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. 

Election Watch 2012

This post is highly unstructured because the author was high on chocolate cake and was just following the random thread of thought inspired by the politically aroused students around her. 

Obama or Romney? If only mankind had found a reliable way to look into the future, this question wouldn’t have echoed through the corridors of my University for the past few months. But then again, if  future was predictable there wouldn’t be any surprises or exhilaration would there?
So here I am, in the Atrium of Ellicott Complex, the residential complex of University at Buffalo, with my friends watching the results of Presidential Elections 2012. As I type this, there is an unceasing buzz from the students assembled here. The enthusiastic American youth here, with their Obama-Biden or Romney-Ryan pamphlets and posters watch the big screen with all the zeal of watching American Football. Actually, more than Football. I haven’t actually watched a Superbowl match yet, so I cannot compare the excitement of both these contexts. There are red, white and blue balloons decorating the room and free Pepsi and cake too. (Yep, now you know why I’m here! Haha. OK, Just Kidding). A lot of African Americans, are boisterously supporting President Obama. There are actually Romney and Obama masks here.

Photo courtesy: Audrey Foppes.

Although I have two novels to catch up with for my classes and a critical paper to complete for Friday, here I am watching the election results of a country that I’m not a citizen of. But what’s interesting is that these results, the results of the American Presidential Elections, directly or indirectly affect the entire global community. America being the “only true super power” right now in the world, (and that’s something some of the Americans are annoyingly arrogant about, I can tell you) the situation of their politics and even their domestic policies are extremely influential. I’m not a computer engineer aspiring to join Google or Facebook or some fancy American financial institution, but even I know that the Indian economy is also heavily dependent on the stocks and economic market of the US. Crashes in Wall Street affect not just New Yorkers or Americans but the whole of the global economic market, thanks to the phenomenon called globalization. Militarily, there is no doubt that America is powerful enough to take on all the developing countries in spite of its increasing debt towards China. Considering the unfair influence US tend to have in the  affairs in UN, its important to have a sensible person over on the helm of affairs at the White House.

Now, as a neutral observer, a native Indian and non-green card holding international student here, I look at whats going on here with extreme admiration. I can’t believe that politics can be handled with dignity and the level of knowledge and facts, that elections are held here. Not that the politicians here don’t downplay each other. They do, a LOT. But the accusations are subtle and they tell you to go to hell with a smile on their face. Many of the Americans would say American politicians are far from polite, but compared to desi politicians, these people are much much better. Indian politics, as any politically conscious Desi would know, is like a race of limping horses. We don’t have properly educated politicians who can spit out the figures of unemployment rate. Yes, Dr. Manmohan Singh might hold a number of degrees, but he seems to be taking “silence is golden” a BIT too seriously. Our President is not very different either considering the only times we hear her voice are to congratulate Sachin for his 100th century or on Independence Day or Republic day speeches. (Well, at least that’s the only time I’ve heard her).  Then we’re left with people like Sonia Gandhi, powerful because of her family history and LK Adwani, who come into the picture only when elections are right around the corner. Plus, most of the Indian youth don’t really care about politics, too busy chasing for jobs or completing degrees to get on with life. After all Indian politics is for people with luck, not respectable education! I don’t mean to sound demeaning towards my country, but these are facts I can’t help but noticing as I watch the political happenings in another country.

The BIG difference is that India doesn’t even have a presidential election. We do not get to choose the First Citizen of our country. The big failure of democracy.. not being able to accommodate the interests of our large voter population.

Here, the elections are just as complicated as India. Each state is divided into electoral districts and the Presidential candidate needs at least 270 electoral votes to win.
At this point (9.54 PM), Obama leads with 158 electoral votes and Romney is just behind him with 153.

My friend Erin, one of the above mentioned enthusiastic American youth, thinks this is the closest election race she has seen. And boy, there are whoops around here when each state’s result is announced! It’s like being in a stadium watching a political sport.. People are just so excited. I’ve never been in an Indian college campus during elections ( hell, I’ve never been in an Indian college campus as a student!) so I don’t know if its the same situation there during elections. But this is certainly exciting.

10.12 PM
Romney has 163 votes and Obama has 162 electoral votes as of now. 270.. 270 is the bar to hit. 

I think the true pleasure of watching this going on around me, is that I get to laugh at the reactions of different people. Yes, I personally hope Obama would win, but I wouldn’t be heartbroken like the other Democrats around me. And Massachusetts, from where Romney hails from as a Governor, just gave a 60+ % majority to Obama!!! Now, THAT says something.

