Friday, March 26, 2010


My American Daughter: My Daughter In America
My Indian Father: My Father in India

BLS:The title came to me on the way back after dropping her at the airport.

Twenty years back she had immigrated to USA in search of the elusive “pot of gold at the end of the rainbow”. This time she had come searching for an even bigger pot at this end of the rainbow.

KSF:This is amazing. My father emailed me a blog of his and asked me to add to it since it was about me. I decided to counter each of the paragraphs with one of mine. It’s like we cannot stop arguing even in prose. Actually, let’s just say this is the story behind the story.

A long time ago I was visiting one of my aunts. We were sitting in the balcony of her apartment enjoying the evening breeze when a wandering fortuneteller called out to us and asked if we wanted our fortunes told. My aunt invited him to come in. When my turn came he studied my hand and asked the usual questions as to the time and date of my birth etc. then looked up at me and said gravely: “Your future is set apart from your family. You will never live close to them. It will be further than far away.” Very cryptic, I thought to myself cynically. I did not understand it then. Who knew?

Twenty years back I got myself a tourist visa and took off to the USA in search my destiny. It was 7 years before I saw my parents again.

Whether in America or now, in Progressing India, it’s too bad that, that “Pot of Gold” is still elusive.

BLS:Having explored Bangalore, Cochin and back waters of Kerala, on a short business trip, she entered the flat, after an evening flight, distraught, confused, elated and disorientated. The next four days of her stay were chaotic, difficult and stressful for all. The conflict of culture, now an American National, the explicit and strong business language picked over time still an anathema in the backward Indian house, the ubiquitous Laptop, a barrier to conversation and the unethical Indian businessman with whom she had to deal long distance from USA and lately face to face in India.

KSF:I got laid off in July of ’09. I decided, a little too late, that the “9 to 5” desk job wasn’t for me. In fact I hated it. I hated being hemmed in by all the rules of being employed by a corporation. I was only working in an administrative capacity so the rules were even more restricting. It took me 20 years to gather up the courage to do my own “thing” and not go frantically looking for another job. I took a deep breath and decided to venture out on my own. I established a corporation. People I knew in Delhi had convinced me that there was a huge demand for used Cessna planes in India. India had a shortage of pilots so flight schools were sprouting all over the country. Cessna planes were being used to provide initial training to their students.

I began my own research and started cold calling flight schools all over India. During one of these I spoke to a very nice gentleman in Bangalore. He recruited students to send them overseas for pilot training. During the course of our email exchange he informed me that he needed R44s for his helicopter school. I was ecstatic…I could make a sale here, I thought. I searched the internet for R44s. Prepared beautiful listings and emailed them to him. This guy was a smooth one. He never ignored any of my emails and always politely replied to them. He informed me he needed a little time to study the info. I waited a week then emailed him again. This time his reply indicated that he wanted a used Learjet suitable for ground training only for his engineering school. He also needed an investor to begin a helicopter training school. I sat back confused after reading this. Why did he ask me for helicopters if he didn’t have a school? Now he wanted a Learjet for his engineering school? Investor? What on earth…? I said to myself “Oh well! Let’s find him a Learjet for his students”. Again I attacked the internet and pulled out my contact list which was growing by the day, looking for such a plane. I sent him 2 listings. Again the same polite email response but this time he was looking for an investor for a heli-taxi service to be established in Cochin, Kerala. It would provide transport to tourist who wanted to visit religious destinations in the area. OK! This was enough, I told myself exasperated with the runaround. I stopped emailing him and returned to my cold calling. One day I called a guy in Virginia (I am going to refer to him as the Virginian) on a listing he had for a Cessna for sale. We hit it off right away. Right away I “Googled” him and his company to see who I was talking to. To my surprise he checked out. His company leased and maintained corporate jets. He even had a flight school that trained international students. The following day I went for my morning walk. This was a time I concentrated best on my business. I thought of everything that I had done during the past few weeks and remembered the Bangalorean. He had wanted an investor. I called the Virginian and asked if he would ever consider investing in a foreign business venture. He was interested. He would of course have to go down there to see what he was investing in. And he wanted me to go along with him.

The agenda was planned. It was to be Bangalore for one night, then Cochin & Cherai beach Resort for two then on to Delhi. The beach resort was another possible business venture. Mr. Bangalore suggested visiting it since we might be interested in promoting it as an eco-destination on behalf of the Resort.

