Friday, April 29, 2005

Oridathoridathe oru samara nayakan...

Wuz reading abt the flash strike by Air India employees when I got the inspiration for this post. There were days when I was a kid and greeted strikes, bandhs & hartals with happiness and pleaded for more. Then there were the days in college I was a mute spectator and active participant in many mindless strikes that our campus politics have thrown up as a demonstration of party power inside campuses. And now these are the days when I see from the eyes of a "responsible" adult the damages they cause to our economy and educational system and the number of young people who waste their lives fighting for ideologies that serve to divide. And to think of this the first man who employed these measures was the Father of our Nation! I wonder if he ever thought Netaji's militiary approach to independence was better. Well strikes have taken up reams of newspaper no more discourse...but being part of one...things can feel on!

I would have been inescapably sucked into being one of these sinners if not for the violent nature campus politics took in my college. I forget their slogans but i remember feeling ashamed to heve been shouting that and asking my classmates to cooperate....once i even got into a verbal argument with some of the gals in my class who wouldnt leave the class. A menacing threat from an ABVP senior in college wuz enuf to drain the development of the pseudo-radical in me(i shrunk away from the SFI movement and restricted myself to giving them vocal support and moral courage in their fight to bring in a" socialist and secular" country). Well there were a lot of comic incidents these strikes produced. Once an SFI leader asked my chum Viswan, to come for a strike but the way Viswan excused himself wuz unforgettable..."eda njan innale dumbell pokkiyappam ente triceps onne ulukki, enikke athu kaaranam oru adi ondaayaal onnum cheyyan pattilla"...leaving the chota neta flummoxed! And very serious, almost tragic incidents too...

We had organized Dishaa'02, an inter collegiate technical fest and despite the presence of a minister on the stage our principal didnt come bcoz we had violated protocol in not carrying the thappana along when we went to invite him! The savages(our gang) and the rest of our class and the entire CS dept was enraged and we decided to gherao the princi. Being seniors our guys took the lead...we stormed into his office...and the next one hour is a maze...for the first time in life me and friends was affected by mob psychology. viswan at pointe blanke range tells him "iyaale aaruva...thanikke onnu avidam vare vannaal entha"...and to rub it in i said "thaan ivide koode okke nadakkunnathe naatukaare kandallo". we proceeded to disrupt classes and i even gave a couple of fiery speeches...the first and last in my college life just weeks before college was ending. But then disaster struck. We evicted a class where the teacher had gone out and seeing his class empty approached us in a fit of rage and started bad-mouthing us. Suddenly from nowhere some guys came in and unthum thallum aayi. Things had gotten out of hand. The sir was very popular amongst the automobile-branch and the abvp guys finally got their chance to hit back. Viswan, Shinoj and I were suspended after they put pressure. We had to offer a public apology or face dismissal. That day we didnt apologize. On reaching home and waiting there for me was the result of almost 6-7 months of a very focussed, methodical and dedicated phase in my undergraduate academic life... my acceptance letter from USC for my MS and an hour of indiscretion threatened everything. I told pappa but he wuz surprisingly cool abt it maybe coz he had been thru these things in college. We finally mumbled out the apology surrounded by our enemies. A year later Viswan and I visited college during our summer break from the US and the princi ushered us into his office...the same old place where we sparred...talked to us very courteously...requested us to join the alumni association and wished us luck. Time heals....

The humiliation I felt then turned to aversion for myself and then to contemplation...I have since thought wht a strike can achieve...a day of college wasted...a day spent away from what young boys normally do and into spending that with fanatics, idealogues & drifters of these parties. When I read news abt young boys getting caught copying, stealing question papers, indulging in violence, driving accidents, etc I think I could very well have been one of them. Recently Jisha told me how she saw a young boy in tvm driving a car overtaking a bus rather closely and when the driver honked, the boy flipped the birdie and then pumped his fist into the air celebrating his act of chivalry! I was "too" quick to remark...dang! these kids of today show too much attitude when jisha reminded me an incident 4-5 yrs back...i was driving and a woman ran across the road in front of was close but i only neeed to slow down but i shouted out to her...thalle ningalke nere chovve onnum veetil ponde". My dad was ashamed at my behavior and he made sure with his rebuke that i felt shamed too. A little inconvenience had caused me to heap abuse on a poor woman. There are so many people we hurt when we are young...and I still shake to think abt those moments of chora-thilappu which cud have scarred me but only scraped me instead!

