Wednesday, October 24, 2007

The ice man

The rooster cries, birds sing and my alarm clock beeps, all at a time as i lay wide awake on my bed with excitement of visiting another country for the first time. I had packed all my stuff the previous day leaving nothing for the last minute. The day started with excitement since it is my first air travel. It was mid January 2005 and was feeling a bit cold when i opened the main door in the early hours and i had no idea what Newcastle is about to offer during early morning hours as i will be in this place the same time next day.

As soon as i reached the airport i was wondering how the interior of an aircraft look like. Having watched a few Hollywood movies, i was under an impression that everyone is given a luxurious seat for travel. As soon as i entered the Air India flight to Mumbai, my smiles faded as i went past the 'best air hostess of the flight' standing like a 'Naidu hall' doll welcoming everyone entering the flight. It was sickening to see seats that are as ordinary as a 'Thiruvalluvar' bus as i made my way to the last seat.

The flight slowly made its way to the runway while i was watching the terminal through the window. Suddenly, the engines were roaring and the flight started accelerating rapidly in the runway. I was not sure, at that time, whether there was a problem with the flight or it is the normal procedure for a take off. As it took off, i was frightened to see the streets and houses becoming smaller and smaller. I closed my eyes and tried not to look out of the window for a while when the flight was stuck with turbulence. Since i was seated in the tail end , i was feeling the turbulence even more. I was stuck with panic and was feeling sick to my stomach while everyone in the flight was calm and doing their stuff. Everyone, except me of course. It almost took ten hours for me to actually spend two hours in the flight.

While boarding the flight to London in Mumbai, when i saw the Boeing 747 jumbo jet that is about to carry us, i was wondering how an object of this size can actually fly and stay afloat for hours together. Again, seated in the tail, i closed my eyes tightly and prayed that everything is just fine. Flying in bigger jets is fine since it is not caught by turbulence too often. When landed in London Heathrow, i felt like i had reached my destination at last. Totally unhurt.

There was a mountain of difference with British Airways crew when compared with their Air India counterparts when it comes to customer service. I was greeted with smiles all around before the flight, on board and after the flight. It was an enjoyable flight for just about an hour. ' Weather in Newcastle is -1 degrees with a bit of low clouds and strong breeze... Not too bad for this time of the year' announced the pilot as we were about to descent. 'What?!' was my first reaction as i reached for my jacket. True to his words, a chill ran down my spine as soon as i got off the plane. A Leather jerkin, a pair of gloves were not enough to control myself from shivering. Chillness was penetrating the trousers and then little muscles and straight into the leg bones.

I took a taxi to go to the Bed and Breakfast not sure how much it will cost me, not sure whether taxi drivers in this country are cheats, not sure how much time it takes to reach the destination, not sure whether my English can be understood by him. I had a look at my watch, it was 4PM and it was raining and it was pinch dark. I was thinking that either my watch or my brain is faulty. But neither is. Crazy land!

I was a bit reluctant to tip the driver as i don't know what the custom is in this country. After unpacking, i decided to roam around the town for a while. Took off with single layer clothing and walked approximately five meters from the main door before rushing back in. I felt a sharp current penetrating my cheek, thigh and back. Went back to my room, redressed with four more layers and then roamed around the town. For precisely 90 seconds before running back in.

Dinner was in an adjacent Indian restaurant. I was going through the menu a few times as i had never seen those items in a menu card in India. It was an ordinary dinner for which i ended up paying 18 pounds. I was
totally not sure, at that time, whether the amount is nominal. When i opened my wallet, i only had 20 pounds in it which left me wondering whether a two pound tip is enough or not. I thought there is no point in thinking as i don't have any more money. I placed the money on the table and left the place before anyone could spot me.

Now that i am penniless on the first day in a new country, i was lucky enough to spot a fellow TCSer staying in the same B&B. He took me to his room and was sipping a can of Budweiser. He was talking about different varieties of beer in the country. He was proud to show three more cans of beer he acquired earlier but was completely bewildered when he spotted 24 cans of Fosters in my room later that night.

