Some Experiences and Thoughts of USA 2016 Visit-Part I (Austin February 19,-April 15, 2016)

I was worried this time before fixing the departure date. We were to reach US before February,25. I wanted to avail the Air India’s newly started straight flight to San Francisco from where Rakesh could have picked up and after staying with them for few days, we could have moved to either Cary or Austin. But as Alpana informed their house was to be under refurbishing for water leakage during the time , and Cary would be very cold at this time of the year, I talked to Rajesh, and thereafter decided to go to Austin first. We finalised a flight via London to Austin for February 19.
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For the first time I also took the services of a wheel chair at Delhi Airport even for myself as suggested by Anand and forced by Yamuna. Earlier I used to accompany Yamuna’s wheel chair. We were on a British Airways flight to London this time and thereon to Austin instead of Air India’s straight flight to New York and there on to Cary or Austin by local flight. I had found in our earlier trips that taking a wheel chair helped in cutting down the time taken from the checking-in counter through immigration and security checks to the boarding gate. This time it took almost two and half hours both at Delhi and also at London Heathrow. While the main reason at Delhi was the lack of sufficient numbers of Immigration counters beside the poor manning of the wheel chairs, at London the reason was the poor man management of this outsourced work. I had selected the flight as both the arrival from Delhi and the departure to Austin was to be from Terminal 5 of Heathrow. We had to wait, change from the wheel chair twice to different modes of transportation including one bus ride where Yamuna had to climb stairs.It was physically inconvenient way for seniors like Yamuna. Yamuna gets severe pain in climbing stairs or steps and in walking even a short distance. BA made her do that. What sort of assistance is this for senior citizens with physical trouble? As I noticed the shortage of the personnels to handle wheel chairs, I had decided for not taking it at Heathrow. At the final boarding counter for Austin, I waited till last to have some one to push the wheelchair of Yamuna up to the aircraft. No one came, even though the girl at the counter kept on requesting me to wait. But finally I got restless and myself pushed her up to the entry gate of the aircraft. Why did it happen? Has the number of requests for the wheelchairs increased ? Is it because BA doesn’t bother about passengers like us or no one wants to get employed in so low paying engagements with better alternatives, or the passengers now more often skip paying the tips to the men pushing the chair? I kept on fighting with these questions. Finally, we arrived in time at Austin International Airport. But it took quite some time to come up to waiting Rajesh because of the strict American entry regulations and matching trouble of Yamuna’s finger prints.

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Every time, I come to US, I start dreaming to see India as clean as these developed countries. We are still fighting with a basic norm of eliminating open defecation that Mahatma Gandhi initiated in Champaran, Bihar. We may take years to go to greening, landscaping and beautifying the surroundings where we live and work. It is because India as a nation is too tolerant and too democratic to get the good practices in place fast. 

I enjoy my wandering around on the wonderfully laid and maintained walking tracks all along the roads everywhere in every state of US, the green grass carpeting everywhere on both sides as well as on the dividing spaces. At least some little things can always be emulated. May be, our road designers or town planners lack the knowledge or more so, the will. Those who can, don’t have that missionary zeal to improve it till we are world class. However, we are now talking about smart cities in dozens. Let us see how they come up.

   
    
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I tried to regularly take a 2.5 miles walk along Quinlan Road and closing the loop through Steiner Ranch Blvd, both in the morning and evening. This time during the walk in Austin, I found the Texas wild flowers of different colours that have bloomed along the Quinlan Road on the both sides. The winter was ending after I came and spring was gradually setting in. I could see the trees greening gradually and some flowering too. It was a pleasure every day to keep seeing beautiful Lake Travis from a higher zone on the walking track along Quinlan that I follow. The Texas wild flowers are something unique. I thought that seeds would have been airdropped. However, Rajesh informed that these are all natural and wild. It will last for a month or more. I had not seen them in 2013, as we were here in October-November. March, April and May are prime blooming months in Texas. http://www.texashighways.com/wildflowers 

   
    
