That first week when I had piled on at Dr. P’s house, I accompanied him and his family to a couple of Indian get-togethers. The food was fantastic, but I was totally jet-lagged and out of my element. I couldn’t understand a word of the Telugu that was being spoken by most of the “grownups” there, nor much of the accented-english spoken by their college-age kids. It did not help that, as the latest arrival from the old country, I was asked wild, open-ended questions like “Soooo, what’s new in India?” All that socializing with strangers in a strange land made me feel incredibly home sick and restless for school to start.
I found school work to be relatively easy and my advisors were kind and thoughtful. Day to day living was more of a challenge for my pampered and heretofore sheltered self. Arriving with two bagfuls of groceries and opening the refrigerator in my apartment, I was greeted by boxes and boxes of red and white meat. I understood for the first time what “culture shock” meant. Feeling a bit shaken at having to live in this environment, I looked for reassurance at U, Professor C’s sister, who had taken me grocery shopping. She, of the pious Vishnu Sahasranamam chanting household, merely smiled pityingly at me and shook her head as if to say “I don’t know how you are going to survive in this place”.
Survive I did. On a staple of rice, yogurt, potatoes and ice cream (it is another story that I went back to India eight months later more than 20 lbs heavier). I did very little cooking in the butcher’s kitchen (as I vehemently thought about it to myself at that time) and cooked and ate as many meals as possible at an Indian friend’s apartment. After 20 years of never tasting coffee or tea, I started consuming both by the bucket – a vice that has stayed with me ever since.
I lived for 2 pm on friday afternoons. That was my designated calling time to India when calling rates were the lowest. At a discounted rate of $3.00/minute and a monthly assistantship that wasn’t much more than that, I felt like a queen talking away for 15 minutes each week. I wrote long letters every day chronicling in elaborate detail all the goings-on in my daily life and mailed them home every week. Amma and V sent back equally long letters with Appa adding a couple of scribbles at the end of Amma’s writings.
To the envy and chagrin of former undergraduates in Computer Science from the IITs, it was I, with minimum knowledge or background in computers, who landed a sweet evening job as computer room assistant. Some thing I said at the interview about not knowing much about computers yet but wanting to learn and wanting to help others learn did the trick, I think. That job paid me $500 a month to just sit in the computer room for a couple of hours each night, finish my homework (or play solitaire), do my laundry next door if I felt ambitious, and lock up at night. Life began to look up.
To be continued…