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Our Small, Lean Indian Wedding (Part 3): Setting a Precedent

This is the third and final part describing our wedding in India in December 2018. Read Part 1 here and Part 2 here.

My family is pretty big. OK I am not talking in the thousands. But when we were trying to come up with a guest list for our original ‘full fledged’ wedding, my parents easily came up with at least 350-400 guests to invite – and it could have easily been more! (And I am not even including Devanshi’s family here). In the coming months, some of these would-have-been guests will meet or talk to my parents and convey their wishes, and no doubt some of them will make some kind of a remark about not being invited for my wedding.  To be fair, most of them are people whom my parents or myself rarely meet, if at all. And so it really doesn’t matter that much.

But what did matter to us to an extent was what the people who had attended the wedding thought about it. My dad may well be on his way to becoming an ‘elder person’ in the family himself, but he still valued his own elders’ opinions and continues to seek their advice. So while he was understandably apprehensive initially about how this might all be perceived, he was not at all ready for what actually transpired in this regard. While we were expecting some sort of suggestions (perhaps bordering on criticism) from family and friends about how the wedding could have been done, what we actually got was quite the opposite!

We had our own family and friends pleasantly surprise us by complimenting us for the simple wedding and for eschewing all the excesses. One Uncle of mine who had his own daughter’s wedding coming up soon was left wondering if such simple weddings were even possible at all! I had friends tell me how they literally suffered through their own weddings having to stand hungry for hours on end while the steady (and seemingly unending) stream of guests came to get their pictures taken with the couple. But most of all, what blew my mind was when the elders in the family unanimously praised the simplicity of the wedding! But they didn’t stop there. They went one step ahead and said:

I am glad that someone in our family finally took the bold step of conducting a simple wedding like this. I hope more people will now look at this and do similar weddings in the future!

Knowing that these were words coming from what we would consider as the generally very conservative generation, I was really very very pleased. And my dad was definitely overjoyed to hear that as well!

As much as I was very happy with the way things went, there were inevitably some things that I wish circumstances had allowed. The foremost is the absence of family from Devanshi’s side apart from her parents. Considering this was done at my place in Bangalore, it was always going to be difficult for her family in Ahmedabad, Rajkot and Baroda to make the trip here at such short notice. I certainly wish her brother could have made it but that was not to be either. So a lot of credit goes to my wife and her family for understanding this and still go through the wedding in great spirits.

Looking back now, when we planned for this small wedding, we had certainly not thought about having our wedding be some kind of an example or precedent for others to hold similar weddings eschewing the excesses. But now I hope it does act in some capacity to let people know that this is still very much a feasible way to conduct a wedding. I am acutely aware of all the societal pressures and expectations that come with conducting a wedding in the family – invite hundreds (if not thousands) of guests, a massive buffet, sharing a professionally done wedding video online, grand setting, fancy invitation cards, etc. Make no mistake!  We had those pressures and expectations as well. But we took a leap of faith and courage and went ahead with a very simple wedding. And not only did it go just fine, we also received compliments for doing just that.

Yes there will always be families who have vast networks – huge families, business contacts, government officials and clients that need to be invited and pleased. But what people need to realize now is that the requirements that such families face are not necessarily true of most middle class and upper middle class families. I am not asking everyone to hold their weddings at their homes with a 50 person limit for the guests. All I am asking is for families to exercise basic fiscal restraint and avoid excesses – especially if they are stretching beyond their means to conduct the wedding. I am also asking them to understand that it is OK to not have a lavish wedding.

And as counter-intuitive as it may sound, that is a progressive idea right there for society to take up.

I have seen people spend money they don’t have on their child’s wedding, often making loans. Some justify it quoting the “Once in a lifetime event, make it big” idea but I personally do not buy into that. Just because something is happening only once in your life doesn’t justify making large amounts of loans that could have otherwise been used for the couple to start their new lives together. If a family can genuinely afford it, then I cannot fault them for holding a wedding within their means – however grand it may be (think Ambani). But I can never comprehend people stretching well beyond their means to have a grand wedding simply because of their own perception of what is acceptable or necessary.

So in the end, what I realized was that most of these pressures and expectations stem not from other people in the society, but mostly from within ourselves. Some of these pressures and expectations come from our own perception of what we feel is necessary to maintain our “image” in the society, some comes from the “Keeping up with the Joneses” attitude, and some comes from the lack of precedents and examples – thereby making us believe that there is simply no other way to conduct a wedding!

Ultimately, when it comes to people’s perception of what is acceptable or necessary for a wedding, Devanshi and I cannot address the issues of people wanting to ‘maintain their image’ or their “Keeping up with the Jones’s” attitude. But we have certainly tried to contribute to addressing the lack of examples by providing one of our own and hopefully setting a precedent for other weddings in the future.

