The Indian culture has such divine forms of Art in it. I sincerely hope that I am mistaken, and even in this impatient fast moving world, certain beautiful things will never diminish.
Wednesday, August 18, 2010
Tuesday, August 10, 2010
Well, it’s been almost half a year since I moved to the US from India, and I continue to marvel at the differences between the two countries. I guess, I am about to say what every Desi who comes to this land goes through.
The first thing that hit me in a week was the number of conversions I kept doing to get my perspective right. Fahrenheit to Celsius, Miles to Kilometers, Pounds to Kgs, Ounces to Grams, Dollars to Rupees, Gallons to liters… I know we are used to the difference in the spellings now, with due thanks to Bill Gates who points out not coloUrfully but colorfully in red and all of a sudden I was flummoxed when everyone resorted in India to saying XYZeee instead of XYZed that I had learnt years back! Here even the switches get turned on the wrong way..On is up and Off is down!
Our local beggars endeavor to be as pathetic as possible singing sad songs in pathetic voices and generally making everyone feel guilty about being better off. Believe it when I tell you, here beggars wear weird costumes and have smirks on their faces with placards which say ‘Gimme $5 for a glass of beer!’ or ‘I need my Dope’ or sit with a dirty dog with a placard saying ‘Help me care for my dog’ and yes, they mutter maybe ‘Ass****’ at each person, loud enough to hear if you pass them without giving them anything. Local train beggars aren’t dissimilar to our Local buggers. They come with their musical instruments and make speeches and stories all starting with ‘Ladies and Gentlemen. I am homeless. Please help me’. Of course, this being a far richer country, the numbers are far less than what we have. But it’s funny to see ads of ‘Please donate a used car for the poor’. I could use one of the donations!
And now for my long pent up emotions on the horrendous prices here, even though I have recuperated from the shock now. People back home said we would be really rich in the US! But consider this. Back in India we were supposedly in the upper middle class having a 3bhk, a car, never used the local train, and had 2 maids to cook twice a day, pack our lunches, clean up, tidy up and do everything that enabled us to lounge around only watching TV. And here, we live in a 1BHK, have a four wheeler..uh, I mean 2 bicycles, no maids (if you discount the dishwasher) and commute in the packed subway trains. Now that life on the other side of the ocean was certainly comfortable!
I reckon getting past the currency conversion from the $ to the Rupee was a challenge given the fact that ‘everything is so cheap back home!’ It started with the bread being $4 (Rs200) for a loaf (@#* I paid Rs 20 back home!), onions being $2 a pound (Rs 200 for a kilo) (@#&; Governments have been brought down back home because of the rising onion prices!), well you get the idea. I won’t even speak about the unspeakable amounts we pay as rent! Okay, even if you don’t convert, sometimes the rates that are charged for some piffling labor are downright absurd. There was a cleaning ad saying they would clean up rugs or carpets really well and remove all stains etc in just $150 (Rs 7500). Well! I could get a new carpet for that price! In fact there is no concept of MRP or any sort of standard pricing. It all depends on the rate the store wants to fleece people! You could get the same brand for half at some other store or for 1/10th online. Perhaps it is because I am around one of US’s most expensive cities.
Well, I am one of those really unfortunate people who are underinsured due to ignorance, and now may have to shell out some $500 (Rs 25,000) for a single sitting to have an ear cleaned! A doctor charges a cool $150 (Rs 7,500) to prescribe an OTC balm for an aching hand. I have not known a more screwed up healthcare system than that exists out here. Wikipedia told me that it is in US that 62% of all personal bankruptcies are due to Medical Debt. I don’t blame them. If an uninsured or underinsured person were to fall ill, he would sell everything he has to pay it off or die of a cardiac arrest on seeing the bill! Well, there is health insurance, and since 85% of the people have health insurance, all doctors charge astronomical amounts, and because they charge astronomical amounts people have to rely on health insurance. And, since the docs get sued all the time, they have to make up for the money they spend on litigation! So, I guess, being a lawyer is the best profession there is in the US! I am now contemplating a flight to and fro from India to have my ear cleaned! It might just be cheaper.
The other thing that struck me, was the fact that despite the unemployment numbers being supposedly high, the labor rates here continue to be just phenomenal. There is little wonder that there are so many drop outs in America. I hear that truck drivers make around $100,000 to $200,000 a year in this country! I mean that’s really wow! They certainly can compete with educated PhDs flaunting all their degrees or investment bankers or make even more! Babysitters charge some $15 an hour in cash, that’s around $32,000 tax free. Women who earn around $50,000 a year, which is a decent amount, quit as their babysitters charge more! I think all the girls on H4 out here who cannot really work, but do like kids should offer their services in this field! It never amazed me in American TV serials when they showed plumbers and handymen living in the best of the suburban houses with manicured lawns..(if you are guessing, that’s Desperate Housewives)! Now as my building doorman drives down in his car wearing a tie and a designer suit, I have ceased to wonder! What I don’t understand is, why can’t the unemployed unskilled workers, just offer their services for a lower wage? I am sure there will be a lot of people willing to employ them. The unemployment rate will certainly go down.
