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Yenna Acharama? (Are you that traditional?)
iran Kannappan

he cold front had moved in making it a cloudy day in Texas, unusual for this time of the year with day light savings in effect for over two weeks now. When it comes to unpredictable weather, people (non-republicans) were very sure it was President Bush who was responsible for hampering the weather pattern. Oh well… he had just announced measures to get America to make fuel from straw, similar to what Brazil had from sugarcane. (He did not go the extra mile to look up some claims form India, where fuel was created from water.)

My day was chugging along as any other typical day in any American IT company. Emails, meetings with a bit of small talk around the coffee pot about Intel’s influence on the small EDA (Electronic Design Automation) companies, some local CEO (Chief Executive Officer) being sacked, some old forgotten co-worker suddenly remembered for the millions he just made in an acquisition, some new electronic gadget that was now available in Fry’s (an electronic store) etc. Then I am back in my office with my good old computer and the Internet.

As the two hands on the clock were coming closer, (most kids can't read traditional clocks anymore… it’s the electronic age) I was about to find company to have lunch. My usual lunch buddy was no longer around for his contract was abruptly terminated a week ago. I walked out of my cube to find my Boss at the microwave. Oh well.. I have a call at one, so am heating up my lunch, were his words. Lunch seemed to be the last thing on any body’s mind. I saw Nancy munching on her apple and pick up a cup of dark coffee. While America had the most number of obese people in the world, it had the most number of calories conscious ones too.

This thought suddenly highlighted the phrase "Six grams or less fat per sub" in my mind. What better place to go other than Subway, when one is all by one self and wants to get "healthy meals". I drove to a Subway situated inside a convenience store, in a close by strip mall. The parking lot was mostly filled with 4x4 (pick up trucks). Some of them had big bumper stickers that read "God Bless America."; "We are with our troops."; "Proud to be an American." while some just carried an American flag. The thing about "patriotic" bumper sticker started soon after the historic 9/11 events. I had known a lot of Indians in America who had gone out of their way to get these stickers on their cars; some even wore pins on themselves. I have always wondered if this was a sign of fear of being isolated by mainstream America or is it solidarity and gratitude towards a nation that has given us such a wonderful lifestyle.

What had puzzled me most was why a lot of Indians in America, thought it appropriate to support the American war on Iraq. Political views of India as a country are changing too. India now wants to be safely aligned with America to reap the economic benefits that come with it. All of a sudden, America has also discovered India to be a strategic partner and a great democracy, to buddy up with. Let's not even talk about Indian Spiritual Guru’s marketing art of breathing, walking, meditating, eating and living to Americans, while Americans are marketing KFC, McDonalds, Coke and Lays to Indians.

Indians ran this convenience store and Subway. I had been there to pick up lunch a couple of times before. Subway all over America if not the world looked and felt the same, whoever ran the show. You stand in line and the first person at the Subway manufacturing line says "Hi, How can I help you today?". If you are a regular at Subway, you would reel out "Six Inch Veggie Max (If you are a vegetarian there is nothing much to choose from) on a wheat bread no cheese…..toasted…."

At this point you know that there needs a pause because the sandwich switches from one person to another. It all becomes so familiar, like the poojari saying ashtaotaram in the temple for the 100th time in one evening. It’s a mechanical affair. So my toasted bread was out of the oven and the lady with the smiling face and a small bindi (red dot on the fore head) greeted me with a hi, before she could ask me anything I said "Hi, all the veggie no onions please….". She looked at me with a smile and asked "Yenna Acharama ? (Are you that traditional?)". (Traditionally south Indian Brahmins were not consuming onions.) For a moment I did not realize what the question was and drew a blank. But slowly I answered "Ing varathake munne acharam vicharam yella vitu, Melting Pot le vilande aname?
(Before coming here, one has to give up ones tradition and thoughts and jump into the Melting Pot, Isn’t it?)
Oru pakkam go mamsam in-oru pakkam onion, naduvale yanaku acharama? (With cow meat on one side and Onion on the other, Can I be traditional in the middle?)"

She burst out with a hysterical laughter. The other’s three Indians and one Hispanic forming the Subway process pipeline on that side of the counter were wondering what I had said…while she translated my Tamil statement to Hindi. Upon which, all the three Indians ended up in a loud laughter while the line of native (Americans) customers and the one Hispanic woman behind the counter stood watching……………………
© Kiran Kannappan June 2006

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