Where I was today, eleven years ago

9/11:  As the eleventh anniversary is upon us, I thought I would recount my 9/11 story.

September 2001. I was in eleventh grade, or First Year Junior College as we called it in Mumbai. I was checking my email on rediff.com on a cranky dial-up—which is irrelevant except to highlight that whole idea of checking email back then was to get-in, read, and get-out lest someone calls the land-line and I might have to start again.

Before I logged in, I read something like “Plane crashes into New York World Trade Center Building.” I didn’t click on it. I thought it was a tasteless joke by some writer who should not have followed his dream. When I was done, and I logged out, I read that the second tower had been hit.

I had never felt such horror. As everyone else, I was appalled by the loss of life, but what distressed me was the randomness of this brutality. This could hit anyone, anywhere. None of those victims provoked this. Their existence was unjustly halted—not to mention the loss to their loved ones.

My emotions weren’t nearly as complex as they are now, but I also remember this feeling of foreboding. Even before 9/11, we knew what terrorism was in India. We had faced bomb blasts and our constant friction with Pakistan meant that anybody in Mumbai could someday become a target. But America couldn’t be touched. No one would dare attack the USA. It would always be a beacon of the future, a vanguard of technology, and the truest practical representation of liberty in the real world. And it was strong. Call me naive, but it meant something that an almost-utopia existed.

Every anniversary of this fateful day, all I can think of is that no one is safe. Now, intellectually, I’m aware that the probability of dying from terrorism is minuscule compared to many other risks we take everyday. But I’m sorry; dying of lung cancer or heart disease or the complications of diabetes is not the same as a plane crashing into your building. Dying prematurely from an unsafe lifestyle is not the same as the existence of malicious people in this world who want to hurt us.

The impact of a terrorist attack is farther-reaching than any other calamity. It travels through time too. Not to take anything away from the victims or their loved ones or from the heroic firefighters, but on that day, we were all victims. At least a bit.

Related posts:

Today I’m thankful — Geminigirlinarandomworld

Remembering — Kitchen Slattern

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Profiled by Sweet Mother!

Dear readers,
My caption on Sweet Mother‘s blog was selected as one of the top three, and she gave me a Reggie profile! Thanks SM!

Sweet Mother

Before, I get started with my original post intention here, I want to make special note of someone.  Portia of AustralianPerfumeJunkies is also a Mother of a Caption winner with her killer joke, “I haven’t used one of these since I had my tits packed, Maria.  Thank God, we kept our c*cks.”  (It was so good, I needed to say it again.)  She opted to win my CD and not the Reggie profile, but I’d like to give her a mention, nonetheless.  Portia is a LOVE and feckin’ hilarious.  Every comment she leaves for me has me reeling with gales of laughter.  For example, did you know that in Australia sometimes they call the vag a MOOT??!!  No?  It gives the expression, “moot point,” a whole other delightful meaning!!  Well, Portia will inform you of such wisdom.  I am here to say that if Portia visits your blog, you are…

View original post 659 more words

Canadica est à venir!

Hey everyone,

Canadica, the blog started by Sweet Mother is having its grand opening tomorrow. Every week, it will feature posts by bloggers from Canada and the USA, and it will be a blast. That’s right—maple leaf meets apple pie, and universal health care meets just-don’t-fall-ill-okay.

Some of you who know me are thinking—but Bharat isn’t American (Or Canadian for that matter.) Well, I live in America, and Sweet Mother says that’s enough. Hear that, Mr. President?

Anyway, the list of writers includes famous names like Le Clown and RoamAboutMike and about-to-be-famous names like ‘yours truly!’ If you haven’t already heard the buzz and followed, do it now! It promises to be a whopper.

And dear readers, I apologize for not posting for some time now. I will be back soon, and not to toot my own horn but, it will be good.

Approached

This is my attempt to write a short story in the first person from a woman’s POV and in the present tense. I won’t be surprised if I’m bad at interpreting the feminine condition. Here goes…

 You’ll never catch me at a bar before 1 am. To do what—ripen other tomatoes by contrast? No thanks. Let the lawyers and stockbrokers make their withdrawals of the nines and tens. If I’m early, I’ll wait outside. A woman who sits too long at a bar un-approached takes a cab home, alone. I know my limitations and what they can fetch. You’ll say that I have a pretty face, but you’ll add that I’m not hot. Dolled-up, I turn a few heads with competition out of circulation. And I always wear high heels. They’re too conspicuous—they make me look short. Still, better than not being looked at. Whenever I put on makeup, I think how shallow I must be to give in to the standards of men. Do I really want the men who are all about height and tits and ass?

