Travelling to Phoren lands

Vivek got up early at 4.00 in the morning today. Today was the big day , he was finally going to see the ‘phoren’ land where beggars come to beg in expensive foriegn cars and girls were coming in from nowhere and begging you to do wicked things to them. His friends had told him about foreign lands where people walk naked on the street and make love with you on the street at the slightest hint. Then he came out of his reverie and looked outside at the dark street and felt a wave of nostalgia engulfing him as he realized that it would be a long time before he saw this sight again. Then he decided that he should complete his morning abolutions, the Hindus believe that the morning abolutions and toilet rituals are to be performed as soon as a man gets up. He picked the bowl of water and walked into the latrine and squatted down thoughtfully, he had heard that in the western world, you had to sit on a chair to defecate. He thought to himself that the ways of the western world were pretty weird, “why do you need a chair to do something as dirty as defecate, unnecessary waste of a chair if you ask me”.

After finishing he came out and brushed his teeth .He went to the kitchen and saw that his mother was already busying herself in the kitchen. She looked at him with hurt eyes the moment her eyes fell on him, she was scared that her son would never come back, she had heard that once young boys went to ‘Amricca’, ‘firang pori'(foriegn girls) are just waiting to entrap these innocent boys and then these boys will never come back to pay respects or take care of their ‘aai-vadil'(mom-dad).

He was an only son, the fond apple of her eyes and the first person in her family to go across the seven seas. She had fainted when she heard that her only son was going to travel in some giant bird, the last time she ever saw something like that was in a movie called “Sant Tukaram” which depicted the great sixteenth century saint being taken to the vaikuntam or the other world on the wings of Garuda , the giant eagle which served as a vehicle for lord Vishnu. Despite her acute dissent to having her son going away, her husband had listened to Ramadoraisamy , Vivek’s Madrasi friend who had told him that Vivek would be paid 1.3 lakh rupees a month and decided that it would be in Vivek’s best interest to have the boy sent to ‘Amricca’ and have the boy earn for two years before he could come back and buy a nice house in Phaltan so that he could show off to the Patil that he could afford a house much bigger than the Patil’s bungalow. Now Vivek’s mom was peeved at Dorai and decided he was an infidel and he looked like a one too. Dorai was a South Indian boy with shifty beady eyes and skin that was so dark that he would be invisible in a dark room, he talked with a weird accent and he could not speak Marathi at all, he spoke with Vivek’s father in Hindi and that too with great difficulty. Vivek’s mother was convinced that Dorai was from some place called Affreecca that she had seen on TV long back when she had visited her brother in Pune. But she thought that it was awfully decent of Dorai to wear some decent clothes to come here, after all were not those people wearing only some piece of cloth around those ‘parts’.

She had heard that you could not get good food in those places; she had seen those people eating only raw animal flesh and drinking animal blood. She had issued dire warnings to Vivek that it would be the sacrilege to eat god’s creatures that would not be pardoned even if he performed penance for seven ‘janmas’ (incarnations).She reminded him that the cow had 64,000 gods living in it and he should never think of drinking cow blood. She had decided that she would send Vivek with atleast a year’s supply of jowar and rice so that her boy would not have to hunt and eat animals. Then for good measure she wanted to throw in a few quintals of wheat just in case . She had also packed all possible spices she could think of, in the trunk that was used by Vivek’s grandfather that weighed at least 100 kgs. Then she looked around and saw the 5 pieces of luggage that she had packed, one for the clothes and books and the rest for his food, and she let out a satisfied sigh and she called out to him, “Arrre Vivek, if you finish this rice or jowar , send me a letter a week before it gets over and I will pack more for you and send it by post”. The postman in the village was a very friendly man and she always gave’baksheesh’ to him during Diwali so she was sure he would do the needful. Vivek came over and she got out his cup of tea that he so loved in the mornings, he took his first long sip which sounded like a duck in water trying to swallow the lake in one gulp, he let out a satisfied sigh and told her “You know Aai, the one thing I would really miss in America is your chaha(Tea), I have heard that they drink only coffee there”. His mother looked at him and said “Arre halkat, you will miss only my chaha, you won’t miss me or your Baba?” Vivek looked at her and her eyes already seem to be moistening, he was immediately struck down by guilt and pleaded with her not to cry, and he gave her Pundalik’s example of how he would come back and serve her and Baba, that seemed to pacify her and she repeated her advice “Stay away from firang pori”.