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Bangalore, Family, Happiness, India, Serious Writing, The things that happen only to ME..., Thoughts, Updates

Our Small, Lean Indian Wedding (Part 2): Planning and Wedding Day

This is the Second of Three parts describing our wedding in India last month. Read Part 1 here and Part 3 here

The planning had to start with a complete acceptance by everyone involved regarding the small scale of our wedding. And this is where I was so happy to see all of us come together to plan the wedding – suggest ideas and make compromises. Turns out, it is much much easier to get everyone’s approval for the details in a small scale wedding than in a full fledged wedding! Who would have thought!!???!? Yes we had a few instances of disagreements that required negotiation on my part but in the end all things were agreed upon.

Then we had to figure out the venue – which actually ended up being the easiest of all decisions. We simply decided to have my wedding at my home!

So what about the guest list? Who to invite, who can we skip? This was after all the biggest sticking point between my parents and I in all previous discussions. My parents inevitably wanted to invite people they knew but whom I had never met and probably never would, and I was dead against it. The cliched thinking of “How can we not invite X when we have invited Y?” or “X invited us to their son’s wedding so we have to invite them to ours” was in full play. But we found a way out without having to actually make any compromise as such. Our home could accommodate about 45-55 people at most, so our guest list had to be planned accordingly. As it turned out, my parents have been doing a small ceremony every year for the past 12 years at my home where they invite about 40 of their close relatives and friends. So they pretty much took that list, added a dozen more and we had our guest list at about 55!

But what about the ceremony? How elaborate would it be? That was the biggest sticking point with my wife. Overly long and admittedly redundant ceremonies were her (and to an extent my own) complaints from our first conversations about the wedding. But then who comes to our rescue other than our own Purohit – the priest in charge of the ceremony itself?!?? He was more than happy to conduct the wedding ceremony and be done with all of it in less than half an hour! My parents (especially my dad) and I have some strong opinions against practices like the ‘Kashi Yatra’ and ‘Vara puja’ – the former redundant, and the latter just plain inappropriate (and should probably be made illegal) – and we were definitely going to avoid that. In fact, of all the different parts of the Kannada wedding ceremony, we only planned to perform the Mantapa puja, Mangal Sutra tying and gruhapravesha. (The kanya daana and nischithartha parts were performed previously while we took our vows in Des Moines). Our Purohit was more than happy to facilitate this simple wedding!

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Moving on to an equally important facet of the wedding – the food! Of course we gotta talk about the food! We had arranged for one full fledged meal for the afternoon of the wedding with the usual gamut of wedding dishes – Savige Paaysa, Puliyogare, kosambri, Usali, beans palya, aloo palya, Kootu, Majjige huli, Pineapple gojju, rice, rasam, aloo bonda, mysore pak and Chiroti. (I had specifically requested that the chirotis be smaller in size but the cook provided normal big sized chirotis. When asked about it, he candidly remarked “Sir our cooks cannot comprehend the idea of a small chiroti!”) We had also arranged for breakfast for about half the guests (Idli, chutney, upma, coffee, tea). And that was all we arranged for the food! End of story!

Wedding gifts was one aspect that I did not interfere even slightly because I knew it meant a lot to both our parents. Gifting nice silk sarees to all the women in both our families was something that they took a lot of satisfaction in and I was in no way going to cast a blot on that experience – in spite of the costs involved. This was one thing I was more than happy to step back from considering all the compromises they did for the wedding.

When it came to our wedding attire, I wore a silk dhoti and shalya that belonged to my dad for the actual ceremony, after which I changed into a silk Kurta and a Koti – both gifted to me by my in-laws. Devanshi wore a silk saree with some basic jewellery for the ceremony  and a nice flowing lehenga after that. I was very happy we kept the cost of our clothes to a minimum considering the circumstances.

We never printed any invitation cards and simply called everyone to invite them. Nobody seemed to complain and everyone showed up! So I guess it was fine??!!?

And that was all the planning we did for the wedding!

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The evening before the wedding, my mother surprised us all with a very cute wedding cake that she had ordered (and no one knew about). I had all my aunts, uncles and cousins and we spontaneously decided to play music and dance together. So for the first time, I saw my parents, aunts and uncles dance. Come to think of it, it was the first time they all saw me dance since I was probably a kid. And we all had a great great time dancing to old 90’s songs, gharba songs and even a song (“Masthu Masthu Hudugi Banthu”) from the movie Upendra! This has to be put in perspective because nothing like this happens in typical South Indian weddings. As ridiculous as it may sound, we were actually breaking new ground in a South Indian wedding with the whole dancing and singing. It definitely helped that my wife is from a state where they definitely know how to have fun at a wedding! But overall, even though the dancing was a spontaneous activity, we all enjoyed it and I was very grateful for my mother to have planned anything at all for that evening.

