New England Journal of Travel, Vol. 4

New England Journal of Travel, Vol. 4 - Saturday

It seemed liked the same grandparents, parents and toddlers in tow frolicking in Boston Commons the day before, had climbed on the New Haven - New York train that morning. This time, I did not have the most original travel plans. New Haven, home of the famous Yale University, was nothing much to speak of, except for the fact that it was the first place in the US after Chicago, that I saw a train station with more than one platform. Soon after we left I was gently rocked to sleep. When I woke up, I was in Harlem. Soon after that we went underground and I felt I was in the opening scene of In America. We arrived at the Grand Central Station and walked upto the crowded (nothing like V.T. or Churchgate) Great Hall. The US flag hung down, looking out of place with the figures and stars painted in gold on the immense green dome. It wanted to assert 'America - the Land of the Free, the Home of Brave'. For me, it epitomized the psyche of New York and country as a whole; the fear has subsided but not quite gone. The WTC site which went later, was still a mass of rubble but is treated like some shrine. The Americans had quite a reverential attitude appearing as if they were walking in some church. Contrastingly, foreigners gawked and took photographs, the fence and the rubble beyond it a famous background. They treated it one more stop on a cliched itinerary of the Statue of Liberty, Wall Street and Times Square.

Yesterday Boston was mrely comparable to Pune in some respects, New York was not comparable to Bombay but IT WAS Bombay. Not because they are both on a bunch of islands, or financial centres, or their countries most preeminent cities, or founded by European colonizers (Dutch, Portuguese resp.), or the tall buildings. It had the same vitality, vibrancy and always people trying to make it. Just outside the Staten Island Ferry pier, a Hispanic was swiftly selling pirated DVDs, 5$ a piece all spread on cloth. Though he was dwarfed by the skyscraper a hundred feet away, you could sense that each time he made a sale and money changed hands, he climbed up one step. One step of an imaginary skyscraper. The city is full of them, full of climbers from Latin America, Asia, Eastern Europe and Africa. Almost every subway-station newspaper stand was being run by Gujarati Patels. In a few years, it might not feel like Bombay, it might just become Bombay!
To me it seemed quite poignant that right across the place where George Washington first took the oath stands the NYSE. In God we Trust and Mammon we believe. Everywhere they were tourists and more cameras. Where were the New Yorkers among all these migrants, vendors and tourists? Maybe they did not have time for all this. It reminds me of a joke,
How do you define a New Yorker?
- Someone who has not been up the Statue of Liberty.

Seeing the sights of New York is to see nothing. Being my first time in New York , I like everybody else was checking off the locations like it was a shopping list. It useless everyone has seen New York of the attractions. I realised that to see the real New York you have to step underground and take the subway. That's where New York lives. Hear the musicians strum guitars for a few bucks. Hear evangelists talk about Christ the savior. Read, sleep.
We walked into a compartment and it was stinking. There was man huddled up, asleep (or dead?) on a seat.'Let's move to the next one', a man told us. After we reached the next compartment he said, 'I feel bad for that guy, but ...', he shrugged and started reading. A little later, a man with a bandage on his arm stepped in and made a impassioned speech,
'Excuse me, I have just been released from hospital diagnosed with AIDS. I have no food and no money, if any of you kind people could spare some ... '. He twitched continued and then stopped, looked for some sympathetic listeners. 'Thank you and may God bless you!', with that benediction he moved to the next compartment. The train tumbled along and I took photographs. From Wall Street, we went to Times Square. As I walked out through the turnstile, a woman caught my arm and asked me swipe my subway day-pass, so that she could get a free ride. In a landing, I saw lots of people taking photographs of a statue. As we walked closer we realised that this was ballerina painted white all over standing motionless in a pose. After a few minutes she bowed, the crowd cheered and dropped money in the hat in front of her.

I walked around Times Square, bought T-shirts made in El Salvador with 'New York' and 'I love New York' written on them from a Bangladeshi salesman who was operating in the front of a souvenir shop owned by a Chinese couple. A few weeks later, my brother would be wearing one of them and travelling the local trains of Mumbai. What a wonderful world.


The next day was as boring as boring can be. It was all driving through an endless Pennsylvania. We hit more rain and worse traffic backups. My travelling companion, Sumedha who started the trip nervous of the high speeds, who had to be reminded to switch on the headlights and not forget to buckle up had transformed into a seasoned veteran of the Interstate. Why so? She drove half of an arduous journey back to Ann Arbor and was not afraid to honk. A honk which is like a friendly greeting to others in Pune, is an extreme step from an American driving etiquette perspective. When she honked the third time, I knew she had arrived.

Photographs from the Trip

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