Finally, i went to bed realising that there are no birds and roosters to wake me up the next day.It was a long eventful day as i was traveling with time. I couldn't count how many meals and how many drinks i had all day which was filled with amusements, excitement, little disappointments and fear all within a matter of hours. At the end of the day, i survived all of them and stood solid like an ice man.

PS: Now that i am a bit experienced in flying, over the past three years, i am not scared of it anymore. Ah! well...

Monday, April 23, 2007

A Trip of my life

Chapter 1 – Taking off

I was smiling on top of the world with joy when I clicked the submit button after entering my credit card details in A few anxious seconds and then came the confirmation for the payment I had made. It was a moment to remember since this was the first time I booked a flight in I have made a few thousand bookings over the months but all of them were made in British airways test systems using a dummy card. Also, this happened to be my ticket for a maiden trip to the United States of America.

I was going through the confirmation mail for the booking ten times to make sure that the personal data is reflected properly in the PNR. Now I had the opportunity to check a few pages and applications in the live site, which thrilled me. It was sad to see a disabled change booking link for my booking, but upgrade booking to the next class and purchasing excess baggage was available for me. I didn’t want to check both of them since I need to pay money to use these services. Instead, I started concentrating on the requesting seats and meals, which were free.

I selected a seat and a special Asian Vegetarian meal, then changed both of them several times before settling for the choice I made in the beginning. Then, I was frantically looking for the services that were free for the customers. But there weren’t many since I made a cheap fare booking.

It was only two days before by departure when I realised that I have not started the preparation activity for the trip. Apart from the crazy work in, of course. I had to look for a suitcase or a shoulder bag or any other thing that can carry my clothes safely. But I was not sure what clothes I should take so as to decide which baggage I should carry. Finally made a decision after closing my eyes and started packing. While doing so, at 11PM, well past my sleeping time, a sudden thought came to my mind that I am going to a country where immigration laws are very strict and that made me to concentrate on the most important paper work. I had been to Europe quite a few times, so I know what papers I should carry, but US is US. You never know what to expect until you experience it. Started placing all the papers carefully in my hand baggage after ticking the items off using a checklist. After the process, one item in the checklist was unchecked. It’s my UK work permit. I couldn’t find it anywhere in the house so I thought I had missed it somewhere in India. Probably. But I was not sure.

‘Do I need a UK work permit to enter into the US?’ I was asking myself. It shouldn’t be a problem under normal circumstances, but ah! Will it be a problem while returning to the UK? Well, I don’t know. But if at all it is a problem, it is going to be after the trip is complete. The trip had expectations of huge magnitude, as I was about to meet a few of my very close friends after quite a long time. ‘Silly reason to worry about’ I told myself and hoped that everything would be just fine.

Chapter 2 Touching down

British airways flight 1335 to London started promptly on time, against all the odds. Domestic flights from or to the London Heathrow airport are prone to be late due to unpredictable weather conditions and huge incoming traffic. Heathrow is the busiest airport in Europe and if an aircraft misses its allocated landing slot, they probably have to circle around Heathrow a few times before finding another slot to land.

Pre-selection of seats in helped immensely to find an economy seat which is better than economy plus. A spicy curry was served as a meal in the flight, again courtesy of free special meal option. Six hours flight seemed much longer than six hours. I thought it was around ten, but it finally was counted as two because of the time difference.

‘Please enter the US immigration form as clearly as possible since incomplete forms will be rejected by the officials and you will be asked to join the back of the queue’ the cabin crew member warned through the microphone. I took extra care to fill the forms and stood last in the queue as I didn’t want to give the officials an opportunity to put me at the back. Visa official asked me a few questions and permitted me to enter into the United States of America. Sun was shining bright in the evening Boston sky as the temperature was a touch lower than ten degrees.

I collected my baggage, an eight kilogram shoulder bag, and walked through the exit. Then picked up my mobile phone and called Raju, my friend, or perhaps more than that for me. We know each other since I was five years old. Old is not the right word, perhaps I knew him when I was five years new to the world, brand new indeed.