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On the day of the wedding, things couldn’t have gone smoother and easier. Both our parents were up at 630 or so and they performed the Sankalpa around 8 AM. Devanshi and I got up around 730 and were seated at the ceremony around 930 AM. Most of the guests had arrived by then and some had even had their breakfast. The purohit performed the ceremony for about half an hour – a rather simplistic ceremony. At the right muhurtham, I tied the mangal sutra knot, everyone showered their blessings with the akshathe and we were pretty much done by 1015 AM! Devanshi and I sought the blessings of our parents and all the elders in the family, and they in turn blessed us and gave us gifts. We then did the gruha pravesha with her knocking over a glass of rice and entering my house (again) – this time as my wife and as a daughter of the house. Everyone had their lunch between 1 and 230 PM and were pretty much gone by 3. Then we all went to visit my grandfather to seek his blessings. We rounded off our wedding day with a visit to the nearby temple – the first time as a married couple.

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The whole wedding ended up being completely stress free and without any issues. Though I was personally very happy with the small scale of the wedding, I was very curious to know what all the guests thought. In this day and age where weddings are getting bigger and bigger, here we were having our wedding at our home with about 50 guests. Approval from the elders in my extended family is something my father has always valued and he was understandably hesitant while we planned the wedding at my home.  After all, this had never been done in our extended families and possibly among all our friend circles. Would people opine that we should have had a full fledged wedding as a matter of general principle? Or would they accept this for what it was and just move on to the next big wedding?

 

America, Bangalore, canada, Des Moines, Family, Serious Writing, The things that happen only to ME...

Our Small, Lean Indian Wedding (Part 1): The Long Wait

This is the First of Three Parts describing our wedding in India last month. Read Part 2 here and Part 3 here. 

Devanshi and I finally had our traditional wedding in Bangalore last month. This came more than 2 years after our registered wedding in Des Moines, IA and after having moved out of the United States to Canada (more on that in a separate post). Predictably, our traditional wedding had been in the works soon after we got married in the USA. There were a few false starts and disbanded plans – largely due to my work travels and constraints arising from our immigration status. But things (mostly) fell into place for a wedding ceremony during our visit here and we got it done last week.

But ever since plans for our traditional wedding (henceforth just referred to as wedding) began to be formulated (from back in 2016), there were always points of disagreement between Devanshi and myself, my parents and myself, and my family and her family. The fact that we both were from different states (she from Gujarat and I from Karnataka) and having different wedding customs certainly contributed to the difficulty in planning the wedding. But whatever our disagreements, we all had one common objective – to have a wedding without any excesses.

It started off as a plan to have about 250-300 guests at a reasonably sized venue (we were looking at Ganjam Mantapa in Basavanagudi) over the course of one day – with the ceremony in the morning and reception in the evening. The devil, of course, was in the details, and we soon began to have our differences. Do we hire a professional photographer? What about the flower decoration? What’s on the menu? Who to invite? Needless to say, we were disagreeing on what each of us considered to be ‘excess’. Spending lots of money on a wedding photographer was excessive for me, while inviting guests we would likely never see again in our lives was an excess for her. There were many more arguments and disagreements with each of us wanting something that the others did not necessarily agree with. I understand this is all part of anyone’s wedding preparation, but it was still not a pleasant experience. Ultimately, due to all these small additions from each of us, the total cost of the wedding began to balloon out of control and we were all dissatisfied for different reasons.

I was probably in a fantasy land when I initially believed we could have a wedding as described above for less than 5 lakh Indian Rupees (about $7,000). When I eventually crunched the numbers, it became painfully obvious that that number was woefully inadequate and that it was going to cost at least 2-3 times as much (emphasis on ‘at least’). Attempts to introduce cost cutting measures were only met with more arguments and unpleasant interactions. Even though I was repeatedly told by my parents to “not worry about the expenses”, I began to feel increasingly uncomfortable and hesitant to proceed with spending all that money for my wedding. In the end, I was tempted to simply give up and let my parents have their way – after all I have heard most brides and grooms end up doing exactly that. But in an unexpected intervention of circumstances, our process of immigration to Canada practically put a veto on any wedding plans till we had actually moved there. (I will not go into details, but suffice to say that we needed to stay put in the US and save our money till we finished our move).

Yes it was a little painful for all of us – especially for my parents who had already put in a lot of effort and were very excited about the whole thing. After all, I am the only child and they had been waiting for this for a long time. But these circumstances were beyond our control and we called off the wedding.

Fast forward to November 2018 when Devanshi and I have moved to Toronto and I am visiting India after 4 years towards the end of the month. Talks of our wedding inevitably resurfaces as this provides us all with one more chance to complete the ceremony. But with less than a month of notice, there was clearly going to have to be a big change in the planning of the wedding. My parents were understandably hesitant to drastically reduce the scale of our wedding – especially considering it had never been done before with anyone in our families. In the case of such a scenario, they were also not sure who to invite and who to not invite. Add to this their general desire to have a reasonably sized wedding for their only son, and it was going to take a leap of faith and courage from all of us to actually proceed with something like that.