He decided to take his bath and get ready to start for the Airport, though the flight was late at night, he wanted to get to Bombay before 8.00 PM and he knew he had a long drive from Phaltan.

As Vivek set foot in the airport completely overawed by the milling crowd at the airport, everybody hurrying about, seemed to Vivek like this was the first time in his life he had seen so many people actually look as if they had a purpose on their minds. As he stood there gasping in wonder the police constable rudely asked him, “Ticket????” which bought a wonder struck Vivek back to reality. He fumbled in his pouch for his passport , ticket and his school and college certificates , and as he got ready with his pile of certificates and showed them to the constable, the constable looked with some disgust at the huge pile and then caught eye of the ticket and waved him ahead. As he pushed his trolley ahead he saw a weird looking box with rubber flappers. He saw luggage being sent into the box , he wondered if this was some shortcut way for the luggage to be sent directly to the plane and he started wondering about the intricacies of the tunnel that they would have had to dig to send the luggage directly to the plane .He wondered if he was standing on the roof of the tunnel and how much it would hold with so many people walking on it. He started panicking about his delicate luggage and he wondered if he should ask the man near the ‘tunnel’ if he could carry the luggage with him on the plane personally so when the roof collapsed due to the weight of so many people he would not have to search for his luggage among the debris, as a kid he had the seen the movie ‘Kaala Pathar ‘ where they had shown a mining accident and he did not want any of that to happen to his luggage. As he walked towards the box, he saw that the boxes were being spit out from the other end, his first thought was that this was the luggage of some arriving plane. His theories were swiftly disbursed when he saw the same man walk to the other end and pick the bag. He was baffled by this apparently stupid activity where you send the baggage thru one end and get it out the other , seemed like a lot of heave ho for nothing. He wondered if he should ask the man if he could skip it for Vivek, maybe he could tell him that he was leaving for the USA and that would impress the man enough to leave him alone so he started walking towards the man standing near the end and shoving the luggage inside.

“Saaheb, I am going to the USA.” said Vivek.

“So?” the man said in a irritated tone.

Vivek caught eye of the TV monitor behind the man and he could see a pressure cooker in the bag and then he saw the bag come out of the other end, still closed. He decided to watch the next bag more closely and he saw it go in closed and he could see a couple of utensils and then the bag came out of the other end seemingly untouched, now he was convinced these people were upto no good and were probably scrutinising the luggage to see if they could find something they liked. ” I don’t want to put my luggage in that box” whined Vivek.

The man looked at him suspiciosly

“Everybody has to go through security check” barked the man

“But I am going to the USA” , pleaded Vivek

“I don’t care where you are going, you have to go thru security check, otherwise you can’t check-in your baggage” the man snapped .

Vivek decided one last try, “I don’t want to check-in my baggage”

Now the man got irritated, he turned around to him “Then you can’t fly to the USA”

Vivek pondered over his predicament, he then turned to the man and said “Please don’t take my ‘launcha’ and chutney from the box, my mother packed that especially for me”

The man looked at him as if he was mad and then proceeded to load his luggage into the box.

Vivek was convinced that there was a man inside the box who was opening all the suitcases with a master key and examining them. Vivek was almost driven to tears when he thought that the man inside the baggage would almost certainly take his ‘chutney’ and ‘launcha’ once he smelt them. AS soon his luggage went in , Vivek got on the rollers on all fours, the man standing there next to entrance was flabbergasted and he pressed the emergency button to stop the machine.

“What do u think you are trying to do?” Asked the man very angrily.

