Today I am in The Woodlands, Texas and met up with old friend Avneet Jolly (97 batch XL, for people who are from XL) who works in the same firm as me. On landing here remembered a note Avneet wrote in 1999 when he landed here and since I had similar feelings on landing here I thought I would just put the note he wrote with his permission. So here it is, enjoy........
Dear Brothers (and sisters),
We are finally arriving in the Promised Land one month ago. It has been a month ? Seems longer, somehow. We are now being part (though may be not parcel) of this place. We are having many adventures, which I am telling you about now.
We are reaching Houston Airport on Sunday 7th Feb. It is being big change from London. Everyone is wearing minimum clothing here. Partly because of weather, and partly because of habit. Not leaving much to imagination. They are all being so casual here. No uniforms. Even in our Delhi Airport, the staff is wearing uniform. We are being picked up by large car (even by American standards) driven by man who is better dressed than us. Though of course, he is not having to undergo 9.5 hour journey across Atlantic. He is taking us to hotel where the fun is beginning. We are not knowing how to turn on lights, heating/ cooling. Why Americans are having switches that are on when they are off ? Our hotel is only serving dinner from 5.30 pm to 7.00 pm. No doubt surprising for my fellow Indians. Many times we are eating lunch at that time. Then we are going to Mexican restaurant for dinner. Looking for the one vegetarian dish and ordering. Waiter is coming back after 5 min and trying to tell us why he cannot get that dish for us. Of course, we not not understanding a single word of it. Mexican music playing in background is not helping matters at all. After 5 min. we are reaching some understanding and he is getting us spinach enchiladas with rice and beans. Which is not very different from saag, roti and rajma chawal.
Company is arranging for one lady to take us around town. We are rapidly learning the essentials of life in America. In rough order of priority, they are:
2. Social security no.
4. Medical insurance
6. Driving License
8. Credit history
10. Credit card
On day 3, company is arranging for a rental car. So we are being taken to Avis and left with this shiny, sexy red Dodge. I am bravely getting behind wheel (which, of course, is on the wrong side) , and . . . where gear is supposed to be, it is showing letters like; P, N, R, etc. After few minutes, penny is dropping and I am realising that we have been given an automatic ! Hamari Mrooti 800 mein to aisa kuch na tha. Conference with wife, and then wife is approaching Mr. John of Avis and admitting that we don't know how to operate the machine. Whereupon John is asking her: "But whaat is there to aahperrate ? It's an aahtomatic ! "
Brothers (and sisters), some of you have received DC's mail. He has put it well. Yeh log sab kuch ulta karte hain. What country is this where bed is costing $100, but mattress is costing minimum $400 ? You are getting car for $1000- and then paying $ 1200 for annual insurance ?? You are getting good vaccum cleaner for $20 (I am talking of brand new one) but a simple kitchen knife is costing $ 25 ? Full tank of gas (approx 40 litres) is costing $10, and a car wash is costing $15 ??? Paradoxes like these are really plaguing us when wife & I are going shopping.
We are also being bewildered by the array of options available here. Here they are making decision tree out of the simplest of matters. Take something simple like going to a restaurant. We are used to just going, sitting and ordering. Hah ! here it is not so simple. On entry, you are supposed to wait to be seated. Then hostess is emerging and asking you" Smoking or no- smoking "When you choose one, she will further ask you: "Table or booth ?" When you are finally seated (at smoking table/ non smoking booth, as the case might be), she will ask you for drinks. If you want wine, then you first choose red or white. Then the type. Californian/ French/ Columbian. Then under each, there are several brands. If you choose beer, it is similar; first think of light/ regular/ draft. then any of the 1001 brands. If you are getting frutrated and saying" only water please !", then also they are not leaving you. They are wanting to know: With/ without ice, and then with/ without lemon. After this, if you still have the energy, you get around to ordering your meal. But even after when you have eaten, they are coming back with " Your payment can be by cash/ cheque/ credit card/ debit card/ charge card . . . " The tip can be . . . . . you are getting the picture.