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The New H1B Bill in US Congress: What It Really Means

I woke up yesterday morning to a rather sensational news item on many Indian news websites. The headline had various versions of the following statement: “Bill targeting H1-B visas reintroduced in US Congress”. I was curious. For someone who considers himself quite well informed concerning legal immigration developments in the US, this was rather surprising. Even my dad called me up to tell me about it making front page news in the morning newspaper in Bangalore! So I decided to dig deeper.

I spent about half an hour on the internet going through the text of the actual bill, looking up meanings of certain unfamiliar terms, finding the specific paragraphs of the original law that this bill proposed to modify and fully understand what was happening. And then I looked up what the Indian main stream media was saying.

Wow! It was just unbelievable! What the Indian media was saying was absolutely nothing in line with what was actually proposed in the bill. They were not just twisting words to imply a different meaning. They were actually reporting completely false information! It is absolutely appalling! Additionally, there was not a single source that gave the correct information on the bill and what it actually stands for.

Which is why I have taken it upon myself to lay out the actual implications of the bill properly here. In the next post, I will summarize what the Indian media is saying and the incorrect information being dispensed will become obvious.

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H1B Background and Purpose

The H1B visa is issued for high skilled foreign workers to enter the US and work on jobs for which skilled Americans are unavailable. The intent of the H1B visa is to complement the American workers with skilled foreign workers so that the American economy does not stagnate due to shortage of skilled labor. Typically, when an American company wants to hire a worker, they advertise the posting, receive applications, interview personnel and provide offers. If the worker being sought is a US citizen or a permanent resident, there is no issue and all is good. If the worker being sought is neither a US citizen nor a permanent resident, then the company can still hire the person under the H1B visa program. However, it has to follow some general rules and procedures to do so.

General Requirements/Procedures for H1B Visa

So what are these general rules? These rules are aimed at ensuring that the company is not misusing the visa program to employ low wage workers from outside the country when an equally skilled American worker is available or is being replaced. In summary, the following are what the company has to follow:

  1. Company must file a Labor Condition Application (LCA) which states the general information about the job such as period of employment, wages, location, and type of job. It should put up this notice at the work place so all workers of the company can see it and lodge complaints if there are any misrepresentation of facts on the LCA.
  2. At least the prevailing wage for that position in that industry is paid to the H1B worker.
  3. The H1B worker is not being hired during a union strike or similar situation.

If the company meets the above requirements/procedures, then the H1B will be granted to the foreign worker and he/she can work for the company. (This is of course subject to the lottery system). The key to note in the above 3 items is not what IS mentioned, but what IS NOT. The requirements do not specify that the job MUST be advertised in the US or that Americans must be given first preference during the hiring process.

Additional Requirements/Procedures for Certain Companies

All the above items that are NOT specified have made it fairly easy and simple for American companies to hire foreign workers. They are still required to pay the prevailing wage, so they cannot drastically underpay the foreign workers. However, over time, what has happened is that many companies have employed a large number of foreign workers without making any effort to hire American workers (and are termed ‘H1B Dependent Employer’). Specifically speaking, the H1B Dependent Employer (HDE) companies are those that have more than 15% of their work force under H1B visas. There are also many other companies who have actively abused the visa system’s requirements and have now been officially categorized as a ‘Willful Violator’ (WV).

Now, in order to discourage visa abuses by such companies, and to encourage companies to hire American workers (citizens and permanent residents) first (where available), the H1B visa program has additional requirements that the HDE and WV companies must adhere to prior to hiring a foreign worker under H1B. These are as follows:

  1. Advertise the job posting in the United States and make a ‘good faith’ effort to hire an American worker.
  2. If a qualified and eligible American worker is available, then the company cannot actively seek to hire a foreign worker in place of the American worker.
  3. The company cannot fire an American worker within 90 days before and 90 days after the LCA is made.
  4. The company cannot hire a foreign worker and post that worker in a location that belongs to a different employer.

Essentially, these requirements are targeted to ensure that there is no abuse of the visa program and that American workers are not discriminated against in favor of lower wage foreign workers. The potential visa abuses in the absence of these requirements are fairly obvious and as such, these requirements were considered necessary. Now keep in mind that these additional requirements are not applicable to all employers – only to those that fall under the HDE and WV categories.

The Exemption Loophole

But….there is always a but……there is a way out of these requirements for the HDE and WV companies. The HDE and WV companies can bypass these additional requirements if they hire a foreign worker who falls under the category of ‘Exempt H1B Non-Immigrant‘. So what does this ”Exempt H1B Non-Immigrant’ (EHN) mean? It’s actually very simple. A foreign worker is an EHN if:

  1. The worker has a Master’s degree in the field of the US job application for which the H1B is sought, OR
  2. The company is willing to offer a minimum of $60,000 annual salary to the foreign worker.

That’s it! If a foreign worker has a Master’s degree OR if the company is willing to pay minimum $60,000 per year, then the HDE and WV companies can completely bypass all the extra requirements aimed at containing visa abuse.

