Wednesday, February 16, 2011

My parents

During the last two and a half weeks I’ve stayed with my parents in Mission Viejo, California as I’ve taken a five week leave from my beloved India. My parents were married in November 1953 three years before I was born. Some simple multiplication means that they’ve spent almost 21,000 days together or 504,000 hours or 31,000,000 minutes, give or take a little. These are remarkable numbers, especially for the US where on average, about 40-50% of first marriages end in divorce. One might say that my parents are of a different generation but never-the-less through “thick and thin” they have remained companions.

I’ve seen them at their worse, when their arguments are so irrational, that I wonder what has kept them together for this many years. But I’ve also seen them at their best and now that they are almost 82 and 78, their love and caring for one another is something that carries them through life on a daily basis. I still see many of the same things that I did when I was younger, maybe those things never change. Now that I’m older and hadn’t seen them for two years, these things are viewed from a much different perspective.

My mother has not weathered the years well and although she maintains a zest for life her body is not in the best of shape. She might say that a lifetime of hardship has caused this. My mother uses a walker, has diabetes and eats too much junk. She has trouble getting in and out of the car but she does try to exercise in the pool and keeps her mind active through her gardening, book club and bridge interests.

My father, on the other hand, remains slimmer and also involves himself with numerous activities including an annual chalk festival to raise funds for school arts programs, fundraising for Mission Viejo Chabad House, book club and bridge. He also exercises in the pool.

The thing that I notice now is that my father takes more care of my mother. He walks with her, helps more with preparing meals, drives her to certain events and generally is available. My mother does what she can, but seems to be much more dependent on my father.

This companionship lasting more than 57 years seems to be complete. It has weathered the ups and downs that life brings, more so, than many relationships. Even as we’ve all changed, we’ve remained somewhat the same, somewhere lost in time. No matter how far way I might be, when I come back I am their son and I get to see the best and worst of my parents. No matter which world I’m in, I see this incredible companionship lasting more than 57 years, a lifetime. This is one thing that will always be part of me, my heritage.

My parents are truly amazing and I love them more than ever. It is difficult to see one’s once vibrant parents turn to older age. They are slower and their physical appearance is different. But even with all of those changes they remain my parents and this picture of them being together, helping each other will always remain a positive in my life.

A dream?

I’ve been in the US for a little over two weeks, mainly in beautiful southern California. I also spent a weekend in Boulder, Colorado, a paradise surrounded by beautiful snow covered mountains. At times, it all feels like a dream. I know that I will be out of Mother India for five weeks. At times, given that I’m on vacation I really don’t know what day it is. The sunny skies of California and the ocean lure one into a dreamlike state. The Rocky Mountains really makes me appreciate the beauty of the States. It is such a different world from Mother India.

I’ve been going shopping in grocery and retail stores and the abundance and choices are mind boggling. I think that I’ve noticed this in my life BI (Before India), but coming back after two years really puts the abundance and choices directly in my face. The clothing which most of us don’t need is always on sale with an extra 30% off and how do we resist even though our closets are bulging? The clothing of course is where I just came from, i.e. the developing world, so why buy it in America. Because it is on sale.

Sometimes I feel as if I’m caught between two worlds. Maybe this is what happens when one works in the developing world or just after being in a place like India for two years without coming to the west. I know where I am, but I also don’t know where I am. I’m stuck somewhere in the middle, wanting to be back while enjoying the west. It truly can be quite confusing as I continue to keep up with my friends in India.

After all there are no noises and no smells. The streets are clean and the cows are somewhere penned up, most likely on some farm and not roaming in the middle of the streets, where they feast on garbage or roti. Everyone stay in line and cars don’t constantly honk. The skies are perfectly blue and the weather is around 60 F. It is a well manicured lawn with the sprinklers coming on every night at 6 PM, just as the sun sets. Of course the sunsets are beautiful and can be seen for miles. Everyone seems to be Caucasian and they all speak English. The malls consist of beautifully maintained buildings and there is Chinese food and bagels on every corner. The gas stations have no employees except for the guy behind the booth and the prices keep going up. We pump our own gas here and I only leave my car for that reason.

This does seem like a dream and I wonder which world I’m really in.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Between Two Worlds

Note: I knew that once I visited the US, after two years in India I would look at things differently. I haven’t felt any real culture shock yet, but I do see many differences. These are some of my observations which I will continue throughout my stay for five weeks.

I’ve been back in the US for about 48 hours now. There are so many differences between my life in my beloved India and my life in the US. After a wonderful walk today, seeing no garbage or cows, hardly any people, only a few cars, blue sky and little noise, I went straight for the hose in my parent’s front yard. I didn’t give the purity of the water a second thought, just drank. I would never do this in India. Before making a lunch of veggies I didn’t even think about washing them, although I probably should. In India I wash my veggies and fruit with some purple stuff, can’t think of the substance right now, to ensure that they are ready to be eaten. (A friend in India told me to do this).

