My God has a name
My tongue can't spell,
A shape invisible to the eye;
A voice of love we cannot hear,
Tasteless, formless, free
From life & death & causalities,
A touch we cannot feel
In the signs we hear & see
In this myopic, blindfolded time;
The proof that he exists is me
If I am, then therefore, must he/she/it/they.
Tuesday, November 28, 2017
My God has a name
Saturday, November 12, 2016
So there I was on the flight, at the back where there was some space for passengers to walk around and stretch their legs. I struck a few random conversations, all while sipping on the free cans of beer and running in and out of the toilet every now and then. I spoke to a lady who was going back to her children after three months, and who was convinced that Jesus was on the same plane as we were in, a couple of young lads on their way to New Zealand for a year, and even a fellow Fulbrighter on a different teaching fellowship, traveling with his wife and kids. Thus were spent the 12-odd hours from Frankfurt to Chicago. There were no chills down the spine as I landed in the USA. I was a little excited about the uncertainty of what lay ahead, but I was more or less focused on getting past customs and on with my travel plans to start with. I had written to my supervisor at the University of Hawaii asking if it would be okay to miss the orientation week on campus so I could travel around a bit on the mainland before I get 'stuck on the island'. I don't think she was very pleased with my choice of words, but she very kindly acquiesced. However, for now, I was just keen on transferring to the next flight to East Lansing, where my orientation was to take place. I had to wait a few hours, and I didn't really have any dollars on me as I'd found out that encashing the traveler's cheques was cheaper if done at a bank after I opened my university bank account. I did manage to exchange some rupees I had to have a burger or a sandwich, I can't remember now, but since I had eaten and drunk well on the flight, I wasn't really very hungry.
It had been two years since I had quit my full-time job, and I was well into my journey of trying to lead a minimalistic lifestyle. In the last two years, I had manage to shrink my 3 BHK lifestyle to an 80 litre backpack, two tennis racquets and a guitar. I had a small list of things I wished to buy - like portable speakers and an electronic shaver I could trim my hair with, since going to a barber, I had heard, quite expensive anywhere in the US. These and an additional pair of jeans to go with the pair I was wearing - the only pair I had got with me; so while I did spend some time looking around the duty-free shops, I was mainly just killing time, and waiting to get out of Chicago and into East Lansing so that I could take in my first breath of non-airport American air. It was about an hour and a half before the flight when they made an announcement that they had overbooked the flight and that if anyone was wiling to take a later flight that day, they would be given a voucher of $150 that could be claimed against any Delta flight in the next 6 months. In India, people would have dropped their bags and run; there would have been chaos, and a few people would have been socked in the face, trampled over and maybe even seriously injured in the ensuing rush. I definitely wasn't expecting that kind of panic here, but surely someone was interested? None of the passengers waiting there seemed to care. I remembered the slide in the module on American Culture we used to train on in the BPO industry years ago at IBM, that spoke about Americans planning their vacations way in advance, and how time was something of a commodity for them, and for a lot of them, waiting for that next flight just wasn't worth the money the airline was willing to pay. Was this America's welcome gift for me? Was this to be an omen of the times to come in the USA, where things would just fall into place miraculously all the time? Was this going to be a dream journey where things magically fell into place every time? Or was this like a little carrot to draw me deeper, like the free parking some casinos offer in some big cities, as long as you spend some time in there, until you realize that paid parking on the street would have been a better idea.