No one in the world can guess that he lives in the US for about a decade. He always prefers to keep things as simple as possible and tries his best not to give up the cultural value of our country. Always dressed in simple clothes, rides a Honda when he can afford a BMW, chooses to sleep in floor instead of a bed, makes friends at all levels, and respects them. Not too bad for a person who happens to be the Vice President of the biggest bank in America. Such is the simplicity of this person. Perhaps I wanted to be like him one day.

I took my mobile out and called him to pick me up from the airport. ‘ I am in Terminal A’ he said and it took around ten minutes to travel around the five terminals in Boston Logan International airport. It was around seven in the evening, sun setting in the mild orange horizon when we started driving out of the airport. We drove past a tunnel which never seemed to end.

‘When can I see light in other side of the tunnel?’ I asked out of curiosity. ‘Patience’ he said and we drove under the tunnel for a small matter of one and a half miles. It was surprising to learn that we were actually driving under a back water bay. For one and a half miles. As soon we came out of the tunnel, it was a whole different world. Wide roads, tall buildings clustered together for a long stretch, long bridges and everything came in sight from nowhere. I was peeping my head with fascination for tall buildings. ‘Which was the tallest building I had ever seen before coming to Boston?’ I was asking myself. It could well be LIC of India building in Chennai, because I cannot think of any other tall building in Newcastle. Such is the magnitude of elation I was under at that time. Raju can see that clearly on my face and promised me that there are buildings that are bigger and more clustered than Boston in New York. It was beyond my imagination at that time and could not wait to see those mega structures. I was wondering whether the roads in downtown Boston had ever felt the warmth of sunshine as the skyscrapers from all four directions constantly shield them.

We had dinner in Olive Garden, which is one of the popular Italian restaurants in Boston. Friday night fever was clearly evident around the restaurant area as lots of pairs were boozing after dining after boozing. It was very easy to order an item from the menu card because there was only one item from each section for vegetarians. Had a nice meal, couldn’t actually remember how many meals I had since morning.

It was astonishing to see the apartment culture all around on the way back home. Raju was staying in a nice apartment which had its own swimming pool, tennis courts and other recreational facilities. As soon as we entered the house, it was a kind of shock for me since I had not seen any house that is as clean as this one. ‘Ohm namo Narayanaya’ chanting can be heard in the background giving the house a perfect atmosphere to live. A large balcony overlooking the swimming pool , tennis courts and the apartment car parks, which can be used during spring and summer, was nothing less than stunning.

Spoke to my parents and my friend Surendar who lives in Connecticut that night and finally went to bed by around 2AM. It was a long day, more than thirty hours, the day I couldn’t remember how many meals I had all day, couldn’t remember how long I slept all day, a long day filled with full of fascination, excitement and joy. Perhaps a sign of good things that was about to come in the coming week.

Chapter 3 New York

It was half seven when early morning sunshine came through the sunscreens of the huge balcony and hit me gently. Half seven is early morning for me but work up mainly due to the jetlag sustained from the previous day.

I went into the shower half an hour later. The shower is a special one, very warm water of huge force was hitting me. It was refreshing so I allowed it to hit me for around half an hour. After the shower we called Surendar in Connecticut and asked him to get ready so as to receive us.

Whenever I woke Surendar up in Madras, I had to wake him up twice. Once to convert his deep sleep into normal one and once to wake him up from this ‘normal’ sleep. So we made sure that he has completely woken up before we started. It was an hour and half drive to Middletown, Connecticut. Interstate highway was busy with traffic all the way through. Different varieties of cars with different colors, structures, shapes were whizzing in the four lane roads. There were drivers driving slow in the fast lane and driving fast in the slow lane, few with mobile phones on their hands, few recklessly changing the lanes without indicating, a few were comfortably crossing the maximum speed limit, and few were thinking that they were driving like Hollywood stars in movies. It was astonishing to watch different kinds of cars and drivers all the way through to Middletown.

Surendar’s house is again a lovely single bed apartment. It has got a bedroom, kitchen and a living room. Living room has two mega sized sofas and a giant thirty six inches television, all taken from the next apartment’s thrash. So is the microwave in the kitchen.

‘We struggled a lot to bring this thing in’ he explained about their experience in bringing the television in. And they are still hopeful of getting a few more state of the art thrash items soon to fill their house. Not too bad for a house which earns in five figures every month.