Something that is similar though is the sport of fighting with the Cab driver. There was this cabbie who wanted to charge a cool 100 dollar bucks (~Rs 5,000) for a 25 min ride with one stop on the way, the unreasonableness being, he would charge $50 without having to stop! Add to that, the ridiculous 'tips' that are mandatory to the tune of 20-30% of the total fare. No wonder, people prefer renting cars and driving around the whole day for a maximum of $100. Most cabbies are either Pakistanis, or Indians or Bangladeshis and the seats are dirtier and mustier than in Mumbai.
Finally, once I entered the acceptance mode after the denial, anger and resignation stages of shock of prices, I discovered shopping was a pleasure here, thanks to the huge departmental stores around here. There is no dearth of brands and consumers are spoiled for choice in every category. Furniture, cosmetics, Electronic goods and all the capital investments that go into a new home are relatively still cheap because mostly everything is Made in China. The awesome part is you can always return goods, no questions asked for up to 90 days!
Thanks to the technological advancements here, most happening products such as the iphone, ipad, e-readers, Wii, GPS Navigators and other cool gadgets get first released in the US, and then trickle down much later to India. It’s pretty cool to be connected on 3G everywhere and the large number of wifi hotspots there are. I can’t wait for 3G to get to India and download books on my Kindle e-reader as easily as I do here. Browsing the internet is a pleasure, since the ultra fast speeds allow me to stream videos really fast, watch movies on Netflix etc.
People are so much more civilized here. The very Indians who wouldn’t blink before they discarded chocolate wrappers from their car window, pick up their dog’s shit with gloved hands (that part is really ewwwwwwwwwww for me) and discard it wherever designated. Even though the subway is really crowded, no one really jostles to get in or cause any stampede to get out. People don’t spit on roads or consider the outside of their homes as the garbage can. They are always polite and smile and hold doors and the smiling does not arouse any suspiciousness. Everyone is interested in sports and not everyone wants to become an engineer or a doctor.
Talking about dogs in the previous blurb, US is a dog obsessed country. I have never seen dogs pampered as much as they are here. There are dog birthday parties, dog sitters, dog walkers, dog designer clothes, prams for dogs, beauty products, cosmetics, and accessories for dogs, dog beauty parlors, dog restaurants, dog toy shops, dog playgrounds…It really gets disgusting the amount of pampering that goes on!
One thing that is apparent is the evident enthusiasm of everyone in sports. Each match is attended with gusto and the subways overflow even when there are obscure local matches and there are Cheerleaders for most matches. Even the sports Americans play are different from what the rest of the world plays. While the world calls Football, Football, the Americans call a game they play with their hands, as football, and the actual football is relegated as Soccer. And that American Football is actually almost like Rugby, but with extra protective gears, helmets and padding. I’ve heard few Europeans call it a sissy sport. While the world played cricket, they invented Baseball. In Baseball, they have something called as a World Series in which the local teams compete with each other and the winner becomes a World Champion! No wonder many Americans think they are the world in themselves and everyone else is an alien! Thankfully, basketball which is another popular game here is still the same.
In India I used to look left and then right before crossing. By the time I realized my mistake, I shifted here, and I now look right and then left which is like all other things opposite to what it is in India. I guess I can attribute whatever misfortunes I might have to the curses of the motorists in both the countries! However, the roads here are truly beautiful. The infrastructure is simply superb, the highways are a pleasure to drive on, and connectivity is great. And the good news is there are good clean restrooms to stop by. That is so very difficult back home to find! It is sad that we can boast of a few good highways, such as the Mumbai-Pune Expressway. Imagine all of India being connected from every village with such roads. Travelling would be so much easier.
On Natural Beauty
The country on the whole is so gorgeous and there always huge forests they call National Parks around everywhere in the country, an endless number of weekend getaways and a host of weekend activities to indulge in. With the fact that this is such a huge country, there is so much to see and appreciate. The terrain varies from the rugged Colorado Desert to the blue water beaches of Florida to the verdant greenery elsewhere. I certainly can't get enough of the beauty around me!
All in All
All in all, I reckon, living in each country has its pros and cons. As I remove my rose tinted glasses to look at India, I reckon I can point out fallacies there for all my criticisms above with the rising inflation and low transparency and a million other reasons in our governing system. Each country has its pros and cons. While I miss the culture that I grew up in, I have grown to appreciate the country I am currently residing in. Fulfilling the American Dream is still aspired by many, and I don’t blame them. After all, it is a beautiful country with much to explore and excellent facilities and infrastructure to explore it. Cleanliness and less pollution add to better living. It is quite an experience to live in the multicultural vibrancy of this country. India isn’t quite there yet, but I am optimistic, with all the leaps taken towards development, will one day fructify and it will be a more pleasant place to live in. Right now, I reckon, I will just indulge in everything that India doesn’t offer, and then when I don’t have time to do that, I shall come back and live a life of luxury with maids and cooks and drivers to serve me!