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Anecdote/Opinion Lists Travel - New York/Buffalo

Top 3 – My List of Bizarre things about America

In two days, I’ll be back in Buffalo, New York for my very last semester at UB. Before I bid goodbye to America in December, life abroad until now warranties a reality check.

Although there have been many things that have astonished, shocked, bewildered – well you get the idea – my delicate (ahem) late-teenage self, nothing has brought recurring waves of culture shock to my veins more than the following facts. They are bizarre because of the absence of the familiar, because a Malayali girl, brought up in Kerala craves for porotta more than a Subway special; wants to burst crackers for Vishu rather than see fireworks from a distance during Fall Fest.

This is for you Athira, you silly Malayali girl.

 

1. Ask an American what a jackfruit is. (November 2012)

It's not about the tool, but the skill...
It’s not about the tool, but the skill…

In my sophomore year, I was cleaning and carving a pumpkin for Halloween with friends, under the supervision of my lovely roommate Audrey. I happened to mention how people usually work hard to clean and sort out jackfruits in Kerala. Audrey had no idea what I was talking about! It had taken me more than a year and a blank look from her to realize that I’m in a really bizarre place, to which jackfruits are not native…

Look at those thorny beauties.
Look at those thorny beauties.

The beloved chakka growing in our backyards and smelling like sweet fruity rotten flowery rubber, has no existence in America.

2. Zebra Crossing? Nope, crosswalks.(January 2014)

During my Study Abroad program in London, I noticed my American friends from UB were baffled when I walked through a Zebra Crossing and the vehicles just stopped. One of them exclaimed “It’s like magic!”

The Beatles probably preferred Zebra Crossings too.
The Beatles probably preferred Zebra Crossings too.

 

They got used to it later, but the look on their faces was priceless. India being an astute follower of the English system, (you’d be surprised how much of the British we still retain) Zebra Crossings appear even in primary school textbooks here!

I still cannot BELIEVE that I didn’t notice the absence of Zebra Crossings in America! The crosswalks simply exist for crossing while the traffic signal allows pedestrians to walk. What is the point of that, really? More info on Zebra Crossings here and Crosswalks here.

3. Strikes are almost non existent. Even illegal. (April 2014)

Yes, you can read that again. In my class called Global Realism with Prof. Holstun and some wonderful classmates, someone mentioned how most employees in various states – railway, airline, teachers – are banned from organizing or participating in strikes. I had to blurt out aloud and check if I had heard it right. My surprise seemed to have embarrassed them.

Supermarket Strike in Washington State.
Supermarket Strike in Washington State.

Banning strikes is a surprising concept to me. Socialist thought runs in the veins of many Keralites and we hold our right to enjoy hartals very close indeed! I missed the hartals. Here’s a hilarious article on Kerala’s fascination with strikes.

hartal-tree-hosue-lil-1

Not that I’m a big fan of unnecessary strikes, but I don’t believe a ban is good either. For more details on strike bans in the US, click here. My naivety denied me from foreseeing this fact, but I should have known the capitalist capital of the world would have some form of control over labor strikes. Oh well.

This is just part one of my pre-college-closure reality check. The next Top Three list will be up soon! Please wish me a jet-lag free week ahead.

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Anecdote/Opinion Travel - New York/Buffalo

For the love of Porotta

Kerala-Porotta

For 3 years I have refrained from blogging about Indian food that I miss while I’m in Amrika, so much so that the repressed food nostalgia began popping up in my poetry. That tradition ends now.

The culprit is Kerala Porotta. First of all it’s porotta, not paratha. (If you’re saying it wrong then correct yourself now or don’t read further). Porottas are our pride, the layered delicacy which is a part of an average Malayali’s diet for reasons that defy logic. Is it because they are healthy? Hell no. Is it because they are easy to make? NOPE. Does it have anything to do with the seasonal peculiarities of our little coastal state? I don’t think so. But we love it. It could be the hot smell wafting from freshly home -delivered porottas or their whiff while you’re walking near Paragon Hotel. Or the sight of them with a spicy side dish. Or just the right blend of crispiness and rubbery-ness. Or the joy of breaking a piece with your hand and feeding the appetite of your senses. Or everything. Like I said, the reasons defy logic. P for porottas, P for poetry and no place for logic. A day laborer to a businessman enjoys his share of porottas. And no wonder they are popular. Easily accessible in thattukadas for cheap prices, hotels for moderate prices and five star restaurants for ridiculous prices. In fact, it is an eat-out dish. All Malayalis eat porottas but a precious few actually make them. DId you know a porotta-cook can earn upto 1000 Rs. a day? No wonder Dulquer was trying so hard in “Ustad Hotel”!

If you ever have a tendency to compare Malabari porottas, that love-child of Malappuram pathiris and the sheer creativity of Keralites, to North Indian aloo parathas, please refrain. Granted the stuffed parathas might be nutritive, spicy and even heavier, but what really beats the unique texture and taste of Kerala porottas? Nothing! Nothing from mexican tortillas to rotis, from dosas to pancakes, from pita bread to naan bread – nothing matches the pride of Kerala.