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

We, The Diaspora

For decades America has weaned hundreds of thousands of young Indians away from the homeland. Dreams of big bucks, cosmopolitan lifestyles and pure and unadulterated need for survival has seen our people arrive here in swarms and slog their way to being called the single most affluent immigrant community in the US. To define the american desi mindset in a single sentence or a paragraph is impossible today. Social scientists all over the US are viewing the growth of our community within our cultural framework and into the American society with great interest. Without doing much harm to their research I thought it apt to pen down some of my observations on Indian-American life, behaviors, attitudes and generational change.

The typical post 90's desi in America, I fathom is very much like me. Still hums the songs that became chartbusters on tv when they were in India, watches helplessly as their interest in cricket wanes and wanes, doesnt miss a single chance to watch a new movie at the theatre with friends, visits ever indian news site as a daily ritual and every conversation with old pals has a trace of nostalgia for all things seen, done and said back home. The untypical ones..which we rarely see are the ones who take to the US-lifestyle with a vengeance...pick up the accent, love the night-life and find it fun to have american friends. What unites us all is that we are unbending sticklers to the law of the land, work in earnest from 9-6, pay our taxes, donot litter on the streets unlike our days back home when we bend every law and nicety till it cracked. Like the mexicans who work at American homes, roads and factories we have become the force behind the internet and computers that powers the USA of today while Americans have remained content doing what they know to do best....manage, talk and lead.

In contrast to my ilk, the first-generation folks who immigrated here in the 60's to the mid 80's really fascinate me. Theirs was a tale of struggle to establish a foothold but were rewarded with success and fortune in a nascent country witnessing immense economic growth and scarcity of labor. The India they came from, unlike us had no telephones, jobs, TV's, cars or the basic amenities we the Gen X (or is it Y now??) had taken for granted back home. Their kids grew up hearing abt a poor, over-crowded, under-developed India and whom we fashionably call ABCD's are pucca American in outlook and lifestyle but I believe hampered by their parents insistence on giving them an upbringing rooted in Indian they grow up they are constantly at loggerheads with their parents abt their attitudes, the clothes they wear, choosing life-partners and wht not. I wonder what good Indian culture can do if the kids visit India once in a blue moon or cannot manage to speak the native language properly. Like the saying ..."If you are in Rome, be like the Romans" wouldnt it have been better these kids were just left to grow into normal Americans. Of course there are many honorable exceptions to all I said above. But the young desi parents of today unlike their predecessors of the previous generation are confident of their origins, proud of their Indian-ness and make concerted efforts to teach their kids our language and make it a point to visit India often and some kids are even sent to do schooling for a year or two. It remains to be probed where this generation will go...but we'll have the answers in another 5-10 years!

45 years of the Indian exodus has left a lasting impact on American soil. More americans are learning to do programming as a a way of life. Outsourcing has caused significant job losses with a result Indians working in affected companies are viewed with distaste. With India growing in leaps and bounds in every sector of the economy another wave of Indian influx to the US looks improbable. Like the premise of the recent movie, Swades I sense an eastward outflux back to their roots by many desis here. This was just abt the American diaspora, we have oil & construction workers in the Gulf, the progeny of 19th century bonded laborers in the carribean, mauritius, fiji and africa, the jobseekers of the 30' s to 50's in south-east asia, and what feels like the most sweetest revenge of Mother India is the Indian dominance in every sector of the economy and every aspect of life in Britain, our looter and tormentor for centuries. The diaspora is truely India's greatest contribution to modern civilization and for We...The Diaspora, India and being Indian is incorrigibly in our blood.