He offered orange juice for us, which was not from the thrash. Probably. It was just about time for lunch so we decided to raid into the Udipi hotel in Middletown. ‘Udipi hotel?’ I asked with surprise. Yes, there is one in Middletown. There were lots of tamil people in the hotel and most of them from the IT companies working there. I felt joyous to be a part of that crowd, having sambar vada and masala dosa. We used to eat quite often in Valasaravakkam Udipi hotel but having lunch in US Udipi hotel was not even in the wildest of my dreams. This was one of the moments which made my trip to the US very special because I was getting something,like the people, the atmosphere, the taste of authentic south Indian food, which I can never imagine in any other tours.

All three of us headed towards New York after the special lunch. Another one and half hours drive with a fresh set of crazy highway drivers. Raju was showing us the million dollar apartments as we approached New York. Hugh traffic blocked us as we approached the city that never sleeps. I was thinking that it would take all night for the entire traffic to clear. It would be just about time for fresh set of traffic to pour in. No wonder the city never sleeps!

Skyscrapers were omnipresent in New York. An average building should be having more than fifty stories. I was wondering that doctors specialising in the neck strain should be running good business there. We parked the car near the ferry station for around 30 dollars for six hours. Robbery, I thought, but a legal one.

We took the free ferry service to Staten Island. Ferry station was crowded hence I was thinking that we had to miss the first and take the next. But the ferry that stood in the bank can take ten times the size of crowd that was present.

We went to the front deck of the ferry as I started taking photographs of the tall buildings in the bank. We were crossing a famous giant greenish lady who was standing all alone in an island holding a giant torch in her right hand called the statue of liberty.

We took the next ferry back from Staten island. This time we took the third floor seat in the ferry. It was fantastic to watch the sunset from there. On our way back we saw the green giant with a lighted torch. Our next mission was to go to the most famous place in New York. The New York Times Square. An underground rail took us to the times square. An electric train from tambaram to beach is much faster, cleaner and less noisy than the train we used in one of the biggest cities in the world.

The moment we came out of the underground station, I could see huge volume of people and lights all around, of all colours and of all the sizes. Wherever I turned, there were advertisements of its richest form. There were advertisement hoardings in a plasma screen which is around fifty meters in height and width. Hundreds of them. All the biggest companies in the world announce their brand richness through the size and quality of their adverts. I guess one street in times square can feed an average African state for an year. We roamed around all the streets for about a couple of hours reading and enjoying various advertisements and took photos wherever possible.

Took a taxi to go to the Saravana Bhavan for dinner. Most of the taxi drivers were driving recklessly across the streets yet they were in complete control of the vehicle. Perhaps a controlled recklessness. After dinner, we took another taxi to go to a place called ‘Ground Zero’. There was nothing in that place but a stretch of empty land. But once upon a time there were two very tall buildings called world trade centre which is now gone. A very sad site to watch for the locals indeed.

We took another taxi from ground zero, another ten minutes of reckless driving before we reached the place where we parked our car. It was almost midnight when we started towards NJ. One advantage of driving in the midnight is traffic, only less crazy highway drivers to worry about. We reached NJ by around one AM Sunday morning. Mr Vishy and his wife were waiting in their house to welcome us. We were offered coffee which we promptly declined by us because of the time of the night we have knocked their doors in. This family happens to be one of the hundreds of friends Raju knows and knows well in NJ.

One of the reasons I admired Raju is like there are one hundred families in a place who are ready to welcome him with two complete strangers by around one AM on a week end morning , and try to make him and the strangers comfortable by offering them whatever they can. How many people in the world have such high regards and reputation with people at all levels? It was quite astonishing and it helped me to look at the world and its people from a different angle. Another unique experience which I wouldn’t have got anywhere else.

It was another long day, second one in succession, so plenty of sleep was due. Ten second was all it took for me go into deep sleep that Saturday night, or technically Sunday morning.

Chapter 4 New Jersey Bridge water temple

Sunday started for us in the afternoon. Surendar and myself slept happily till it was eleven. When Surendar woke up, he was giving reactions like he was woken up at five in the morning. We took turns to take bath and got ready for lunch.

