Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Us & USA


By: Kedar Patankar

Article registered with Writers Guild of America

Registration Number: 1203093

We Indians and USA!

Us and USA!

USA is the one country outside India that affects us Indians the most, in one way or the other! It affects not only the Indians living in US, but also Indians living in India! USA enters in our lives one way or the other. You could be aspiring to study or work in USA, you could hate USA for its bullying around or just in general, you could be using US brands, you could be discussing its foreign policies, you could be blaming western culture or you could be watching Hollywood movies. Even if you choose not to care about USA, USA keeps entering your life through the TV, the news, the brands, the culture, the clothes , the discussions, the debates and even the food.

Virtually every Indian has some opinion about USA. Not every other country provokes opinions like USA does. These opinions are a result of a few biases, a few facts, some hearsay and some perceptions about US of A. They are typically hard to change, especially if the person has not been to US. Of course Indians living in USA carry their own wrong or right views of USA and in addition, they carry views and biases about India. Many Indians do go and live in other countries. But none of these countries gets the reactions like ‘going to US or living in US’ does. Even today, when it is becoming so commonplace to go abroad, ‘oh you are going to US?’ question is asked with layers of positive or negative undertones, opinions and sentiments.

For Indians coming to and living in USA, it acts like a chemical reactor for their basic Indian molecular structure. Something changes – at one level or another or at multiple levels simultaneously. Many outer and inner changes cause interesting as well as shocking personality shifts. Once the Indian atoms are put inside the US reactor, what emerges out is something inherently different.

There are some general guidelines to know how many years an Indian has spent in US. There are some clear signs and some subtle ones. Take example of an Indian, coming fresh from India, who is used to using a comb daily after the shower. He may have a well maintained and defined hair partition. He may even have mustaches. Sideburns are not as common. But just 6 months in US gets rid of the mustaches. 2 years in US can help grow sideburns and 3 years or more get rid of that seemingly tough hair partition too. Similar metamorphosis happens with clothing. An Indian coming to US with tucked in striped shirt, belt and cotton trousers slowly emerges into a different shape & form. The trousers are almost immediately replaced by jeans. But not the “Express-brand-boot-cut-jeans”! No, not so fast! One has to wait for at least 7-8 years for that. First come the Target straight cut regular jeans. It’s natural to start off with that. In the world that is so alien to new Indians in US, they usually like to stick to one thing that belongs to their old and known world – the straight regular style of their jeans.

Jeans are accompanied by the Target/ Wal-Mart t-shirts, sweatshirts and even shirts. In fact, if you go to a Target or a Wal-mart and see a 70% off sale on a particular type of t-shirt or shirt, it’s almost guaranteed that you will find many other Indians like you, wearing the same shirt, that day on.

When they are new in US, irrespective of their salary in dollars, Indians always convert everything in rupees inside their brains. That’s why a shirt of $10 becomes 450 rupees. An $8 Chinese dish becomes as expensive as 360 rupees. That ‘Desi’ calculator inside the brain takes some years to lose its batteries. Until then, it automatically converts every dollar into 40-plus rupees. It’s almost as if there is an invisible decoder that is fitted over the eyes and ears of the Indians. $4 is never $4 – it is ‘bloody’ 180 rupees!!

Every Indian coming to US gets one or many Lord Ganesh statues as farewell gifts from India. The neighbors, relatives or the friends gift Lord Ganesh statues. Invariably the number of Ganesha statues increase exponentially with every visit back to India. One of these Ganeshas finds its place on a Honda or Toyota dashboard. You call tell that a car belongs to an Indian by looking at its dashboard. Japanese car makers have to be thankful to Indians for that one aspect – consistently great sale of their cars. In fact, it is used as a marker for any Indian cultural event in US. If you are searching for the place where the local Indian Society’s annual Diwali or Dandia cultural program is being held, just look for a parking lot with a lot of Hondas and Toyotas. That’s your venue!

Indians get very excited to talk about India or Indian culture, especially with Americans. They like to believe that it’s their responsibility and purpose to teach Americans about Indian culture. They truly believe that Americans who listen to them are extremely interested in intricacies of Indian society and culture. Well, Americans bring it onto themselves too. Their faces look smiling and excited with all the American nods and the American ‘Oh wows. That’s the kind of reaction they think they should give, while listening to other cultures they don’t fully understand or care about! But those gestures act like a jet fuel for the culturally enthusiastic Indians

You can also measure the number of years spent in US by an Indian by his mannerisms. If the Indian smiles at you and if it’s really not a full smile, but just an ‘inward-folding-of-his-lips’, that means that he has been in US for at least 7-8 years. He has seen and observed Americans smiling at unknown people. That never happened to him in India. We don’t smile at unknown people on streets in India. But when that Indian comes to US, Americans smile at him. He loves that. A little bit later he slowly finds out that he can smile at anyone and that person will smile back. So he practices that for some years. Ultimately he becomes an expert in smiling at unknown people. Slowly he does not feel a need for that much of a broad smile. Inward folding of his lips will suffice. It also has a little cooler feel to it.

When Indians see other Indians, they use this ‘inward-folding-of-lips gesture’ very often. It says the following – “Look dude, you are Indian and I am Indian! If we were in India, we would not be smiling like this at each other. But since we are here, I will smile at you. But all I can offer you now is this – the-inward-fold-of-the-lips”

There is always an interesting chemistry amongst Indians in US. Whenever two Indians meet each other in US, each one is actually weighing the other person in his mind– “I wonder how many years has he been in US? Does he have a Green card or H-1? Let me first hear his accent. That will tell me how long he has been here” – all these statements immediately go across an Indian mind when meeting another Indian. Indian people are normally very proud about the number of years they have spent in US. Directly or indirectly they somehow mention the years during conversations with other Indians they meet for the first time. There are plenty of smart ways to let other Indians know that you have stayed in US longer than them.

When density of Indian population in any region within US exceeds a certain threshold, Indians seize to acknowledge each other. There are just too many Indians around you to even bother with ‘folding-of-your-lips’.

There is a hierarchy amongst the Indians in US. Indians who have been in US for a long time look down upon the new ones. Indians with more Americanized accents look down upon Indians with ‘pure’ ones. Indians, who consider themselves part of American fabric and dress as such, look down upon Indians who look too Indian.

Indians try pretty hard to pick up American accents – or what they perceive as the American accent. The usage of the letter “H” increases exponentially as the number of years of stay in US increase. A simple sentence like “Turn the car there” becomes “Tuhrn thuh cahr thehre” in Indian-American English. It’s like listening to the classical music where you have a base of ‘H’ going on all the time. Indians learn quickly to throw the letter “H” in every possible word, to make their accent sound American. A fellow student who came from Bihar talked like this - “I wohke uph in the mohrning and cahme to eee-schoohl”

Indians coming from India aka FOBs (Fresh off Boats) get amused by Indians born in US aka ABCDs (American Born Confused Desis). When FOBs see ABCDs, they think that they are looking at their fellow Indians, who look just like themselves - Indian flesh and Indian bones. But when ABCDs open their mouths to talk, it’s a totally different ball game. Amusingly, a very pure American accent flows from their mouths - those mouths of the very – who you thought were Indians like you – people!!! It’s like watching a Hollywood movie dubbed in Chinese. You expect the characters to speak in English, but out comes Mandarin! You see Indian looking people, but out comes American accent?! ABCDs become amusing specimen because they can effortlessly speak like Americans and do not have to tire themselves with all those “H”s everywhere.

B.O. aka body odor is the concept which every Indian learns in US within a few years of stay. Until then, as long as you don’t smell your own smell, you are pretty sure that people cannot smell it either. In US you often find yourself standing in an elevator, surrounded by over-perfumed Americans and then you hear a ’Cling!” Elevator door opens and enters a cloud of curry powder accompanying an Indian or group of Indians. This is one more measure of number of years of stay in US. Indians who have crossed the threshold of 5-6 years in US learn to keep their jackets and clothes hanging as away from kitchen as possible. They also spray deodorants on their jackets, not because they can smell themselves now but because they have had too many of the elevator incidences with other Indians and they proactively apply the same theory onto themselves.

