He walked into the crowded bus stand of Bangalore. He was in his mid thirties, and looked totally out of sync with the city, which was his home just five years back. This was the first time he was coming to India after he had settled in New Jersey. "Uff...too many people here", he said to himself. He walked towards the inter-state platform, which looked empty. He approached the old ticket issuer sitting behind the counter, to check the timings of the next bus.
"Excuse me, is this inter-state platform for Coimbatore?", he asked with a slight accent.
"Yes", replied the ticket issuer, in a bored tone, even without lifting his head.
"Are there no buses now?", he asked politely, a tone which he had learnt hard in the last five years.
"There are, please wait for some time".
"Okie, what time is the next bus?", obviously not happy with the reply.
"Cant say, we dont know what time the buses arrive...", trying hard to control his temper.
He sat down at a bench next to the counter. "These people dont give a damn about time. How can they be so rude and unprofessional...", he started cursing the ticket issuer.
After a few hours, the ticket issuer was talking to a bus driver at a roadside beedi shop.
"I dont understand this. Cant the people read the boards to know the platform numbers, bus timings etc. I have to answer hundreds of stupid people everyday who ask the same questions. I am fed up of..."
Two weeks after coming here, I had been to Walmart for the first time. I had to get many things for the apartment. After some unsuccessful minutes of wandering and searching, I decided to ask someone. I went near the billing counter and asked the old lady standing there.
"Excuse me, where can I get a foot rug?"
She went blank for a moment and asked, "A what?"
"Foot rug, which we put outside the door"
"Oh, a door mat, its right there in the next aisle". I was speaking English and the only language she knew was 'American'.
I picked up the cheapest foot rug available, as I anyway needed that just for three months.
Then I remembered I needed a dust bin too. These people might not know what a dust bin is. There must be some other term. I thought for a while and went to the same old lady at the counter.
"Hai, where can I get a trash can?"
"A what?", her expression was as blank as the last time.
"A Trash can, to put all the waste..."
"Gotcha, you want a dust bin, go straight and its right up there"
Sometimes, acting super smart just does not work. :)
Downtown has become one of my favourite hangout locations over the weekends. Last saturday, I and Aravind went to the trax station and took all-day pass from a ticket vending machine. I love travelling by trax. Its full of life and I can see all kinds of people there. A young boy got his bike into the train(people call their bicycles as bikes, and they can bring it in the train. The funny thing is, they have separate places for boarding the train with their bikes!) A couple were sitting opposite to me - the girl seemed to be very angry and the boy was using all his skills to calm her. I was watching them from the reflection on the window glass ;) The girl did not relent for quite a long time, and then the boy said something for which the girl could not control her laughter. Persistence pays! An old couple sitting diagonally opposite to me were playing with the kid of a young couple sitting opposite to them. It made my belief stronger - that deep down, people are same everywhere - their likes, fears, aspirations, insecurities are all the same.
In the next 30 minutes, we were in Temple Square. First, we entered the South Visitors Center. Apart from the paintings on the walls depicting the life of Jesus Christ, the place had TVs showing the clippings of how the city was founded. It suprised me to know that the city did not exist two centuries back. We had just finished watching the clippings when we heard a female voice.
"My name is...I am from Philippines, she is...from Mexico. We are working as missionaries here"
I forgot their names as fast as I heard them.
"I am Aravind"
"I am Vasuki. We are from India"
We shook hands with them. The philippine was a short girl with round face and she wore a light pink dress and the tall mexican was in a black outfit.
The philippine started the conversation.
"Have you been to this place before?" She talked as politely as I have heard anyone talking till now.
"I had been here once. I was just roaming around this place, on new year eve", I said.
For a moment, her face could not hide the irritation for my "roaming around" remarks about a holy place. But, she regained her composure very fast. She seemed to remember her classes about the evils of anger.
"This is a holy place, this place was built by Brigham Young and the latter day saints. They were the children of God..." She seemed to go on and on, oblivious of the fact that two visitors were having a boredom of their lifetime.
