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When in San Ramon, Do as the Indians Do
G V Krishnan, 67, is a retired Times of India Correspondent settled in Mysore. During his 20 years with TOI he had worked in New Delhi, Bhopal, Chandigarh and Chennai. Earlier he was on the staff of the National Herald, New Delhi. During the sixties Krishnan spent three years in the UK, where he did varied jobs - packer in a read-made garments outfit; post office clerk; reporter-cum-teaboy, 'India Weekly', London; sub-editor, 'Northern Echo', Darlington; editor, 'Afro-Asian Echo' , a London fortnightly brought out by a publisher from Nigeria. A graduate in Economics from the Delhi School of Economics, Krishnan writes for and hosts, a civic initiative that connects the Mysore-connected. 
San Ramon isn’t Rome. This is a discovery I made this past couple of weeks visiting our biradhri in the US...

"Every other evening the family watches an after-dinner movie at our San Ramon living room... ...Bollywood films that I don’t usually get to watch back home in Mysore.

My wife need not forego her daily fix of TV serials - Fame Gurukul, Khana Kazana. My America-born daughter-in-law fancies Astitva on Zee channel. Udaya is the favored channel of her parents, who have been in the US for nearly three decades. They all have their desi prayers answered, for $50 a month.

Every other evening the family watches an after-dinner movie at our San Ramon living room - Swades, Zakhm, Nayakan and a host of other Bollywood films that I don’t usually get to watch back home in Mysore. Asia TV in the Bay Area, California, features regularly film music clips selected from nostalgic cinema, featuring Sehgal and C. H. Atma, Suraiya and Shamshaad Begum. Names that are musical dinosaurs to the MTV generation. An NRI-run DVD shop that went out of business helped my son build up an in-house DVD film library, acquired at $2.99 a disc. He claims to have the complete works of Govinda.

Stardust – that silly, but engrossingly time-pass filmi magazine that is eminently suitable for rest-room reading - has such appeal among NRIs that it can be picked up at any Asian grocery shop. My customary hair oil - Parachute brand - is available at the neighborhood desi store. Sambar, rasam and curd-rice stay our staple food. When we feel like an eat-out, Tandoor Cafe is but a short drive from home. Or if you prefer something South Indian, there is Saravanaa Bhavan at Sunnyvale. Avoid weekends if you can’t put up with a 30-minute wait for a table.

The nearest temple is not much farther than ten minutes away, at Livermore. My wife who rang up a family friend at Dublin, Calif., the other day could hear in the background ‘Suprabadam’ played on tape at her friend’s place. Can’t take India out of non-resident Southies, can we? When in Rome, as they say, doing it as the Romans do may be the done thing. But San Ramon isn’t Rome. This is a discovery I made this past couple of weeks visiting our biradhri in the US.

No matter where we are - Sunnyvale, San Jose or Santa Clara – we do as Indians do. But then I know of people who ask, do we need to fly 22 odd hours, paying $1300 for the round trip, to get a desi feel and flavor. I would say, doing things desi with your US-based son and his wife has a charm of its own; adds value to that ‘feel’. Doing it back home - watching Sun TV, cooking an Indian meal - won’t be a big deal. It would be mundane, in fact, and wouldn’t be desi anyways.

I asked a friend from Bangalore, now visiting his son and daughter-in-law at 
Fremont, how he spent his time. He takes long walks and, occasionally, stops by at the neighborhood park, to join in a group of elders that congregates for a daily dose of desi gupshup. Some, like my friend, are visiting America. Many of them, regulars in the group, have spent a lifetime abroad and are settled here. But their thoughts are in India and their mindset is that of Amrish Puri in Dilwale Dulhania Le Jayenge.

As I said, my daughter-in-law is America-born and her father Jagannath has been here for over three decades. In his town, Phoenix, Arizona, they have three gurudwaras and five mosques. They even have a Buddhist temple. Jagannath is currently involved in an NRI community initiative to build a Hindu temple. He reckons that the 10,000 Indians, predominantly Hindu, feel spiritually inadequate in the absence of a temple. There is a pragmatic side to the project. When the temple is done, the likes of Jagannaths would no longer have to shop around for the services of a priest from LA or Houston to do community puja in Phoenix or conduct family rituals such as mundan, a Ganapathi homam, shraddha or a thread-ceremony.

For their daughter’s engagement ceremony some years back the Jagannaths had to hire a priest from the Malibu Balaji temple, paying him airfare from LA to Phoenix, plus service charges. More recently, the Jagannaths arranged for homemade sweets to be Fedexed from Columbus, Ohio, for Grahapravesa at their daughter’s place in San Ramon. The occasion called for nothing less than Thirupati grade laddu that the Jagannaths couldn’t get in Phoenix. A priest from Livermore temple, engaged for Grahapravesa, wanted us to procure, besides the laddu, a formidable assortment of puja items, including a bag of sand and chips of wood (as an acceptable alternative to cowdung cake that is burned at the homam). Which proved a tall order for desi stores.

Oddly enough, it took some running around to obtain sand. Unlike in India, it is not something we could scoop up from our backyard. At a hardware shop the man at the counter was intrigued why we needed a bagful of sand. “Are you going to fight floods,” he asked, “or is it required for a kid’s play pen”? He stocked grades of sand for varied uses. We couldn’t bring ourselves to admitting that we planned to raise a fire in the living room to conduct a Navagraha homam. We settled for the floods. “That would be a dollar and 99 cents for a 10 lb bag,” said the retailer. The playpen grade of sand would have cost more.

Homes in America are not designed for homam. This was the other discovery I made during the current US visit. Just about the time we felt pleased with the 
smooth run of proceedings at the Grahapravesa the alarm went off. The culprit was a smoke-sensitive white box fixed at the corridor ceiling. The blaring smoke alarm drowned out the sound of divinity that emanated from the sloka-chanting priest, in full cry as he fed the holy fire with spoons-full of ghee. For a moment we feared we might have some unwelcome visitors from the fire department to witness the Navagraha homam.

Must say my son was thoughtful enough to have invited to the function his friend Karthik, an MLC executive with an MBA. The smoke alarm wouldn’t stop screaming even after we removed the battery from the white box. As we were figuring out how to cope with the adamant noise-box Krathik got on an improvised stepladder to reach the ceiling and grapple with the offending gadget. He had done mechanical engineering at BITS, Pilani. Karthik did something with the wiring, and within minutes the alarm went dead. And there we were, celebrating the triumph of man over machine.

Maybe you don’t need to be an MBA to silence a smoke alarm. But we didn’t have anyone less qualified to handle it.. 

(This article first appeared in Dateline Mysore., Mr Krishnan's regular column in


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