignored her plea and shouts and displayed their bus-mindset by getting up, and blocking the aisle while the plane was still taxiing in an urgency to get out. I guess we are an overzealous lot, in a hurry to load ourselves and in an equal hurry to unload.

A bunch of 12th standard kids were on the flight and the most laudable and noteworthy joke they cracked was about stuffing a nipple into the mouth of one of the boys as they laughed heartily and loudly at the vision. I just mentally raised my eyebrows, let me forgive them, they know not what they are saying.

The last straw being the Gujju bhai at Delhi immigration just before me, who while waiting suddenly found his voice and shouted to someone standing far away “अरे jignesh bhai, passport तो देते जाओ”.  About 200 people turned and looked at him, while he remained unfazed as he waited for Jignesh Bhai. It is just after I have gone through turbulent and emotional experiences like this when I feel so proud of my fellow countrymen. What a loud covfefe aggressive bunch we are!

The big fat sleepy Indian travels

A ten hour long flight is a great time to introspect, come a wee bit closer to your inner goddess ( courtesy 50 shades of whatever), catch up with some cramped sections of sleep, watch the latest movies you have missed, or write a blog, which I did. In fact I had absolutely no such intention, but I could not sleep. The flight was half empty, I was pretty tired, hence found a group of three empty seats together, which I occupied before anyone else got a similar idea.

I was feeling decidedly cold so decided to keep my long jacket on, fully zipped as I tried to make myself comfortable. After several moments of counting the sheep I had seen in Scottish highlands, when I still could not catch a couple of winks, my mind started wandering and I thought it might have been so great if the knee length coat had a gadget build in, where, if I pressed a button, the overcoat would open up from the bottom, another inner layer would come out, all the way down to the foot, and lo and behold, I would have a sleeping bag. Wouldn’t that be like cool? Then I could flop down anywhere on the floor and catch my winks, instead of trying to make a bed out of the cramped uneven too small seats.

Last two weeks, we spent going around the beautiful cities and countryside of the British Isles. As we roamed around UK, sometimes in buses, trains, tubes and flights, I noticed my entire family, and extended family nodding off in their seats. In unison, everyone’s head would drop and bob up and down with the uneven roads ( uneven roads and UK, not really), reminded me of the head bobbing dolls you place on the car dashboard. Once upon a time, I could not imagine myself sleeping on a bus, but in the current dowager status, anything is possible. Except my quiet niece, who would put her head against the window pane and go off to sleep as soon as she boarded a vehicle. Maybe to avoid talking to us mere mortals, or maybe just to sleep.

Even after coming back from the hectic weeks, my sleep starved body is still creaking and groaning. Why, why did the two weeks have to be all run and no sleep, I am so dog tired, all I want to do is lift up my legs, and die. My ageing, creaking bones, do not have the energy of my 20 yr old prodigal son, and I have hitherto refused to accept the fact. As I ran huffing and puffing, filling my days with oodles of touristy things that all Indian tourists must do when in England and other countries of similar nature. As soon as you reach the spots of the picture postcards, out come the phones and cameras, and everyone must take a independent selfie with the iconic background and then we also must remember to take pictures together, with everyone saying cheese, and my bro-in-law has to take all the random clicks where u may see the family or, maybe a finger or back or a cow or some other piece of anatomy that proves you were there when the random click was being taken. Amidst all this rigmarole, we forget to actually see the place with bare eyes, but then we middle class Indian tourists are like that only. We have to fill one moment with hundreds, never mind the quality, so long as the quantity is enough, the purpose is achieved.

And I have to tell you this one more well known fact about us, we eat, everywhere, we have to eat on the bus where the guide has explicitly told us not to, right in front of him, and he has no option but to look away as we happily munch on all the puri bhujiya, sandwiches, chips and nuts, that our backpacks are able to carry. Having hoarded all that could possibly be taken from flight and hotels, we made most optimal use of the salt and pepper sachets and coffee pouches and fruits. Since we feel hungry as soon as we board the bus, or train, our hunger pangs are directly tied to the bus engine starting, and if we are hungry, our frustrated half anglicized kids have to be hungry too. And we just don’t eat quietly, we have to ask everyone on what they want, in our usual loud voice, drowning down the guide as he tries in vain to tell us about the Vikings and the Normans. And once that is satisfied, we go back to nodding. And we have to use the wifi, wherever available, which is bloody well, almost everywhere, just in case, we don’t find it further ahead. Saying Hi all the friends who have no interest in knowing where we are, but telling them that we are touring UK, has a charm of its own, specially when you know they are sweating it out in the Indian summer.

