Category Archives: Blacksburg
**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?
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.