India’s Creme-de-la-creme and the American Pie

mothComputer programming is regarded as a creative pursuit. I’m not sure why. The first program that I wrote in college, left me a little depressed. With if/then/else conditions, for/while loops, and subroutines, it seemed more of a descent to the level of a machine, of shallow repetitive thinking, that distorts one’s mind. This hardly bothered the generation that graduated college and got their jobs in the early nineties.  Either influenced by peer pressure, or by their parents, they sought greener pastures abroad. The information technology industry was growing, and creation of software, through small ad-hoc steps, by beginner programmers, required more and more fixes, and extra hands. Which meant lots of work for the coders. The money was good too. And what better place to be, than the land of opportunity, the USA.

Before the nineties generation, doctors, and engineers, emigrated to the US. Then there were the business folks, running motels, petrol bunks, and the corner seven-eleven stores. One might also run into skilled workers (non-engineers) with green cards. The few that I met, were Goans, whose parents emigrated first, got their green cards, and brought their children.
The skilled and semi-skilled ones, younger, live in their apartments. Or houses, if they did well. They are happy to be in a foreign country, better off, than their the left-behind cousins and friends in India. At the end of the day, they have a beer, or some drink, make their meals, play lotto, or go over to Canada and lose a few dollars in the casinos.
The Goans had a mixed life. Some marry back in India, and leave their girls behind. It is a long wait, to get your spouse into America. Their parents too have grown old, abandoned their green cards, and stayed back in India. A few married guys, gave up on their wives. They might visit them every couple of years, or may be not.
If you had an occasion to meet the older generation (doctors and engineers), retired, or about to retire, they have a nice house, in some small town, or the outskirts of a big city. A backyard, with a pool. But they look lost, and are happy to meet any friends from the past. This generation has been in the US for too long, and don’t really have anything back in India. Their children have adopted a good deal of the American culture, with a thin veneer of Indianness. They do maintain a mask, to cover the insecurities of being neither here nor there.

IT generation
But the IT generation had it luckier. There were few hassles. Say a big company like Wipro, or Infosys, got a H1B visa for you. In Chennai consulate, the security guy, gets your papers, and passport, and asks you to come collect your visa at the end of the day. For reputed companies, there were no questions, no interview for the programmers.

You get your opportunity, and begin a journey that those left behind assume is heaven on earth. Food in the new culture, starts with Burger Kings, McDonalds, Pizza Huts, KFCs, and Taco Bells. You join your colleagues, stand in a queue, and say something like, “I’ll have number 3”, and you get your burger, fries, and a cup of coke (coco-cola). That is just the beginning of a world of glitz, and convenience. There might have been racism, but for the most part, office folks were friendly enough. Work gets done, and you get your salary, in dollars, to spend.
Stores had aisles. The aisles in the vegetables and fruits section was impressive. Apples were shiny, sparkling under the lights. Deep red, green, golden, or speckled pink. Varieties and more varieties. The outside was perfect in their appleness, and the inside had a slight hint of appleness, a little soapy, sweetness. In a blind taste test, you definitely wouldn’t confuse an apple with another fruit. Vegetables were big. Even bitter gourds, egg plant (brinjal) were available. They were big, just as shiny as the apples, and like the apples had the slightest hint, a residual taste of their original wild ancestors. Bigness, and perfectness, were also apparent in the people who ate them. One can never go wrong with such variety of luxurious food.

Rules, Regulations and Convenience
The world that you left behind, of corruption, and backwardness, is replaced with rules, and regulations. Grass in the front lawns have to be cut, and kept at a certain height. You can’t have a prescription for say eye glasses filled, if the prescription “expired” the day before. Zoning laws tell you, where you can construct a house or office, and how you should construct it. The water that comes
from the water fountain is cold, and heavily chlorinated. The accidental discovery of chlorination of water, or may be a deliberate repurposing of war chemicals, was to take care of the most vulnerable among the young and old.
Pillows, sofas and mattresses, have to list the contents, down to the last detail. And be loaded with fire retardants and other chemicals, for various purposes. To a person from the third world, this concern from total strangers, government regulators, for your health and convenience, is impressive, heart-warming. A far cry from the sordid corruption in their own home countries.

