Thursday, March 14, 2013


Yes, it's the TWIN TOWERS of WTC (pic taken in 2000)

NY skyline from atop WTC
The land of the BIG Apple – it overwhelms me with its awesome enormity! Even as the plane prepares to land, you can sense it – if it is New York, Chicago or Los Angeles, the skyline with sky-kissing skyscrapers is awesome; if it is Denver or Salt Lake City, it is the vast expanses of land and mountains! In the east, sprawling stretches of woods separate cities and in the west, majestic mountains!
Picturesque Golf course in Salt Lake City, Utah
   As you look out of the window of the plane at the city, you are dazzled at the sight of spacious parking lots with glittering car tops, streams of cars on the highways, green golf courses dotted with trees and bunkers and water bodies, sparkling swimming pools attached to houses. Every major airport has a plane taking off every other minute and within the airport there are trains or buses to take passengers from one concourse to another. If you have to catch another flight from another gate in the same concourse you should be lucky if you have adjacent gates – otherwise you may in all probability find yourself taking a long walk all the way from Gate 7 to 77! Major airports ply carts to ferry old / needy passengers to their gates – you may express your thanks by tipping the driver.

  Okay, if parking lots as seen from the plane impressed you, the multi-level parking lots at the airports and important places will bowl you over – I can’t help thinking of the cramped parking spaces in our country where there is a mad scramble for the limited parking available with the rest of the cars parked haphazardly as per the will and pleasure of motorists! Some of our airports and important land-marks  can now boast of multi-level parking lots. Now something about the cars: you have so many many of them zooming past in a steady stream on the different lanes! The number of cars speeding along some 14 lanes – be it New York or San Francisco or LA should be seen to be believed! But nine out of ten cars have just one occupant! And every family has at least two cars – even for the same number of members! From number let us move on to size – most of them are on the bigger side though you do spot some cute little ‘Ladybirds’. Many families have at least an SUV (Sports Utility Vehicle) – if not an RV (Recreation Vehicle – which is a house-on-wheels) – so that they can tag along boats and bikes for their family on weekend outings. In addition you see all those giant carriers plying between cities. We even spotted one humongous vehicle carrying a house – honestly!
Sprawling 'Pet (dog) supplies' aisle
   What else is big? Why, the houses, the museums, the National Parks, why even every departmental store is sprawling – with well-stacked aisles - even for Pet supplies (Dogs)! Shoppers grab items in multiple quantities. So it is two dozen eggs, a crate of juice cans, 12 pack tissue roll, three varieties of juices… Such shopping sprees call for a big boot, which all cars are equipped with. If you take a peak at the vegetable section, you will notice that capsicum, cabbage, cauliflower, tomato and onion – all are giant sized! Of course you find baby carrots too!

  For the desis, weekly grocery shopping is incomplete without a round of the Indian store. What amazed me was that they too sell giant packs – 4 lb packs of dal varieties or 2 lb packs of sooji or puffed rice or one lb packs of turmeric or coriander powder – all suitable for giant (sorry, joint) families where cooking is done at least twice a day! But our desi families here can’t and don’t indulge in everyday cooking except during parents’ visit. Still they have no option but go for these huge packs and then replenish the supplies every couple of months, tossing away the unused stuff into the garbage bin.

  If you are shopping for clothes, you will get lots of selection for giant sizes – XL, XXL and XXXL, but less for Medium size. If you are shopping for Small size, you had it! You’d be left wondering why God made you that way as you find yourself less privileged than bigger people in more than one respect! You’d curse yourself for being a child of a smaller god!

  Babies are huge too – especially the ones on formula milk. Naturally people out there are also of big build! I used to consider myself on the heavier side back home but compared to the Americans I was scrawny! It is their diet I feel – all that cheese and beef or bacon or ham stuffed in the bread or wrap – it is funny to watch on TV, the ads of fast food joints selling bulging burgers which spill out at every bite! Super sized sodas and sandwiches are in vogue. When it comes to coffee – even if it is the famed Starbucks – I feel that even an avid coffee enthusiast from overseas will be left struggling to finish the large cup! The coffee mugs at homes are large too!

  So that is it – the US is not only a vast land of big bucks but also of big people who eat, drink, drive, watch, wear – BIG and sport a BIG heart too! All the same that is also the country for those want to make it BIG!
© Copyright 2011. Brinda Balasubramonian.

Friday, March 1, 2013


Wedding bells ring in joy for all. Who doesn't like to attend weddings? I am no exception. But of late I have been coming across a dampening phrase in every other invitation card – “No gifts or bouquets, please” or “Blessings only”. I cannot say for sure how it is with others but this statutory warning has landed me in a soup – a different kind, each time! So I have come to dread this phrase so much so that I feel pleased as punch to receive a normal, regular (read traditional) wedding invitation.

