Category Archives: Blacksburg

What I Do NOT like about American Capitalism

**This post is reproduced from another of my blogs which I have decided to delete**

I am not going to argue in favor of communism here. I totally support capitalism but I have come to understand that unbridled capitalism is inevitably going to lead to consequences that I personally do not wish to see. This realization occurred to me during my visit to Raleigh, NC. On the way, my friend and I drove through quite a few cities (though none of them BIG). As we drove along, there was one thing that stuck out in every single place. At that time I was not able to put my finger on it. But then later, I came to realize that each and every place looked extremely familiar. I live in a place which is so small, it is pretty much a village. But I have been around this village to ‘bigger’ villages. Now all I seemed to see on  my travel to Raleigh were just a bunch of these ‘bigger’ villages.

The point I am trying to make here is not that there are no BIG cities in America. I know there are no big cities from Blacksburg to Raleigh. But the familiarity of the ‘big villages’ that I encountered lay in the repetition of the same retail outlets every god damn place and town. There are Subways, McD’s, Starbucks, Wendy’s, Jimmy John’s, Papa John’s, BurgerKings and Hardee’s in Blacksburg. Then there are Subways, McD’s, Starbucks, Wendy’s, Jimmy John’s, Papa John’s, BurgerKings and Hardee’s in every single place right from Blacksburg to Raleigh, and then there are more Subways, McD’s, Starbucks, Wendy’s, Jimmy John’s, Papa John’s, BurgerKings and Hardee’s in Raleigh.

My complaint is that I don’t have enough variety. If you plan to suggest to me yet another retail outlet which sells its own food, then please dont bother. Firstly, there is a fixed menu that is pretty much common to the entire country in every single of the corresponding retail store. There is a fixed recipe for each of the food item and hence no room for variety. Secondly, if you look at it closely, all the food on the menu of all the retail outlets are pretty much the same and even taste the same. What I am looking for is some random dude running his own fast food joint preparing stuff that he thinks he is good at. And if you have many such fast food joints, there is inevitably going to be a few of those places which become famous for a certain dish which cannot be found anywhere else. And this is what is pretty common back home in India. Come to think of it, I used to love the fact that I got awesome Khali Dosas at Hotel Dwaraka and awesome Masala Dosas at Vidyarthibhavan (both in Bangalore).  There is no place in the entire country who can prepare such awesome Khali dosas and Masala Dosas.(And the best part is that there are people from other cities who will claim to have eaten better dosas at their local hotel).  Yes, you can find the same item in every single hotel in the entire country, but you will NOT find the same taste and definitely not the same atmosphere. And to know that there are dozens  of such places in mycity which are famous for few specific dishes gives me the variety that I want. Instead, if Khali Dosa and Masala Dosa became the trademark dishes of some big retail outlet, you would find the same god damn dish everywhere you go tasting the same and you would have to eat it coz you dont have any other options available. You might have different retail store preparing Masala Dosa for you, but none of them would come close to Vidyarthibhavan dosa.

Getting back to the larger picture, retail outlets simply rule America. Every city you go, there are the same retail outlets that you saw in the previous city. The Walmart, Lowe’s, Belk, Food Lion, Kroger etc that you saw in one city is what you will find in the next city- complete with the same color to their buildings.  My friend said, “This Greensboro is big. Its bigger than Christiansburg. But it looks like it is just 5-6 Christiansburgs put together. There is nothing different here” So I ask, what is the difference between one city and another apart from a name and pincode? There are no places to see in one city that you have not already seen in a previous one. (Nobody will say “I have seen Saravan Stores in my city” before coming to CHennai.) There is no food that you have to eat in a new city that you havent already eaten before. (Nobody can come to Bangalore and say “I have eaten the Vidyarthi Bhavan Masala Dosa back in my city.” )There is nothing new to do in any activity that you havent already done before. I simply ask, WHERE ARE MY OPTIONS? WHERE IS MY VARIETY? Well, I guess American Capitalism guarantees you there are none. All the supplies in all different fields are in the hands of  retail outlets  whose only objective is to sell as low as possible. Probably someone’s suggestion might be to try a new Retail outlet that I havent visited. And then what?

Updates

Warning: Long, Self Indulgent post ahead.

I am trying to remember how it is to write a blog post. Looks like I am already doing it now. So lets get down to the part where I actually make the effort to write something more readable than these lame introductory lines.

The idea of  this post was me to write something about a lot of things that have been happening around me and TO me since the last time I wrote about a lot of things that happened around me and TO me. Oh and that by the way, was way back in July last year when I decided to shift continents to do my Masters. And I believe the idea was to write a post before I completed my Masters and shifted continents once more to go back where I came from. So here I am, fulfilling my own expectations, way ahead of time!

