Category Archives: Virginia Tech
Among my initial impressions of American culture and lifestyle, what really caught my eye were the isolationist tendencies that this country has consciously and sub-consciously adopted over the course of the past 2 centuries. (The validity of the ‘why’ is not relevant to this discussion). And more specifically, how these isolationist policies had manifested themselves in the day to day workings of the society. And of all the different aspects of American culture that exhibit this isolationist propensity, perhaps the most visible, glaring and sometimes obvious one is sports.
American sports (apart from Olympic events) are mostly just that – sports played in America. American Football, Baseball, Basketball and Ice hockey are sports where the biggest sporting events include teams from within North America playing each other to be crowned ‘World Champions’. (Sure there are instances of international participation – notably for Basketball, and also for Baseball in Latin America and Japan). But for an outsider looking in – like an immigrant such as myself – the universal, unquestioned acceptance of such a largely self-contained system among its people seems to display a certain sense of ignorance, apathy and maybe even some arrogance over other sports that are a lot more popular in the rest of the world. And THIS can and does work towards discouraging people unfamiliar with the sports to explore it.
Additionally, for an immigrant coming in to this country well beyond his/her formative years, it can seem to be a rather daunting, and sometimes even pointless, task to explore the sports. My own initial thoughts went along these lines: “I have no association with these sports. I never grew up with them. I have no reason to be interested in them now. So I will still continue to just watch cricket, soccer and tennis.” And this was (and in many cases, still is) echoed among most of my fellow Indian friends. It would have been that much easier to simply keep my status quo and not make an effort into exploring the product of a seemingly isolationist thinking.
But it is only when one looks beyond this apparent barrier of sports apathy and isolationism does one discover a whole new universe of sporting culture this country has to offer. And so I decided to take the plunge to see what’s out there – at least as far as American Football is concerned.
Doing my Master’s in a university with a big football tradition such as Virginia Tech inevitably exposed me to a lot of buzz around the game and the team. An American classmate of mine volunteered to feed my curiosity by watching the VT vs Nebraska (2009) game with me and explaining all the rules and objectives. VT won that game – a rather low scoring encounter with a memorable finish. And I got hooked on to the sport. I watched most of the VT games and even managed to follow some of the other ACC/BCS games that season. I even recollect going to my friend’s super bowl party that winter.
My initial efforts to watch and understand the game may have been borne out of a desire to socialize and make new friends. But over time, the sport itself grew on me – to the extent that I started to watch even non-VT games whenever they were on. So in my third semester (and second football season), I decided to watch a few games at Lane Stadium – home of the Virginia Tech Hokies. That was also the first time I learnt about the tradition of tailgating.
I just couldn’t believe it! I had never seen anything like it before. People drank alcohol for hours before the game, during the game, and for hours after the game! Lane Stadium ended up being a spot where 67,000 drunk college kids cheered on a bunch of other college kids playing football! Wow! It was just incredible! And I definitely wanted more! So I ended up going to 3-4 more games at the Lane Stadium, the most memorable of which being the 28-21 win over Georgia Tech on a Thursday night.
In the end, maybe it was being around a lot of people who all cheered for the same team, maybe it was that I was looking to socialize and make new friends, or maybe it is because I am a big sports guy by nature and American football was a sport that I came to like, or maybe it was a combination of all of them. But whatever may have been the contributing factor, by the time I graduated in December 2010, I was no longer looking at American football as an outsider. I was a fan of the sport and I had a team to root for.
Over the last 6 years since my graduation, I have become even more knowledgeable about the game – not so much its history, as about the tactics, strategy and the team itself. I have a big group of American friends who are passionate about the game, and I feed off their passion and get increasingly more involved in the game over the season. Though the Big 10 and Big 12 conferences in the Midwest have little to do with VT and the ACC, I nevertheless have watched most of the VT games and a bunch of other ACC and other conference games. I have always watched the BCS bowls/playoffs even though there was no team in there to cheer for personally.