Who am I kidding? These are the men worth it. The others want the same stuff—they are just too cowardly to reach. Guess how many promotions and raises they get.

I make the last puff count. Living on twenty cigarettes per day is not easy—luckily it’s not true either. I pull out the Newports I save for emergencies. Newports, because if they were Marlboros I’d smoke them all before buying more. Even if I run, I won’t make it to 6th and 7th before Frankie leaves for the night. Frankie sells buttlegged cigarettes on 7th Avenue between 6th and 10th streets. He gets them from Virginia and sells them as loosies—one for seventy-five cents, two for a dollar. Because I have a pretty face, or so he says, he can let go of two packs for fifteen bucks. I know my pack-a-day habit isn’t healthy, but I don’t understand people who don’t smoke at all. The smell of a cigarette in the morning is my Starbucks. If only more people understood that, smoking wouldn’t have that stigma. People are so arbitrary about vices. Some habits are cool, others sin. But it’s not like I’m addicted. In Paris, I smoked fewer than ten in fifteen days, tired of asking Puis-je fumer ici? everywhere. Most people don’t understand that I don’t want to quit. To them, smoking is a pathology that people need to be socialized out of. Nobody thinks it’s impolite to drown someone in tales of doom as long as he’s dangling a cigarette. Try lecturing a guy on sodium as he’s about to eat a hot-dog. Speaking of which, the fat, black guy-at-the-door at Sehrgut is asking an obvious teenager what her sun sign is. Hey, if you have made up a sophisticated test for carding, at least update it now and then. He probably asked her mother the same question fifteen years ago. And it’s pointless too; the ones with the fake IDs have every detail memorized. I exhale upwards to avoid the menthol fumes—I hate smelling them and hate smelling like them.

I’m not carded when I enter Sehrgut at one fifteen. It doesn’t matter. I beat another woman in a polite race to the just-emptied empty stool at the far end of the bar. “Long time,” mouths the bartender. It’s deafening in here. He pours my Aventinus Eisbock into a glass, and immediately tilts his head and smiles when he remembers that I like pouring my own. It starts to get crazy. The bar plays Alicia Keys and Jay Z’s Empire State of Mind even though it’s so old, just so out-of-towners can go Newww Yawwrk. Only someone not from the city can enjoy that song. It irritates New Yorkers. Just like any other tribute to New York, it takes a piece of the city and hands it to outsiders to enjoy. As if they earned it. I start to pay, but the bartender waves me off, his fingers nearly knocking the credit card off my outstretched hand. “Compliments of…that guy,” I follow his finger with a smile ready, but my benefactor is already walking towards me.

“Hi. I’m Sam.”

“Meera. Thanks.”

“Sure. I’m from Chicago; here on vacation.” The stool next to mine becomes empty, and he is quick.

“Oh. I’m from here,” I say.

“That you are. The bartender clearly knows you. You’ve always lived in the city?” I can’t help but smile. He is awful at this. He is not bad-looking and seems sincere. But can he even taste his beer with gum in his mouth?

“I’m from here. But I moved back from DC a year ago.”

“Work?” he asks.

“Yup.” Not true, but no way I’m visiting that topic with a stranger in a bar. This type of situation always makes me uneasy. My pulse is making my wrist feel weird. His face rests on his fist as his elbow digs into the counter—he is trying to look casual. I’m worried that there will be a knuckle-impression on his cheek. Luckily, he switches topics and positions.

“You’re really beautiful, you know?”

“Thanks!” I say.  Amazing how he swooped for the kill. I had not figured him to be aggressive. At least he’s looking at my eyes when he is saying it. And it’s not 3 am—that’s when guys go for backhand cross-court winners.

“What do you do, Sam?” I ask, my turn to objectify him.

He said, “I teach Mathematics at the University of Illinois in Chicago,” his last words apologizing for his first. Anybody who expands the word math is probably too serious for me. Suddenly he looks closer to forty than thirty.

I persist. “Nice. I took some grad-level calculus in college.”

