Food for thought

Being raised a vegetarian, life’s traumas are aplenty. Especially, if you’re trying live to in a country, where being vegetarian or vegan (both are different species by the way) is a niche. It’s like living in a Salman Khan movie where he doesn’t take his shirt off. Or Mallika Sherawat. It’s almost a rare occurrence to find a vegetarian only restaurant or even one that has more than one non-meat delicacy on its menu, unless you live in a neighborhood teeming with hipsters with their cliched attires and attitudes. Ordering low fat with 33% by volume skimmed 2% milk only coffee latte. The coffee beans have to be freshly roasted in the heat that is generated in your leather pants on a normal Phoenix, AZ summer afternoon. Apologies for that diatribe against hipsters but it’s hard not to like them.. Maybe it’s just me. YOLO. *carefully finds the nerve on self’s wrist for quick impact*

Hailing from a country where, apparently, two aspects rule the roost when it comes to being considered good looking. The first being skin color. With an immense amount of self control, I shall sidestep that minefield temporarily. The second being, of course, physical appearance. Granted when I was in graduate school in Missouri, between juggling 3 jobs, courses that would make one cry tears of acid, and projects that are best left undescribed , food ranked low on the priority along with sleep. Being a lethargic asshole, I would much rather have sleep than food. But being denied food, my stomach protested by making sounds that can only be described as a Himesh Reshammiya orgasm. Without the shitty hat obviously. When the stomach wants, the stomach wants. So I complied. In a state where steaks are served in a buffet, my gluttony ensued in the ravenous, dark confines of my lab. Gormandizing on my 1/2 lb Cheese burrito with beans instead of beef, smuggled under my shirt from Taco Bell. Yes, eating at Taco Bell was considered a step down from eating at a restaurant. Peers said the consequences would be dire. I failed to see their point. The burrito was delicious.

A few months on, the dire consequences started to show. Specifically, on the hips, stomach, ass. And of course bowel movements. The Fire sauce had worked it’s magic. Cue a trip back home to India, where the first question upon arrival was, “How was the flight?” And the second one being, “Did you eat the entire country’s supply of food?” It was a common trend that I encountered all throughout my annual plastic smile visits to “well-wishers” who keep taunting the fact that I genuinely represented the “Pizza and Burger eating” culture that the United States was renowned for. It was hard enough keeping track of the taunts, so I refrained from explaining how tacos and burritos were made. The concept of “putting on” is still alien to me. I understand people care about my deteriorating image, and the fact that I needed 2 cameras to take a photograph or the person had to be standing atop a hill so I could fit in the frame, but I do realize the fact that bending down is now actually a chore. Steps were being taken.

California had given a lot more options. “The Land of Hipsters and Hollywood”, as it’s affectionately called, had a lot more culinary options for me to gobble upon. The healthy lifestyle can wait. I got new money flowing in courtesy my job. Years of living like a student on Maggi (Ramen) and Burritos had run its course. Now it was time for real food. Extra cheese? Why the fuck not?! Picture this. An extremely obese guy is watching a porno. He is finished when the pizza guy delivers the pizza in the movie. Or like the first 5 minutes of any Sunny Leone or Uday Chopra movie. The enthusiasm to fatten myself lasted about that long. I was soon turning into THAT fat guy. Seeing all those beautiful people on the beaches inspired me no end. This fat and this disgusting lifestyle had to go.

This took me to the wonderful world of the internet where opinions were like assholes. Every single asshole had one. I started typing “how to” and google spontaneously detected my immense self loathing and possibly heard the creaking of the chair I was sitting on. It prompted, “How to lose weight, you fat loser”. Google always knows best. Diet plans were aplenty. Atkins, Dukan, South Beach, Stillman to name a very select famous few. None of these had what I wanted. I wanted the ability to eat whatever the heck I wanted and also lose weight. “Does eating count as exercise?”, was my next question to Google. It said, “If you want to die by 30, and have that written as an epitaph to you, then yes. Eating is an exercise.” Point well and truly made. I had to move my fat carcass off the couch that was reserved for video games and take it to the nearest gym.

