Sunday, August 16, 1998
Memories of an American dream
By P. P. S. Gill
MEMORIES, fortunately, are not perishable. These do fade at times but remain etched in the mind.
I have several vivid memories and experiences stored; like the baseball game I saw in the Skydome Stadium in downtown Toronto or the ice-hockey in a rink in Mississgua. The Skydome has a seating capacity of 50,000. Large TV screens have been installed for better viewing besides restaurants. When the sky is clear and blue and the sun bright and shining, the Skydomes roof is split open.
Caressing these memories and the cherished moments of the walks in Richmond Adelaide complex and a visit to Eatons, I bid adieu to Canada and boarded a train at Brampton for Chicago the "windy city". It was a double-deck train where on board customs and immigration check is done at Sarnia once you touch the border between Canada and the USA.
During the 11-hour-journey through farms, factories, cities and towns one got a glimpse of the US-Canada landscape. The farmhouses, machines, large sprinklers and the crops give you an idea of US agriculture. Crop production, mainly of wheat, soyabean and corn, is controlled depending upon market needs.
Chicago Union Station in downtown is almost in the heart of the city. It was drizzling slightly as I came out of the station. I was received by an Indian agricultural scientist, D.S. Padda. The drive in a cab, through the noisy, crowded streets past the skyscrapers, including the world famous Sears Towers, 11-storey high, was a breathtaking experience. The dazzling lights made me forget the loneliness of the long train haul. The Brimingham Fountain lid the Lakeshore drive.
For the next four days I was to stay in an apartment building right on the Michigan Avenue. From the apartment on 26th floor I got a panoramic view of the Michigan lake itself, the drive alongside and the Vivekanand street. The Michigan avenue is famous for its stores and shopping malls, the Alder Planetorium and, of course, the Sears Towers. The mix of rail and road net-work and the beeline of cars simply made my head reel.
What fascinated me was the Museum of Science and Industry which is a huge complex. The guide told me it will require eight hours per day for the next 30 days to see the whole museum. The visit to the Chicago University, where the first atom bomb dropped at Nagasaki and Hiroshima was prepared, was rewarding. The office of the Chicago Tribune (WGN: worlds greatest newspaper as it calls itself), the house of basketball heart-throb M. Jorden or that of boxing champ Cassius Clay, the seven-star hotel (there are very few in the world) where late Lady Diana stayed, or the school where Nancy Reagan studied, the overhead trains rattling the Chicago loop, acres of underground parking, skyhigh buildings for just parking alone was all mindboggling.
A word about Chicagos O Hare International Airport. It is no less impressive or large than, say, the one at Miami or at New York. There are three domestic terminals and a separate international terminal. Cargo is handled separately too. Like Chicago itself. The airport presents a beautiful view at night. That memorable experience of flying into O Hare from New York one night on another occasion is unforgettable. The city and the airport look like a huge sparkling jewel spread over miles with skyscrapers lights shimmering in the Michigan Lake.
At the airport, the most illuminated building is the multistorey car parking. For going from one to another terminal, the only means available is "airport transit system". I boarded the train which is computerised. It has no driver and has a voice command. It lets you know which terminal has arrived. The doors silently, automatically, open towards the terminal itself.
Come to think of how busy the airport is. The IGI at New Delhi looks like a roadways terminus! Raju, a trained pilot, told me that "every two minutes either a flight arrives or takes off from O Hare. It is, perhaps, the busiest airport into the world just like the Heathrow in London." Once a plane touches down it takes 10-25 minutes or more for it to reach its allotted slot.
Who would not love to climb atop the worlds (or atleast in the US) high-rise building, the Sears Towers at a height of 1,454 feet. It has more than 43,000 miles of telephone cables and 2,000 miles of electric wire. It took just three years to build it; and it was opened to public in 1973. (One wonders how many decades it will take to four-lane the G.T. road between New Delhi and Amritsar for a hassle-free drive). The quantity of concrete used to build sears towers can build an eight-lane highway five miles long. The elevator travels at a tremendous speed: 1,600 feet per minute to transport visitors to the "observatory", which on clear days gives a panoramic view of four states that surround Chicago.
