On arrival at the San Francisco international airport, I rushed, brushing past the other folks, to pick a luggage-trolley, in the now-or-never style that we are used to back in India. My son asked me to relax and wait for my turn.
Thereafter, all during the drive home, he briefed me (and my wife) on the “do’s” and “dont’s” while in the United States: be courteous, helpful, mingle, make friends. I took these in the right spirit and followed them.
To begin with, I discarded my customary dress code and switched over to a pair of shorts. Back home, any senior citizen in that attire would attract a second glance—less in admiration than in ridicule.
One of the briefings included that we should say “Hi” when there was any eye contact with a passerby. My wife and I practiced this, mostly during our daily morning walk.
One weekend our son decided to join us for the walk. When we greeted all six or seven walkers who passed by, he clarified to us that what he had actually meant was that we should greet if there was an eye contact, and not make it a point to establish eye contact with everyone who passed by. “You are too late,” I corrected him. “All of them are regular walkers, and we have already established rapport—not only with them, but with their accompanying dogs as well.”
Speaking of dogs, the other day during our walk, a lady stopped her car and asked us if we had seen her Beagle, which had been missing since early morning. We said we had not seen one, but promised to get back to her upon spotting it, if she cared to give her contact number. The very next day, we spotted a dog—or, the dog spotted us, to be precise—and it followed us through our six rounds of the park, and up to our doorstep. We guessed this must be the lady’s dog, and rang her up. She rushed in, but said this was not Beagle.
We felt sorry for her. The following weekend, while window-shopping in the mall, we stumbled upon a shop that traded dogs, cats, and other pets. We went inside out of curiosity. We saw one cage marked Beagle. “Here is Beagle, the dog that lady had lost,” we told our son victoriously. Guessing that I was all set to dial the lady’s number all over again, he hastened: “Dad, beagle is a breed and not the name of a dog.” Saddened though, my wife and I consoled ourselves that we at least had intended to be helpful, and well intended is half done, they say.
Within the community of Indian Americans, we got opportunities by the dozen to interact, thanks to the host of “bring your parents also” kind of invitations that my son and daughter-in-law received. On all such occasions, my sole aim was to look around for someone to make friends with—somebody in my age group, the senior citizen clan or thereabouts. So far the count has reached three. One is a scientist of oncology, with quite a few publications to his credit. While he wrote scientific books to enlighten his specific medical community, I marketed, until retirement, those very kind of health-related publications (with no clue whatsoever as to their contents), to the unsuspecting. Thus we shared a common bond. The second is an industrial engineer by qualification and electronics engineer by profession—a replica of my second son’s bio data. An area of commonality, again. The third is an 80 year old, and music brought us close—he was good at singing and I, at listening.
The neighborhood. The take-off was a little slow, but sure. Confined to the home as we are for most part of the day, the interaction has been more with the homemakers than with their husbands. Beginning with a “hi, how do you do? the weather is pretty warm isn’t it,” each relationship has graduated to exchange of home-made eatables, followed by tête-à-tête. One of the neighbors has adopted two African-American children and two Caucasian kids. Another has sponsored the education of two Nepalese children. The elder one is about to go to college, and the lady sought our views on getting him admission in a medical college in India.
As the date for our departure nears, Cathy, Sandra, Julia, Eleana, and the other neighbors have all become such good friends with us that they, on their part, pine to visit India, and we look forward to welcoming them. They no longer identify India with snake charmers and elephants. As for my wife, she has already mentally re-decorated our guest room for such a possible visit.
V.V. Sundaram retired from the UN system after 35 years of service in the publishing field. He taught marketing for postgraduate students in Book Publishing, and has written articles for leading Indian newspapers.