Friday, September 21, 2007

The Indian Chaos Theory

A friend of mine asked me a couple of day's back.... whatever happened to your blog? you don't seem to be writing anymore. guess the winter's setting in once again(its already chilly in the evenings in Ann Arbor). but more importantly, guess I have been doing a lot of other writing off-late.( now now. don't you think its erotica.) so decided, I would do something about my blogger's block.(er. can anyone tell me if there is something of that sort?)
I started thinking about this blog almost a month back, at the chicago o'hare. Somewhere in those multitude of terminals, was a corner of a foreign airport that I was completely feeling at home. Sitting there at the terminal, waiting for the flight that would take me home for the first time since my coming to uncle sam's land, I could already sense a little bit of India right there. It wasn't the cliche'd spices or the wafts of Hindi or Tamil you could over hear. You get that everywhere in the US. Its true, we Indians and Chinese are taking over the world. Its one conspiracy the FBI will never be able to do anything about. It was the CHAOS. If u ask me the one thing that I find most characteristic in us Indians(from an year old American perspective if you may) it would be our unimaginable ability to create and thrive in chaos.
It began right there at the terminal. an hour before the boarding, the PA called for a certain Mr.Mithra(well i don't remember the exact name) for an upgrade to first class. Then, the avalanche started. Within fifteen minutes there was a rumor doing rounds.
it seems there are a lot of seats in first class left. lets also go try for upgrade.
So they went. The ground crew there, who spoke with a curiously mixed accent that i couldn't place,(it definitely wasn't a gujju or tam or any of the regular hybrids u can immediately figure out) had a tough time convincing them otherwise.
please search once again madam. my mother. she is very old. need to stretch her leg. difficult no.. in economy class??
It took almost an hour to sort out the mess. and then, when the announcement for boarding was announced, u had people rushing to get in. Something that totally flummoxed the odd amru taking the flight. Everyone wanted to be the first to get into the flight! Maybe they wanted to get to the nearest window seat(a thing that actually happens in deccan airways flights back home, I heard)
And then, things just got better.. People stowing away luggage at any available slot. requests to the airhostess.
see that nice gentleman over there?? no no. there. g5 ..could you ask him to adjust a little and sit here. then my wife can come sit there. no no. my wife is here c5. i am at g6. small difference no?both aisle seats. he wont mind. its closer also to the the lavatory.
No points for guessing who the nice gentleman was. But there were a whole lot of nice gentlemen along with me doing a lot of 'adjusting' before the flight actually took off. In the milieu one fellow's precious duty free maal came crashing down! someone else never got to drink his johnny walker.
Airline cost cutting meant there were only veggie meals on board, something met with very little fuss. Except for one particularly thin bedraggled amru sitting a row in front of me.
do u have any chicken meals? umm. no. we got vegetarian!(20kw smile)
anything with egg?
umm no. veggie... like i said<tiny little frown>
do i have a choice? oh yeah! u can eat or not eat! (40 kw smile)
can i get u something sir?
oh vegetarian meals are perfectly fine for me! (60 kw smile)
Imperceptibly, things that were uniquely Indian began to take shape. You had the men using one lavatory, the women congregating discretely at the other side. My order for an extra vodka, was met with disapproving looks from the aunty sitting at the other side of the aisle. When we finally landed at Delhi, I think there was a crowd building up near the exit even as it was taxi-ing towards the terminal. the first thing that struck me as i exited the airport with baldy and Ritesh, was the honking.We honk When we are angry, when we are startled. When we want to startle. Or sometimes, just because we are in a bindaas mood. :)
And then, when ritesh made his driver stop the car in the middle of the ring road leading to Gurgaon to wait for baldy to catch up, none of my protests were heeded.
Abey, tu ek saal mein NRI ban gaya kya?
baap ka sadak hai. kaun kya puchega!?
When I took Harsha's bike once he caught up with us. (a changeover made in the middle of a busy highway) and rode till gurgaon, I suddenly felt a release. I wasn't worried about not having a valid licence. I wasn't constantly looking at the speedo to check if i was doing 65. I wasnt worried about not having a proper insurance cover.i wasnt looking over my shoulder or worried about people in my blindspot. It was a sheer thrill to feel the wind in my hair! A rush of blood i hadn't experienced for more than a year. A few minutes into the ride, I started humming an old ad jingle.(not sure which brand. but it was definitely a bike ad)
Azaadi! dil ki....
mama i am back home!
Traffic was one thing that amazed me all through my trip. For someone who was zipping around, weaving in and out of traffic, riding on footpaths not more than a year ago, the chaos on the streets still struck me! Yet in all that chaos, there was some inherent order, that instinctively took shape. We have a million drivers causing every kind of traffic infraction imaginable. We overtake from the left, we jump signals, we ride on footpaths, we over speed, yet when u look at the number of accidents that actually occur due to them, its surprisingly very low. Made me wonder what that kind of chaos can do on roads in the US. We might not respect the red signal, yet, we do yield to the people with the green signal when we jump signals. And somewhere, somehow, we do have a way of making sense of it all. Guess everything gets done when everyone is ready for a litttle adjust maadi! On our bike trip to Shivanasamudra on independence day, we would often stop on the BM highway, PD, NS and pan-man lighting up, sometimes fertilizing the odd shrub besides the highway( a federal offense in many states here. ). it remained that way right till the end. Ritesh again driving like a madcap, reminiscent of our college days to get me to the airport on time. And then, the CHAOS in the airport took over again.