The Visa Abuse

To consider an example, a HDE company which has 50% of its workforce as H1B workers can hire another dozen of H1B workers, fire a dozen American workers who were working in the same company previously and replace them with the newly hired H1B workers – all by just paying them $60,000 per year or just because the H1B workers have a Master’s degree. (It is a whole other discussion on how easy it is to get a fake Master’s degree certificate for this purpose!) They could then also ship out the new H1B workers to locations of other employers and do their job for them. These other employers can then fire American workers at their company because now they have these potentially lower wage H1B workers doing the same job.

And if you think this kind of abuse does not happen, you are completely wrong. This is EXACTLY what happened when Cognizant and HCL – both HDE companies – sent their H1B workers to work at a Disney location where Disney had just laid off their American workers. What’s more? The American workers had to train the H1B workers as part of their severance package! Even as an Indian citizen and a holder of H1B visa, I would still say that is extremely unfair to the American workers. And how do you think the HDE companies got away with posting THEIR own H1B employees at some other company’s location? You guessed it right. The ‘Exempt H1B Non-Immigrant’ loophole! All they have to do is pay them $60,000 per year (which would have been significantly lower than what the American workers were making) and voila! You can displace any worker you like!

And the worst was still to come. The subsequent lawsuit that was filed by the fired employees was dismissed on the grounds that the hiring of H1B workers by Cognizant and HCL did not impact the firing of Disney workers because the Disney workers were not working for Cognizant or HCL. That is to say, one company can hire a H1B worker, post them to another company’s location, and the other company can fire an existing American worker – all within full legal means and with absolutely no consequence whatsoever!

Visa Abuse Impacts

What this does is two things. Firstly, it is inherently unfair to existing skilled American workers – citizens and permanent residents. But secondly, and more importantly, this abuse of work visas generates a lot of ill will among Americans and among the lawmakers regarding the utility of the H1B visa program overall. Over time, this ill will and negative perceptions will foster the bigger anti-immigrant rhetoric and discussion (as seen with the statements from incoming President Trump on H1B visas), thus leading to more protectionist measures being adopted that will benefit no one and in fact be detrimental to those who have been following the system the right way.

The New H1B Bill

Now coming to the proposed new bill, it offers the following changes to fix this loophole where HDE companies can bypass their additional requirements by hiring an H1B worker with a Master’s degree or by paying him a minimum salary of $60,000 pa:

  1. Raise the minimum salary for Exempt H1B worker to $100,000 and index it to inflation.
  2. Remove the Master’s degree exemption. This means that just because one has a Master’s degree does not make him qualified to be categorized under Exempt H1B worker.

So what this bill proposes to do is to close the loophole by raising the minimum salary for an EHN and by removing the Master’s exemption. Keep in mind that these HDE companies can still continue to hire H1B workers as long as they meet the other requirements. And it is also important to note that this provision does NOT apply to any company that is not on the HDE or WV list. Those companies can continue to hire H1B workers without any additional requirements. It also does not mean that EVERY H1B worker will have to be paid minimum salary of $100,000. (Every H1B worker will, however, be paid the prevailing wage at a minimum – which varies based on location, profession, level, etc). The HDE company will have to pay minimum $100,000 pa salary if they want to bypass the additional requirements listed above. And the bill definitely does not mean that the Master’s degree is mandatory to get an H1B visa!

So after studying this bill in full detail, I have to say that even though I am an Indian citizen who is on an H1B visa in the US, I support this bill. It does cut down a major loophole in the visa program that lets HDE companies to abuse the system. And it pains me to acknowledge that, yes, most of these HDE companies are Indian companies – HCL, Cognizant, Infosys, TCS, Wipro, etc. and get close to 80% of the H1B visas every year.

With regard to the bill itself, I would remind all that this is just introduced. The same bill was introduced last year and was scrapped. So I don’t think it will actually pass this time either, but I hope it does. Because if it passes, then there is going to be a bigger chance of these H1B visas going to those who play by the rules and truly deserve it. And in the long run, visa abuse will reduce thus fostering a positive opinion of this important program among the American people and lawmakers.

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In the next post, I will discuss all the incorrect information that the Indian media has been reporting.

LINKS:

H1B Language in Immigration and Nationality Act (Section 212 (n))

New H1B Bill Text (2016 version)

H1B Employer Notification Requirements

What are Exempt H1B NonImmigrants?

Recruiting Requirements for H1B Dependent Employers

Who is H1B Dependent Employer?

Disney H1B Lawsuit Judgment

Times of India Headline

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Going Back Home After 3 Years

I finally went back home to Bangalore after a gap of almost exactly 3 years. I had never been so long away from home prior to that. Even with my parents visiting me in between, that long gap didn’t lose its significance on me. I stayed there for 4 weeks, visiting friends and family and spending time with myself at home. I had no real agenda apart from that and the 4 day trip that my parents had planned. Mostly, I just wanted to sit at home, eat my mom’s food and not worry about work or any of the many other aspects of my existence. But there was perhaps one thing that I was indeed looking forward to.

