Friday, September 19, 2014

The City of Dreams - New York!

For at least a month, I was waiting for the day to come. The day when we were supposed to venture out of Florida and explore other parts of the US. Tickets were booked, places to visit decided....we just had to wait for a month for that day to come. The countdown had already begun for me. And finally with slow pace did that day arrive when we were supposed to go to the busy city of New York!

US is too vast. NY was a 3 hours flight from Fort Lauderdale. And can you believe NY has 3 airports? When NY itself is so huge, can't imagine how expansive US must be! Phew!

The moment we reached Newark Airport (one of the 3 airports in NY), we could see Indians around. Sight of desi people does give you a warm feeling in a foreign land. It is like finding Marathi speaking people at Chennai Airport waiting to board the Pune flight ;)

We took a taxi to our hotel in New Jersey. Trust me the driver drove as if he is participating in Formula 1 race. I was swooped to the left corner of the car when he took a sharp turn and he was laughing on that! And so here we were experiencing the world renowned NY taxi ride with a driver who thought he was Michael Schumacher. After such a dreadful ride the driver still had the audacity to ask for a tip! Beat that. Later in my trip I came to know from the tour guide, there are 30,000 yellow taxis running in NY. And the colour yellow was chosen as it can be spotted easily by human eye.

The hotel we had booked looked economical when we reached but prices were much higher compared to the amenities provided at the hotel. So this was our second cue on how expensive NY might be! They say you can guess if a city is overcrowded by the amount of traffic and the cleanliness/lack of cleanliness across the streets. By that standard NY has to be one of the most populous places in the US. The roads were packed with vehicles and streets were filled with litter. First time in the US, I saw something like this! So after all when the city cannot handle so many people this is what happens! And we blame Indian govt. for not giving basic amenities to its citizens!

We kept our luggage at the hotel and set out for lunch, both Sujoy and me were famished. We decided to have lunch at the Indian Street near Journal Square. It was a 10 minutes shuttle ride to the Indian street. When we got down there, it was like I was in mini India. The street had Indian restaurants, Indian grocery, beauty parlours and even Ramdev Baba's clinic along its sides. The feel was of India. Cuisines ranged from Indo chinese, punjabi, south indian, andhra biryani to assal mumbaiyya vada pav. It even had paan shops and we could not resist having a Calcutta mitha post our lunch. 

Can you see the kite paper decoration over the street? Just like back home

And then begun our NY Adventure!

New York is made up of 5 boroughs or pockets you may call them - Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens and Staten Island. Each borough has its own character. There is a ferry which goes to Staten Island and can you believe for free! It is rare to get anything free in NY.

Whenever a major avenue meets a street they call it square like Times Square, Madison Square, Union Square etc. New York is made up of streets and avenues, they run cris cross to each other. One mile will have 15-20 blocks. You have to be in NY to experience this knit of streets and avenues. So if you have to give an address to the taxi driver giving just the street no. will not help, you have to specify the avenue no. also.  

Just to give an idea about this avenue street concept

It was night by then and we thought of hitting Times Sqaure. OMG! The amount of power used to lighten all those innumerable billboards in this square is enough to provide electricity to a third world country. Broadway ads, CBS sitcom ads - Madam Secretary playing on this massive billboard. 
There is a American Eagle shop there and a billboard just on its upper side. They call it the 30 seconds of fame - the folks who buy clothes there get a chance to be seen on this huge billboard for 30 seconds. And you should see folks screaming seeing themselves on that huge canvas and basking in the glory of fame :)

The next day we hit the city sight seeing cruise which takes you around NY through the water route! One thing about New York City is you will never miss the sky scrapers - It just tingles your eye sight with these longitudinal buildings and you need to strain your neck to catch the height of these monstrous outgrowths! Be it land or water, you just cannot get rid of see it everywhere. 

 You just cannot miss the tall structures!