The newly built airport at Bangalore was fabulous. In sharp contrast, the City was a mess. I was disappointed. I had heard so much about it from friends & relatives and articles I had read. “The Silicon Valley” of India it was named. The traffic was a snarl at any given time of the day and worse at prime time. Add to that the numerous city projects that involved digging huge holes randomly in the existing roads and leaving them incomplete…or so it seemed. I was a mess by the time we reached the hotel. I didn’t even dare look at the Virginian. My apologies to all the Bangaloreans for trashing their city but it was my first impression and I did not stay long enough to form one otherwise. Sometimes first impressions do count.

We visited the school run by the Mr. Bangalore. It was an air-stewardess training school. What the…? He had given me to understand that it was a pilot training school. I was embarrassed. I felt I had brought the Virginian here under false pretense even though I had, before leaving the US, emphatically issued a disclaimer statement to him. I had informed him that I didn’t know the Bangalorean personally and couldn’t assure him of the outcome of our visit to India. This feeling was further strengthened when we arrived in Cochin the following day. Mr. Bangalore had accompanied us and I fully expected him to show us his engineering school and at least discuss all the various projects he wanted to fund. Instead he drove us to the Resort. Once there I thought he would take us around himself but no that’s not in his plans. He informed us that he had a very very religious ceremony to attend at his family home so he had to leave right away. I was literally left with my mouth hanging open, catching dust as I watched him drive away. What was the eco thing all about? This was uncomfortable. One comes to a resort to relax with family and friends. I was not with family and friends. I was on a business trip. This was turning very awkward.

It was humid. We each had our own rooms or huts with thatched roofs. Mine smelled musty. The Resort, located across from the thundering Indian Ocean, consisted of numerous such huts sprinkled over the property interspersed with lily ponds and different tropical plants. Very quaint! There was a dining room. You ate what they cooked. It was not a restaurant. They also cooked very badly. I, personally, would not call it a good experience.

The following day we travelled to another eco destination two hours away in a very odd little car on a very narrow pot hole filled back road. Occasionally a screaming truck passed by. Did the drivers ever take their hand off the horn?

Finally we arrived. It was a bit scary. The car stopped in a big clearing surrounded by a thick forest of coconut trees. The driver disappeared. The Virginian and I looked at each other puzzled. Then two local guys wearing lungis approached us. I relaxed as I studied their faces. Yes! I can sort of read faces and they seemed harmless: Oily hair, dark eyebrows and eyes and the ubiquitous mustache. They greeted us with gentle smiles and picked up our luggage and indicated that we should follow them. The driver and car were going to return the following day to drive us to Mr. Bangalore’s Cochin office. But now as we followed our escorts, I did feel a little apprehensive about where they were leading us.

We walked a short distance through the forest and reached the Cherai Lake. I never realized we were so close to the water. Parked at the bank was a gigantic odd-shaped boat. It was two stories tall. The roof was woven palm or bamboo. It was quaint as only such a strange boat can be (see pic.). I can’t explain it. I guess you’ll have to go down there and see for yourselves. There you go Mr. Bangalore, I have plugged your little eco-tourism venture. Though I should not call it his "venture." I think he just got paid to bring tourists to the resort. We slowly set sail in the famous “back waters” of the Kerala. The Virginian was thrilled to bits. It was an experience for him I guess. He was a smoker and I didn’t want to inhale the second hand smoke. He was also a bit of a loner so I decided to leave him be and climbed up the stairs leading to the balcony of the second floor. It was furnished with sofas and armchairs. I sat and stared out at the passing scenery. Thick coconut trees were all I could see. The heat and humidity were unbearable. I fell asleep on the sofa. Shortly the Virginian called up to me to come down for lunch. It was surprisingly no longer so humid. In fact there was a very pleasant breeze blowing. I realized we had left the backwaters and were now on the lake, in open water. It was beautiful. I relaxed for the first time since I had arrived in India. A spectacular lunch was laid out on the outdoor dining table. All were local dishes prepared lovingly by the chef. I can’t name them but they were delicious and consisted of local fish, rice and an array of veggies prepared Kerala style.

I know I think too much but as we moved slowly on the water propelled by what I think was a diesel engine, I wondered how much we were contributing to the destruction of the eco-system of the lake waters or how much did the fumes pollute the air and where did the waste water go. Some eco-destination. Every now and then the "driver" of the boat would point to a large development and inform us that it was another 5-star hotel carefully behind the coconut trees. I took the coward's way out and decided to ignore all the negative thoughts, things I could do nothing about and enjoy the ride.

We stayed overnight on the boat and the following day I woke up at 5:30 am or so due to the almost sub-zero temperatures in my room. There was no thermosat in the air conditioner. As soon as I left the room I was attacked by the humidity. I walked along the corridor to the bow of the boat where the kitchen was situated. The chef was up and about and pottering around. He smiled when he saw me and asked if I would like a cup of coffee. Boy, did I want a cup of coffee! I looked around and noticed that the space was well equipped. Up ahead was the door to the bow of the boat. The sky was beginning to brighten. I sat out and watched the sun rise. The lake was still and there was silence. Far away I could see three tiny boats from which the local fishermen cast their nets. The chef brought me my coffee. I have to write about this because it was the best darned coffee I had had in a long time (See pic.)