Difference between when you come as a student vs. H-1 job visa

There is a distinct difference in a person’s habits, behavior and the outlook when the person comes to US on a student visa (F-1) vs. a person coming to US on a job visa (H-1). A person coming to US on student visa has experienced how living with 3 other roommates from different parts of India, with drastically different habits, feels like. An F-1 has been in the pissing-off contest with his roommates. He has been trained in taking turns of cleaning toilets, throwing garbage, cooking, cleaning pots and vacuuming the apartment. He has had roommates cook obnoxious meals made from frozen pees, beans and vegetables put in boiling water along with some random spices. He has bought 24 pack of Budweiser – not because he likes it, but he wants to get drunk cheap. He has walked his way every day and late night from apartment to department. He has kept accounts of every extra fruit his roommates bought at the grocery store. Each week he has sat down with his roomies to do the accounts and has argued over it. He has always chosen cost over quality. His furniture (if he has any) is the cheapest possible he could get his hands on. His TV, if he has an assistantship from school, is possibly a shared one. If he doesn’t have an assistantship, he has done random on-campus jobs in dorms, libraries and computer labs. If he does have a car, he calls it ‘Draupadi’ since 4 other friends along with him own it.

But when you come on H-1 job visa, things are drastically different. You are already getting a decent salary (when converted to rupees, its really a lot) You live with roommates, only if you are not married or if there is some delay before your wife joins you. You have roommates only because you need some sense of safety and security in an unknown country. (In US, when you are new, any person resembling an Indian looks friendly. Even the Mexicans! ). You may also want to save as many dollars as possible before your work contract expires. You can immediately buy new furniture if your apartment is not already furnished. You can afford to eat outside, even daily. If you are married and your spouse gets to US on H-4 visa, you get rid of any roommates you may have. Your wife starts to cook for you and so you never really crave for good food. Either wife or money always provides you with good food. You immediately go for a car, although a second-hand one. You don’t have to share it with anyone else either

This fundamental difference in life experiences during the initial days in US make two very different personalities out of H-1 and F-1 people

Amongst the several things that determine number of years of staying experience in US, – “moving” is one of them. If you call movers to move your furniture and belongings, it means that you have financially settled down and do not have many available friends left. This means at least 7-8 years stay in US. If you move using your friends, it means you are single, poorer with other single able-bodied friends who are equally dependent on you for helping them move. Selling off used furniture in US has become much easier because of IT industry and the universities. Just put an ad out on web sites and email listings frequented by Indians on H-1 or F-1 visas. H-1 visa holders usually show up with their significant others. F-1 students show up with a senior who thinks he knows better.

Indians who came to US any time before 1990s feel a little cheated by the latest development in communication technology. When they came to US, email was unheard of in India. In fact a lot of them wrote letters back to their friends and parents – using – oh god – a paper and a pen! They actually took that soon-to-be-outdated pen in their hands and wrote letters on actual pieces of papers. Before they came to USA, they had to go to computer coaching classes in India to know how a computer looks like. India phone calls were more than a $1 per minute. Going away from home was truly “Going–Away-From-Home”. Many of them have had their eyes get moist with songs like ‘Vatan se chiththi aai hai’ which they heard over and over. Indian grocery shops were uncommon. Indian movies did not play every week in theatres and you would not see so many Indians around you, like today. The emotion called “Homesickness” had certain dignity, depth and class. You could not see or hear your family and friends back in India that easily. Homesickness had some weight back then.

But technology changed it all. It reduced homesickness to just a passing mood than a long lasting state of mind. These early Indians saw the homesickness losing its image, its power and its weight in front of their very eyes. Technologies such as cell phones, web cams and Reliance phone cards at less than 10 cents per minute seriously violated the laws of homesickness. “No easy visual and no cheap audio” are the basic rules of homesickness which got violated. Technology made homesickness into this poor little fellow no one is much afraid of anymore. ‘The homesickness in our times had a charm’- sighed the Indians who came to US before 90s ‘Huh! These new immigrants – how will they ever understand that feeling?’

These early Indians in US are also in denial about changes happening in India itself. When they came to US, only they had cell phone, only they had cool cars and internet. That status continued for a long time. These people enjoyed their special status of being in US because of all these cool things they had access to. But right in front of their very eyes, India changed dramatically! The cell phones which they were so proud of are now in hands of maid servants, vegetable vendors and cab drivers back in India. In fact those people back home carry much cooler looking cell phones. Every little kid they know in India has an email account. Their own uncles and aunties use words like SMSs and ring tones. These early Indians in US feel like they are losing their edge. All these things were the ones that differentiated them from Indians in India. If every person they know in India has the same gadgets as them, where in the hell is their differentiation?

Indian men over 40s and 50s staying in US look very similar to each other. A guy wearing khaki shorts, a t-shirt (tucked in) with a belt over it, holding a can of beer in one hand and telling his other Indian friends at his house party “I am working on my roof”! The roof could be roof or it could be a Patio (that’s one more word Indians have to learn when they come to US), it could be the basement or it could be the backyard. But every Indian over 40s and 50s in US is working on one of these four frontiers of his house and is telling about it to his other Indian friends.

These Indian people over 40s and 50s in USA have tried to get a perfect American accent and then have given up after trying. But some reminiscent residue pops up if you closely listen them talk, like the word itself - ‘Talk’. They would say a line like “Then I said, Bill, we need to talk” as “Then I said, Bill, we need to TTaaHk”. That’s double stress on the letter T and of course with a capital H. Rest of the sentence is, of course, in the unchangeable pure Indian subcontinent accent.

Indians in their 20s and early 30s

Something dramatic happens to the Indians in their 20s and early 30s, when they spend a few years in US. A lot of them come to US as students. They trade a very thin line when they are in US. Depending upon their friend circle and their perception of the world and themselves, these people can flip to the “other” side within a flash. Main struggle for them is how to “fit in”. That fitting in process starts with their clothes, makeup, shoes, food habits, friends, alcohol, smoking, clubbing and of course their speech patterns.

There is a huge group of these ‘modern, trying to fit in’ young people. You hear them talking to each other at a party. Everyone is acutely aware of his or her accent. Of course there is no American at this party. It’s just a bunch of Indians from India, talking to each other in ‘American’ accents. This group is also aware - very aware - of their clothes. They are more aware of wearing Americanized clothes than Americans themselves. Their clothes have to fit in. Girls wear as little as possible and guys try to pretend that they are too cool to get shocked by how little the girls are wearing. In fact it’s so un-cool to get shocked and stare at how little girls are wearing. Some of the girls in these groups are wives of the guys in the same group. Now the husband knows what his wife is wearing or not wearing and however hard he tries to numb his Indian mind against all the instincts his old Indian self is crying out loud to him, he likes to believe that none of his friends are ‘looking’. Now some of his friends are married too and their wives are wearing similar non-clothes. So all the husbands are busy stealing glances at other peoples’ wives and acting cool about it. And all girls are busy comparing notes with each other on how they can ‘fit in’ even more.

These people are very proud of their abilities to know, mix and consume various types of alcohols. They constantly talk about getting drunk. Many of these same people, who had not had wine back in India, teach themselves to like wine. Many of them don’t know why they have to smell wine when a waiter serves it, but it’s not cool to not smell it. So they smell it. They can’t really tell the difference though. The guys also make sure to go for Golf lessons because they believe that learning Golf is the only way to ascend the American corporate ladder. They have read it somewhere and everyone in the group is talking about it too.

Every guy in this age group has been to ‘downtown clubs’. Many of these guys were excited to come to US because they were told that White women like Brown skin and most of them have already been disappointed. Every girl has gotten drunk beyond control. Many of them have smoked cigarettes, smoked cigars and pretended that cigars are ok to smoke, arranged bachelor parties, been with multiple partners, or at least have tried desperately. Some of them have even crossed the ‘doing drugs’ boundary.

