Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The Indian Summer in America

(This post comes with a reader warning in that it is really long and rambling. So beware! Other than that, on the title, see Indian Summer for the exact definition, although its context here is tweaked to suit a decent heading)

This post was long time coming. It is the obligatory post for a blogger who has spent a year in another place. Actually bloggers always look upon occasions or milestones as ideas for a new post. Idea droughts can happen to bloggers. Even the prolific ones who read 1000+ feeds a day. But this post is about me, just like many other posts in this blog, although I have been rather generous of late discussing real world issues. My purpose is to actually throw a little light on the experiences of a desi (grad student) in a foreign land - more specifically the US. These may be viewed by some other desi's looking to come stateside during the next few months, as tips or stuff to expect etc etc. However, what one shouldn't be expecting would be "tricks to get admission in You-Yes with 100% fully fundings (sic)" So there you go. Hope that's clear.

It's not even been a year since my arrival at the home of the free, but yet, I feel myself qualified to rant on a country that is so big! Yes, that is the first thing one gets to notice upon setting foot. Every thing is Big. From the cars, to the roads, to the supermarkets, to the vegetables, to every material thing. Okay we will get to the "small hearted folks" that inhabit the country later, although you must be careful before making such generalizations. Anyway, speaking of big, there are certain other factors that can colour your first impressions of the country, and prime among them will be your port of entry. Things were big to me here in Texas. But if you happen to land in New York, you may not get the same impression, especially for a person from Mumbai. The airport at Houston though was terribly disappointing. I won't say more.

However, the most shocking discovery that will hit you upon reaching an apartment is this: Toilet Paper. Now let me give a little background here. I am not new to the concept of toilet paper. It is very handy item in the toilet for umm... toilet activities. I was raised outside India for a good part of my life (in Bahrain) and there was always a hose pipe kind of a device that helped matters in addition to the toilet paper. Wherever one may be raised, the Indian mind (and bottom) is conditioned to think that only water cleanses best. A dry solution to cleaning body cavities can seem awkward to start with. So here's a heads up for those aspirants. A good one too, I assure you.

Of course not everything is as inconvenient as toilet paper. So here is a good one: Air-Conditioning. Everywhere you go, be it the class room, your labs, your apartment, your apartment's toilet (soothing eh? after the toilet paper shock) and your bus is centrally air-conditioned. It applies to heating in colder parts of the US that turn into central heaters during the winter. This helps making those walks in the hot sun to classes that much more rewarding. So I would like to bear the heat so that what I get after reaching the department is now the cold soothing breeze of the AC. But you might be tempted to ask: why walk all the way to class when there is air conditioning at home in the first place? Hmm... interesting thought, I say, but I guess attending classes for one might be the other reason for making that walk in the first place. (Sorry I forgot to mention that earlier!)

Supermarket chains Yeah, yeah, I know. Walmart is coming to India, India is going to be big power etc., etc. (Then why plan on coming here in the first place!) Walmart, H.E.B, Albertsons, Kroger, Aeropostale and the list goes on. These are chains of supermarkets that sell everything from pencil sharpeners to do-it-yourself-House kits. Yes this is where you spot those big vegetables I talked about earlier. There's not just big vegetables, there are also multi-coloured capsicums (oh yes I forgot, you call them bell-peppers here. Don't make that mistake when you step into a Subway. It makes you look like a jackass. Another heads up people!) You measure the vegetables and weigh them. The bad thing is you don't want to tell the cashier that you are willing to pay only $1 for a $2 crate of potatoes and begin to bargain with him/her. It might put them off and they might try to reason with you and talk to you politely. The more polite they try to be, the more irritated they are deep inside.(That's my opinion, not necessarily a heads up.)

TV and Hi-speed Internet Oh yes! My fingers were itching to get to this part that I disregarded some spelling mistakes made in the past sections. (Now don't go back! They are more differences in British and American spellings. Which has been an indecision I've lived with.) American TV with or without cable is mostly good. The shows that is. I am not talking of the advertisements and infotainments that make your daily blog spam on Nigeria scams seem like Pullitzer winning journalism reads. The odd ad campaigns come up once a while, but American ads suffer from trying to be funny in the intelligent sense. You what I'm saying? No? Never mind.