“As an undergrad? That’s impressive.” His eyes twinkle. Can eyes really twinkle? “Yeah. I had a crush on this math professor. I worked extra hard. He was impressed, and he asked me to take a few of his graduate courses. It was a fun couple of semesters.” I say.

“You mind if we go someplace where I don’t have to read your lips?” he asks. I haven’t even answered, but he is standing and offering me his hand like I’m stepping off a carriage not a barstool. Thanks Lancelot.

“I know a good place,” I say. There are over two hundred bars in the lower east side.

We walk a few blocks north of Houston to a half-basement. It is louder than Sehrgut in here. People jostle us as they’re walking in, walking out, finding a place to sit, and stealing chairs with jackets wrapped around them. A lady is singing in some Russian sounding language, and at least forty people clap in a place that should really hold twenty. The restroom line goes all the way to the front door.

“I’m sorry. It’s quiet on most days, and they make great vodka infusions,” I say.

“I guess everybody in Manhattan found out. No worries. I know a place.” We walk back to Houston past my favorite overpriced juice stall.

“Nice,” I say, “This can’t be your first trip to the city. How did you find this place?” I look at the dust on the shelves, the refrigerator with beers I can’t recognize, the menu written in chalk with common words deliberately misspelled, the lady behind the counter with all those tattoos, and the shelf with books so eclectic I wonder how their readers ever ate at the same place. The sign reads Leave a book, take a book.

“I found this place the last time I was in the city drunk at 4 am, which is to say the last time I was in the city. I was hungry.”

Interesting. Math geek who likes to get drunk and knows weird places to eat in the lower east side. We talk about this and that for an hour. I surprise him by describing Goldbach’s conjecture. He surprises me by saying that he has to leave early tomorrow morning for Chicago, and that he had fun. I take a cab home, alone.

Matters of taste

Idli & sambhar—Eh! Yes, I’m an apostate.
(nkhadtare.wordpress.com)

As a kid, I loved eating out. You could get me to do anything for dinner at a restaurant. That came out wrong.

Let me start again. It’s not like I was a gourmet—more a gourmand, really. Not that I was particular about cuisine either. Any place was okay. Except South Indian food. I was never a fan of dosais and idlis. Even today, I sniff and taste with a creased brow when friends call upon me as the token South Indian to critique their sambhar, but I’m always afraid of being exposed as a charlatan. Also, my mom cooked South Indian better than most restaurants, so all my cravings were satisfied at home. No, my desire to eat out wasn’t about being an epicure.

And it wasn’t so I could wear ‘outside’ clothes. This was years before I became fashion conscious—I used to wear any shirt and pants that floated to the top of the drawer. Nor was it about going somewhere by car—I was never one of those let’s-go-for-a-drive people. Drive to what, I’d ask. I wasn’t getting in a car without a flight plan. Going for a spin in the Maruti Zen seemed pointless. Maybe what floated my boat was to go to a nice place where I could order food instead of being told to eat or go to bed hungry. That seems probable.

This guy has most of my DNA now.

Sitting down to eat is the easy part, right? Well, you see, my dad loves outdoor seating. He finds it peaceful and natural. I still think that the mosquito-mafia of Mumbai had gotten him out of a jam once in exchange for sanguinary installments from his offspring. He rarely got his way though, what with the rest of us preferring air-conditioning to dengue. Not to mention the heat and the humidity. I chuckle when Americans comment on how spicy Indian food is while they’re helping themselves to chilli paneer in the New York winter. Try eating vegetable kolhapuri outdoors in the Indian summer. You’ll sweat so much, it will be the first time you tightened your belt after a meal.

But really, once you were on a comfortable chair and teased by the arctic outpouring of a quiet Voltas, what was not to like? There were clear glasses (instead of the boring steel tumblers we had at home), tablecloths, and cloth napkins that I spread on my lap—but only after tying them bib-like as practice for lobster dinners when I become rich and famous. (It’s happening, trust me. 2012 is totally my year.) Being called ‘sir’ by the waiter didn’t hurt, and nothing beats meat-eating under mom’s vegetarian scowl.