Rules and Housing
So, for something like a house, there are so many building codes, that have to be scrupulously followed. Rules govern everything, the roofs, walls, electrical connections, and how to treat the surfaces for hygiene, aesthetics, and fire-proofing. The result of all this, is a world, that makes a person, go “Wow!”.
A wonderful regulated, rule-of-law world! What could go wrong?

A house caught in a tornado lasts a few seconds. Fire, about four minutes. This is the approximately the response time, for firefighters to reach a fire. Rain, with the basement, flooded for more than 2 hours, and the foundation needs to be ripped apart. Fire codes, dictate that one has flimsy doors, and breakable windows, for access to fire and police personnel. And easier access for thieves!

There was this apartment in Houston, near the Medical Centre. It was all, plasticky, fakey, stuff. No real wood anywhere. The cabinets and doors were fibreboard, with a plastic layer, that mimics wood grain. The kitchen counter top, was the same fibreboard, but covered with fire-retardant treated, water proof paper. The refrigerator, had a two inch layer of dust, near the compressor. Turn on the room heater, and for a day or two, there will be a smokey smell, from the dust that gets burnt.

Leave the apartment for an hour or so, and come back. The chemical smell is like something from inside a hospital, or perhaps a newly built apartment, even though this one was more than ten years old.
The apartment complex had apartments that were slightly more expensive, some had a view of the bayou. Others overlooked the swimming pool. Walk a mile upstream of the “bayou”, and you come across a sewage treatment plant. Actually, you don’t come across the plant. You just smell it downwind, a few miles away. Right next to treatment plant (across the road 30 feet away), was an elementary school, that lets children immerse themselves, in this fragrance. Just a year or two, before the real estate peak (of 2005), a huge apartment complex, of several hundred apartments, was built, right next to the treatment plant. It had no takers, although they turned on the lights in a few apartments, to make it look like they have been sold. It wasn’t a bad place as far as access goes. Rice University was nearby. Houston’s famed Medical Centre was just a couple of miles away. A huge sports complex was also a few miles away. And you can’t ignore the elementary school, next door. The apartment complex was still empty, when I left the place a few years later. Why?
A view of the bayou cost 50 dollars more in monthly rent. But who can ignore the blue swimming pool, and clear water. A view of that will be nice too. Step into it, and it is nirvana. Loaded with chlorine, filtered continuously, the water is just topped off, to replace evaporation and other losses. The clear blue pool requires replacement of water, just once a year!


Now to get back to food, who forgets Kellogg’s corn flakes, or Post’s Honey Bunches of Oats. Of bread, so soft, and nutritious. Has 15 or more ingredients, each more good than the previous one. Till you come to vegetable shortening. Must have something to do with the goodness of vegetables! Or Is that hydrogenated “vegetable” oil?
Was it Tropicana that says “fresh squeezed orange juice” in its carton, in bold? And the fine print – “from concentrate”?. Fresh squeezed from concentrate? Only in the Land of the phree and Home of the phrave, as commenters in call the USA.
The Next Generation
So what happens when you struggling in the ugly, corrupt backwaters, of the developing world, migrate and end up in utopia, and adopt the methods of the developed world? If you are lucky, your spouse, is in IT too. Or loves to get into it. That takes us to the next generation, the children. Starting with multivitamins for the would be moms, and thousand dollar nausea prevention pills during pregnancy! Multiple shots of vaccines in the first few days of the child’s birth, which includes of all things a Hepatitis-B vaccine! The children have their journey well mapped out. Unlike the unhealthy struggle back in rural India. What could really go wrong?

By age five, only, one in five children, are fully healthy.

At the first sign of cold, doctors rush to prescribe antibiotics. Tylenol, and Motrin, are like Amrut, nectar of immortality. Never mind that they slowly weaken the liver of children. Or cause allergy or asthma. Schools provide food, the children get “meat”, of unknown origin, with nitrites, and dubious additives, and kept frozen for several months.

