I immigrated to the US in 1983 from India. I feel that I have been here long enough to not be called FOB (Fresh-off-the-Boat) by my kids. But I guess they seem to have some other standards which involve pronouncing words like "Vote" ,"Vending" and "Video" properly - which I guess I will never achieve (because of my 21 years in India) - so, I am going to pass myself as that Indian with an "exotic" accent!!
My interests :
WRITING - Just realized that most of my work so far has been Nostalgia-centric. I enjoy this genre and feel it's an un-ending well that I can draw from. As a matter of fact, this right here is fresh nostalgia for 10 years down the road!! (-:
GOLF - I am terrible at it and it's a damn frustrating game, but I still love it ("painful pleasure"). One of these days I will actually take lessons so that I won't embarrass myself too much on the golf course. As long as there are golf courses around here (with low standards) that would allow me to play - I will play and enjoy golf!!
STAND-UP - I have started dabbling (performing) in stand-up comedy recently and am loving the feedback I have been getting! I am going to attribute this newfound hobby to mid-life crisis! :-) (as an alternative to a toupee or a red sports car or a girlfriend-on-the-side!!). Here's clip of my very first performance on April 14th 2019: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ScMLgRAGyNs&feature=youtu.be
MUSIC - I am a huge fan of Shakti (John McLaughlin, Zakir Hussain, Vinayakram, L.Shankar) as well as their later avatar - "Remember Shakti" (John McLaughlin, Zakir Hussain, Selva Ganesh, Mandolin Sreenivas, Shankar Mahadevan). Thoroughly enjoyed the two live concerts that I attended of this fusion group. I enjoy Hindustani and Carnatic classical instrumental music.
YOUTUBE - YouTube has an unbelievable amount of entertainment from which you can draw your specific narrow niche!! In my case - these areas happen to be - street foods from various parts of the world, Indian classical music, debates about religion & belief, Indian Classical Music played by non Indian (e.g. Ukrainians doing wonderful Bharatanatyam, a French lady performing amazingly in a Carnatic Concert, a Chinese lady teaching Bharatanatyam in China etc.)
In over 33 yrs of marriage and being employed by various companies, not once was I asked to show proof that I was married, for any reason. But, now, with my new job – they are asking for my marriage certificate, in order to cover my wife as a dependent for health and other benefits.
We had not seen this certificate nor needed it in 33 years! I certainly could not have found it! The fact that Uma could locate it fairly quickly and handle it with the care that such a crumbling document needed is proof enough that we are married! What more proof do you need to realize that I am the true dependent, here! I am not sure if this document will satisfy the requirements of the company, because it does not have our social security numbers, signatures or anything relevant or meaningful! Everything on this certificate is barely legible. It looks ancient and feels like it belongs in a museum – along with the manuscripts of the Magna Carta and the Dead Sea Scrolls!
I wonder if, instead of the marriage certificate, I should just send out a couple of our wedding photos and a video clip of me trying to fix the toilet and her repeatedly asking me to “call someone who knows what they are doing”, or maybe show them the idiot-proof grocery lists that she gives me every week and how I, even after such detailed lists, come back missing a couple of items or bringing the wrong items. This will of course be followed by an amusing session (for one of us) of “How may times I have to tell you..”, “You always do this..”, “I knew it..” , “I told you so..” etc. Any of these, individually or collectively should definitely prove that we are seasoned veterans of holy matrimony!
I had no idea that I could ever sweat from the soles of my feet and palms! I was sweating from every pore in my body. The loud thuds from my heart were competing with the booming act-outs from the comedian as well as applause of the audience downstairs. I really should be fairly comfortable doing this. After all, I have come a long way since the 7th grade poetry recitation competition in school, where I totally bombed, and only managed to get the 1st line of the poem out, before walking off the stage in tears. Since then I have had a few years of Toastmasters experience under my belt, which definitely cured my stage fright! So, why this new anxiety?
It was the graduation show for the 6 week stand-up comedy class that I took at ACT II theater in Ambler. I thought I had done a fairly good job with writing and re-writing the material and practicing it over and over again. I had done all the exercises suggested in the “text book” by Judy Carter that was used for the class. I had even pasted cheat sheets onto the water bottle (in case I forgot my lines), as suggested in the class. But, there was something about bombing in front of an audience (especially based on my on-stage history) that was totally nerve-racking and had me pacing up and down in the green room.
Finally when it was my turn, I got on the stage and could not see any of the audience members because of the bright lights in my face. This was perfect, as I did not have to bother imagining the audience naked! There were over 60 members in that small community theater, whose stage was set for a play with performances scheduled through the week. Hence the strange looking bedroom set on stage (which I worked into my opening bits), for my debut stand-up performance. This had to be the friendliest audience that I will ever perform for, as they were all friends and family of the performers and would be giving us all the encouragement as well as pity laughs, if needed. I only had 5 members of my family there. I could not coax or bribe any more than that! The bulk of the audience was Sam’s (a fellow student in the class) friends and family and they were super generous with their laughter for all the performers. I am grateful to them for their encouragement during the show and afterwards as well. Thankfully and surprisingly, I did not forget any of my lines and the audience feedback was reassuring and calmed me down. I did not even need my cheat sheet (although with all the moisture on the bottle, the note was practically useless).
About a month later, just on a whim, I looked up stand-up comedy open mics in Lehigh Valley (where I worked). Luckily, it turned out Stout Laughs had an open mic that evening at Bethlehem Brewworks. Perfect! I stayed late at work and then showed up in time to sign up. Strangely, I did not feel nervous at all, maybe because I did not know anyone there. It was a case of, “what do I have to lose?” attitude. I did my best “5 mins” from the original debut set and was very happy with the feedback from the audience. So, just like that, I was a virgin no more (in the world of open mics)! Then in a quick succession, I did two more open mics back to back – in Northeast Philly and Lansdale, over the next two days. From then on, the open mics became part of my weekly routine. Folks at work used to wonder why I was hanging around after hours. The guy at the Vietnamese restaurant (that I’d hit before Stout Laughs) started recognizing me – “Chicken Pho, right?”. I also added a few more spots in Lansdale and Doylestown to the repertoire. I was slowly getting more and more comfortable with the mics. The comedians and the audiences were very friendly, encouraging, and receptive to my bi-weekly routine about “fish out of water” narrations covering India and immigrant experiences!
“Oh, the places you go… and the people you meet!”
