There are numerous indicators that point to my lack of re-integration into British society. In restaurants I insist on providing candid feedback on each course in the most polite manner I can muster with my best Colgate ultra-bright smile with my now perfectly aligned teeth (thanks to American orthodontics, oral surgery and the US Microsoft health plan). My British colleagues cringle that the sight of someone causing such a scene in public. However, I want to know why I have been charged £7.95 ($16.00) for frozen scallops incompletely “seared” and then scattered in a haphazard manner over totally inappropriate Asian noodles. People should go to prison for such war crimes. Where is my fellow Glaswegian Ramsay when you need him. When I moved to Cambridge I continued the custom of making eye contact with passers by in my neighbourhood and saying hello and beaming the best smile my UK programming could muster. In Seattle or California this protocol was always reciprocated in kind but in Cambridge people just pretend that I don’t exist, look past me as if I am invisible, cross the road when they see me coming or fumble in their pockets for the ‘9’ button on their mobile phone. At Kiran’s Seattle daycare I was on civil chit-chat terms with many of the parents. I have been taking Kiran to her Cambridge school every morning for a year now and I have yet to strike up a conversation with any of the other parents who do their best to avoid my gaze or any attempt at communication. For me, it is not just the weather that is cold in Cambridge.
It’s bit a long time since I have sent I news email. Perhaps this is because I did not want to write and send a negative depressing missive. Or perhaps it was because so many people have complained about getting such bulk junk email from me. But in reality it is probably because to all intents and purposes I have effectively been dead since arriving in Cambridge – at least as far as my heart and soul is concerned. It’s rather like being cast in the wrong part in play for which you auditioned by accident and somehow you got the part and now you have go through the motions without the emotions. I bought a heart rate monitor to make sure that I still have a pulse.
My daughter Kiran (five) now has an East Anglia accent despite our best efforts which have included taking her to a US air force base for a 4th of July celebration, far too many Disney DVDs, exposure to all the American friends we can muster here and two months in California this summer (after which she at least lost her ability to pronounce the letter ‘t’ which is at least some sort of progress – think “pary”). After Susan picked her up from her first session at day care in Cambridge the staff commented that they had never seen such a confident child that introduced herself to the other kids, integrated immediately and when one child bothered her she responded by holding our her hand and saying “give me space”. Moving Kiran from America where children are taught to express themselves and have respect for others to a country where the notion that children are to be seen but not heard is still deeply embedded in the firmware is one of the opportunity costs.
My son Kavi (almost three) is a savage beast – a wild animal. Characteristics which I think will serve him well in this dog eat dog world. I can’t say I recognize much of myself in Kiran and perhaps it is time for a DNA test. However, there is do doubt that Kavi is a chip off the old shoulder. He has boundless energy most of it directed towards violent and destructive means. With reckless abandon he will attempt to overcome any obstacle no matter how infeasible. Any problem can be solved with a push, a shove, a shout or a punch. Is it alive? Kill it and see. Have you gone too far? Just flash your best smile and set the dimples to 100% and set the big brown eyes to stun and you can expect to get off with just a caution.
Things are going well for my mother who has now had both knees replaced and she has regained some mobility. She can walk about half a mile and perform light sopping errands. My sister has just moved out from the family home and for the first time ever my mother is on her own in Glasgow. She would like to hold on her independence as long as she can but at some point the plan is for her to come and live with us. She speaks very little English and our kids speak no Punjabi and it is sad to see her at once happy to see her grandchildren but on the other hand unable to communicate with them. On the other hand, I speak the same language as most people around me yet I still can’t understand what is going on.
We spent two months this summer in California where I worked at Microsoft’s research laboratory in Mountain View and Susan worked at HP’s lab HQ in Palo Alto. We rented a house in Palo Alto and we found a Montessori daycare for the kids (my rants about Montessori daycares and schools would fill an entire news email). Kavi had at least one “time out” for violence every day (usually for trying to strangle his sister). Although I spent most of my waking hours working with a few weekend trips and some evening meals we made for friends I found it utterly liberating to be back in America. I felt “defrosted” and as if the pilot light had been lit and there was a spring my step and a smile on my face and simply walking down the street bathed in sun and warmth amongst palm tree lined streets was a sublime pleasure. Best of all was catching up with our friends in the Bay Area and after a glass or two of Napa chardonnay or Sonoma zinfandel it was as if we had never left. The smell of eucalyptus at Point Lobos State Park, the feeling of the surf in your hair at Boony Doon beach, the glittering San Francisco Bay, the azure sparkle of Lake Tahoe, the towering coastal redwoods, the stunning mountains in magical Yosemite valley… what kind of idiot leaves California?
I ordered three items from the Obama website: (a) a yard sign; (b) a T-shirt; (c) a “Republicans for Obama” car bumper sticker which was the only item that was stolen from the parcel which I think says a lot about my Palo Alto neighbours. I will vote for Obama but I expect the Republicans will win the election.
I have made myself rather unpopular at the local residents association. At the one meeting that Susan let me go to I suggested that we should not oppose the conversion of a hotel at the end of our street into apartments because there is a lack of housing in Cambridge and we should do our bit to help east the situation for people who are not as fortunate as us (I think I was branded a communist). I also opposed blocking our street to traffic pointing our that we don’t actually own Cambridge and people need to get from point A to point B and our street is the only viable means of doing this (for this I got silent condemnation and Susan has now banned me from going to further resident association meetings). To help counteract the damage we did invite our entire street to a party at our house where I served rather nice new world wine and Indian food. Many people came and someone remarked that the last time such a thing happened in the street was 1957.
We used to how two good restaurants in Cambridge and now we only have one. The second best was styled after Alice Water’s Chez Panisse restaurant in Berkeley (the original eat local restaurant). Alice Water stole our chef and now we are down to just one good restaurant (a two star Michelin restaurant that is typically $300 per head so not a place you order a carry from on a whim).
Family pictures on my Facebook site.