While I contemplated this, however, I realized that I had forgotten one thing on that PPT - a certain disclaimer that lay in one of the last few slides, "There is no such thing as one 'American Culture'". There are individuals in the US from every frikkin' country and ethnicity, as well as tourists and scholars like me who bring their own set of values to the counter, and this is exactly what I found in front of me as I went to tell the lady from the airline that I would be willing to take the next flight - a Mexican lady beat me to it. Ah, the Mexicans! It brought images of Donald Trump in front of my yes, for some reason, and I wished at that point that I had been a bit more Indian, a bit sooner. It wasn't long before I was on that flight as scheduled - a much smaller flight than the trans-Atlantic flight that had got me into Chicago. I landed in East Lansing not too late in the night, and the welcoming staff from MSU was there with sign-boards that tread 'FLTAs' waiting for us. There was Prof. Matt from MSU, and a curly haired Moroccan lad named Mustafa. I also met a bunch of other FLTAs from some other countries who had been on the same flightas me, and we introduced ourselves to each other - a couple of Japanese FLTAs, some from the middle-east, one from Vietnam, some from Europe. I saw that not a lot of them spoke very much right then, and I realized they hadn't really come across my brand of humour before, which I then decided to give a bit of a 'rest'. We reached the Marriott at night, where they checked us in and gave us our registration forms, our pre-paid cards and our welcome kits. The other three Indian FLTAs who had the same venue for the orientation had taken a different flight and had already reached earlier that evening - three ladies who had their own storm brewing between them. We met briefly, where we exchanged stories of our journey from New Delhi, where I told them how I was nearly deported back to India, and a couple of others told I me I was very lucky indeed, for there was a Japanese FLTA who had misplaced the same form as I had, who had to be sent back from an airport in China.
As I went upstairs to take my luggage to the room before I stepped out for dinner, They had informed me at the reception that my room-mate had already checked in. I remembered the excel sheets they had sent us a few months ago so that we knew who our roommates at the orientation were going to be. I remembered that I hadn't been too excited to have read that I was to get an Iraqi room-mate, and I deliberately pictured a fat Sheikh with a flowing white robe and headgear and a thick beard smiling at me when I entered, and I tried to summon the little Arabic that I had learnt in my earlier visits to Egypt. When I did walk in, however, I met Abbas. Abbas was a clean-shaven guy wearing a shirt and jeans who was bent over double trying to do something with two huge-ass suit cases filled with things, and he was busy trying to either find something or put something back into them when I walked in. The FLTAs I had met at the airport had not quite appreciated my sense of humour, so I decided to take it easy on the Iraqi guy, for God knows what might end up offending him, right?. I did show of a little Arabic to him though, upon which we started speaking about my time in Egypt. I asked him what Iraq was like, hoping to hear something about how the US had destroyed their economy and their society, but what I heard made me laugh out loud, for he said with the sweetest smile yet with a lot of passion in his voice, "Maybe we are doing well despite all the shits around our daily life!". He continued, with a smile, "We are suffering from the accumulation of years of dictatorship, wars and religion that has made people crazy, sectarian, biased and hateful, but we still have good and aware people who we rely on to get our country back.. we are fighting to survive despite all of these shitty things." We knew right then that we would get along very well. Abbas would end up saying the funniest of things at the weirdest of moments. For example, when I met Abbas later at the mid-year conference, we were in the same group for one activity, where they had asked us how we dealt with students who whispered in class. Abbas stood up and said, "First, I will say "Please!""... there was a long pause, and everyone turned to look at him. "If they don't stop, I will go and slap them". The whole room erupted in laughter. I had suggested during our discussion that he say "I will throw my shoe at them", but considering that 'throwing a shoe' has the worst possible connotations in the Arab world, and remembering what had happened to George Bush at that press conference in Iraq in 2008, he probably thought it wise to restrict his humour to slapping. I also heard about him in the semester that followed, while speaking to a Russian FLTA who was very emoitional over the phone, because he had told her that Hitler was great. When I discussed this incident with him later though, we discovered that this was a result of a communication gap. To Milya, the word 'great' brought images of Hitler being 'great man', meaning someone who had done a lot of good to humankind, and someone who had brought about prosperity and inspiration. What Abbas meant, however, was that when he saw documentaries of World War II, he saw the number of places on the map that Hitler had managed to occupy. To him, what Hitler had managed to accomplish was exceptional, which is why he had called Hitler's achievements 'great' in the sense of 'prolific', although he agreed that Hitler was a complete lunatic and a man condemnable beyond excuse.