You can make out Indian tourists from afar. They are the ones with the biggest backpacks full of Indian snacks, they have the biggest cameras and they talk loudest and they are the first to reach a spot for the selfie moment, followed by the remaining 15 in the family immediately queued up, while others wait patiently for the party to finish. We love taking the hop on hop off buses, and talking all the while, never listening to the painstakingly recorded commentary. And of course, every stop, we have to visit the toilet, कल हो न हो, except when it is a paid one, then our uretary muscles suddenly develop the courage to wait till the next stop. Which self respecting Indian is going to pay 20 Rs for a washroom visit! We are the first to leave the bus, hustling and bustling, and the last ones to come back with the self assurance of the back benchers- nobody can leave us behind.

When we are any headcount more than one, crossing the road is a project. In India, you know you can’t trust the drivers or the lights and you make a dash for dear life when you need to cross. But in UK, you cross like civilized people. Invariably we would find that 1/2 of us have crossed and gone ahead, albeit in the wrong direction, one group is waiting for the right to walk while the rest have given up on the UK road crossing system and crossed without the zebra fellow around without worrying about the buses and taxis. And then we have to use our God gifted tremendous lung power, to collect and count all of us, before repeating the scenario. By the time the trip ended, we had mastered the art of crossing with the masses.

And as soon as we feel cold, we start zipping up the jackets and blazers of our 20 yr old adult children, amidst complaints and frantic cries of Maa, it ain’t cold, falling on deaf ears. Out comes the fluffy caps with the फुन्दा and continuous muttering of, uff, why does it have to be so cold. God forbid, if we enter into a restaurant, we have to visit the loo, before, during and after the dinner, everyone has to order different food, completely confusing the waiter, as we try to pronounce the unpronounceable dishes with our Indian tongues, finally giving up, just pointing towards the dish works most of the time.

A 12 yr old, who wanted to spend money wherever possible, just because he wanted to, and would burst into tears at the drop of a hat unless allowed to hug his sister anywhere on the road, a 20 yr old fully excited and charged son, who was always full of energy at the end of the day also, and his opposite, 20 yr old, perennially sleep infused daughter, who favorite pastime was nodding off, we were a varied bunch.

From the land of Oscar Wilde to the bonnie bonnie banks of Loch Lomond, to the hustle and bustle of the London streets. A weather that would vary from quite cold to very cold, dry to rainy in a matter of minutes, winds that made you want to run indoors, when there is nothing but open spaces and a few pieces of stones. Walking tours to hoho buses, meeting big Rex, Scottish humor to whisky, ( why did the farmer not know how many sheep he had, because he fell asleep every time he started counting). Making sure we don’t miss anything remotely free, and flopping down on the broken spring bed back at the room. Lack of sleep, but no lack of enthusiasm for the gardens and the castles, somebody needs to tell the Scottish that 4 walls and a roof do not a castle make. Peering inside 10, Downing Street and Windsor castle to catch a glimpse of the high and mighty, fighting at the tube station when confused with which line to take, UK must be glad to see the last of us leave.

How Indians सफर

I can’t help it, whenever I travel, I find stories. Either they follow me or I eavesdrop too much. Sitting at Jodhpur airport as I looked at some of my fellow passengers ( and for want of stories, I do stare) I realized they can be easily classified as

  • the normal class like me and you, jeans and shirts types, who pack their bags with Jodhpur goodies like कचोरी and घेवर and then huff and puff with their luggage ( but who forget the glares even when travelling to the sun city in May).
  • then there is a local class ( no offence- they are the locals of Jodhpur) easily identified by their paunches, distinct gait, accent and clothes. Men typically wear white pants, white shirt, gold chain and earrings, black shoes and black glares (even in the shade). Women in their synthetic saris and heavy gold jewelry with their head respectfully covered and carrying varieties of printed and embroidered थैले and kids.
  • there is the tourist class who go for the express reason of visiting the fort and because it is en route to Jaisalmer. They insist on wearing thin and frayed ethnic ensemble with multiple layers, headgear, scarves, inner shirts and outer shirts, all of different but indistinguishable colors and still manage to look paper-thin. ( even they remember the glares)
  • finally the elite class, who wear the designer बंधेज suits and their glares are always perched on top of their puffed hair ( how they manage that, I fail to fathom, when I try that, my glasses insist on falling off- maybe my head is the wrong shape) and their obnoxiously big flashing diamond rings on multiple fingers, designer looking bags, the western accent and oh the arrogance, returning from a destination wedding.

