Non Resident Alien

This is a chronicle of my tragi-comic life as a foreigner in the United States. My official status when I started school in 2004, was that of a Non-Resident-Alien and that's where the title of the blog is from. My status has changed to Resident Alien since then. My personal experiences are a unique roller coaster mundane everyday experiences for locals, but unique from the eyes of a foreigner. I started this blog to share some of my experiences beginning my third year living in this country.

Friday, September 28, 2007

A Bridge too Far

Here is an interesting piece Lacchu sent me. This will make more sense to those who know Indian mythology, politics and current events. To the uninitiated there's a small glossary at the end.

The Lord surveyed the Ram Setu and said "Hanuman, how diligently and strenuously you and your vanara sena had built this bridge several centuries back. It is remarkable that it has withstood the ravages of the climatic and Geographical changes over centuries.

It is indeed an amazing feat especially considering the fact that a bridge at Hyderabad built by Gammon using latest technology collapsed the other day even before they could stick the posters on its pillars."

Hanuman with all humility spoke "Jai Sri Ram, it is all because of your grace. We just scribbled your name on the bricks and threw them in the sea and they held. No steel from TISCO or cement from Ambuja or ACC was ever used. But Lord, why rake up the old issue now."

Ram spoke "Well, Hanuman some people down there want to demolish the bridge and construct a canal. The contract involves lot of money and lot of money will be made. They will make money on demolition and make more money on construction."

Hanuman humbly bowed down and said "Why not we go down and present our case?"

Ram said "Times have changed since we were down there. They will ask us to submit age proof and we don't have either a birth certificate or school leaving certificate. We traveled mainly on foot and some times in bullock carts and so we don't have a driving license either. As far as the address proof is concerned the fact that I was born at Ayodhya is itself under litigation for over half a century, If I go in a traditional attire with bow and arrow, the ordinary folks may recognize me but Arjun Singh may take me to be some tribal and, at the most, offer a seat at IIT under the reserved category. Also, a God cannot walk in dressed in a three-piece suit and announce his arrival. It would make even the devotees suspicious. So it is dilemma so to say."

"I can vouch for you by saying that I personally built the bridge."

"My dear, Anjani putra, it will not work. They will ask you to produce the lay-out plan, the project details, including financial outlay and how the project cost was met and the completion certificate. Nothing is accepted without documentary evidence in India. You may cough but unless a doctor certifies it, you have no cough. A pensioner may present himself personally but the authorities do not take it as proof. He has to produce a life-certificate to prove that he is alive. It is that complicated."

"Lord can't understand these historians. Over the years you have given darshan once every hundred years to saints like Surdas, Tulsidas, Saint Thyagaraja, Jayadeva, Bhadrachala Ramdas and even Sant Tukaram and still they disbelieve your existence and say Ramayana is a myth. The only option, I see, is to re-enact Ramayana on earth and set the government records straight once for all."

Lord smiled "It isn't that easy today. Ravan is apprehensive that he may look like a saint in front of Karunanidhi. I also spoke to his mama Mareecha, who appeared as a golden deer to tempt Sita maiyya when I was in the forest and he said that he won't take a chance of stepping on earth as long as Salman Khan is around."

Ram Setu: A bridge constructed from South India to Sri Lanka in the Indian mythology Ramayana by an army of monkeys (vanara sena) lead by Hanuman (Son of the Wind God also known as Anjaneya or Anjani Putra)

Lord Ram: A Hindu God in the Ramayana

Ayodhya: The birth place of Lord Ram which has been embroiled in a controversy for a few years.

TISCO, Ambuja, ACC: Modern Indian companies

Arjun Singh: A current Indian politician who is infamous for his "Reservation bill" to introduce quotas in all educational institutions

IIT: Indian Institute of Technology, the top technical school in the country

Darshan: Hindi word that, means in this context, to appear to the very devout.

Ravan: The villain in Ramayana

Karunanidhi: The current Chief Minister of a South Indian state who is highly popular among one section of the state for his partisan policies and anti-upper caste philosophies

Seeta maiyya: Lord Ram's wife

mama: Indian word for Uncle (mom's brother)

Mareecha: A character in the Ramayana who could transfigure himself into any form, and took that of a golden deer in the forest where Lord Ram spent few of his years of banishment.

Salman Khan: Current Indian actor who is alleged to have shot a 'black buck', which is an endangered specie, for fun.

The context is that of a planned project to build a bridge to Sri Lanka from South India, and demolish the Ram Setu which is under water and believed by many Hindus to be the original bridge built by Lord Ram and his vanara sena.