Raju took me to the basement of the house where Vishy has his office. He works as a scientist doing some research work on Aids and few other diseases. There was a pooja room as well in the basement, which is two times bigger than an average pooja room in madras. ‘Ohm namo narayanaya’ device was installed in the pooja room which gave it a classic ambience to worship.

Lakshmi, wife of Vishy gave us coffee and some hand cooked biscuits to start the day. We were getting ready for lunch in Saravana Bhavan. A small get together among the locals were organised for that event. A group of eleven adults and a handful of kids. One special thing about the kids in America is their English accent. A pure American one. When it comes out of a kid’s mouth it makes it even more special. Both Surendar and myself were a bit circumspect with those kids since we could not understand a few of the words they speak.

It was a fifteen minute drive from the house to the restaurant. Lakshmi was explaining us the recent developments in Edison, NJ on the way through. The streets, shops and parks were filled with Indians. It was hard to find a local for quite some time. ‘Raju, can you show me some Americans, for a change?’ asked Surendar from the back seat of the car. A couple of young American girls crossed the road just in front of us. Raju pointed those girls to Surendar and said he has spotted some locals. ‘I can find more of them in Goa than here’ he said. Everyone burst into laughter inside the car.

A big group gathered in the restaurant just after we arrived. It was nice to be a part of a big group like that since I had an opportunity to get in touch with a few of our guys in NJ. Lots of topics were discussed during lunch, from automobiles to politics in India. But we were not bothered as we were enjoying the occasion. It was very cold outside but that didn’t stop us from taking a dozen pictures in the car parking area. After waving goodbye to all we started our journey to a temple in Bridgewater.

It was hard to believe that a temple of highest quality was built and maintained for years. Ambience in the temple is better than an average temple in madras, or anywhere in India for that matter. Priests were imported from India for servicing these temples. They were given accommodation and allowances by the temple trust. We were discussing about the Navagraga inside the temple. Surendar was telling me that Navagraha consists of five planets, Sun , Moon and two snakes. The experience of being in that temple for a couple of hours was magnificent.

We were eager to take some pictures of the temple structure from the outside but poor weather stopped us. Also we were a bit late for our next destination. Hence we packed our things from Vishy’s house, who had been so lovely to tolerate us for a day, and started heading towards Middletown to drop Surendar off. But we stopped quite a few times in NJ to say hello to few of Raju’s friends. This process continued for a couple of hours so we can’t really remember how many stops we made before hitting the highway that can take us to Middletown.

We dropped Surendar off by around 11PM and headed towards Hartford where my sister lives. She lives with her husband Balaji, working for IBM, and a cute little six months old kid Pranav. They live in tenth floor of a ten floor apartment in downtown Hartford. We reached there well past midnight had something to eat and went to bed. It was the third consecutive extended day for me so again went into deep sleep in seconds.

Chapter 5 Hartford sister

After three days of sightseeing, I decided to have a quiet day with my sister and Pranav the entire day. Akka prepared pasta for breakfast. One major difference between this trip and my previous tours is the food I had. I never had food of this quality anywhere before and I never had food on time as well in my previous trips. Raju not only took care that we were having food on time all the days but also made sure that we go into quality places to eat.

Balaji left for work after breakfast. I was having a look at the Hartford downtown from the window, in fact half the downtown was visible from the window. After all it is a very big window in the tenth floor overlooking other skyscrapers in the downtown.

After three days of excitement, elation, surprises I was enjoying a quiet day. Took bath, brushed my teeth at half the pace I normally do. When I had completed my work, when I had nothing else to do, akka took three disks from inside and handed it to me. I missed their marriage since I was busy with my project in UK but now had a chance to look at the highlights in three compact disks. I was watching all three, without forwarding any of the scenes.

I took my camera out to take a picture of Akka, balaji and Pranav together. First, I took a picture of Akka and Pranav with full flash on. As soon as the picture was taken, I heard a beep sound from the camera for a second, a light blinked rapidly and suddenly the screen went off. My camera was dead and it was dead because the battery was dead. It was only the third day of my trip as I thought I had to live without my camera for the remaining seven days. I couldn’t give life to my battery due to the 110 volts system followed in America.