I had the pleasure of sitting next to an elite family yesterday who were discussing loudly about the wedding they just came from. In the 10 minutes, I felt almost as if I had been there. Catered by the Taj group, 1000-1200 people invited, family in diamonds business worth few thousand crores (gulp), had invited Shahrukh Khan ( who probably did not do the honors) .  The big fat Indian wedding dinner was a 7 course meal costing 7000-8000 Rs per plate. Thank God, the menu was not elaborated upon. The 7 day festivities with polo match and cricket match and bachelors party and couples dinner and संगीत and of course, the wedding.  The 2 couples discussing this were related and the better halves suitably waved their diamond glittered hands every once in a while. I was feeling decidedly poor on hearing and seeing the display of wealth. Had I taken a selfie, you would probably see my mouth hanging open ( maybe even drooling). Jodhpur airport does not have a lounge so even the elitists have to sit with us normal class and we are exposed to the world we know close to nothing about. But I always enjoy sitting next to people who can talk of thousands of crores as a matter of complete insignificance.

Another old episode I remember vaguely concerned a गुज्जु family ( again, this is not a racist post, they were from Gujarat, so ). This was an international flight and I had an aisle seat and people were still walking in. This military looking husband walked in with a frail bird-like wife hovering behind carrying loads of luggage. I realized their seats were in my row so I got up so they could move in. I had to stand for about 10-15 minutes as husband dear tried to find space for the number of items they were carrying- opening every overhead compartment, moving everything around, all the while cursing loudly. Finally they settled in with some pieces of the luggage on and around them (if you have been on a train before in India, you can visualize the scene). And then the overbearing husband had to point out his “ज्ञान” to his ever suffering dutiful wife of forty years- about aircrafts, about runaways and what not.  When she could not tie her seatbelt, he had to do it for her. When she fumbled with the TV screen, he leaned forward aggressively to help but could not even after multiple finger pokes, finally I had to pitch in to get it working for her. And when the tea was served- the wife promptly took out the Marie biscuits from one of the numerous bags and served it. Had they offered the थेपला, I would probably have taken it. The long flight with the अचारी smells and other aromas of dubious origin coming from right next seat kept me company throughout. (I thought I had posted this story sometime back, but could not find it).

As kids when travelling by train, I remember my dad carrying his aluminum suitcase and 5-6 थैला around his neck, one carrying medicines for all possible ailments (but if you needed a Crocin, that may have been forgotten) , one carrying food and biscuits, one- a towel and chain complete with lock and key and a few handkerchiefs , bowl and spoons, coins, nail-cutter and  also some cleaning clothes- just in case (and rest I never really got around to- since I was not allowed to peek inside them). And of course multiple water bottles and vacuum flasks. Over time the suitcase became a trolley, the  train journey became a flight but the count of  झोलाs of थोले Banerjee as he was named did not reduce.

My bro is another unique piece. Once he was planning to visit Pune during November and asked me whether it was going to be cold. Pune and cold? When he turned up for a 2 day visit, he had a big suitcase and a bag along with an overnighter. When I tried to enquire about the too much luggage- he told he has a set of clothes for summer, a set of clothes for mild winter and a set of clothes for extreme winter. !!! and of course it could rain, and there has to be a change of wear for every season. I am only glad he did not bring along a Parka and snow boots and bandana. And his overnighter can only carry his vanity case with all his creams for the face and foot and fingers and arms and other anatomical parts. (not to forget the Boroline without which our family never moves an inch).

When I send my son back to college after a vacation, I pack all possible foodstuff I can lay hands on and that would fit in his reasonably big suitcase bursting at the seams even though he has to pay excess luggage. But the काजू and बादाम and मसालाs and ready-to-eats and cooked सब्जीs and रोटीs and पराठाs have to go. After all, the genes and the baggage crosses over the generation boundary.