I can imagine what an embarrassing little turd I must have been—grabbing at the appetizers before the waiter set the plate down. Mom always had to bat my hands away so dad could get at least one bite of the chicken tikka. To a Tambram boy with herbivorous tradition, meat was shiksa-like. Luckily, the cultural embargo on all things slain ensured more meat for me. I remember welling up when my sister sunk her teeth into a piece of chicken and declared that she liked it. It was historic. All meat dishes smuggled home by dad would have to be shared. Still, I lied, cheated, and stole. My sister never found out that chicken lollypop came eight pieces to a plate. I always hid two pieces and very publicly divided the remaining six. I remember filling two glasses with Pepsi, topping the under-filled glass with water, and controlling my glee as she took the diluted, but ostensibly favored, glass. To be fair, my parents did ask me whether I wanted a sibling before trying. But it was hardly informed consent—I was three years old. So, while my kid sister was looking up to me, I longed for a sibling-free universe with routine stomach-aches from too many reshmi kababs.

A sibling, son, is someone who gets half of that.
(altiusdirectory.com)

I’d start to get depressed by the arrival of the main course. The naans were like Sunday to me. No, I didn’t misspell that. You see, I’m most comfortable with a buffer between the present and the work-week. I truly enjoy my Sunday on Saturday. And I knew that the main course meant the check was next.

The check scene at our table was always strange. Dad would scan it for a whole minute. (I think it began when some restaurant overcharged him in 1982. We knew better than to ask.) Only then would he pull out the Visa. I held my breath the first time he placed a credit card on the check and the waiter carried it away without enquiry. I remember asking him, “When the waiter gets that card, does he assume that you have paid?” (I was ready to bow to the plastic god.) “No beta, he makes sure that you pay,” was my mother’s wry reply. So you can imagine how long I was allowed to believe in Santa Claus.

Today, restaurants are as much about the conversation as the food. Also, the whole you’ll-get-sick-if-you-eat-out-a-lot adage doesn’t scare me anymore. At least restaurants have standards. My kitchen doesn’t have a Zagat rating.

But the fruit flies love it.

Hell no, I won’t grow!

The next guy who tells me about how some experience gave him personal growth is getting something sharp in his cranium. Seriously, blood’s going to pour out of his temporal artery. You know I mean it when I get mad anatomical with my death threats.

Why? Because it never ends there. Given male competitiveness, it turns into an arms race where each one feels the need to one-up the story. And it goes on and on until someone fabricates a coming of age tale where a plucky kid from Mumbai overcame his odds to win a million dollars on a game show in a country where we don’t count money in millions. All I want is to hang out with my friends and discuss guy-stuff. Just your average volleys of double-entendres and nothing too sensitive or soft; nerdy topics are welcome. Instead I get assaulted with this affirmation of adulthood, which often hides a plea for approval.

Most guys I know are comfortable with the ball-busting group dynamic where we pick on one guy and magnify his every imperfection. It’s immature. It’s caveman. It’s our way of sifting the herd for the weak link. So, that’s not four guys ganging up on one at McDonalds; it’s a test for vulnerabilities that we are better off catching here than in the wild—you know, the bar. But it’s familiar. It’s safe. We have come to expect it, maybe even enjoy it. But if well-enough was left alone, life would have been different. We wouldn’t have war and nuclear weapons, and Windows XP would still be the best operating system. (Okay, that last part is true. Not that I care.)

Once you go Mac…
(hslnews.files.wordpress.com)

Then someone goes ahead disrupts the equilibrium by showing us what a man he now is. Oddly, it’s often the same guy who used to turn a quiet evening of beer-drinking and cricket-chatter to a tequila-shot-drowned, vodka-infused, Jack Daniels chugging pukefest. You won’t believe it dude, when that kid grabbed my finger, I felt something. Yeah, you felt his fist. And then you returned the infant to his parents who will feed him at 3 am and hold his hand through rehab someday because grabbing that finger scarred him for life. But you will call this a paradigm shift and promote yourself from Jack Daniels to single malt to suit your current state of refinement. And we must follow along or cut you off like the gangrene that you are.

Half the time this whole personal growth or character-building bullshit is a band-aid for the most recent slight life has dished out. If so, that’s fine. It happens to everyone. Just don’t talk about it. It’s called rationalization because you do it to yourself. Selling yourself this crapola is hard enough. If you spread it around, daring others to refute it, you might just find out how many friends you really have.

