Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Day 9 (May 25, 2010)

The year 2010 will easily be recorded as the year of 'reconnecting' with Alumni. First the School reunion in February, then two class reunion get togethers in April. And just last Saturday, a 'mini reunion' with two class mates in the US.

As if this were not enough, I met another old student of my School - in New Jersey, of all places. Sonia was a classmate of my younger brother. But the fact is that we share the same Alma Mater.

I met Sonia and her husband Zubair over dinner. We recounted old times, and talked about our days in School, and about each other's lives in the present times. Sonia is a software sales manager, while Zubair is a Manufacturing Engineer.
It was great to see both of them working hard and prospering in the US.

Sonia rightly pointed out that in America, how much one prospers is a direct function of how much hard work he or she puts in. Nothing else matters. It does not take me any effort to believe that. I have seen enough examples to be convinced myself.

Seeing so many of my friends doing well makes me happy. They had a vision, a dream - and they made that dream a reality.

Their success story is indeed a lesson for others to emulate.

The penultimate day of my tour has come to an end. Tomorrow - its a long flight - a direct one from New Jersey to New Delhi. In fifteen hours I will be transported from one corner of the Globe to another.

Eight days have flown by. And now - can't wait to get home !

Monday, May 24, 2010

Day 8 (May 24,2010) - II

Its been exactly one week in the US for me. And despite a relaxed week end, the fatigue is now growing. Mainly an effect of a continued routine of moving from one City to another. Checking- in and out of Hotels, air travels - which involve endless waiting at airports, lugging around heavy luggage, long queues at the security checks, taxi rides, waking up early and sleeping late.

Today - its New Jersey. And the area seems no different from what it was when I came here last - about a year ago. The weather is probably the best that I have experienced anywhere in the last one week. Very pleasant. And of course - there's one thing that I cannot get over easily - broad daylight - till 8 o'clock in the evening !

Apart from that all else now begins to seem monotonous. That includes the food. There's only a limited number of times that one can have steak, or shrimp. The good old Dal, Subzi and Roti are being fondly missed....

The good thing is - this is the last leg of the journey. And from here - its back home, although that's sometime away.

There's one lesson that has been learnt during one's stay here in the US this time. Thanks to some colleagues from back home, who are working on a long term project here, and therefore have worked out ways to survive over an extended period of time. And that is- one must begin to start driving here, so one can rent cars. And rented cars is the most common and convenient way of moving around in the Country. On the other hand, if you don't drive in the US, life can be difficult.

And the good news is - your good old Indian license is perfectly valid for a car rental company to rent you a car !

That's certainly something to look forward to, and in a sense exciting, about the next visit to the USA, whenever that might be..

Day 8 (May 24,2010)

Today - I remember my Dad, because today is his birthday. Had he been amongst us, he would have been 86 years old.

My father was a man with a very humble background, but who lived his life with dignity, performing his worldly duties in a way many others perhaps couldn't. He took good care of his family - his own needs and wants were always secondary. He brought up his children by ensuring that they got good education and by inculcating the right values among them.

My Father enjoyed reading, writing, and was passionate about Indian classical music. If there's one mental image that will be forever etched in my mind, it is that of my father lying awake in bed till the wee hours, with a transistor radio and earphones, listening to the late night Indian classical music recital on Delhi 'A' of All India Radio. Once when there was a classical music concert of Hair Prasad Chaurasia and Ustaad Zakir Husain, in my own College - St. Stephen's he travelled all the way from RK Puram to the University by a DTC Bus, because he wouldn't like to drive at night, and stayed on till midnight, only to return home the same way - by bus !

He was a deeply religious person - the last few years of his life were devoted to the worship of God. He read about God, wrote about God, and thought about God pretty much all the time. But even before he focused on religion, he was and extremely calm and cool, at peace with everything and everyone in this World. Even in the last few moments of his life, he suffered pain through a quiet dignity, till he left his World to be with his Maker...