I don't remember if I had left my pre-paid card in my room or if I couldn't activate it that night, but I was out of cash and that night's dinner was not included in the orientation programme. So we had to either order at the hotel and pay for it while checking out, or go out and eat at a few places they had recommended. I had reached the USA with the single-minded intention of spending as little as possible on food and accommodation and as much as I could on good beer and more travel. So when the various groups of FLTAs went their way in groups based on their preferences, a few of us went to the nearest 7/11, where I got myself a cheap sandwich, for the following day's breakfast was a part of the orientation programme. However, my Indian Debit Card wasn't working, which I later found out was because international transactions were blocked as a 'safety feature' offered by the bank, and I had no cash. Luckily, Berkay, the Turkish FLTA, offered to pay for my sandwich, and we agreed that I would buy him two beers in return on the following day. Thus was spent my first day in the United States of America. The next three days of orientation had a lot of activities and interactions in store for us, and I was excited about meeting people from all these countries I had never been to, and to hear from the experts on language teaching from MSU and other leading universities who had been especially invited for this programme, and I was eagerly looking forward to a warm shower, the cozy Marriott bed, the breakfast in the morning and everything else that was to follow.
Wednesday, August 17, 2016
We breathe in, allowing armies of air
To incessantly penetrate our being, to
Invigilate, inspect our decaying state;
To remove the rust, the residue & the rest;
To restore chaos to order by each retreat.
Sip by sip, our lips invite tanks of water
To invade these boats drifting dangerously,
To follow protocol, confiscate waste,
To maintain the measure of minerals, with
Every morsel, Earth's camouflaged corps
March their way in; mementos of murder,
Turning consciousnesses to corpses caught
In the crossfire 'tween indifference & greed;
Each morsel bearing a thousand testimonies
To the pain and crime of existence...
We need these factories for sure, but have we
Ever wondered where this itinerary takes us?
We open our eyes and a piece of sky
Transcends Instagram likes; a messenger,
A sole reflection, bearing witness to
Ages along the universe's Autobahn.
We listen but all we hear is the noisy roar
Of drills and trucks and video-games drowning
Ancient vibrations of an anaesthetized cosmos
On their journey from Om? home? Do we
Dare to care about alarming signs, silence
These background tracks, smells and tastes?
Misleading signposts leading us astray, adrift,
Across nameless floodplains and deltas;
With shallow representations of the waves
That clothe a lonely, immortal soul
With this fabulous fabric of Spacetime,..
There surely must be a way to where
All these channels and broadbands won't take us...
Wednesday, February 17, 2016
Phani smiled as he agreed with me on this point, and we continued to speak about other issues around us, like how the campus had changed over the years, and about how pretty that girl was who was having samosas on a table in front of us. This is life in general at JNU. Some party protests against one thing while another protests about something else. I often feel that these student unions and student wings of political parties must reinvent the way they protest - maybe try some new body language instead of the age-old 'laal salaam' sequence with the hand going from the forehead up into the air. I'd also like them to come up with more definite, practical results to the issues they raise. In their idealism, they also end up looking at everyone else as enemies and hence end up losing support on valid issues they raise. I have also often wondered why they are so loud in everything that they do. Why not instead focus on ways to solve these problems and go about it in a less noisy manner? Why not protest less and act more, so that they don't end up in situations like the present case in question, which has led to what the world is now calling the JNU student uprising, but I am now glad this has happened, and I shall try to explain why.
Viewing the disruption of this event as a similar politically backed interference, there was a verbal scuffle that followed, as is usual in JNU, where slogans were hurled at each other like cakes of cowdung, and because the ABVP students were perceived to be trying to stifle the voice of Kashmiris by disallowing this show, there were slogans in favour of Kashmir's freedom. At this point, a group of students? go bonkers with "Bharat ki barbadi tak jung rahegi" and"India Go Back" slogans (are they out of their mind??!!). The point to be noted is that in this particular video, the only one which is objectionable and could be worthy of police action, it is very dark and one cannot figure out who the people in the video are, but well it is sent to the media channels who get their night-vision glasses on, and voila!! 'JNU students are anti-national' 'This is how they use the tax-payers' money'. Now before the earth could spin around it's own head once, ALL of JNU is declared to be an anti-national space by the angry mob, whose only aim in life is to save Bharat Maata. Wait, this is not the plot of a political crime thriller; this is real life stuff happening as we speak!
