Tuesday, November 09, 2004

Such a long journey

New York is simply amazing. There are no words to describe it; it's
the capital of the modern (some would say postmodern) world, the haven
of capitalism, the seat of American art and architecture, the "melting
pot" within the melting pot.

Big cities comfort Asians. They offer the dirt, loudness and
population we associate with life, unlike the small, antiseptic
American towns. For me, it gives me back Karol Bagh.

I can see how my time in Buffalo has affected me, considering my
apprehension and loss of breath in New York. Taken aback is what I am.
Yep, I have become small-town American, friendly smiles all around and
the "Hi how're ya?"… "Good!"

There are too many people on the streets, too many kinds of people and
too many unkind people. You can get hurt in New York, and mind those
bags. I had the initial trustfulness of small town America, taken away
quite quickly by the "mean streets" of New York, for lack of a better
analogy. I shifted gears to my Indian roots, quite similar to those
needed to anchor me in New York. The comfortable nonchalance and
indifference towards fellow humans, the social norm in India, took
hold of me and was surprisingly effective in this other, and in my
mind lesser, multicultural setting.

In India we are proud of the innumerable different cultures we have;
somehow it gives us an edge in the current political climate.
Multicultural, multireligious, we snicker. Who's more politically
correct? Who's your daddy? Can you match that, New York? Can u beat
that?

New York is the one place in America where one isn't surprised to see
people wearing t-shirts of European soccer clubs. I'm sorry, I meant
football clubs. Hope I haven't ruffled any feathers.

Anyhow, imagine my wide-eyed discovery of an AC Milan-clad cycle
rickshaw driver right in the middle of Manhattan. I turned eagerly to
my companions and saw one face enthusiastic and the other mildly
amused.

Majority won.

For a horrible amount of money, we were being taken to the Joshua Tree
(yes, my friends, it is a restaurant in the middle of NYC, and the
owner is Irish…), located between the 9th and 10th avenues (or was it
8th and 9th?) on 46th street, in case anyone happens to be in NY, and
in a particularly Irish mood (the food is good and the music is not
exclusively U2, much to my disappointment, although some people may be
glad to hear that). We could have taken a cab for much cheaper to
reach our destination, but it had started raining and cabs were about
as plentiful as Ally's girlfriends.

My enthusiastic companion commented, (thankfully) in Hindi, that it
was about time these "Angrezi bastards" did their share of carting
people around on rickshaws, as I looked sympathetically at our brave
cyclist huffing and grunting his way to our destination. I didn't
point out that this guy was probably Italian or Spanish, by the look
of him, and if so, probably hated the British even more than us.

Anyhow, we finally reached our destination and my companion paid the
rickshaw driver, giving him a tip which displayed that we had come to
terms with our colonial past, and could bestow forgiveness now (even
if to the wrong nation). We went further and asked the rickshaw driver
to pose with us in a picture, to preserve this unlikely memory (The
photograph never quite came out, and this will suffice to replace its
loss). As it turned out, he was American, and figured out that we were
Indian.

An interesting conversation ensued, about rickshaws and India and how
it made more sense in India as it was much cheaper than taxis there
(Is that so hard to believe???), and our rickshaw-wallah commented,
wisely, that human labor was much more valued than machinery in
America. Too many metal boxes around, he said.

Needless to say, it was fodder for my thoughts. There was such a vast
difference between the two rick-wallahs. In America, the man was
respected and confident and in great shape. I didn't feel too sorry
for him. In India, the same driver was thin as a rake, and either
surly or obsequious. We would haggle for hours over whether we decided
on 5 rupees or 10.

I wish that India fast becomes a country where a rickshaw-wallah is
treated with the same respect as the one in Manhattan.