“Sir, I wanted to request the man inside not to take my ‘launcha’ and ‘chutney'”, whined Vivek

“What man???” bellowed the police officer who had come on the scene

“The man who is lookin at all the luggage inside the machine”, said Vivek in his smallest voice.

“There is no man inside ,look”, said the police officer and sure enough when Vivek looked there was nobody. Vivek was wondering if the man had disappeared like the means that they used in Star Trek when became aware of the laughter behind him, he got back from the rollers and looked behind and sure enough there were people grinning widely at him. Vivek decided he never felt more foolish in his life. He turned around to see the police officer leave chuckling to himself

‘Take your luggage with your precious chutney and launcha’, Guffawed the attendant

Vivek walked to the other side and picked his bags and loaded his trolley and looked behind him one more time, this time only to see even more people looking at him with amused looks on thier faces. He walked over to a side so he could check if his goods had been stolen, satisfied that they were intact wondered where he needed to go next , he felt he had to ask somebody but he decided against asking the attendant or the police officer.

He decided as soon as he got a chance he should write a letter to his parents and tell them about this wonderful machine which could see inside bags. AS he wondered about the machine he thought to himself it would be so nice to have that capability himself, he could probably see inside clothes and he saw a beautiful young girl walk in front of him and the thought of being able to see inside her clothes delighted him enough to cause a tightening of the pants , not wanting to be embarassed further by any other discretion, he fled to the toilet with his trolley and wait until the tension in his pants ceased. As he walked in , he saw several people in the toilet so he turned to the sink and pretended to wash his face. He was impressed by how clean the toilet seemed to be as compared to the public toilet near his house where the excrement always seemed to be flowing out and you had to be real careful not to step on it when you went in to pee.

Vivek walked out slowly marvelling at how clean the whole place was.

After coming out the toilet Vivek looked about and for the first time since he has entered the airport Vivek forgot about his launcha and chutney and stared goggle eyed at the uniformed lady officials in the airport and decided he had never seen prettier women. He was sure he could impress them by letting them know that he was going to the United States.He was too shy to walk upto them and introduce himself but he was sure once they knew he was going abroad they would be more than happy to introduce themselves. He pondered over this seemingly insolvable problem until a brainwave hit him, he opened his passport to the page containing his US visa and then walked upto one of them and asked her for directions to get to his flight, the girl looked at the passport then at him and said politely “Sir, Do you have a airplane ticket?” . Vivek was disappointed by the cold shoulder but consoled himself that she wanted to make sure that he had a ticket, she must have had lots of young men walk up to her and try to impress her by showing their passport. Eager to oblige, Vivek got out his ticket and thrust it in front of her . She took a cursory look at it and his luggage and said “Sir, please stand in this line “. Vivek was aghast, he looked at her to see if she was trying to hide any feelings but she seemed disinterested.

A thoroughly disappointed Vivek stood in the line wondering to himself about the strange behavior of girls, while he was in college he never seemed to get any of the pretty girls to talk to him and they always seemed to be talking about their fiancees who seemed to be abroad and making esoteric amounts of money (of course converted into Indian currency) and now Vivek expected the same treatment to be meted out to him. It seemed to him like God was constantly playing a game , the side that he was not on seemed to be getting the girls . He wondered why his luck seemed to be so hopeless with girls, wondered if it was something to do with some curse on the family. He had heard stories of his great grandfathers have concubines, wondered if some of dejected suitors had cursed the family and the effect of the curse was taking place now, he cursed his forefathers for being so promiscuous. The Hindus believe that a man cannot leave the earth until it is cleansed of sins, Vivek wondered despairingly if he himself was one of his own forefathers and then the seeing the picture of his old great grandmother naked made Vivek sick to the stomach and he hurriedly started thinking of his pet project , his 3D transformations library and how he would implement the Bezier curve . At the counter, he was asked for his tickets and passport and he wondered if he should present all his school certificates when the man asked him

“How many pieces of luggage are you checking in?”

“Two” replied Vivek , uncertainty in his tone.

“Will you please place them on here.”

Vivek wondered if he should tell them to be careful with his launcha and chutney , then realizing that he might make a scene, he changed his mind and hoisted his two bags onto the counter.