 As I could learn, Texas is unique in this respect. More than 5,000 species of flowering plants with different colours of flowers are native to Texas, and grow on both sides of highways all along. While returning from Port Aransas to Austin, we had seen yellow ones on both sides of the freeway from the car as we moved beyond John F Kennedy Memorial Causeway and city of Corpus Christi. And we saw some also from the backyard of the house.Even during our drive from Austin to the Sweet Berry Farm at Marble Falls, we saw again the natural beds of those wild Blue Bonnet, orange, and yellow flowers all along on both sides of the highways. These are everywhere adding a natural beauty along the roads. Many families visit the places to have photo sessions in the wonderful background of flowers with kids, pets and parents. The credit of these wild flowers in Texas as per some goes to Mrs. Lyndon Johnson, also known as Lady Bird Johnson. Johnson was the 36th President of the United States Lyndon after the assassination of John Kennedy. She had taken up a nation wide beatification programme. One photograph is her in being given below with Blue Bonnet wild flowers all around. However, I think the nature also helps those who endeavour to be good with nature. 

      
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I get impressed with the way my grand children are growing and getting education. Between five of them, they cover from grade two to eleven. All have interest in reading books in general and also pursue some extracurricular activities . They have well-stocked library. They know much more than what I know. All of them have been getting trained in one or the other games, be it swimming, soccer, cycling, Judo-Karate or table tennis. Simultaneously, they also get trained in playing one or other musical instruments such as piano, guitar, clarinet. However, I feel morose when we fail to communicate with our grand children or their friends because of our inability to understand the accented American English they use. I faced the similar problem with kids of the friends of Rajesh too. However, I am sure in very near future, the rapidly advancing technologies will totally remove those obstacles. More over with any chance of mixing with those of their age in India they would pick that up without any much difficulty. If I after coming to Calcutta in 1940s from the Bhojpuri area of Bihar could learn Hindi, Bangla and English, they of this new generation would certainly do that if required. I really enjoy with the next generations….. I keep on learning from them as they are growing. It will continue for perhaps for some more years……. I also feel happy that they will be having hand-on knowledge and skill that comes from do-it-yourself culture of US through Legos and then as Yamuna said, Google. All the kids are well conversant with the computing devices, it’s functions and even languages. It, through the accessibility of Internet, has opened the world of knowledge open.

   
    
 
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For the first time, we could enjoy the great company of Rajesh’ friends. Right on the next day of our arrival in Austin, we joined a party at the house of Vinay. Vinay has been knowing me as he had joined Hindustan Motors after his graduation. The group consists of four families. Interestingly, all happen to be from Bihar. All eight adults are professionals and working. While Rajesh was from BIT (Mesra), Vinay was from Manipal, Manish from NIT, Kurukshetra and Satya from IIT, Kanpur. Unlike Rajesh and Shephali who have only one kid, Svanik, others have two each. Ruchi (Prema), wife of Manish and Satya came to US for Ph.D. But both after few decided to come out of academic field to join the traditional engagements that assures better remuneration in US too. I felt bad after hearing the story of research scholars in US. Ruchi is more close to Shephali. Almost every Wednesday, she brought some home-cooked food for us. Her kids Sanvi and Aadya have also started mixing with us. They are so cute. We attended the birthday of Aadya too. In our outing to Banyan Beach at Aransas, the presence of all the four families made the trip a memorable one, though with the age, it is becoming difficult for us to join such outings and parties. Satya and Sweta had a party on Holi. I tried to learn something about the schooling in US and its curricula from Swarna-the son of Vinay, Riya-the daughter of Satya, and our grandson Svanik. I got really impressed with their levels of knowledge, even about the US politics. 

All have their parents in India- Vinay’s in Kolkata, Manish’s in Patna, Satya’s BiharSarif. All have houses here in US. Vinay and Manish have invested for their own houses in India too. Vinay met last year with a major car accident injuring him for a long hospitalisation. Unfortunately, he lost a lot in a burglary too.But none will return to live in India. Manish and Vinay have outstation projects. Mostly, they remain out of Austin in different states for five days a week, but Ruchi and Smita manage their household along with their office work. We were with all (or some) while visiting Banyan Beach, Aransas and Bastrop State Park.

