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 Through the MidWest….

July 13, 2016

Vacationing in the American Midwest —
being edited…..

Despite all its legendary values, Champs Elysee of Paris turns out to be just another brick-lined road surrounded by old buildings; if you can not speak French. In fact, for a lazy vacation, entire Europe is a bit too stiff and unfamiliar. The Far East gets on your nerves soon enough with of its loud colours and shrieking languages. Even the swaying palm trees and sea waves of Bahamas and Bali’s become a monotonous bore after a while. For a friendly economical get-away destination, few places the can match the timeless beauty and the easy charm of the American Midwest. Midwestern states like Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky have an old fashioned and a cozy environment unique to them. Their lush green undulating country side has the right blend of both an agricultural and an industrial society. It is an artist’s mosaic filled with forests, lakes, farms and big cities like Chicago, Indianapolis, Detroit, and Cleveland. Then there are smaller cities like South Bend and Ft. Wayne. Finally, there are those heavenly small towns like Angola, Goshen and Nappenee that no one has ever heard of ; but are right out of the story books of the American folklore. They have a dreamy everlasting allure that is hard to resist and difficult to forget.
But first, a quick dip into the Woody Allen’s explosive world of Manhattan, my first stopover. After landing, the first feeling is of a relief of getting free of that invisible cloak of `religiosity, political-correctness and hypocrisy’’ that we refuse to let go within our own country. Soon after, the body begins to feel the strong energy waves that the city radiates. It takes a little while before you even get used to the open easiness in body behavior and dress. Automatically, your pace of walk becomes faster to keep in steps with others. Then Manhattan takes you deeper on a ride into the realm of the unknown. Many beliefs and pre-conceived notions of the conditioned-mind begin to collapse one by one. An inevitable realization dawns that entire mankind, after all, is just comprised of fallible humans beings interacting with each other either on a biological basis or on economic terms. The peep into city’s inner culture further blurs the vision and erodes that thin line between the conscious and the subconscious mind. On live TV, Howard Stern, the media Satan incarnate, eulogizes a woman’s butt and proposes sex. In that hyper pace of living, sex and seduction are just fleeting unemotional moments; only fulfilling the social, biological and physical needs. Jerry Springer’s talk show goes to the extent of showing competing lovers throwing chairs at each other and having boxing bouts. Meanwhile, the sophisticated world of Time Square’s theatres rolls on side by side with flash dancers, seedy Single’s bars, stretched Limos and horse-buggies.
But the signals are mixed. Neat structures like the Rockefeller plaza, skyscrapers of the big publishing houses and the Wall Street make the Queens and Bronx look like a junkyard. On roads, there is horn honking, cutting of traffic lights and rubbish littered in open. But law and order has improved because booming American economy has sucked out the jobless from streets. Meanwhile, you are never far away from coffee or burger of some kind. Coke also contains caffeine, just in case. Ears get tuned to different languages and you bump into skin shade of every colour. The Deli culture sells food per pound and fast multiplying steaming kiosks of poor immigrants, with aromas of Sheesh Kabaabs, pull long queues. And with China pumping in 70% of the low end products, inflation is low and a Dollar takes you very a far. One dollar to fetch a burger, another dollar to wash it down and a third for a bus ride back home. But sadly, the New Yorkers have no time for politeness, thanks largely to the Italian, Sicilian and mixed blood of many races. Are you really rude or from New York? the saying goes.
It is time now to move on to the green pastures of the Midwest where you meet the politest people on earth. Syracuse is one such small town in North West Indiana. Debraw, our waitress at the “The Frog’’ chats us up and explains what `Karaoke’’ means – when volunteers are allowed to sing on stage. When we try to pay for our drinks, she smiles and says “It’s on me’’. These are those one-main-road type towns with the typical American skyline of Gas station, McDonalds, Taco bell, Wall Mart, Col. Sander’s Kentucky and so on. Every one drives as if they were on a driving test. The country roads are surrounded by scattered farm houses, grain silos, cows grazing and auto plants. A sprinkling of the Amish people with their horse-drawn carriages, and covered heads, provide an interesting relief. It is the summer time, when skies are clear, new leaves sprout, temperature hovers around 15 C and people fall in love. Summer time also means good times, holidays, pleasant memories, outdoor BBQs and cold `Coors’ beers. And as if that was not enough, it is also the season when women shed off their superfluous clothing to add further radiance to the environment. Summer time in the West carries the same nostalgia that the winters carry in the East. People are simple, traditional and innocent much like the days of our great grand parents. You begin to hear words like `Honey, Sugar, Sweetie’’. Even local songs, unlike the meaningless noise of MTV, convey feelings and have a poetic touch. “When you meet her, tell her that I miss her….’’