The man asked him to take a immigration form from the side .Obediently Vivek picked it up and moved aside where the girl guided him to a nearby desk where he could write.

As our astute reader might have guessed through Vivek’s earlier tantrum near the XRay machine this was the first time Vivek was in a airport and the more he saw rich people around , the more he was determined to show everybody that he was comfortable and was completely in his element here so much that when he felt thirsty and thinking of going to the tap to get some water , he froze remembering that rich people do not drink water but soda pop . He decided to look around for a Thums Up or a Gold spot vendor, but he gave up after seeing that all the pop vendors had either Coke or Pepsi. He argued with himself and then justified his decision to drink water by telling himself that he won’t have water this once he left the country and so surreptitiously walked to the water fountain and was pleased to see the packet of paper cups that the airport authorities had so generously decided to leave for thirsty travelers. Satisfying his thirst he heard his boarding call and promptly choked on the water, spluttering water all over himself. He ran to the immigration queue only to find it long and snaking and seeming to take forever. Having passed the immigration officer who was keener on discussing his colleague’s neighbor’s daughter’s habit of wearing skimpy clothes to college. As he stepped past the desk of the immigration officer into a long corridor which had signs laid all over the place, Vivek suddenly felt choked realizing that he could not go back to that side of freedom where he could walk as he pleased , spit as he pleased and pee wherever he liked, he was leaving the free air to go to a new land where you had to be careful cos people mugged you for as little as a dollar , could not afford to litter cos you would be slapped a fine which would eat up your pay packet or even worse you could be sent to prison. Full of misgivings , Vivek slowly headed towards the Delta gate and felt acute misery when he saw the moving elevator and the pretty girl right behind him. He cursed himself for this mad desire for going to ‘phoren’ and gingerly stepped on the moving elevator, he grabbed the side rail for support clumsily but Vivek congratulated himself on succeeding from hitting the ground, he thought to himself that he needed to mention to Aai about his deft handling, she would be proud to know that her son could handle any situation with calm and poise.

He saw the end of the elevator approaching and saw with horror that there was no support to get off. Vivek panicked and when he panicked , he also managed to lose his balance and almost fell flat on his face had not a sweeper caught him and steadied him and was rewarded with a withering glance from Vivek as soon as he saw that his guardian angel was a sweeper .Ironically Vivek was more upset with the sweeper having touched him rather than be thankful for rescuing him, he wondered how he would tell his mother that a ‘shudra’ who cleaned the floors had touched him before such a important occassion. He hoped it was not a inauspicious sign.

Vivek passed the time in the lounge worrying thus and giving dagger looks to the attendant whenever he caught his eyes. He started picturing himself as Amitabh Bachan beating up the hapless sweeper whose only crime was that he earned his honest bread through sweeping. The boarding call dispelled all his dreams and he ran towards the gate, the bemused official looked at him and his passport and let him through to another waiting lounge, this time it seems Vivek learnt he would have to wait for only an hour before boarding the place.

Now the sweeper was swept out of his mind to be replaced with a nagging worry bout the flight, he remembered the Kanishka flight with great terror and hoped that the Kashmir terrorists would not place a bomb on this plane then he remembered that he was flying an American airliner and he experienced relief cos he felt the Americans were a lot more smarter and could take care of such eventualities, like most Indians Vivek felt a emotion that bordered on envy and respect for all things ‘phoren’ and had a complete disregard for most things ‘swadeshi’.



My boss Pushpak Khare told me today that I was picking up another consultant from Pune. His name was Vivek Joshi. Apparently the boy was from Phaltan and had spent some time working in Pune at our Indian offices and had proved himself to be a very talented programmer. Our Indian liaison in Pune, Sid Patel had sent him with great praise for his talent. Waiting at the Cleveland Hopkins airport I watched and waited for Indian faces alighting from Delta Flight 117 and sure enough I saw him but what I saw appalled me , Vivek was a man built on bountiful lines , a pock marked chubby face, a gut that he was trying hard to hide and luggage that seemed too hard for him to carry however none of that proved to be the reason for my disparaging judgment of him. I saw him wearing a blazer and I could see the stains of sweat on his shirt and by some dreadful insight I knew he had worn at least a few shirts under that blazer. It was agonizing just to imagine him riding all through the Bombay heat in multiple shirts and a new blazer.

