Back to America

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Hey Mom,


Howdy do? I’m so sorry for being on the blink for a protracted period of time. I hope you didn’t file-in a ‘Missing Persons’ alert with the local cops or a ‘Wanted ? Alive’ poster for me. Not to say that the former would have helped you much, momma. Those cerebrally challenged chaps are perennially under the influence that they wouldn’t recognize Dawood Ibrahim even if he were to sit in front of them at Bombay Lucky, gobbling his mutton biryani. Forget recognizing India’s most wanted man.


Without alcohol up to their gills, they wouldn’t even know which end of a banana to peel!


Now, here is my story momma. Incidentally, I only wish that Karan Johar would stop acting gay (as in ‘happy’ ? sic) while drinking so much coffee on TV and instead, take one look at my true story. He could make a movie and I have no doubts whatsoever that that it would rake in more moolah than the Reddy’s did. Oops! I’m digressing, but then, you know that is a genetic problem.


Anyway, after more than a year of being in India – growing king-sized corns on my butt and working on nothing else but my tan, I?m back in the good old US of A. However, this time I didn?t take the usual route ? Bajpe to Mumbai and then jet-set directly to the US of A. The recession and my destiny had decreed it otherwise and hence, the route was rather circuitous. As you read on, things will definitely fall in perspective and you’ll comprehend as to why I have been incommunicado for a while.


Now, close your eyes, momma. Take a deep breath. Oh No! Don’t put on Enigma ? you hate it anyway and you used to call it Satan’s music. You see, momma, I?m in the US, pounding away on my keyboard as I sit in a small little store in a nondescript outpost not too many miles from the Mexican border. At the end of the day, I have a bunk to lay my weary body on. But then, what the heck? At least I have a tin-roof over the ramshackle shed that passes off as a store. I have a two-bit store to run and manage for the time-being ? until I join Apple or Google and be the next Steve Jobs. Aye, a far cry from the earlier days when I had a six-bedroom condo overlooking the Statue of Liberty, I’m aware. Nonetheless, Rome wasn’t built in a day and hope springs eternal. I don’t really know who said that ? Archimedes, Mohammed Ali Jinnah, George Bush Jr. or Lady Gaga? Not to say that who said what matters, although those aphorisms make perfect sense. Anyway, you?ll understand more as the story unfolds. Here goes, momma:


Do you recollect the time I went absconding for a few days while I was in Mangalore? Well, later when I came back I?d explained to you that I?d been down south to Kasargod ? in God’s own Country. Do you recall how skeptical you were about it, coz you always believed that contrary to what the keralites claim – everywhere up North of Kasargod is God’s own Country? For the record, I had undeniably been to Kasargod ? to meet His Excellency, ?The Ambassador of the Kasargod Embassy?. Now; how and why on earth did I make contact with such a dynamic, colorful and esteemed personality? Oh well, that?s another story altogether and maybe I?ll save it for another story when nobody walks into my store save for some cockroaches and some flies. But for the moment, suffice it to say that I got it from one of my pals, Moosa – the chap who used to supply me with beef when some ‘religious-minded’ loonies tried to ban it Mangalore.


So, let me cut short and pan-in to what transpired in Kasargod.


His Excellency Fakhruddin and his faithful sidekick Thomas (pronounced as Thoma-say) are kind souls ? the kind that are on the verge of extinction. They are so kind and understanding that only kindness oozes out of their spotless white lungis. When they listen to you, your troubles and travails; time literally comes to a standstill. For a minimal fee, they will provide you with all the necessary referrals, experience certificates, a tailor-made resume and of course a visa to visit or work anywhere ? be it to Sudan, the UAE or the USA.


Oh momma, that?s only a part of the repertoire of services that he offers. So, if someone who is a ‘SSLC pass but PUC fail’, but hankers to work as an Engineer in the Middle East or even as a Cardiologist at the venerated John Hopkins hospital in the USA, His Excellency Fakhruddin is the man to see!? Yo, Momma. Fakru’s the man for every occasion and season, come the rain or the shine! Anyway, I didn?t need a graduation certificate since I already have one. All I needed was a visa.


