June 21, 2009

North for the Summer

Fear not, it is I.

After an extended hiatus, I am back. With something(finally) to write about.

2 things to get out of the way before I begin.

1. I have the short-term memory of a fruit-fly and hence, the following is an approximate reconstruction of a recent trip to the U.S. of A, with a little help from general observations saved in the "Drafts" section of my Inbox.

2. Towards the second half of the trip, I got tired of saving my observations as text messages and hence, will attempt to recreate this part with a little help from images saved on Picasa.

Now, my parents tell me that I have been on a plane before, but that was sometime in the late '80s and it is only natural that I have no memory of this whatsoever. Therefore, it was a momentous occasion(for me atleast) when our (Air France) flight took off from Bangalore. The flight to Paris was quite uneventful thereafter, except for our "Hindu Non-veg Meal" which pretty much was to my tongue what a repeated flogging would have been to my backside. All this was washed down with some yogurt, which incidentally, became part of my staple diet during the course of the holiday.

Paris was where the trip really began. One of the moments of the trip was looking out the window as we flew over sun-drenched Parisian fields, and the sparkling Atlantic Ocean at mid-day, Heineken in hand.

Setting foot in the U.S., the only thing that seemed more diverse than the range of automobiles on offer was probably the number of ethnicities on display. Mexicans, Italians, Indians, Spaniards, Pakistanis, Indians, French, Brits, Indians. With the odd "American" for good measure. All jokes aside, I was really impressed by the assortment of automobiles that met my eye. Buicks, Pontiacs, Cadillacs, Nissans, Chevys, Mercs, Audis, Toyotas, Hondas, BMWs, Fords. Quite necessary, considering the public transport system is virtually defunct. Once you get your head around driving on the right side of the road(which, in my case, never happened) and driving at an average speed of 60mph(yes, you will also have to purge away your knowledge of the metric system) , you're good to go. Till then, I can guarantee that you would be scared shitless. The immediate impression one gets is of a nation and a people that don't believe in moderation. There is excess in everything. From the cheese on the burgers to the square footage of the malls to the displacement of the engines to the range of extended waist sizes, there is no such thing as too much.

My only memory of the first 2 weeks is of long summer days, incessant sleeping and even more shopping. Pillaging food from Burger King and Pizza Hut. Of watching PG13 movies with my underage cousins. Of hulu.com and the unlimited hours of entertainment it gave me. Of getting acquainted with that old nemesis--toilet paper and getting used to drinking anything but water with my meals. Listening to that rich Malayali musical heritage we call Boney M in my brother's Honda Civic as we drove around. Of playing golf for the first time. Of looking around for souvenirs that weren't made in China. Snuggling up in the basement in a chair that felt like a lamb's belly, with a PS2 joystick in hand. That basement was my refuge for the most part, where I spent hours honing my table-tennis(or ping-pong, as they like to call it) skills; trying my hand at the drums, only to be reminded every so often that I was damaging the aural senses of those around me; occasionally taking the time to open a can of whoop-ass on my cousins at NBA 2008 or Gran Turismo. Of meeting cousins that I hadn't seen since I was 7. Of taking Maths classes for younger cousins and asserting my dominance every so often by asking them what the Differential of x2 was or the value of Planck's constant. Wicked, I know, but it sure was fun. Of being embarrassed to tell them that I had forgotten how to convert from Celsius to Fahrenheit. Of an epic barbecue party in the backyard that threatened the existence of most types of fowl, the entire bovine race and probably a couple of trespassing pigs. Of eating Lay's on the swing till it got dark(9 in the evening). Of attempting to fly a kite. Of a trip to the beach. First time I've ever worn a sweater at the beach, but it was totally justified. Cold as hell, but a small price to pay for dipping my feet in the Atlantic Ocean.

Wow, that is a lot for a fruit-fly.

And then, we started to really travel. The highway system is a thing of beauty, if and when you find your bearings. Routes, Exits, Interstates, the whole thing can even seem extravagant at times. Of course, finding your way around isn't really a problem if you have a comforting female voice in your front seat. GPS unit, silly. That thing single-handedly took us across states, without incident. It did however go kaput(probably out of sheer fatigue) on our return from Niagara Falls, and in those 2 hours, I learnt more about the American highway system than I had on the rest of the trip.

A cheering squad consisting of close family(this ranges from 10 to multitudes for the average Malayali) and friends gathered in Baltimore for my brother's graduation, which was pretty much the focal point of the trip. We made an appointment with Washington D.C. the next day, and managed to catch a glimpse of Mr. Obama's abode, among other things. We returned to Baltimore and started planning for the monumental drive ahead.

400 miles. 9 hours. 1 very tired brother. A holiday within a holiday. Niagara Falls. With the gripping beat of Rasputin--by this time firmly tattoed in my brain--playing in the background, we set out for the promised land, with anticipation in our hearts, H1N1 on our minds and disco in our bones. The drive felt like a bean-bag on a cloud and naturally flew by. We checked in at the Hampton Inn(thank you, Picasa) and headed to the falls as quickly as was humanly possible(read: after 3 hours of mind-numbing sleep).

Walking through clouds in Yercaud. The road from Madikeri to Virajpet. Echo point in Munnar. Leeches at the Periyar Wildlife Sanctuary. Boat-house in Allepey. Sunrise at Kodachadri. The Arabian Sea from the lighthouse on Kaup beach. Sunset at Palolem beach. Afternoon at Gokharna. Niagara Falls.

The sight of the water in Lake Erie plumetting hundreds of feet as it made its way to Lake Ontario and finally to the Atlantic, creating the Niagara River(and Falls, of course) on the way, was so vivid that it wiped clean that tattoo of Rasputin from my memory. A feeble attempt at a description of what I saw, but http://picasaweb.google.com/mathewsajiv/NiagaraFalls# is likely to give you a better idea. That sight has become my benchmark ever since. A benchmark that is unlikely to be overshadowed anytime soon. A customary boat-ride on the legendary Maid of the Mist(with the Indians and Chinks on board heavily outnumbering even the seagulls) the following day took us right under the Falls, resulting in several wet glasses and even more malfunctioning digital cameras from the third world. The Cave of the Winds experience consisted of strategically positioned stairs right below the Falls, that guaranteed copious amounts of adrenaline. We soaked it all in, quite literally from several vantage points. It was soon time to leave; we had to drag ourselves away from the compelling views and into the Civic. Barring the 2 hours when our GPS unit reached the Pearly Gates, the drive back was fairly incident-free.

I have very vague memories(even by my own standards) of what happened after our return from Niagara. I may have even met a talking dog. So firmly entrenched in my mind were the memories of Niagara, that even talking dogs would've had little impact. I do remember the buffet of a lifetime at The Wood Grill, but the rest is pretty hazy. A few days later, it was time to head South again. Not to mention a long way East. It was difficult to leave, naturally. It had been the trip of a lifetime.


  1. Searing, soulful writing! Loved the tongue-in-cheekiness and jalapeño wit. I've been getting access to your stupendous blog via Rajiv. Needless to say, both of you have generous helpings of the magnificent Mathew brain. Have you gotten Rasputin out of your head yet? :) Keep writing, I'll be sure to check in again in a while!

  2. hey mathew, this post sure made a good read. keep writing :)

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. You, sir, can write. Keep it coming. And you seem to have lost the general cynicism (Mrs. Lorry introduced me to this word) that pervaded the first two posts, along with the America-bashing. Ironic :)

  5. hey...
    nice 1 man...dint knw abt ur writin skills...keep me posted abt ur future posts....

  6. honestly man.. that was good.. since when!!?!


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