Listening? Or staying awake by imagining you hanging on a meathook? (www.gogaminggiant.com)

I understand that when you watch Don Draper, who always had a mistress within Metrocard radius, walking around all mature-like, it’s understandable to regret the water-balloon fights and the time we faked a Harvard acceptance letter to mess with a friend’s head (He was so excited that he didn’t notice the w in Harward. Yes, I’m going to hell. More on that some other time.) In the animal world, prolonged eye contact means aggression, but among guys it’s just a staring contest to decide who will do a beer run. No one washes a dish after using it. We each fish ours out of the sink come dinnertime. That way, no one can shirk dishwashing. We order takeout because there’s no dishwashing before or after. But does that mean we are immature? I doubt it. We are just beta-testing adolescence at an age when we can appreciate it more.

If you ask me, it’s the hat. Without it, he’s a dumbass doctor on 30 Rock.
(hatsrcool.com)

The way I look at it, maturity is paying your bills and having more friends than enemies. Done and done. Saying I mustn’t say or do some things because I’m not a teenager doesn’t resonate with me. Who draws these lines? When your grandfather was your age, he had two children. Yes, but that’s because there wasn’t much to do back then. Procreation was recreation. Let’s see him being all nice and fatherly in his twenties with a House marathon on HDTV and an FiOS internet connection. Do you know what a high-speed internet connection does to guys? It’s like giving us our own set of breasts—a productivity killer. Let’s face it. Most of us are going to live longer than our grandparents did. Why can’t we do things a little slower then? There’s no empirical evidence that playing Medal of Honor Allied Assault reduces your ability to be a father. Well it kinda does, if the laptop gets really warm.

Keep killing ’em Nazis—That’s your only effect on the gene pool.
(4.bp.blogspot.com)

So I’ve decided to stay immature, by society’s definitions, that is. Every now and then, I’ll wear whatever I can lay my hands on. I’m religious about showering and deodorants, so don’t call the CDC just yet. But if someone walks into a joke, I’m not gonna be the bigger person and let it go. Your ass is gonna get ridiculed. It will make you a better person. Or not. I don’t know. It will make me a happier person. That’s for sure.

Whoever decided that 26 is too old for that’s-what-she-said jokes did not check with me. In fact, all those who feel that way should just admit it right now. Admit it so I can un-friend you and cut you off. Or deal with it in silence. And that includes dick jokes, funny rape jokes (NOTE—I did not say rape threats, and no, they’re not the same.), and every other joke conceivable.

Except the Aristocrats. That shit is nasty.

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1. Sartorial maladies

2. Corona with a twist of lime

3. Café speak

Giving in

This is a poem I wrote in 2008. Decided to reblog it!

Bharatwrites

I opened the door and went in,

With a guilt inexplicable within;

To get something I knew I wanted

By giving in to temptations undaunted.

The old lady saw me and smiled.

She knew I vacillated a while,

Knew how much I resisted coming,

And yet she knew what was forthcoming.

There was a finality in her glance

As if she knew I had no chance

Of limiting myself, of tethering myself,

Or ever winning a debate with myself.

She had an expression of disapproval

As if, since last time, I’d grown a soul

And decided against this path again.

She would oblige me but with disdain.

I told her what I was looking for

She sent me to a corner unseen before

I went obediently and stood aside

To let hedonism and resistance collide

With a clear winner, as always

Favoring satisfaction over malaise

I took what I wanted…

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Pish-Tosh

Daniel Tosh: Happy Thoughts

Put in context, that smile is scary. (Wikipedia)

I was at this open-mic once where a guy asked, “Ladies, would you let a vampire eat you out on your period?”

Funny? Not at all. Not to me.

Distasteful? Perhaps.

Permissible? Of course.

But when Daniel Tosh was joking about another surely distasteful topic—rape, he was interrupted by a heckler who yelled, “Rape jokes are never funny.” You know, because there exists a compendium of rape jokes, and she’s read them all.

He said, “Wouldn’t it be funny if that girl got raped by, like, five guys right now? Like right now?”

Here’s the girl’s experience in her own words.

So Tosh then starts making some very generalizing, declarative statements about rape jokes always being funny, how can a rape joke not be funny, rape is hilarious, etc. I don’t know why he was so repetitive about it but I felt provoked because I, for one, DON’T find them funny and never have. So I didn’t appreciate Daniel Tosh (or anyone!) telling me I should find them funny. So I yelled out, “Actually, rape jokes are never funny!”

The blogosphere and Twitter exploded calling Tosh everything from ‘not-funny’ to ‘threatening rape.’ As one would expect, he tweeted an apology.