Many of them are truly dual personalities. Saturday night is different and Sunday morning, when they call India to talk to their parents, is different. They are the Desi versions of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde! These people walk a very thin line. They can easily go berserk and flip to the other side. In their pursuit to fit-in, they normally overdo it. So much so, that they don’t even recognize themselves after a few years. When they come to US, they suddenly realize that there are no parents to keep an eye on them anymore. All they see around them is freedom. So they go free.

A huge metamorphosis happens in US when it comes to this group. Before they come to US, the picture is drastically different. It’s the same guys and girls whom you see holding on to their lives and metal bars in crowded buses and trains in India. It’s the same guys and girls whom you see walking with their bag-packs, carrying books to colleges and tuition classes while wiping the sweat off of their foreheads. They have stood in lines in front of temples, they have eaten at Pav-Bhaji and Vada-Paav stalls and they have photo-copied..sorry ..xeroxed books after books for 20 paisa/page.

And now it’s the same guys and girls who wear new masks and new make-ups struggling to fit in.Their heart may not have adjusted totally but their bodies seem to have ‘fitted in’

Patriotic (Indian) Americans who like to hate India

This is another category of Indians who live in US. Most people in this category have lived in US for some time. These people, strangely, have no emotional bonds with India. None whatsoever! They have determined that they hate India and they don’t leave any chance justifying why they are living in US. ‘India is a chaos’ is a commonly used statement and under that, there are others such as ‘too much corruption to handle’, ‘too much pollution to handle’, ‘nothing is ever going to happen there, so don’t waste your life’ etc statements. These people visit India once in 8-10 years, if at all. Some of them go to the extent of wearing medical masks, when in India. They go to their old uncle’s place and refuse to eat anything there. They carry their own bottle of water. A lot of them would never go to India by choice. They have tried hard to shun the thought of going back for good. They take ‘but things have improved in India’ statement extremely personally. They have a strong and ready offence against it, starting from points like traffic jams to pollution to poverty to corruption. They have repeated this list to themselves so many times in their minds that it comes out effortlessly during conversations. They never go deeper than that and they don’t want to either. ‘Things have improved in India’ statements are a direct blow to their perfect defense against going back to India and they can’t stand it. Because, if this is indeed true, their whole mission of staying in US would seem futile!

There is a younger variety of this generation who has spent 8 or more years in US. They go back to India every 4 years or so. They live there for 2 weeks. The people from this category bathe their US born children with mineral water bottles, when they are in India. They have justification for everything, including bathing their children with mineral water.

This is a very strange twist you get to see. These people have spent all their childhood and a significant part of their youth in India. Yet they love to hate India. It’s very black and white. They like US, actually they like the comforts in US. They decide that they cannot like two countries at the same time. So they don’t like India. They believe somewhere in their minds that they have to stick to liking US all the time. Words like ‘motherland’ or ‘love towards India’ get lost under blankets of ‘be logical, be practical, get real,’ etc. They like to believe that Indians are emotionally twisted, chaotic and confused people and Americans are logical, healthy-minded ones. And they love to see themselves belonging to the second category.

You see such people living in US. If you knew them from before, you have seen them when they were growing up in India. You feel like shaking them up so that the layers of self-grown American-ness falls off and out comes the original person you knew once. You hear them talk in English with their uncles and aunties in India who have once changed their diapers (actually there were no diapers back then in India). You wonder about what in the hell is wrong with these people! You feel like screaming in their ears to wake them up from their sleep. But no! They visit India, blanketed in that American wrap and then leave within 10 days, along with it.

Some of the people in this category suddenly realize the greatness of India when their own 8-9 year old kids in US, start talking about girlfriends and boyfriends. That’s the time when their deeply buried Indian upbringing fights its way up and protests! Not until then!

Patriotic Indians living in US

This category includes people who live in US for years after years and love to hate it. They also love to say that they love India. They can spend hours talking about what is so nice about India and how they miss all that in US.

And yet they continue to live in US.

These people send emails to other Indians with patriotic messages, stories related to India, about how India has become a financial power etc. They also love to hate US. While eating at McDonalds, they talk about Vada-Paav. While driving on smooth and clean roads in US, they remember the Ghaats in India. They proudly tell other allergy-ridden fellow Indians how they don’t have allergies because they eat at the roadside vendors in India.

And yet they continue to live in US. They criticize American society, ‘western culture’, food habits of people around them, everything that they find different than in India (which is pretty much everything). Yet they enjoy the salaries, great cars, convenient and efficient services in US. They buy houses, raise kids in US, but all along they continue to love to love India and love to hate US. Eventually they end up spending more number of years in US than they ever spent in India. Yet they continue to be Patriotic Indians living in US.

Indians in India who love to hate US

Today, ‘going to US’ has lost its charm quite significantly in India. It may have to do with the IT wave of so many Indians going to US. Earlier it wasn’t the case. Going to US was like going to this forbidden special place after months of studies, preparation and quite a bit of luck. There was this image attached to a person going to US of being the bright and intelligent one. The limited number of visas helped boost that image. That’s why it was called the ‘brain drain’, whether right or wrong. People who could and did put in a lot of time studying for GRE, applying to universities, who got admission and then finally got visa, got through. Whoever got the visa proved to be bright and intelligent! But with the IT job wave, people saw their neighborhood kid who had failed in SSC, going to US after merely doing a computer certification course. “Huh! Now days anybody can go to US” reduced the value of going to US.

Quite a few Indians in India love to hate US. For them it is the evil itself. They deny to themselves that anything could ever be good about US. Like Hindi films, they like the black and the white. USA is in Black. Period! For them, USA is made up of MTV and girls in Bikini, Jerry Springer show, a lot of missiles, 50% divorce rate and the overriding bully attitude. ‘Don’t tell us about US. We know all the secrets of its wealth’ – kind of attitude is not very uncommon amongst this group. These same people put everything ‘bad’ which they see around themselves under the broad ‘western culture’ category. Your nephew is divorcing his wife – its western culture. Your kid talks back – western culture. The young girl in your society wears mini-skirts – western culture. Kids watch too much TV – western culture.

“Are Americans any smart? I think they are really stupid. They are rich because of our Indian people who have gone there “- is a common feeling amongst this group of people. In fact, even some Indians who come new in US convince themselves too soon that all Americans are dumb. They base this assumption on their conversation with a checkout counter clerk at a grocery store who can not multiply 38 X 83 as fast as they can.

What most of these people forget is some of the basics. Why is America the number one country? Why American companies and brands continue to rule the world? Why the American currency is considered the basis of world economics? A lot of people are somehow under the notion that the great roads, the great buildings and the riches they hear and see in USA – those all somehow existed already and the American people just went there and started enjoying all of it. They forget that it’s the people – American people - who built all that from scratch.

You have streets in US. You have streets in India. It’s the people who built both. It’s the same building material. Laws of chemistry and physics work same in both countries. People are at same human level of existence. Then why do we see huge difference in quality of roads built in US vs. in India? There is a misconception that everyone in US is rich. No! USA has rich, middle and lower strata of society. People have needs. People have struggles. They want to make money. All these human emotions are same across the whole world. Then what is it that makes American roads much better than India? As the quote goes ‘Roads in US are good, not because US is rich. US is rich because it has good roads’

What applies to roads, applies to the whole country and the way it functions daily at all levels for common people. Why doesn’t one require things like myriad paperwork, passport sized photographs, notarized photocopies, weeks of wait, several phone calls and personal visit reminders to get simple things done in US? Why can’t an Indian even think of bribing a US cop with a $20? Why maintenance people show up on time? Why things work when they are guaranteed to work? Why is it all so convenient? Why a common man does not need to run after things to get them done? The answer is not - ‘because it’s a rich country’. It’s the people. People who are executing it daily! They are not rich. Individual wealth or lack of it does not have anything to do with the things being done on time. Country’s wealth has nothing to do with it. It’s a simple matter of doing one’s job.

