My affair with America

Life Lessons Travel

As a youth, I was fascinated with anything American, from Hollywood to Mad Magazines, McDonald’s to Walmart, and Time Square to Las Vegas. I was smitten by it.

My first visit 37 years ago left me with a shock at how big everything was (cars, buildings, streets, restaurant portions, clothes, and yes, some people too), how often people were smiling at me without reason, just being polite, how well people with a handicap are treated (parking spaces for them, how so many and to how people are interested in participating in non-profit organizations or donations). I have visited the U.S. over twenty-five times; every visit has been a learning experience.

As I got older, my fascination started to recede somewhat. The USA seemed like the rogue and rich Uncle Sam of the global economy, with its people inward-looking, taking no interest in anything outside the USA. But the country still held its own charm in my mind.

This May, I was in the United States on a three-week visit. I had three new experiences, two fascinating and one not very pleasant. An award ceremony, a graduation ceremony, and a road accident.

A month earlier, I had been thrilled to get a mail from one of the book reviewing firms in the USA that my book had been selected for one of the 16 ‘finalist’ places for the Hearten grand prize in the non-fiction inspirational Category among thousands of books that they had reviewed that it would be great if I could make it to the award ceremony. Each year, they assemble 25 distinguished writers, translators, critics, librarians, and booksellers to judge the Book Awards.

I was happy when my book was announced as one of the six first-place winners. But when I was declared the winner of the Grand Prize, I was ecstatic. To receive an award and prize from a recognized book reviewer from a country with the biggest book market was a proud moment for me.

After enjoying my brief stay at Bellingham near Seattle, I visited Austin for my son’s post-graduation ceremony.

The graduation ceremony, also called the “commencement” ceremony, was a new experience for me. In a country where even kindergarten completion is celebrated and shared on social media, there is a colossal build-up to graduation ceremonies, an event where the graduating student will be the subject of pride in the eyes of their parents. The students undergo a lot of stress, from measuring gowns to getting enough seating tickets for the family. The parents go there hoping their child will soon stop emptying their purses.

An all-American event with more Indian students than any other, Rahul’s post-graduation ceremony started with the students marching in a procession and taking seats. Speeches followed, and finally, the moment of reckoning arrived. I took pity on the students in graduation gowns and caps walking on the stage in front of an audience with loud cheering and whooping family members. Unlike veterans like me who love to flaunt their vitality, the graduating students receiving their degrees were unsure if to look straight ahead, look at the audience, smile or look serious, or risk wiping their hands on their robes before shaking the chief guest’s hand.

My son Rahul received his degree rather nonchalantly. He shook the Chancellor’s hand without wiping them with his gown while his proud father, yours truly, stood clapping merrily. He is currently looking for a job, and I hope Uncle Sam will reward my adulation for Him and bless Rahul with a job.

Buffet Dinner followed, and I sat with Rahul’s friends and put on a plastic smile at the millennials’ gathering. I got jaw-ache from all the closed mouth-grinning.

Two days before I departed from Austin back to India, I was going to dinner with my Indian hosts, a couple settled in the USA in their car. The husband and wife were in the front, while Rahul and I sat at the rear. My friend’s car was rammed into by a mini truck driven by a teenager. He ignored a stop assignment at an intersection and hit our car from the left. Luckily no one was injured thanks to the four airbags that opened dutifully.

The good thing was that unlike in India, where a zillion bystanders gather such incidents, only three locals came with water bottles and offered help. Though the cops took over thirty minutes to arrive, the road was cleaned, all glass debris was removed, and it was cleared for traffic within five minutes.

My fascination with Uncle Sam is yet to fizzle out.










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Inner Trek
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After being threatened by a Bangalore mob boss, retired Indian businessman Mohan Ranga Rao takes a vow to trek around Mount Kailash, a holy Tibetan Mountain revered by over a billion people. What starts out as merely a challenging high-altitude trek soon becomes a life-changing adventure. With a blend of humour, honesty and keen insight, Mohan journeys toward a deeper understanding of the world around him. A memoir of a road less travelled and a true story of self-discovery at 19,000 feet.

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