Friday, March 25, 2005
INDIA vs USA
I undeniably remember the day of 4th January, when I left College Station for good. An hour before dusk, the plane began its descent. The city of Las Vegas appeared – an enormous sprawl that covered almost a hundred square miles (I guess with a population of 600,000). I watched the sea of lights over the strip, a 4-mile neon-lined portion of Las Vegas Boulevard, and wondered how one city of gambling could hold the economy of the whole state. Further long-established casinos characterize the downtown area of Las Vegas, known as Glitter Gulch, most of which were influenced or owned by criminals after the state of Nevada legalized gambling in early 1930s.
The new job and the beginning of a new phase of life caused a short bout of anxiety, but it ended when a pretty blonde flight attendant asked me to buckle my seat belt. The airport was swarmed with people even on a weekday. I waited for my luggage with some fellow Texans and some rowdy Chinese tourists. Other languages flew around me, especially English and Spanish coming over from most of the crowd. Isolation settled in, slowly at first. In the midst of multitudes, I was a lonely man. Almost no one knew where I was at that moment and damned few people cared. I didn’t know a soul, until I spotted my uncle enthusiastically coming to pick me up. As we were leaving the airport, cigarette smoke from the tourists boiled around us and we walked quickly away towards our car.
I missed the hostel days at IIT. Though initially I hated the place for I had to leave my family to get into the prestigious institute, in the hindsight the idea had merit. You need such an environment to get oriented to face this big bad world. Though I also missed the countryside with the vast, lush and green lands, rolling with hills, dotted with small villages and crisscrossed with red-brown dirt roads. I vividly remember the burnt orange soil and the roads that run haphazardly from one settlement to the next. Highways were virtually flanked by food joints (dhaba) on either side. Against the "simcity" type well organized looking roads and buildings plotted all over in the cities across United States.
As we hit the main road, there was traffic. There were tall buildings, a crowded downtown that we gladly avoided, and the obligatory new construction all over the booming Las Vegas, thanks to the gambling business that made the "sin city" a bustling city and also the hottest tourist destination in US. Most of the roads still look too wide with three lanes on either side almost everywhere in the US, and I realized that I was comparing everything with India. This had to stop.
But for some reason I still have loving memories of Mumbai and Hyderabad with me squinting in the brilliance of the sun and sweltering heat during most part of the year. Compared to Mumbai, Hyderabad was a lazy, pleasant little city. Merchants sat in the shade of their storefronts, waiting for customers and chatting with each other. Teenagers darted through the traffic on scooters and bikes. Barefoot children ate ice cream at sidewalk tables. I guess in Hyderabad the clocks ran slower and noting was urgent (at least for me!). Time was not crucial, though I wear a watch almost 24/7.
In Mumbai most of the houses are small and buildings with up to five stories had no elevators. The houses have narrow beds very close to the floor and had thin mattress on a wooden bench and don’t need those box springs to speak of. Also the basic necessities like a desk with a chair near a window and a window unit of AC and others were usually available.
Along with the well-designed highways and streets the other noticeable feature of US was the American style of litigation, that I saw regularly in News everyday. It was marvelous to see the things lawyers (attorneys, as they prefer) did and said on CNN. It is amazing to see how they clamor for attention. It is really fascinating to see lawyers staging press conferences, and hustling from one talk show to the next, chatting about their clients. It was unheard of in India.
I regularly talk to my parents back home, recounting my journey through the US, with emphasis on the fact that I was doing well, still sober and looking forward to the rest of the adventure. (you might think why I am so proud of still being sober – well it’s a long story :) )
Most of the Americans might totally freak out when a regular car driver would give them a ride in a car, with no AC, slowing only slightly at red lights, completely ignoring stop signs (if any), and in general bullying smaller cars and motorcycles. I bet the Americans would sit with their feet planted on the floor, one hand clenching the window frame, the other holding the seat and the heart stopping with each new intersection as our heroic driver clutches the wheel like a race driver! Evidently the drivers back in India understand traffic system where the rules of the road, if any, were ignored. As a result there are rarely any accidents and no carnage. I guess by default, everyone manages to stop or yield or swerve, just in the nick of time.
Next time I shall write about religion in India