. “When we met in a moonlit night…’’. The beauty of the American Midwest is also in its grand emptiness – little traffic on roads, single story scattered houses and certainly no avalanche of people bumping and stepping over each other’s toes.
And when you find life getting a bit too quiet, just tune into one of those 100 TV channels that no one has time to watch. The greatest world event on tube is `Monica Lewinsky’; someone with whom the President did not take the relationship to its logical conclusion because of `legal implications’’. Meanwhile, the episode seems to have added a few useful words like “blow job’’ to the vocabulary of our sedate uninitiated oriental women. But we were too busy enjoying the luxuries that the local took for granted. Luxuries like bump free roads, no power break downs, telephones working, no killing, no corruption and plenty of water. Every day was some kind of day – mother’s day, father’s day, valentine day – good marketing ploys to suck the extra cash out of pockets. Who can resist marketing pressures like – “Buy one, get one free’’. “45 day free trial, no questions asked’’. But still the people seem to live their entire lives in denim shorts, T-shirts and joggers. Some times a bit too casual requiring stores to put a notice `shoe & shirt required’. The same easiness makes you notice more and more obese people. But unlike our fat men and women, they are active, walk fast, drive and do all kinds of work. It was during this time that two little kids called India and Pakistan had a cracker firing competition back in the Subcontinent. The immediate fall out of this mutually coordinated atomic orgasms was that my cab driver instantly corrected his “Packistaan’’ to “Pakistan’’.
Finally, the graduation ceremony of my son, Zafar, goes smoothly at the over hundred years old private Tri-State university, strong in Mech. Eng. Majors and founded by the three big car giants of Detroit. A few weeks before the graduation, he is already picked up by an automotive multi-national. Such is the tightly knit relationship between the universities and industry. The ceremony has the usual mix of functions, fanfare, protocols, tuxedos, scholar hats, emotions, nostalgia, parents, old students and laughers. All speeches revolve around education, humanity and the search for knowledge. There were no echoes of religion or patriotism, the two over-beaten themes that we love to beat the moment a mike is handed over to us. One professor, author of an Encyclopedia, had just three simple moving advisees for the graduating students – “always go an extra mile in your task, do not compromise with your conscious when you confront the real outside world and enjoy yourself’’. My other son faisal, who had accompanied us, and had gone through the rough and tumble of our aimless Pakistani education system, clearly realized as to what all he had missed by studying locally. Half the fun was getting the Visa for him to visit the graduation. He had only one minute to convince the Visa consular about his strong social and economic bonds with his motherland. Visa counselors, trained in the fine art of interrogation, rarely make a wrong assessment. No sane settled Pakistani would like to undergo the ignominy, hardships and frustrations of an illegal immigrant.
With all those goodies of the America Midwest, by the third week, I began to miss my servant. Carrying out the black garbage bag gave me creeps; and I had never realized how tedious could be the routine of carrying shopping from car boot into the home. No one would ever pick up a fallen spoon for the next century if you did not. And as one slumped into the sofa after a hard day’s routine, you thought of Pakistan where someone would automatically bring you a cup of tea. And, God forbid, if you fall sick in the US, doctors could wipe off your life’s saving in one clean sweep. Worst of all, there are no idle people to get into an idle gossip in the evenings. So while I would love to enjoy the pleasures of the American Midwest for a month a year, I would rather spend the rest of time back home among flies, mosquitoes, dust, power failures, uncles, aunts, nephews, family feuds and hypocrisy; not necessarily in that order. The God has ordained that I must suffer that way……
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