What makes JNU unique though, is the fact that it provides everyone with a space for dissent, a space for disagreement and protest, and there are systems in place to question every action taken. This system was well-capable of handling the present situation as well, but the insistence of the home ministry on sending the police into the autonomous space of a university by blowing the event out of proportion and by maligning the entire university for the actions of a few students (probably outsiders?) is despicable. I mean, there are students in JNU who are opposed to the slogans raised on the 9th of Feb, and not everyone in JNU is a supporter of the Left. There are a lot of students like me who have issues with the way the Left conducts its politics, as I have mentioned at the start of this article, and there are debates and disagreements all the time. What we all agree upon though, is that the right to express one's ideas should not be stifled in the name of nationalism. Sedition is a totally different term which may not even apply to the present case, as in the Shreya Singhal v. Union of India, the famous 66A judgment, the Supreme Court drew a clear distinction between 'advocacy' and 'incitement', stating that only the latter was punishable.
For someone who comes from such an apolitical background to walk into JNU, the contrast is stark. The active politics, the power vested in the student union, the sloganeering, the protests, the strikes seemed absolutely unnecessary. The other difference that greeted us clearly was the significant difference in crowd. While at Stephen's we would also have a few students from small towns and villages, the majority belonged to relatively elite households. JNU, in contrast, was a truer representation of the entire nation, as there were people from all sections of society, from all beliefs one could encounter, and all kinds of political affiliations present on campus. While Stephen's was known for the student's lives beginning after the classes ended, in the form of theatre groups and debating societies and the myriad other clubs bursting into life an allowing students to work on their talents and skills they would need in life or their careers, JNU took these to a whole new level with the morchas, dharnas, candlelight marches, street plays, sloganeering, debates and cultural shows (real ones too, like the North East night, or the International Food Festival on Republic Day). And they didn't lock the women up after 10 PM, like they did at St. Stephen's.
One problem that I had with most JNU students was that they were happy demonstrating things on campus most of the time (with exceptions like the Nirbhaya case and others of course), while the rest of the world went by as usual, except auto wallahs who came to drop students off and left marveling the existence of such a space where girls could roam around freely after dark. I'm sure these ideas do get transmitted into society when students graduate and interact with the crude realities present outside, but I felt that JNU could do a lot more by initiating a dialogue with the world outside its walls. Despite all that has happened in this protest, I believe that it is a good thing that JNU has now received a platform to tell the world outside the walls what it believes in, and how a society can exist without having to fear consequences and retribution, and how peace can be maintained despite the presence of conflicting opinions, and how men and women can walk around dressed any way they want at any time of the day or night without feeling unsafe, where they can freely talk about their political beliefs, their sexuality, their religious and spiritual inclinations without fearing retribution. And for those who judge JNU without having ever visited the campus, I urge them to attend free talks on nationalism being organized by teachers now that they can listen to and participate in to express rational points of view that they might have in response. We do not throw stones at people in JNU.
They want things to be made in India, requiring cheap labour for the global market and hence want universities to function like factories, where mere skills are produced without the cultivation of thought. While this may be true in engineering colleges or medical colleges, in Social Science universities in particular, people must be encouraged to think and to question existing norms. There have been several incidents where RSS activists and other right-wing organizations have taken the law into their hands, and the government has been silent about it. However, when it comes to ideologies that differ from theirs, they seem to be throwing their might around in several cases across the country, the two recent incidents being the Rohith Vemula case and the present JNU incident. What is also worrisome is that based on slogans that a handful of outsiders (or students?) raised, the media and the ABVP students have had the nation blame the entire campus for being a hub of anti-national thoughts, when it is a fact that even within JNU, there are constant debates and arguments that happen day-in and day-out. JNU is not one ideology, but a hot bed and a crucible that allows the mixing of several conflicting ideologies where healthy debates are held and conflicting ideas are brought face to face with each other in a non-threatening environment. If all of JNU thought alike, then why would we need to debate? Not even Yogesh and I agree on our political views despite often being on the same side while playing doubles on the tennis courts while peacocks and mongooses mate in front of us.