The first thing is I simply cannot understand the logic behind this request. Doesn't it go against the culture of ‘gifts’? It is all very well to say “Your blessing is your gift”. But I am just a lesser mortal in this materialistic world (come on, tell me how many of you aren't)  and don’t subscribe to lofty principles, but I can vouch that there is as much joy in giving as in receiving! Let me be me and do what I wish! You will understand when I elaborate …

The first time I came across this ‘unreasonable’ request was in the late 80's – I think those friends were much ahead of their times. I felt I had been stripped of my fundamental right to go armed with a gift to a wedding reception! I couldn't take it lying down. So I defiantly marched in with an extra large gift alright! To my embarrassment, our good hosts turned down the gift very graciously, explaining they hadn't accepted gifts even from relatives. You can imagine my stupid expression as I walked down the dais after greeting the newlyweds - with our gift still in my hand - (hubby doesn't chip in with help on such occasions – ‘gift’ is entirely my department, so I have to always grin and bear it!). More embarrassment when I couldn't balance my plate and gift. So I had to find a calm resting place for the latter so that I could focus on my dinner. The only consolation was that I was not the only one – there were many in the same predicament! Humph …. I will never forget that first experience.

Yes, but obviously I didn't learn my lesson! The next decade witnessed a boom in such requests. Needless to say I sailed through varied experiences ….. The first time, I repeated the same mistake as before but luckily wasn't penalized for it! In fact it was accepted without the least hesitation (perhaps to save our humiliation - so considerate, eh?). Encouraged, I continued to flaunt such a request with impunity the next time only to be politely put in place! However bouquets managed to get a better treatment. So the next time – yes, you guessed it – I landed with flowers. But they had to be left at the entrance! I had failed to read the invitation properly – it read – “No gifts / bouquets, please!” And they stuck to it verbatim!

Oh I forgot to mention another weird experience. It was my colleague’s son’s wedding – the entire staff was in full attendance. The invite carried the statutory warning, “No gifts, please” but some of us managed to thrust the gift envelope in the hands of the hapless bridegroom who was our ex-student. You see he couldn't put up a strong resistance against his respected teachers! We patted our own backs and boasted about our victory to the colleagues who were not so fortunate! Wait, that was not ‘The end’! Two days later, our colleague resumed duty. As we gathered around him for small talk, he smilingly took out envelopes from his bag and started reading out the names written on them and distributing! Yes, those were our gift envelopes returning to us! So he had the last laugh; my hubby too!

You see hubby had been in the disapproval mode all along, asking me to stick to the invite’s request. Finally I had to give in – no choice, you see – a case of twice (in fact more) bitten, thrice shy, so to say! So there we stood in the queue to greet the newlyweds – barehanded for the first time! There were many others like us. But there were so many others armed with gifts too. My eyes were riveted on the stage – no, not admiring the bridal couple but scrutinizing whether the gifts exchanged hands. Oh yes, they did! I looked at hubby. Needless to say he was coolly oblivious to the entire show. Even if he wasn't,  it didn't matter to him. Don’t you agree men are made of different mettle? I was on pins and needles. I noticed many in the queue pulling out an envelope from their purse with a flourish as they neared the dais. I cursed myself – how couldn't I think of that? I simply couldn't forgive myself. My guilt-pangs must have adorned my face but I guess the newlyweds with eyes only for each other must have missed it.

So what next? No prizes for guessing – I started attending weddings with an envelope with a cash gift in the purse – with the words “Best wishes from The Balasubramonians” inscribed on it. If it was accepted, fine. If not, again fine! This was a classic case of having the cake and eating it too. I patted my own back for resolving my dilemma – though it was definitely not my discovery!

This worked well for a while till we encountered a different experience. We had gone for a reception with our friends. As we stood together in the greet-the-couple-queue, I pulled out the gift envelope from my purse. Noticing that, my friend said that they didn't bring any gift as requested in the invite. We greeted the couple with the gift and hand-shake and our friends with a mere hand-shake. We felt bad that they must have felt bad. I got an earful from hubby who felt I had embarrassed our hosts as well as our friends.

So the next time, I played the obedient wife as we attended a wedding reception minus the ubiquitous envelope. Again the same scenes – gifts / envelopes / bouquets being accepted as graciously as mere handshakes and greetings. I gave hubby a meaningful glance. He whispered, “We are only honoring their request, so why feel guilty?” Theoretically correct, but personally I couldn't agree. I am still struggling to come to terms with the changing trend.

But my honest opinion is the phrase goes against our culture. I don’t think anyone would grudge presenting a gift! So why put a negative premium on that?! Is the aim to revolutionize? Will someone enlighten me with a valid / convincing explanation for this growing trend? I would like to state here that if people are taking concrete steps against dowry, they deserve kudos. But I hope they are not mixing up issues by saying ‘NO’ to gifts which can in no way be classified as dowry! If they still want to persist in bringing about a change in society, good luck to them! Till then will someone help me to get out of this ‘thrishanku’?! It is with dreadful apprehension that I open wedding invitation cards these days!

© Copyright 2011. Brinda Balasubramonian.