Lots of children get cancer, at a very young age. They are not aware, of decisions, made by their parents, and grandparents, of FDA and USDA, as to what constitutes real food, and of exposure chemicals in their environment. A research hospital like MD Anderson Cancer Centre, goes gaga over the data they have gathered from people with cancer. This helps them “make cancer history”. There was one guy, who patiently bore ten different treatment protocols, before losing his life. A protocol involves several drugs, in specified does, given over a few months. It may also involve surgery, chemo, or radiation treatment. Basically, the doctors, were experimenting, without a clue.
If apartments are loaded with chemicals, salons are terrible. The last one I visited, the chemical stench was so overwhelming, that I couldn’t step inside.

Back in India

Once one experiences life in a country, that represents the height of materialistic progress, it is only patriotic to bring the same to your beloved motherland. Except that it is all there. While you were away, angels on harps, brought the good things to your own land. The vegetables have become bigger, shinier, and tasteless. Mahyco (a subsidiary of Monsanto) sells hybrid vegetable seeds, that all farmers swear by. Bitter gourd, and okra are loaded with pesticides. Carrots and eggplant, in some stores, almost fluoresce. Onions are overdosed with herbicides.

A child in a village, has access to the latest medical care. At the first sign of fever, the child is rushed, put on intravenous drips, and medicated. Why, even a guy in the prime of youth, will get his intra-venous glucose drips, in the morning for fever. By evening, he’s in the local TASMAC bar, sipping arrack. Doctors are too insecure, to say, that drugs and alcohol don’t mix. Paracetamol for pain or fever, with alcohol, makes it ten times more damaging to the liver. But, hey, we can do liver transplants. Even Amma’s insurance provides cover for organ transplant.

Someone from UN, comes to India, and wants “rights” to be provided to the gays. He calls it a question of “human rights”. This has been cleverly tagged onto transgender rights, transgenders who were born that way. What is it about our unelected Finance Ministers past and present – P Chidambaram, and Arun Jaitley who seem to think the gay issue is the most important one. Another lady comes and says, that since India is a signatory to the so-called SDG (sustainability development goals, or UN 2030 agenda), we have to criminalise marital rape. Marital rape? Is that like “Love and Marriage”, you can’t have one without the other. Like the jingle for the show “Married with children” on Fox?
Our PM, Mr Modi, goes into a meeting with high level officials ( or was it with just one fellow Nilekani?), and says by end of December (2015), we need 100% coverage of Aadhaar, the “unique” identity program of India. How does he plan to achieve this? By targeting school children! Everyone from Telecom companies, banks, RBI, railways, and government offices, are clamouring to use Aadhaar.
Shouldn’t global organizations deal only with inter-country conflicts? Shouldn’t a President or Prime Minister deal just with issues that arise with other countries, or inter-state disputes? Or should the UN and Prime Minister dictate what an individual can do, or how a family can live, or what is legal in a village? Is there no sovereign country any more?
Is there no wisdom at the bottom, no understanding of the local context, that things have to be forced from the top? Like pathological Obamacare, that forces people to buy “health” insurance from private companies, or be fined. The US Supreme Court agreed that it is all legal!
Should the Supreme Court be happy that local issues get resolved by local panchayats, or local wise men, quickly and for free. Or should the judges want all issues to be resolved by the highest court of the land, and weep and wail that the courts are under-staffed?

So how did one with all the creative intelligence, a supportive partner, in a well paying industry, in a country that is well regulated, with rules properly enforced, end up with children less than healthy? Why do they live life, as if it is an “illness to be managed” (with pills and “healthcare”), and believe that that was the way it was meant to be?
And why did those who were cynical of Americanism, who gave their children traditional Indian home food, who depended more on traditional herbal remedies, and followed other cultural practices end up with healthy children and happy families?
For some it has been a long way from villages without roads, or schools.
Now with soaring bank balances, diversified investments and a pill for every illness, do you announce you’ve arrived, and enjoy your apple pie with creme? Or look at the less than wonderful childhood of your children, and try and escape the multi-layered surveillance, control, and propaganda that govern every aspect of your life?


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