People forget that American society is like Indian society. There are brilliant people and there are dumb people. There are many average and normal people. If a Computer Scientist comes to India, talks to a street vendor and then based on that conversation, deduces that Indians do not know much about the world, will it be right? American businesses, products and markets rule the world not because of their military might. They do that because of American people. They are as human as Indians. And Indians in US are NOT the reason for success of USA – they are a part of it.

Racism in US

People read about racism in US. They hear about it in media. Blacks and whites! India has always had a little something towards ‘whites’. It’s probably because the British ruled the India and they were whites. Funnily some people in India can still be heard saying “Go and rule those whites in US - the same way they ruled us for 150 years”. Come to think of it, Americans also fought against British for their independence - just like India!

Back to this racism issue, history of US is drenched in racism. The numerous crimes against Blacks in early part of last century and before, paint a very dark picture. No society can be defended against racism. There is racism in US. But it is no worse than in rest of the world. There are biases amongst people against each other. But it is no worse than in the rest of the world. All humans carry biases about other humans who look different than themselves.

Given all this, USA is actually one of the most tolerant countries when it comes to accepting new and different cultures. That’s why hoards of foreign nationals immigrate to US, work in US, study in US, prosper in US and can become part of the society in US.

If you are an Indian, chances are that you have thought about the ‘white’ people as racists whether you have personally experienced racism or not. Indians in India view Americans as racists or white supremacists. It goes back to the image of British soldiers charging with their batons onto the Indian revolutionaries. But racism in US should be taken in context of what happens in India.

We Indians are extremely racists. Indians are not only racists, but also are ‘classists’, ‘communitysts’, ‘sub-castists’ etc. We look down upon people whom we believe are from ‘lower’ societal standing. Even within one Brahmin community, there are sub-categories of Brahmins who have biases against each other. We first look at the surname of another Indian and gauge him or her. Based on that surname alone, we form a snapshot of the past, present, future, family and background of that person in our minds. We carry those biases while dealing with that person from that moment on. Our thousands of years of history is drenched in racism and classism. That struggle still goes on. In cities it is a little implicit. In villages it is more explicit. Take the simple skin color factor! Even well-do-do, educated and intellectual people carry biases about ‘dark’ vs. ‘fair’. Fair is good and dark is bad.

With that background in mind, it becomes interesting to look at US. Here is the country where there are, not only different sects of their own society, but on the top of that, there are millions of people from other countries pouring in. We “Bombayites” have a problem with people coming in from Bihar, which is just another state within India. Imagine people pouring in from many other financially poor countries into India. There will be nothing less than riots.

India being ignored in US media

Media in US is providing more attention to India today, only because India has provided an economically attractive option for US. It’s mainly because outsourcing is synonymous with India now. But before this started happening, Indians would wonder why Americans had not been paying attention to India. There was no mention of India anywhere in the US news. Pakistan would get mentioned, obviously that hurt it even more. But India being this huge country with great history and largest democracy, the fact that it was ignored, did not go well with a lot of Indians. When American president would visit India, every news channel and newspaper in India would highlight that. But when Indian PM would visit US, no one would even notice it in US. You would read an Indian newspaper, full of ‘India warns US not to indulge in Kashmir’ news in bold front lines and if you’d read US news on the same day, there would not even be a mention of that issue anywhere.

Well if it is right or wrong can be debated. The one perspective one may have is – will India or Indians really care, if say, President of Ghana visited India? Would Indian media cover it? Will Indian people make it a point to watch it? Will we really care about a much weaker and poorer country than us? Is that what happened to us too?

US is a bully

One thing Indians like to think about US is that it’s a big bully. Especially when its policies are pro-Pakistan, anti-Kashmir etc, we like to hate US. Other events in the world like Iraq war etc don’t help it either.

This is again an issue where a lot of people in India agree upon. But do we know what our own neighbors think about India? One may be under the impression that our country is this non-aggressive, passive, democratic gentle one. But talk to friends from Nepal and you would see and hear hatred towards India. That could be one more of those rude awakenings for an Indian, especially for a Hindu. One would think that Nepal being this only Hindu nation would be a favorite pal of India. But it is not true. In fact Nepalese hate the bullying nature of India, be it its policies or politicians. Nepalese believe that India can demand anything because of its power and is not ready to help Nepal with its needs. One gets surprised to hear Nepalese having no issues with Pakistan. We Indians carry this darker image of Pakistan and our Hindu neighbors Nepalese have no issues with it. But they do have issues with India. One finds similar issues when talking to Srilankan friends. It’s like India is a big bully for our smaller neighbors around us. If that is so, we should not be surprised to see the most powerful country in the world bullying around. It’s not right. But it comes with the position.

Indians and Pakistanis, Hindus and Muslims in US

Indians and Pakistanis, Hindus and Muslims have learned to act normal around each other in US now. ‘He is Muslim’ or ‘He is Indian’ statements are accepted with same smiling face and ‘it does not matter’ nod – pure American style! Desis have learned American manners when it comes to these things. In fact they may go one step further and even hang out together. They feel cool about themselves by doing that. Especially for Desis who were raised back home and who came to US, the words like religion or nationality, trigger some alarm somewhere deep down and may even push some button somewhere inside. But they have learned to mask it so well that they have begun to believe that the button never existed.

But that apart, it is strange how open minded people become about Hindu-Muslims and Indians-Pakistan issues when they are in US. Back home, they would not spare any chance of back-lashing against each other. But in US, they would behave in a very friendly way with each other. It’s almost that they all become Americans. They are not Indians or Pakistanis any more. It’s interesting how a third country makes all of us a part of one single family. At some levels it really does not matter suddenly. This tells us that either we don’t care about real problems back home when we are in US or emotions do run really high on these issues back home.

Dignity of Labor in US

One big difference an Indian realizes when he comes to US is the way people behave with the guy behind the counter at a Fast food place or a waiter or a woman mopping the floor or the guy in a grocery store etc. That behavior is drastically different than the one he is used to, back in India. There is a hierarchy – very bold and obvious – in India. A driver, a servant, a cleaning person, a fruit vendor – every one is ‘shown his and her place’ daily. That kind of behavior has become a second nature in India. It is no longer considered rude, although it is. That’s how people behave and it is well accepted. But that social hierarchy seems to be missing in US. The waiter, the vendor, the guy-behind-the-counter, the sweeping woman – everyone behaves with you at an equal level and you reciprocate back at that level. ‘No job is bad job’ is what is taught to us, but we don’t treat all jobs equally in India. One of the Indian guy’s parents were visiting US and they all went to a restaurant. The parents, used to the Indian way, called upon the waiter with that ‘typical-pssst-sound-and-calling-with-fingers’ gesture. After serving them, the waiter took the Indian guy to a side and he said ‘Please let them know that I am a student and not a servant’. What was missing was the dignity of labor!

This also brings us to personal habits of individuals. In US, irrespective of your income level, you are bound to clean the house yourself, wash the dishes and clothes yourself, do the grocery shopping yourself as well. In India, especially in the middle class and above, people are used to getting their clothes washed, houses cleaned and dishes done by other people. Indian women are used to their servants doing it. Indian men are used to the Indian women or servants doing it. Indians in India laugh and joke about Indians in US – ‘you wash your own clothes?’ Indians in US wish they had access to cheap labor. But they don’t. If they had, they would have had servants too. Everyone wants to employ other people to maintain their lives, their bodies and their homes. Easy availability of cheap labor is the cause. But at the least, we can learn not be condescending towards such ‘chores’. We look down upon these ‘chores’ and also upon the people who do them for us. That’s where we lose sight of the dignity of labor.