The 5 min set I did at Stout Laughs on March 3rd 2020, was the last in-person open mic that I did before everything closed down due to COVID19. We all thought things would get back to normal in a matter of weeks. That was over 6 months ago! In mid April (exactly 1 year since my first stand-up performance), I tried my very first Zoom open mic. It felt great to be able to reuse my favorite bits (Indian stereotypes, Kamasutra, spelling bee, etc.) on the Philadelphia-based “Ill At Ease” open mic. By now I was between jobs and had plenty of time to feed this “mid-life crisis” hobby of mine! I found other mics – in Chicago and Omaha, which I started attending regularly. Then someone mentioned a Facebook group called “Displaced Comedians” which was created to help out just my kind of comedians who were all extremely thirsty for opportunities, networking, and resources. I joined the group and immediately fell in love with the mother-lode of compiled data about worldwide open mics at this site. Armed with this information, I went nuts -signing up for open mics throughout the world at all possible hours! I got a high out of performing in as many as 6 different open mics in one day, virtually hopping from London to Moscow to Salt Lake City etc. Sometimes I was using the same material at every mic, but fine-tuning to improve the quality and context. “Marvelous Mrs. Maisel” references and specifically Yiddish ones do not work in Tokyo. Nobody outside the Philly area knows what Scrapple is… 🙂 .
I started seeing the same faces from all over the world at these different open mics. Within a short time, I was friends with a lot of them. We would give each other feedback – ‘pat on the back’ when the jokes land perfectly as well as constructive suggestions to make the bits funnier.
While doing these open mics, I got to do a few featured showcase comedy specials. These are typically an hour long with 5 or 6 comedians. I loved performing in these and having the opportunity to share the virtual stage with some very talented comedians. It was eye-opening to see the number of Indians who are into comedy! I had the pleasure of meeting and performing with Indian diaspora – of all shades and accents, not just the ones in India, but many from South Africa, Malaysia, US, and Canada. Some of these folks who are 2nd or 3rd generation Indians have never even been to India. Who knew that ‘funny’ was one of the spices that was innate to us all! Not surprisingly, what’s common to all of us Indians is the “desi-ness”** in our material – assimilation with local population, spicy food, strict and stingy parents, religion, sex-ed (or lack thereof), and other taboo subjects. That’s right folks, we Indians are not just coming for your spelling bee trophies and IT jobs, now we are even coming for ‘your’ comedy gigs 🙂
**(desi – Pertaining to the Indian Subcontinent. pronounced “They see”)
Stay in your lane
I heard that most seasoned comedians do not like Zoom mics and shows, for obvious reasons. Zoom certainly lacks the real-life touch and feedback, but for me it makes up for that in terms of convenience of sitting at home while interacting with and performing for folks all over the world. Since I was practically a newcomer to comedy before the covid pandemic hit, I did not have much to compare with, so I jumped into this world happily with both feet. I am thrilled to have connected and become friends with a lot of comedians and wonderful hosts worldwide through the open mics for these past 6 months.
My comedy primarily draws on my own Indian background and immigrant experiences. In addition to that, I do observational comedy. Some of my favorite bits deal with my “Italian-ness” and “Jewishness!” These were big hits and are now part of my repertoire. Some of my friends “playfully” urged me to stay in my lane and stick to “Indian” material, else they would be forced to cut into my “Kamasutra and Yoga” routines. Personally, I think it would be a boring world if we all stayed just in “our lane.” Recently, my Jewish friend’s daughter made “naan” (Indian flat bread) from scratch. I can guarantee you that not even 0.001% of Indians have ever made a naan! To return the favor, my daughter made yummy bagels from scratch. So… here we are having a ball while happily cutting into each others’ lanes.
It has been an absolute thrill ride pursuing my newfound hobby for these past few months. I hope to continue with online open mics for now and the in-person ones when the world opens up!
Epilogue : If you want to give it a shot…
As you might have guessed, there are no prerequisites to get into comedy. If I can do it, anyone can! All it takes is an urge to entertain people and an unlimited well of experiences to draw from, for the material. Here is a sampling of some resources that have helped me and could be of interest to you.
Facebook group : Displaced Comedians, founded by Niko Lukoff, has a list of all open mics along with signup details. These are all free and anyone can sign up. Here are some that I have attended regularly.
Villain Theater open mic (Miami, Florida)
The PandeMic! (Salt Lake City, Utah)
Backline Comedy (Omaha, Nebraska)
Ill at Ease (Philadelphia)
Suddenly Standup (New York City)
Get on the Mic! (Tokyo)
Stand-Up comedy classes (online and in-person) offered by
Flappers Comedy Club
Tao Comedy Studio
ACT II Playhouse
Off Mic Comedy School
Writing Workshops – these are great resources for getting feedback:
Stand Up Comedy Writing Mastermind
Joke Shop Online
“This Just in News” – Feedback Mic
The Comedy Writer’s room presented by Hot Breath! Comedy Network
I am generally not the kind of person that wishes harm on anyone or anything, but I am going out on a limb to wish that our 30 year old pressure cooker just dies right now! It has lived a wonderful life and served us well, but now it’s time for it to make way for the next generation!
My wife has a strict policy about bringing new items into the house (especially the kitchen) when there are existing alternatives. That seems logical enough, but I am through being logical! We are talking about an Instant Pot, which has been winning hearts, minds, palates and stomachs the world over! If you have been living under a rock and therefore have not heard about this magical kitchen product that apparently “everyone” must have – it is an electric pressure cooker, steamer, rice cooker, slow cooker, saute/searing pan and food warmer! It seems that you might even be able to steam clean your carpet by combining it with a Roomba (I am working on the design for this right now! 🙂 ). The Instant Pot was invented in 2010, right next door, in Canada, by some ex-Nortel employees. All of our friends and family have had it for years and we are under a lot of pressure to join the group. We’ve been resisting all of their brain-washing efforts for years 🙂 . Actually, mostly my wife has been standing strong. As for me, I am easily tempted, especially when it comes to kitchen gadgets. There isn’t a single infomercial on TV that I did not watch over and over again (open mouthed and wide-eyed) wondering how they were able to throw in – “this and that” and “also that” for 4 easy payments of $49.95 plus shipping and handling of only $29.95. As you can imagine, I have fallen for these gimmicks several times over the years. Some were good, but most were duds!
There are millions of followers for the Instant Pot worldwide and there are dedicated user groups on Facebook and other social media, for these folks to compare notes and share recipes. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of these folks have weekly get-togethers to sing the praises of the Instant Pot and maybe even go door-to-door with pamphlets to convince folks about the one and only savior in the kitchen! I have seen Instant Pot recipes on Youtube (like a sweet-toothed diabetic in a donut shop) for making mouthwatering delicacies in every possible cuisine. In addition to the usual (and expected) Biryani, Sambar, Pot Roast, Chilli, Baked Potatoes etc, I have seen recipes for wine, beer, yogurt, masala chai and even dog food (Wow!!). Once you own one of these, you are on a mission to convert everyone to your way! Some of my buddies go with the aggressive sales pitch – “you could cook that in half the time and use the time you saved to convince others to buy Instant Pots!”. Of course, that makes perfect sense to me. But, as mentioned earlier, I am the one that easily gets carried away by kitchen gadgets.