Porottas are hard to find in America. You can find Biriyani, rotis, naans – even dosas and idlis– but porottas are rare, people. Value them. I’ve been grabbing every chance I get this summer to gobble up porottas. I’m not even kidding – free treats from friends, home deliveries when the kitchen deserves rest, lunches, dinners – it’s been porotta. (I know my carnivorous friends might be thinking “What did you even eat it with? Kadalakkari?” but cut me some slack – Let us unite in our porotta love! FYI, I ate it with Mushroom Masala). Also, because I’m a Googler just like you and because I like this site’s name here’s a Kerala porotta recipe for you – ttp://www.kothiyavunu.com/2009/10/kerela-parotta.html . Some day, maybe I’ll make some too.

There are exactly 23 days remaining for me to find and eat some more porottas. Feel free to buy me some, kind reader.

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Anecdote/Opinion Travel - New York/Buffalo

Obama-Talk

So I heard the US President speak. Those of who have had enough from my Facebook newsfeed in the last 24 hours and want to tell me to shut the hell up about it already, I’m sorry. But this is the one last time I’ll be ranting about it. Rather than the little details of how UB was swarming with cops and how there were identical cars and what an expensive ride his bus was, I think it’s time to reflect on the thoughts I had about the man and his speech itself.

I was on cloud nine when I heard of his visit for two reasons- 1) The most powerful man (fortunately or unfortunately) in the world was visiting my University and 2) I could actually hear him speak in person after having admired his oratory skills ever since he first got elected as the President. That was it. I definitely do not agree with every damn economic or immigration or foreign policy of his Government or think highly about the recent revelations about the NSA snooping around everyone’s Inbox. I do not think that America has any right to send missiles and install military bases all over the world. I certainly don’t think that a display of such armed aggressiveness is doing any good to improve non-Americans’ opinions about the U.S.
My excitement was simply because I could hear Barack Obama speak. The man who became the first ever President of African American descent, who never fails to talk about his family in every other speech he makes and who’s genuine deep voice first gave me goosebumps when he talked about the ‘new era of responsibility’ in 2008. The man who’s book ‘The Audacity of Hope’ I read with earnestness but sadly gave up because I was too young and unfamiliar with the political jargon of the West. The man who’s visit to India I keenly followed and who’s political face I was oblivious to..

The speech was clear and crisp. It was all about cutting college costs. He explained the problem and then proposed three ways to cut college costs and help students pay their debts. I’m only sad that he didn’t mention the International students at all, UB being a premier institution for foreign students. But then, like my friend pointed out, International students don’t vote in America.

Before the speech started I wondered if I’d have lined up at 4 am to hear an Indian President speak. Fact is I would have, had it been someone like APJ Abdul Kalam. Currently however I’m sad to confess that I wouldn’t be motivated to go for a speech by any Indian politician (assuming that they even make one; I’d be surprised to even see Pranab Mukherjee or Manmohan Singh visiting a college or making speeches about relevant issues). Kalam was at least an inspiration. His talks were engaging and worth listening to. Hailing from very humble backgrounds in Rameshwaram and making it big with his genius and hard work, Kalam could be the only Indian to give Obama a run for his money. But he’s not the President any more and I doubt whether the rookies of Indian politics will ever let Kalam take the reins again. This, I speak personally of course reflecting on how I respect hard work and the ability to overcome inevitable hurdles in life. I feel that Barack Obama is inspiring enough to be a great leader with more insight and plans than action. More talk, than duty? Maybe. But if you can hear the talk that’s good (and free) then why not go for it ?

Also, I liked seeing how the people in Buffalo were excited to see their President. I also observed how many of my American friends were critical about his speech especially in the light of the economic crisis. Later people who were initially hyped up about his visit pretended to not care as much and those who were skeptical about it made sure they got tickets. What do we learn from this? That (like my Amma says) if there are three people talking, they’re bound to have five different opinions. Touche. 

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Anecdote/Opinion Travel - New York/Buffalo

UB Protests – Perspective of a Pro-lifer

Yes, I’m against abortion. But this is not a post justifying my opinion on this touchy subject. This is about how the Pro-Life club (which I was a part of, in my Freshman year) shocked and disgusted many UB students with gruesome displays, how a Professor got arrested for “profane” language and how the distressed students responded to the Club’s exercise of “freedom of expression”.

Genocide Awareness Project( GAP) display organized by the Pro-Life Club

The reason I quit UB Students for Life was that I felt it was becoming less of an educative club and more of a political one. I expected more of advocating people about abortion and the consequences of it, but found almost none. I began to question myself whether the main aims of the club was to become controversial and be in the news or to conduct reasonable events that spread the Pro-life ideology. The trip to Washington for the National Pro-Life March, convinced me that my personal stand against abortion was right. But did I have the right to enforce my opinion on other women? I thought not.