I just wanted to talk to people around me in my own language. I just wanted to talk in Kannada.

Perhaps the biggest handicap I have faced after moving to the US – and especially Iowa – is the complete and absolute absence of my ability to converse in Kannada with the people around me. Simply put, there isn’t a single person I have met in all of Des Moines who speaks my mother tongue. I am sure they exist, but the probability of them being someone I get to meet, develop a friendship with, and have conversations with them in Kannada on a regular basis is minuscule. Maybe if I lived in a big city, I would have stood a much better chance, but not in a city the size of Des Moines. And as a result, I have had to accept and live with the handicap of being unable to talk in my own mother tongue. It has never been problematic – considering my command over the English language – but it is something that I have constantly missed.

I have mostly dealt with it through secondary means. I speak to my parents, my relatives and a couple of my friends over the phone in Kannada on a regular basis. I also watch Kannada movies on Youtube or Videogirmit, listen to old Kannada songs, and read Kannada books. But none of this has ever come even remotely close to giving me the fulfillment I get from talking to someone in Kannada in person. Which is why when I went back home, the thing I was most excited about was just being able to talk to the people around me in the language that is my mother tongue.

Everybody from the immigration officer at the Bangalore airport (who began questioning me in English and happily changed to Kannada once I gave my responses in Kannada), the local grocery store guy who was trying to find me a pack of cards, the owner of the local medical shop (whom I have known since I was in high school), the guy serving me extra sambhar for my Idly at the fast food Darshini next to the bus stop, all the neighbor aunties who had differing opinions on the changes in my body mass, the old man at the small clothing shop where I bought part of my new wardrobe, the waiter at Vidyarthibhavan, all the nice folks of North Karnataka who made my vacation-within-a-vacation a memorable one, the guy who helped me get a Vodafone cell number on my Verizon Galaxy S5, the BMTC bus conductor who gave me a free ride to the next stop when he realized I was on the wrong bus, the auto driver who had Ambarish pictures all over his vehicle, the guy who cut open an extra coconut (eLaniru, or coconut water) for free because he felt he had given me a smaller-than-average coconut the first time around, the guy selling liquor on credit at the local shady bar, the bartender at Arbor Brewing Company (to whom I bragged about having visited the original one at Ann Arbor in Michigan), the guy who gave me all the snack goodies at Subbamma Store, the local gym owner who had a hard time understanding why I needed the membership only for 3 weeks, my friends from Undergrad and before, my family members of all ages and degrees of separation, and before I forget, Blackie – the creatively named black colored dog of the Black Dog fame –  I took great pleasure in speaking to every one of them in Kannada (including Blackie).

It was something that I had taken for granted all the time I was in Bangalore, and something – whose absence – I refused to acknowledge after moving to the US. During my visit, I sometimes almost forgot that this ‘return to how it used to be’ was only a temporary thing and something that I would very soon not have in my daily life. But I suppose that is what happens with the things I took for granted. I tend to trick myself into thinking it was all going to be OK every time I got to experience what I had missed for long. But the eventual and inevitable return – from nothing more than a vacation to the true consequences of my choices – never fails to expose the glaring deception my mind has me in. And I find myself looking to the past or to possibilities in the future when I get to experience first hand all the things I grew up taking for granted, and whose absence I am yet to come to terms with.

I am now back to talking to people over the phone in Kannada, watching Kannada movies, listening to SPB and S.Janaki’s old classics, and reading a Kannada translation of Kalidasa’s Meghadhootha when I get the chance. I do not know when I will get my next chance to converse in person in Kannada, but when it does happen, I will very likely just trick myself again into thinking it’s all back to the way it used to be – at least for the duration of that conversation.

And then I will go back to reality.

*********************************************************

The irony of choosing to write this in English is not lost on me. But such is the circumstances I chose and find myself in.

America, Arbit, Bangalore, Grief, Happiness, Melancholia, Sadness, Serious Writing, The things that happen only to ME..., Virginia Tech

The One Thing I Took for Granted

It was May of 2010 and I had just landed at the Bangalore International Airport early in the morning. I was coming back home after my first two semesters at Virginia Tech. By the time I reached home, it was about 8 AM and I was already hungry. My mom was clearly enthusiastic about cooking for me, but that morning she mentioned that I would have the Idli & Chutney that my grandmother had cooked an hour earlier. Apparently, my grandmother – who lived just a few blocks down the road – had woken up early just so she could cook breakfast for me. And she knew exactly what to cook. The Idli and Chutney that she used to make was the kind of stuff that could fix anything and everything. I think the word I am looking for is ‘panacea’.

So here I was, not having eaten ‘home food’ for over 10 months and my mom served me my grandmother’s best creation for breakfast. I sat in my chair and broke the first idli into a small piece, took a generous dipping of the chutney and put it in my mouth.