Monday, April 25, 2005

The Misfit

Week 1 : Laziness
And so my 2nd spell of unemployment began with a car stuffed with all my wordly belongings and a mind swirling in a whirlpool of self-doubt and defeat(?) in a slow drive away from san diego to LA, the city that destiny made my second home...I didnt have a place to stay but Babuettan and Binduchechi, the first good samaritans I knew as man gave me abode once more and with their three kiddos sachin, sidhu and sethu for company I laughed all my worries away. As usual I struggled to start off the blocks early and decided to laze around a few days under the sun.

Week 2: Down and Out
The deadly american flu that I kept giving the slip for more than a year finally caught up with me and what a pasting I took. My symptoms alternated between high fever, cold, chill and finally a deep, persistent cough that made my stomach muscles cry for rest. To add to my worries I got sidhu also sick and with mine showing no signs of subsiding and without any medical insurance no store wud give me antibiotics.

Week 3: Convalescense & More Trials...
My fever eased out but the cough kept getting worse. Jisha had enuf by then of staying as a paying guest at her kelavi thalla's house and had walked out after another tiff with the crone. Mummy was coming in 2 weeks and we still had no apartment. All the leads we had fizzled out. More than the job search this had become important as we had to find a place close to ucla from where jisha cud get buses to school. Despite her untiring efforts, Jisha was demoralized by the poor grades she had got. For an assole like me who studied only on exam eves and got away with it, all I knew to do was encourage. Truely the nadir of my existence. From this point there could only be resurgence...or there better be bcoz I wuz at the verge of snapping.

Week 4: Turn-Around
The parable of the Good Samaritan repeats. In the form of an American lawyer who Jisha met at church and who fortunately had taken an instant liking for her. She pulled strings and got us a beatiful apartment between Beverly Hills and Culver City on a monthly lease and a much reduced rent.Apart from our clothes and a few utensils we had nothing needed for a house. The next few days were spent intensively shopping and we managed sleeping bags, toiletries and other kitchen stuff. The first day we had no gas and electricity. We ate under candle light. Despite being so closely knit siblings the 3 years of moving away from home had left a gap btw us both...even after jisha had come to the US I felt the distance. That night I knew things would be the way they were of old. And with mummy coming in a few days we couldnt hide our jubilation.

Week 5: Interviews, Interviews and Interviews....
Mummy arrived and with her came cajoling, yelling, spoonfeeding, scolding, relentless cooking, goodies from India anda whole baggage of happiness and bliss....I could feel my kismet turning for the better...just the act of us praying together at night gave me strength(another matter that I fumbled with my prayers for the first coupla days after the last few years of disuse). I applied with renewed vigor and as a result I was scrambling from one end of town to the other barely making it in time for interviews. By the weekend I was exhausted but hopeful. We bought badly needed chairs and other stuff meanwhile. Still a lot more needed but we are getting there.

Week 6: D-Week??
The monday began badly with news of 2 rejections but the 3 ones I wuz positive about hadnt called. One of the companies called me for another interview while the other 2 had to make a final decision. As each day went by I was at my wits end. A strange sense of dejection was creeping in. I hadnt applied afresh for more than a week. And after exactly 6 weeks...jisha remarked that wuz the same time period of my previous spell ...I got my job on friday. A legal services firm in Encino, 10 miles from LA.

Friday was really special. I pooled up most of my mallu friends here(9 of us) and we went for Udayananu Thaaram and were treated to a sincere and controlled performance from Mohanlal after a long, long time. Before the movie, pappanabhan my Loyola classmate had given us a royal farewell treat on his leaving the US for India for his IAS exams at Tankra Bistro which in my opinion serves the best indo-chinese food in the world or atleast this part of the world.Today was my first day at work. I dont keep high hopes anymore but there's a lot my family looks to me to I will try and chuck my reckless attitude out and be serious in life for a change. This was pretty long...but next time thorns get flung in my path...i'd like to come back here and say...they keep hurting me lesser each time!