We saw the two bridges viz. Brooklyn Bridge and Manhattan Bridge that connect two important boroughs of New York - Manhattan and Brooklyn. The Brooklyn Bridge has a cycling path as well as footpath for pedestrians and one can enjoy the view from the bridge on feet. That is such a thoughtful construction I would say for a bridge built almost a century ago. The bridge was completed in January 1867. Now that is a big feat!

The rusted look one is the Brooklyn bridge and the parallel one to it is the much newer Manhattan bridge

We were enjoying the water and sites from the cruise when we saw her! I could not help but stare at the royalty of the Roman goddess holding the torch in her hand held high. Yes, we saw a glimpse of Statue of Liberty which is a welcome sign to all the immigrants coming to USA and we were thrilled to see her live. Just then the tour guide announced that we will be having 15 minutes around the statute for the photo sessions and that sent a shrill of excitement all over the ferry! Statue of Liberty is huge and you have to see it to experience the magnificence of this fine sculpture standing haughtily in middle of the water!

The next place on our to do list was Madame Tussauds. We were greeted by Morgan Freeman at the entrance ;)
From a distance he looked so alive but as you approached near you could make out the difference. Madame Tussauds New York is a 3 floored museum having statues of most hollywood celebrities, few bollywood celebrities viz. Amitabh and Shahrukh, many politicians, peace workers and writers. I was not that overwhelmed being here, it was nice but did not impress me that much.

It was dark by the time we came out of Madame Tussauds and it was time to see the city that never sleeps from the top of a 70 floored building - Top of the Rock. The moment you come out of the lift on the 69th floor and peek through the glass windows - That's it - You are spell bound to see all those lights twinkling from the 69th floor of a skyscraper. It reminded me of my times when I used to travel from my native place Karwar to Pune after summer holidays in a state transport bus. The moment we used to hit Katraj ghat at night we used to see all these lights which used to hint on the proximity of Pune and that we were approaching it. I tend to divert to many places at one moment :)
So coming back to New York. The Empire State Building which is the tallest building in New York stood straight coloured in blue and green for the day. The view was awe inspiring and you just cannot take your eyes off those brimming buildings.

The green and blue building is the Empire State Building

The next day it was the time for Central Park. This park is spread over a 833 acres area. Those of you who thought Pune University is huge, this park is almost double the area of Pune University. Yes, that vast it spreads! We would have required one entire day to cover this park so we thought of visiting just a part of it and that had to be Strawberry Fields. To be frank I was not aware of the story behind Strawberry Fields. One of my best friends who is a John Lennon fan told me to visit it and take a picture there. That is when I searched about this place and discovered that Strawberry Fields is a living memorial to the world-famous singer, songwriter and peace activist, John Lennon. It gets its name from Lennon's famous song 'Strawberry fields forever'. The memorial is built here as he was shot in this place while getting out of his car to go to his place. There is big circle painting done at this spot!

Street vendors selling John Lennon buttons

We also had a chance to see the bow bridge from a distance. This bridge has been featured in quite a few hollywood movies like The Autumn in New York (this movie made me fall in New York for the first time), Spider man 3 and When in Rome to name a few. This is the first cast iron bridge in the park and the second oldest one in US, this bridge indeed has a romantic setting plus is a muse for photographers.

With Beatles song 'In my life' playing in my mind we set out to our next destination and that was the 9/11 Memorial Museum. You come to the place, you see a big void in between the come closer and then you see a double fountain on black marble. Water flows steadily over the marble and you come closer. You see names engraved on the marble, names of people who lost their lives in the most unfortunate man induced crisis. You are silent for a moment, you feel numb. You pray for the ones who could not make it and then thank God for not being a part of this mishap. Human nature, unless it affects your loved ones you tend to get over it fast...really fast.

The water fountains at the memorial
This memorial is built over the place where the WTC proudly stood before the attack. One can just imagine the actual ruins left after the attack and the havoc created by it. They say the ill effects of the attack were felt years to come and the task forces which worked on this site had huge impact on their health due to the radiations. Many folks lost their life post the attack due to irreparable damage to tissues and cells. A deed which no human should be proud of! I sometimes fail to understand the extent to which a human being can go to achieve their misguided notion of justice!