Romney looks very evil, doesn’t he? I mean really. His smile seems to be bordering on a signature evil laugh of a typical White comic character.. Ok Athira, You’re supposed to stay neutral in this post.

Over the past month three Presidential debates took place. Let me tell you, these things are more fun than John Brittas interviews! (Malayalis will know what I’m talking about). Okay, the debates matter more than those interviews. The candidates just kept interrupting each other so much and the moderator was left as a standing  witness to their antics. In the first debate, Romney had a clear upper hand with the President coming off as very mellow and lost. The second one saw Obama coming back every strongly and Romney literally sweating and still trying to interrupt and put Obama off the track. He made the mistake of saying “binders full of women” when one of the people asked him about the participation of women in the employment sector and his in his Cabinet. Well, that gave way to a lot of FB memes. Then the third debate again saw Obama being very aggressive and Romney trying to sound gentlemanly and calm enough to prove that he’s capable to sit in the White House. And also people, Romney knows his geography. He knows that Egypt is a part of Middle East!

Now, my laptop is dying and I need to switch it off and watch this thing. You will know the results from tomorrow’s newspapers or rather from your friends’ FB statuses.


Today is my last day in America before Summer 2012.  Two semesters in the cold town of Buffalo as an intended English and Sociology major are done with. I am no more an ignorant freshman but an ignorant sophomore. All the classes for next semester are registered, rooms booked and meal plans selected- implying I plan to come back here next semester.

So, I AM GOING HOME. For the next three months I don’t have to do laundry by myself. I can watch cricket in my house on my couch with Mandabudhi (oh, thats the name of the fan in my living room, yes I named it; for non-Malayalam speakers, it means “retarded”) rotating rhythmically above me, with my family and not alone in a freaking dorm room. The BIG thing- I can eat GOOD TASTY food. My taste-buds are all going to come back with a bang and I’m going to enjoy the process of eating as I’ve never done before. Because now, I know the importance of spice. How beautiful it is to eat with your hands, to feel the oil, the smell, to put the food in your mouth, chew and savour the taste of it all.. bliss. I can hang out with people who know I’m weird, look at me and tell it to my face but love me anyway AKA my best friends. I can go to my schools and visit all my old teachers and tell them how lucky I am that I chose to do what I’m doing. I want to go stand in front of RAYS, stare at that building and feel triumphant that I quit that place for good. I want to go to Kappad and feel special that the place is being mentioned in huge lecture halls in Buffalo(yes, the Vasco-da-gama thing) while the people there don’t know about Buffalo’s existence. I want to just sleep on my own bed with Jimmy near me and get all my nightmares and sweet dreams one after the other. I’d have a new phone number. I will not be on Facebook 24×7 because there is no free wi-fi at my house. I’ll feel like I’m on cloud nine and will watch all the stupid Star Plus serials with my mother just to feel at home. Okay, maybe not all. I dont have to pay my phone bill or look at bank statements. I dont have to write 8 page long papers or read Old English. I can finally get to ticking off stuff from my reading list. And so much.. so much to do!! I dont have to Skype! Or mail! I can just yell ‘Ammaa’ and she will hear me!
Home equals comfort. 🙂

This is too much of looking into the future. Afterall, women ARE thinkers. Now how about going to the past? Do I want to? What has these nine months away from home done to me? I wish I could give a clear cut answer to that… The change will be evident only when I go back home and get used to not seeing different hues of skins around me. The hot and humid air of India will kick into my brains when I land on Sunday and it might feel like I never left home after all.. okay wait Athira, you still have to survive the flight travel. Yeah, just a matter of hours. Tick Tock. 🙂

The Skeleton-Tree

That patch of grass -under the leafless Skeleton-Tree- carefully green as if it had with clear intentions removed it’s white snow coat.. I sit there and stare into the lake before me, that hasn’t frozen, yet. The water is still as the sky it reflects. Arms around my folded legs, I sit like a grieving child who lost a toy; no, I have lost nothing. There’s snow everywhere but the trees depress me. It is beautiful of course but I like the trees green. However, the white is heaven. I can’t decide. White or green? Purity of dirty white or gentle sprawling green?