My Father's life was and continues to be a source of inspiration for me. That's not unique. But what is remarkable, is that he managed to touch the lives of so many people that came to know him. For many of them, knowing my Dad was both an honor and a privilege.

It certainly was an honor and a matter of great privilege for me, to have known him that way only I did, as my Father.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Day 7, (May 23, 2010)

Weekends on tours can be very, very boring. I know because I have spent several weekends away from home. There is only that much one can do, in terms of exploring a new City, taking a guided tour to see places of tourist interest and so on. But that is short lived, and it is difficult to kill the rest of the time.

But not this weekend which is now coming to an end. I had the good fortune of visiting Swati and Rajeev at their home in DC. And the fringe benefit was getting to meet other friends and relatives after decades. So a weekend well spent.

And then onto a new place - Atlanta. The first thing that struck me was how bright and sunny it was, even when I reached my Hotel - at 8 pm ! The sun finally seemed to have set at about 9.15 pm. In Delhi, even in the peak of summer, there is daylight only upto about 7.45 pm.

What I have seen in US in this - 5th trip to the Country, has left a very positive impression in my mind. The first time I came, it was more of a "What's the big deal about it" kind of impression. What impressed me this time was that the USA is visibly very very 'green' and not really the concrete jungle that everyone expects it to be. Every City - big or small, had managed to maintain a proper balance of development of infrastructure which means roads and bridges, as well as huge areas of dense growth of tress, green grass and foliage. This indicates a discipline, planning and above all - a vision.

If we have to 'ape the West' let's do it this way...

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Day 6 (May 22, 2010)

Today being a Saturday, was a holiday for me as it was for all Americans. And for Americans, the weekend preparations begin on Friday afternoon. In many Offices people leave by lunch time. They know how to enjoy life with their families. We Indians should learn a lesson from this.

The morning started with a two hour drive from Salisbury to Washington DC by a shuttle bus. And I drove through some of the finest parts of the Country side. A lot greenery, hills, fields etc.

I reached the BWI airport, where I was picked up by Swati and Rajeev. I met Swati my MBA classmate, first time after 1987 - that makes it 23 years ! We then proceeded for lunch. At lunch we had some of the finest Thai food I have tasted in a while.

Then a nice tour of the City. This included seeing The White House, The Capitol - that houses the Senate, The Supreme Court and the Lincon Memorial. We also visited a War Memorial. There on a long and wide granite wall, were engraved the names of all the soldiers fallen for the Country in the World War - II, The Korean War and the Vietnam War. A fine way for the Nation to pay respects to those who made the supreme sacrifice - that of their life, in defending the honor of their Country. People thronged the area. There were war veterans, sons, daughters, friends of those who were no longer alive and whose names were there on the wall. A very emotional and poignant moment for many.

Swati and her husband were generous to host a dinner and invited another old class mates Smita, now settled in the US and living close to Swati, and Akanksha a relative, and her family. I saw both of them after 24 years...

It was great to connect with old friends after a long time. Old memories came flooding by. It was satisfying to note that all have progressed well in life. They have performed all roles well - that of a professional, spouse and parent.

I wish all of them and their families, more happiness and good luck.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Day 5 (May 21, 2010) - II

Every once in a while you come across a human being who makes a special impression on your mind. Because he or she is special. I came across one such person - Ward Barney.

Ward W. Barney is the Chief Operating Officer of our subsidiary Company in Salisbury. The fact that he reached this position in his professional life, already hinted at the fact that this man is an achiever. Also, speaking with him for ten minutes was enough to make me conclude that he is the 'man in charge' and the person responsible for the successful show.

We struck a chord, and there was a natural tendency for both of us to know a little more about each other's life. And what Ward told me about his life, in probably less than ten minutes, left a mark on my mind.