The ‘Embassy’? was a small little office crammed full of Passport copies, empty passports, stamps and seals of all countries right from Algeria to Zimbabwe, some computers, holograms, printers, a state-of-the-art printing press, officious looking stationery and assorted paraphernalia. On the wall behind his 2 feet x 2 feet sun-mica desk – which incidentally had a mound of ‘puttu’ as high as K2, he had a riveted (or welded ? I’m not too sure) a pretty impressive-looking picture of himself in regal costume befitting God’s own Country ? a ‘sando banyan’ and lungi replete with Hawai chappals. He was leaning against a loaded coconut tree and you could see a boat on green waters in the background. God’s own country, indeed!


Point blank, I told him that I needed to go back to the US, hook or crook.?


His Excellency murmered – ?Inshallah? while sidekick St. Thomas of Kasargod piped in his customary – ?Amen?. I took that as two ?yes?es? and aye, they were! For a fleeting second I wondered as to why His Excellency had to take the name of God in vain when in fact, it was he himself who had to will it. But then, you can’t cheese-off a man of wielding great power, and that too in God’s own country, can you? That’s why I kept mom.


His Excellency ? ?MoNNe, %%^&%%^^&& &&*^?. Thangane mangane?%%$^*&..”


And when it stopped, I looked at St. Thomas of Kasargod. He did the needful by translating that gobbledygook (to my ear at least) as – ?To go to the US, you will first have to go to the UAE and then to Mexico. From there, we will make arrangements for your smooth transit to the US.?


Santa Maria! My exodus would include passage through lands such as the UAE and Mexico? I was so stunned but nonetheless merely nodded my head in acquiescence.?


The only time I saw His Excellency blow his top was when I innocently asked him ?


?Your Excellency, will my Visa?s be genuine? Won?t I be stopped in the UAE or Mexico or the States??
His Excellency thundered “Nainde MoNNe??.%%^^&&&##@..”??.. more rain ? with lightening and plenty of hailstones too???
Oh momma, that sounded like the July rain hammering down on our patched-up tile and tin-roofed house before I went to the US during the peak of the Y2K hype! And if at all the intensity of rain was to be measured on a Richter scale, his (Fakru’s) rain-storm would record a 9 at least!
St. Thomas of Kasargod in his simple-Simon English, dutifully recited ? ?My dear friend, when the Indian Passport offices at Bangalore, Mumbai & Chennai are short of Passports or paper, they ask me to print them. Or, when the UAE/Saudi/Qatar/Bahrain/Oman/Kuwait embassies are too busy, they ask me to print their visas etc. I can make a mechanic into a doctor and a PHD into a Prime Minister! That is why India is in a mess now. I also print graduation/convocation certificates, print and issue birth and death certificates, voters ID’s, ration cards, cheque books, ATM cards, credit cards, Pan cards, UID’s etc. Name it, and we do it.


Herein, I must admit that while I had no clue about Malayalam as a language, I knew that the phrase ?My dear friend? wasn?t exactly the right translation for His Excellency?s choice of expletives. Nonetheless, it was politically correct and I began to comprehend as to why Thomas was referred to as St. Thomas of Kasargod! Sigh! Give him a few more years on the job and the chap would have a halo around his balding head, I thought.


That was it, momma. I didn?t need any more convincing. The moment I paid his money, St. Thomas clicked my pic, clicked a few times on his keyboard, copied and pasted something that looked like an awful bunch of squiggles from somewhere and voila ? there was my visa for the UAE! After the thunderstorm from His Excellency, I didn?t quite have the temerity to ask him about the visa to Mexico & the US.