Instant Pot Duo Instant Pot Chicken Curry for the win!!!
Some of our friends have 3 or 4 of them on their kitchen counter-tops. Each one for a specific function, in order to whip up an entire 4 course meal at once. My daughters go with the soft approach – they post their food creations on social media and our family Whatsapp groups and then rub it in. “See! If you had an Instant Pot, even you could have made this!” At parties, these folks take turns trying to persuade us with their tag-team recruiting approach. Thanks to my wife and her strong ‘belief’ in our pressure cooker, it seems that there is no room in our hearts or on our counter-top for yet another gadget.
I will keep working on my wife to change her mind (wish me luck!). Meanwhile, please add your best Instant Pot recipes as well as your best argument to convince my wife, in the comments section below.. 🙂
Cutaneous Lupus was the diagnosis that my dermatologist came back with after doing a biopsy of my scalp. I had gone to him after a persistent itch morphed from minor annoyance to a major preoccupation and finally forced me to act. At first, I was not sure how serious of an ailment it was till he referred me to a specialist at The Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania. My wife and daughter calmed me down, as Lupus was not yet confirmed and there were medicines available to treat it. Even then, a possible diagnosis of Cutaneous Lupus got me all worked up. As a confirmed hypochondriac, who has his WebMD on speed-dial (bookmarked), I needed all my powers of restraint from spending hours on the internet researching this.
Based on my dermatologist’s referral we were able to get a quick appointment with the specialist at Penn. At the appointment, she and her team took their time to analyze the earlier biopsy results and ordered their own specific tests/biopsy. After a few weeks, at the second appointment she narrowed the diagnosis down to Lichenoid Dermatitis, and planned to start me on Plaquenil. Yes, this is the same Plaquenil (Hydroxychloroquine) that is currently being touted as the possible miracle cure for the CoronaVirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
One of the possible side effects of long term use of Plaquenil is eye damage leading to loss of vision. Because of this, the doctor asked me to have my eyes checked out by the ophthalmologist to establish a baseline before starting the medicine. While I was starting to accept the diagnosis and the prognosis so far, the seriousness of this medicine and its potential side effects rattled me! On the way back from the ophthalmologist, Uma reiterated her previous theory that maybe all this was due to the use of hair dyes and that I should stop using them. I had dismissed this earlier – thinking that she was just jealous of my youthful looks. Finally, because of her persistence, I stopped coloring my hair (just to prove her wrong, of course 🙂 ). After a month or so, the itching stopped COMPLETELY! The sores on my scalp gradually healed!
Phew! That was close! If it weren’t for Uma’s idea and insistence that I stop the coloring, I could have gone blind – a ‘young-looking’ blind guy, instead of the George Clooney look-alike (with the salt-n-pepper coiffure) that I am today! 🙂
Modeling “Just For Men” Au Naturel
You are probably eager to get the name of the hair dye that caused all this angst. I had used “Just for Men” for several years before switching to “Indica Easy Hair Colour” based on the recommendation of a dermatologist (who said this was more natural). The problem started when I used this brand. After I stopped using it, the problem got resolved. Then after several months, I was tempted to go back to “Just for Men”, to see if the issue was limited to that original Indian brand. Well, guess what? The exact same problem was back! So, essentially, I was allergic to an ingredient that was common to all these hair dyes.
The takeaways from this experience (in no particular order):
Always get 2nd and 3rd opinions for any major diagnosis
Forget the George Clooney look, I really should have just shaved my head and gone with the Vin Diesel look
How many people would I have fooled with a wig or toupee?
In order to have harmony in your matrimony, always listen to your wife and do what she recommends (and be prepared for “I told you so” for years…)
If I had not goofed off in high school and worked hard, I might have become a dermatologist myself! Oh well…
Beware of the side effects of all medicines. DO NOT ignore them! We have smart scientists. I wish they would come up with better side effects. For e.g.: How about an erectile dysfunction drug that reduces belly fat and fixes hair loss (based on the targeted users of this drug)?
These are unprecedented times. This post is more for the future, so that we can look back at this horrible time when we were in dire straits, deep doo-doo and holy shi*t all at once! This is the “World War II” of our generation! Unlike WWII, how we come out of it on the other side depends on all of us, not just the healthcare workers toiling on the front lines!
It is imperative that we all follow the guidelines that the experts are pounding into us non-stop via all the media. In addition, we have also been getting inundated via social media about many other ways to control and even cure the CoronaVirus (COVID-19). I wanted to compile all the proposed methods/ideas that I have been getting (from social media and news) so that they are available as a reference for all. Several years down the road, we could take a look at this list to see which one (if any) of these or a combination of these actually helped. As you can imagine, this will be a running list which I will keep updating as I receive new recommendations. While the following items may or may not have other generic benefits, they have been included here because of the very specific claims about CoronaVirus (COVID-19).
1. Washing hands regularly and thoroughly
2. Eating only vegetarian food
3. Doing yoga
4. Social distancing and isolation/quarantining as needed
5. Doing Pranayama
6. Using Ayurvedic medicines
7. Repeat Allah’s prayer (Du’a for protection) – 3 times in the morning and 3 times in the evening.
8. Eating haldi mixed with honey before sunrise
9. Gayatri mantra
10. Ask Jesus to heal you
11. Ashwagandha (“This stops the blending of Corona protein with human protein”)
Our epic “National Parks vacation” started with a most unexpected and pleasant surprise of a south Indian Breakfast on the Las Vegas Strip! We were looking for any breakfast place before our four and half hour drive to Page, AZ. We just literally stumbled on “Mirchi – South Indian Kitchen” on one end of the the famous strip and this fast food place was actually open for breakfast. We were the first and only customers at that time. So we ordered our favorites – Masala Dosa and Idli followed by hot Masala Chai. Yes… It’s an Indian thing, even on a 100 degree day, we like our hot chai! Don’t try to look for a rational explanation for that! 🙂. The breakfast was yummy and filling. I may be biased but, no cereal, pancakes, oatmeal or waffles can compete with dosas and idlis. After this sumptuous breakfast we drove to Page, Arizona, while admiring the desolate desert that seemed to progressively pick up vegetation as we moved from Nevada (Las Vegas) to Arizona (Page). During these 4 hrs we drove in and out of Utah and Arizona several times before arriving at Page, as the route straddled these states.
As soon as we got to Page, we first checked in to the National Park Service (NPS) Visitor Center and sought guidance from the helpful representatives in covering the most important points in the time we had. This is a move we repeated at every park we visited and we are very happy we did that. The Park officials were always very helpful and gave us the best pointers for the limited time we had at each place (~48hrs per place).
