The night before Babbu’s wedding

A sea of beautiful brown skin. Some bare-feet, others testing their newly bought shoes on the dance floor, dancing away with Kesha’s ‘Tick Tock’ song blaring through the whole house. The young, the old, the guys, the girls – all mingled up in the mood for a party, setting up their own pace. Loud music, louder commotion. Kids running all over – a complete chaos. Everyone is lost in the moment.

Every now and then, a car pulls up to the front of the house dropping off new guests. Tomorrow is a big day for the Gill family. Their only son Babbu is getting married.

By the time the sun touched the western horizon, the house is all packed full – to the limit. More guests trickle in – from as far as India, London and Vancouver. For a two story bungalow, the full blasting air-conditioners cannot subside the heat and smell – the smell of perfumes, sweets, masala, incenses and liquors… all mixed together.

The house in Brampton is a short drive from the Toronto airport. Raj – Babbu’s cousin, has been to the airport three times already, picking up the relatives as they arrive from all over the places. He is the most excited about his fourth trip, however. His three cousins from England are arriving next, the cousins he has not seen for a long time.

As the dusk turns into an early night, a black stretched limousine pulls to the front of the house. It is a part of the night-out planned for the groom and his passé. One last time, Babbu is going to enjoy his ‘single’ status before shackling down into the married life. The limo driver steps outside the driver seat, polishes the already clean windshield with a black cloth, like a ritual. Then he lights up a cigarette, while some of the elders watch him with a look of disapproval.

The groom and his passé of five friends get to the limo. Continue reading “The night before Babbu’s wedding”

After-school daycare

“I don’t wanna go to the daycare after school”, she had told her mom before the bed time.
“We will pick you up soon after you get there. I promise.” Mom tried her usual trick.
“Yous said the same yesterday!”
“I promise, I will remind your dad to make sure!”
“I don’t like it there.”
“I am sure you will make new friends.”
“I already made two new friends – Hailey and Shira,” she said in a less complaining, and more of a bragging tone.
“See, I told you! Now get some sleep.”
“Goodnight mom. Love you.” As if she already forgot the quarrel from moments ago.
“Goodnight Isha, love you too.” She gave her a big kiss and tucked her in for the night. Continue reading “After-school daycare”

A lesson in American History

“Hi dad, him mom…I am home!” She shouted as she slammed the front door behind her.
Her dark hair combed back into two pigtails, she was wearing an light blue frock with long navy blue socks. She carelessly shook off her back slip-on shoes next to the thick door-mat that had ‘welcome’ written in the middle.
“Good! How was your day? You look tired!” He lowered the TV volume to almost an inaudible level. He sat up straight, make room for his little daughter.
“It was okay. I still don’t like it here!” She said, putting down her heavy school bag against the sofa.
“It’s normal Riya! Did you make any new friends?”
“Not really, all the white kids call me ‘the Indian girl’” She slumped into the sofa next to her dad.
“That’s because you are new; they are not used to it” He said encouragingly.
“I love ‘American History’ class though. The teacher was so happy with me!” there was an excitement in her voice again. Continue reading “A lesson in American History”

Loving the life in Canada

The sweat – she wipes her forehead. The wait – she is agitated and annoyed. She is not used to this sort of life.

She waits in the line for 30 minutes before the Brampton Employment Centre opens. Once inside, there is more wait. She slumps in a chair after taking her number, waiting for her turn.
She is a people-person, but everything around her seems to annoy her today. She is tired of fruitless job search.