After all, what separates Mexico and the US of A – just a fence in some places and a river in other places, right? And what?s the point in having a fence? To discourage some brave-heart who wants to hop over, right? Oh yes, momma ? the same logic as in how promises are meant to be broken. Also, I don?t know how and why, but your favorite hymn ? ?One day at a Time? came to mind. It soothed me and I decided to take thing at a time from thence. I was ready for the US! Yahooooo and I love you, Fakhroooooo!????


So, momma, after forking out his ?nominal fee? plus the VAT and service tax, of course – which incidentally came to the last your pension for the next decade, I picked up my UAE visa and tickets and came back home as you know. Since I was abysmally low on money, I hopped on a lorry to Mumbai. I didn?t mind the bone-jarring, teeth-loosening, hydrocele-inducing 36 hour drive since I was a man on a mission.? After I disembarked, I headed straight for the International Airport just in time for the last call announcing security and immigration for flight IX-815 to Dubai. I rushed through them and hopped in. In under 3 ? hours I found myself in DXB.


Nope, momma – I didn?t have any issues with my visa. I guess Fakhkruddin?s boasts weren?t in vain when he?d said that he was indeed printing visas for the UAE besides other countries! ?Muaaaah Fakhroo, Your Excellency, you?re indeed a man of your word?, I muttered aloud. Wow, I thought ? everything is spanking new and shiny. ?Why haul ass to the US when a tenth of the semi-literates of the US are out here?? I thought. But nope, El Dorado lay on the other side of the hemisphere and I had to get a move on.


St. Thomas of Kasargod had told me that I would be picked up and housed in the Burj Khalifa. Oh momma, in case you don?t know what that is; it is the world?s tallest structure and towers up miles and miles into the sky. I’m told that if one stands on the top deck of the Burj Khalifa and reaches out a tad, he/she can pluck a handful of stars and keep them as souvenirs. Anyway, I was picked up by an Afghan who incidentally smelled like he had had a bath just before the last Russian had left Afghanistan way back in the 80?s. However, that hardly mattered. And oh, the only thing of the Burj Khalifa that I saw was the structure jutting out into the sky from about a dozen miles away.


But none of that deterred me, momma! I had the US firmly in my sights again – right from the day the god-damned recession had played spoilt-sport with my upwardly mobile career. Be it Mexico, Latvia or Mars en route, I would go anywhere and do anything to get to the US! So help me, God, help me President Obama! The Afghan was probably thinking about his flowering poppy crop back home and was oblivious to my thoughts. He drove on.


The Afghan drove me through some Godforsaken hills, desert, wadis, hills and some more desert again and before I knew what was what, he told me that I was in Oman. Darn! This was a cardinal change from the itinerary that His Excellency Fakhroo had chalked-out for me. But what the dickens, I thought? I was getting more mileage for your hard-earned money, momma, not to mention free road-miles ? that?s not to say that they are redeemable anyway! Besides, wasn?t I travelling on more or less the same trail as the great Lawrence of Arabia? Aye, momma, your boy was really seeing places with sheep, camels and plenty of sand thrown in for added measure!


After almost 12 hours of non-stop driving, we stopped. It was dark outside and I could barely see a thing. That?s when my sense of smell kicked in with a vengeance. I could smell water lapping gently and not so gently against something solid. Santa Maria, I thought ? I was at some jetty! The Afghan took my hand and guided me to some place down. It smelt dank ? a mixture of rotten fish, diesel, oil, urine, unwashed laundry and all that is truly yucky in the olfactory senses of the almighty! The constant swaying motion, the pitch black darkness and lack of fresh air didn?t help much either. I could feel the gorge rising but managed to choke it down. I was tired, hungry, thirsty and sleepy. I found a relatively dry corner, huddled up and before I knew it I was out like a light!


I slept like I?d never slept before. I dreamt and it was in vivid techni-color ? the resolution and clarity infinitely better than the 1080i resolution from the latest Sony Bravia Plasma! And then I woke up with a start. It took me a while to get my bearings right. Where was I – Mangalore or Kasargod or Mumbai or Dubai or Oman or further beyond? Definitely, I wasn?t put up at the Four Seasons Hotel in New York coz my nose told me so. So where could I be?