Ward finished high school and got drafted into the army. The Vietnam war was on. He served the Army as a 'Helicopter Door Gunner'. Those are the guys we see in war movies who are sitting at the entrance of a helicopter when its flying in combat, with both legs dangling down, and firing a huge gun.

During his tour of duty, Ward got shot thrice. But he survived. On all those occasions, and through his tour he survived. When he returned, he had only a School graduation as a qualification. But he decided that he needed to do something better with his life. So he decided to get a job that would pay for his education, and study further.

Sometime around then, he met a girl who soon became his wife. Ward got a job as a mechanic in a bottling plant and started studying electrical engineering. Those days were extremely difficult, he recalled. He would work by day, and study at night, only to be disturbed frequently because there were breakdowns at the bottling plant.

Ward decided that enough was enough. He quit his job, and found another one - that of a draughtsman. This job paid half as much, but there was peace of mind. He did complete his engineering, but got a job in a completely unrelated field - Pharmaceuticals !

Achievers they say - keep achieving. They have a streak. This electrical engineer went on to file more than 10 patents in his own name. I would have thought that they would be 'process patents' since engineering was his core competence. But no - all of the patents were 'product patents' So here was a man a production engineer, who excelled in drug discovery.

Today, Ward is still happily married, to his first wife. They have two sons. Ward made his own life good enough to finance his son's' education. But he decided to help instill the same values in his own children. To make life a success - the hard way. Both his sons work to pay for their education. One is studying engineering, and the other - Bio Technology. Both study at theUniversity of Maryland.

Inspiring? Well certainly to me !

Day 5 (May 21, 2010)

Salisbury is a small town in the State of Maryland. The population is only 60,000 people.
In a small town, everything is small. Starting with the airport.Only small aircraft can land or take off, usually the turbo prop ones, and not jets.

We landed at midnight, and apart from the handful of passengers who disembarked, and a couple of cars outside - probably someone who had come to receive a passenger, there was not a soul in sight. Fortunately we grabbed the lone taxi that stood in one corner. As we left I wondered how the other passengers would manage. But then there aren't too many 'takers' for taxis. This is the land of car rentals and self drive you see...

The twenty minute journey to the town, was through narrow roads in between fields and farms. We checked into what is called an Inn and not a Hotel. Because there simply aren't any Hotels in Salisbury !

The new lesson learnt today is that in an Inn, or at least in this Inn, there are no laundry services. You want your clothes laundered, you go wash them yourself, in the laundry room on your floor, where there is a washing machine.

But small towns have a charm of their own. People seem more friendly, and they certainly have a little more time to talk to you. We visited our Company's Factory, and met a lot of friendly people.

And we felt proud of the fact that here was an example of an American Company bought out by an Indian Company - OUR Company!

We also bumped into some more people who had come in from our very own Office, for some project work.

Lunch was in Japanese restaurant. After three days of sea food, I decided to go in for chicken. Once again, like all American food helpings, this too was large.

Small towns offer a different kind of challenge. How to kill time? And as I write this blog, I still try and grapple with this issue. How to spend time between now and tomorrow morning, when I leave for the Capital City of the United States of America - Washington DC.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Day 4 (May 20, 2010)

I haven't seen too much of the US, but Charleston, the capital city of West Virginia, is easily one of the most beautiful and picturesque places I have been to.
Charleston is a small town. But it has beautiful, lush green hills surrounding the City, and the rivers Elk, and Kanawha running around it. Along the banks of the rivers there is a huge industrial area, spread across acres and acres of land. I am sure that when workers come to work at these factories everyday they would be blessing the promoters of their Company for having had the vision to choose such a location for a workplace.
Charleston's Yeager airport, named after the legendary air warrior -Chuck Yeager, is also unique. It has been built on a plateau about 300 ft higher than the rest of the town. When you drive to the airport you drive on narrow roads surrounded by forest, and then, when you turn a bend the area suddenly opens up, leading to an airport !
The view from the air as we took off, was spectacular. A full airport -750 acres of flat area, and a sudden drop in height at the edges.
This was probably the only 'pleasant' part of a gruelling journey that started at 5.30 pm and will end at 11.30 pm, involving three legs and two connections.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Day 3 (May 19, 2010) - II

As far as airports go, the US has some very, very large airports, and then some very small ones too.