Page , Az (Antelope Canyon, Horseshoe Bend)
We were very happy with the AirBnB that was centrally located close to the main drag in town. All the restaurants, grocery store etc were within walking distance. It was just 1 block from Big John’s Texas Barbecue which was so popular that it had long lines outside at dinner time. There was an awesome Country/Rock concert on a tiny stage for their outdoor seating area.
Because of the helpful suggestions from NPS visitor center, we barely managed to book a tour of Antelope Canyon (which is through local Navajo guides). You cannot tour this canyon without the guides. It was a one hour hike through this slot canyon, where you descend into the ground and walk through a narrow canyon whose walls reflect sunlight in amazing hues. This was early in the morning and lasted about an hour and it wasn’t too hot (it got to over 100 degree F later in the day). The guide pushed us along as there was a pipeline of groups lined up back to back. The Navajo guide also showed us the best vantage points for these amazing photos and also some neat tricks with iPhone cameras.
In the afternoon hot sun (really HOT sun!) we drove the short distance to Horseshoe Bend, which is a beautifully carved canyon that is shaped liked a horse shoe by the once mighty Colorado river. The half mile walk to the canyon was not too bad as it was mostly downhill. We marveled at the Windows10 ScreenSaver beauty from every angle possible and also took the requisite photos and selfies from dangerous looking angles.
The sights were breathtaking! The hike back to the parking lot (uphill this time, unfortunately) in the 110 degree brutal sun was intense (to say the least). We had to take it easy for the rest of the day to recover from the heat.
If you go…
Be sure to make reservations for Antelope Canyon before you get there. These tours get booked up fast. We were very happy with Dixie’s Lower Antelope Canyon Tours. You can make the reservations online at : https://antelopelowercanyon.com. We paid around $120 for the two of us.
I recommend the AirBnB we stayed at, hosted by Karl (132, 8th Avenue, Page Az).
Do check out Big Johns Texas Barbecue.
Tropic, UT (Bryce Canyon)
Next day we drove straight to Bryce Canyon (in Utah). We reached the NPS visitor center around 4:00 pm and got the details on what we could do that afternoon and what hikes we could go on the next day. We loved the shuttle service provided by the Park Service that takes you to the 4 scenic overlooks along the rim of the canyon. We got off at the 1st one and marveled at the Red and Tan Hoodoos in the vast canyon. Then we walked along the rim to the other three overlooks. We frequently stopped to take pictures with the amazing geologic formations in the background. None of the photos do justice to the wonder of nature that was in front of us. But that did not stop me from clicking away.
The next morning we came back fresh, to try out the first hike – i.e trekking down into the canyon and hiking back up (huffing and puffing, taking a lot of breaks and photos). Then after a brief break, we went on one more hike down a different and more difficult path called “Wall street hike”. It was steep with a lot of switchbacks. As we were pooped from over 4 hrs of hiking, we opted to come back up on a different (slightly easier) trail (Navajo Loop Trail). It was totally exhausting and exhilarating at the same time. We are so glad we did these hikes and took in the sights up close.
A word about Tropic , UT – This is a tiny town near Bryce canyon. It is so tiny that there are no street lights, just one gas station and a few restaurants. It is very cute and the 8 room motel that we stayed at was extremely clean, comfortable and reasonable.
If you go…
If you plan to visit National Parks, consider getting a US Park Pass ($80 per annum). This will enable free entry into all National Parks for your family (1 vehicle). Check out details here : https://www.usparkpass.com/
I strongly recommend staying at Bybee’s Steppingstone Motel in Tropic. It’s a delightful, cute place.
There is an elaborate buffet at “Ruby’s Inn Cowboy’s Buffet and Steak Room”, that I recommend. We definitely needed that after a crazy day of hiking.
Moab, UT (Arches National Park, Canyonlands National Park)
While we were checking out of the Bybee motel in Tropic, the manager recommended that we take the little longer but scenic route to our next destination, Moab. We are so glad that we took his advice, as we got to see wonderful countryside, huge mountain ranges and the red rock and sand stone behemoths of Capital Reef along the way.
Arches National Park and Canyonlands National Park were near the town of Moab. Just before we left on the trip, one of our friends had strongly recommended that we should not miss the ranger led “Fiery Furnace Hike” in Arches National Park. We got to National Park Service Visitor Center just in time to book the ranger led “Fiery Furnace Hike” for the 4:00 PM slot on the day we were supposed to leave town and drive to Aspen. We decided to go for it, as it was highly recommended, even though that meant getting to Aspen quite late in the night after a brutal hike.
The next day we did the popular hike to Delicate Arch, which is like the Mona Lisa of the Arches, as everyone has heard about it and wants to see it, even though there are bigger and better arches nearby. It was a moderate hike (3 miles round trip), with some parts being steep and intense. Heeding the warnings from the NPS Visitor center, we started early in the morning before it got very hot. Later we covered Windows Loop, Double Arch and Landscape Arch. All in all we ended up walking 11.5 miles on that day.
The last day after we checked out of the hotel, we essentially rested and prepared for the “Fiery Furnace Hike”, which started by meeting the ranger and the rest of the hikers (14 including us) at 4:00 pm near the trail head. It was brutally hot and the ranger wanted to check if we all brought the requisite amount of water per head. We thought we had enough but she declared that between the two of us we only had half the amount needed. One of the other hikers had some spare bottles, so they were kind enough to share with us. We were very thankful for their generosity. The ranger initially made a fuss about the heat and said she herself doesn’t like to hike the canyon (furnace) in such hot weather. That did little to instill confidence in us. Then she asked if anyone wanted to drop off. She said that once we are in the canyon and if someone has problems/medical incidents, it could take up to 16 hrs to rescue! She would sweep the whole team with her gaze while saying this, but we felt that her eyes would linger on longer on the two of us. Clearly she sensed that the two of us could be the weakest links of the team.. 🙂! I guess the prowess of us Indians as non-athletic is quite well known. To the hiking gang (and especially the ranger), we probably looked like two spelling bee coaches who showed up at the wrong place for the coaching session. We declared that we were ready for it, and we proceeded, briskly walking into the canyon, taking multiple water breaks.. (did I mention 104 degree F?). It was not just an ordinary hike. It involved squeezing through narrow cracks, walking on high ledges, crawling on all fours (and fives – as the butt got involved too sometimes)! Thankfully lot of the path was in shade and the entire group was very friendly and helpful, encouraging each other and helping to pull/push when needed. After two and half hours when we made it back to the parking lot, we were thoroughly exhausted but extremely thrilled to have gone on this amazing and challenging hike, and came out of it with memories to last a lifetime
If you go…
Make sure to visit the NPS visitor center for recommendations.