Western culture

Western culture has become a commonly used word in the dictionary of Indians. It is used in a very generic and broad manner. People use it like a wide brush to paint everything that is perceived as modern and evil. It’s funny that people use this word to describe behavior of people in India, who have never been to the “west”. It could be the neighborhood girl wearing short-skirts. It could also be an auntie switching from Saaris to Punjabi dresses. It could be young teenagers driving fast bikes and drinking beer. All this is categorized into western culture. Even the increasing divorce rate in Indian cities is categorized into western culture. Is it western culture? Take an example of a divorce. What happens between a husband and wife is what happens between them. It is not western culture. The girl starting to wear short skirts and her parents being ok with it - is their own culture. It is not western culture

Where does this ‘Western culture’ come in from? Mostly it is because of media. MTV, Jerry Springer, Soap Operas, Hollywood movies! Media forms an image of a country. Similarly, news like extravagant weddings of Bollywood stars, Milk Drinking Ganeshas, Monkey-Man, Sati, Dowry practices, images of slums, poverty form the international image of India. Many people in India think of Americans as people who marry 2-3 times in their lifetimes. Most commonly known thing in India is how American kids ‘leave’ their parents at the age of 16.

But as one spends more and more time every day with normal common Americans, one comes to realize that they are as afraid of ‘western culture’ as everyone else. They worry about their kids getting influenced by TV and internet. They try to impose strict control on the content kids can watch and also on the time they can spend with it. They worry and care about their old parents. They cry when relations go sour. They yearn for normal family lives. Human emotions, attachments and fears are common everywhere in the world. Dig a little deeper in the ‘Indian cultured’ society around you. You will find marital abuse, extra-marital affairs, rapes, alcoholism, twisted family relations and so on. Even Indians agree that Indian society can be pretty hypocritical. So where does the question of ‘western culture’ come in? It’s our own culture!

Then there is always another side to everything. Even the Indian culture can be looked at differently. What we perceive as less divorce rate could also be seen as women not having any voice, they being oppressed without having option of getting out of bad marriages. Americans perceive India as a country with dowry and Sati system. We pride ourselves with concepts like ‘joint families’. But if we dig just a little deeper in our own joint families, how many family members are truly happy living together? The concept of joint families is becoming scarcer for that very reason. Is it really an influence of western culture or is it just a practical and happier thing to do? By being in joint families, do we increase the stress and tension amongst the family members? By being close to each other but by not being under the same roof, do we not achieve the proper balance and maintain good relations? More and more families in India are going this way. So should we say that we are following the pattern which already existed in American society? Is it really that wrong or evil? All this has become our own culture or at least a big part of it. Then is it still ‘western?’

Each of the points mentioned here can trigger a big debate on its own. They have triggered debates before and they will continue to do so. It is because all of it is subjective. All of it depends on personal outlooks, experiences and beliefs. Those are different from one person to next.

As we Indians spend more time with USA, we continue to learn more and more about this country. Whether we live in USA or in India, it has entered our lives. We hate it, we love it, we debate about it, we discuss its policies, we watch its movies, we use its brands, we eat the food, we aspire for it, we are disgusted by it, we measure ourselves by it and we compare with it. If there is any one country outside India which affects us Indians the most, it’s USA.

As human beings, our goal can be to learn, educate ourselves and evolve. The more we get exposed to the world beyond ours, the more we evolve. After that, we can pick only what makes us better and forget everything else. As they say in Sanskrit “Yad rochate, tad grahyam!’ (pick only what you think is good)

Kedar Patankar

Article registered with Writers Guild of America

Registration Number: 1203093

Friday, July 13, 2007

How Small Shivaji Was ?

This is one of the best articles I have come across about Shivaji

Shivaji - An Analysis

The greatness of Shivaji and his limitations must be understood clearly. It is a fact that he doesn't have the background of the 17th Century Renaissance enjoyed by any European Ruler. He alone has the broad religious background of the Varakari Movement (which traces its roots to Dnyaneshwar), a Hindu movement. This makes him different from the likes of Cromwell and Nepolean. He was not democratic. Indeed, he entertained no thoughts of mass education or liberation of women or removal of casteism or, for that matter, setting up printing presses. He had no thoughts of approving widow marriages or terminating the system of childhood marriages. Indeed, had somebody come up with so heretic an opinion, he would have certainly chopped off his arms and legs. He always went to the Dutch or the British for fire arms. A thought of producing it himself didn't occur to him. Who were these Europeans? And for what purpose had they arrived in India? He could not have had much clue to it. By that time Galileo had invented telescope, Columbus had discovered America and Magellan had completed the first cruise round the globe. And the illustrious Chhatrapati was unaware of these events. Like every great person, Shivaji was a product of his time. To what extent he understood the prevalent current of Time and how far he managed to go ahead of his time will ultimately gauge his greatness.

Five years back, a South Indian author of little fame had written an article in an issue of Hindu. I haven't studied a better article explaining the greatness of Shivaji. It was titled "How Small Shivaji Was?"

Says the author, "Shivaji is the Deity of Maharashtrians. They would not have an iota of reservation in putting him above God. To say that in the entire five thousand years of the history of human civilisation, no other King can hold candle to Shivaji would seem an understatement to them. I do not intend to join this approbatory gang. Rather than evaluating his greatness as a human being, I wish to examine how small he really was.

The first fact to strike is that he created a kingdom. There must have been over 500 Dynasties in India. Each had a founder. One among them was Shivaji. The rest had an opportunity to do so because of the reigning confusion. Vassals of a weak king would declare independence with the central power helpless to prevent it. A powerful general used to dethrone a weak king and raise his own kingdom. This had been the fashion in which a new Power was established. The new king inherited the existing Army and the beaurocratic structure automatically. In Shivaji, we have the one who had to raise everything from nothing, who didn't have the benefit of a ready strong army; who, on trying to establish himself, had to face the might of Great Powers; who had the neighbouring Bijapur and Golkonda powers still on the rise and the Moghul Empire at its zenith. Shivaji was eating away that Bijapur Empire which had usurped more than half of Nijamshahi and was on its way to consume almost all of Karnataka. Here is somebody who, from the start, never had the might to defeat his rivals in a face-to-face battle, who saw the efforts of 20 years go down the drain in a matter of 4 months; but still fought on to create an empire with 29 years of constant struggle and enterprise. It would be easy to see how small he was once we find which founder to compare to in the annals of Indian history, on this issue.

A Hindu Power has certain distiguishing traits. It is not as if they do not emerge victorious in a war. Victories - there have been many. But their victory does not destroy their opponent. The latter's territory doesn't diminish, his power is not erased. The victor's territory doesn't expand. Even though victorious, he becomes weaker and stays so. In short, it is plain that they faced total destruction in defeat and weakening in victory. A new chapter in Hindu history is begun with Shivaji wherein battles are won to expand the empire while strength and will power is preserved in a defeat. Secondly, the Hindu Rulers used to be astonishingly ignorant of the border situation. Their enemy would catch them unawares, often marching in over 200 miles in their territory and only then would they wake up to the situation. Whatever may be the outcome of the battle, only theirs would be the land to be defiled. The arrival of Shivaji radically changes this and heralds the beginning of an era of staying alter before a war and unexpected raids on the enemy. Thirdly, the Hindu kings habitually placed blind faith in their adversories. This saga terminates with Shivaji performing the treacherous tricks. It was the turn of the opponenents to get stunned. In the ranks of Hindu kings, the search still going on for him who can compare to Shivaji on this point.