Even though I quit the club, I remained Pro-Life. But I believe that the Genocide Awareness Project (which I knew about from the Club meetings back when it was still a ‘long term-goal’) is not a prudent way to spread the Pro-life message. Comparing abortion to holocaust and publicizing statistics using attention-gathering ugliness is NOT how you could possibly convince people that there are better options than abortion. All that GAP does is enrage the highly-liberal student population and gather more hatred towards the whole Pro-life movement. It would only traumatize the people who have already exercised their “Choice” and make them feel like murderers. It would only cause people to remember the Pro-Life Club for atrocious images rather than for  raising funds for a Day Care center or conducting a seminar about the health hazards of abortion. It would only block the way for people who don’t really care about the whole issue, because a lot of students really DON’T care. It would only heat up the campus. And yes, it was a chaos outside SU today.

Protest against the Displays led by Amnesty International

Such horrific images of abortion are not however unseen or unheard of. I’m sure people who scroll down Facebook idly or surf the internet in general come across equally or even more disgusting images. Besides we’ve had pictures of holocaust in our textbooks and reference books! But the display of a bloody fetus, thrust into people’s faces at the Student Union when they would have been walking to their first class in the morning was uncalled for. In fact, that is not a part of the whole Pro-life message at all. Making use of the ‘disgusting-them-out-of-if’ strategy in the hope to solve a scientifically and logically supportable issue would only welcome distrust. The Pro-life side also involves people like me who might be hesitant to see such a personal topic becoming a political controversy. Could there be no middle ground between the extremes? I  believe the Club was insensitive to the student population and to the people who have already had an abortion. I remember one of their goals was to counsel people who have already gone through the abortion process. How do they intend to do that with such displays, I do not know.

I was glad that there were more people today protesting against the display. I was glad that the arrest of the Professor who yelled “That image is FUCKING profane!” made the headlines. She set an example to incite many more students who saw how using the F word could be “breaking the law” on an American college campus.What made her cooler was her adding “Could you please tell my 1 pm class that I got arrested?”- when she was handcuffed and led away by Campus Police.

Coming Thursday, there will be a Pro-Life debate on campus. I’m sure the Pro-Life club will have some preparation to do to answer the enraged students.
On a lighter note, its definitely a bizarre diversion from exams. 🙂

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Travel - New York/Buffalo Vignettes

A Note on The City

City- the word is tiny; implications are numerous. Lets start from the ever beloved cliche of ‘making dreams come true’. The City is a favorite setting for those looking to go from rags to riches; yet it can also be a grave witness of downfalls, from heights to being homeless. The City is like the city-dweller: aggressive, multifaceted, always lively and never alone, yet lonely as one can be.. They may wave and wish and smile yet you sometimes wish it was half as genuine as it appears to be..Different shops have the same brands, different streets have branches of the same shops, yet every street if unique, every shop booming with activity. There are more pedestrians than cars in the City and more cars than any other living species, except perhaps pet dogs… City dogs are a delight to gaze at- they are seen strutting along with the same gaiety as old Earls or Counts going for rounds across their land. The functions are similar too; there are not a lot of expectations from those who know them but they inexplicably enjoy their lives in the lap of luxury. How might the skyscrapers seem to them, I wonder? Do they feel like a Lilliput too? If I ever had a pet dog or any pet for that matter, while living in the City, I’m sure I’d transmit vibes of Lilliput-inferiority onto it when I take them for a walk; I hope that doesn’t happen… The yellow cabs move around the various streets like old worn out leopards. This concrete jungle even roars unanimously; rather, the dragon in the underground cave roars. You hear it every time you walk past the manhole or the slab covering an opening into the dragon’s lair. You hear it huffing and puffing and you wonder at how activity mirrors above and below the ground. The traffic, is a well oiled machinery that moves, stops, waits and moves again, repeating the rhythm that has echoed for decades since the establishment of traffic lights. These lights seem as if they are made up of starlight- white, yellow, red- enclosed in a box. This starlight governs the life and and times of the city-dwellers much like the stars in the sky are said to govern the lives of men. It IS the starlight of the city-dweller, perhaps his favorite one as the real stars remain hidden behind the neck-hurting heights of concrete. Here cultures meet, languages die and creoles are born. Grey is the Green; trees are as rare to find as an idle person. The City has a fierce beauty, a forceful charm that is shoved into your face, that you cannot ignore. There’s less to look and more to see, less to listen and more to hear. As enticing as it is, activity and artificiality for me gets tiring after a while.

There is one thing though- the City doesn’t make me feel.

This is no place for melancholy and there’s even less space for peace and silence. No emotion, just existence. During the times when I prefer that, I feel glad to be here. That’s when I see it as less of a jungle and more of a .. well, busy space. 
Written at Starbucks, 55th and Lexington. 
Inspired by New York City.