1. Just to clear things up before I say anything, I am still in Blacksburg, Virginia-also known as “middle of nowhere” or “place where there is nothing to do”- with the only claim to fame of this place being that it is where Virginia Tech is located. Perhaps, at this point, if you are still not able to make the connection (i.e if your IQ<75 or if you are Timmy), I am doing my Masters at VTech (Go Hokies! I guess…). While my last post about my stay here would have indicated that there could not have been anything better I could have chosen, I have also come to realize that where it really matters, I have nothing to show. In every other aspect, I could not have asked for anything more. Having said that, I have also come to realize that things have their own way of setting themselves right and so am ready to play out the remainder of my stay here.

2. Now looking at the brighter side of things, lets just start off by saying that I was able to experience one of my to do things, somewhere pretty much on top of my bucket list. And I am talking about ME WATCHING METALLICA LIVE! All those times I listened to them back in India and felt so damn helpless that I could never get to see them live, I guess this is definitely one of those dream come true things. October 17th at  John Paul Jones (not the Led Zep dude) Arena Charlottesville is where I saw Metallica play Sad but True, Fuel, One, Master of Puppets, Creeping death and a lot more. So next time somebody talks about how they wish to see Metallica Live, I can show them this video and tell them  I was there when Metallica made their trademark entrance with Ecstasy of Gold (Remember Ennio Morricone and Good, Bad and Ugly?)

I WAS FUCKIN’ THERE when Metallica played FADE TO BLACK!

And I was there when they played Enter Sandman

And I was friggin’ there when Metallica played ONE.

I can go on and on posting videos of every single song that I saw Metallica perform live. But I guess you get the point. But I still remember that time when they were playing Nothing Else Matters and I began to think of all those times when I was fantasizing what I would do if I saw Metallica perform Nothing Else Matters live. I had thought I would sing along, probably play an air guitar. But in the end, all I could do was just sit back and just LIVE a lifetime through that song! Those 2 hours made the rest of my bovine existence get some meaning.

3. Sticking with concerts, I saw Eric Clapton & Roger Daltrey live last month at Raleigh, NC. Raleigh, NC, also being the same place where North Carolina State University is located where one of my fellow Alcoholics (and a stand in :) for Team Rectilinear Redemption ) from NITK is doing his Masters along with a Mal who is still trying to learn the Mal language. Or to put it in simpler words, I met up with Masai and Hiran, who were staying along with Sounder. I met them after almost 2 years and needless to say, alcohol consumption was pretty much high on the agenda. (Come to think of it, that was the only thing on the agenda) Meeting them after that long and seeing that they have hardly changed was perhaps what made the whole experience even better. Masai, for one, still continued to be the opportunistic, manipulative, cogent speaking guy that he has always been. Hiran, on the other hand, still reveled in the wholesome process of Masai-belting. Sounder poor guy had a bout of sore throat, thus rendering his voice non existent. Getting drunk with an alcohol buddy and belting him just for who he is after almost 2 years is I have to say, quite priceless stuff. But perhaps, one thing I will take away from the trip is when we went to an Irish bar where Masai and I ordered Guinness beer to the waitress who asked “Is that all?” and to which Masai coolly and purposefully replied, “Thats all. Thank You SWEETIE!” Good Ole Masai! Hope he stays this way for the rest of his life! Either way, this was way better than that time when he was drunk and said “I wanna h**p the whores” at 2 AM in a temple on top of a mountain!” Here is a pic of me, Masai and Hiran at that very Irish bar.

Hiran, Me and Masai- after almost 2 years.

And as far as the concert itself is concerned, it was quite an eventful affair. This included missing out on more than one exit on the way to the arena (thanks to an awesome GPS), consequently getting stuck in traffic for more than 2 hours while I was setting new records for holding some salty stuff in my bladder for an extended period of time. This eventually made my friend and I miss out on a few Roger Daltrey songs but we were both in time for Baba O’ Reily though!

But of course, the reason I went there was to see Eric Clapton set his guitar on fire and to hear him sign Layla. Which he did of course, along with a host of other songs. But I really got my money’s worth ten times over when he sang OLD LOVE- that one song which I used to listen to day in and day out in my hostel. With an extended lead and mesmerizing vocals, I really could not have asked for anything better. That sweet sound of the Fender was a treat in itself. This is by far the best Old Love version I have ever heard. Here is the video-not that great quality but you can still hear the song clearly.