I shake my head and turn around to look at the wall behind the tree, behind me. It wore a white laced head-dress of snow. Faint trickles of water creep down from the top, barely visible along the brown bricks, as the snow melted; like the trickle of condensate water on a beer glass. Or on an Aquafina bottle. Does it matter?
It was not snowing then, but an isolated flake drip down from the branch above. Wet. I close my eyes and gently lean back on to the Skeleton-Tree.
It seems to read my thoughts and leans back to support me..

All things- Good and Bad. Well, some.

A new environment is bound to bring new rules and norms with it. When I signed up for the stint in the U.S for my undergraduate education I had a vague idea that it would be hard. But exactly how hard and exciting the life would be, I was yet to find out. Now looking back at the initial months here in Buffalo and New York City I am GLAD I signed up for this. It is not just DIFFERENT here but refreshing. Of course what makes this change exciting and worth talking about is that I hail from Incredible India with its Bollywood movies, soap serials and genuine emotional people I perfectly identify with. Here in Amrika practicality and cold logic reigns. People seem more detached from their families, love the violent sport of American Football and can hardly hold a conversation without using the word ‘fuck’. There’s the sum of ‘cultural shock’ in a sentence for you! None of this affects me personally and I enjoy being a detached spectator. I look at all this and marvel at how diverse the world is. In India family comes first and Maa or Mother comes even above God- not that everyone in India thinks so, but that is the majority’s sentiment. Unlike in America, the undying sport as a stand-in for a religion, is Cricket aka The Gentleman’s Game. Millions of Indians (including this humble blogger) finds it exciting, inspiring and simply beautiful to watch. As to Cricket being Gentleman’s Game, I can vouch for it not having as much violence in the field as Football but the passion with which the players and fans follow the Game is scary. I’m a scary Cricket fan myself and I know how it feels when India loses a match. Thanks to globalization and American movies, foul words in English are not restricted to the West. But come on, there are bad words in every language! It is also true that if you wish to abuse someone it is best to do so in your mother-tongue… makes it more satisfying and easier (plus the added advantage if your victim doesn’t know your mother-tongue).

Another habit I had to get used to is the swiping of cards. Credit card, UB card, daily pass- all you have to do is run this piece of sophisticated hardboard through a machine and taadaaang! : You pay EASILY. Speaking of paying, NEVER try to convert $ into rupee if you don’t want a cardiac arrest. Perhaps this is the worst of all the shocks- you need to get used to the fact that you’re paying about 10 times for a Movie ticket than what you pay in India. It’s scary! Within a few months of controlled spending, I learned what is cheap and what is not. But it still shocks me when I subconsciously do a calculation and replace whatever it is back on the rack of Wal-Mart. Maybe in a few years, I will get over this stingy habit. Or not.

I really wish I could vent my feelings about fast food and how much I miss Indian food but that will just be too much of whining. All I can say is that I get sick of them asking ‘White or Wheat?’ and the following torrent of questions about what kind of cheese, toppings etc etc etc. It is IRRITATING when you’re just hungry and wants to eat whatever is there. Whoever cares about calories and fat content? Sorry, but I just prefer to be unhealthy. Thank You. It was always a challenge, climbing onto the buses in India and having to squeeze your way in and getting stamped all the time. But here you’re free from the hassle and almost always get a nice comfortable seat. In the University, the bus drivers get more ‘Thank you’ than the Professors. We don’t thank the teachers after lecture but thank the drivers and the people who serve at Putnams and Pistachhios! You can’t help loving the politeness and exchange of casual greetings. Of course the man who comes to repair the lift might not really know for you or CARE who you are but it brightens the day when you receive a smile and ‘Good Morning, there. Have a good day!’ And you’re left to wonder at the extremes… sometimes all you hear is foul language and sometimes these pleasantries catch you off guard and make you smile. The cleanliness and freedom is indisputable. Whether it be the lack of curfew at the residence halls or absence of anybody to check if you actually go to class, return back home or go off somewhere for the weekend.. ah college life here is like a kite with a weak cord. You may hold it, but you can fly high and even break the chord- if you choose to. A lot of my friends asked me if I turned into a party animal. I’ll be frank and tell you I’m not that ‘cool’. I stick to what I came here for and have fun just hanging out with my friends in the mall nearby, window shopping and gawping at the Thanksgiving/ Christmas décor, occasional movies and visits to Indian Restaurants. CAN’T WAIT FOR CHRISTMASSSS!

I’ll end it here. There’s of course more and more and more. But that will appear in the upcoming posts. Happy Thanksgiving and Happy Christmas! 🙂