If Sugar Ray Leonard and Foreman can do it, so can I. I too have (unashamedly) changed my mind and have decided to come out of retirement slowly. So, here is another Pulitzer quality article.

Ajays Homecoming

by Ramesh Mahadevan

Ajay Palvayanteeswaran, like a zillion other desis before him, discovered one day that he too was afflicted by this incurable
itch to visit India and be with his family and friends. He was just about tired of not working on his thesis. He needed a break. Heck, he might even interview some girls and get married. Besides, that would wipe out the massive debt he owed India.

From his wingmate, he learnt that there is actually a small village in the middle of nowhere in Mexico called Los Maramarimos, where unbeknownst to anyone and SCI in particular, an American Consulate has been functioning since the days of Mayan civilization. He drove down there non stop from Pittsburgh and looked straight into the eyes of the Consular Officer and asked him "When you have the in-field fly rule and a runner runs from the second base to the third, does he have to be tagged to be out ?" And while the officer was trying to figure this out, he thrust his visa documents at him and got a multiple entry visa for a lifetime. Of course, Ajay had to fly into Pittsburgh, because some desparado had cannibalized his two hundred dollar steel beauty of a car into two bicycles and sold them off.

Ajay made about twenty three reservations in all the airlines possible. The cheapest deal he found stipulated that he would
have to go standing, (giving a whole new meaning to the term 'stand-by') clutching his luggage and yes he would be allowed to peek into the first class cabin about three times during the entire trip. He was told that a Hindu vegetarian meal will be
provided once the airlines figured out what a true Hindu is. His bank balance took a free fall after he paid for his tickets and
he was left only with a few hundred bucks and a new visa card to buy gifts and momentos. In the Palvayanteeswaran family even the thirteenth cousin matters and he was already going crazy trying to think of appropriate gifts that would annoy his relatives.

He bought the most massive suitcases when K Mart had them on sale. He bought Simpsons T shirts for his brother and mother, Docker pants for his dad, a plastic walking stick for his grandfather and a lovely, cheap, tantalizing perfume called "Le Savage", for his grandmother, to bring out the animal in her. Unmindful of the cultural imperialistic implications, he even bought a Barbie doll for his niece and one for himself. He bought a hundred ball pens, two hundred sewing needles, a
five-in-one, three hundred jelly beans after feeding the machine with his lifetime's collection of pennies. With every shopping bagful of goodies, his adrenalin got pumped up some more and he was counting days.

The last few days were so hectic he almost never slept. The travel agent had mispelt his name. 'God, these guys have trouble
even with such simple names. Wonder what he would have done if I had a Russian sounding name'. And his suitcases wouldn't close. His trick-accounting of writing checks against his next month's paycheck somehow backfired and now, he couldn't find his toothbrush. In the middle of everything his friends and foes stopped by to give him those little parcels with microwave ovens and washers to take home to their folks. His beer buddy finally arrived - an hour past the appointed time, grabbed everything in the living room, from carpet up, including Ajay, piled them into the trunk of his car and deposited the mess at the airport, just as they were pulling off that large earthworm connecting the darned plane and the terminal.

Ajay sank into his seat and closed his eyes. "Aarti, beti, apni seat mein nahin baitogi to mummy maaroongi" ('Aarti, daughter, if you don't sit down in your seat, your mother is going to beat you up') said a rather huge mother in the adjacent seat, lovingly to her five year old, as the kid stepped over Ajay for the umpteenth time, trying to get out of her seat. Ajay smiled philosophically. He knew right then he was heading off to India, nowhere else. He was hoping a Madhuri Dixit or Sridevi would surprise him by appearing in the aisle dressed as a stewardess. In his wildest dream, he even fell in love with the stewardess as the plane was touching down in Madras and promptly caught the return flight with her, ignoring the desparate, tearful pleas from his parents. But reality hit him hard in the form of a hulk of a steward who spoke with a confusing British accent, which seemed so phony and put on.

After several dreamy hours, during which the kid in the next seat went to the bathroom about two hundred times, the plane
landed in Madras. He tried to rush through the green channel at the Customs when the Customs guy caught him by his shirt collar and made him declare that Chunky Pandey is a better actor than Brando Bakshi. It was hot and humid and there were millions of little brown people everywhere. They were seemingly very busy, but in reality not really achieving anything significant. Boy, how many people does this country have, almost as many as there are cars in the US of A. He suddenly discovered that some of those brownies were actually his family members and a tearful reunion followed, and his psychological energy soared to new heights.

