Saturday, April 14

Deep into that darkness peering, long I stood there, wondering, fearing, doubting, dreaming dreams no mortal ever dreamed before - E.A Poe

He sure knew what he was talking about, because the silence hit me like a physical blow.

11 am on a Sunday morning, my first real day in the U.S & groggy from the jet-lag I suppose I could be excused for the steadily wilder ideas rushing through my noggin. My imagination, never one to be accused of sobriety at the best of times, decided that this was not one of the best of times and promptly went on a joyride of possibilities... everything from plague hitting the city to something straight out of 'Night of the living dead' (yes, yes it was the morning & you are welcome to take that up with my imagination at your leisure). Anyway, welcome to glamourous Birmingham, folks... biggest city in Alabama, don't you know. And not a soul to be seen as far as the eye could see. And not suffering from any ocular problems, my eyes were working fine thank you very much.

The chaps I was staying with no doubt had gone through the same set of emotions. Its hard not to abandon the popular ideas of manhood... you know... the steely glare and the equanimity when one is taken from the streets of India and rudely chucked into a city with an atmosphere more reminiscent of the better class of mausoleums. The guys were understanding, I must say. In a few brisk sentences that left nothing to either imagination or chance, I was asked to:
  1. Pick up my fallen jaw, idiot
  2. Lump it
  3. Erase the look of disbelief on my face, while I still could
  4. And yes, pick up my fallen jaw, idiot
So I did.

As everyone knows, it's nice to have an on-campus job. Apart from the fact that money changes hands in your favour, a job is the one way to get yourself something called a social security number (ssn). Apparently, getting one is the only way to get yourself a house, an electricity-water connection and a phone line, for starters. You also need the ssn to get a job. The readers who haven't fallen asleep at this point will no doubt raise the eyebrow, go "Haan, but..." and point out to the second sentence of this paragraph that suggests the opposite. Wah, wah... take lessons, Sherlock Holmes.

The bright-eyed boys in the upper echelons of administration decided that if one wants to get a ssn, one has to have a job, while at the same time decreeing that one cannot get a job without the ssn. Hmm... right... I was consistent, I assure you. I did all the things on the checklist of 'things to do when frustrated' barring tearing my hair out.... sighed... and once again, lumped it. Because.

Eventually, I did manage to get a job on-campus as a student tutor... and another one soon after that. The experience of getting my second job as a student assistant will stay with me till the end of my days. That macabre story will also be told eventually... rest assured.

So then... I walk into the local grocery store a few days after my arrival here and once again, reached down and picked up my jaw. Why ? Beer is sold openly at grocery stores here... all kinds of it. Lots of it.

" Hallelujah.... Hallelujah.... "

The rest, as they say, is history.

Tuesday, April 3

life on the road.... OR... what websites don't tell you

In my boots on the 22nd of August 2006, anybody attempting to pass themselves off as even partially human would have found self-abuse an easy art form.

Yours truly finds himself in a new country, studying for a degree the name of which, when mentioned to the general public never fails to draw the creased eyebrow and the puzzled frown followed by the " but what is it ?" As if that were not enough, I've just been informed by my academic adviser in a cheerfully manner that bordered on the vulgar, that I wont be receiving any financial aid this semester. Not content with this bit of blight, I've also been summarily informed by the very same still cheerful personage that I will be taking extra courses this semester as well, that will not count toward my final degree. Yes, yes, on cue I oblige with the double take as well as "what the... why the...". You, astute reader must have pictured the scene by now. Not what I'd consider the most warm welcome to a new life, but as people who know me will testify, my day-to-day existence is straight out of a Kafka plot.

Back to the drama... apparently, an on-campus job is a pearl beyond any price in this neck of the woods... and the earnestness with which our desi public chase down one of these gems can shame any tiger stalking its prey. And you guessed it... little me, yes me... the chap with the by now vacuous expression on my face and the Bambi eyes, is too late to get one this semester for either love or money...both of which seem to be in short supply anyway. Can't you just feel the chagrin ?? Studies come a distant third on the list after aid and work. House hunting is an activity reminiscent of the adventures of Shikari Shambhu... or Bertie Wooster, for you lot with the taste in English literature... you find yourself with a roof over your head in the end, but wonder how you survived the experience. Your roommates.... ahhh, but that is another tale for another day.

It has now been 7 months since I got here... and yes, I miss home, and my beloved Pune acutely. Only those of us who have left India, know what it is to miss all things Indian. Granted, walking into the unfamiliar has its plus points but there are times & there are days when.... well.

And by the way, here is the University of Alabama at Birmingham... and for those with the markedly intellectual bent, contrary to what you may think it is not in the U.K. It's in the U.S. Yes... it is... deal with it. I'm studying Criminology. All further questions on the above matters will be addressed by Google... make sure you get the spellings correctly, otherwise you may find yourself looking at a web page advertising cannibalistic rites in some god-forsaken part of the planet.

Up next: NO plague - getting an on campus job - the chicken or the egg - incredulity and delight