India 2017- A Trip in Review

First in a series of posts on my Big fat Indian Wedding in India and random thoughts of my trip to India in December of 2016

Advertisements

In the last month of 2016, My daughter and I went to India for the first time in o
ver6 years. We went for an Indian wedding and to say we had the time of our lives would be an understament.

India
India 

To see India as a native is also an experience that was eye opening. There is no country that is more diverse and has sense of pride than India. This country is a super power and you see this everywhere!

As many of my readers know, my writing is infused with a sense of humor. Over the next few postings, I’ll convey to you my views on what I saw during my vacation in Mumbai, Goa, Pune and back to Mumbai. Many of my opinions will invoke responses (hopefully). Much of what I saw and my thoughts should be just considered my views and treated with the humor and realism, I try to inject into my postings.

When I go to India, I am a foreigner.

  • I’m what they refer to as an IBCD (Indian Born confused Desi (slang term for a person of Indian Origin)). This year when I went to India with my beautiful 24 year old daughter, I went with an open mind and went without the normal prejudices I bring to the table when I visit India.

My experience in India was amazing! The changes in the lifestyle of the people that call India home (regardless of whether they live there or are NRI’s like myself), has progressed tremendously.

Some ramblings to start:

  • Be prepared to walk – When you get off the plane, the huge rebuilt terminals are just that.. huge and spacious.. your walk from your plane to immigration and customs will be at least 10 to 20 minutes. The vastness of the international airport in India is a sight to behold. The same holds true for the aiport in Goa.  What you experience in these terminals is for another posting.
  • Your Dollar goes further – If you are coming from United States, you are already at an advantage as you are getting a favorable return on currency. One dollar equals $67 Rupees. This number might make you feel rich, but the fact is that even with this favorable returns on currency exchange, it is quite expensive to get around (be it by taxi or other mode of transportation).
  • Currency and De-Monitization: 2016 was the year of demonitization of the 500 and 1000 rupee note.. this made getting money via ATM, via currency exchange an adventure. Empty ATM machines and Limitations on how much you can exchange for currency for me was quite restrictive. At the airport, I could only exchange $40 for local currency!
  • Change Anyone? Make sure you have plenty of cash on hand and change. Due to de-monitization and the basics how things run in India.. Don’t expect to get change easily.. So everytime you get change for currency you are using for payments, treasure it. You will need it!
  • Rules of the Road: There are none.Forget the concept of normalacy and organized traffic patterns  when it comes to automotive traffic and travel. The law of the land is “If u are in a car, Look Forward only, and lane indications are just for sake of having them“.  Remember that when you cross the streets.. you need to always look “right-left-right” and if you are an NRI, for the first few days, you are always looking the wrong direction when crossing ANY street!
  • Traffic is a mess, but rarely do you see any car that has dents or has been damaged due to an accident. The patience and skills that drivers in India show is amazing.. I have to applaud the patience of every single driver that is in a car, motorcycle, scooter, bus, taxi, rickshaw… and any other vehicle that is on the road!
  • Technology in India is at par with what we see in the US. In certain thing we have been left in the dust. Can you get a dual Sim phone in the US for less than $80?
  • Travel is divided into multiple categories: Pedestrian, Car, Public Transport, or Taxi (can be rickshaw, or taxi). Yes there is even Uber in most cities in India!
  • Travel Light: You can literally go to India with a carry on and get everything you need within 24 hours! With Malls and markets readily available buying d Clothes is not a big deal.. be they Indian or western (for me that’s Jeans, shorts and short sleeves).. So my suggestion is pack light and leave lots of room for souvenirs and clothes that you MUST buy!
  • Family is family – For me I met I attended my first real “Big Fat Indian Wedding”. The size of my family is huge and to meet them in one fell swoop is not only overwhelming, it’s touching. Considering I have 17 first cousins and each of them have a few kids, the family in attendance at the wedding was huge!
  • Curb your apppetite – With India comes food. You get the best variety of food in the world. Be it vegetarian or non-vegetarian. If you are looking for beef you are out of luck! Cows are sacred in Hindu religion, so you will not get any beef (or at least I didn’t find any) in Mumbai). Friendly advice… if your stomach is weak, make sure you take enough meds to settle your stomach, otherwise you will be making constant trips to the bathroom.. Most of these will not be pleasant as you will be running there! I was lucky.. I only had only 24 hours of this unpleasantness, but the symptoms were around constantly!
  • Security – India is very secure. With all the threats of terrorism, you will see plenty of armed military from the time you land to the time you leave. You will not feel insecure when it comes to this. At times this is overwhelming, but you will see that this is absolutely necessary with the world we live in.

There is so much more that I can write about my trip. I’ll use the next few postings over the next few days to give you my spin on my trip. 

 

Immigration and Little India

Little India and Oak Tree Road, a slice of Indian Culture!