The place is crowded, all kinds of people around her. Two women sit in the front row, giggling and filling up an application form. A group of middle aged men stand nearby, with work-boots on, as if ready to start some construction job right away. A young mother sits next to her, the infant toying with the milk bottle.
“They did not have any openings last week”, the young mother says, trying to make a small talk, and then adds quickly, “Hi, my name is Kari!”
“Hi, I am Jassi.”
“So you are local!” Kari blurts quickly, as if she does not seem to belong there.
“Sort of, but I have been in Canada only for a few months.”
A long silence; the baby starts to suckle on the bottle nipple, “There are no jobs in accounting in Brampton area!”
“Really?” Jassi pretends to care. Continue reading “Loving the life in Canada”

Chumma Stuff

Neal had a biology exam that day, right after the lunch hour. From the very minute he walked into the cafeteria, he was in a rush.

The place was crowded, more than usual. Looking for a place to sit, he scanned the whole sitting area. That’s when he saw an empty spot next to her.

She was sitting alone, lost in her own world; eating and reading at the same time.

Their previous interactions were brief, nothing more than ‘hello’, ‘hi’ or ‘how are you’? He mostly saw her in the library, sitting in a corner, minding her own business, always busy with her books. Sometime she would sit alone but most of the time, her American friends surrounded her.

There were only a few Indian girls on the college campus, Henna was one of them.

“Hi Henna”, he said, approaching the vacant seat.

“Hi, how are you,” she said with a subtle smile. Her eyes went back to the book after a quick greeting. Continue reading “Chumma Stuff”

Happiness outsourced

Like a kid in a candy store. I stood in his driveway and stared at the big beautiful house. An artistic combinations of stone and white marble stands out. The large glass windows are tastefully embedded all over – like in a palace. A manicured front yard and a professional landscape add to the appeal.

His corner-house sits in one of the upper-scale and most affluent residential areas of West Chicago suburbs. As I walked inside the double-door entrance with marble sidings, I quickly realized that the inside of the mansion is even more impressive and prettier that outside view. There are large bifurcating staircases leading to the upper storey; there are multiple bathrooms on the main floor; the open ceiling concept has a catwalk that overlooks the family room; the kitchen alone is bigger than a decent size luxury apartment. If you look at the size of house, you would think that some millionaire lives here. Continue reading “Happiness outsourced”

Unmourned Death of a Mother Tongue

The dusk crawls on the suburban town of Fairfield. The evening chill of February is starting to sting on his wrinkled hands.

Arjun sits on the park bench, watching over his grand-daughter playing on the swings.
“Let us go now, Pooja” he paused, “It’s time to go home”. He speaks broken English, with Indian accent. Over the years he has adapted to the foreign tongue, the only language his grand kids understand.
“Not yet Grandpa! Can you push my swing please – one more time,” says the little girl with big black eyes, as she struggles to keep the swing going.
“We have to go now, Pooja; the sun is going down.”
“It’s still light. One more push grandpa, please!”
Her delay tactics continue; she is winning every round of the exchange, or he is letting her.

After a few more swings and a long bargaining, they finally walk off the park. She skips along the sidewalk; their long silhouettes dragging behind them. Continue reading “Unmourned Death of a Mother Tongue”

Maanji and the computer

He bows; bending down to touch his grandma’s feet – to show respect. Her wrinkled hand shivers,  reaching out to his head, to bless him.

The tears moisten their eyes. They embrace and hug, standing outside the gate of the haweli. The driver pulls two suitcases out of the trunk of the car, dragging them into the house.

“How was the flight?” she asks in a weak yet firm voice.
She speaks in pure Punjabi – the only language she has ever spoken in her 80 years of a well-lived life. She has not been to big cities, unless to attend some wedding, or a funeral. Her daily world is limited to the few streets of her village, or up and down the family farm.

She is happy, like a kid admiring their favorite treat. Her favorite grandson is home, after so many years.

“The flight was good”, he replied. He looks around to take a stock of the dramatically changed neighborhood.

“You look old. The 5 years have aged you more than a decade” Continue reading “Maanji and the computer”

Abroad, You never feel at Home

Yes, it happened; it was bound to happen. I ran out of ideas.
I ran out of ideas to write about. Not that my previous ideas were too special or too brilliant. Even the brilliant idea from last night – writing about a new-comer’s experiences – was very ordinary.