I have to admit. His vocals, even at this age, are as good and mesmerizing as ever. Just listening to him sing Wonderful Tonight is a treat in itself.

He played the acoustic version of Layla in which he distinctly messed up the lead once. But I was really looking forward to him playing Badge from his Cream days. That song has a killer bassline but then Clapton made it more riff oriented-which sounded good anyway.

Again, one of those few nights that make the rest of your life feel meaningful.

4. Still sticking to concerts, I have to say fortune seems to be favoring me a lot of late, especially with the convenience at which things seem to be happening. I got to see Prasanna Live. Right here at VTech, free of cost and at about 10 feet distance. Whats more? I got to meet him backstage after the concert! Amazing chap. Extremely humble and nice. Got to learn that I would be missing out on Victor Wooten’s workshop back in Bangalore. Damn! But either way, amazing experience for more than one reason I would later learn.

And just so I complete my concert experiences here, I will be going to see Porcupine Tree Live this month end.

5. My Trip to Florida: West Palm Beach, Florida. 5 days of unlimited fun including unlimited alcohol, and unlimited inspiration. Meeting all my idols, going for a swim in the Atlantic ocean under inebriated conditions at 12 AM, enjoying the 40 deg C increase in weather, generally getting drunk, awesome 12 hour road trips and trying out some awesome exotic food- all in one place and in a span of 5 days is I have to say pretty damn awesome.

6. My experiences with Snow: Here is how I reacted to Blacksburg being covered with snow:

Day it snowed: This is friggin awesome! Mindblowing stuff this snow is! I LOVE SNOW!

1 Day after snow: Yeah! There is snow everywhere!

2 Days after snow:  Hey look! There is still snow everywhere.

3 Days after snow: Oh it is still covered in snow.

4 Days after snow: No bus service on weekend. Stuck at home. Damn this snow!

5 Days after snow: Weekend plans messed up. WTF is this snow doing here?

6 Days after snow: Total disaster. Cant walk out of the house without 5 layers of clothing and shoes.

7 Days after snow: My Facebook status: “In the next few days, if anyone spots a snowman who is significantly deformed, beaten up, or simply violated, then you know where all I have been.” and “RIght now I am so damn pissed at the snow that is going to ruin my weekend plans, that I think I will build a huge snow man and molest it every single day for the entire next week. And you can be sure there will not be any protection in sight!”

And then snow was the reason why I ended up  having a nice time one Sunday, which, I would realize later, meant a lot more.

7. My Awesome Culinary Exploits: It took me all of one week in America to realize that I DO NOT like American food. Apart from the mandatory presence of beef and other meat in practically every dish, I still do not prefer bland, mix-a-lot-of-stuff-together-and-you-have-a-meal type of food. (I liked the Cookies and the Pumpkin Pie though :) ) And I am sick of having to eat the same Veggie Patty sandwich at Subway.  As a direct consequence of this, my culinary skills have gone from edible to tastes-like-something to tastes good to simply-mind-blowing! Most of the stuff are South Indian dishes including Masala Dosa, Onion Uthappam, Gojju Avalakki, Nucchinunde, Coconut Burfi a.k.a Kobri Mithai, etc. All this has made my parents and well wishers warn me that this might work against me as my eventual would be wife would make me do all the cooking thus ‘escaping her duties!’ You can find most of the awesome stuff that I have prepared here.

8. The last 7 days have perhaps been the most eventful days I have had in a long long time. They were painful, stressful, filled with helplessness, frustration and at the same time also blissful, memorable, filled with clear skies, pancakes and one nice meteor. It is almost like I have been living life for the past 7 days filled with extremities at both ends. Technically I guess this would perfectly qualify for a week wherein MY LIFE WAS AVERAGE! But when in reality, it was anything but average. In more than one way, I will look back to this week and say “Those 7 days were when I learnt that I have the capacity to reason my way through the tough times and the memorable times.”

In regard to this, I guess it will be relevant now to tell Kitta : “I am no longer able to continue on our rounds of Mathematical Induction every birthday. My ‘n’ stops at 24. I am sure you know what I mean. Keep the comments discreet though!”

So there you have it! My past 6 months in less than 2000 words and a few videos. Now I have to go do something more worthwhile such as publicizing this post in all social media circles.

Bliss Factor

It has been close to two months now, since I set foot here in America. Two months of experiencing something new and experiencing it first hand. And I like it here. Thats just it. I simply, like it here. Maybe its the small size of the town, or maybe its the nice climate, or maybe its the excitement of meeting new people. Perhaps, it may just be about how happy and contended I feel about my decision to come here. Whatever maybe the reason, I can, without any hesitation, say that I like it here

PEACE...