As soon as he reached up to me, I smiled warmly and his first words were “it is so hot” in chaste Marathi. It was December in Cleveland and our pal was complaining of heat, he did not seem to realize that the airport was heated to maintain a comfortable ambiance. The next few minutes were spent by him berating us for our mails to him asking him to bring warm clothes and claims of temperatures being below zero.

I saw him eye the Dunkin Donuts shop in a wave of emotions starting with a hungry delight, then trepidation. I decided I would be civil though I was pissed off with him and asked him if he would like to eat something there. His first question was “Do they use non-vegetarian to make this? ” my first impulse was to laugh it off and I did so, he persisted, “They do not use fish or anything”

“No, are you crazy?”

“Do they use eggs?”

That stumped me; I knew eggs are used for almost anything here. Donuts are probably no exception, I told him I did not know but we could ask

So as we waited at Dunkin Donuts, trying to decide what I should get to make our pal happy, he walked to the lady behind the glass and asked her in what I realized later was English “Dhoo yuuu ooze ” and then turned to me and asked in chaste Marathi “What do they call eggs in English”, by now I was reduced to monosyllabic answers so replied as quietly as I could “Eggs”.

“Dhoo yuuu ooze eggggs to mek these?”

The poor server was dumbfounded and being as busy as she was, I could see comprehension was the least of her worries at that point. So I decided to herd him out of there as quickly as I could , I saw the server and her friend exchange smiles .

Another damned foreigner who could not speak English!!

I decided to take him to a smaller restaurant across and it seemed like a decent place and then I told him to get something that would be just vegetable. His first reaction was one of disgust, “these people eat their veggies raw, I cannot eat that” ,

“Look boss, either you eat those veggies raw or else eat meat”

Out of frustation he decided to take a look at the menu and recoiled in horror. On inquiry I found out that he was appalled that Americans eat horses, on more questioning I found out that his impression was due to the “Hors De vours”. So I explained to him that his deductions were not entirely correct that it meant appetizers in French, he then jumped to the conclusion that the French eat horses, the server who wished to know what we wanted to eat rescued him from me.

“Have you all decided what you would like to eat?”

“wat is hot ?”

The server wore a bewildered look.

“Arre, garam kay aahe kase vicharu?” (How do I ask what is hot?)

Coming from a place where we are used to having rogue shopkeepers selling stale foods we are accustomed to querying the shopkeeper for freshness and one way to be absolutely sure that the food is fresh is checking if it has just been cooked. Of course back home it does not really matter, the shopkeeper will lie with a straight face ”Of course of course, it has just come out of the kitchen” . But it has become a habit and as we know habits die hard even in the presence of gleaming technological marvels like the Microwave and other fancy ovens in use. I was in a quandary, I did not wish to appear rude to him and at the same time I had no desire to embarrass myself. So I replied in Marathi

“Ask him what is fresh”

“wat is phresh?”

The poor server was obviously taken aback and took some to time to realize that he did not understand what was told to him so he responded with

“Excuse me”

, Vivek realized he was making a fool of himself so he tried to salvage the situation with “Tea vith Biscoot”

As soon as the waiter was out of earshot, Vivek looked at me and promptly passed his judgment on the American people

“What re, theesse Americans cannot undershtand Engleess only”

I did not know him enough to tell him that his English was probably only good enough for impressing people in Phaltan so instead grinned politely.

His next question was one of inoculation. He claimed his parents had tried to get him inoculated for malaria, diphtheria, influenza, diarrhea, yellow fever, typhoid, cholera and after Doctor Sahib told his father that Americans suffer routinely from diabetes, blood pressure, heart disease, they had tried to see if he could be inoculated for that too.


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