It took me a while and then it hit me like a bolt out of the blue – I was out at sea. ?Eli Eli Lama Sabachtani?, I wailed out aloud.


We sailed for what seemed like endless days and endless nights. All I remember is that some slop was dished out thrice a day and I had to wolf it down. For my calls of nature, well, a bucket was all the luxury I had. Oh, no, momma, I have forgotten almost everything about my time at sea and in fact, I prefer not to dwell on it, even in a letter to you, Momma! So let me give it a wide berth and tell you some more.


One fine day, the hatch door opened and I was pulled out. To my light-depraved eyes, the sun shone down bright ? what seemed like a million suns! I closed my eyelids promptly and for good measure clamped down my palms on them. I must have been like that for half an hour or so, I can?t say.


A deep baritone of a voice yelled ? ?Bienvenido a Mexico?, and that?s when I opened my eyes! I saw a huge bronzed chap with this Frank Zappa kind-of mustache. He had a grin from ear-to-ear. Anyway, I was taken someplace and given a bar of soap and water to clean-up and a pair of worn but clean clothes to wear. Having been sans a bath for a real long time, trust me, Momma, it felt heavenly. Once I was done, he served me some piping hot food and for poor starving me, it was indeed a spread! Anyway, I don?t really know as to why I bring in these trivial details. Perhaps, it is because that?s the only thing or so that I remember, or desire to remember, Momma.


As I was wolfing down my food, he told me that he was a ?coyote? (a human smuggler) and that he would smuggle me in a truck through any one of the twin cities such as San Diego/Tijuana, El Paso/Juarez, Nogales/Nogales, Laredo/Nuevo Laredo, McAllen/Reynosa etc, depending on his schedule and other smuggling commitments. To be honest, Momma, all this sounded like Greek & Latin to me, since I was more engrossed in my food! The only thing I distinctly recall, besides the bath and food i.e., is that he told me ? ?I have to be off now, but be prepared. I could come and drive you to the US in an hour or in a day. So be prepared!? And off he went.


With my stomach brimming, I slumped in a corner right there and slept like I had never done before. It could have been for 12 hours or 24, I frankly don?t know. But, what woke me from blissful slumber was a heavy arm shaking me like a rag doll ? ?wake up – time to go?. Groggy eyed, I did just that.


He took me to his truck and crammed me in some hidden compartment in the back. The least I had expected was to be alone, but alas, my rather tall expectations were confounded. The compartment was crammed full of les miserables like me, Momma. What the heck, I thought! Misery loves company they say, and so we started off on our final leg of the journey to the grand old US of A.


Crammed amidst that stinking mass of humanity, all my weariness came back with a vengeance. There was a little light shining through a couple of strategically drilled holes – to allow a couple of teaspoonful?s of air to waft in, I deduced. That?s when I noticed a dapper looking chap next to me. He looked Indian and I thought to myself ? why not say ?Hi, howdy do? I?m so and so from India. What about you??


I introduced myself and he responded in a statuesque voice – ?Yo dude, the names Pi, Raul Pi?? Pi as in 22/7 = 3.14, ya know? And oh, I too am from India ? Mangalore, to be precise?.


Mangalore! Oh boy! I was elated. Finally half way around the globe, I could talk to somebody in Kannada, Tulu and Hindi and possibly Konkani too. My joy knew no bounds, momma.


?Namaskara, eer encha ullar? Nice meeting you Mr. Rahul Pai?, I grinned back.


?Yo Bozo, my name is Raul Pi ? I repeat, Pi as in 22/7 = 3.14, and not Rahul Pai?, he retorted.
Pi or 22/7 = 3.14 continued – “There?s one and only one like me around and you’re looking at him. People love to impersonate me ? my patented accent, my designer clogs, my blogs and my inimitable style. Hence, I call myself Original R. Pi or O. R. P. for short”.