After breakfast and a short ride we were taken to the drop off point where we were picked up and driven to Cochin. A nightmarish drive later, upon arriving in Cochin we turned onto a dusty lane and stopped at a nondescript building. Mr. Bangalore was waiting for us. We had arrived at another stewardess training school. What a surprise. Did he just expect the investor to write him a blank check? Obviously that was not going to happen.

We left for Delhi that evening.

BLS:Inside the house she was missing her mother, father being no substitute, for the girly talk; unburdening of the soul to each other.

KSF:I was elated and excited. I was finally going to see my family. My brother came to pick me up at the airport. He was the same old big bear of a guy with a grin on his face expressing his pleasure at seeing me again. We checked the Virginian into a nearby hotel and drove to my father’s apartment. He met us at the door and I gave him a hug before walking in. I looked around. The last time I was here, was when my mother passed away, 10 years ago. It was a sad home at that time and I realized there was still sadness in the air. It was suddenly very difficult for me to be there. My father was still mourning. Over the next few days I realized that my brother and father lived separate lives. They rattled around the apartment each doing their own thing and sometimes passing each other like silent ships on the sea. Sometimes they took tea with me in the afternoon before they once again went their respective ways. Those were the best times. We talked and talked and talked.

BLS:Outside the house, possibly diffused by the trauma of her mother’s passing, impressions of Delhi/India were not so vivid this time. And India has much changed in the last ten years since her visit and so had Delhi and Noida. The Delhi of yore, of her teenage carefree days had been totally absorbed by the so called progress that had since taken places: the milling crowds, the chaotic traffic, the blaring horns, the daredevils on their guided missiles: the motorcycles, the three wheelers, randomly, weaving in and out of the traffic, the jay walking pedestrians so alien to her eyes and the plethora of Malls, even a metro in Noida.

KSF:Delhi is one big dust bowl now. It has apparently finally “arrived” and is considered one of the big cities of the world. Traffic is now a gigantic snarl instead of just a jam. One evening on my last visit in November 2009, we were on Ring Road close to Red Fort area and were trying to get back to Noida. It was truly frightening to see the mess we almost got into had it not been for the quick thinking of the guy driving who turned off to take a less crowded road. There was a time when Ring Road was the quickest way to get around Delhi. But it has been 20 years since I’ve lived in India and things change. Whether it’s for the better still remains to be seen. On a small scale it is apparent. The electricity does not go off every hour on the hour. There is bottled water. The help have cell phones or mobiles as they call them in India. Better pharmacies. TV offers a better choice of programs some even educational if they can get away from riveting Bollywood. The big picture to me shows a jungle of itty bitty foreign cars that all “scream”. Where do people need to get to in such a hurry? This is noise pollution and as they say in America, “there ought to be a law against it”. Where is my Green Delhi? What happened to the simple life? Well it was “Relatively” simpler. Now there is Mother’s Day and Valentine’s Day both very good occasions. But if you love your Mother and if you love your beloved isn’t every day a special day? Capitalism has caught on like a ‘house on fire’. Ugly billboards visible everywhere like weeds in a manicured lawn each one trying to out-do the other. “Look at me, look at me,” they each seem to be shouting. No sense of esthetics. What is the point of high-rises and overpasses and the Metro, all apparent signs of progress, if the idea of “maintenance” is not ingrained and an integral part of progress? I went to Bhikaiji Kama place to see a vacant office space. The inner courtyard of the building and its walls were covered in a sea of red from pan spit. Why does everyone say to me “yeh toh India hai bhai…time moves slowly here”? If that is so where are those "screaming" cars going to then in such a hurry?

BLS:The un-reconciled inner and outer conflict was creating stress and keeping her, most of the time, on short fuse. To make the matters worse, I, still living in the past bound in the Indian value system was not making matters easy all around.

KSF:I realized that it had really been too long since my last meeting with my father. It was easy enough to carry-on a long distance relationship via the telephone with him every week but I was mistaken if I thought it would be just as easy face to face. Right there it morphed into a different story. He does not realize it but he has been living alone for too long and has become set in his ways. This is not so bad if one is an island. But interaction does require a little give and take. I freely admit that I am stubborn too so these are issues we need to work on. We need to probably meet more than once every 10 years. I have asked him to come to America a gazillion times. He, of course, has his excuses ready and waiting to be made.

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