Dear Friends and Family,
Please help me find 30 families to meet as I travel from New York City to San Francisco.
Here is the tentative itinerary –
The Fulbright Program aims to bring a little more knowledge, a little more reason, and a little more compassion into world affairs and thereby increase the chance that nations will learn at last to live in peace and friendship.
—Senator J. William Fulbright
My name is Rajeev. I am a Fulbright Scholar from India. Three years ago, I took a journey from India to Indiana to pursue graduate education. That made me fall in love with this country. I became a lifelong Hoosier.
I live in New York City now and it’s time for me to go. Go back to India and contribute to understanding between the two largest democracies. I came to America to share my India with you and now as I go home, I will share America with my folks there.
My thirst for learning about America and Americans is not over yet. To conclude my Fulbright journey, I have a goal – 30 in 30. I want to take a road trip from New York to California and meet 30 American families in 30 days as I pass through Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Minnesota, Wisconsin, Dakotas, Wyoming, Utah, Montana, Idaho, Washington, Oregon, and end up in San Francisco, California.
“It’s an odd thing, but anyone who disappears
is said to be seen in San Francisco.
It must be a delightful city and possess
all the attractions of the next world”
– Oscar Wilde
I want take this message back home that there is lot of America between NY and CA. I wish to take back home, the vastness of American land and water and people and food – between the skylines of NY and CA. I want to learn from a family in Wisconsin, what it means to be American, what work they do, what keeps there family together, what their concerns are, what dreams they have? I want to learn from a family in Montana what they think of India and Indians and Indian food and Bollywood. The goal of this Indo-US friendship tour is to initiate a dialogue of friendship between the two massive nations. The final product will be a documentary film titled “Discovery of America”. You can find my itinerary further below and every day I will post story here and Twitter @rajeevcinema about my whereabouts and experiences.
I want you to be a part of my journey. To find those American families, I need your help. If you have a family or friends who can break bread with and chat with me in any of the towns and cities listed on my route, please help me connect. I believe in America, I believe in humanity. I am confident that with the help of my friends, I should be able to line up American homes opening the doors for me as I keep moving westwards.
Here is the tentative plan –
|Central Park, New York City||NY||START||
Jul 12, Saturday
Jul 12, Saturday
Jul 13, Sunday
Jul 14, Monday
Jul 16, Wednesday
Jul 17, Thursday
Jul 18, Friday
Jul 20, Sunday
|Badlands National Park||SD||
Jul 21, Monday
Jul 22, Tuesday
Jul 25, Friday
|Salt Lake City||UT||
Jul 26, Saturday
|Grand Teton National Park||WY||
Jul 28, Monday
Jul 31, Thursday
Aug 1, Friday
Aug 2, Saturday
Aug 3, Sunday
|Crater Lake National Park||OR||
Aug 4, Monday
Aug 5, Tuesday
Aug 6, Wednesday
Aug 7, Thursday
.. Coming soon. The Journey Begins on July 12th.
Last Friday, as I was rushing for work and walking into the subway station on East 86th street, I was so lost in my own world and thoughts that I did not see a man coming from the opposite side at the same turnstile where I was about to swipe my card. I noticed that only after swiping my metro card. Not even after swiping, I actually saw that when I had moved turnstile in to enter the station and came in less than an arm’s distance from that man. Now I saw that he was blind and that he was now inching back to make room for me to move forward. I could not feel more shamed of myself, of my absentmindedness. This was so not mindful living. That man began doing without having any eyes, what I could not do, with two perfectly functioning eyes. A woman now assisted him in making the exit. She gave me a look of contempt, which I clearly deserved. These few seconds now were the moments of very high awareness and consciousness for me. I can never forget the faces of that man and the woman who assisted him.
Feeling awful about this, I got into thinking about the cloud of our personal thoughts that surrounds us, ALL the time when we walk around in New York City. The things that are allowed to be a part of this cloud are devices – our cell phones, our e-readers, our music players. We don’t really lift our heads up or take our eyes off our devices or books to make an eye contact. Even when neither of the devices are engaging, our thoughts are still elsewhere. We say New York is a melting pot of cultures, but we don’t even know the language of the person sitting next to us in the subway because Spotify is streaming into our ears, screening off any linguistic treat from commuters. From the time we leave our apartment in the morning, till the time we hit the bed in the night, we must be coming across at least 30 new faces ( no Maths done), but can we recall even five of those faces when our head lands on pillow for a good night sleep?
