"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
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
Mysore., Mr Krishnan's regular column in www.zine5.com.)