During the past decade I have made four trips to America. Since my only daughter started living there after her studies and marriage, it became a normal choice of holiday in the post retirement life. I have had lots of expectations about this great country. The impression I carried was mainly because I had read many good things about the USA right from my young age.
I had some apprehensions about conducting myself as I was not very confident of making effective conservation in English like a local person would do. Let me confess that I had never followed the dialogues verbatim in many of the Hollywood movies I happened to see in the past. This is true even today. But these days, I hardly see them. And people had also told me about certain differences between the language used as English in India and in America.
Let me confess that with the profuse usage of words like excuse me, sorry for the trouble, thank you very much etc, things could be managed without much difficulty upto the destination airport. The first surprise I had was when I went out for a walk in the morning. The roads were generally empty but for speeding cars. The sidewalks were clean without any plastics strewn around. Seldom I came across walkers like me. A few who did come were accompanied by their canine escorts. But almost everyone I came across on the pathway did greet me with a smile and a good morning or at least a “ Hi”. But later I was told that it should not be considered as an open invitation for an introduction and a dialogue…..!
Another commendable aspect was the consideration shown by the motorists towards pedestrians while crossing the roads. Generally walkers were never compelled to run across the road braving in between the vehicles as practiced in India. Motor vehicles invariably stopped at zebra lines for the pedestrians.
On a Sunday when returned from my morning walk, I saw a Toyota Corolla parked outside the house. Within the house I was told that it was the car of the maid who had come to clean the bathrooms and the floor. I could never imagine our old servant Naaniyamma coming to our house in Trivandrum even on a bicycle……..!
Medical care is said to be of a high standard in America. But the visitors from india like us who have crossed sixty felt a bit insecure as buying a favorite antibiotic like Amoxicillin from the local medical shop was impossible. Getting an appointment with the doctor is also not so easy as in india.
But one can buy Marijuana in freely in many states as the sale is legalized. Recently I read a report in “ Boston Globe” about long queues in front of Brookline’s walk-in shop functioning in an old bank building. I decided that I would not hereafter ridicule the long lines in front of the Bevco outlets in Kerala. There was a newspaper report regarding stoppage of open sale of certain types of bullet cartridges at Walmart outlets. The readers can make their own opinions on the situation. When less than twenty people die of Encephalitis die in Bihar every year, it becomes a big headline in American newspapers. But it is a fact that “ only 53 “ have been victims of mass shootings during the month of August alone this year in America………!
Back in india we make a hue and cry on rapes and similar instances which find place in the headlines of the media on a regular basis. A recent issue of JAMA ( Journal of American Medical Association ) carried a study which revealed that one out of every sixteen females in America had her first physical relationship out of coercion. The “prevention is better than abortion” is the rule taught to the wards right from the teenage.
I observed that the Indian diaspora generally maintained close relationship and camaraderie. There are temples and other places of worship for them to get together and relish ethinic food. There is a general awareness to teach the art and culture to the next generation. In india, the study of music and dance has been propelled by the visual media and cinema alone. But the driving force behind the study of art forms and other aspects of the Indian culture among the younger generation in the USA seems to be the urge to create a firewall for our traditional values against the so called “ American culture”.
If India can be proud of the so called unity in diversity, America also can boast as country where people from every corner of the world live. During my stay I could see couples belonging to different nationalities, colors and races. The most common ones were Caucasian with African, Hispanic,Chinese etc. I could also see Indians having spouses from other countries like Mexico, Philippines etc. Being a student of Genetics, I thought America was a suitable place to study the inheritance of many characteristics in the human race…….
During the present trip, I learnt that the educational system in this country is quite advanced and good. The learning process is a bit slow to start with when compared to the rigor we undergo in our country. But as the student moves up, it becomes quite competitive. The system of homework is almost unheard of. The kids are allowed to learn many practical aspects of life before they are made to learn the alphabets and numbers which I thought as a very good deviation from the system prevailing in our country. The kindergartens teaches them many aspects on the day to day life.
My grandchildren are quite talkative. They are naughty too. Sometimes their obstinacy makes me lose my temper a bit. Sometimes their impolite behavior and obduracy make me think of my younger days. During those days, such a behavior would have invited unkind twisting of the cartilage of the ear lobes by my dad. If the disobedience persisted, long stick taken from Arundinaria plant species would make violent impacts with the buttocks resulting in thick and deep red lines on the skin…….! When I remotely gave these ideas to my grandson, he threatened me with rules of the land………. they could call 911 and arrange to put me behind the bars…….! One day, my daughter used tough language to make him eat his food. He retorted quite differently. He told that his friend Johnny has two houses. He wished he could go to a different house like his friend. I was really taken aback.
Later my daughter told me that Johnny’s parents are separated. And he stays with either of them on a given day. Johnny being a good friend of my grandson had told about going to one house on a weekend and a different one on another day. We had to be quite careful in explaining the situation to him without raising a doubt that we were hiding the truth as he was too young to understand the term divorce.
The younger grandson had a friend Danny . He was one of his best friends in the Daycare. He was introduced to me when we had gone to the nearby park in the evening . His dad was with him. Later when I came home I explained about meeting Danny and his dad to my daughter. I also explained how he looked like. After about a week, my daughter met Danny and his dad at the library. After a couple of days , my daughter tried to tell me that Danny’s dad looked quite different from what I explained the other day. She continued that I might have misunderstood the man whom I saw with Danny at the park. We never knew that little one was behind us when we were almost arguing about the way Danny’s father looked like. He came and told us ……” Will you please stop arguing…...Danny has two dads “.......I could not believe my ears. But I tried to control my anxiety, curiosity or what not. We stopped the topic abruptly digressing towards some other matter. I had heard about having more than one father only in the filthy abuses being exchanged between females in Dharavi area in Mumbai. But I consoled myself thinking that it was a case of having a father and a stepfather.
But when I came to know later that both the “ dads” were real and they were married…….and it was legally possible in USA, my eyeballs almost popped out of the sockets……! But slowly they settled back. That was a fact of life, one face of “family life “ in this part of the world. Should I add that it took some time for me to reconcile with the situation. Perhaps the progressive American society is less utopian and accepted the realities of life early.
I certainly realized that America is quite far from India and is literally in a different time zone …….!
Note...Names are not real.