She is new student I recently ran into – my new idea. From her experiences in America, I was hoping to get some new material for my blog.

“So how do you like in America?” I asked eagerly, hoping for a long story.
“Ah, it’s not all that bad, just about the same as I expected,” Dismissively, she said in a monotone.
“So, what is it that you don’t like it here, or dislike the most,” I rephrased the question, hoping to get something more.
“It is not much different; about the same as I expected,”

She was not helping out.
I paused. It cannot be; it is a new country, a new place across the ocean.
“How about the language?” I pressed on.
“No, I speak English at home in Bangalore. I can speak many languages, but English is what we use the most.”
“Wow”, I did not know what else to say. In reality, I was more disappointed than surprised. Continue reading “Abroad, You never feel at Home”

A father’s Pride

The Air Canada airline captain continued with his announcement:
“….. We have started our descent into Toronto Pearson airport…please have your Customs and Immigration papers ready along with your passports….”

An Indian flight attendant, who knew by now which passengers didn’t understand English, walked over to Nehal and his wife Geeta, and translated the announcement. His casual Punjabi attire with a loose turban and her bland Punjabi suit  stood out among the mostly white passengers …a couple out of place,
He had already checked his passport and rest of their possessions. He repeated this ritual of self-assurance many times during the flight. It was his habit – to worry, to double check everything and check again.
“Look outside Geet”, he nudged his wife, probably 10th time in last 6 hours announcing the same observation, “We are flaying over the clouds.” He had always called her Geet, instead of Geeta. She did not like flying at all. Half scared and half asleep, she ignored him.
“I always knew our son will do great”, he said, trying to start a conversation, his voice filled with pride,
“What is great about dividing up the family across the oceans? We get together only when someone is getting married or when someone dies” she quipped
“Raj is probably waiting for us at the airport already,” he continued, ignoring her response.

Nehal, a middle class farmer had spent a better part of his married life raising his only son. He always wanted Raj to be ‘something big’, something that he couldn’t be – may be a doctor, or an engineer, or a captain…he could never make up his mind. His favorite time-pass was day dreaming, day dreaming about his son being a ‘big shot’.

“I hope he is in good health, he used to get so sick when he was little” Geeta said.
“He was always in good health; you just ran to the doctors even if he would sneeze.” He said with a chuckle.
“A mother’s heart…” her unfinished sentence was so complete; he knew what she meant, and how much they adored Raj as a little kid.

To this day, both of them remember all the doctors’ visits they made for Raj, when he was little, some in the middle of the nights. She used to pray all the time in the waiting room of the hospital; and he would watch the doctors, imagining a grown-up version of his own little kid. Most of the time he did not understand what the doctors or nurses said to each other; it was half English mixed with half Hindi. The diagnosis in the end always used to be  something minor – a common cold, a simple rash, or mosquito bites…
“Thank God, for listening to my prayers”, she would always say after a doctor’s visit with her face toward the sky, speaking to the God directly.
“One day my son will speak English like that doctor, may be better” used to be a typical response from Nehal…. Continue reading “A father’s Pride”

Walking… in someone else’s shoes!

Treading the American suburbs, desi style

Like a Swiss watch, her timing is always perfect. Just before the sunset every evening, she appears from the far end of the sidewalk, turning the corner.
The sound of autumn leaves rustling under her shoes announces her arrival. The shiny white Adidas shoes seem a bit too big for a woman of her height – about 5ft. 3 inches tall. Nonetheless, the clean and bright shoes always stand out, treading the sidewalk, crushing the freshly fallen leaves off the maple trees along the path.
Always looking straight without turning her head, she walks with a constant and quick pace, the gait unruffled and strides undaunted.
There are always kids playing in the front yards of the houses she passes by, some riding their bikes along the same sidewalk. There is a lawnmower going here and there, everyone busy with trivial outdoor stuff. With all the activities going around her, she never look around to watch others, or to say hello, or just to acknowledge the surroundings. As if the rest of the world does not exist. She never strays from the side-walk, as if she owns it. She walks past everybody without a flinch, without a gesture.