In the evening, I called Karthik, Vijay and Vishal who are working in Hartford insurance, just opposite to the apartment I was staying. Vijay came to our place on his way back home and took me to his apartment. It was amazing that the same three guys, along with me, were staying in the same house the previous year in Newcastle. Now it’s a different project, different location, different client, yet they stay together in the same house. I was thinking that I missed out this time. It was a wonderful two bedroom house with plenty of room. Plenty of room because they never bothered to buy any furniture in their house, not even a single chair. They didn’t even bother to take some furniture from the apartment garbage which most of our guys do. In most of the occasions, people even get a choice of neglected furniture to choose from.

Sleeping, eating, watching movies, browsing the net, relaxing, and littering were always done on the floor. I stayed with them for a night and followed their conventions to eat and sleep because always ‘In Rome do what Romans do’ and that is exactly what I did that night. At this moment, I started missing my camera already.

The next morning I woke up early and went back to my Akka’s house. I was feeling bad that I didn’t buy anything to Pranav, so gave him fifty one dollars in his hand out of which fifty was rejected which made me to feel a bit silly. It was a kind of feeling that cannot be explained even to myself. Probably I should have bought a chain or something similar to him and I thought cash is not the right option. Anyway, one valuable lesson learnt.

Balaji took me to the downtown where I took a bus to the airport for my next destination. I had a look at the weather in all the places I wanted to visit in US and Lexington is one place that had temperatures above twenty. I was happy that I am going to a place where I can move around without a protective layer of clothing.

Chapter 6 Lexington university

Cnandair Regional Jet, which can carry only fifty passengers, operated by North West airlines touched down in Lexington Blue grass airport by around four in the evening. I had travelled in bigger passenger jets like Airbus 747 and 777 quite a few times. But these smaller passenger planes always fascinated me. I was enjoying every second while I was in this flight. Blue Grass airport is small but magnificent. It was quiet since I landed in off peak time. Sun was shining brightly with a temperature of twenty eight degrees. For the first time in the trip, I buried my jacket deep in the baggage. Took a taxi and reached Krishna’s house in almost no time.

Krishna is studying Masters in University of Kentucky in Lexington. I don’t know what his major is, since we don’t talk about his studies mainly because it would be too technical for me. He worked for TCS for a couple of years and was staying with me in the same house in Newcastle for about five months. We, along with Karthik, had been to quite a few trips in UK. The most memorable one is the cycle trip in Edinburgh for a couple of days. We roamed around Edinburgh, which is a cycle friendly city, two full days almost covering every single street.

Krishna took me to the university the same evening. It is a beautiful one, very calm, trees all around, less traffic which made it a good place to study. We took a cycle to roam around the university that evening. It was nice and warm and probably the best conditions to drive. After studying bachelors in a low profile college, I was quite fascinated to see every single building, tree, playground, roads and students.

We went to a baseball game between Kentucky wildcats and another team from Virginia. A crowd of around thousand was gathered for that game, most of them from the university, which gave a very good atmosphere to watch it. The stadium had a giant screen which was showing the replays of the action in the field. There was a thunder storm warning, which was due to arrive in an hour. So, we left the stadium in the middle and headed back home before the game could complete. It really turned out to be a wise decision since it started raining with very high winds as soon as we reached home. Perhaps a thunder storm of the highest quality, I thought.

Storm got cleared overnight taking away the warm weather and sunshine along with it. Negative temperature returned again which made me to pick up the jacked which I buried in the baggage just the previous day.

It is hard life for almost all the Indians who are doing masters in the US. Most of them have to do part time work somewhere in the university to pay the tuition fees and to run the day to day life. Part time could be anything from lab assistant to waiting in a restaurant and these guys are called for these jobs any time in the day or night. Some of them work through the night for a mere eight dollars per hour. Apart from this they had to put in extra effort in academics to outrun the fellow foreign students to stay in contention for a campus job. Most of them don’t have a regular sleep and eating time. They sleep wherever they can and eat whenever they are hungry. It varies almost every day. In some rooms, guys don’t even meet their roommates for days together due to their schedules. A perfect example for a ‘hard-earned’ degree.