To this day, I cannot think of a more profound moment I have had when I ate something. Before I could chew the food and swallow it, I had broken down and was crying like a little baby. It was not just the feeling of experiencing something after a long time that made me cry. It was the realization that I was experiencing after a long time, something I had just taken for granted all my life that hit me like a cannon ball. And I didn’t have to tell my mom anything. She knew exactly why I was crying and that there was just no consoling me at that point. I cried for some 10-15 mins before I resumed eating my breakfast. Needless to say, I stuffed myself with what would have otherwise been a sizable breakfast for 3 people.

In hindsight, that realization seems a lot more obvious. But it does not make it any less significant. Food is one of the things that we are conditioned to take for granted (unless you are in a poor financial situation or related circumstances) while we were growing up. We always assumed that no matter what happens in this world – barring a natural or man made disaster – we would always have dinner served at the time we expect it to. So much so, that we even felt entitled to complain when it was delayed by a few minutes. Breakfast was always prepared 15-20 mins before we left for school or college. It just had to be. There was no other option. It would be an apocalyptic hell if it was delayed even for a few minutes. And all the food we were served had also better be something we liked to eat.

And so being served food that I preferred, at the right time, day after day for over 20 years was something I had gotten so used to that I had never comprehended the idea of anything different. Even when I lived in the hostels during college, the hostel mess always had the food ready at regular times. In any case, I went back home every 2 or 3 weeks during my undergraduate years. So it was only when I moved half way across the world here to the USA did I face the extremely strange situation of nobody serving me my preferred food 3 times a day at my new home.

In hindsight, the way I initially reacted to that is almost comical. I was in complete denial for the first couple of weeks and just did not eat any breakfast. I ate out for lunch and made some makeshift dinner (read cereal). It was at least a month before I came to terms with it and started cooking. Fortunately for me, I found that I took immense pleasure in the act of cooking. And after that there was no looking back. I learnt – mostly through experimentation and long phone calls with my mom – to cook most of the dishes that my mom made on a regular basis and took great pride in sending her photographs of my cooking. Needless to say, she was very impressed and very happy that I was eating home cooked food. And so after the first couple of months, I rarely ate outside and continued to get better at cooking. I even became popular among my Indian and American friends at VT for my cooking!

But when I had that first bite of Idli Chutney on my first return back home, I also knew that I would never ever match the taste that my mom or my grandmother made. Because you see, the dishes my mom or my grandmother ever made were not just made up of spices and vegetables. They were always made with unconditional love. And I suppose it really was THAT ingredient that I had taken for granted in all the food I had ever been served at home. It was also the ingredient that I had missed the most and could never put into my dishes. No wonder I broke down when I had that breakfast back then.

A few months after that, when I was back in the US and having just graduated, I learnt that my grandmother had unexpectedly passed away.  I will never see her again and that pains me to no end. I will also never have her Idli and Chutney once more, but I know that she is still out there helping me to recreate that taste I fear I will never get to experience again.

So yes, we take a lot of things for granted and don’t even know it. It only comes to the surface when it is absent and absent for a long time. So enjoy it while you still have a chance. But also, always pause to appreciate its existence while it lasts.

 

 

 

 

Arbit, Arsenal, Bangalore, Chelsea, India, Manchester United, media, Mediocrity, My sense of Humour, Rant, Serious Writing

Narendra Modi reminds me of Manchester United

Being half way around the planet from all the NaMo and RaGa and MaBa and ArKe waves during the election campaign, I have had little to no direct exposure to the ground realities in India. All my ‘information’ came from Facebook status messages, newspaper headlines quoting politicians out of context, memes, satire posts on Faking News and some input from my parents who are seeing all this first hand in Bangalore. So in order to get real information, I have had to make additional effort to look through the biased media, read a very long list of ‘expert’ opinions on both sides of the story, find compilation of statistics on so many issues that are being debated and of course, frame my own opinion at the end. In any case, the general gist of what I am hearing is this:

Screw Mario. Here comes NaMo

There is this NaMo dude who is the Uber Dude and who is expected to simply win the next election. Then there is RaGa who is going all out to let people know he has an IQ less than Timmy. New kid on the block ArKe is trying all in his power to just play spoilsport. Didi MaBa just wants to run for elections. The Left parties – wait, do they still exist?

Already the next Prime Minister of India

The common thread running through all the bits and pieces of information I am getting is not regarding RaGa, ArKe or Didi. It is almost exclusively about NaMo. But before I get to that, a little bit of football.

When I started watching football, it took me a while to start supporting Chelsea. Everyone around me was either a Manchester United fan or an Arsenal fan. The Arsenal fans were mostly proud of the whole ‘youth development’ ideal that the club apparently stood for. All good. The Manchester United fans on the other hand were mostly proud of their trophy collection and were generally branded as glory hunters. I get it. Every fan wants the sport team he supports to win trophies on a regular basis. It is a very natural state of mind.