If you are moderately fit, do not miss the Fiery Furnace Hike. It costs $16 per head and should be booked in advance.
While in Moab, do not miss yummy quesadillas at “Quesadilla Mobilla” – a food truck. You will love it! There are other food trucks there as well in a unique food truck park, with a shaded seating area that is covered by overhead tubes that spray refreshing mist.
Aspen, Co (Maroon Bells)
After the grueling “Fiery Furnace Hike”, we started driving at 7:00pm, and reached our hotel in Aspen around midnight. Our hotel called Mountain Chalet was a wonderful facility and we really wished we had stayed there more than the 1 night that we actually did. The staff was very friendly and helpful and they had a sumptuous fresh breakfast that was included with the room. I highly recommend this place for anyone that is staying in Aspen area. We boarded the free bus (right across from Mountain Chalet) that took us from Aspen to Highlands area, where we got on another bus ($8 per person round trip) to go to Maroon Bells. The driver of the bus is also a tour guide and gave a nice talk about the area and the avalanches that they experience (pointing out the damage to the Aspen forests caused by last year’s avalanches). It was a short 20 min ride. Maroon Bells is this “heaven on earth” like place with beautiful mountains, lake, streams and trails through amazing woods full of wild flowers. The photos, of course, do not come close to capturing the real beauty of the “nature on steroids” over there. Some who saw our photos said that they look fake. After hiking through some of the trails for a few hours we took the bus back and then started driving to our final destination – Denver area.
The drive from Aspen to Denver area was mostly through high mountain passes and beautiful vistas. Uma enjoyed these sights.. while I kept my gaze on the curvy road (for the most part). After about 4 hours, we started seeing the familiar generic landscape of any American city (and suburbs) – Walmart, Best Buy, Home Depot, McDonalds, Burger King etc.
The next day and half were spent relaxing and recovering from the intense physical activity. We went into downtown Denver for a few hours just to get a feel for the place and strolled down the famous 16th street mall (which was designed by the famous architect I.M.Pei). The concept is good, but unfortunately, with lots of homeless people throughout the street, it did not feel very pleasant. Because of this, every business on the street has codes on their bathroom doors and big signs that declare that bathrooms are for customers only.
The final item on our agenda before boarding the late night flight back to Philadelphia was to attend the finals of “World Championship of Public Speaking” at the Toastmaster’s International Conference. Earlier in the year, over 30,000 speakers (including Uma) started competing at club level and after 6 levels of elimination it came down to the 6 finalists competing in Denver. We thoroughly enjoyed the awesome speeches by the contestants. It’s amazing how they packed so much humor, emotion and gripping storytelling into those 7 minutes! We were jumping with joy when Aaron Beverly (from Philadelphia region) won the championship. His speech was awesome! It’s possible that I may be biased, as he is from our region and his speech was about an Indian wedding ritual.
Later we stopped by at an Indian restaurant for dinner, on the way to the airport, to cap off the wonderful vacation, which started with an Indian breakfast in Las Vegas. At this restaurant called “Coriander”, Uma and I picked a curry called Madras Chicken and their signature naan – “Coriander Naan”, which is supposed to be stuffed with Serrano peppers. Imagine our shock and surprise when the waitress discouraged us from ordering these. She said that these are very spicy and we may not be able to handle them! That’s right.. after taking one look at us (south Indians), this Indian waitress decided that we would not be able to handle the spicy food! This felt exactly like the scene with that Park Ranger at the start of the Fiery Furnace hike, who (probably for a good reason) felt that some of us (just the two of us, really), would not be able to handle the hike. Uma asked the waitress, “How spicy are these? In a range of …”
“5 out of 5! 10 out of 10!”, she quickly retorted before Uma could finish her sentence.
Wow! Ok!! We decided to play it safe and order some other tamer stuff from the menu. These items were very tasty and we were very happy with the place. During the meal, when the waitress stopped by, I had to ask her, “If these are so spicy, who orders them?” She said, “It’s mostly white people. Some of them can eat crazy hot stuff!”
Our collective jaw dropped!
I made a mental note to come back and take them up on the challenge, and maybe bring along one of my white friends for moral support during this daring culinary adventure.
One day, back in the late 80s, when I was working at AT&T Bell Labs/AT&T Microelectronics in Allentown, I received an interoffice package from Bell Labs in Murray Hill, NJ. Upon opening it, I was pleasantly surprised to see a red T-Shirt. Across the front were several “3K” symbols and among them were these words:
This is the way the world began
Not with a whimper but with a bang!
There was a letter of congratulations included in the package from Arno Penzias, who was the Vice President of Bell Labs then. I was thrilled to bits! I had not even heard of Arno Penzias at that time. It was a huge organization and he was not in my direct line of command. Well, it turns out that I had gone out of my way to test out a hardware accelerator that was developed in Murray Hill, for a real customer design, and somehow, it went to Arno’s attention. When I talked with other colleagues and friends, I found out that Arno was actually a Nobel Prize winner for Physics in 1978, for his discovery of the Cosmic Microwave Background Radiation (along with Robert Wilson), which helped establish the Big Bang Theory of Cosmology. It seems that the “3K” on the T-Shirt represents the “3-degrees-above-zero-Kelvin” background radiation that Arno and Robert had detected. I was told that the T-shirt and letter were Arno’s way of encouraging engineers to stretch themselves and come up with innovative ideas/solutions. I truly did not think that my little test for the accelerator deserved such a high honor! In any case, I was on cloud nine and it did impress my wife (for a few days)! 😊 I never actually wore the T-Shirt and just saved it along with the letter as mementos.
After several years, when my daughter Ramya was in middle school, she came across this T-Shirt. She was quite impressed by the story behind it and wanted to wear it to school. Sure, why not, I said! It looked perfect on her with the blue jeans! I wish we had a keepsake photo of that moment. That evening at the dinner table, Ramya mentioned about a strange reaction that one of her friends had to the message on the T-shirt! It seems the friend read it, scowled at her and said “That is against my beliefs”! Ramya was shocked and puzzled… and frankly, so was I! We had not thought much about any “hidden implications” of the lines. We were just feeling proud that it was a gift from a Nobel laureate about his research and were more than happy to show-off!! Upon digging deeper, we realized that some people oppose or disagree with “The Big Bang Theory”, based on their particular religious teachings. It certainly was a learning moment for us. Well… guess what? This is middle school, and you get to learn in the hallways, cafeteria and playground as much as you learn in the classroom! BTW, much later, I researched into the lines on the T-Shirt and found out that these were derived from T.S.Eliot’s poem from 1925 -“The Hollow Men”, which ends with :
This is the way the world will end
Not with a bang but with a whimper
Last week, after a frantic search throughout the house (specifically for this blog entry), I came to the unfortunate realization that I might have lost/misplaced the T-Shirt and the letter! Considering that I am a nostalgia buff and have treasured such keepsakes from my past ( for e.g, my favorite R.K.Narayan photos and memorabilia), I am very upset that I lost these! I am hoping that my wife will magically locate them (just as she has done so in the past)!