A few days ago I received an email from one of my colleagues at my work. He was deeply insulted by an article written by humorist Joel Stein in the July edition of Time Magazine. At first look I was agreeing with the “insult” that my colleague felt. By the way this colleague and I share the same first name..That is a story for another day…

Of course being reactive the way I am, I forwarded my colleague’s email to initiate an “official protest” to a few of my close friends who share my Indian heritage. By the way Mr. Stein’s article has spread like wildfire on the Web ..

After a few responses from my close friends I realized that I had grossly mis-interpreted the Joel Stein’s humor laced article in Time Magazine. Yet a part of me still wanted to send an email missile towards Mr. Stein.

What Mr. Stein writes about is valid. The Indian community has indeed taken over Oak Tree Road in every aspect. The 2 to 3 miles of strip malls that have been taken over by the Indian shopkeepers can indeed be intimidating to individuals of individuals that call themselves to be “true red, white and blue Americans”.  I have mixed emotions about the Edison, NJ version of “Little India“.

On one hand when I go to Oak Tree Road in Edison, NJ feel like I’m back in Mumbai or in New Delhi. Better yet where I grew up, in Jackson Heights, New York. Most of my formative years from high school was spent in similar environment on 74th street! Except for the parking problems,  “Little India” is a slice of my childhood. I feel at home, because of  my young adult life being raised amongst the stores and hustle and bustle of working in Jackson Heights!

On the other hand, I dread going to Edison, NJ and partaking and contributing to the economy of Woodbridge, NJ. The racism that prevails with the Woodbridge Police against the Indian Community in this town is notorious. I’ve been gifted with a ticket or two during my visit to Oak Tree Road for parking violations as well! You are guaranteed a “dirty look” welcome by the non south-asian residents whose homes line the road that is called Oak Tree Road.

Even being a naturalized “Desi”,  I am intimidated by the choice and the community that is known globally as “Little India”.  I can imagine the thoughts of someone that grew up in this community and coming back after 10 years what his/her perspective might be!

Additionally, some of the storekeepers and their employees barely speak the English Language and act like they are back in their respective cities, towns, and villages that they originated from.

Everywhere you look, all you will find tastes (literally and figuratively) of  Mumbai, New Delhi, and all parts of  the India diaspora right here! From Carom Boards,  Indian clothes, jewelry, food, restaurants, dry cleaning, there is nothing is nothing you can’t find here that you are looking.  I can find print copies of local news papers from India here with within 24 hours of publication in any language that you call your native tongue from India!.  Anything you want that’s India based can be found with multiple varieties and choice within a 3 mile strip of road.

All the deities that Mr. Stein mentions in his article can be found in abundance at any of the multiple grocery stores on Oak Tree Road. If you go to MetroPark Train station in Edison,  any Non-South Asian  is a minority at the train station between 6:00 AM and 9:00 AM. As a matter of fact, Metropark is the defacto premier  stop of the “desi express”  North-East Corridor of New Jersey Transit that stop in Metropark, Metuchen, Edison, New Brunswick and all the way to Princeton

At Metro Park, you see an abundance of advertising by the Bollywood mega icon Amitabh Bachhan and all the stores that line Oak Tree Road.

When my family first immigrated from NY to NJ in the early 1980’s to Edison, NJ, Oak tree road was just in it’s infancy.  There was an abundance of the stores and establishments like “Pizza Hut” that Mr. Stein mentions. Unfortunately, all I remember is the Bars and shuttered stores that littered Oak Tree Road and it’s various strip malls that have now been made alive and vibrant by the Indian merchants.  I remember I used to go the Famous Pizza  on Oak Tree road for “special occasions” and having only a handful of stores, where I could get my desi groceries.

So when I read Mr Stein’s article, I was at first astonished at the outright racism expressed in his words. Yes both Time and Mr. Stein did apologize for his words. After absorbing the context of his article, I do not think Mr. Stein needs to apologize for his humor.  I have to  admit every word he says in his article does hold true. The assimilation of the Indo-American culture  is so visible in Woodbridge, NJ and Little India, that  it is very difficult to determine where the Indian culture ends and the American culture begins.

As a matter of fact, many of the kids that have gone to J.P Stevens High School in Edison have been my older daughter’s best friends.  My daughter has spent many years of her young life amongst the citizens of Woodbridge, NJ that she is most at home in that community. Both my daughters have performed at the annual Independence day festivities in Oak Tree Road as well as ride on the floats that go down the main avenue of Oak Tree Road.

So I do applaud Mr. Stein for his article and I know that many will find his words offensive (similar to my colleague from work who asked for an “official protest” of this article).

You know what, I am going to do to appease the masses that will protest Mr. Steins humor in his article? I’m going to officially protest my own blog posting as an Indian Born Confused Desi’s  (IBCD) response being an member of the Indian community that is known as Little India!