But what was different with United fans was the unquestioned glorification of the club and everything associated with it. Most of the fans were convinced that Manchester United was the only true club in England. They would quote the rich history associated with the club and also point to the massive trophy collection. They would also point to one Sir Alex Ferguson as a ruthless winner who would stop at nothing to win trophies – and all the fans were proud of his long tenure at the club. But it didn’t stop there. United was considered to be a team that was beyond criticism. Going a step further, no other team was considered to be a valid team to support. If you were new to football and were still looking for a team to choose to root for, you would be made to believe that you had no choice. You would be made to believe that Man United were the only team worth supporting and it was some kind of a default choice.

United was also the club which had the largest fan base (and still does) in India and Asia. There were definitely reasonable United fans here and there that I have gotten to know over the years but for the most part most of them were just plain cocky about it. They just refused to even entertain the idea that the club was anything less than just the best damn club on the planet. There would never be any admittance of any imperfections in any of the club’s aspects. Nobody could level any amount of criticism without getting a good amount of backlash from its supporters. Moreover, supporters of all other clubs were looked down upon as if they did not deserve to be a fan.

All this inevitably led to a lot of distaste among a lot of fans who supported other clubs – including myself. So much so, that there was a fair amount of hate brewing against United. These people were our friends who we got drunk with and whom I am still in touch with. But the dislike and hate that was brewing was directed more at the club than at the supporters. Sure the schadenfreude that we experienced whenever we saw United lose grew exponentially. But the important thing to note was the strict polarization that Manchester United’s image had created. You either fully embraced it and considered it to be the flawless club ever, or you considered that to be the most vile, cocky, exaggerated, pretentious, falsely publicized, all powerful, corrupt sports organization in the world. There was almost nothing in between. And all this was a creation not of the club. (I am sure the club wouldn’t have wanted it this way). But this big divide was really a creation of the supporters.

The Panacea all Indians have been waiting for

And now I see the same exact thing happening with NaMo in India. He is considered untouchable and beyond criticism from the eyes of his supporters. There is so much pro-Modi rhetoric that there seemed to be little that he could not accomplish. He is treated as the solution to all problems. There is not a single ounce of criticism that can be thrown at him without ten counter responses coming from his supporters. (In the eyes of the supporters, they feel they are right because they are offering the statistically proven, reasonable response to a guy who is just making wild accusations against Modi). He is considered to have zero imperfections and his supporters quote the ‘development’ that has taken place in Gujarat over the course of more than a decade as proof of his awesomeness. And just like United fans sing the ‘Glory Glory Man United’ chant, there is now also a NaMo NaMo (and many more apparently) chant/song that all the Modi supporters consider their war cry. There is even a Modi-Brigade that you can join by giving a missed call or something.

All this isolation from criticism, unquestioned glorification of his past achievements and a level of expectations never before associated with an Indian politician have inevitably generated a strong anti-Modi fan base – just like it happened with United. Endless arguments and debates – both online and offline, opinion pieces from every Tom, Dick, Harry and his brother-in-law, articles listing statistics that prove the point each side of the argument is trying to make (never mind that they contradict themselves) – all have contributed heavily to the strong polarization of the Modi image.

The Rise of the Indian Youth or the beginning of a new Hitler Youth – depending on whom you ask

 

You are either a strong supporter and think he is the panacea all Indians have been waiting for, or you think he is the nightmare scenario waiting to happen where he ends up becoming India’s Hitler creating a Hitler Youth organization equivalent and there will be a genocide in his first month in office. The stronger the isolation and glorification, higher is the criticism and hate. Higher the criticism and hate, more is the isolation and glorification. It is like a feedback loop which just feeds one off the other but they both grow in size and content. And just like United, all this is a making of the supporters. Modi for one would have never wanted this divide. Part of it, admittedly, can be attributed to the hate against the UPA Govt and our current impotent PM. But most of the responsibility of this rests on the supporters.

I suppose there is a cut off point beyond which there would be no significant growth of pro-Modi or anti-Modi rhetoric. Perhaps that point will be reached after he is elected PM. Or Not. I for one can only hope that his supporters and haters can get to a more reasonable level of opinion. The worst outcome of this would be an American styled Democrat-Republican divide.

If you have not been able to figure out yet, this post is nothing more than an observation. It is not a criticism, support or judgment of anyone involved – from the politicians to the avid supporters and haters. It is merely a perspective which I have been looking through for a while. A lot of Modi and Man United supporters will inevitably disagree with me and some will even offer detailed explanations of their disagreement which are supposed to be interpreted as their idea of reason. First of all, do check out this thing called the Backfire Effect. Secondly, if you have you gone as far as trying to dispute what I have pointed out, you have already proven my point. So just calm the fuck down and think about it for a while.

When did an Indian Politician ever become so cool that he had his own Merchandise?

In all seriousness, I personally want to see Modi in the PM office and am really curious what this guy is all about. And at this point, I offer no response to speculation or the possibility of a genocide happening in India as a result of his election. But really, considering his competition is a circus clown in a politician’s disguise…..

…well you get it.