And then, he smiled showing his dazzling pearlies like this ? Smiles! Momma, your new dentures are nothing compared to his. Even in the gloom the smile lit up the compartment brighter than the fireworks on the dot of a New Year.


?What the heck?? I muttered to myself. I surmised that he must belong to that rare breed of people who rechristen themselves with western names once the American air hits them at JFK, Dulles or O’Hare or whatever airport they first land at.


However, my elation turned to utter dejection coz he sounded terribly American, momma. My attempts to engage him in Tulu and Kannada proved to be futile coz he obdurately stuck to English. See, he has this Texan drawl which even the Texans would be proud to have. Thank God he didn?t have a cigar clamped down between his teeth and a 10 gallon hat. As things were, space was mighty cramped and there was precious little air to breathe. But then, I’m positive that he wouldn’t have smoked because he was inordinately proud of his smile.


Between smiles, we spoke some and he mentioned that he too had been in the US before the recession had nipped his blossoming career in the bud ? just like mine! He said that he used to command a 6 figure salary at work, loved to beat the bejesus out of his Ghatam to relax, pump iron and jog to keep fit, blog to unwind and watch Youtube videos to chill.


You know, Momma, he spoke quite unabashedly and nonchalantly like dropping-in his salary to a literal stranger was the most natural thing around. He had this natural flair for flitting from topic-to-topic like a butterfly flits from flower to flower on inconsequential matters. I thought to myself ? “Perfect! This is BJP’s next Prime Ministerial candidate. If only Advani, Modi and Gadkari could see him!”


Since I had nothing better to do, I just listened and listened, momma. So did the others with me. Well, I wasn?t too impressed, but a handful of the Ethiopian?s & Tunisians with us were agog to know more. And Original Raul Pi or O. R. P. didn?t disappoint them a tad coz he went on and on until I started to yawn.


I must have nodded off to sleep listening to that sermon-in-the-back-of-a-coyotes-truck. But then, that changed in an instant coz suddenly, everything was silent. Pin drop silence!


The door in the back opened on squeaky hinges.


?Frank Zappa? grinned at us and said ? ?Welcome to America?.


?What? Are we really in America??, I gasped in disbelief, to which Frank Zappa merely grinned wider, nodded in the affirmative and said ? ?Yes, but then you?ll will have to walk for a couple of miles to see some trace of the great American civilization. Good luck?.


?Gasp?. Gasp??.. I hobbled out and fell on my knees. I ran a fistful of earth through my fingers. It was as good as a fistful of gold coins, if not better. The texture was indeed different and it smelt so different too. It was like the earth had been fertilized and nurtured with full-cream milk and borrowed money ? the way it happens ONLY in the US of A. Even the Holy Grail in my hands wouldn?t have felt more comforting as this beloved soil. I could literally hear the theme music of the movie – The Good, The Bad and the Ugly. Visions of sacks and sacks of $ came to mind. With the Indian Rupee at an all-time low against the greenback, the thought was awesomely comforting ? infinitely more than promises of eternal life.


Tears of joy welled up and I shed those copious tears of joy and thanksgiving.


Finally, I was back in America! Yahoooooo! And thank you Fakhroo.





Darkness is about to descend and my first customer of the day has just walked and is asking me for a discounted diet coke. I can’t refuse him. After all, I do have to do my bit to get this great nation back on its feet. So help me God and God bless you momma! God bless America too! Will write more later, momma. For now, it is over and out.


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Note:


?Although I can’t vouch whether the Embassy of Kasargod really exists or not; this so called ‘article’ is purely a work of fiction. It spans the entire gamut of absurdity and then some more. Only a chap who is nearly brain-dead could have conjured stuff like this. Aye, that’s me. However, all references to people – living, dead or in-between, their attributes, their personalities or lack of thereof are merely coincidental.?????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????????

Author: Chris Rego- UAE


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