A visit to Orlando and Disney Theme Parks is a must-do rite of passage, especially for families with children. Our family has very fond memories of the three trips that we had to Orlando in general and Disney Parks in particular. Of all the parks, my #1 favorite is Epcot. This “Experimental Prototype City of Tomorrow” (EPCOT Center) made an indelible impression on me the very first time we went in 1990. The jaw-dropping rides were thoroughly entertaining and informative at the same time!! While initially I complained about the cost of entrance being so exorbitant ($25 per person per day in 1990), at the end of the day, I conceded that it was totally worth it!
When my friends at work found out that I was headed to Orlando, they told me that the main attraction at EPCOT was a ride called “The story of communications” in the iconic Spaceship Earth, which was an amazing and imposing structure! It is a Geodesic dome (the first of its kind), which is composed of a complex network of triangles. My colleagues told me that this ride was sponsored and hosted by AT&T! They said that, as employees, we get to use the reception center associated with the ride. That sounded like a wonderful employee benefit! I didn’t quite realize how cool this benefit was till we actually got there.
On that day, the lines for Spaceship Earth were up to ~90 mins long! I walked up to the Disney employee there and flashed my AT&T badge and she directed us to the private reception entrance for AT&T employees. There the secretary took us to a cozy reception area and asked us to relax, help ourselves to the snacks and drinks and let her know when we were ready for the ride! Wow! That was royal treatment. My family was thoroughly impressed! After soaking in the warmth of the welcoming reception and resting for a bit, the lady took us through a secret employee entrance to the front of the ride. It was all coordinated in such a subtle way that others in the line would not get a hint that someone was being given a preferential treatment. Even though it is an employee benefit and a privilege, I can understand if others who stood in line for over hour and half would be upset, jealous and resentful! This reminded me of the folks in India with money, power and/or powerful connections, who bypass long queues at temples! I do remember the feeling of pride and joy at being given this special attention and at the same time it was also laced with a tinge of guilt every time we took advantage of this benefit. I get the same feeling whenever I am randomly picked to get “TSA PreCheck” at U.S airports, and I get to bypass a long line of travelers! The Spaceship Earth ride, which was narrated by Walter Cronkite (Journalist and CBS news anchorman) was very educational and exhilarating!
Indelible memories of EPCOT and Universal Studios
We did this ride (with separate family groups) several times in the 1990’s. While in Orlando, during one of these trips, we covered the Universal Studios tour as well, which is another fun filled adventure (especially for a movie buff like me!). The “ET Adventure”, which is based on Steven Spielberg’s movie was a hugely popular ride in Universal Studios when we visited in 1996. Similar to the Spaceship Earth, this was also one of the rides that is sponsored by AT&T. It made sense – as the main focus towards the end of the movie is ET desperately trying to “Phone home”.. to communicate with it’s alien family. Even here AT&T employees had the same reception benefits as EPCOT. Unfortunately, just a few months earlier, my division of AT&T Microelectronics was spun off and became Lucent Technologies and that meant I did not have an AT&T badge! 😦 I approached the receptionist, showed my Lucent badge and explained the situation! She understood and said that we would still be covered as ex-AT&T employees till the end of the year! Yipee! That was sweet! We were thrilled that we could draw from that well of hospitality for one last time! We left the ride with fond memories that will last a lifetime and we thanked AT&T Pioneers for their warmth and hospitality!
Glimpses of the future
Airport Square in Lansdale was your average American strip mall. The AT&T Store was next to ToysRUs, which was adjacent to Borders bookstore (sadly, both of these are no more). From the corner of my eyes, I could see the sales lady sizing me up! I am sure she assumed that I was up to no good! I was checking out the display case from all angles, and was probably drooling too, like a dog at an out-of-reach buffet table!
She approached me and said “Anything I can help you with?”.
I pointed to the case that contained AT&T’s leading edge communications marvel called the AT&T EO Communicator and said, “How many of these have you sold”!
That’s not a typical question from a typical customer!
Looking at her puzzled face, I said – “I am sorry.. I should explain.. I also work for AT&T. In the Microelectronics division, up in Lehigh Valley. We designed the main chips that go into this cool gadget”
“Oh.. that is awesome!” she said, as she let her guard down, once she realized that I was not a weirdo or a potential shop-lifter, but just another colleague!
“So… have you sold any? How about other locations? Can you check how the sales are overall?”
She lowered her voice and said, “No .. no sales at all here. Just some people who saw the cool commercials on TV and have come in to stare at it! I think it’s too expensive. Who in their right mind would put down $2000 for a toy like this?”
I was disappointed. This was the first time a product which contained one of our chips was in retail stores. I had worked on one of the 4 main AT&T chips that formed the brain of this phablet (Phone + Tablet). This final product was a collaboration of several groups and organizations (AT&T, EO, General Magic etc..).
AT&T’s version of an IPAD (circa 1993) (photos courtesy – oldcomputers.net)
In the following weeks I made several trips to the store and even brought my family over a few times. If it were 2018, I would have taken several selfies with the display pieces and proudly uploaded to Facebook and bragged about what a genius engineer I was! 😊 Well, this was 1993 and way before Iphones or Facebook and even Internet (of the kind that we are used to)!
AT&T Bell Labs was, as usual, way ahead of its time! This communicator with its futuristic promise was at least 15 years ahead of Apple’s Ipad. It was a contemporary of Apple’s PDA (Personal Digital Assistant) Newton and was much more advanced in terms of it’s communication capabilities. The TV commercial that promoted this communicator, clearly shows how futuristic this design was for 1993!
AT&T Bell labs has contributed immensely to the world of science, engineering, and overall technological advancement. To date, there are 15 Nobel prize winners from Bell Labs. There are inventions that came out of Bell labs, which touch us all every day in some form or the other. For e.g., : Transistors, Laser, Solar Cells, Cellphone Technology, Communication Satellites, Radio Astronomy, evidence of Big Bang, Unix operating system, C and C++ are just a small sample of their key contributions. Twenty five years ago, AT&T had a crystal clear vision of the world that we have today! Check out the “You Will” series of television ads they ran back then predicting what’s to come! While several other companies eventually made these predictions into realities, a lot of the building blocks did come from the work done at AT&T.
While the work I had done was not remotely in the same league as all the fundamental research done at AT&T locations in Murray Hill and Holmdel, New Jersey, I thoroughly enjoyed and am proud of the opportunities that I had as part of AT&T Microelectronics to work on leading edge chips while learning and collaborating with the best in the industry.