She does not look aloof; she pretends not to be superior- looks like she just wants to focus on her walk. The residents -mostly white families- chat with their neighbors across the yards, casually looking at her and then at each-other.

“Hey honey, look who is coming again”, announces a young mother in her front year, cradling a baby in her arms.
“I know Tracy, shush; she can heart you!” he looked up, taking a break from raking the leaves off the driveway.
“No seriously Steve! Look, she is going to ignore us again today”
“May be she is just shy!”
“She probably doesn’t speak English,…Where you think she is from?”
“Don’t know; may be Pakistan or Turkey, or somewhere else in the Middle East.”
“You think she can belly-dance? She doe not look the type!”
“She can hear you!” Continue reading “Walking… in someone else’s shoes!”

Khao, pio, aish karo!- Eat, drink, enjoy life!

In search of…’Khao, Pio, aish karo!’…abroad!

Let us eat and drink: for tomorrow we diet. ~Wendy Morgan

We all know the basic Indian Mantra of daily life- ‘Khao, pio, aish karo!’ : Eat, drink, enjoy life!
Many of us live by this simple but profound philosophy. Growing up, whenever in doubt, we have often taken shelter under the wide umbrella of this slogan!
Since landing in America years ago, I always wanted to find out if this desi mantra ‘Khao, pio, aish karo!’– ‘Eat, drink, enjoy life’, applies overseas as well. To satisfy my curiosity, I needed to find a swamy or a guru, who knew it ALL; someone with ultimate knowledge of life and its principles. That is how I stared my personal journey to look for a divine saint full of wisdom to answer this basic question. 🙂

I always thought that such a deep and thoughtful slogan has to be backed by some Indian religion. I was almost certain that it was from some ancient guide; perhaps a part of Lord Krishna’s preaching to Arjuna during the great battle of Kurukshetra….
So I went to see a pundit at the local Hindu temple. I was not surprised to see him sitting on a small dais with a laptop next to him. After the simple greeting and some chit-chat about Google versus Bing, I popped the question:
“Khao, pio, aish karo! – is the slogan from the Hindu religion?”
He laughed at first. After realizing that I was serious, he started to search something online. I could not wait to be enlightened, but I did not want to interrupt him and his thoughts…
Finally he spoke, “Nope”
“Are you sure?” I was disappointed.
“I swear by the holy book Gita, your so called mantra is not in there”, he sounded serious.
“It has to be in there!” I insisted as the priest shook his head again.
“No, it is not” He repeated.
“So, what should I do?” I was losing my faith.
The priest got closer to me and whispered, with a smile, “Khao, pio, aish karo!”
Bewildered, I walked away. Continue reading “Khao, pio, aish karo!- Eat, drink, enjoy life!”

Brown vs. Brown!

It was late evening of Midwest summer – hot and humid month of May. I was running a few errands. My last stop was a local grocery store, just to pick up milk and some fruits before heading home. Already a long day, but winding down!

The line at the grocery store was long, but moving quickly. The whole process of check-out was quite robotic, like an assembly line – the customer stepping up with the items to purchase, the clerk scanning the items, the customers sliding the credit card through the card reader, signing the digital pad, collecting the items along with the receipt, and leaving. And, then next customer, same steps.

The clerk, the name-tag confirming his Indian ethnicity, was quick and efficient at his job.

At my turn, I stepped forward and followed the same sequence. As my grocery items got scanned and bagged in no time. I slid my American-Express through the card-reader, getting ready to leave as soon as the clerk would hand me the receipt.
No receipt. Instead, out of nowhere, the clerk politely interrupted the flow of the line, “Sir, can I see your card and an ID?”   Continue reading “Brown vs. Brown!”