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Vignettes of life in the world of plenty! :)

So this is my first blog entry about America and I guess will probably turn out to be the most controversial as well. ( I think ;) But hey, where there’s controversy, there’s also healthy debate, unlearning of old notions and establishment of some new ones. So it can’t be the worst thing in the world to be responsible for initiating a dialogue now, can it? Being a stickler for details, I’ll start at the very beginning- which in this case was the immigration process on the STEAM group’s landing at Chicago O’Hare Airport. I had heard some pretty disconcerting and disturbing stories about the US immigration and customs process and hence was pleasantly surprised at the uncomplicated manner in which we concluded the same- no brown people lashing, no unnecessary and subsequently humiliating questioning. I mean only a brown kid really knows how it feels to be feared by most of the world embassies (kidding!) and let’s not even get into the whole Muslim people bashing which has kind of become the topic du jour with the whole Sharukh Khan episode and so on so forth. Since I have vowed to keep the entry as positive and unbiased as possible, Ill try to focus as hard as I can on the pros (try being the operative word), leaving the ultra patriotic Indian in me on the down-low, for a while at least. However I can’t let the journalist in me get carried away by the whole “glitz and glamour” (obviously glamorous for the first time visitor and perhaps commonplace for the Americans) of the American lifestyle thereby losing critical neutral perspective.So here goes.
After being stuck on a plane for nearly 21 hours, being on solid ground if only for a short period before our road trip to Iowa was a very welcome change. But we were in for a rude if not totally unexpected shock. The long queues of tourists and immigrants all eager to get done and get out were most disappointing as also the slow pace with which people were getting cleared. Apparently they were just having one of those days when a lot of flights with hopeful immigrants and tourists had landed at the same time and were as much overwhelmed as us, if not more. Even so all WE really wanted was to put up our feet and rest. An interaction with a particularly nasty and impatient American immigration officer threatened to sour my mood for the duration of our trip and perhaps cloud my overall impression of US hospitality but our subsequent meeting and quality time spent with Corey Petersen from the International Student Services office, University of Iowa tilted my opinion in the favor of US again. A point in world travel- first impressions don’t always remain the last and word to the wise- never say never. Corey, a nice, unassuming man with a ready and easy smile will be the first impression of US that I will have- the number of random strangers making small talk and smiling pretty much ALL the time is a definite difference from the surly looks one often encounters in India from strangers. But I guess this has a downside as well because being completely unaccustomed to the easy charm of the regular American, the perkiness is a little hard to reciprocate. This thought led me to another and also a conversation I’d had recently with a friend of mine who’d obtained his masters degree in semesters divided over 6 countries, one of them being Finland. He claimed that his first experience of Finland was the haunting quiet all around him. Apparently people in buses and even families don’t speak much to each other or otherwise, laugh much and for the most part so deathly quiet that one wonders about one’s own sanity in their company. This puzzled my friend as well and at a dinner party that he had been invited to, thrown infact by one of his professors, finally some light was shed on this confusing scenario. The professor laughed when my friend obviously curious asked for an explanation. Finland as I’m sure the readers would know and for the uninitiated happens to be a part of the European Union and since its admittance into the union and infact even from times past has had prosperous economy, the population is miniscule and the quality of living very high. People are privileged and have never in its long history experienced hardship or deprivation of any kind. They are welcome visitors in public offices (a striking contrast from India where the bureaucracy can often be stifling and impatient, ineffective service providers, amongst other things), a reason for this being- the offices have to deal with a smaller demographic and hence can focus attention on individual public problems without losing their cool and getting distracted by the greater interest as often happens in India where the individual interest often gets suppressed by the larger public interest (a statement which is often heard in law school as well in context of India.) So, well back to the story. The people, the professor had explained, owe their relative silence to never having had the need to speak up and fight for anything. The world as they see it has no place for loud words, expressions of grief or even happiness. They are peaceful, calm loving people and avoid confrontations, rather have never had the need to get confrontational in interactions with fellow Finnish folks- self- satisfied is the word I’m looking for They are the quintessential “the world is one big happy family” kind of people.They don’t speak much because they really don’t see the point. They may seem cold but they are as welcoming and enthusiastic as one might say are Punjabi Indians. By now you must be wondering why the story and the relevance infact of it when describing my own experiences so far in the US. Well, it’s simple. The relative affluence, superior financial status, privileges enjoyed on the world platform and ease of life in America makes for smiling, charming Americans. Even the dogs in America I observed, seemed to look so much more content and playful. This could be taken as both a positive and a negative. I’ll take it as a positive for now atleast until more insights ofcourse. In India’s defence, the relative hardships faced by a majority of the Indian population be it at the hands of corrupt and apathetic public officials or as a result of the rising militarism, Naxalism etc in small pockets of the country etc makes for the average Indian not being as neighborly towards another as he should be, suspiciously eying him and fearing one’s own survival at another’s hands. One shouldn’t really expect much else in a population of billions all struggling and competing for the same jobs often for the same pay and struggling, in addition, to meet the rising costs of living while still suffering a low quality of life. (Irony, anyone?)It’s a sad truth, nonetheless and one I am unwilling to accept as a reality as yet. As a young Indian on the brink of becoming a part of the workforce I would want to change the scenario and perhaps this experience in America is just what I need-a broader insight into the different routes to development acting as an inspiration for me to follow the success path of fellow global citizens.
This was my little anthropological take on the American way of life, contrasting it with India. My entire point was to appreciate the charm and gift of the gab which Americans possess in plenty and which is also why they are brilliant advertisers, marketers and entrepreneurs. I mean winning hearts is all that one needs to do right. The rest is just delivering on the promises which the organized systems in place in America more or less ensure happens without a hitch. Even in the smallest of the American towns, the systems in place operate more or less like well oiled machines. This skill probably also explains the deep inroads American companies have made into the Indian market as well as other emerging global markets. They can sell, I’ll give them that, be it an idea, product or service. This opinion was also shared by Mr Girish Ballolla, CEO of Gen Next Education, the main body behind the STEAM program who in a conversation we had with him just a day past concurred  that despite America’s obsession with consumerism and excesses which often annoy the average Indian (including myself) the country has reached such great levels of financial growth over the years as a result of just this spirit of enterprise- the realization that no idea is lousy if marketed and sold creatively and with dedication. As I said before, I’m is trying to stress and express only the positives, embracing them with an open mindset while simultaneously ignoring the negatives by accepting that there are always two sides, pros and cons, and really, no right or wrong. America has a lot more to offer me and hopefully I’ll be able to present a different picture of India to Americans  as well, breaking narrow perceptions and biases wherever and whenever I can at the same time ,making sure that no confrontations follow (kidding AGAIN!)
Finally, with this little dramatic statement from a self proclaimed Indian ambassador to the University of Iowa, I end my entry, hoping that I haven’t ended up ruffling any feathers through my blunt honesty and have stayed true to myself and my status as an explorer; an impartial traveler and observer.
More of my journalized experiences in America will follow very soon accompanied by  pictures wherever possible. Adios till I get active and writing again.

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