For those who think that JNU is suddenly standing up for Afzal Guru, or that they are picking up the wrong issues at the wrong time, and that they should have protested the Rohit Vemula case instead of dragging Afzal Guru in, I would like to say that JNU is a lot larger than these issues. There are a variety of issues that are raised and spoken about in JNU. On the night that the cultural show in JNU was to be organized, I am sure several other debates and discussions were also happening in other parts of the campus. Just because the media has decided to highlight this incident right now, doesn't mean that these discussions haven't happened before. The Indian Express covered a hunger strike on the Rohit Vemula issue by 7 JNU students a week before this incident was reported. What concerns me most is that I feel that this crackdown on JNU was because JNU has constantly been a pain in the neck for the government, by raising valid, rational questions by protesting against the 'Make in India' scheme for example, wherein the government wants India to start manufacturing things in India so that it can compete with China as a supplier to the global market. While this seems impressive on the face of it, people need to realize that for us to compete with China in the manufacturing industry, to maintain prices as low as China, we need to create a labour market that is similar to that in China, which means we need cheap labour that is subjected to great human rights violations. These and several other such valid points come out of the system of critique that goes by the name of JNU.
Patriotism does not lie in standing up for the national anthem in a movie theatre and going home to beat up one's wife or indulge in corruption. It cannot be gauged by superficial parameters like respect for the national flag or the national anthem and we certainly cannot force patriotism down the throats of people who do not wish to be patriotic in this sense. Forcing anything down someone's throat will only make them hate it more (most parents would know this). Suppression of voices will only lead to more violent forms of expression and violence only begets violence. As someone has said, and it doesn't matter who, "An eye for an eye only causes more blindness". We need to stop discouraging debate and dissent and stop following what is being sold to us on the media blindly, and we must strongly condemn all acts of violence, especially those backed by the government of India. Kanhaiya Kumar has been arrested despite not having shouted anti-national slogans (even Shatrughan Sinha from the BJP has vouched for it now!) while the real Kashmiri sloganeers are still running free. Government-backed police interference in the functioning of an academic institution, and hooliganism outside the High Court under the eyes of the Police by people closely associated with none other than the Home Minister of India are far greater threats to the country's reputation as the world's largest Democracy and the world's largest Republic as well as to our status as a Secular nation.
While I say this, let me reiterate that I (or JNU) DO NOT SUPPORT OR CONDONE slogans like 'Bharat ki barbadi tak' or 'India Go Back'. I am saddened that these slogans happened to take place in the JNU campus, and I sincerely hope these were NOT students of JNU who shouted them (for the video presented as evidence is too dark to identify who they were). I also hope these people are identified and questioned, and that the due legal procedures are followed while taking action in this regard. I also hope that right-wing extremists who celebrated India's Republic Day as a Black Day be called in for questioning, and that that case is investigated as rigorously as the JNU case is at the moment, and that the US moon-landing is also investigated as rigourously as well (Whaaaat??!!! Yeah well, but you know, what's not funny is that not everyone knows at which point in the last three sentences I stopped being realistic). While the political parties and the media channels and the legal procedures sort these issues out, my only request to all those who have spoken against JNU is to please stop targeting the entire fraternity of JNU or condemning the entire event's organization as anti-national. Most importantly, for the sake of whatever you hold dearest to yourself, let's please condemn and end these unwarranted acts violence (hint: lawyers beating up university professors and students outside a high court, in police presence;) by irrational and true anti-national elements of our society.
Monday, February 15, 2016
These times of trial call for great strength;
It takes courage to cross these gates.
There are voices rising east and west,
But as the noises get louder, they fade,
Against forces too khaki to comprehend,
Against an apathetic, bullying State.
Arise with us as we break across this dam,
So our ships can sail towards the seas.
These ships that sail for reason, for love;
Let's keep those lathis aside and speak.
Lend us your thoughts & we shall lend you ours,
Across this darkness of violent abuse; as we
Keep shouting the truth till it's louder than the lies,
With passion - in these forests of JNU.
We shout for a world where voices are heard,
Where the mind learns with the heart & the soul,
Where tongues have learnt to question and doubt
What the tyrannous times now show,
Where division and suppression find no space,
Where justice ain't hung in the dark on a pole.
We shout for freedom and peaceful times,
Where violence and war have no role.
Where people are heard, not trampled upon,
Where the masses are thinkers, not trolls;
Lend us your ears, your passion, your peace.