My arrival was a kind of welcome break for Krishna as it allowed him to free himself from this daily routine. We had lunch at one of the South Indian restaurants in Lexington. It was amazing to find a tamil restaurant in remote parts of the world. Tamil movie songs were played in big screens inside. A couple of locals were having lunch there. As they prepare to leave the place after lunch, one of them had a short look at the song that was played in the screen. One typical ‘ghana’ song involving Prabu deva and Jothika dancing in a desert was being played. He had a look at the screen for not more than three seconds, then looked away, shook his head in disappointment and walked away. God knows what he thinks about tamil film industry.

We went to a shopping mall and bought a couple of T-shirts, a cap which has ‘Kentucky Wildcats’ stamped on its head. We had Chinese food for dinner and roamed around the shopping centre, talking all the old and new stories about his university, our friends, our stay in Newcastle and many other. We talked and talked until the centre was closed that night. Being forced out, we went back to his house and I hit the sack quite early since he had some assignment work to complete for the next day.

The trip to Lexington was special in a way because I was able to see life in another dimension, which is entirely different from whatever I had seen over the past few days in US. It was so different that I would call this a ‘tour in a tour’. I thanked Krishna for being so wonderful over the past couple of days and headed towards the airport for a trip back to Boston.

Chapter 7 Back to Boston

United Airlines flight to Chicago was delayed by a couple of hours due to bad weather. Out of frustration, I asked the checkin guy for a free upgrade to economy plus in the flight which was given to me without any protest. I told myself that I should have asked for a first class upgrade. A ‘never-satisfied’ human attitude indeed.

After a four hours of bumpy flight I reached Boston in the evening. Raju picked me up from the Framingham bus station. We, along with Ayush’s family went out for dinner late in the evening to Batucchi’s. Pizza baked in this restaurant is very different because they use the brick oven that gives a different taste to it.

After dinner we planned to go to a special place in Boston. It’s the Massachusetts Institute of Technology or MIT in short, which happens to be one of the best universities in the world. People from all over the world strive and strive hard to get into this institution for years. Getting into this university, even for a couple of hours visit, gave me tremendous amount of joy. The anxiety inside me was unimaginably high that night. It was well past midnight when we reached the university.

The university building was a bit old but looked magnificent in the night. There were students in the labs working on their assignments, even in midnight. Perhaps, they wouldn’t have realised that its midnight already. It was amazing to watch their body language and their commitment. There were a few guys who almost inserted their heads inside the computer they were working on. We went past all such characters, peeped into a presentation room, switched on all the lights and took pictures. The presentation room is fitted with ‘State of the art’ facilities. We even took a picture like myself sitting in that presentation room and also like giving a presentation.

We invaded almost every class room and took lots of pictures. All the class room boards are filled with complex mathematical equations which a very few people in the world can understand. After an hour and a half, we started from one great university to another. This time it is Harvard University. Whatever description anyone gives for MIT applies to Harvard as well. Two great universities within a mile is unbelievable.

We couldn’t spend too much time in Harvard due to very cold weather. We were shivering badly but we managed to take one picture of a person called Mr Harvard who, some years back, found this university. We came out of the university and started driving in the downtown Boston. Raju took me to the second tallest building in Boston. It is a fifty two storied building where Prudential has its office. It just took a few seconds for the lift to take us up to the fifty second floor. The view of the city from that height was terrific. A mind blowing experience as I can see rich lights all around the city.

It was early morning when we reached back home after the adventures in the university. It was terrific since visiting MIT was one of my dreams for a long time. I went to bed soon and didn’t wake up until it was afternoon next day.

Raju was very adamant that I had to take homemade food at least one before I leave Boston. So he cooked rice, kootu, tomato paste for lunch. Every day in the tour, I was meeting new people, getting lots of surprises ever hour, ate all kinds of vegetarian foods possible outside and the only possible food that was missing in the list is home cooked food and that was also fulfilled now.