The contrasts abound for me and I am super sensitive to the differences. As I showed my parents some videos of India they immediately heard the traffic noise. On some level I’ve become used to the noise of New Delhi and when I don’t hear it, I find this highly unusual. As my parents live in a retirement community in a somewhat middle to upper middle class area it is very quiet. For people who like blue sky, fewer cars, quiet, lots of trees and flowers, it is not a bad life. Although, it may also be the same from one day to the next. My life in New Delhi is never the same and I never know what I will see or who I will speak with or what opportunities will be present. My camera is a constant companion.

Everything seems to be neat and tidy in the world that I’m in at the moment. It is a different way of living. It’s not that I don’t like the fact that there is no garbage on the streets as I’m constantly telling New Delhites to pick up their garbage, but it is different, another way of living life. There are hardly any smells here, so very different from the streets of New Delhi. It is difficult for me to see men peeing everywhere in New Delhi or children defecating on the streets because they have no toilets, but it is how people have to live. I try not to step in the rivers of pee and hold my nose but it is part of my life.

The line at the Department of Motor Vehicles in Mission Viejo was so orderly and the “bureaucrats” incredibly efficient. The bathrooms were even neat and clean. Supermarkets are full of items and the shelves are full. It’s hard to understand if one hasn’t traveled in the so called developing parts of the world. It’s so very different.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

From Los Angeles to Delhi: A conversation about Matzoh, is it like Roti?

Ah, Skype does make things much easier to discuss like matzoh:

MJR: eating matzoh with butter,
[11:22:57 PM] LYM: what is matzoh?
[11:24:04 PM] MJR: matzoh is what we eat on passover but my parents have some, it is unleavened bread, kind of like a cracker
[11:24:19 PM] MJR: the jews ate this when they were escaping Egypt with Moses I love it
[11:24:21 PM] LYM: so like roti but crispy?
[11:24:52 PM] MJR: kind of, square Maybe I can bring a small box back if Ican find it
[11:25:24 PM] LYM: i read about matzoh then, it's unleavened because the people were in a hurry to escape,
[11:26:02 PM]LYM: oh right, i didn't notice
[11:26:29 PM] MJR: good stuff, you can put water on it and put it over a pot of boiling water, yummy with butter
[11:26:33 PM] MJR: I love egg matzoh
[[11:26:39 PM] MJR: there is also chocolate covered matzoh
[11:26:56 PM] LYM: oh, like golgapa
[11:27:04 PM] lenymanikan: can you make it here?
[11:28:03 PM] LYM: No I don't think so

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Into the West-

I’m in the Zurich airport waiting for my flight to Los Angeles. It is a gray day and there is a bit of frost on the ground. I’ve explored downtown Zurich, took a train, very efficient, from the airport to downtown. Ticket was about $14 and it is an all day pass, which I only used to go to and from the airport.

I left mother India this morning around 2 AM. I am wearing my multi-colored hat that I purchased in Pushkar in October 2009. The Indian woman at the Swiss Air counter in New Delhi asked me about the hat and really liked it. She smiled, that smile that I typically get from India.
My flight was uneventful, the usual turbulence and I tried to sleep the entire way, ignored the food at 2:30 AM as I pulled my Pushkar hat over my eyes. Sleeping was not sound, although there was nobody sitting next to me. Had an early breakfast around 5 AM Zurich time and watched a bit of Avatar.

The flight was efficient, clean, a different language came over the speakers from the captain and crew. A guttural kind of utterance, a European mixture. The New Delhi airport has changed mostly due to the October 2010 Commonwealth Games. It has a very western feel, lots of shopping, clean, efficient. The Zurich airport is the same clean, no noise from the outside, a world unto itself.

The people don’t seem friendly, like you’re bothering them by asking a question. It is not the smile that I’m used from India. It feels rather stand offish. One guy was helpful, but many of the Swiss that I encountered, didn’t really seem to want to take the time.

Zurich, in which the sky didn’t start to lighten until around 8:30 AM, was full of no sound, people in cars, a few on bicycles, no ethnic diversity, people riding the various types of public transportation, light rail, electrified bus, trains, a market that was neither hustle nor bustle, no garbage on the streets except for some cigarette butts, two dogs with chains around their necks and no cows. . Granted it is winter, cold around 0 Centigrade, but I wonder I anybody really “lives” here.

I went into a grocery store, Coop, full of western products, with shelves well stocked and everything in its place. The orange that I ate had no seeds, the apple was perfectly crisp, nothing like what I eat in mother India.

The only sound in the Zurich airport Gate E-26 waiting area is from what looks to be an Indian family. The only color that I see, beautiful pinkish sari, is from this same family. My reintroduction to the west seems to be about conformity, few smiles, lots of cigarette smoking, efficiency and “whiteness”. I did see a guy wearing a Green Bay Packers shirt and when he stood up, due to his size his butt was staring me in the face.

It certainly is what I remember but I haven’t seen it through my “Indian eyes” before. The white frost on the runway and the gray background seems to capture it all. I’m sure that the summer is beautiful with the Alps and the blueness of Lake Zurich, but now it is only the same.