In India, wife is just commanding me "go get bread !", and I am getting. Here it is not enough to say "bread". You are first having to specify; french/ italian/ sliced/ not sliced/ sourdough/ oatmeal/ wholewheat . . . Then you are choosing some "stuffing", which can be nothing (i.e. plain bread), or it can be almonds, cashews, raisins, cinnamon, jalapenos . . . Then there are being brands. The less said about types of cheese/ chocolate . . . the better. I am wondering how these people are getting any work done. It is surely taking up so much time just to decide on these simple matters. Like my boss is saying one day " Yuh know, Avvneat, sometimes ah think just livin requires a cahllege degree !" There is being much wisdom in that remark. I am thinking of our beloved country where exactly opposite is happening- some times college degree is rendering you unable to cope with realities of life !
Driving test is being another nightmare. I am priding myself so much on my driving skill, but pride is taking big blow when I am flunking driving test twice. First time, driving test lady is asking me to parallel park, and I am knocking down flagpole. She is quickly asking me get out and go. Second time different lady (more patient) is telling me how I made such a dangertous maneuvre that I could have caused an accident. Each time I am itching to tell them, "aap pass to kar do, hum chai paani ka intezaam kar dein ge". Finally, it is being third time lucky. I tell you, I am really getting superstitious about this # 3. We are getting US visa on 3rd attempt. Our flight from Delhi- London is taking off on 3rd attempt. Our flight from London - Houston is also taking off on 3rd attempt. Surely there are lager forces at play than we can see.
I am also being perplexed by this American obsession with weekends. Approx. 50% of Friday evening is consumed by people telling each other "have a good weekend", or asking "what are your plans for the weekend ?" Then 50% of Monday morning is spent on asking "did you have a good weekend ?" and discussing what you actually did. How to describe to them that we spent the weekend by waking up a 11.00, eating aalu ka paratha (with low fat butter, if you are pleasing !), reading and lazing around. It has got to the point that this weekend the wife & I actually drove down to a nearby lake, not because we are wanting to see that particular water body, but only so that we are having something to talk about on Monday. We are now planning to do all American- like things like swimming, boating, and driving all over the countryside. Of course, if you are asking us, then in our heart of hearts we would much rather be in bed reading Jug Suraiya's column in the Sunday Times of India and complaining about the power cuts and about the "bai" taking too much chutti.
The sizes here are causing much boggling of the mind. Not of course, to be interpreted in Freudian manner (While on this topic, let me tell you that last week, I am being at loss for words when one lady is asking me one day how the India of Kama Sutra & Khajuraho is so conservative in daily life !! If any of you is having answer, please to tell me also). But I am talking of the size of all man made structures. First thing hitting you is the size of roads. Some of the highways (here they are calling them freeways) are being 5 lanes wide in either direction. In addition, they are having one lane on right for breakdowns and one on left for emergency services/ evacuation. Of course my Indian mind in wondering why they are not using the grassy strip also and making round figure of 8! Then there are the cars. Most people in Texas are driving truck. Even in Hewitt parking lot, you are seeing 25- 30% of all vehicles are trucks nearly the size of our bestselling Tata 407/ Eicher Canter, etc. After some weeks of living here I am realising why- here there is no "thela" or rickshaw for transport. If you are buying fridge or sofa or mattress or whatever, then you are jolly well carrying it yourself, otherwise paying $50- 70 for transport. I am reading of one interesting scheme in Newspaper (which we are buying only once a week because it is costing 75 cents) "Buy 1 Sealy mattress and get EITHER bed frame OR transportation free !" Our rental car (Dodge) is being slightly larger than the Honda City, but here it is in category called "mid- size" The Toyota Corolla we are buying is the size of the Esteem, and is in "Compact" category. I am wondering what category they are putting Maruti
800 in ?
I am having much merriment when one day the wife is telling me that she is getting lost inside a store. Then one day same thing is happening to me. Then I am knowing. One Woodlands Mall, I am thinking, is nearly the size of Sector 17 in Chandigarh. And you are remembering that The Woodlands population is only 60000 ?
So, brothers (and sisters) we are surviving in this land. How is the home country doing ? As they are saying here in America: "What's up with you ?" (One day one colleague is asking me "Hey Avvneat, what's up man ?" and I am responding "Well, the temperature is up 22% from 50 to 65 C, and the Dow Jones yesterday rose 150 points to 9990, but apart from that nothing is up." Since then, she is avoiding me like plague.)
Anyway, do write a note describing how your end is doing. If I live that long, I will send you another update after some time.