I have come to realize that to grow an interest in any new sport, one need 3 things: a general liking to the sport itself, a team to root for, and friends to watch the games with (preferably rooting for the same team). I have been fortunate to have all of them and so I now find myself cursing, clapping, shouting, jumping around and being my usual animated self whenever I am watching a VT game. I follow fan blogs that discuss each game, the team, recruiting and all associated gossip and rumors – all clear indications that I have something personally invested in the outcome of the games every weekend!
And speaking of having something personally invested in a team, I have also realized that I have a direct affiliation to the Virginia Tech football team. I went to school there and so there is a very valid reason to root for them. Which made me then question my affiliation to all the soccer teams that I have passionately supported for well over a decade now – Chelsea and Juventus. I suppose we don’t need a reason to choose a sports team to root for, but technically speaking, I have a more valid affiliation to VT football than to Chelsea or Juventus! (I know! This is sacrilege!) But I choose not to break my head about that.
Of course, the elephant in the room here is the absence of anything NFL in my encounters with American football. I do watch the games at the bar or at my friends’ place when they are on. I will even appreciate a close/good game regardless of who is playing. But the absence of having a team to root for has pretty much held me back from following it as closely as I do for college football. Many of my friends are either fans of the Broncos or the Packers, so whenever I am watching a game with them, I end up cheering with them. I do have some affinity towards the Broncos, so if I were to really pick a team, I would probably go with them. But until I truly commit to an NFL team and start rooting for it, I probably wouldn’t feel the same way about it as I do with college football.
At the end of the day, I find that I have spent many weekends watching American football with my friends to great satisfaction – bonding, cheering and even having opinions of my own about how the teams should have played. These experiences have proved to be a very fruitful, having served as an easy avenue to assimilate into the American lifestyle and to have a larger sense of belonging in a new society and culture that is half way around the world from where I grew up. I have benefited greatly from this experience and I definitely intend to keep exploring this further.
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.
Yes I do watch American football. I do find the game interesting at times but I tend to restrict myself to just College football. When I was at Virginia Tech last year, I did go to a few games there at the Lane Stadium and it was nice fun (especially the night game against Georgia Tech!). With regard to the NFL, I just watch the AFC and the NFC title games followed by the Superbowl. I have no allegiance to any team and I usually find myself rooting for the team that is lagging behind in the scoreline. I particularly despise the aspect of the game which gives rise to so many interruptions, which in turn gives rise to the inevitable ads. But I am not here to talk about that. Instead, I would like to talk about this one thing that I discovered recently that has fascinated me to no bounds. I am talking about the NFL Draft.
The NFL draft is an annual event in which the NFL teams recruit the best college football players who either just graduated or are ready to stop their college education in order to pursue their NFL dreams. This appears to be something totally boring and routine. But on the contrary, it has been one of the most fascinating revelations to me over the past few weeks. What has particularly caught my attention is the order in which the best college football players are picked.
You see, the way things would have been expected to work normally would primarily include the Super Bowl winning team to have the first pick in the draft. This can be looked at as some kind of a benefit for winning the Super Bowl. But the way the draft order is actually done is exactly the opposite. The Super Bowl champions get to pick the college football players right at the end. In fact, the first team that gets to have its pick among the best of the best players is the team that had the worst record in the previous season.
So if you finish with a 0-13 record (Zero wins and 13 losses), then you get to pick the best college quarterback in the country! And you are likely to get some leftover mediocre college kid to pick up if you are the Super Bowl champions (also called Mr. Irrelevant). So the basic idea is that the worse you perform, the earlier you get to have your pick among the new crop of the best college football players, thereby closing the gap to the champions.