It would have been fine if he had just generally joked about rape. What he said in response to the heckler was bad. It was almost a threat—however empty; in a way he was reminding her of her vulnerability. He should not have said it.

Tosh’s statement has been justified by some on the basis of free speech. That’s a ridiculous argument. No one doubts the legality of what Tosh said. We are only suggesting that as a civilized person, he shouldn’t have celebrated the prospect of a gang-rape.

But that doesn’t mean he was prescribing rape as a means of control. It was just a reaction. Consider his situation. You’re on stage, being judged every few seconds. Your style of humor is outrageous, and that is prone to backfiring. You’re setting up your joke, saying rape can be hilarious, the tension builds, you’re getting to your punchline, and a sanctimonious idiot from the crowd heckles you—and that’s what this woman was, make no mistake. She didn’t deserve what Tosh said, but let’s not, in our rush to castigate him, excuse her for what she did. It’s a comedy club. Not the Iowa caucus. If you don’t like what you hear, you walk out. You don’t weigh in. Heckling a comedian is a dick move, and you force him to smack you because it’s a top-down situation. If a comedian loses control of the room, he can’t be funny. You can’t expect someone to go easy on you when you’re screwing with his job.

“It might not have been the reaction he was expecting, but he had to expect a reaction” — Vincent Vega, Pulp Fiction.

A comedian’s insulting response is based on many things. If he can’t see you—which he can’t if you’re beyond the first couple of rows because of the stage lights (don’t ask me how I know)—he can’t joke about your height, weight, clothes, or anything else that’s politically correct. He has a split second to come up with something to rub your nose in the ground, and sadly, what came to Daniel Tosh at that moment was an unfortunate set of words. Should he apologize? Yes. Is he the villain of the piece? Come on!

English: Daniel Tosh at Boston University

Look at that innocent face (Wikipedia)

Let’s consider something else here. George Carlin once responded to a heckler with, “Will somebody please put a dick in that man’s mouth? Cause that’s what he wants.” People just laughed. Could he have said that to a female heckler and gotten away with it? Similarly, if Tosh had said about a male heckler, “What if that guy got raped by five guys right now? Like right now?” Would it have been this inflammatory? No. Nor are all those castration jokes I’ve heard getting big laughs in comedy clubs. But it’s wrong to point that out. It would dilute the indignation of those treating this story as a referendum on rape jokes.

So while this woman has our sympathy, let’s not make her out to be some martyr. She hasn’t dedicated herself to the cause of women. She’s just someone who interrupted a comedian because she didn’t like his act. And now that Tosh has apologized, perhaps we should forgive him.

Liberalcynic is now bharatwrites.com

Hi, all

I’ve recently decided to attach my name to what I write—not to mention finding out that I now make an extra $26 per year. So, naturally, the new domain name was born. You’ve all been redirected to bharatwrites.com, and this is what it’s gonna be from now on.

No need to update your subscription statuses. WordPress promises me it will carry you all forward. You wouldn’t have to lift a finger, something I would appreciate.

Thanks for reading, and keep reading.

Cheers

Bharat (formerly known as liberalcynic)

Of Elvis and Green Cards

He’s relevant, really. (Wikipedia)

“Excuse me, do you have a light?”

I was asked this while walking around one evening, a month after I came to America. I replied that I didn’t have any matches or lighters. The question was presumptuous because I wasn’t smoking. She was middle-aged and sat on her stoop tapping a cigarette on her pack as I examined my face for wrinkles and wondered if my breathing sounded like emphysema. She regarded me for a few seconds and said nice evening or something. I look Indian enough, and Indians are almost one-sixth of the world’s population, so I allowed myself some annoyance when she asked which part of Pakistan I was from. I corrected her. She apologized, but with a look of close enough.

India has symmetry. And theirs is out of scale, astronomically. (1.bp.blogspot.com)

“What do you do?” she asked.

“I’m a grad student at St. John’s.”

I knew how this dance went. First I say that I study pharmaceutics and then they say, “Oh, pharmacology!” While I was explaining the difference and ignoring the beads of sweat near my ears, I was offered some lemonade. I said no thanks; she shrugged and smiled. Always taught to decline first and relent after persuasion, the withdrawal of her offer seemed sudden to my Indian eyes. But clearly the American way was to state what one wanted, and take others at their word—a little crass, I felt, but refreshingly candid. She wasn’t done being candid.