PEACE...

Perhaps I could attribute a major portion of my satisfaction to my program including the professors and the facilities that come along with it. Not to forget some very like minded classmates that I have been able to befriend. It is difficult to express the bliss I feel everytime I decide to study and find people around me actually encouraging me to spend time studying. This in contrast with all the mockery and ridicule I faced back in India during Undergrad while trying to do the same (And incidentally, unlike most of the other programs, I find that there is just one more Indian in my class). It really is something different to be in a position to decide to study at any point and actually be able to do it well. And the way ideas and concepts revealed themselves when I recently immersed myself in a topic for a few hours, reminded me of the long forgotten raw bliss, the experience of which was my only purpose in life. And now, when I realize that I really don’t have anything else on my mind and that  my greatest concern is about submitting my assignments on time, I am quite certain that this is the time when I can go back to fulfilling that purpose.

There have been a whole load of things that have definitely contributed to my bliss here. One of them, and inevitably I have to say, is alcohol. After discovering that Beer is cheaper than water here, my weekends have inevitably involved at least 2 l of Beer, the operative words being “at least”. The entire town just comes alive on Friday nights when every single person is likely to be found in some or the other pub/bar. If you want to see and appreciate the feminine beauty in this place, you need to necessarily visit downtown bars on a Friday night. Beer is really such an everyday concept that it is almost considered a taboo if you do NOT drink beer! And you will know you are in America when you find yourself drinking a whole load of beer and wine with all your professors in their home! In fact, that was part of the icebreaker arranged for everyone in my program and to which I had taken the Bhel Puri that I had prepared myself (Ellarigu Kadlepuri Thinnisdhe!!).

And then there is this whole new experience of seeing skin. You know it for a fact; you have been prepared for it; you have seen them in all Hollywood movies- but irrespective of all of that, when you see that extra piece of feminine skin in front of your own eyes, it is only then that you truly understand that you are indeed far, far away from home! Seriously speaking, sometimes you see some females wearing such clothes that you really wonder why they even need to wear whatever they are wearing. And everytime you feel you are getting used to it, there comes along a girl wearing a dress that makes you go “WTF??!!???” all over again. Not that I am complaining, but its just the fact I have seen more skin here in the past 2 months than I had seen in my entire life previously.

Technology and infrastructure take whole new meaning in here. The fear of getting sued for millions of dollars has probably put everyone on the path to perfection. And so you will find internet connections of 7Mbps which basically means that I (FINALLY) get to watch 4 Champions League matches simultaneously! Pandora and MySpace become the two new sources of music that I have never gotten tired of exploring. Of course, with all this, the price we pay is the inability to download torrents without ending up in jail. But I think I will settle for that.

And with regard to my food, about which I had cribbed so much last time around, I have to say that my culinary skills have vastly and very quickly improved. I find it extremely easy and nice to cook twice a day. And make no mistake here. I am not talking about bland stuff like rasam or Upma. I am talking serious cooking like Sambhar with different vegetables, different gravies, dal palak, dal, Akki Rotti, Veg Pulao, Peas Pulao, Shavige bath, Brinjal and Capsicum Bath, egg curry etc. I somehow am pleasantly surprised myself that I am able to cook everything with such ease.

And so, on the whole, I have to say that, contrary to my expectations,  I really don’t have anything to crib about here. And, having been at the receiving end of many plans-in-life-going-wrong, I am not setting any long term goals nor am I making any plans as to where I will be when. I am just going with the flow, letting the system take me wherever it is supposed to take me and all I am concerning myself with are my assignments and tests. Everything else seems to either fade away or just fall into place. Such a certainty in having made the perfect decision comes but very rarely……

And I am going to a METALLICA concert on October 17. LIFE IS GOOD…..FINALLY!

Arriving Somewhere…

So finally here I am, writing this inevitable post, after I have got settled in my new home. It has been just over 2 weeks since I arrived here in Blacksburg, Virginia. Two weeks during which I came, I saw and I drank beer!

Leaving India for the first time, I somehow just didn’t go through any of the pre-departure blues that was so much drilled into my head. In fact, my last day in India was all a bit surreal. As I was done with most of my packing by then, I was never really in a rush. So went to visit a couple of my close friends and then I was all set to go to the airport. The flights-Bangalore to Mumbai, Mumbai to Atlanta, Atlanta to Roanoke- were quite uneventful in themselves, apart from of course the highly admirable Kingfisher Air Hostesses and the very very large collection of movies that was on offer in the 18 hour non-stop Delta flight. But I will probably remember the Delta flight more for the missed opportunity on my part to have free beer and wine on flight and get high-literally and figuratively! (HTF??!!??)