I have already posted this in my main blog. Just thought a blog about my first journey back home should be posted here as well

Wednesday, November 08, 2006


They say... if you stand at Times Square long enough, you will be able to meet someone from every part of the world. That is the big Apple for you. The melting pot of all the cultures of the earth. A city, that compels you to discover its every nook and corner. A microcosm in itself. A world where anybody, anytime, instantly fits in and becomes a part of. A world so full of life, energy and emotion that I instantly fell in love with it.

I must confess at the outset, that there were far too many other things running in my mind, even as I landed at the LaGuardia, to feel excited about being in New York. Having heard so much about it, there was definitely a sense of curiosity, but excitement.. no. not that I could think of. But things did change once we actually went down to Jackson heights. That is where the charm gets to you (I am talking bout charm here, as against Bombay; the only Indian city I draw a parallel with; where the aura hits you in the face, mainly due to the sheer volume of things, human or otherwise.) When you realize, there, is ever so much that is American about NY. Yet, it’s a city that’s truly global. Where cultural boundaries, as I knew them, went for a toss.

It’s a city where u can ask for directions in a subway, and expect a different accent every time. Where u will find jamaicans hawking counterfeit Prada and Bvlgari handbags in 5th avenue, right across the street where the original shops are. Of Pakistani and Indian taxi drivers, swearing in hindi. Tibetan selling fake pashmina shawls for 5$. Of the Mexican pizza makers, Bangladeshis vending hot sheek kabab hotdogs. Its a city that lets u experience everything and anything that u can think of, and so many more, you never even imagined existed. It’s a city that’s defined as much by its famous skyline, as it is by the taxi drivers, the street hawkers, the nuts for nuts vendors operating in its congested sidewalks. A city that chugs along, tirelessly yet finds time enough stop for those who have been left behind. Coming here you realize that, “I love NY” isn’t just a slogan. It isn’t about any need to identify yourself with something larger (which so often is the case). But its about a sense a belonging. A sense, of being a part of something great, for however small a time, an expression of solidarity.

It is here that I experienced freedom for the first time. Freedom of not having to apologize for expressing what you feel. Where human emotions pour out unabashedly, engulfing you, forcing you to empathize… With the people… And with the city. You can see it everywhere. The weeping flowers at ground zero… An excited tourist perched atop the Bull… The old man in the subway swaying to the street music… peace in central park… the impatient taxi drivers… the urgency of the wailing fire trucks… The passion of the couple atop the empire state… Loneliness of the man sleeping on the subway bench… of hope… of every possible human emotion one can think of.

Needless to say, it’s a great place for photography. The first time, I felt I was under equipped with my c750 UZ. The two days in NY meant innumerable instances for great photographs, most if which I wasn’t able to capture. Partly because of number of situations you are barraged with, but mostly because of my own inability. With time, I know I will improve. And hopefully the next time I will have an SLR. But one thing is certain. I know I will keep coming back. To explore Manhattan… The weekends in central park… The means streets of Bronx… The slums of Harlem… There is so much more to see. So much left to discover. It will never be MY NY. But I know I have as much right to say I love NY, as the people living there lives in the Big Apple, and the millions of people who visited it, taking back home a part of it, leaving a significant part of themselves behind.