Charleston is one such small airport. Or so it seemed - 1130 at night. Only one flight landing -ours - at that time of the day. No shops etc in the arrival hall. And no taxis. Taxis have to requested for, and they take about 10-15 minutes to come from the City.

But small towns also mean smaller expenses. Small distances mean lower cost of transportation. Hotel tariffs for the same type of Hotel are significantly lower. Those are the fringe benefits.

The weather on landing was a sharp contrast to that in Houston. I was caught unprepared a second time. This time no woollens or a jacket was handy. And it was chilly.

More of Charleston as one would experience it tomorrow.

Day 3 (May 19, 2010) - I

The first thing that struck me about Houston, as I stepped out of the Hotel, into the 'real' world, is that this City is very similar to Mumbai - weatherwise. Reasonably hot and very humid.. Humidity is because of the proximity to the Ocean. The Gulf of Mexico is just a 45 minutes drive from the center of the City - I am told.

I laughed at myself - for having carried a jacket, and also a sweater, depending upon how uncomfortable I would be due to cold weather ! I hope that in the next ten days, I will encounter weather that will make me pat my own back and tell myself "See - I told you - it will be cold somewhere in the US !"

I am a little more educated about Houston than I was when I arrived here. Its a City very cosmopolitan in nature, with a reasonably big Indian, Chinese and Hispanic population. It has a relatively large "Chinatown" area too. Houston also happens to be a center for Science and Arts - particularly Theatre. And of course there's NASA. Who can forget the famous lines from the movie Apollo 13 - "Houston - We have a problem" - the calm voice of the commander of the Apollo flight when he first passed on the message to the NASA center controlling the mission, about the impending doom, when everything went wrong with the spacecraft.

Due to proximity to Mexico, there is a lot of 'Spanish' influence. Particularly Spanish food. And we sampled some of it when we stopped for lunch. I chose something called "Shrimp Cherana" with rice and salad as the 'asides' The waitress dutifully pointed out at the single red chilly sign against the item name, on the menu card. It was spicy she explained. I decided to challenge myself, armed with the confidence that as an Indian I am used to spicy food.

Turned out that I made a sensible choice. Excellent stuff. And as far as the 'spicy' bit goes - well it was as spicy as ordinary Indian food cooked at home ! One man's (normal) food is another man's poison...

The only problem is American restaurants are a bit of a challenge for a small eater. The helpings are huge.

I now wait at the airport , as I prepare to leave Houston for Charleston in West Virginia. This is a tough leg, that will involve a six hour journey including a stop over at Charlotte to catch a connecting flight.

As the waitress at the check - in counter remarked - when my bookings appeared on her computer screen - I have a lot on my plate over the next ten odd days..

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Day 2 (May 18, 2010) - II

This day - today, seems to continue endlessly. One of the fringe benefits of travelling towards the west and that too, to the US. You gain time. I started my journey on 18th early morning, and after 21 hours of flying, it still is the 18th of May.

That it has been 30 hours between stepping out of home and checking in, into my Hotel room, changes the perspective totally. It has been a gruelling journey, mainly because in the past 30 odd hours, sleep usually doesn't come easily to a person. So in a sense it amounts to staying awake for more than a full day !

The experience at any US airport is a tough one. There are long long queues in front of the immigration counters. And these queues move extremely slow. Then there are delays in collecting baggage. And once again, long queues at custom, where the only activity visible was collection of custom declaration forms from passengers.

Outside there are problems of availability of public transport - taxis etc. Just as they exist in India. The element of dishonesty included. Today while landing at a US airport, there are good chances that you get cheated by a cab driver.