“When you get your degree, you gonna go back, or stay here and try to get a green card?”

“I’m not sure. Depends on the job-market I guess.”

“If you stay, does that mean your parents are going to move here too?” she asked.

This was 2007—not everybody’s shit had hit the fan—and it was understandable for some Americans to think of their country as a large zero-sum pizza, where more immigrant families meant less for everyone. Actually, I liked her honesty. It’s like America was her teenage daughter, and she wanted to know my intentions. Far more respectful than the oh-we-are-glad-to-have-you-here-if only-American-kids-studied-science-as-much-as-you platitudes. I was honest. I told her that my mother couldn’t see herself leaving India, but my dad was amenable. A half-belch-half-grunt came from inside the house. There was a guy in her living room—I’m guessing, her husband. He didn’t look at me once as he was engrossed in a game I still can’t call football.

How did Americans come up with ‘Get the ball rolling.’ (eslpod.com)

“Looks like he’s engrossed in the game,” I said.

Trust me, when you suffer from an Indian accent, and have to repeat every other word, words with three consonants in a row like engrossed are to be thought, not spoken. America may have a lot of foreigners—you’ll meet most in New York—but you can spot an Indian a mile away. Of course you can, he looks Indian. But he’s also the guy who’s over-pronouncing consonants to wash his accent off, scrubbing harder than Lady Macbeth. You won’t see a Français or a Brit doing this. Their accents are sexy. Why do you think they like to get together with their kind so much? To preserve their accents. Indians in America treat other Indians like rival drug-runners pushing on their corner. (People understand me better now—it’s been five years—but I still pronounce ‘w’ like a German.)

English: Adolf Hitler

Even he sounded better than me. And that’s not fair. (Wikipedia)

“Did you hear a lot about America, in Bombay?” she asked, ignoring my statement.

How do I explain to her what America is to non-Americans? The roads looked so clean in the movies that as a kid, I thought Americans walked barefoot. USA was the Narnia where money grew on trees and everybody sat around a fire chatting about how good they have it—taking breaks to wind their clocks back or forward an hour—and they all talked funny. And their movies had real people kissing instead of the images of actual birds and bees native to 90s Bollywood. And the strangest disposal tools. Whenever my uncle visited India, dad told us to put out a roll of toilet paper for him. Why can’t he use the bidet shower spray, I wondered. Maybe Americans don’t like their asses getting wet. Perhaps dry buttocks were the symbol of Western opulence. But I didn’t want to come on too strong with how enamored I was.

“Sure. We get most of your TV shows, and we like Hollywood movies,” I said.

“And sports? Do you guys play the same stuff we play? I’m a huge football fan.”

“Well, mostly cricket. That’s what most Indians care about. I grew up playing it.”

“What about the skin flute?” the belching grunter asked from inside.

“I’m sorry, what?” I said, as the woman started giggling.

“The skin-flute, I’ve been playing that since the fifth grade,” he said.

“I haven’t heard of it. It’s a musical instrument, right?”

Their laugh still echoes in my head whenever my brain makes the you-are-such-a-loser powerpoint presentation in case I get too optimistic.

“Ignore him. What about music? Do you get our music?”

I had to be careful. Admitting that I owned two Backstreet Boys CDs had gotten me picked on for an hour the other day—by a girl. I had saved myself, not convincingly, by blaming my sister. Just like I blamed the France ’98 for my liking Ricky Martin (The cup of life, ole ole ole…nobody?). Next trip to India, I’m dumping them along with the Spice Girls albums. (Seriously, who am I to ridicule the Bieber/Perry/Swift fanboys and fangirls.) I decided to stay vague.

Elvis Presley, 1973 Aloha From Hawaii televisi...

Hunka hunka burning green card (Wikipedia)

“Sure. American music is popular in India; mostly in cities.”

“What about Elvis? Do you like Elvis?”

“Sure. My dad’s the fan though. He likes Elvis and Englebert and Neil Diamond.”

She got excited and proclaimed, “If you like Elvis, you’re cool.”

By that scale, I guess I’m kind of cool. Amazing huh? Getting a full scholarship to grad school is great, but as far as assimilation goes, it pales in front of a man in a jump-suit who liked prescription drugs. Whatever works, I guess.

“Actually, I’d love some of that lemonade.”