Shivaji was religious; but he was not fanatic. Although iron hearted, he was not cruel. He was daring, yet not impulsive. He was practical; but not unambitious. He was dreamer who dreamt lofty aims and had the firm capacity to convert them into reality. His lifestyle was not simple. Having adopted a choice, rich lifestyle, he was not lavish. He was gracious to other religions. On that account he may be compared to Ashoka, Harsha, Vikramaditya, Akbar. But all of these had great harems. Akbar had Meenabazar, Ashoka had Tishyaraxita. Shivaji had not given free reign to his lust. Kings, both Hindu and Muslim, had an overflowing, ever youthful choice taste for collection of women in their prime and diamonds. That was lacking in Shivaji. He had neither the money to spend on sculptures, paintings, music, poetry or monuments nor the inclination. He did not have the classical appreciation needed to spend over 20 crore rupees and hold deprived subjects with strokes of hunter to build a Taj Mahal even as famine was claiming over hundreds of thousands of lives; nor was he pious enough to erect temple after temple while India was being systematically consumed by the British. He was a sinner; a practical man like the rest of us. Khafi Khan sends him to Hell. I, myself, think that Shivaji must have gone to the Hell. He would not have enjoyed the company of the brave warriors who preferred gallant death to preservation of their land. It would have ill suited him to live with the noble kings who would rather indulge in rituals such as Yadnya than expand the army. For the Heaven is full of such personalities. Akbar adopted a generous attitude towards Hindus and has been praised to the skies for that. But, it is an elementary rule that a stable government is impossible if the majority of the subjects is unhappy. Akbar was courtious to them who, as a community, were raising his kingdom and stabilising it for him. The Hindus he treated well were a majority in his empire and were enriching his treasury through their taxes. The Hindus had no history of invasions. They had not destroyed Masjids. They had not celebrated genocides of Muslims. They had not defiled Muslim women or imposed forced conversions. These were the people Akbar was generous to. On the contrary, Muslims were a minority community in Shivaji's empire. It was not the mainstay of his taxes. It was not chalking out a kingdom for him. Besides, there was a danger of an Invasion and Alamgir was imposing Jiziya tax on Hindus. Yet, he treated Muslims well. That was not out of fear but because of his inborn generosity.

Given this background, I am ready to see Shivaji as small he really is. But whom to turn to make him smaller? Is there any such standard?"

To round off this discussion, I should like to expand on a couple of issues left unaddressed by the above article. Firstly, Shivaji's expertise as a general is, of course, undisputed. But, besides that, he was also an excellent Governor. He believed that the welfare of the subjects was a responsibility of the ruler. Even though he fought so many battles, he never laid extra taxes on his subjects. Even the expenditure for his coronation was covered by the taxes on the collectors. In a letter he challenges, "It is true that I've deceived the enemy. Can you show an instance where I tricked an ally ?" This challenge is unanswered. He funded establishment of new villages, set up tax systems on the farms, used the forts to store the farm produce, gave loans to farmers for the purchase of seeds, oxes etc, built new forts, had the language standardized to facilitate the inter government communication, had the horoscope revised, encouraged purification from Islam to Hinduism. He was not a mere warrior.

Secondly, and most important of all, to protect his kingdom, his subjects fought for over 27 years. After Shivaji's death they fought under Sambhaji. After Sambhaji was killed by Aurangzeb, they still fought for over 19 years. In this continued struggle, a minimum of 5 lakh Moghuls died (Jadunath Sarkar's estimate). Over 2 lakh Marathas died. Still in 1707, over 1 lakh Marathas were fighting with spears. They didn't have a distinguished leader to look up to. There was no guarranty of a regular payment. Still, they kept on fighting. In these 27 years, Aurangzeb didn't suffer a defeat. That was because Marathas simply lacked the force necessary to defeat so vast an army. Jadunath says, "Alamgir won battle after battle. But in the end, after spending crores of rupees, he accomplished nothing apart from weakening his All India Empire and his own death. He could not defeat Marathas".

This is the only incident in thousands of years of history of India where common ordinary people faught for any king. Throughout the history of India, ordinary common people were always aloof from whatever happened to their own kings because of enemy attacks. Shivaji's kingdom was the only one for which ordinary people faught. And when people fight, armies lose.

This itself proves the greatness of the man as a leader and not just another King.

When the Peshawai ended, there was an air of satisfaction that a disorderly government would be replaced by government of law. In fact, sweets were distributed when the British won Bengal. In this light, the above facts demonstrate the extent to which his subjects identified themselves with Shivaji's Nation and the excellence of Shivaji as its founder.

This is a selective and free translation of Shri. Narahar Kurundakar`s foreword to Shri. Ranjit Desai`s "Shriman Yogi".

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Taj Mahal Controversy

"TajMahal or Tejo-Mahalay"

Disclaimer: Following are the excerpts out of a book I have. These are not my views :)

Visit this site


There are up-close-and-personal photographs of Taj Mahal structural details including the pinnacle, lotus, OM etc etc

First read this -

- Taj Mahal gets mentioned in history pages even before Shahajahan. Aladdin Khilji who came to India 300 years before Shahajahan mentions it. Babar, who was the 1st Mughal emperor had stayed in Taj Mahal. He mentions it with detail.

- When Babar died, sister of the next emperor Humayun, describes that the body of Babar was kept in the front porch of Taj Mahal - this was years and years before Shahjahan was born.

- There is no mention of Tajmahal in any of the letters of Shahjahan or Aurangjeb

- A carbon-14 test done on a door of TajMahal takes its age 300 years before Shahajahan. Of course you have to remember that doors were replaced and fixed all the time, so that takes it back even further

- Taj Mahal has the Vaidic architecture - 8 sided polygon. The 4 towers on 4 corners is ancient Vaidic method - just like the 4 pillars for a Mandap

- The Kuraan script on Tajmahal walls - those stones clearly show that they were put in or forced in those places later - the borders do not match the original design - the kuraan aayate are not in straight line - they seem to have been forcefully put in there after stripping off the original design

- The top border of walls , just above Kuraan , reveal designs made up of snake pairs

- There is a "Ganesh Patti" - a single row of Ganesh images near the entrance - 3 sided elephants

- Remember that no animals or birds are allowed to be sculptured near a kabar

- The "chaand" at the top of Taj Mahal - its not Muslim Chand. You see a design with a Ghat (kumbh), two leaves and this chandrakor. There is no typical Muslim 'almost circular moon with star'

- In 1958-59, they found Murtis when a part of a wall crashed down. It was told to Maulana Aazad who told it to Nehru. But the government did not want to hurt communal feelings and the news was kept a secret

- In a museum at Lucknow, they have a ShilaaLekh on the same kind of black stone as that is found near Taj Mahal - that clearly mentions the structure of TajMahal -

"It is built for Lord Shiva. King of that region wanted Shiva to live in his kingdom. He built a home for him, looking just like Kailas. White ..made with marble ..resembling kailas"

- The structure of TajMahal is ancient design of Vastu Purush. The huge base being the 'Aasan' or his folded legs. The structure on it is like the body and the tomb is like the head.

- There are letters available which reveal that Shahjahan bought this land and the palace of Raja Mansingh in exchange of very little money

- In Badshah Naama - it clearly states that "we did the last rites of Mumtaj in Raja Mansingh's palace and buried her there'

- There is a letter from Aurangjeb to Shahjahan about deteorating condition of roofs and walls of old buldings of Tajmahal - this letter dates just 3 years after when history believes 'Shahjahan built a brand new Taj Mahal'

- Shahjahan had thousands of wives along with affairs with maids and also his own daughter - why would he spend so much on one wife. He never built anything when she was alive.

- Just 3 years before the so called date of construction of Tajmahal, Shahjahan had come on the throne after intense battles - he had no money left - forget about spending so much on 1 structure

- Taj Mahal has 5 levels. On two of its visible levels/floors, there are two Kabars of Mumtaz. When did you see a kabar built on 1st floor, so above from the ground ? The intent was clear - t0 snatch the structure away from Rajputs - build kabars on every floor and declare it as a property of Mughal empire.

