Most people in the States think of India as some sort of extension to Arabia. They think of it as a land of harems and camels and that is a fact that used to bug me a lot during my early days here. Now I am somewhat used to the colossal levels of ignorance that is regularly on exhibit here about what lies outside the borders of the USA. The concept of India is such a vast topic that I do not even dare to venture into the finer details of the various languages, religions and regionalities with my American pals here. I usually make do with just "No, we are a completely different nation from the Gulf nations."
But I really enjoy being the window to India for people who are really interested in finding out about India. I recently talked to the son of an American colleague of mine who had chanced across a story from the Mahabharata and was really interested in it. I recommended a few books on the epic and simplified the concept for him equating it to the comic-book superheroes that he was more used to. In a nutshell, I told him, these are our comic superheroes with a religious twist to them. He was amazed and I was even more so at being able to explain the idea behind the epic in such a way! I'd never really thought of the Mahabharata that way until I had to explain it to a foreigner.
Then there is another guy who is really into martial arts and surprised me one day with questions on "Kalaripayattu". I gave the information that I had about this obscure Kerala martial art which didn't amount to much of course. But it was interesting to explain to someone what Kerala is and of the infinite identities that reside within the framework of India.
One evening after office, I received a call from a call centre promoting some educational course or the other. The accent was Indian and the guy on the other end of the phone didn't try to fake any other. Upon asking I found that they were based in Ambala. Ambala being just half an hour from my college days in Kurukshetra, it was like a call from home. The guy on the phone with me was in fact a fresher just out of Mullana engineering college, Ambala waiting for Accenture to live up to the promise that it had given to him on campus. He was on the call-centre job for some extra pocket money while Accenture delayed his joining date. His voice was full of hope for his future as he discussed the courses he was taking to further his career and my opinion on them. Given the economic downturn, I am not very sure when the company will finally call them in but I hope for his sake that they do so soon.
On my trip to San Francisco, I had missed my 6:00 AM flight out to San Fran thanks to oversleeping (No surprises there). As my taxi sped on towards Logan and my watch said 6:05 AM, my call went through to the United Airlines helpdesk in India. What was supposed to a $580 ticket (I had missed my flight and was calling after the flight had taken off, so technically my first ticket was already void) got to me free. And I have no doubts in my mind that this was only because the girl at the other end recognized an Indian voice at this end and did her best to save my ***. I was on the phone for 20 minutes as she frantically tried to set me up and in the end, she did get me in on the 8:30 AM flight in place of a last minute cancellation. I have always been proud to be an Indian but on that day, I was just glad that I was an Indian.