The underlying idea behind this is what got me thinking. Rewarding the successful is what strikes as the most obvious and even the right thing to do. But this drafting policy goes beyond just that line of thinking. The underlying idea appears to be to create and maintain a level playing field among the many teams that compete in the NFL. So if one team is very weak and performs very bad, then they can be assured that they get to strengthen their team with the addition of the best college quarterback in the country. This also makes sure that the most successful or the strongest don’t become stronger. This is very much reflected in the results of the NFL teams. All except just 4 have won the Super Bowl at least once and have made their presence in the Super Bowl probably more than that.
Lets look at this another way. Say you are a business college graduate and there are a bunch of companies eyeing to recruit you and all fellow graduates into their companies. If the graduate is extremely brilliant and if the choice is up to the graduate, which is usually the case, he/she would choose the company which has shown to be the largest and the most successful. So the already successful company will increase its chances of becoming even more successful. And at the other extreme, the least successful company gets to choose only the leftovers or the big company rejects. This does not necessarily improve the chances of the smaller companies to become more successful. It may even hinder it. But hey! This is a free world. Mutual agreement and benefit should be totally free of any outside interference.
The situation I described above is the trademark feature of a capitalistic way of thinking. And this is usually what happens. The strong become stronger and more successful while the weak and the not so successful become weaker and do not really achieve any comparable success. Now at the other extreme, you have the communistic way of thinking which specifically aims at creating a level playing field and maintaining it that way. Add to this, the fact that America is pretty much considered to be the bastion of capitalism. And you have a fascinating presence of blatant communism right inside the bastion of capitalism!
Dont get me wrong. I am not at all saying that this is a wrong thing or that this is not fair. On the contrary, I feel that if at all one aspect of this world needs to be treated in a communistic perspective, it should be sports. And I am just fascinated to see this being implemented right inside the country which has long been accepted to be the epitome of capitalism.
Ok seriously, not that anyone actually noticed. But I have been away from blogging for a while now- about 1.5 months to be precise. (The interpretation of the previous sentence ranges between I-have-been-too-damn-busy-for-this to I-have-a-cheap-excuse-and-it-is-called-laziness). And so for those who did notice, which would probably include 3 people on this planet, I have been both busy and lazy in the past few weeks. Of course the most significant part is that I am done with my Masters. And because of this, I believe I need to give some kind of a closure to a few of the things that have been on my mind over the past few months.
First of all, during the months of November and December, I realized that I can take the definition of working hard to a whole new level. This included running a code some 200 odd times processing over 16000 files in all. The process was so damn mechanical and automated, that it took me the entire 4th season of The Wire and the first season of Six Feet Under to be playing on the TV while I ran the code — just for me not to go insane. The other aspect of my ‘hard working’ included preparation for my Masters exam and the complete anticlimax during the actual test. Some other consequences of extreme levels of work included the act of what I call – ‘Simply Forgetting’. This largely refers to my complete forgetting of performing many of the day to day activities- like eating, sleeping, bathing, brushing teeth. Its not that I was too busy to find time for it. It was just that I SIMPLY FORGOT to do it. (You can throw in some other metabolic processes into it too).
But perhaps one of the most useful discoveries during this period was with regard to the food that I ate during those weeks. Initially, my diet primarily consisted of eggs/bread/cheese for breakfast, eggs/bread/cheese for lunch and eggs/bread/cheese for dinner. And then, for reasons I really cannot remember, I prepared Dal Tadka Fry. Little did I know at that time that this particular dish is going to save me so much damn time and help me get so much more work done-while all the time still helping me eat tasty and good food. You see, when you make, say, 1 container of Dal Tadka Fry, you are essentially making some 7-8 containers of the same. This dish, friggin thickens and it thickens a whole damn lot! All you need to do is keep it overnight in the fridge and it becomes so thick and dry that you need to add a whole lot of water just to get it back to edible consistencies, which consequently increases the quantity of the dal significantly. And this happens every single time. So next time, you are hard pressed for time and need to put in a lot of work, I strongly recommend preparing this and eating it for the next many days. (I personally made 1 container last for about 2.5 weeks!)
