Friday, January 13, 2006

Clash of the Worlds

N and I were at the DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles) a couple of days after we got to the US to get our car license tags reissued.

We took a number to get in line, I filled out the application form and we sat in the row of chairs facing the 17-odd customer service counters. Christmas decorations were everywhere - green imitation pine streamers hung from the doors, windows and ceiling, red bows punctuating them every two feet or so, and red stockings hung from every counter with the name of each employee written in shiny colorful markers across the white furry borders.

As we sat waiting, we read the names on each of the stockings. When we came to the one with lettering in gold-colored marker, I blinked. The name looked like it had been written in Kannada. I blinked again, but it wouldn't go away.

I asked N to go up closer to the stocking and see if it was written in Kannada. He looked at me like I was nuts ("You've got to be kidding, mom"), but he went to the stocking and looked. It said Safiana. In English, of course.

Snippets of conversations I could not catch in crowded places seemed like they were spoken in Kannada. I looked around and there was not a single Indian face to be seen. It's not just me. On this trip, N sometimes thought he heard Kannada too.

This was not the first time my two worlds have clashed in my head. When we're driving around in the US on a stretch of road empty of other vehicles, with relatives or our Indian friends in the car, listening to a Hindi CD, it comes as a complete shock to me when we come to a traffic signal and there are cars with non-Indian faces in them.

We're not in Kansas anymore, Toto.

And my brain doesn't just transplant India into the US. The reverse works very well too.

A few months ago I was at my uncle's house in Bangalore for a pre-wedding family get-together (my cousin was getting married). I was dressed up in Indian clothes, of course, with bindis going a mile up on my forehead and bangles clanging on my wrists. On the way back home I needed to stop at the grocery store for something.

As I was leaving my uncle's house, an image flitted across my head. I was going to show up at the grocery store in all my Indian finery. Just a thought. And an awareness that I would get a lot of stares and smiles and perhaps some questions.

A second later it struck me.

Duh! I'm in India! I'm not going to the local Safeway, I'm going to Monday to Sunday!

17 comments:

Mandar said...

ha ha ha!! well written, sujatha.

i also keep "hearing" kannada words when people are actually speaking either spanish or english here!

Abhi said...

Well , to be stupidly honest , still havent read your post.Was googling about the track "streets of philadelphia" by bruce springsteen and landed on a post you wrote in august last year.The way u captured your excitement and anxiety on landing there was just so so engrossing that had to comment before reading any more :)

MumbaiGirl said...

Hmmm. Happens to me too.

Sujatha said...

Mandar and MG, glad to have some fellow "hearers"!

Abhinav, thank you. :)

Manu said...

I thought you'd moved to India for good? So are you back here permanantly?

karrvakarela said...

Really well-written. I don't think it's so much of a clash as it is a privilege, though, the facility of living in several worlds at the same time. It certainly makes life a lot more interesting.

As Robert Herrick wrote,


"Here we are all, by day; by night we're hurled
By dreams, each one, into a several world."

Sujatha said...

Hi Manu, we're here in Bangalore for a couple of years and plan to go back to the US once the stint is done here...

KK, thank you. And that's a lovely line...

chappan said...

Suj
Never happened to me. But I have never stayed away for more than a few weeks. Good writeup.
Sourin

Charu said...

welcome back... you are once again in the country where people dress up to go to the beach, remember? :)

Anjali said...

:)
I know what you mean - it happens to me too, in a more minor sort of way ... having gone back and forth between Delhi and Bangalore I often find the two cities merging in my mind. When I moved to Delhi 3 years ago I often used to make plans to go to Karavali for dinner, only to find with a start that Karavali was several hundred miles away. And so on ... with roads, with grocery stores, with movie theatres ...

It's high time technology allowed us to do a "beam me there, Scottie" isn't it?

Sujatha said...

Charu, :))))

Anjali, "beam me up Scottie" sounds like a fantastic idea!

Ash said...

Very nicel described, Sujatha ! The shift in minset is certainly wierd to deal with it :)

Sujatha said...

Sourin, this has never happened to me when I've traveled to a completely new country. This probably happened b/c both the US and India are home.

Ash, thanks.

Michael Higgins said...

Hi Sujatha
Interesting story. That wait at the DMV was probably horrendous. Next time, try doing it online. Its easy.

Sujatha said...

Hi Michael, the wait was not long at all. In fact, after all this time spent in India, the whole experience was quite non-horrendous. We couldn't get the work done online because of the limited time we had. We had to have the tags straight away.

Mallika said...

Sujatha,

As you can probably tell, i was reading some of your old posts. Its funny you mention the stopping at a traffic signal incident. I live in the bay area (in California) where its actually the opposite. When I stop at a traffic signal, more often than not, there are actually Indian faces in adjacent cars!

-Mallika

Sujatha said...

Mallika, why do I find that not hard to believe! :)

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