- But you can have Shivling on two floors - AhilyaBai's mandir and other mandirs have same architecture of levels

- You see Mumtaz's kabar in the middle of that 8 sides structure - an empty huge tile sits facing it near an entrance - There was a Nandi there which has been removed. Under that kabar is remains of ancient shivlinga

-Shahjahan himself did not intent to take the credit of Tajmahal. He stripped it off of its gold , diamonds and even the world famous Mayur Sinhasan - used all that money for his empire. He basically wanted to snatch that structure away from Rajputs and so he ordered to change it and convert it into a kabaristan - so that they will not want to take it back

- He never intended to take the credit though - In fact he never even mentions it in any of his papers. It is the historians who hyped it to please the government later on. Add to it the
lack of communication modes at that time, uneducated people and you have an excellent mix

-the structure was not built around a kabar. The kabar was built inside an already existing structure

- Unfortunately we depended on only the foreign accounts of our own history. We forgot that none of it / hardly any of it can be reliable

- when you have a minority from outside ruling over local majority , the historians from the minority can hype about anything to make their kings look great

- None of the structures have been built by Mughals - not Taj Mahal, not Laal Kilaa , not Kutub Mahaal ..nothing. Laal Killa , like TajMahal gets mentioned before Shahjahan in hisory.

- Mahal is not even a word in Farsi/Iranian/Turki history. Apart from Taj Mahal, none of the structures from India to Turkey has 'Mahal' in its name. Whereas, even in Shiavji's papers , he mentions 'mahal, paragane' etc

- Mughals were fighters, conqureres and pluderers. The intent was to survive against other kingdoms, kill or die , grab as much as you can from the region you conquer. They never worried about building grand structures like these.

The book goes on and on. Above are just a few points

Again, these are not my views. So dont come looking for me :)

Friday, June 29, 2007

About Asha Bhonsle's concert , USA, 2007

Asha Bhonsle & The Incredibles show – Oracle Arena, Oakland, CA
May 12, 2007

Saturday May 12, 2007 night, is when we attended the show “The Incredibles” featuring Asha Bhonsle, Sonu Nigam, Kailash Kher and Kunal Ganjawala.

The stadium was full of cheering and enthusiastic NRIs, eager to see their favorite performers and legends. Almost a crowd of 3000 or more! The lighting arrangement, the sound quality, the air ventilation – everything was in top shape. The main show started off with Kunal Ganjawala, who was followed by Kailash Kher. One better than the other! People enjoyed both performances. Kunal was very good. Kailash was brilliant. The crowd was enjoying every moment of it, clapping, singing and participating in along with the performers.

The incredible Sonu Nigam rocked the Oracle Arena stadium after Kailash Kher. He is truly a world-class performer, with a mesmerizing range. His vocals, his dance and his rapport with the audience – everything was incredible. People went berserk when Sonu was performing.

As soon as Sonu took a break after a thrilling performance, there entered the legend – Asha Bhonsle! The entire stadium stood up on their feet! A standing ovation for a truly deserving artist! I got goose bumps as she walked in, in her famous white saari!

I am one of those people who like Asha better than Lata. I am one of those people who, if not a die-hard fan, is an admirer of Asha Bhonsle. I am born in 70s and so have spent many moments of my life listening to Asha. So have all of us! She has truly entertained us for decades with her magic. When she walks in on the stage, feet stand themselves up. People from all walks of life, kids, teenagers born in US, parents visiting fromIndia, housewives, working professionals – everyone stood up last night!

But what followed after her entry was the great collapse of the show. It all went downhill very fast and then, never recovered. Shockingly, it was solely because of Asha Bhonsle.

She made her entry with the famous ‘Dum Maaro Dum!”. The moment we heard her voice for the first time, we did not know how to react. It was almost that someone else was giving a playback for Asha. The voice did not sound like hers. It was a heavy, low and tired voice. But we figured that it was because she was not warmed up by then. It was her first performance in US and it was her first song. We understood that completely. Questioning Asha Bhonsle’s voice quality is like doubting Amitabh’s acting abilities. It is untouchable!

For rest of the show, one kept hoping to hear that lovable and magical voice. We caught glimpses of it, here and there, but that’s about it. I kept cringing in my chair. I am sure thousands of others did the same. As an audience and fans, we wanted Asha Bhonsle’s singing to go perfect. When you like and admire a performer so much, you keep denying any of her/his imperfections to yourself. You don’t want to believe that there could be any imperfections in the first place.

Asha Bhonsle has reached such a pinnacle in her career that she is truly untouchable. All of the thousands of people present in that stadium knew her greatness. They were considering themselves lucky to see her perform in person. They were all very well aware of her age. They all admired her for her great spirit. When a performer has reached that level, the audience is all-forgiving towards her or him. The performer has given the audience so much over the years that audience is hardly expecting anything anymore. Factors like money you paid for the tickets and the return you expect become irrelevant in such cases.

That’s why her voice quality did not bother us as an audience. We were wishing to hear the magic, but had no complains if it was not there. We understood!

What bothered us was the gimmicks. Asha Bhonsle tried hard to copy the performers before her. She behaved like the fourth band member of ‘Kunal Ganjawala – Sonu Nigam – Kailash Kher’ band. She tried to be ‘hip’, ‘young’ and ‘dashing’. She moved, she danced and she sang fast paced disco songs. There is nothing wrong in that. But her age is not on her side. Her voice and stamina is not on her side. She was frequently getting tired. Again and again, she was stopping half way through the lines, because she was getting exhausted. Do you expect Asha Bhonsle not able to complete lines? Her voice was becoming wavy. She was requesting water many times. In all, she probably sang 4-5 songs. One of them was the stereotypical Punjabi song –Baribarsi khatangayasi - which is not an Asha song. It was like what a newcomer in an upcoming orchestra would do to appease the gallery. The lowest point in the performance was reached when she wore a white cap and began to sing ‘Jhalak Dikhalaja ..’. When she started to sing that, at first, it did not sink in for me. I was trying hard to remind myself of all her songs and could not figure out the movie or album, she had sung it for. Then slowly it occurred to me that it is the Himesh Reshmia song .. Oh, the white cap!! Worse thing was that she sang it worse than Himesh Reshmia. I am not a Reshmia fan and I still believed that he has done a better job at it. Much better!

But why Reshmia song? Why ‘Baribarsi’? Why being unable to complete lines of songs because of dancing and moving? Why the wavy and high pitched voice because trying to look ‘hip’ and ‘energetic’?

I am still trying to figure this. Is it that she is ill-informed? Have organizers told her “Asha ji, after Sonu’s energetic performance, if you sing old or slow songs, people would leave?” Are there any misconceptions about audience expectations? Is it because she was inSan Franciscoand someone thought that she “had” to be hip and ‘American’? Thousands of people who came to watch her last night were not expecting Britney Spears. They did not want it either. They wanted Asha Bhonsle. The standing ovation she got in the beginning was not because how ‘hip’ she can be. It was for her being Asha Bhonsle – the legend!

Or is it that she herself is trying to ‘fit in’? Is it that she herself wants to matter to today’s teenagers, like the way she did for teenagers of 50s to 90s? Is she competing with Sonus and Himesh Reshmias? If it is so, the world knows that she does not have to. They are no where near her. For her, there is nothing to compete against. She is on the high pedestal. It will take years and abandon luck for them to reach her status and popularity. This is such an obvious truth that I don’t even feel like elaborating it further.

Asha Bhonsle is such a legendary artist that one performance like last night’s wont even make a dent on her achievements or the respect and love people have towards her. Opinions of people like me about last night are equally immaterial. She has given so much entertainment for all these years to us that even I will soon forget the not-so-good memories of her last night’s performance.

But I think that the great artists like her should realize their greatness well-in-time and respect it also. They should understand their audience. They should understand the love and respect their audience have towards them. All that is extremely precious. Very few people achieve it in their lives.

For legendary artists like her, it’s up to them to decide on what to perform and how to perform it. For fans like me, we can’t help but just feel sad!

My experience in India

My sister Anupama finished her Masters in Child Psychology from Mumbai before she got married. Now after several years of stay abroad, she returned to Pune,Indiain 2005 along with her family. There, she started working with her ex-teacher from her college - Meera. Together, they run an organization called “chugrad”. I know … it’s a weird name.

Anupama and Meera primarily focus on “kids”. I had been hearing bits and pieces of her work from her – you know, through phone conversations or so. She would not mention it otherwise, but I would ask small-talk questions like ‘what did you do today?” and I would get answers like “We went to Mangeshkar hospital to talk to administration” or “That child smiled for the first time after 6 months”.