The engraved names of people who lost their lives in the attack!
There is a museum too but unfortunately we could not make it as it was closed when we had reached the place.

With a heavy heart we began to our next destination. How could we miss the aggressive charging bull of Wall Street. This was the perfect next destination for us to get over the gloom of the 9/11 memorial.  Did you know that the artist behind this bull Maestro Arturo Di Modica dropped it off in front of the New York Stock Exchange, in violation of city permits? Later when the sculpture hit stardom in just one fortnight, it was decided to keep it at the Wall Street. The belligerent bull is supposed to resemble the unpredictable nature of the stock market, and hence it fits in there perfectly.

The queue to click pictures here was huge disorganised line of people. And yet we managed to click our pics there!
With that came the end to our 2 and a half day trip in New York. These 2 days we were mostly on our feet and hop on and off open buses. We hogged at Chennai special Anjappar and Saravanna Bhavan on Lexington Avenue. This Avenue has all major Indian restaurants like Copper Chimney and the famous Hyderabad Paradise Biryani. We preferred to go south indian and relived our Chennai days ;)

The streets and footpaths of New York are always crowded. You will find people smoking at every corner, even teenagers. Makes me wonder the affluence this city has as one of the guides mentioned a cigarette pack in New York costs around $ 15. Now that is a big amount to waste puffing smoke! 

New York always bustles with swarms of people, the undying lights and innumerable dreams in every one's wonder they say New York - The City of Dreams!

And that is when I realised that I have fallen in love with this city all over again for the second time now! With a lot of memories of this place and dreams of my own mingled with the fervor of the city, I called it a day and went to sleep to start another adventure the next day - The Niagara Falls!

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Chasing the Rainbow! - Chapter Four

Anagha called Pete while both of them were looking at the rainbow having completely different thoughts at that moment. Pete answered the call from the unknown number. The voice on the other end made his head spin and too many thoughts and images encroached his mind at the same time.

Anagha: "Hello Pete."

Pete was silent for a few seconds and then said, "Is it you, Anagha?"

Anagha: "It is me. I was wondering if we can meet this Saturday. I am in New York currently and will be flying back to India this Sunday." 

Pete: "Sure. How about Saturday evening 5 pm at our usual Stumptown Coffee Roaster."

After saying that Pete just realized the blunder he made. He went to cover up saying something but before that Anagha agreed and she hung up.

Pete and Anagha pretended to continue their routine till finally Saturday evening arrived. Anagha arrived earlier and chose the table from where the view was the best of the outside world. Pete arrived in 5 minutes or so. It was a little awkward for both of them and they greeted each other fumblingly. They ordered their bistros and while the bistros came tried to make small talks.

Pete: "So did you watch 'The fault in Our Stars'. They made a movie finally from your favourite book."

Anagha: "No, I did not. The book was too beautiful for me and I have my own illustrations of that book. I did not want to ruin it with the movie."

Pete: " what are you upto these days?"

Anagha: " I have started with an NGO back home and was in town for getting financial aid for the same. The name is 'Vaatsalya'."

Pete: "So you did what you always wished for! What does Waaats..what did you say the name was....what does it mean?"

Anagha: " means mother's unconditional love for her child.

Pete. Let us not do this. I will come straight to the point. When I came to New York, I did not fathom that I will meet you. I did not think that I will ever sum up the courage to see you again. But the nothing......
Something made me do this. 
I still want you to come and help me with my NGO back in India. No strings attached. Just a professional offer. I want the best people to make Vaatsalya a place for everyone doing the best for the under privileged. Just give it one chance. If you do not like it there in India, I will not force you to stay. You can work with my mom. I will not be interfering there as I am working on a different focus within Vaatsalya."

There was silence after that. Their eyes were searching each others eyes for any subtle hint as to what will happen next. Pete was the first one to withdraw his eyes from hers. He looked across the street. 

