It is quite long since I met or spoke to Suresh, so it was nice seeing him again, at his place this time. Having been in the US for almost two decades now, he now lives in Fremont with his wife Anusha and two kids, Aarthi and Shashank, doing their twelfth and sixth grades respectively.
In Phoenix, I could see a number of Indians along with Americans in my daughter’s residential area. In California, all I could see was Indians, Indians, Indians! The software industry has attracted (and retained) so much of the Indian techies that they form the sizeable community here, living in good harmony with the few natives living for long here.
I was amazed to hear that there is a sizeable community of Madhwas in Fremont, keeping in good touch with each other and meeting and socializing during all important festivals and occasions.
Aarthi welcomed us with a beautiful rendering of a piano lesson she was practising for the examination next day. After a long chat, we went to bed with the agenda set for the next day, which was to visit the Monterey Bay Aquarium and the famous 17-mile drive along the California coast.
As the children had some class or the other and Anusha had to drop and pick them up, she could not join us for the trip. After a delicious breakfast prepared with love by Anusha, Suresh took us in his Volt. Only then I became aware of his energy consciousness. He has installed solar panels on his roof top. In the American system, all energy generated on your roof top is absorbed into the grid, and you get a credit for the current produced at your end. Unlike here in India, there is no necessity to have batteries to store the current produced and use it only for heating water or lighting lanterns. Further, subsidy is given for the purchase of solar panels and tax rebate is given for installing solar panels. His car gives about 80 miles per charge, and he takes the car only when his work requires him to skip the shuttle provide by his company (Apple). Way to go, man!
The drive to Monterey Bay was long and uneventful. After reaching the aquarium, we parked the car and went in. I must say I was absolutely impressed by the sheer size of the aquarium, and the way they have created huge enclosures to house the various sea-living creatures in their own environment, beautifully lighting them up for us to have a very clear view. As much as I enjoyed viewing the various big fish, rays, octopus, jelly fish, sea horses, sea dragons and other colourful fish and also the seaside birds including penguins, my joy was partially dampened as my camera began to show signs of malfunction. I managed to click as much as possible and a good number came to be keepers too. While it took us almost three and a half hours to see the aquarium, I feel for an interested person even a full day would only be just sufficient. If I happen to visit California again, I will surely visit this place.
Hunger was pinching our stomachs as we came out, and much to our relief, we had excellent curd rice and pickle thoughtfully packed by Anusha. Then we began the famous, picturesque 17-mile drive, with several vista points en route. The drive was really scenic and since many of the vista points were similar, we did not stop at all points and skipped quite a few. We took nice pictures along the way and after a pleasant and satisfying day out driving, returned home around 8pm.
The children were already there. Aarthi had done her piano exam well. After a few hours of chatting and exchanging stories, we had our dinner. Having been told of our visit, Vasanthi’s cousin’s daughter Shalini who also lives in Fremont came to visit us and we spent some more time chatting.
Much to our surprise, Pepu and Megha appeared all of a sudden, to gift me a huge tripod stand! I had to politely decline, as I do not use the tripod much. Carrying the big-zoom camera itself is bulky enough for me, and I am not a professional to carry a tripod all the time too! Fortunately, Pepu is of a very understanding type and took it in his stride to take the tripod back. I felt sad for him and Megha having had to drive all the way from San Jose to Fremont just for this purpose. Sorry once again, Pepu and Megha! I cherish your company more than any gift you wish to give us.
As the next day was a working day with Suresh having to go to work and the children their schools, we retired to bed.
Ambatbaaji in America
The last day in Fremont was a day of rest and leisurely sight-seeing and shopping if possible. We had our flight at 7 in the evening, so Suresh had told us he would be home by 5.30 to take us to the airport. After dropping Aarthi at her school, (Shashank’s school is just off the backyard fence), we had our breakfast and Anusha took us out in her Toyota MUV.
We went to Costco first. I was amazed at the size of the shop. A whole-saler, Costco offers bulk-goods at a very good price. I was eyeing a camera, and my favourite brand Panasonic’s new model Lumix GF-5 was available with double lens offer, but I was not able to decide. What we were quickly able to decide was things to take back home that are either very good here or are not easily available in India. We exercised our choice on a few things and left satisfied. We then visited a garmet shop next door and picked up some dresses for Jeevthi. Vasanthi was looking for some pearl/stone strings, but unfortunately, the Indian shops dealing these items were closed on that day, and so she had to miss them. We visited a Balaji temple on the way.
Vasanthi’s disappointment with pearls was partly offset by the delicious spread Anusha had prepared for lunch, including the Madhwa special Ambatbaaji, with crisp vadams as side dish. Who would have imagined we would have such fine Ambatbaaji in America?!
Post-lunch, Anusha had to drop Shashank at the school for his violin class. To kill time, we also accompanied and after dropping him in his school, we went to a nearby park, where I spent time taking photographs of the ducks as Vasanthi and Anusha were catching up with family stories. When it came time, we returned home, picking up Shashank from his school.
Suresh had already arrived by the time we reached home. We had just enough time to pack. Though quiet and soft, Shashank made an impression on us, so did Aarthi by her cheerfulness and piano play. Anusha, of course, was the perfect host who made us feel completely at home. Anusha and the children bade farewell and Suresh dropped us at San Jose to catch the flight back to Phoenix.
We arrived back in Phoenix just in time for Jeevthi’s first birthday. I had waited for this day and had timed my trip to be there with her on this day.
As we did not get the community hall due to maintenance issues, we decided to have a small party at home itself. Prasanna had invited his close friends which included his colleagues and Ashwin’s family, and Preethi, hers which included Preethi Beula and her father and then the two families from Ambattur – Vidya and Pavithra and their spouses. In all, we had about 15 members present. Vasanthi had prepared a simple but delicious working menu, and with the creamy birthday cake and snacks to add, the party went off well and we had a good time.
The next few days were spent solely with the child, as we were leaving for India on the other side of the globe and who knows how long it would be before we see Prasanna, Preethi and Jeevthi again. We went to the Old Town, just to have a look at the fine art and craft shops that are lined up beautifully in the market there. Jeevthi liked the fountain so much that we had a tough time moving away from that place. The day before departure, we made a visit to the Puthige Krishna Mutt in Temple, about an hour’s drive from home.
As one can observe, we have not seen much of Phoenix itself, except for the Desert Botanical Garden, the Temple in Tempe. and the Old Town. However, we had a much enjoyable time within the premises of our home with dear Jeevthi providing us all the entertainment we needed. How much we are going to miss her! Thankfully, Skype offers some solace.
The photos presented here give a glimpse of our enjoyable trip to the USA and hopefully will serve as a refresher of memories of the good time we had with Jeevthi until we see her again. My camera which showed signs of malfuction in California deteriorated further, with the shutter release getting rigid and rigid until I could not press it at all. Therefore, I had to pack it neatly in my check-in luggage on the way back home, to have it repaired once I reach Chennai.
More photos can be viewed at www.flickr.com/photos/raghu_ambattur/sets. I will be happy to get your feedback. Please feel free to comment.