Our regional Identity

India is diverse and it is a common complaint by some educated Indians that Indians prefer their regional and caste based identity to that of a national identity. The one thing that binds us together is Cricket, and in recent years even that has come under much controversy in terms of representation of different states in the National Cricket Team. I used to believe that my identity was that of an enlightened Indian and my Tamil identity was secondary only to my identity as an Indian. The truth is I have been a hypocrite most of my life. I realize now that my predominant identity is that of a Tamilian and then that of an Indian. Of course I was devastated at this realization. I am anything but a typical Tamilian, and grew up with a multi-linguistic identity at home (my parents brother and I speak at least six languages between us and during a normal conversation switch between languages with natural ease and very unconsciously) I knew that I had the distinctive Tamil identity within me and as I grow older it is manifesting itself very forcefully, especially since I am so far away from my culture. There is this fierceness in me to preserve my regional identity. I have always maintained that I could not imagine being married to someone who does not speak Tamil or follow some of the Tamilian traditions. I was listening to a song in Tamil a little while ago (Mettu Podu from Duet for those who know) and the emotions associated with my regional identity came welling up inside me and made me so proud to be Tamilian. I guess in some sense however modern we are the regional identity within us will persevere. I am no longer ashamed to identify myself as a Proud Tamilian.

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Thursday, September 27, 2007

New Indian Adverts

Indian advertisements are dang creative!! Compared to most American ads Indian ads are lively and wonderful. Here are two ads for Hutch (cell phone company) which I saw when I was in India this summer.

Here's a sligthly older ad which made the Pug a very popular dog in India

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Bajaj through time

I was browsing through youtube and came across these old and a relatively new Bajaj ad. For the uninitiated, Bajaj was (and probably still is) the biggest manufacturer of scooters in India. Their ads were really well made and growing up it was always fun to watch their ads.

Here's the newer ad. Notice how the basic music remains the same but has the rock twist to it. Its supposed to appeal to the modern ways of the young while maintaining their traditional roots.

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Keeping Busy

I like my new life on campus in some ways. I am busy 24x7 and enjoying it. This would be the first time in seven years that I am multi-tasking several things. It is so hectic that I need to maintain an organizer to keep track of my schedule and events, and if you want to meet with me, you need to call or e-mail in advance and make an appointment. I enjoy it cause it keeps me occupied and gives me no time to brood or be home-sick. The one down side to it is that I do not have as much time to blog or netflix as often as I would like to. However, keeping a schedule is helping me concentrate more on my research. I am reading more and writing better. Wish I had more time for Guitar Hero. The biggest advantage to campus living is not having to wait for the bus to get to school and not having to run to catch the last bus home. I can now read in the library or the JC until they kick me out when they close which is a big relief since I like a lot of desk space and flourescent lighting while reading. Enjoying being "Robot gal" as Ratty used to call me or Ms.Bizee bee as Vijju used to call me!!


Thursday, September 20, 2007

L Sub and family!!

For three hours last saturday I forgot the travails of my life and gave into the melliflous tunes of L Subramaniam, Kavitha Krishnamurthy and their son Ambi and daughter Seetha. Ambi is a prodigy. He plays the violin with the ease and effortlessness of a veteran artist and he is only in his 11th standard. The concert was organised by the Fairfax Symphony Orchestra and L Sub to commemurate India's 60th Independence Day. Needless to say the songs were well chosen from Bankim Chandra and Subramaniya Bharati. The rest of the evening and the weekend 'akle chalo' was in my head. Kavitha did an amazing job at the vocals. It was an amazing evening for me. I had an additional incentive to go as my Brian's parents were performing at the concert as well. We spent the rest of the evening with Brad (who reminds me of one of the Brady boys) at IHop. Here are pictures from the evening.


Sunday, September 09, 2007

People and Relationships

As an alien in this country, I am constantly reminded of the vast cultural differences that exist between our different cultures. On the note of interaction with people and relationships here, I have noticed how difficult it is to have a conversation with some people and with others there seems to be so much to talk about and you are never short of conversation topics. I had a great evening out with my dear friend Brian yesterday (especially dear these days, cause he acts both in the capacity of a porter and a chauffeur ;-) ). In the eight hours of shopping and watching a movie there was never a moment when either of us were short of anything to say. We were constantly talking about all kinds of things and at the end I was left with the feeling of having lots to say and very little time to talk about everything. With some of my other dear friends it is not so. I just have nothing to say to them, and even if I start a conversation it doesn't go further than a couple of responses back and forth. I always wonder why!! Not that this is unique to my experiences in the US, I have been in similar circumstances in India as well, but the degree of non-conversation has never been so high back home.
On another note about relationships, I am feeling deeply hurt by the behaviour of my former landlady's daughter. I was their tenant for about two years, during which time I thought I had formed a significant relationship with them. When I left, both mother and daughter seemed very sorry to see me go and offered to rent the place out to me if I wanted to come back there. On my return, I informed the daughter and asked for a convenient time for me to pick up my stuff. When I went to pick up my mail, she was very rude and did not even invite me inside the house. I found that very strange. In addition, in spite of advance notice that I would come by to pick up some of the other stuff that I had left there, she was rude to me on the phone yesterday. I do not know if her behaviour is typically Chinese or American (she is more American than Chinese) It also seems as if she is deliberately preventing me from meeting her mother. I have asked her several times when her mother would be home and every time I get the answer that she does not know. I find that very peculiar given that they live in the same house, and even with my limited interactions with her Chinese speaking mother, I could figure out her schedule when I was there by simple observation. Whatever the intention, I think I deserve more respect especially since I was house sitting for them when they were in China for almost six months last year and I have been a very reliable mature and considerate tenant. This behaviour I have noticed with some of my other American friends as well, and it hurts my very Indian sentiments of continuing relationships with people long after the primary reason to do so ceases to exist. This is in stark contrast to my landlord in India. This summer I had the opportunity to meet him after four years. In the interim I had had no contact with him, and he wasn't even aware of the fact that I was abroad. In spite of this, he recognized me on sight, was very friendly, offered to give me accommodation in his house for the two months that I was in the city and when I declined insisted that I visit him at home (I met him at his office) and meet with his family as well. I did visit him at home and had a wonderful afternoon feasting on amazing food his wife had prepared and reminiscing and catching up. I was his tenant for two years same as my Fairfax people. Such are the pleasures of social networks and relationships in India which are sadly missing in this country. I guess these are the small little things that bind me to my country and truly make me an alien here.