Pete did not say anything for a long time. After a while he mustered all his strength to say, "I don't know......I doubt if I will survive there."

And there they parted again and this time they thought forever.

Pete went to his Phily home straight from the coffee shop, drove for 4 hours without any stop with too many thoughts cluttered in the mind. When he barged at the door, Linda said giving a scorn "You are late for the marriage. It was today and not tomorrow."

Linda could have continued with her pestering and taunts but the aghast look on Pete's face made her stop. Being concerned she asked, "What is wrong? You look like you have seen a ghost."

Pete narrated the evening story to Linda. Both of them were silent for a moment. Pete had never told Linda the real reason for their break up, he had just announced that he is no longer seeing her.

Linda looked into his eyes and said, "You might be able to hide it from the rest of the world but Pete....I know your truth. I know why you cannot let go off New York."

Pete looked scandalized, he had taken enormous amount of effort to keep it as his treasured secret as he knew no one will understand it.

Linda with moist eyes said, "It is Grandpa. I know it is for him..."

And in that very moment Pete thought he was naked in front of the world. His heart gushed with too much blood from the arteries and mind flooded with so many memories. His Grandfather lived in NYC. The den where he lived currently belonged to his grandfather. His grandfather was more like a dad to him than Bill ever was or could be. He had too many treasured moments in NYC with his Grandpa until 9 years ago when he passed away.

He reminisced the time when he got his first pet, a Labrador which was just 2 months old. Grandpa had said, " He will be your best friend, the most selfless one with unwavering loyalty."
Pete had named him Balto after the famous sled dog who saved Alaska's children from diphtheria epidemic by delivering medicine over the frozen Tundra. Pete had always seens Balto's sculpture in Central Park while walking with his Grandpa and now thought I have my own Balto.

He remembered their fishing expeditions over Jamaica Bay. The pride he had felt when he caught his first fish and Grandpa was there to pat his back. Fishing while listening to Grandpa's childhood stories was the best thing ever.

Walking the Literary Walk in Central Park amongst the Elm trees and learning to observe folks around as Grandpa had taught him was his favourite pass time.

He felt his Grandpa's head on his shoulder in the hospital where he took his last breath. Everything came back in a flash to him.

Pete could take it no more and asked his mom to excuse him and went straight to his room.

Next day without informing anyone, he started driving for NYC. He directly went to Central Park. He walked to the Loch and sat looking at the springs coming out of the rocks. Hours passed and when he came back home he was a transformed man.

Something happened at the Loch that day and a week later Pete took a flight to India.

Had Murphy not played his part Pete would have never been able to take this chance. It was because of Murphy that he missed his guest lecture that day. Had he attended the lecture he would have missed Anagha's call and would have gone to Philadelphia for his neighbour's wedding over the weekend. He would not have been able to meet her then. Had it not been for the rain, the rainbow would not have come and Anagha would not have called Pete in the first place. So yes Murphy does work miracles sometimes.

The air hostess asked Pete to open the window shutter while landing. And as Pete opened the window, he saw a full bloomed rainbow going down towards the land. He did not know if he was going to stay there or not but in his mind he pondered, "Maybe this is the rainbow I have been wanting to chase all my life."

Monday, September 1, 2014

Chasing the Rainbow! - Chapter Three

Chapter One: Pete
Chapter Two: Anagha

Chapter Three: The Past

Pete and Anagha first met at New York University when Pete was there giving a guest lecture on disaster management and Anagha was an attendee. At the end of the lecture as always Pete requested everyone to enroll in the United Nations Volunteer Program and gave his email id for any further clarifications.

Anagha enrolled in the Program and fortunately or unfortunately it was Pete who took her interview.

Pete after flipping over her resume mused, "So why informatics and not something more conventional?"

Anagha took a deep breath and replied, "I love patterns. I love finding patterns in data, analyzing it and watch how miraculously patterns work. 