But in all seriousness, looking back at my Masters, I can now say that I really worked hard for it. So much so, I felt for the first time in my life, that I had actually achieved something of real significance. When I learnt that I had to spend close to $100 in order to do the graduation walk, I initially had to think twice about it. But then I told myself: “I have worked too damn hard and been through too much shit not to do the walk.” And so I did my graduation walk. Where I was at that point may not have been what I had imagined when I first came to the US. But still there I was. Without dramatizing too much, let me quote Atlas Shrugged: “The feeling was a sum, and he did not have to count again the parts that had gone to make it. But the parts, unrecalled, were there, within that feeling.” That was something to the effect what I felt then. But, now I am done.
Well, after my exams were done, came the holidays- perhaps the last break I will have in a long long time. And for me, it meant an opportunity to do nothing- which is what I exactly did, at least for about 2-3 weeks. Then I traveled. The temporary access to a car worked wonders and I am making the best use of it. Apart from that, my bass guitar seems to be seeing more than just the inside of the bass guitar bag. The combination of Sabbath, Dire Straits, Cream, Floyd, Deep Purple, PTree, and Guitar Pro seems to work wonders for my bliss factor. And I do not have any plans to cut down on it.
There is one thing of some importance that helped me get through the demanding times of the past 2 months. I first came to know about it when my cousin blogged about it. I am talking about DUDEISM. It is perhaps the most awesome thing anyone has ever come up with. If the universe gave existence to the Coen brothers just to create The Dude’s character, then I bow to the divine plan. I really cannot do justice to the whole idea here in a blog post. One can truly appreciate the idea only when you experience it first hand. The fact that there is really absolutely no friggin point in worrying about anything at any point in life, irrespective of how fucked up the situation may be, is something that has to be realized first hand. And I have been fortunate enough to be one of them. Just as long as you keep doing whatever is necessary, there is really nothing to worry about. This realization eventually got me to get ordained as a priest at the “Church of the Latter Day Dude”!
If you have been following my posts of late (redefine ‘of late’ to whenever the last time I was writing), you will find some strong and passionate opinions expressed by me with regard to religion. Over the course of the past semester, I went through different phases of belief and non-belief. And now, I can finally state, without any apprehension or doubt, that I am an Atheist. I have framed some more very strong beliefs and opinions about religion and God since whatever I wrote before. But I do not aim to make more blog posts about them. Many of these new ideas have stemmed from some very long and intense phone conversations with His Holiness. I aim to document all these ideas and opinions in some substantial form in the near future-which brings me to something important.
I have decided to write a book. When, how, why, I have no idea. This is not my priority but it is something I hope to get done in about 3-4 years time. Looking at it this way, I want to get something out by the time I turn 30. On whether I actually possess the skills to do it, I will only know after I have tried.
One more thing. This is about by far the best TV Series ever made. I am talking about THE WIRE. There is absolutely no point in talking or elaborating about what the show is about or why one should watch it. Let me just say this: GO WATCH IT! I was fortunate enough to find all the 5 seasons in my University Library and made the best use of it. There simply cannot be a more realistic portrayal of anything ever. But if I were to give one reason why you should watch it, I would point out the Casting. Not just the acting, but the casting of the actors for those roles. The casting for the characters Omar, Marlo and Proposition Joe have got to be the perfect casting ever made. But really, every single character is so very detailed and perfectly cast that it is very easy to forget that one is actually watching a TV Show and not some documentary with perfectly hidden cameras.
And with regard to my (redundant) New Year resolution, I have decided to blog more regularly. Yeah…whatever.