      

In US, with high density of vehicle ownership, there is hardly any public transport such as railways, buses, or three-wheelers. One can imagine the difficulties for those poor living in far flung areas of widely populated state. Shephali who is a doctor here told me about such poor families. Some of these poor moms wait for the assistance from acquaintances to fix the dates of the discharge of their kids from the hospital. Some have a vehicle, as the used ones are very cheap. But these people are always concerned and constrained about the money that goes out in buying the fuel, as the distances to be covered for commuting are pretty long. However, one can see the standard school buses pretty prominently transporting the kids from different communities to the schools.

  

Every time I have been in US, some new launches from the great technocrat entrepreneurs have amazed me. Earlier, it used to be the Microsoft, Apple, Google, Amazon or Facebook, this time it was from Elon Musk. On March 31, Elon unveiled Tesla’s Model 3 electric car that has created a history in future luxury car with a price of $ 35,000. Tesla is already having autopilot facility in it that may one day will be driverless. Interestingly, Anand and Shannon were in queue to book one Tesla Model 3 and I kept on getting messages from them of their experiences. However, they will have to wait for a delivery that may only be in 2018 or later. 

   
 On April 9, I went along with Rajesh, Shephali, and Svanik to be with them on the test drive of Tesla S model that is in their planning to replace their old Toyota cars. It was a wonderful experience for all of us, particularly the way it came out from the parking area and the way it parked itself automatically at the end of the drive.
   
 
Next success story was of Elon’s SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket. On April 8, 2016 eight minutes and 35 seconds after a SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket was launched into space, the first stage booster came back to Earth and successfully landed vertically on a barge floating in the Atlantic Ocean.
I wish young Indian technocrats and scientists, young startups entrepreneurs and the offsprings of big Indian business men with deep pockets, take lessons from the hundreds of Americans who are trying to create some futuristic products in fields of driverless vehicles (Google, Apple), electric cars (Tesla, Faraday Future, Atieva, NextEV, and Karma) , individual flying machines (Terrifugia, Martin Jetpack,Zapata Racing ), space travels (SpaceX,Blue Origin), and electronics and get inspired to innovate and create their globally visible products too.
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Before starting from India, I was worried. Yamuna can no more stand for a while and cook for us. Shephali leaves for her hospital around 6AM and returns only in the evening. Rajesh works from home and remains pretty busy. I had decided to do that bit myself. I started hesitatingly but picked up from the first day. I could make good vegetables and dal too whenever, it was required. Haldiram’s rotis were available from Gandhi Bazaar or Manpasand, the Indian stores in Austin. These Indian stores in US may become good agencies for India to export those items that first generation Indians will keep relishing. With increasing population of such people, the amount may remain significant, though the Indian-origin farmers of California and Canada will have to be outsmarted. During the same period I could find a solution to my gastric problem which caused a lot of worry for all one day. I have started taking yogurt drink i.e.Butter milk. It has given relief from my regular inconveniences. It is time now for myself at almost 77 that I switch over to non-cereal diet. I am to fix the plan in place, and stick to it.

While we were here in Austin, Anand went to India with Cisco team of his boss Atul Sethi and Ramki. He kept me posted. On return, they visited Abu Dhabi and Cairo too and went to see Pyramids and Sphinx. It was almost 50 years ago that I had been to Cairo while returning from my training at Vauxhall Motors in UK stopping at Paris, Frankfurt, Berlin, Geneva.

          
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Blue Bonnets have started withering on my walking track along Quinlan Road of Steiner Ranch. As the date of departure from Austin is approaching, I am becoming a little more philosophical and perhaps sorry too. Tomorrow, on April 15, we shall depart for Cary in the morning and be with Anand by lunch time living with only the sweet memories of the days spent in Austin. It is very difficult to be sure at this age if we shall be returning again to Austin. 

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