Then came the move to Virginia. This is a state that can only be described best on a psychiatrist’s couch with dolls. At least the part that I was moving to. To celebrate a friend’s birthday, we asked him where he wanted to eat. He suggested a steak house. Not just any steak house, a steak house where you could choose the steak you wanted. Some of these steaks were as big and red as something that would feature in a M. Night Shyamalan movie or the latest Saw remake. When all my friends were busy choosing their steaks of choice, I was busy fiddling around with the free groundnuts that they had offered us. Then we sat down, and the server came by to ask us what we wanted as our sides. Cue my standard response, “Do you have anything that does not have meat in it?” I can see the rolling of her eyes and instant judgement on her part, while she was thinking, “Do these people not read English? Why would you come to a steak house and ask for vegetarian food?” But her mouth, thankfully tried to look for options. A salad maybe? No that has bacon bits. How about some fries? No, that’s fried in cow lard. Do you  consider fish to be meat? All I had was a beer and fried onions. Make that 3 beers.

I was fortunate to learn how to feed myself by cooking food that resembled something like a potato that tried to commit suicide in a shallow pan with a side of onions and garlic. Yet, the taste was divine. I had come to tell myself that I was an excellent cook. Delusion was my only escape from the nightmarish culinary experience so far in Virginia. So hear one, hear all. All I have to say is eat all you want, when you want. Yet, ensure that bending is not really a chore.

My motto is “People eat to live, I live to eat”. 165 lbs and counting. (Completely made up number)


The Devil, Deep Sea and everything in between

There is an old Indian (not Native American) saying about a washer-man’s donkey. Neither here nor there. To quote, “Dhobi ka kutta, naa ghar kaa, naa ghat ka”. A similar plight befalls me, and may be other Indians who come to the USA, or any other country for that matter to pursue an education and then, probably, a career.

Maybe you aren’t one of those who suffer from this state of indecisiveness and confusion about your identity. And to you Sir/Ma’am, I tip my proverbial hat.

However, I still face these dilemmas and occasional moments of anxiety, more Idle Mind, Devil’s workshop and what not, regarding my identity. Who am I? What on earth am I doing here? Is it all worth it? Is this what they call a mid-life crisis? Am I already in my mid-life? Will I die soon? AAAAAAAHHHHHHHH!!!!

The story began around 6 years ago, when thoughts about studying in the USA were triggered by a bunch of wanna-be engineers and encouraged by a couple of seniors, who called it the best thing since sliced bread. I like Sliced Bread, the lethargic <insert dignified word for asshole> that I am. Ideas about “The American Life” portrayed by actors in the legendary series “American Pie” did make the choice relatively easier. One thing led to another, and I was a GRE and TOEFL exam in, with reasonable scores and a substantial amount of moolah invested. Little did I know that was a drop in the ocean. Ha ha sucker.

To make a long story short, I chose my destination and Missouri it was. Visa acquired, flight tickets booked. One way ticket to paradise. Couple of cronies alongside. 16 hours of non-stop flying. A few tears shed. A few blessings granted. Jet-lagged, exhausted, sane-ish but still alive. Let’s get this show on the road. Arrived at St. Louis. When white people come to India, they are greeted with flower garlands, Vermillion powder and general merriment. It was only fair that I should expect the same. No? Ha ha ha.. Sucker…. A few Indian people from the University’s Indian Association picked us up, and I am truly grateful. There is no better sight to weary eyes than to see somebody similar in a foreign land.

Then begins the rat race called Grad School. The first few days are spent in trying to convince a professor that you are good enough to work for him (read open to Slavery). It’s not just you though, who is open to slavery. Slaves are aplenty. Ask any Indian Grad student who drools at the prospect of being “funded”. Fiendish tricks and behind-the-back business taught me a valuable lesson. There are no friends till you/they get funded. Jealousy is but an emotion. Then there is the career fair, where free stuff aside, students are pitted against each other for that one elusive internship. I can only imagine the evil corporations rubbing their hands in glee. A couple of Indian festivals celebrated, Diwali, Holi. A few photos with new found pals, lots of traveling with those pals. Yeah. Being an Indian away from India with other such like-minded people isn’t half-bad now is it? Ha ha ha sucker.