The first week in India was fantastic. Everything was romantic and cute - grown men chasing buses with dhoti in one hand and tiffin carrier on the other hand and jholas on their shoulders, old, rusty Ambassador cars, large 'Muniammas' with even larger bindiyas (dots) fighting each other in street corners using the kind of obscene words that he had only heard in his IIT hostel, his ex-little neighborette who has now blossomed into something else. This really was seventh heaven. And the food ! Whoever synthesized sambhar must be given a Nobel prize in chemistry, he thought. Imagine, they even named a whole species of deer after the dish, called sambar deer. Tell me, have you ever heard of any species, let alone deer, being called 'subji' or even 'aviyal' ?

He even visited his IIT. God, was he living in these tiny little prison cells for four years? He drank a cup of tea at the dhabha
by the gate at Tarams for old times sake and for the first time observed how dirty the place actually was. He was a sensation
in the Jamuna hostel. He gave a pep talk to all the aspiring NRIs, who still have a couple of more years to go before heading
toward the US. "It is cool. Write to me for info about univs and schol shols". Another time he would say "Turbo C is easy to
program in. Imagine, if Pondy can do it, you guys too can." He savored every minute of the attention and the open-mouthed awe that he elicited from his juniors. He even took an auto rickshaw (scooter rickshaw) to get out of the jungles of IIT Madras to show off his new found affluence. God, these cute machines ! Whoever invented these rickshaws must have had a sense of humor to fit them with a funny sounding horn. The way they slime through the traffic. Maybe I should import one to the US. These can also double as golf carts when I eventually become a yuppy.

Back at home, his mother was pressuring him to get married. "You remember the doctor who was living in the next street. You used to call him Doctor Uncle. He would always give you those pepper mint candies. His daughter has done BA in Tulu literature ... or this other girl whose father is an IAS officer and he even owns half an acre of land.."

"Only half an acre ?"

"Yes, but that is in Saudi Arabia and has an oil well"

"But mom, those are the wrong kind of Saudis. Did you check with Sridevi's parents"

"Son, but have you looked at yourself in the mirror lately ? Your grandma is pushing ninety three and she would go happily if she sees you married and in fact that would be good for me too."

"I am not ready for it".

"I know son. Even if you get married now, it will be years before the dignity of marriage ever gets to you. Your father is
already retired and we need the dowry money to see us through our sunset years"

Within a week the pressure was slowly starting to eat into his cool personality. Ajay realized that it is a no-win situation
with mothers. They are on the offensive if he goes on the defensive and they get very defensive if he raised his voice.
Besides he knows that he would say 'yes' to the very first girl he would meet and might later regret it. He might even end up
being henpecked, just like his dad. And yes, his dad has become so mellow and friendly that Ajay was actually missing those intense fights he used to have with him.

Ajay is a product of two cultures - Madras and Bangalore. He was really hoping to go to Bangalore also. But his Indian Airlines flight to Bangalore was cancelled and he wasn't even told about it. In a nutshell, that explained to him what kind of crisis India is facing these days. 'India should get out of its Third World mentality' he told himself. And the politicians are making an even greater mess out of it. What this country needs is a benign dictatorship, somebody sensible at the top, like himself. Imagine the plight of India if the only unifying force is Joachim Martillo.

Suddenly he even felt the heat and humidity of India. He was craving for the airconditioners. He found the place very dirty,
very crowded. He had to deal with a million crude, rude, ill-mannered people, all at one time. The traffic was so chaotic he had the feeling that his next step would be his last. The food was too spicy, the relatives too nosy. His friends had drifted too far from him and now every session with them seemed so artificial. And they were too busy to be with him, most of the time. With what, he wondered. Lastly, he was even missing the usual creature comforts like orange juice, deep dish pizzas and the TV shows. India was also improving, he conceded, after all, they do telecast Oscars and Emmys these days. But he really
wouldn't be able to stand one more episode of Mahabharat depicting the Kurukshetra war. He found himself strangely out of
place, all alone. Oh, yes, his mother was always around.

Not that life was too much better in the States. He had his own pet peeves. The food for one. His inability to blend into the
culture and learn the rules of American football and never being able to find out who or what Pat Buchanan was. Did he really fit in ? Or was he in Limboland ? Where does he belong ?

He looked up. The old Sri Ganesh Provisions Store, a reknowned landmark in his neighborhood, had now become Sri Ganesh Computer Centre. A cow was starting to nibble at his shirt. He pulled away. He was trying to make sense out of all this.

And it suddenly hit him. Like a thunderbolt. He wasn't unwanted. He realized that there really was a place where he belonged. His own place in the sun. Where he was no longer uncomfortable about some of the things going on around him. Where he was surrounded by people just like him. The world of Soc.Culture.Indian ! He resolved that the first thing he was
going to do upon getting back is to read a whole month's postings that would have piled up. The air suddenly seemed to
have cleared and Ajay started humming "Ek do teen char panch....", unable to figure out where to stop.

Man, isn't he in for a pleasant surprise when he sees his pet topic, IIT vs Non IIT discussed on the net !


Copyright Ramesh Mahadevan