Now that the post-surgery codine haze has subsided, my head is clear enough to attempt a long overdue news email.
Since the last news email Susan and I have become US citizens. Susan’s process was rather smoother and quicker than mine which involved a much lengthier FBI check. I doubt I will ever lose my reputation with the authorities as a suspicious character (I look like a pretty convincing terrorist in my driving license and passport photographs). However, despite my trials and tribulations with various US immigration bodies they finally seem to have agreed to let me become one of them. Identity confusion has been a way of life for me as an Indian born in the Punjab, moving to the UK when I was one and a half, becoming naturalized as a UK citizen when I was seven and now also accruing US citizenship. Am I an Indian-Scottish-American? Or an Indian-American-Brit? Or an American-Indian-Scot? I don’t fancy my chances in any hostage situation. I’m doubly damned by the UK-US citizenship and my Sikh background also makes me a target for Muslim fanatics.
I am sure I will disgust many of my friends when I say that I am very proud to become an American. This is the first place I could feel anonymous and where my brown skin and accent does not bring with it huge baggage and prejudice. In the UK I had to endure verbal and physical racist attacks but my life in the US has been free of such worries. I just look like all the other Indian computer programmers in Silicon Valley or the Microsoft headquarters and no one bats an eyelid or takes any special notice. I am just like everyone else from somewhere else and this is a wonderful feeling. I would love to live here forever. We are going to leave the US to move to Cambridge, England. Well, my life has never been short of contradictions.
This summer we had to make the painful decision about whether we wanted to remain in the US or move back to the UK. We decided to move back. I will transfer to Microsoft’s research laboratory in Cambridge. This gives me a chance to move back closer to our friends and family in the UK and in particular my mother. In the end the need to be closer to our families and my mother in particular trumped the advantages of our comfortable life in the US and we decided to give Cambridge a go. I am bracing myself for reverse culture shock. We are certainly going to have to downgrade our quality of housing (Cambridge is significantly more expensive than Seattle). The thought of dealing with dodgy plumbing and having to pack my own bags at the supermarket are enough to make me tear up my one way ticket. And then there is the grey cold weather. Roll on global warming. I wonder if there is some kind of reverse carbon credit scheme where you can pay other people to pollute more? Several people have already asked how long we will be in Cambridge before we move again. My sister Parmjeet gave birth to twins recently (one boy, one girl). My brother’s partner is expecting in December. So my mother has suddenly built up a critical mass of grandchildren in the southeast of England. So perhaps this is the right time to move back. We will however sorely miss our friends in America.
I remember after 9/11 that I got very good service on planes. I just had to turn my head or raise an eyebrow and some member of cabin crew (sometimes more than one) would rush to my attention and I could get my glass of wine refilled rather quickly. I got a lot of attention from fellow passengers which I presume were for my chiseled good looks. I was often sat next to some well built guy with short hair who would engage me in conversation and somehow they would always come from a place like Fort Collins or some other military stronghold. They were always very polite (and boring conversationalists) but it was a bit obvious. I am looking forward to more splendid in-flight service (assuming I am allowed to board the plane which in my case can never be taken for granted). Up until recently the harsh stares I would sometimes get in the UK from strangers had the subtitle “Paki” along with the understanding that I should go back home to the jungle. Now the stares I get have the subtitle “terrorist”. It is too late for me to avoid the poison of racist suspicion but I was rather hoping my children could do without it.
Just yesterday I was involved in a bizarrely racist incident when I was crossing the road in Seattle with Kiran in one hand and a double latte in the other. As I made my way across the pedestrian cross-walk (in the United States cars are obliged to stop for pedestrians at “zebra” crossing) the impatient driver honked at me and starting shouting abuse relating to my desire to cross the road. I was rather taken aback at getting hassle for exercising my pedestrian rights and I was sufficiently enraged to turn around and lean into the window of the driver and tell her just what I thought of her (which involved shouting which was painful because right now my mouth is wired shut after my surgery and although I may not have been coherent I think she got the message). As I continued to walk across the road with Kiran I ignored the back talk. Then this white guy came up to me shaking his head and started to shout abuse at the driver (which somewhat amplified my sentiment but in even cruder terms). His rants included the phrase “go back to where you came from” directed at the black American driver. Since I am used to being on the receiving end of this racist slur it felt uncomfortable to be unwittingly co-opted onto the other side. The white man then proceeded to talk with me for a block and sympathize with me and my plight and suggested that I should have thrown my coffee into her face too. I was also wondering if he was aware of the irony of telling a fellow citizen to “go home” (which in her case probably involved driving around the block) and sympathizing with an incoherent Indian looking guy who presumably got off the boat not so long ago (how could he have known about my recent citizenship ceremony?).
Kiran has always been a small child for her age (in terms of weight). Kavi on the other hand is growing at some alarming rate and is quite a large baby for his age. Kiran adores Kavi (when she is not trying to poke his eye out in an affectionate kind of way). Kavi is a very smiley and happy baby and the thing that cracks him up the most is watching the exploits of his sister. Unlike his father, Kavi has not really taken to the bottle and we may have to skip past that phase and move straight onto sippy cups for him. In my younger naïver days I used to think boys and girls were much the same and everything was down to conditioning. Based on seven months of observation of Kavi and Kiran I now realize what utter rubbish that belief was. I took Kiran to our outdoor store REI to buy a sleeping bag for her. I tried to steer her in the direction of the red North Face child’s sleeping bag which had the best technical specifications. She however insisted on the pink REI sleeping bag and outright refused to entertain any other suggestion. We’ve gone out of our way to avoid giving girl-color things to Kiran but somehow she is magnetically drawn to pink. It’s exasperating. Kiran and I did have a wonderful night camping on Lopez Island (which involved a ferry trip too). Kiran could not really make the connection between “tent”, “sleeping bag”, “night time” and “sleep” but eventually (around 1AM) I threatened to feed her to the raccoons (which were in close proximity) and that finally convinced her to at least pretend to be asleep. I look forward to more father-daughter camping trips (in France or anywhere with raccoons).
In several ways now I feel like my life has become similar to Kavi’s. I can only spoon mushy food into my mouth during a short period when I am allowed to “unzip” my mouth (I am not allowed to chew for over a month). I can’t communicate by speaking and often utter grunts of frustration as I fail to make myself understood. And I take a lot of naps during the day. I have lost sensation along part of my bottom lip due to nerve damage so whenever I drink I end up drooling. I’ve had more time than usual to play with Kavi as I take time off from work to recuperate although Kavi keeps headbutting me on the jaw where I had the surgery (which involved embedded two sets of metal plates and screws into my jaw: fantastic for airport security).
Kiran is now very articulate and went through a verbal growth spurt this summer during our California vacation. For a few weeks she started to stutter and stammer which we had never seen her do before and this caused me some concern. However, she came through that phase and started to speak in almost perfect sentences using much more sophisticated constructs spoken more fluently. Verbal proficiency does have its downsides. Today in the foyer of a posh mountain lodge she loudly exclaimed “I’ve got a very small penis!”
I start in Cambridge on Monday 2 October. We are keeping a US phone number which we can answer in the UK: 206 219 9024 (it’s a Vonage number). My UK mobile number is +44 7979 648412. On Wed 6 and Thu 7 September we will be in Cambridge to look for a house to rent. If you know anyone in Cambridge who might want to rent out a nice house for six to twelve months please do let us know. You can see some of the places we are thinking of renting on this map: http://local.live.com/?v=2&cid=59ECCFD965B61401!216 If you click on “More information…” for each blue tab you will get photographs of the property. Number 1 is my top pick. Any advice welcome.