Graduated with the whole “Shabang “, another few photos with the pals, all dressed in graduation attire. Congratulations all around. This is what it was all about. I am making something of myself. Get employed, by hook or by crook, pray to all those Gods you never knew existed. The one thing you never want to happen to you is, Going back to India and work there. OH MY GODS!!! That’s the ultimate blasphemy. That situation must not befall upon my worst enemy. In case, you missed the tone of my text, it was sarcastic. Then, you are in a new place, new city, new people, new environment. You are a part of the corporate world. Sounds fancy, doesn’t it?

And then. It happened. The first trip back to the Motherland. Swadesh type emotions running through your mind. “Yeh jo desh hai tera” is on replay. I still expected flower garlands, and Vermillion marks on my forehead. Ha ha ha.. Sucker.. Parents, and maybe a few close friends at the airport picking you up.

Question 1: You came alone? We thought you would have a white girl and a kid in the cradle. Response: Indian advertisements have taught you well. I am now, officially, a stereotype.

Question 2: You are so chubby. And have also “put on” (read you grew fat). Response: Ummm Ummmm… Shit happens?

Question 3 (Friends only): So, how many chicks did you nail? Did you lose your virginity? What was your first time like? Response: Yes, Work is fine but a little hectic. Thanks for asking.

When you get home and start unpacking. “What did you get for me?” is the question of the day. Then you begin to surface in the streets, meeting people you hadn’t seen in a while and then it begins.

“Oh my god. I can see you live in America. The burgers and pizza are starting to tell.”

“You finished degree, and are working now. Are you going to get married?”

“Tell me the truth. You are dating some white chick, right?”

“How much money do you make? What does that mean in Rupees?”

My question is How is this any of your business. Apparently, privacy and space are unknown terms. One remark from me questioning their questions, leads to taunts about how I have been Americanized. My mistake, asking when the KFC opened in Bandra. The responses being we have the same chains of restaurants as you guys do. We are on par if not better than you guys.

The line between an Indian in India and an Indian abroad had well and truly been wiped out. I had been disowned by my own country, my own people. And I sure as heck can’t be considered an American, the fact that I am brown with an accent does me no favors. So fitting in is always going to be a challenge.

So eventually, who am I? JUST ANOTHER FOB!! (Fresh Off Boat)

The boy who wanted a job – Part I

Once upon a time, there was a kid in the year 2005 who dreamt of studying further. “Indian education system sucks”, he said. “I wanna go to the land of opportunity. U.S.A. Everyone gets a high paying job there and you get to learn a lot too.” Blissfully unaware of the what the future held in store, he studied day and night for his GRE and TOEFL exams. He also had to avoid any KTs (arrears, backlogs call it as you may) in his engineering college for the fear of not getting a good school in the US.

GRE and TOEFL were done. Decent scores were gotten. Now the dream was beginning. He thought, ” Not bad scores. Maybe I am good enough to study in the US.” He started searching for graduate schools online for his area of interest. He narrowed his search down to 9 schools. And then he applied to these schools and waited for those priceless admits.
“Wow, I got an admit. Am I lucky or what!!!!” The visa formalities and the flight tickets are booked. “USA here I come. I am one in a million. I love my country but I think I might like USA better.” And so he set off. Onward with his journey to seek a better life for himself.
He worked hard and hard. Never in his life would he have worked this hard for anything. But ofcourse, he knew he would get a job. Once he graduated with a coveted MS degree, he was looking for that high paying job. He looked here, he looked there, he looked everywhere. But a high paying job was no where in sight. “High-paying?? Bah… Anything will be fine now. I just want to be employed. I dont care even if it takes me 20 years to repay my loan back.”, sighed he.
Will he get that job he worked so hard for? Stay tuned for further updates. 😉

This post is part of the contest A letter to yourself.. on