Thursday, May 01, 2008

When you come back from the States..

Beware of the false prophets.
In this "global age" and the "information world", they say, you do not really have to be "There". "There" is now, it is "here". You do not have to be in India - just stay connected. That is what they tell you atleast.

But then the people who say this are clueless.

I called one of my friends in the USA, an NRI, sometime back. He is Telugu. He was talking about coming back. He said that he would return in 3 years, when Coastal Andhra becomes a separate state, with Vishakapattinam as the capital. Why? Because he loves Vizag and thinks IT companies will open shop in Vizag only if it is made state capital.
I heard this and I thought the creation of the separate state was a done deal. I mean, my friend pretty much "knew" when he was coming back.
Well, I talked to a couple of Telugu friends and here is the deal - they have been having this fight in Andhra for the last 40 years. No luck.
But my friend was pretty much convinced. I am sure he would not be so convinced if he was actually in Andhra, if he was "here" instead of "there".

People tell you distance means nothing in these times, but it does. You are more distant from realities "on the ground". No amount of browsing and discussing over the phone seems to help.

When I was in the US planning to come back, I would call up and ask people how things were. I learn that getting a phone takes one day, getting a ration card may take a couple of days and getting a gas connection - well, they will be waiting with the cylinder when I land.
After landing, I learnt that to get a PREPAID phone, you need address proof! And, get this, you need a separate ID proof and address proof. So, your passport won't help. You need your passport (which anyway has the wrong address) and then either a ration card, or PAN card or voter's id.
So then started my long struggle to "prove" that I exist and that I am me.
Gas connection - they need a ration card or something that says you do not have a ration card. How will you get that something? With a ration card, of course!
I made multiple trips to the ration office in Mylapore. People told me I had to bribe the guys there. I was worried that they would arrest me for trying to bribe a public official. Everytime I went there a guy would come up, stand real close to me and whisper how I should fill up the forms or what I should get the next time. I automatically assumed that this guy would ask me for the bribe, so I also took to whispering. Both of us would stand in the center of the room and whisper perfectly legal things to each other. Our romance continued every time I visited that place. He never asked me for money and I never offered.
It took me a year and a half to get my ration card.

When I came back I had a bunch of stories written in Tamil. I was sure that I would just have to walk up to Mani Rathnam and then say, "Mani, listen, here is a script. You need not cast me; but I would need all the royalties and merchandising profits". I was so convinced that is all I had to do - I did not plan to work when I came back. I thought I would make so much more writing for Mani Rathnam. Well, guess what, I started the daily grind within a month of coming back and I have not "walked upto" Mani Rathnam.

Lastly, the people that piss me off are the ones who said, "Go back. Stay at home and we will give you dollar business." I was busily calculating the money (in dollars) I would get working from home, maybe even working from Coffee Day. Ofcourse, nothing materialised.

That is what distance does to you. Information is not everything. Context matters.

My poor Vizag friend is worse off - he is waiting for a new Indian state to be created for his purpose.