Let's brave the hooligans of hate and their crew;
Let's hold up our torches on these stormy nights
In peace - in these forests of JNU.
Thursday, January 14, 2016
The next step was the eligibility test, which was at 9 AM on a Saturday. Anyone who knows me just a little bit would know how bad a situation that was, even if you ignored the fact that it was on a Saturday, which I'm not really sure if it was. I had reached Delhi a few days ago and was staying in Brahmaputra hostel, where there was a party the night before the test, which I very kindly obliged to be a part of, with every intention to leave before the stroke of midnight. Well that did not happen. I was actually about to leave, when three girls walked into the party. So, I decided to stay another 15 minutes, and the next thing I knew was that it was 2 am, and that when the party was over, I was walking back to my room with Akash (a previous FLTA who was supposed to give me tips on cracking the test) and a girl, where I played the guitar and we sang songs for maybe another hour, by the end of which the former had ended up passing out on my bed in Brahmaputra and Akash and I had sung some song that came to his mind, the chords to which I invented and we sang the lines, "wherever you are, wherever you go, just be in love, just be in love" maybe a 100 times, besides a few other songs I could play. Well, to cut the story short, I woke up at 8:45 AM, much like a soldier at border patrol during war would wake up when woken up by his superior after their bunker had been destroyed by the enemy because he had fallen asleep. By 8:55 AM, I had brushed and showered, and the girl couldn't decide if she wanted to carry on sleeping or if she wanted to leave, so I got her to step out of the room while she engaged in her thought process, locked the door and ran, about as fast as anyone in Brahmaputra hostel must have ever run, all the way to the IIMC gate. The first auto wallah didn't know where Hailey road was, and neither did I, so I continued running, and the next auto wallah told me he knew the route very well. I asked him to ride as fast as he could without crashing or being caught by the cops, and set out to do what I seem to do best - telling myself, "Well, I'm here now, in this situation; what do I do now?" So I called up Neelu, who was appearing for the entrance as well. She had given me a few missed calls by the time I had woken up, and it was possibly her calls that managed to get me up in the first place. I called her and she started yelling at me, and I told her that I was on the way, and that she should inform the Fulbright folks that "Asher is on his way... cab broke down... he's taking an auto". The story was told, and when I reached at 9:50 PM, I found out that I was only 20 minutes late for the test, since they had started only at 9:30 AM, and that 9:00 was only the reporting time. It was a two hour test, that I managed to finish in time, and that is when I heaved my sigh of relief, hungover like a lake gone dry!
Amit Ranjan was also appearing for the Fulbright exam, Amit Ranjan was a senior of mine from college, whom I don't think I'd ever spoken to in college, except for a few passing conversations at best. He was two years senior to me, and we hence had only one year to interact in college. He was also my senior in JNU, but I had never really lived in JNU, except for the last two years, so my only interactions with Amit were at random house parties where he'd also be present, and we'd go, "abbe, tu yahan kaise??!!" So Amit and I used that phrase once more at the Fulbright office in Hailey road, after the Hindi test, where I had discovered for the first time that 'doodhiya' was a valid word in Hindi, and he had come out of the test having given the examiner a few suggestions on how the test could be improved. So, needless to say, he was a 'little' more confident than I was, and I was elated that they still cleared me for the next round. The next day, we decided to meet outside Amit's house, from where we were to go to Hailey road in his car. I was probably a few minutes late in reaching his house, only to find out that he needed 15 more minutes to get dressed and come down. So I sat there outside the theka that I had frequented so often on weekends, wondering how different a place could look in the morning. I met a couple of dogs who agreed to let me pet them for a while. Amit arrived and we left for Hailey road in his Maruti 800, dressed in formals, shaved, hair neatly done, the passenger seat pushed all the way back to accommodate for my height, the relevant documents neatly filed... what could go wrong, right?. We were still good to reach just in time for our interview slot, and after Amit stopped for a cigarette and smoked it on the way, we wee still good to make it and be only ten minutes late for the interview. Ten minutes is not so bad by Indian standards, considering that both of us had always been at least 2 days late in submitting all our documents, and I had obviously been 20 minutes late for the entrance test just the previous day, so no real worries yet. I did urge Amit to drive a little fast though, which he obliged to do. As we entered Chanakya Puri though, we spotted some cops at a circle, but not before they spotted me - desperately trying to get my seatbelt on. Well, what could have gone wrong, right? By now, Amit was beginning to get calls from the Fulbright office, as his interview was scheduled to be held just before mine. I didn't even know where my phone was, so I'm not sure if they'd called me or not. Nevertheless, we paid the 'chalaan' of Rs. 100, and we were on our way, in time to be less than half an hour late. Amit called up the Fulbright folks and told them what happened, and they told us that it was okay, and the reason they had called was because the person scheduled before Amit hadn't turned up on time, so they were wondering if Amit could have taken their place. However, by the time Amit had called back, the person had turned up, and all the interviews happened to be pushed foward by 20 minutes or so. So when we walked in, we still had 5 minutes for me to get a cup of coffee while Amit got another smoke before he headed for his interview.