Therefore if I were to make a very objective comparison of the quality of service at an International Airport in the US and one back home, the airports in India could easily be rated as good if not better than those in the US. The same issues for which we so easily criticise our own system, exist here too.

The weather is a welcome change. From the scorching heat in Delhi, it is a mere 30 degrees Celcius in Houston. And also cloudy.

In the coming days, there will be much more to experience about America than ever in the past. The stay is of longer duration this time, and many new cities would be visited.

But for now, the head finally begins to spin, and I can see myself slowly moving to a 'crash out' situation before long. While India prepares itself for another new day, it is the end of the day here.

By the way - every wondered why India chose this extra 'half hour' of time difference between itself and all other Countries. Nowhere else in the World does time difference exist of a fraction of an hour..

Why in India?

FW: Day 2 (May 18, 201 ) -I

Isn't it simply amazing that in just a few hours one is transported to another corner of the Globe ?
Everything is different now. From an unbearble , hot Delhi, Frankfurt is 'heavenly' with the temperature being 12 degrees ! Despite it being one of the busiest airports Frankfurt does not seem congested at all.
Security checks are more stringent, especially in case of US bound flights. All procedures are perhaps efficient but seem so mechanical...The one thing that clearly is missing in these parts of the World is the ever helpful 'Indian' attitude. Be it a porter, a security personnel, a shopkeeper-almost anyone is ever ready at the airport or a railway station in India, to help you with information or guidance. Don't you remember -who is the most reliable source of information at a railway station? Its the 'coolie' !

Many times the information provided is wrong. But the willingness to help is there.
Here, it's 'do it yourself' all the way. And when you seek help, chances are that your problem won't be solved.
There is no doubt that keeping in mind the passenger load to staff strength ratio, Indian staffers will win 'hands down' when it comes to patience empathy and willingness to help. But you value them when you visit these part of the World and compare...
A quick wash over and I will now settle down with some breakfast. And prepare for the next flight which is of ten hours.

Monday, May 17, 2010

'D' Day - May 17, 2010

"Oh Babe - I hate to go" is what John Denver said, in his song "Leaving on a jet plane" And that pretty much sums up how I feel today when I leave home and embark upon a two week tour to the US.

For some inexplicable reason, leaving home has become increasingly 'unsettling' in recent times. Perhaps its about leaving the family alone to 'battle it out' Or it must have something to do with getting 'disconnected' from good friends. And it may sound funny, but staying away from the work place is also a source of stress!

I wait at the Business Lounge at the airport. I had imagined that this would be a quiet place. But it is just another section of the very crowded airport. I look around and see. There are all kinds of people. Men and women travelling alone. Others are in groups. For some, home is just one flight away. For others like me, its just the beginning of a long trip...

There are business people - many of whom stare into their computer screens. Perhaps catching up on email that they didn't get time to see during the day. Ask any business person and he will tell you that if you miss just one day's email, heavens WILL fall...

There are children - small ones. The worst sufferers in long distance travel - I think. One little girl is fast asleep on her mother's lap. Her mother sits motionless, endlessly, because she does not want to risk waking up her child. There is also a boy - just about as big as the girl. He seems to be intent on 'rubbishing' my theory. He is bubbling with endless energy and is running around the lounge detached from the happenings around him, and totally involved in some game that he has invented.

There are others who just sit around and keep busy with their cellphones. The cellphone rings occasionally, but when it does, the ring is noisiy and disturbs everyone. Why their cellphone ring tones are set to maximum volume will always remain a mystery.
And when they answer the phone, they would like everyone else around them to hear at least one side of the conversation...!

My attentions slowly shifts away from what's happening around me I focus on the days to come, the places to visit, the goals to be achieved. My mind settles with the thought that this tour like the many others before it, will end too. And the day will come, when home will be just a flight away.