There was another face I will never forget. Few days ago, I was taking a cross town bus from west side to east side ( I don’t take buses otherwise ) and the seat to next to me was empty. A noticed a really old woman approaching towards this seat. I just smiled, which I usually do when I see someone coming towards me. Not a big wide grin, but just a moderate smile of acknowledgement. And I resumed reading the Metro News. The woman took seat and said, “Thank you for your smile”. I can’t even forget the tone and warmth of that voice. There are many people of her age who probably didn’t grow up in a time of wired humans. For them, it’s hard to comprehend this new generation that is wired in an individual virtual cloud. So possibly, it was a pleasant surprise for her to receive smiling acknowledgment of her existence from a random stranger. And it was a surprise for me, for I did nothing extraordinarily out of my way to please here, I did what I usually did.
I know that it might be too much to ask from urban dwellers to always stay in the present and notice every human they see and make eye contact with everyone. That will be a lot of visual information to process each day. But that done in moderation might make each day a more pleasant one as the researchers Nicholas Epley and and Juliana Schroeder found in their research at University of Chicago, which I still believe is nothing earth shattering. Often, the clouds are full of thoughts about past and present. Engaging with strangers help us distract from them and get back in present, at least for time. Looking in other’s eyes and seeing their faces make us more empathetic towards them because we begin to see them as humans and not as objects dotting our way to some destination. Who knows, you might not need to go to Match.com or OkCupid, because the person you were looking for was sitting right next to you on the Q train to Times Square, if only you two had allowed each other in your virtual clouds.
So, will you try to recall five faces tonight?
India is a land of mysticism and spirituality. From the time immemorial, people concerned themselves with the search for truth. They pursued their quest through various means. Some meditated, while others sang and walked. Few days ago I came across some intense portraits of holy men of India – sadhus in the northern plains of Ganga. This wasn’t the first time I saw those images. People in the west have been fascinated by them for as long as they existed. Perhaps not that long, because when British first discovered the Hindu religion, they were turned off by the torso flashing sadhus of India and therefore they did not find this religion very pleasant to their eyes and preferred Islam , which was how they thought the East should look like – pure and clean with the followers and preachers fully covered. But the question is that how is it that most sadhus that I came across – living or dead, on website or in real blood and flesh – they are mostly male? I myself visited Gangotri once in the middle of melting glaciers and there was not a single woman there. Like cold, hunger, warmth, anger, shouldn’t the quest for truth or a desire to be with God pervade the souls of men and women alike? Any Indian can desire to eat mango irrespective of the gender. I began thinking why I found more men in this pursuit than women.
Siddharth Gautam went to find the truth. Why didn’t his wife think of doing the same? I might not be completely correct, but all the twenty four Tirthankars of Jains are males. From Bhakti movement, apart from Meera Bai and Akka Mahadevi, there is no one else carrying the female flag. And so far, I was considering only the ones that focused on truth and God and nothing else and not the ones that speak on TV every day. Even if one discounts for the fact that there are less women anyway in the world, the holy women will still be disproportionately less than male sadhus. I wondered why.
First, the thought of pursuing spirituality must have visited many women. But they were more tied to responsibilities. The patriarchal and male dominated world we live in, which was even more so in the earlier times — would such system allow a woman to leave the parents, if she was not married, or leave her children and husband, and put ashes on her body and meditate under the Banyan tree? Siddharth Gautam left ( and of course returned later), but could his wife leave for the same reason? Is it the society that does not allow that independence for women or are women biologically wired to not not care and can think of being a wondering saint only after ensuring that their families are happy?
Second, Safety. Is a woman living alone in the forests of western ghats or some cave in Gangotri safe? One sexual violence and she would be in misery for many years to come. This is very unfortunate though. The responsibility of creating and bearing life has pulled women down even in this noble pursuit. If anything, world should thank the female gender for choosing to allow her body for the purpose of continuum of life. And not punish her for having this gift.
Finally, deserting a regular life or never having one is not the only way seek salvation and pursue spirituality. It could very well be possible that many housewives have been enlightened beings. But why they did not become popular or immortal in religious and historical texts? Because that visibility might require leading an ascetic life. Not to say that that is why sages have that lifestyle – for visibility.
Holy or unholy, women are an important part of the diversity that makes it worth living on this planet. Hopefully, with more re-engineering of society, women too will enjoy freedom to pursue their desires, in they way they want.
The temperature was 95 degrees Fahrenheit. My feet were almost melting in socks further enclosed by a pair of leather shoes. Walking on 8th street, I noticed the feet of a woman in a sky blue foot wear that was letting every pore on her feet to breathe. I wondered how comfortable this woman must be feeling. I was quite happy for her because she could chose to wear what is comfortable for her. I was proud of her as well for making a choice for herself. As we got into the building and walked into elevator, she pulled out from her purse another pair of footwear, which was fancier and apparently more office-like. All the stock points she gained in my head in last 120 seconds, she lost in no time now. Rate at which stock price of the woman-with-sky-blue-footwear fell, was exponential. I could not ask her why.