The internet on the other hand is hi-speed. And it means what it says on the box. It is fast. Very fast. Again don't give me the crap that India is going broadband and things are looking up and more regurgitated tosh. Yes to be fair, India is showing good ambition in the broadband sector and I remember pointing out to an article on Engadget about India introducing free hi-speed wireless internet or something. But I digress. The internet becomes such an important part of your life that a day without it gives you withdrawal symptoms. Make no mistake. I am going through such a situation at the moment. (This post comes to you courtesy my campus' wi-fi hotspot.) The other advantage of having hi-speed internet is that it slowly and systematically obliterates your need for, first your TV, and then for your need to have an outdoor life. I am a lazy person in general, so I may be the exception. But I am sure there are a lot of people of my kind around. Oh well!

Food and Fast Food Chains
Another thing that a person cannot miss. Fast food chains are everywhere. Vegetarians (like me) note, McDonald's is the worst place to be. Fast-Food is tempting and also fattening. Thin people like me don't give much of a damn. Your monthly expenditure on food chains are dependent on you earnings. Either as a student worker, or a graduate assistant, which in my case has driven me to eat out so often now that I need help with avoiding them totally. Anyway, this past two weeks I have stuck to a regime of eating only home cooked food. People, learn cooking. It is very important. And that was an understatement.

Shamelessly ripped off and mutilated sea-sickness to come up with that word. I will say this: if you are single back home in India, run around, party, send wild Orkut fransip requests while you still can. Things will be downhill after that. More so, with desi-grad students who will at best manage to get drunk and ogle at the umpteenth couple that crosses their path. It can make one sick. It is the herd mentality really. Being single is one thing, but seeing the rest of the world mingling freely can have a debilitating effect on morale. My heads-up counter goes to up to three so far.

No offence meant here to any religion. The thing is, when America says "In God we Trust" they actually mean it. Especially down south in Texas, you are overwhelmed by the Christianness. Religion is more a product here and the product loyalty here, at times, can be overpowering. As Colbert says, "I accept all religions to be equal in that they are under the supreme power of the Christ and the Holy Spirit." Patrix told me once, that in Georgia State's assembly, they start it off with a sermon from a priest. So much for being secular and trying to fight other countries run by religious bigots. These politicians are a scary lot. Their preaching can be so subtle that you would prefer fundamentalists at times. But well, people like us who have a rather friendly relationship with a friendly religion called Hinduism can watch the fun with heightened enthusiasm. Not that I am denying the obvious fallacies of those back home, but I also partly appreciate the ancient Hindu school of Pastafarianism. (Yes, the Flying Spaghetti Monster is a Hindu God. It appears in the Pasta-purana.)

Other than all this, the United States is a rather nice place to be. For one, there is a lot of life that is made easier here for us urchins. (The washer-dryer routine is nice too. Especially if it is in your apartment. And especially if you've led a hostel life back in India.)

I apologize if I didn't throw even a little light on academics and "100% full-funding" opportunities. There may be scope for that in another post for another day. I might even plan a part 2 for this. Yes there still is room for more ranting. Until then it's goodbye and some time for a little blog loyalty baiting here.
If you liked my rather brilliant post on life in the US you might want to come back and read more, or tell your friends around about this brilliant post of mine. Anyway, enough of that, you could subscribe to my feed though. I promise to feed you well! And to borrow from the American way, no trans fat in my feeds.


  1. I wouldn't say I hadn't expected such a post so am glad you finally got it all out and I can sense plenty of stifled rants within.

    Re:single-sickness, being connected constantly to the Internet is probably to blame :) unless you are 'socially-networking' and following it up in real life. And as far as air-conditioning goes, you haven't yet experienced the Texan summer but then you have lived in Bahrain so probably nothing new.

  2. It's nice to see you peppering your generalisations(?) with the Texas apology, for many a things you are talking about might be just that. Or southern/mid western at best:P
    Pasta-purana: nice touch:)

  3. [...] be paid for your efforts, you might want to click here and give it a shotFirst time readers, kindly head over to Part I to fully understand and appreciate the essence of this two part series (which could even extend to [...]

  4. Ahem, about the TP... use TP + baby wipes. You're welcome. :P