When I was getting ready to move from Iowa to Allentown in 1988, to join AT&T Bell Labs, my co-workers tried to paint a bleak picture of Allentown by playing Billy Joel’s song (“Allentown”). Thankfully, I had never heard of Billy Joel or his song back then, so I ignored them. Today (4/3/2020), after 32 years in Allentown and working for : AT&T Bell Labs, Lucent Technologies, PMC Sierra, Agere Systems, LSI, Avago and Broadcom, it’s time for me to get off the bus. My stop has come. It was a wonderful journey where I had the opportunity to work with (and learn from) a great group of professionals and friends, and in the process created 32 years worth of nostalgia (to be used for future blog posts 🙂 )
October 20th 1990 is a very memorable day for us! No! it’s not our wedding day or the day our child was born or any such thing. That was the day we got our first speeding ticket! You all do keep track and celebrate your 1st speeding-ticket-anniversaries, right? 🙂
Here’s what happened…
That was a Saturday and we were excited about going to a party in Allentown, when we were pulled over in Coopersburg! The officer was very polite. He inquired if I knew why he stopped me (hmm.. what’s with this quiz?). I was very nervous and mumbled a “No! officer”. I felt like every one driving by was slowing down to take a look at me! The officer asked me for my driver’s license and registration. Then, after what seemed like a long time he came back with a speeding ticket for $150 and then told us to have a nice day!! I appreciate the politeness .. but that almost felt sarcastic!
“Nice day”?? He pretty much ruined our day. The only saving grace was that the party that we went to, turned out to be a surprise baby shower for Uma!! Of course, THAT is the real reason we remember Oct 20th!
The next day, when I discussed this ticket with friends at work, I got a lot of advice..
“You should have known that Coopersburg is a speed-trap town!” one said.
“Contest it – the cop never shows up and therefore you will beat the ticket” chimed another!
“You should have told him that your taxes pay for his salary”, said another wise guy!
“Next time you should be prepared – when he asks “your eyes are red, have you been drinking?” you should say “Officer, your eyes are glazed, have you been eating donuts!!”
Ahh.. everybody is a comedian.. when passing out such free advice!
A few weeks later, I went to court to contest the ticket. I was dressed in my best jacket and tie, even though, those were usually reserved for weddings and funerals! I had seen enough episodes of “LA Law” to know how the system worked. I walked in with a briefcase in hand. I gave a look that said “I am an engineer, I know what I am doing”, while the faint, nervous voice in my head said “damn, I should have gone to the bathroom before coming in.” I was quite disappointed to see that the officer did show up. When I asked him about the calibration data on the radar, he read out all the dates and measurements – as if he was expecting this exact question! Finally, I opened my brief case and brought out my Exhibit A – a receipt from the grocery store in Coopersburg, where we had stopped earlier to pick up some flowers for our host. Then, I took out Exhibit B – the speeding ticket itself! I told them that the distance from the grocery store to the place where the cop stopped me divided by the time taken should be the speed at which I drove! Based on the evidence, I stated that the speed thus computed does not match what the officer noted. I therefore declared with a flourish that the speeding case against me be thrown out! The judge and the officer were taken aback by this display of theatrics and middle school level time-and-distance math! I was prepared to be yelled at by the judge for wasting his time. Surprisingly, he and the cop had a hearty laugh, after which the judge said something to the effect of “get out of here!” and reduced the fine to $35, I guess just for my efforts! I thanked him and got out of there. I could hear them laughing even from the outside. I can definitely tell you – that was not an “LA LAW” performance.. it was more of a “My Cousin Vinnie” performance!
That day, I had learnt a valuable lesson: no more speeding… in Coopersburg! But, Warrington? That’s an entirely different town and I got my speeding ticket #2 there, a few years later! This was another ticket for 40 mph in a 25 mph zone! I was not as nervous this time around. When I showed up in the court, I did not do the phony lawyer routine. I was dressed in my business casuals. As soon as I walked in, the judge’s face lit up! He pointed to the “Lucent Technologies’” logo on my shirt and said “that’s a great company”! I was befuddled by such an opening! By way of brief background – that was a brief period of glory for Lucent (my employer), when its stock was skyrocketing.
The judge and I reveled in our mutual admiration of Lucent! He said that he had a lot of Lucent stock and of course he was thrilled about its performance. After this bit of distraction, he almost forgot to admonish me on my speeding infraction! He reduced the speed and I just had to pay $25. I gave him a thumbs up while the bewildered cop just looked on!
If you think that I am the only one in the family that’s always speeding, you are totally wrong! Uma had her share of tickets too! There was this one time when she got a ticket for 50 mph in a 35 mph zone! Being the veteran with traffic courts, I accompanied her, to show how it is done! As we pulled into the parking lot, we saw an older gentleman walking slowly . We stopped and waved him on with a smile, while cursing him under our breath for being the slow poke, as we were getting late for our court appointment.
As soon as we got into the court, we saw that the cop was there with all of his documents to make the case… and when the judge showed up, we saw that it was the old man from the parking lot. He recognized us and smiled and winked at us! After that it was smooth sailing. He sent us off with a minor admonishment to Uma for not being careful with the speed. Yay!! Another successful overturning of a speeding ticket!
There are several lessons that I have learnt from all of these court appearances:
Always contest speeding tickets.
Always be respectful to the officer and the judge. They are just doing their job. Having a nasty attitude towards them is not going to do you any good.
Wear proper clothing that will make a good impression. I wonder what would have been the judge’s reaction if I had worn an “Adult World T-shirt” to court!
Be nice to people walking slowly in parking lots… or just everyone around you. You never know who will be in a position to judge you!
(These two pieces were given as speeches at Toastmasters meetings)
Since Yash gave a cinematic presentation of our arranged marriage, I figured I will share my version of our marriage beyond the beginning. Obviously our parents thought of us being a good match for each other, but little did they and we knew how different we were in terms of our personalities and communication styles.
Personality characteristics influence our communication styles. Yash, having a supportive and an easy-going style, was more accepting of my differences than I was of his. He is more sociable, spontaneous, fun-loving, free-spirited, very enthusiastic about trying new things, likes a relaxed, no tension environment and avoids conflict. Contrast this with my direct and analytical communication style, being very goal-oriented, purposeful, organized, and focused on getting things done. I could not understand why Yash wasn’t thrilled about us planning and organizing every detail of our lives to make it a smooth sail. Shouldn’t he be thankful to me for bringing some order and purpose into his life? 🙂 I would get very frustrated with him, and being the direct communicator that I was, I had no trouble expressing that to him. Being the supportive communicator that he was, with a tendency to avoid conflict, he would get quiet, which would only irritate me further.