Tuesday, January 12, 2016
So that day in HCMC, as I was walking back from the ATM, to almost certainly be put on the next flight back to New Delhi, I thought to myself, "I am here now; what can I do" - something that IBM taught me, when as a 'fresh' graduate I had joined my first job, my manager would always tell me, "Don't come to me with a problem; come to me with a solution". So I went to the travel desk, and there were two Vietnamese girls in their Ao Dai, talking to a customer. I patiently stood in line, my guitar and my suitcase in my hand. When it was my turn, I walked up to them and told them my story - "My card isn't working... I will get my money next week... I need $50...I can leave my suitcase and guitar here till I return with the money..." Ridiculous, right? Well, I didn't know what else to do. And wait, what happened next was that one of the girls pulled open the drawer, took out $50, and said "Please return it, because I'm taking this out on my account". I could barely believe what had happened, and offered to leve my guitar behind, but she wouldn't have any of that. I got her phone number, thanked her maybe a hundred times and ran to the visa office. I paid my dues, got the three month, multiple entry visa, and went back to thank the girl. She smiled and said it was no problem, I promised her I would return the money soon, and left. It took me 7-10 days to find the time from my schedule to call her back, and when I did she was surprised, for when she had told her story to her friends, all of them convinced her that she had been cheated. I called her for dinner to a restaurant close to the place where I stayed, and returned her money, and she thanked me for returning the money and restoring her faith in kindness, and I obviously kept thanking her all throughout dinner.
Back to Frankfurt, when I was given the option of boarding the flight back to India. I thought to myself, "I am here now; what can I do?". I tried writing to the IIE folks and the Fulbright office in India, but it was a Sunday, and neither office was open. I didn't have an international calling card, and the official from the US was extremely business like, without any appearance of feeling in him - he may well have been a robot or a coded clone. "I have checked with the authorities concerned, and the only options available to you at the moment are to locate your I-94 or be deported back to your home country". I realised there was no use reasoning or pleading with him - he was certainly not another Nga Nguyen - he was just another American who wouldn't see anything that hasn't been printed in his book of rules. As I stood there, waiting for a miracle, Angela from UAL came back to me, and figured out from my face that I had had no luck, and looked me in the eye and said, "I know you said that you don't think it's in your checked-in luggage, but why don't you check once? Your flight leaves in 20 minutes, so you don't really have much time". I said okay, and she made a few phone calls, escorted me three floors down, and 5 minutes later, I was rummaging through my checked in backpack - and tucked in neatly and carefully, under a few layers of clothing, was a file where all my important documents had been filed neatly, and right in front of all of them was the DS 2019 form. I could have hugged and kissed Angela at that moment, but I realised the inappropriateness of that action, and not wanting to get into further trouble, I thanked her thrice as I quickly packed my bag up, and thanked the guy who had got it up, for he had to now take it back to the cargo slot. I ran back and showed the American the DS form, upon which he remarked, with no sign of a smile remotely appearing on his face, "I'm glad you were able to locate it. You saved yourself a lot of trouble". I couldn't possibly have been bothered with that statement, and almost feeling victorious, I walked up to the line, where they were nearly done with the boarding. I walked in, placed my hand baggage in the overhead cabin, and as I sat down and buckled up, I realised that maybe I still had a lot of growing up to do.