After lunch, we ventured again into the downtown Boston, this time in the traffic time. I saw the same places again, this time in the day light which looked a bit different. River Charles looked different in the afternoon for me. We went for a walk along a castle near the airport. Airport in Boston is special because it is built very close to the bay. Whenever the flight lands in Boston Logan International airport one gets a feeling like the flight is landing in water. We watched a couple of flights land and we took off from there. Our next destination was the Museum of Science.

We watched a hurricane movie in a iMAX theatre, which again is a first time for me. Then we watched fifty varieties of live butterflies, working of internal combustion engines, a few mathematical theories and a few theories on electricity. Then we were off to a planetarium where they thought us how to locate a north star and few other facts about the solar system and beyond.

A truly memorable day, yet again, this time in the museum. We had dinner in Pizza Hut and picked up Surendar who came from Connecticut to spend the week end with us. Raju had a lunch appointment on Saturday with a tamil family in Boston. We, along with Surendar had been to their home. The family has a couple of energetic kids with whom we had a wonderful time playing cricket, football, baseball, basketball and cycling all within a span of couple of hours. They had invited another guest, KK uncle for lunch. Raju introduced us to all in the house and suddenly asked whether KK knows who my father is.

‘Venkataraman’ he said straight away. I looked at him with astonishment for a while. How on earth a person in Boston knows my father in Valasaravakkam. That perhaps is the nature of my father, the way he moves with people is incredible. I had been so grateful to this guy for what he has given me. It’s not the money or the family dignity, but a kind of identity he has created for himself, which is being passed on to me. I will always be remembered as the son of my father no matter how big or how great I become in future.

Homemade lunch with a group of people was excellent. Another different experience. These might be small things from a neutral's perspective but I value them the most. After lunch we went to the Circuit city and bought a laptop, a Sony vaio, for myself and an iPod for my friend. We were on a shopping spree for an hour when Raju bought a formal shirt and pant for me. By this time, I already managed to lose my wildcats cap I bought in Kentucky. ‘Precision’ I thought since this was not the first time I am loosing the cap within three days of purchase.

After refreshing ourselves at home we went to the temple in Boston for Ayyappa pooja. The temple in Boston was serene and beautiful, similar to the Bridge water temple in NJ. We attended the pooja and then had free dinner in the temple. We watched Chandramuki movie after coming back home from the temple until midnight when I slept in the middle of the movie, without my knowledge.

Chapter 8 End of the tip... of my life

Sunday morning started with appam as breakfast from Ayush’s family. Delicious is the apt word to describe it as I never imagined that I will have appam as breakfast in the US. Again, the credit goes to Raju, and of course Ayush’s family, without whom I wouldn’t have had such a luxury.

When we were about to leave the house, Raju presented me a fifty dollar gift cheque. I wanted to protest, that he has done so much for me, something much more than I really deserve, but decided not to protest since there is no point protesting. I would lose ninety nine out of hundred battles with him and I seriously doubt that I would lose the hundredth one as well. So I accepted all the gifts and packed safely in my bag.

We headed to Randolph, another small town near Boston, for a lunch get together. Another big group of tamil families gathered for a lunch party. There are so many groups of tamil people but the amazing thing is Raju is in every single group. Perhaps he knows every single tamil family living, and lived, in Boston. Amazing.

There was an excellent lunch buffet, serving almost twenty varieties of food items. There were a few kids singing, playing piano and dancing. I also jumped into the act by singing one short song. But everyone was busy with their own work so didn’t receive a good response after my performance. I do take my singing seriously, even though I am poor at it, so felt a bit bad about the audience. Not only for me, even the kids got the same treatment.

We were running a bit late so we had to dash off to the airport for my return flight. Raju and Surendar dropped me in the terminal and were there till I completed all the formalities for the return flight.

Ten days went like hours for me as I had a chance to meet different kinds of people, tasted different varieties of food, got a chance to talk to a few great people, met some of my old friends who I thought will never meet again, visited a couple of wonderful temples and a few important landmarks in the US, learned a lot of important things from Raju once again, got inside two of the most prestigious universities in the world and most importantly got a chance to stay with Raju for the first time in around twenty years.All in one tour. An incredible tour with new experiences to remember almost every single day. This well and truly is the ‘Trip of my life’.