In the first few months of us living together in Allentown, I would be in the apartment all day while Yash went to work. I was in a foreign land with only 1 or 2 brand new friends that he had introduced me to, who I could talk to on the phone. I did not know how to drive. I couldn’t call home and talk to my parents frequently because every minute cost about $4 while I wasn’t earning a penny. Being home alone all day, I would eagerly wait for him to come home. He would also come home in a good mood but seemed more eager to watch “Cheers” and “Three’s company” than to spend time talking with me. Obviously he wanted me to sit and watch the shows with him, but I had no interest in them because they were so foreign to me. My direct style of expressing frustration didn’t sit very well with his fun-loving and conflict-avoidance style.
On top of these individual differences, there are gender-based differences in conversational styles. Remember, Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus? 🙂 Once we went to a jewelry store to buy something for his mother. I pointed out some pieces that I thought looked good. We bought something for his mother and returned home. I bet the men don’t see anything wrong in this picture, but the women can see it crystal clear, right ladies? Offering to buy me something would’ve showed me that he thought and cared about me. Never mind all the other ways he showed me that. Of course, that was not the time to use my direct communication. I let it brew for a little while until it exploded, and poor Yash had no clue what it was all about. If I wanted something, I should’ve bought it. That’s all there is to it, as far as he was concerned.
Our natural tendency in communication is to use our own style. But if we want to be effective partners, we need to adapt our style to that of the other person. Putting the relationship first makes it a little easier to deal with the differences. With much trial and error, we came to understand and accept our different styles. We learned to make allowances rather than taking the disparities personally. Now when he gets home we watch 1 or 2 shows together, and I plan to do some “spontaneous activities” together. Once in a while Yash takes the initiative and makes to-do lists which makes me happy, and every time I make a passing comment about liking something in a store, I have to literally hold him back from buying it for me.
I wish I did this analysis of our communication styles about 30 years ago; our marriage would have been a less bumpy ride.
That was the question one of Uma’s colleagues (in the US) asked her when they found out that her’s was an arranged marriage. We were both quite amused by the question. I wondered if they thought an arranged marriage was where Uma’s parents forced her to marry me in exchange for a few goats!! I could imagine the concept of an arranged marriage being so foreign to them! In India, back then more than 95% of the marriages were of the “arranged” kind. The rest were called “love marriages”.
Typically, in an arranged marriage – the parents do the initial screening based on their particular criteria in order to narrow down the choices to arrive at a shortlist. This is their own version of “29 points of compatibility” like eHarmony etc. The parents usually look for compatibility of: education, family history, social standing, caste etc.
During my grandparents’ generation, the parents just literally arranged it and the boy and girl would see each other for the first time at the ceremony! When I say boy and girl, I literally mean a boy and girl – as they used to get married quite young. Maybe 10 – 15 yrs old or even younger. These marriages were for forming relationships with other families and to get an extra pair of hands to help out on the farm or in the house. Also, that was a time when some older guys married very young girls, by paying a sort of dowry (known as Kanyasulkam) to the girl’s parents. My maternal grandmother’s marriage was one such case that I had covered in one of my earlier blogs Our Very Own Proof of Heaven?
Indian Newspaper Matrimonial Ads (2018)
By my parents’ time it got a little better. They typically got a chance to meet and have somewhat of a say in the selection. Well, most likely only the guy did. Unfortunately, the girl rarely got asked! My dad was a path-breaking pioneer – he rejected the suggested local , uneducated girls from the village (who were ideal from his parents’ point of view – as they would start helping with farm work and chores right away). My dad wanted to marry an equally qualified college educated woman. For this, he did his own groundwork via “matrimonial ads” in newspapers, and finally connected with my mom’s family in the neighboring zilla (county). This was quite revolutionary back then. He was asked by his folks, “What’s wrong with all the girls in our village that you had to go all the way to the next zilla (County)?”
As for me – I was working in Iowa and had gone home to India for vacation and to attend my brother’s wedding. My parents thought that since the elder son was getting settled, it was time for me to get hitched as well! So, they suggested Uma. Uma’s family was friends of ours. They used to live across the street from us when she was in pre-school.
While the families had known each other and have been friends, we haven’t ever talked to each other before. I liked the proposal and told my parents that I wanted to talk to Uma one on one (which apparently was considered an unusual request back then, and was promptly attributed to my exposure to western culture).
One evening, my dad and I stopped by at their place for tea. Of course, this was no ordinary casual visit. It was specifically for the explicit purpose of deciding if we would be a good match. NOT for dating, but for getting married! In a sense it is like those “coffee meetups”, except it was at the girl’s house when the entire family was right there hovering around. We were expected to give the go/no-go signal at the end of that one meeting!
This is like a job interview, and like any job interview, the fact that we were sitting down for the interview meant that we both had passed the initial screening. We were trying to see if the in-person interview confirmed what was promised in the resume.
“Hmm.. he looks quite different from the photo that was sent earlier? Was it photo-shopped?”
“She looks shorter than what they claimed?”
“Is he stuttering? Is he just nervous or is that a real problem?” etc…
Even before we get to such physical and superficial tests, aspects of behavior and personality were typically checked out through 3rd party references. For e.g, if someone you know was a student in the same college as the “candidate”, you ask, “Do you know if he is a good kid?”, “Does he have any bad habits?”. Remember this was before Internet, so there were no Facebook photos of you partying at spring break or video clips of your racist rant or even videos of you helping the blind lady cross the road! So, a lot of the background checking happens through the network of family and friends. By the time we are down for “the interview” – most of the decision would already have been made.
After the initial pleasantries, Uma and I got to go to the terrace of their house for the “interview” portion of the evening!
As can be imagined, this was extremely awkward for both of us!
I quickly got to the point and covered 3 items that I considered were important:
Are you interested in getting married to me? You are not being forced by your parents, right?
I am very happy in the US. I like it there and have no immediate plans of coming back to India. Are you OK with moving to the US?
I explained that I was not into religious rituals and that I would respect her beliefs whatever they may be. I expected the same tolerance for my lack of beliefs.
Finally, I asked her if she had any questions for me?
She had none..
She did answer the 3 questions to my satisfaction..
That was the end of our roof-top interview session!
Next day I told my parents that I wanted to get married to Uma. My parents informed her parents and we were engaged. I returned to the US less than a week later. All my colleagues at work were shocked that you could go on a vacation and come back engaged, just like that! Yep.. that was their first exposure to how marriages got “arranged”!
Last year, our daughter got married to someone she met in college. A “love marriage”, if you will. So, in our immediate family we’ve had a variety of marriages – from traditional arranged marriages to a love marriage!
I am guessing that you all are now curious if I am happily married? The answer is a resounding and emphatic “YES”!!
She reads my blogs… Do you think I will give any other answer? 🙂
Feel free to write about your own experiences/vignettes with arranged/love marriages below in the comments section..