Firstly, this is not MY Upanayana that I am going to write about. The Upanayana described here is that of my cousin, who has NOT written about it here (yet). My own Upanayana took place some 8 years ago and under totally different circumstances as you will eventually understand. Oh and for the uninitiated, UPANAYANA stands for the THREAD CEREMONY, a (sacred) ritual popular among the Brahmins. It is a ceremony where the VATU (or the child) is supposedly initiated into the Brahmin tradition- so to speak. Of course, in recent times, all this boils down to is a set of fixed rituals that the Vatu-no-more (or now called Brahmachari or a celibate) performs twice a day- well at least is expected to perform- called Sandhyavandane. And so last week was the day that my cousin was inducted into the Brahmin community amidst quite some drama and action. Hereon in, my cousin will be referred to as VATU (child) during the incidents before his formal induction and BRAHMACHARI (celibate till marriage) after induction. But first, lets have some background about the VATU in question.
The Vatu is an atheist. The Vatu likes Metallica and has recently discovered the bliss surrounding Pink Floyd, Old Monk and the various combinations involving the two. The Vatu went to the same IIT-JEE coaching center and is now studying at the same Engineering college that I went to. The Vatu likes living in the hostel except for the part wherein he has to eat the mess food and use the same mess water and sink to brush his teeth.
So now let us flashback to about 3 months before the Upanayana.
Vatu is in the hostel playing FIFA’10. Vatu’s mobile phone rings. It is his mother. Vatu reluctantly answers the call.
Vatu’s mom: How are you?
Vatu: I am ok.
Vatu’s mom: Had your dinner?
Vatu’s mom: Ok. What did you have?
Vatu (getting impatient): Rice and Dal.
Vatu’s mom: Ok. We are having your thread ceremony on June 2.
Vatu (thinking): WTF??!!??
Vatu’s mom: Good night.
Back to 1 week before the ceremony:
Vatu (to his mom): I will be going to KQA Mahaquizzer on May 30. I will be occupied that day.
Vatu’s mom: No you are not. That day we have the Devara Samaradhane for your Upanayana (Loose translation: Pleasing of the Gods for your Thread Ceremony).
Vatu (thinking): WTF??!??
The day of the Pleasing of the Gods was a Sunday and the complete First circle of Family randomly decided to show up for the occassion. (It should be noted that for ‘occasions’ like these, the FIRST circle somehow always gets redefined to include every Seena, Guru and Ramesha- the equivalent of Tom, Dick and Harry- in the family) And so I found myself dreading at the prospect of meeting all the vicariously existing Aunts and Uncles, not to mention random second cousins seeking career advice from Akshay Anna (Big Brother Akshay). And of course, for those of you who remember, I knew I would meet up with THESE dudes as well. But perhaps what I dreaded the most was the inevitable enquiries into my life over the past 10 months-thanks largely to me having gone to FOREN and all. So, in my case, FOREN referred to the USA and so I could totally see people thronging around me yelling “Akshay Anna has come back from FOREN!” or “Akshay Anna how was FOREN?” I could also see me being introduced to random people as “This is Akshay. He has returned from FOREN.” Apart from the sheer WTFness involved here, I still had to keep in mind that this was the day when the Gods were going to be pleased to bless my cousin’s (the VATU) thread ceremony.
Eventually, I did show up at the Vatu’s house where I found the Vatu himself (clothed in dress code for the day- Panche/Shalya) with his parents, in front of what appeared to be a mess of flowers, Akshathe, coconuts, random blouse pieces, fruit, other relevant junk and one self righteous Shastrigalu (priest). The whole show was being directed (as is always the case in Hindu ceremonies) by this self righteous priest sporting a supercilious attitude and accompanied by his two mandatory sidekicks whose only aim in life is to emulate (quite literally) him both in the mantra-chanting aspect and the attitude sporting aspect.