We were nodding our heads and mumbling the periodic "Ya"s not to appear rude.
"Do you know Moses?", she asked.
"Ya", I said. I remembered the movie 'Ten Commandments' I had seen when I was a kid, and regretted saying yes to her.
"Moses and Jospeh Smith, they were chosen by God, to spread..." She spoke as though she was in a trance, with a pity for the ignorance of the mortals around(us!!) and a contempt for this materialistic world.
I could not understand why this girl cant see the beauty in this "materialistic" world...the snow, the mountains, exploring new things et al. Oh God, please save me from your followers!
The mexican girl started from where her friend had left off. Her face was expressionless and she seemed to suffer from spiritual numbness. She spoke as a nursery kid telling a by-hearted rhyme.
"God preached us how to be happy with family. We must realize where we came from (I am from Bangalore, I thought :)) and we must understand the ultimate truth (The truth is that I was extremely bored!)...do you want to take a guide here? The tour starts in 15 minutes". She paused for a second, for which I was waiting.
"Actually, we are a bit busy today. We will definitely come here again. It was great talking to you. We got to know a lot from you", I said. Never in my life had I told so many lies at once!
Finally, we rushed out of the room, taking care not to make eye contact with any person there (for the fear of being caught again!) After roaming around for some more time, we entered the trax and headed for Murray. I somehow could not forget those two bright-looking girls, who would waste their lives sacrificing all the "materialistic joys", for knowing "the truth".
Oh God, if you exist, save them, if you can!
The most frequently used sentence I have heard here is "Hey, howz it goin'?". The first day after I arrived here, I had gone in a taxi. The taxi driver had asked - "Hey howz it goin'?" For a moment, I had not realized what that "it" was - is it his taxi or my life? I dont know why the people here dont use relatively shorter phrases like "How are you?" or "How do you do?". Even strangers whom I meet on the road(though very rarely!) greet me with a "Hey, howz it goin'?". Yesterday it was heights. I met a person at the restroom, who asked me - "Hey, howz it goin'?". With so much difficulty, I controlled my laughter and said - "Fine"!
As I held her, I was ecstatic! I always had a dream of having someone like her in my life, long before I even knew about her existence. And today, we had met. Our union, though delayed, was inevitable. She was fair and slim, exactly as I had seen her in the pictures. Somehow, she seemed broad for her height, though it suited her! She was too cool, as if she was unaware of her own greatness. What attracted me most was not her gorgeous looks, but her capability. I fell madly in love with her as she started singing songs for me, which she will continue doing for a long time. She was my iPod!
The romance had just begun!
Before you let your imaginations run wild, let me clarify - "First Night" here means the night on January 1st when they welcome the new year! Honestly, "First Night" seemed amusing to me too. It could have been "New Year Day", "New Year Eve Night", "Jan First", "Jan Night" or anything. Just imagine a person here talking to another - "How was your first night? Enjoyed? Had fun?" :))
December 31st started like any other saturday. I got up pretty late, had a long sleep, though my laptop was awake all night downloading the movie Rashomon. I had seen this movie more than a decade back on doordarshan. Surprisingly, I had liked this Akira Kurosawa classic. The story was a bit weird but very captivating. From the last few months, I had a strong desire to watch that movie again. I made full use of the amazing internet bandwidth here and by noon, I was watching the movie. I loved it even more this time.
This saturday was turning out to be something different. I had planned to go downtown for the first night (I am sorry, new year eve!). But, there were rains the last couple of days here and my lazy mind was having this as an excuse to stay at the apartment. By 3.00 PM, the first rays of sun fell on the window blinds. Instantly, I decided that I would go downtown and did not let my lazy mind think for excuses. I quickly opened the UTA site and started seeing the maps, routes and timings. In over an hour, I had finished noting down the timings, route numbers and phone numbers of Trax (They call the light road rail here as Trax) I left my apartment around 5.00 PM, crossed the Fashion Boulevard and after reaching the Trax station, got a round trip ticket to Delta Center (downtown). The trax went through Murray, Meadowbrook and it was approaching Millcreek. A guy was sitting in front of me with his skiing accessories.