The thing with patterns is - it is not right or wrong. Like we look at the same stars in the sky and yet see such different things. Still everyone is correct in their perspective. 

It is this love for patterns that has drawn me towards this domain."

While she was narrating this, Pete could see the sparkled passion in her eyes and sense the musical fondness in her voice. She was a completely transformed person when she was talking about patterns. Anyone in the room could have sensed her immense love for patterns. Pete thought to himself, 'Someone who follows their passion....just like me.'

He had made his hiring decision right there but to ensure the interview did not seem too short, he asked a few more questions.

Anagha joined the United Nations as a volunteer and started contributing over the weekends. Everyone around used to call her Ana but Pete always referred her with her full name Anagha.

Anagha and Pete hit off with their relationship in just a month. It was bound to happen, both of them complemented each other too well.

One evening lying on the sofa, Anagha asked Pete, "So what does Pete mean?"

The question baffled Pete because he never thought names have meanings. Looking confused he said, "I don't know, do names really have meaning? What does Anagha mean?"

Anagha looked at him and smiled, "It means 'sinless' or 'without any fault'."

And Pete instantly hugged her, placed a peck on her cheek and beamed, "You are indeed my immaculate girl".

Their courtship had all the moments of love - rose bunches; walks by the water, park and roads; lots of talking and sharing; cooking; reading to each other; date nights; Broadway shows; silent moments; quarrels; teasing; the gifts; in short everything!

The moment of truth arrived when it was time to meet the parents. Anagha met Pete's parents. Bill instantly loved Anagha with her keenness towards urban structures and reality estate business. Linda took some time to understand Anagha completely but post that she never looked back. They were like girlfriends sharing all the gossip and making Pete the target of their incessant teasing. Anagha even cooked an authentic Indian meal for them one day which was enjoyed by all. Pete and Anagha thought everything is falling in place.

Anagha introduced Pete to her parents when they had flown to NY for Anagha's graduation ceremony. Before that they had spoken on phone but this was the big day. This was the moment when things would get momentum or they might just fall apart. Anagha was nervous all time but Pete gave her reassurance that all will be well.

The night of the graduation all of them went out for dinner. Sheetal asked Pete a barrage of questions on UN, humanitarian work, his short stint in Somalia, his approach towards the disaster management and what made him take up this field. In return she also narrated her experiences as a social worker. She mentioned about one of her students from Sirohi Rajasthan who won a scholarship in Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi in Social Sciences and how she came back to help other girls of her village post creating a mark as a renowned Social Science Professor. Sheetal spoke of all her students with the fondness of a mother for her favourite child. The dining table was humming with laughter and chuckles.

Mohan found Pete interesting but he had a few doubts in mind and he began his rifle shooting with the first question,

Mohan: "So how long have you known each other?"
Pete: "About a year now."
Mohan: "So you guys think a year is enough to make the decision and take the BIG leap?"
Pete and Anagha: "Yes we think so....."
Mohan: "Have you figured out where will you settle post marriage?"
Pete: "New York"
Anagha: "India"

And that was it! There was complete silence at the table post that and suddenly tension mounted. The dinner got over very soon after that and all went back to their homes having half filled stomachs but over filled minds with thoughts.

After coming home Mohan said to Anagha, "He is a good guy, but don't let anyone clip your wings and pet you in a cage. You are sensible, we will respect your decision."

Anagha did not call or meet Pete till her parents left for India nor did Pete try to call her.

They never imagined that the talk post Anagha's parents leaving would be their last talk. Anagha was ready for a mid way solution where she could stay the initial years of the marriage in NY and then later go back to India with Pete. She wanted to open a NGO in India in partnership with Pete once she had enough money to start up the operations. She wanted Pete to handle the humanitarian aspect while she concentrated on the planning and informatics. But Pete was hell bound on being in New York, not wanting to cut the umbilical cord with the place. He could not fathom a life outside New York.

Things went astray, bonds broke, poetry became venomous and Pete and Anagha went out their separate ways.