Sunday, August 27, 2006

On a day out

As most people who are even faintly acquainted with me will know, I can be the laziest of guys - thats nothing new. People who know me a little better - will also know, that at the wierdest of times and places I can be possesed by an energy of a maniacal nature. It was this energy that made me plan and execute succesfully, an insane and- in hindsight- extremely dangerous, 45 Km bicycle ride from Pilani to Jhunjhunu on a pleasant October night - it took us all of 8 hours to reach Jhunjhunu and 5 hours to return the following night. That ll make some story for a later blog perhaps - when I need to look back and find material.

It had been an extremely lazy saturday, at one point I remember feeling too lazy to take bath - the whole day was spent reading the surprisingly slow "Bourne Supremacy", listening to some good ole Symphony and Metallica music, and hogging on the ready to eat chicken I stock my refrigerator compulsively with.

Anyway, I had been pretty disgusted with myself and my whole attitude towards America so far. I pride myself in being something of an explorer, and all the days I had spent in Buffalo, NY so far have spent shuttling on the same old routes and university buses. This was fueled not to a small extent by my paranioa of this country, largely fueled by the mass media. As my previous post testifies - I had decided to find out on my own.

And therefore when sunday morning arrived, I woke up with a determination to go do some explorin' in downtown Buffalo. Over a breakfast of surprisingly filling chocolate chip muffin and orange juice, I pored over the Lage Scale map of Buffalo provided to us by the university at our orientation. Orientations, by the way, are as inane and pointless and boring in the US as the yare back home. To top it off I got charged and hefty bill of 85 dollars!!! All in all, the map was the only useful thing I gleaned from the orientation.

The map told me precious little about downtown Buffalo. I brushed all the efforts made by my roommate and some of my newly gained friends to pull me back and visit with them a temple on the holy day of Ganesh Chaturthhi , firmly aside. Bought a $ 3.50 all day round trip ticket on the subway and was on my way.

The Buffalo subway runs, about 3/4 of the distance underground, when it runs more like a conventional metro train, the acceleration and deceleration immense when in the vicinity of stations. However, the rest of the distance it runs on the street, and instantly turns into what reminded me forcefully of the Trams in Calcutta - complete with something similiar to a rickshaw bell ringing to warn pedestrians of it s coming. The good thing though, is that the street on which the train runs has no Traffic allowed on it. I got off the train on the first "over ground" station - called Theatre. As soon as I got off the train, a feeling of foreboding overtook me - the streets were deserted - something like the streets you see in Hyderabad or Bangalore at an ungodly hour of the night. There was literally nobody in sight - it felt like a proverbial ghost town or perhaps - a movie set that I had stepped into.

I was in the theatre district of Buffalo, as the name of the station suggested. All around me were hoardings advertising the latest attractions - among others I recognised "Rent". As I had expected, all the theatre houses were to remain closed on a sunday - any way i started walking. My plan was to walk down Main street, the street with the train lines, venture a little out into either side of it and eventually reach Lake Erie, which seemed to me, from my map of course, where Main Street came to its end.

Well, it was a superb experience, and an introduction to the city where I will in all probability spend the next 1.5 -2 years of my life. Along main street I came across some magnificent monuments, mentionable among them the Salvation Army Monument, The Niagra Square with the immense City Hall overlooking it (the hall and its observatory were closed for the day sadly) and the Liberty Building. I was surprised to find that two of the most immense structures in the city were infact homes to the two biggest banks of the city M&T and HSBC - i guess that says something. Anyway, on my walk down Main and a few of its byroads, I came across several beautiful churches, picturesque parks with old men feeding pigeons and some very pleasant people. The streets were still pretty deserted, but something in my head told me that I was overreacting - being used to the crowded places back home. I recently heard an American lady say that Americans feel intimidated when someone stands too close to them. I had learnt about habitat in my class 8 biology - I just had no idea it applied to such an extent to Humans as well.