So as I watched the actual Pleasing of the Gods (“the Gods” basically referring to the junk mentioned above), it took me exactly 2 mins and 3 seconds to get bored enough to actually strike a conversation with one of THE DUDES mentioned before- the dude with the stitched sac. The other dude seemed to be completely at home and at peace donning the Adige Bhattru (cooks) uniform and helping out the Adige Bhattru in their adige (cooking) and eating arrangements. Soon I was inevitably drawn into the career advice doling role of Akshay Anna and I did my best to spread my belief that Engineering was evil and that aspiring to become a software engineer is not exactly an aspiration. You will end up like that anyway. However, there were no games of chess involved this time around, largely due to the failure on part of the kid to get the chess set to the ceremony.
Now every family has a family douchebag. My family douchebag happens to be a 45 odd year old man (who also incidentally looks like an actual douchebag), who does not spare any opportunity to convey the fact that his IQ is less than that of TIMMY. I am not exactly sure what this dude does for a living. But I have heard from various sources that he used to run a Detective Agency somewhere! No kidding. And it appeared that now he had shifted professions and was presently working as an arranged marriage broker! Imagine that! Your marriage being set up by a family douchebag! This guy happened to sit in the same room as I was during lunch time and I was subjected to some interesting one-sided conversations (in Kannada) of his over his cell phone. Excerpts:
“Sorry there was a mistake in the newspaper ad. We want brides not grooms.”
“I have 32 grooms and 4 brides.”
“All the brides have ran away somewhere!”
Presently, one of his brothers accused him of blatantly trying to get one of his friends/relative (the groom) married to a woman who reminds people of the “Gajalakshmi” from old Kannada movies. (Think Boiler dimensions!) The douchebag defended himself by saying that the said Gajalakshmi was very insistent that she be married to a man of good standing and that he himself was very keen to ‘offload’ her off his brokering lists.
Eventually, the ‘guests’ began to leave and I found myself just loitering around doing nothing in particular. The Vatu’s father spotted me doing nothing and suddenly beckoned me and introduced me to who I believe to be some lady related to him in some way. The dialogue that ensued was quite remarkable really:
Vatu’s dad: This is Akshay. Akshay this is my “insert n degrees of separation where n>3” relative.
Me: Hello aunty.
Vatu’s dad (in Kannada): Ivara yoorunu US nalli MS madtha iddhale. (Loosely translates to implying-“There is some person whom I do not know who is doing MS in US but is related in some way to this lady here!)
Me (thinking): OMG!!! What a coincidence???!! Somebody whom I have never heard of or met before in my life knows somebody else who happens to be one among the lakhs of people who are studying Masters in USA!! Un-fuckin-believable eh??!!?
Stranger Aunt: My friend’s sister’s daughter is also studying in US.
Me (thinking): Wait! Who? Does she even know you exist?
Stranger aunt: Where are you studying?
Me: Virginia Tech (hoping it would ring some bell. After all, she happened to ‘know’ someone who was doing their Masters in US.)
Stranger Aunt (betraying her ignorance): Ok ok. So you are doing Masters in Computer Science?
Stranger Aunt: Ok so you are doing MS in Electronics is it?
Me: No. I am doing my Masters in Civil Engineering.
Suddenly, Stranger Aunt began to change her expression to “looks-like-I-have-been-wasting-my-time-talking-to-this-guy” kind of a look. Eventually she realized that she had to say something positive and so :
Stranger Aunt: Oh Civil is it?? Ok. So is there scope for Civil Engineering there??
Me (thinking): WTF Biatch??!!?? Who the fuck do you think are building all the skyscrapers around you? Don’t be proud to display your fucking ignorance around just because you know some girl, who really doesn’t care a fuck if you live or die, happens to be studying Computer Science in some random US University!
And on that note (and without giving a response), I just walked out of the room. And in a short while, I found myself liberated from the clutches of meeting random people who seem to pass judgment at the slightest opportunity. And so just before I left, I met my cousin, the Vatu, and empathized with him for a short while for what he had to go through and for what was still to come. But what was to come on the actual day of the thread ceremony was something neither of us could have anticipated or be prepared for in anyway!
Thats up in Part 2 of the Upanayana series!
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.