And since arrival, I have had much to see and do. Blacksburg, being a village by American Standards, made my transition into America much easier. Sure there are wide roads and the people are different and there is a lot more order around but it hasn’t taken me long to get to know this place well and feel at home in here. The excitement of meeting people from all over the planet never abated at any point of time. Attending the regular get togethers at the International Center has been one of the highlights over the past 2 weeks. And also due to the significant Indian contingent, I never really felt out of place or alienated.

The place as such is quite small and it took me all of 1 week to travel all around it. But at the same time, it is one of the most beautiful and picturesque places I have ever come across. Situated right at the heels of a mountain range, Blacksburg provides many breath taking views, many times right from the windows of the houses. A 45 minute drive to a nearby Claytor Dam lake was perhaps the best of it all. The weather here, is pretty  much the same as it was in Bangalore, with the only difference that this place reserves the right to rain with absolutely no prior notice of any kind. And also of note, is the day timings what with the sun deciding to set only after 9 in the night!

There have been many changes that I have had to adapt myself to -inevitably. Some good, some not so good, and some bad. On the good side, there is the very useful law (and one that I have never got tired of exploiting to my own benefit) that requires vehicles to stop for pedestrians to cross. There is also this really really punctual Bus service that runs through the town where one has to actually “request” for a stop! (At this point, I am making an honest effort not to compare the aboriginal BMTC back home with its counterpart here). But perhaps, more significant than any other observation that I might have made, the friendly nature of the people here is definitely worth mentioning. Back home, we are never really used to being wished by complete strangers or being thanked for something that we are just supposed to be doing. There is a basic sense of courtesy around here that everybody respects and follows.

And now on the bad side, is the food! Where I used to eat dosa for breakfast, Americans eat beef. Whenever I had Samosa or Pani Puri, Americans prefer beef. Where I used to eat rice, Americans prefer beef. And sometimes they even eat  random parts of the leftovers of the cow carcass which somehow magically metamorphoses  into a conveniently edible form of a pizza. The name given to this – I think it is called Corn Dogs- is almost euphemistic in nature! And so you now see, where my troubles begin. My own cooking, I have to say, has already gone through various stages on the “edible” chart. Incessant experimenting led me to making Aloo Capsicum when I had set out to prepare a rice bath. A mixed vegetable gravy eventually traspired to be more of an Aloo Mash. Upma, the one dish that I had sworn I would never touch, suddenly became the staple food for a few days. Other staple food include eggs, bread, to an extent rice, and of course the Veggie Burger at Burger King. Also trust me when I say that the Apocalypse is indeed near. If you don’t believe me, then please look out for the mutated vegetables that one is bound to eat here. These include 1/4 kg capsicum ( and I am talking about 1 Capsicum), wax bananas, onions the size of a small watermelon and some really really long carrots! And so canned vegetables is now the new order of the house. Oh and BTW, TORTILLAS SUCK!!! For the uninitiated, Tortillas are supposed to be the Mexican equivalent of the Roti or the Chapathi-only they are NOT! It lies somewhere between a Dosa gone horribly wrong, stale bread, decayed cheese and some randomly chosen white or brown powder for flour. But thankfully, I discovered an Indian food store where I get the original roti and parathas and hence am now not in the process of asking my mom to courier food everyday.

But apart from all the food, lies the drinks. And in case you are not aware, Beer is ACTUALLY cheaper than water here!!! It is not a myth, but a solid fact. In fact, if there is one thing that you  CAN convert into Indian rupees, it would only be BEER. And here is the best part: It is still going to be cheaper! And so, as a natural consequence, some extra-ordinary amounts of beer has been bought and devoured in the past couple of weeks. This included a  5 day nightly ritual of 3-4 cans of Budweiser and the consumption of a 1 liter bottle of JACK DANIEL’s by just me and my friend- with some totally delirious consequences (there are still traces of unclaimed food stains in the bathrooms!). And last night’s dance party at a nearby pub was also inevitably filled with loads of beer, and fun!

On the whole, I have to say that I am finding my feet here and am already feeling at home. Just a little more purchasing to do-including my mobile and laptop- and then I will be fully set. I have personally undergone many changes myself- in what I talk, in the way I dress and in the way I see things. It is almost that I am sensing a kind of a paradigm shift taking place. I am already looking forward for the classes to start. And of what I have been repeatedly told, “I WILL BE BUSY”. I just hope this doesn’t come too much in the way of my blogging.  There will definitely be more that I will seek to write about in the near future as and when things happen.

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