As I kept walking my map informed me that I was closing in on lake Erie - I went past the HSBC arena, home to the Buffalo Sabers hockey team, and was astonished to see what was marked in my map as Buffalo Skyway. It was road abound 20 Stories above the grounds, held aloft by steel and concrete. I tried to imagine what would happen if one the vehicles speeding on it were to lose control and bump over the ralings. The effect, in my imagination, was catastrophic - I am sure the ever-fertile minds of Hollywood will soon bring it onto the big screen.

I had in the meantime, reached what could be called the "Harlem" of Buffalo - there were run down houses and shanties with paint sprayed over them on one side of the road, and on the otherside was a Naval refuse yard. I counted 5 fighter jets, one wrecked helicopter and huuuge battle ship rusting away in it. Quite a memorable scene. The map called it "Buffalo Naval Park". Euphemistic - it was more like a Naval Graveyard.

To my dismay, the road on my map, and the one I was on seemed to take a turn away from the direction of Lake Erie, into a locality that appeared more and more decadent and deserted. I decided I had had enough, I had left the last train station far far behind, and decided to begin the long trudge back to it.

I got on a train to the university in 20 minutes time, and sat back on my seat satisfied, I would reach Lake Erie on another day.

I have seen quite a bit of Buffalo today - and am begining to understand this country a little better.

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

A cliche'

Well... I have become a cliche'. I am now one of the millions of young Indian students who cross the "seven seas" and look for their fortunes in the distant land, whose name only looks the way it should, when lit up in disco colours - USA - the land of opportunities some call it.

I had heard about this cliche' before - there are so many back in India "The vegetarian and strict Tam-Bram", "the Pseudo intellectual super emotional Bong", "the wannabe MTV generation"..i could go on and on... I was safe in the knowledge that I would never be any of these. Well - this security blanket has been pulled away. It hit me - on the flight to the USA, a good old Air India flight - where the air hostesses are pleasantly rude..and the landing reassuringly bumpy. The guy sitting next to me was an employee of TCS going to the US for the first time. Having consumed my second lunch for the day - I was about to settle into a pleasant slumber when the guy next to me thrust his hand out. "Hmmmpphhh" I thought - being the unsociable grouch that I am. Surely and not so slowly, the guy started outlining his plans for the future to me. He was apparently looking at buying a petrol pump in the US and starting his own petrol pump fleet business. He had apparently overheard during a coffee shop conversation that this is a sure shot way to get rich and famous in the US. It was like reading a passage from Amrit Mathur's "The Inscrutable Americans" - but horror of horrors - I was a character in the story - a cliche' used by the author to get his story going. Anyway, in the meantime the future "petrol pump king of the east" - had announced to me that he wanted to meet Bobby Jindal. Bobby who??....I blurted out before I could stop myself. Call me shockingly ignorant of "World Affairs" but show me one american who knows or gives a shit about Madhavrao Scindia..or Jagat Singh...or Phoolan Devi. The eyes were opened saucer wide - "KYA Yaar...u havent heard of Bobby Jindal???He is very close to Bush yaaaaar!! I want to meet him as soon as possible" All I could manage was a "?????!!!!!".

Yenyways.... I also realised that had I not come to the US, I would have never realised how much Hollywood had influenced my idea of the place. As I started, with increasing frequency, interacting with Americans - I realised how prejudiced I had become. I constantly expected some racial slurring, or to see african americans with impossible hair-dos, or to see a gun toting beer guzzling redneck rushing at me in a mad fury. It hasnt happened yet....and god knows I have kept my eyes open.:)

I am still getting used to the place and its very many different kinds of people - and have realised that I have to wipe the slate - scribbled on my Hollywood movies, TV sitcoms, Newspapers, Bestsellers...several others besides- clean and start writing on it on my own. It will take some time until this takes sizeable proportions - and until that time I will refrain from comment.

I am constantly reminded of something I had read somewhere a very long time ago - it sums up to " 99% of what people tell you about anything, is hogwash. Go out there and find out for yourself".

Am I on my way to becoming a cliche'? - I surely hope not.