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Wednesday, September 05, 2007


Great remake. Typical 80s sentiments, ideas and corny dialogues. The visuals were great. Story was not exceptional which was expected. However, for a remake it was good. The graphics with the different robotic beings was great. Typical teenage angst story of a kid with an extraordinary past. None of them could really act. The lighter side of the movie was fun and were of a typical American angst story sort. I did not think the actress was hot (Brian who went to see the movie with me would disagree) Good movie to see once, that's my take on it!


The Bourne Ultimatum

Long overdue. I finally saw it last week. It is a movie in true Bourne spirit. Filled with a lot of edge of seat moments. Not a moment was wasted in this movie. From start to finish the plot was gripping and seamlessly integrated between scenes. I loved the typical home movie kind of video quality and the music was simply amazing like with the other Bourne movies. I think Matt Damon is perfectly suited to the role and he does a great job. Julia Stiles was also good. I think this is a great anarchist movie. It is the story of A guy going up against the whole bureaucratic setup. This movie is also a great illustration of the well known public choice and political economy argument that governments have the opportunity and will use it to abuse laws and legislation in the name of national security and under the cover of covert operations. In addition this is also an example of how even well meaning laws can have unintended consequences. All it takes is one knave and the whole system is in jeopardy. Economics aside (occupational hazard), its a wonderful entertainer. A big thumbs up!! I intend to see it again soon, to understand some more of the finer details of the movie.


Busy start to third year

It has been an extremely busy start to my third year of grad school. I live on campus now which means there is lesser time wasted commuting; however, if you think this automatically translates to lots of time to studying you would be mistaken. I seem to be busy all the time with no time to read and write. Part of it is also adjusting to the new environment, but the other half I guess is just inertia. I was used to an entirely different schedule in Summer. I had very little responsibilities and I could put in a solid 6 hours of just reading time every day. Now, if I manage two a day that is great. I am now one among the Windows rebels. I just bought a basic black mac book and am in the process of figuring things out in the mac platform. One big disadvantage that I noticed just today is that my old external hard drive which has served me so well this past 3 years cannot be used anymore in terms of being able to write stuff on to it. It uses the NTFS file system and mac can write only on the less efficient FAT32 file system. For just a fleeting moment this afternoon when I found this, I was tempted to take my macbook back and get a pc. But the moment passed. There's only 20 GB free space on my old hard drive and I need a One TB upgrade anyway. So, for now I have decided to keep my old hard drive as an archive only. That being said, the mac is super fantastic. I am yet to explore all the features and doubt if I will use even 50% of them, but for now its great and I love it. Its a lil bigger and heavier than my old laptop, but I hardly need to lug it around now since I live on campus. After more than seven years, I am living with roommates again and that is clearly a new experience. But hey, the benefits outweigh the costs. No longer do I have to get up early in the morning and run to catch the bus, skip breakfast, forget lunch and be stressed out about missing the bus.
School has started extremely busy even in the first week and looks like its going to be another busy semester. I have cancelled most social engagements for this semester and need to sit and work hard on getting school work done. This is indeed crunch time and I am pretty excited about being in school this year.


Saturday, September 01, 2007

Back in the land of dreams

The past month has been crazy. In addition to finishing up with my work, I was travelling, meeting friends and relatives and getting ready to come back to the land of dreams. As was expected, I was homesick even before I left home and took it all out on my poor parents who did not understand why I had suddenly become so mad at them and generally frustrated. After three glorious months 'vacationing' in India I returned last week to a room on campus and a completely new life. In some ways this is like a new beginning for me. This past week, I have been sick, jet lagged, bogged down with work and school stuff and generally stressed out. Makes me miss home even further. There is something in the air here that makes you an automaton. I am still in the process of settling down. Will have pictures, experiences and much more about my travels within India up here very soon. Until then, I breathe a sigh of relief that I have the long weekend during which I can catch up with everything. Coming soon!! Triya's adventures with her new black macbook. The picture is just a preview