19 years ago!

Nineteen years back, we started our journey in life with a 5 month old baby taking a flight to the land of dreams. It was overwhelming to see nearly 50 plus family members see us off at Bangalore that October evening. Just a week before we had made the trip to Chennai in brother-in-law’s maruti 800. The 800 is much smaller than the smallest car you can see in the US and we had 5 adults and 2 small kids along with the five-month old in the car!! Holy cow! But then there were no rules in India about how many can sit in a car and there was no concept of a seat belt. The trip to Madras (now Chennai) took about 8 hours covering all but 200 kilometers. The same trip in the US would take 2 1/2 hours at most. We had booked a hotel close to the US embassy knowing we need to stand in line early morning to get the visa. The visa counter would only be open till lunch or so and it was imperative that we be in line to get in well before the deadline. So next morning, we were up at 5:30 AM and after a quick shower, I, Rama and her sister all headed to the embassy. There were already about a 100 people in line at 7:30 AM when we reached there. The Visa officer had a few routine questions and it was a relief when he stamped the passports. We were on our way. There was nothing else to do at Chennai – we would rather go back home. On the way back, we stopped at a small town in Tamil Nadu and got lunch. Think it was a ‘Saravana Bhavan’ – a chain of hotels known for clean interior and good, simple food.

The next week rolled by very fast and before we knew it, it was Friday evening and the date of our departure. About three months back while I was driving to Tumkur to see Rama, I had fallen off my scooter after it had a flat on one of the busiest roads around Bangalore – the National Highway 4 or NH4. I just had time to get off the road and pull the scooter to the side when the first of the lorries (trucks as they are referred to in the US) whizzed by. In India, vehicles are the kings of the road and if a passer-by got in its way, then God help him. I suffered a minor fracture to my right hand and I was in a cast for six weeks. Going to a different country with family means I had to be prepared well. Moreover, it was almost end of October and we had to be prepared for the severest winter we would face in our lives. This made up for four large suitcases and hauling them over on the conveyer belt was quite an effort. My brother and brother-in-law both accompanied us on the flight to Bombay. It was a three-hour or so wait before our flight took off to Detroit via Frankfurt. Both of them said goodbyes to us and in the excitement, intrigue and sort of anxiety of what was waiting in the future, I hardly thought much about leaving family behind.

In Frankfurt, we met a couple of young fellows heading to Detroit from Chennai. They incidentally were also going to be working for the same company as me. That was good fortune as we would all be together in some unknown land with unfamiliar surroundings. The flight was quite taxing as Vikas had a tough time fighting the pain in his ears I guess. Rama did a lot to keep him calm and occupied but it was really rough. The two fellows would often walk by us and check on us. There were a couple of girls who were excited about seeing the baby and they would distract him to an extent.

Finally, it was Saturday afternoon when we landed in New York at JFK. We were exhausted and welcomed the freedom to stretch our legs and walk about. It was back again to hauling the luggage over onto the conveyor, but this time I got one of the chaps at the airport to help. After immigration and customs, it was a shorter flight to Detroit. There was a huge fellow waiting for us displaying our names at the baggage claim area. He had a humongous SUV for us all. But all our luggage – including the two chaps’ – filled all its trunk and part of the back seat. Rama had to sit with the baby in the front seat –  a definite no-no per law, but we knew nothing. The driver said he would have gotten a baby-seat if he had known.

One distinct thing I remember driving from the airport to the hotel was the utmost  and eerie silence as we drove. It was a perfect fall day, with rain adding to the surroundings. The vehicles in the US are so sound-proof compared to those in India. In India, air conditioning was almost unheard of at that time so we would drive around with the windows down. That’s how I remember our trip to Chennai. With the glass up, I could only see the vehicles glide by. It was almost like a movie flashback all in silence. That strikingly silent drive is still etched in my mind and I keep reminding myself of it when it comes to differences between India and US.

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