Still, I did not pay much attention then. “Some social work ..”, I said to myself. When my friends in US would ask me about my sister, (they were very curious to know how she is coping withIndia), I would tell them the same thing “She is doing some social work. So it’s good! She is keeping herself busy”. It had to be some kind of that social work, you know. Besides, I was too busy and focused on my own life in US and work etc etc to really delve into the nitty-gritty.

So 3 weeks ago, I went to India for my own wedding. It was a fantastic time. Family, friends, parties, wedding preparations, shopping, eating out, .. You name it!

Anupama continued to go to this Mangeshkar hospital almost daily when I was in Pune. I also heard the name of Sassoon hospital from her. My friend Mugdha also had started to work with Anupama and Meera. So I heard from her as well. In fact they all seemed very serious about their work. A week before the wedding, they were talking about having to miss their visit to the hospital on the day just before my wedding and they were trying to plan it so that it won’t be missed. Frankly I was like .“hmmm” . After all, I had come all the way from US of A and it was MY wedding. Come on, it better be the most important day along with the days before and after. Can you not think about some visit to some kids for a change?

So during that week, one day, in between doing travel preparations for my upcoming honeymoon and having a nice lunch at this great seafood place with my fiancé, I decided to go with Anupama and Mugdha to Mangeshkar hospital. Actually, the truth is that they were going to that part of the city for their visit and I needed a ride. And so I went ..

Mugdha and Anupama had taken two big cardboard boxes with them in the car. They were full of small toys, sketching stuff, pens and pencils, cars, dolls... It supposedly was a part of their routine.

Mangeshkar hospital turned out to be nicer looking than I had imagined. I walked in. The familiar smell of needles and hospital along with patients – old, young, men, women .. sitting on the wooden benches and chairs, doctors and nurses running around .. I had started to feel pretty proud and healthy about myself as I walked around carrying one of the two big toy boxes.

Anupama and Mugdha walked in this department with the name that had the word “Cancer” in it. I followed them. We were walking by an elevator. Just then the doors of the elevator opened and out came a young boy. How young? 6 or may be 5 ? He was carrying bandages and some tubes attached to him as he walked out of the elevator along with his parents. The thing I immediately noticed was his head. It was shaved off. Completely. Anupama immediately smiled at them. They smiled back. They knew her well. She went ahead and patted that small boy. “How are you feeling today”? He was shy. But he smiled at her. The smile of a young 6 years old boy! Plain and simple! Although his parents were dressed properly, clearly they belonged to the lower income strata.

There was another mother caring for her 5-6 year old girl in the corridor. Another young child. That girl was crying hopelessly. Anupama went and talked to the mother. She kneeled down and held that girl close to her. “What happened?” She asked. They both knew her. The mother replied “It’s all itchy .. because of the medicines”. The small girl could not bear all her skin itching like that. So she was crying. Oh yes and she was bald as well.

Mugdha in the mean time has gone into a ‘General’ ward. I went in there along with Anupama. Mugdha had carried the other Toy box with her. She had already started taking the toys out and showing it to a young boy – 6-7 years old again – who was lying on one of the beds there. I looked around. There were other small kids – all lying on the beds around.

All bald! All carrying tubes and bandages! Some of those bandages were fatter than their limbs.

The helpless parents and grandparents sat there along with their loved children. These people did not have enough money to take their kids to number 1 and number 2 hospitals in the country. They did not have enough money to afford pricey medicines or treatments. They did not have money to afford ‘Special ward’ either. So they had come here.

The small boy Mugdha was trying to play with – he had lost his smile. He was trying to sit up on his bed only with the help of his parents. As Mugdha tried to communicate with him, his parents smiled at her knowingly - “He cannot talk today”. They said. His mouth from inside had swollen up. When I or you open our mouths, we see our throat cavity. But in his case, the cancer had grown inside his mouth. There was no cavity. He could not open his mouth. Forget that, he could not take a sip of water of eat a grain of food.

This young boy would die later – just before I leftIndia.

“Children from poor families with cancer are mostly neglected in hospitals” Anupama said to me “Even the parents cannot afford the costly treatment. When it comes choosing between treatment of this fatal disease for one child and saving money for other children’s education or marriage, they choose the later.”

The seemingly ruthless and logical choice is out of necessity. Life looks very different when you have no money and when you are forced to make harsh choices because of that. It looks much different than what I or you are used to.

Yet Anupama was telling me about the father of the boy with the cancer in his mouth. He had said to her “Initially we were told that it would take 60-70000 rupees. We had the option of applying for the government grant, but then I thought, why to snatch that right away from some other poorer family? But now the expense is in range of 10 Lack rupees. How can I afford that? I have two daughters. One is in 12th grade, other is to be married soon”. Even in his financial condition, he was thinking of poorer families than him.

These children – many of them as young as my nieces or even younger – are ignored because they are a ‘lost cause’. Parents cannot afford treatment. Hospitals cannot afford them. It’s not the parents’ fault. It’s not the fault of the hospitals either.

So Anupama, Meera and Mugdha apply what they call a Play Therapy. They go and spend time with these kids. They play with them. They bring them toys. They read stories to them. There is no one else who wants to spend time with these kids.

They already have seen results. Parents of such children have told my sister “It’s only because of you that my child has smiled in 6 months”. I could see that first-hand. All these bed-ridden children – how their faces lit up when they saw Anupama and Mugdha.

It also did not take much more for me to understand why Anupama and Mugdha were so concerned about having to miss even single day of visit here.

But I was yet to learn some more..

In 4 days I visited another place – The Sassoon Hospital. We went to its orphanage/ Adoption center. Anupama works with them as well. She and my brother-in-law wanted to give me a gift for my wedding. She decided that they’d rather sponsor some meals for the children in that orphanage than buying yet another shirt or watch for me. I agreed and we all went to make the payment.

It was a small place with 2-3 smaller rooms. In each of those rooms were two layers of cribs. Some of those cribs had a single baby/infant/child/kid in it and the rest had two. These babies and kids – some of them were just looking at us with those big curious eyes. Some of them were crying hopelessly. Some of them were playing with one another. They were left on their own during that time when we were there and the cribs looked more like small prison cells to me. Elder kids recognized my sister as we walked through. Some of them wanted her to pick them up. Some started crying as we left them behind. My sister was resisting herself from picking anyone up because she did not want to leave them crying. They were all literally craving for any little human affection.

I would learn later that it takes about Rupees 1500 (~ $30) to feed all these children daily. There were many , many of them in that single orphanage.

That’s the amount I had spent on my single lunch the previous day.

Why did I write all this? Well, I know that we all feel sad and we all feel that ‘we should do something’ when we read such stuff. It’s a natural human emotion. I know that it’s also natural for us to not have such sentimental intensity about these causes all the time. In fact, majority of us forget about it soon as our minds get occupied with our lives and routines.

That’s how it is and there is nothing abnormal about it. So this is not about making anyone feel guilty. And frankly, it happens to me all the time. When I read or experience such things, I determine to be the greatest “giver” of all time. But within 10-15 minutes, I get back to solving my own problems again.

Recently I read an interesting article about ‘Love’. The author says that Love is not about emotion or state of one’s feelings. It’s about action – the things you do. In other words, it is impossible, rather unnatural to feel intense love and liking towards one person all the time, be it your spouse or any other loved one. Love is not about that. Feelings come and go. Love is about - still doing good things for that person in absence of those intense feelings.

I equate that article to this scenario. In fact, when I write this, I know that I am not as sentimental as I felt when I was walking through that hospital. I know that when you finish reading this, within 10-15 minutes, you won’t be as sentimental either.

The question is if we can still take action and do something to help others in absence of our sentiments, which always come and go.

My sister and many others like her do it. Daily.

May be we can all start somewhere.

Kedar (kapster00@gmail.com)