February 06, 2010

The Inscrutable Americans - Anurag Mathur

  • A very popular book, in print for ages, probably read by 80% of young Indian readers in India as well as America. Well to tell you the truth, I hadn’t read this book till now. In fact I had started reading it a decade ago. (‘exaggerating’, laughs to himself) but did not finish reading it, was not my copy and then never got my hands on it again. Until I bought this book from the book fair at Assam bhavan. Usually I got time to read this book when I was traveling to and from the office. Well, when I started reading the book, it immediately gripped me with it’s laugh out loud hilarious approach towards the scheme of things. Initially I thought it must be just another book which will probably talk about a simpleton from India who travels to the land of opportunity and gets mocked at. Maybe get’s punched by a few people and at the end of the day, saves a beautiful blonde from hooligans and gets to become the hero. If you are expecting anything like that. I’m sorry to disappoint you. Well, here’s what the book is all about. Gopal, a young and intelligent lad from a small town of Madhya Pradesh called Jajau sets off to America, gets an opportunity to study at the University of Eversville. In the beginning the most amazing part is the way Gopal writes a letter describing his experience of America. Here’s what he writes.

  • Dear Brother,

  • Greetings to respectful parents. I am hoping all is well with health and wealth. I am fine at my end. Hoping your end is fine too. With God's grace and parents' blessings I am arriving safely in America and finding good apartment near University. Kindly assure mother that I am strictly consuming vegetarian food only in restaurants though I am not knowing if cooks are Brahmins. I hope parents' prayers are residing with me. Younger brother, I am having so many things to tell you that I am not knowing where to sart. Most surprising thing about America is it is full of Americans. Everywhere Americans, Americans, big and white, it is little frightening. The flight from New Delhi to New York is arriving safely thanks to God's grace and Parents' prayers and mine too. I am not able to go to bathroom whole time because I am sitting in corner seat as per revered grandmother's wish. Father is rightly scolding that airplane is flying too high to have good view.

  • Still please tell her I have done needful. But, brother, in next two seats are sitting two old gentle ladies and if I am getting up then they are put in lot of botheration so I am not getting up for except when plane is stopping for one hour in London. Many foods are being served in carts but I am only eating cashew nuts and bread because I am not knowing what is food and what is meat. I am having a good time drinking 37 glasses of Coca-Cola. They are rolling down a screen and showing a film but I am not listening because air hostess ladies are selling head phones for 2 dollars which is Rs.60 and in our beloved Jajau townwe can sit in balcony seats in Regal Talkies for only Rs.3. I am asking lady if they are giving student discount but she is too busy. I am also asking her for more Coca-Cola but she is looking like she is weeping and walking away. I think perhaps she is not understanding proper English.

  • Then I am sleeping long time after London and when I am waking it is like we are flying over sea of lights. Everywhere, brother, as far as I am seeing there are lights lights. It is like God has made carpet of lights. Then we are landing in New York and plane is going right upto door so that we are not having to walk in cold. I must say Americans are very advanced. And as I am leaving aeroplane, air hostess is giving me one more can of Coca-Cola. Her two friends are also with her, but why they are laughing so much I do not know. I think these Americans are strange but friendly people in their hearts. I hope she was not laughing for racial. Perhaps she was feeling shy earlier. Then I am going to long bathroom. As I am leaving I am making first friend in America. This is Negro gentleman named Joe who is standing at door and as I am opening it he is holding out hand so I am shaking it and telling him my name and he is tellng me his. I am telling him if he is ever coming to Jajau he can ask for National Hair Oil Factory. If I have not returned from Higher Studies please tell father that if negro gentleman named Joe is visiting Jajau he may kindly do needful. In this way I feel each and every one of us is serving as Ambassador of our beloved Motherland. Joe is doubtful I feel because he says "Far out, man, far out", but I am reassuring him that India is only 16 hours away by plane and that is not very far. I think he is accepting this because he is not saying anything any more. Next I go to place marked " Baggage" as Father has advised and suddenly place I am sitting starts to move throwing me. It is like python we once saw in forest, only rattling and with luggage bouncing on its back and sometimes leaping to attack passengers. I am also throwing myself on bag before it is escaping. I think if I am not wrestling it down it would revert to plane and back home to India. I am only joking of course. Before this I am meeting very friendly gentleman at Immigration desk. I do not know why all relatives had warned against this man, because he is so friendly. He is talking English strangely but is having kind heart because he is asking me about nuts and I am saying that I am liking very much and eating many on plane. "Totally, totally nutss," he is saying, which I feel American expression for someone fond of cashewnuts. Before this he is showing friendliness by asking "How is it going?" I am telling his fully and frankly about all problems and hopes, even though you may feel that as American he may be too selfish to bother about decline in price of hair oil in Jajau town. But, brother, he is listening very quietely with eyes on me for ten minutes and then we are having friendly talk about nuts and he is wanting me to go.

  • At Customs, brother, I am getting big shock. One fat man is grunting at me and looking cleverly from small eyes. "First visit?" he is asking, "Yes," I am agreeing "Move on," he is saying making chalk marks on bags. As I am picking up bags he is looking directly at me and saying "Watch your ass." Now, brother, this is wonderful. How he is knowing we are purchasing donkey? I think they are knowing everything about everybody who is coming to America. They are not allowing anybody without knowing his family and financial status and other things. And we are only buying donkey two days before my departure. I think they are keeping all information in computers. Really these Americans are too advanced. But, brother, now I am worrying. Supposing this is CIA keeping watch or else how they can know about our donkey? Anyway please do not tell Mother and Father or they are worrying, but lock all doors and windows. If CIA wants to recruit me to be spy in Jajau, I will gladly take poison before betraying our Motherland. Then I am going out and cousins are waiting and receiving me warmly. I will write soon after settling down.

  • Your brother,

  • If you thought this letter was funny, read the way Gopal gets his way out in a mall, he goes and bargains in a shopping mall, now that’s the spirit of India. This book has so many other hilarious experiences of Gopal, who tries to understand new things and adapt to the culture of America, how he differentiates between lives of different types of people living in the cosmopolitan America. No it is not a book that makes fun of our countrymen, if people thought that is what it’s about after reading the letter. It talks of the incidents that happen to him that make him realize how cold the culture of this country is and how difficult it is to make a living out there. Realizes the fact that we are better off living in India, with its warm hospitable culture and beautiful countrymen who are always here to help each other whenever required.

  • Gopal, our Indian, has taken a strong liking to Coke, French fries and has won over quite a few people with his innocent and funny behavior. He also meets a good friend, philosopher and guide, Randy, who is eager to introduce Gopal to the joys of an American college education. At the same time Gopal has to "uphold" the Indian culture and also keep his head in the books. What is important at the end of the day in this book is that he realizes that his true place belongs to India. So this one actually has a deep message that talks about issues like “Brain Drain” People going to study to US. Staying there and working for a lot of American companies, and in a way benefiting America instead of India. It is for those people as our Indian hero Gopal, returns back to India once he finishes his education, to help his father in his family business ‘An Oil Factory in Jajau.’ All in all a very good read and funny in it’s own way. Enjoy.


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