"Is Central Pointe the next stop?", he asked.
"Yes", I told, obviously happy about my improving geographic sense.
The trax crossed City Center, Temple Square and reached Delta Center.
All the trees in the Delta Center were decorated with lights. The trees seemed to be in a happy mood, temporarily forgetting the pain of their leaflessness. I entered the Delta Center and started exploring the place. There was some basketball match going on inside, but I had no intention of watching that. I called Megan from the public telephone and wished her a happy new year. She seemed pleasantly suprised by my call. I asked her to convey my regards to Steve as well and hung up the phone. I was feeling hungry by then. Pizza would be too heavy! So, I got a sandwich and a coke. I had never eaten a sandwich as bad as that in my life, and for the first time in my life, I felt the importance of coke. With great difficulty, I finished it(thanks to coke!) and walked out of the Delta Center.
It had started drizzling and to make matters worse, it was too windy. I walked towards Temple Square, by which time the rains had stopped. I remembered what Megan had said - "Go to temple square, its full of decorations, ..." The lighting inside Temple Square was better than Delta Center. I watched Tabernacle, the olympic fountain and then entered the church. No, it was not a church, but the Assembly Hall! The compere was announcing - "Please welcome the Saltaires. They belong to the blues era mixed with the barbershop music, which gave birth to rock n roll...." A group of around 30 old men with black coat and bow were on the stage. The youngest of the oldies started swinging his arms to co-ordinate the chorus.
"When I was a kid, my daddy gave me a toy...I did not know what it was, I guess I never will", they started singing.
After the song, one of them came near the mike and took out a piece of paper from his pocket.
"I have either nothing to say, or I have got the wrong piece of paper" The crowd laughed.
He took a paper from the other pocket, and said, "We will take you back to the history. This music is from the era of 'doo-wop' music, if you dont know...presenting to you next is a quartet..."
Four of them came forward and started singing.
"I love you so much that I cant live without you...on second thoughts, I think I can..."
The song was full of contradictions and was very hilarious. The assembly hall was full of oldies and they seem to be enjoying the songs of their times. As far as music was concerned, I could relate to them much more than the yuppie teenagers outside. I felt bad that Jazz and Country music has faded away in the era of Britneys, Timberlakes, Nellys and Kellys! After this, there was some comedy show. The old ladies in the next row were laughing loudly for every dialogue or expression. I was feeling bored. I somehow dont understand the english comedy!
I left the assembly hall and went to the Joseph Smith Memorial. Some girls were performing the tap dance. As it was not good, I decided to roam around outside. After sometime, it again started drizzling, so I decided to go to the Assembly Hall again. Luckily, the comedy show was over(Thank God!) and the compere was announcing - "Welcome to the acoustic jazz group Sam Payne Project. Let me tell you, they are terrific. Sam Payne is the son of the legendary Utah singer......"
Sam started with his hit number - Spaceman - a song about how an astronaut would feel in space...
"No one speaks my language, and I cannot drink their tea...
Galaxies are not enough without a hand to hold..."
They sung some more songs - about two estranged brothers meeting at their father's funeral, a mother praying to God to protect their son who has gone to war...
The performance lasted for about half an hour and it was thoroughly enjoyable.
The next group on stage was Brewster family. They played bluegrass and Irish music - with fiddle, celtic harp, flute and guitar. Their performance was as good as the previous one.
It was just 10 minutes to midnight and I rushed to the Delta Center. At the stroke of midnight, fireworks welcomed the new year. It was one of the most memorable new year celebrations I ever had. I would not have felt bad if I had not gone there that night, as I would have never known what I would have missed! I ran to the Trax station and got into the Sandy shuttle. 2006 had just kicked 2005 out!