That the USA is also a land of "contrasts" was evident from different time zones it has. Besides that, it is also a land of "opportunities" and "plenty". The contrast turned out to be vast, as I discovered when one fine morning I drove out from Chicago to Lake County in Indiana State. Chicago is in Illinois. My destination was Crown Point, one of the several suburb towns barely a 90-minute drive from Chicago. What a contrast it was!
Suddenly I found that I had left behind Chicagos chaos, noise and fast-paced life. Lake County was quiet, serene and open with plenty of sun and space. It reminded one of Punjabs countryside. However, unlike in Punjab, the place had all the amenities and facilities of modern living.
My host was a farmer-cum-lawyer, Gurnam Singh Sidhu. He had migrated from Fatehabad in Haryana some years ago. By his hardwork and luck he now owns gas stations and four bed-room house of his own in Crown Point. The small habitat has many townships such as Griffith, Hammod, Merrillville and Schereville.
It was while in this part of the USA and while travelling in a radius of over 100 miles, including a visit to Indiana-polis, (capital of Indiana State), that I got a real feel and feedback about the life that the native Americans and the migrant Asians lead. It was in this part I got a worms eye view of the functioning of the health services and hospitals, motor vehicle office, vehicles pollution check, the postal services and lifestyles of families.
Here Karan Sidhu, a young Punjabi, talked nostalgically of his schooling in India and the consequent struggle to find his feed in the US. Like thousands of others, he too has new grown roots here. He showed me around the place, including the largest steel mill spread over 14,000 acres. I also saw a gas-station where 48 cars can be filled at a time.
The politeness and helpful attitude with which clients and customers are treated in public offices has to be seen to be believed. Frayed tempers, if any are taken care of with courtesy. People too show patience and await their turn. All consumer-oriented services are computerised. Human life is of supreme value. Can you imagine how difficult it is to buy even a small vial of eye drops. Unless it is prescribed by a registered doctor no pharmacy will sell it. I was put through the paces when I wanted to buy eye drops for a friend in Chandigarh.
To air their grievances, share smiles and sighs, reminiscence, enjoy lighter moments and burden of the work place, Punjabis use gurdwaras as a meeting point on week-ends. It was at one such Sunday congregation that I met Dr Gurbachan Singh Kapoor and his doctor wife. Of Burmese origin, the two have been in the US for over 30 years. Dr Kapoor is the director, radiation, at Methodist Hospital. His substantive contribution has enabled the Sikh community to build a gurdwara of its own on a three-acre plot. The sanctum sanctorum is airconditioned. But gurdwara politics is very much to the fore.
It was Dr Kapoor who gave me an opportunity to see what it is to take care of the patients and tend to the sick. The experience at Methodist Hospital is memorable when it comes to humanitarian service and that is what, hospital and health services really mean. Even if our own people in the medical profession, consultants to paramedics, messengers and sweepers, were to imbibe even an iota of the spirit of service, sacrifice and dedication to duty at workplace as I saw there India can indeed be a changed place.
Self-discipline is visible. It is as evident as is invisible policing. One sees no cop and yet one is under surveillance at traffic lights or toll barriers. The red-and-blue flashes on a police patrol car is a signal to an offender to stop.
It is amazing how the consumer-oriented society functions. In trains, on planes, in stores, on streets, the citizens appear busy with a businesslike look. They mind their own business by either reading a book or a newspaper or eating; totally self-centred. But the people smile and help, if an occasion arises.
Even in the hi-tech
society there are oases of simple, quiet life in places
like Lake County. And mind you, there are grey, areas and
violent aspects of American life, such as Mafia shootouts
or school children shooting from the hip. Television or
cable culture is captivating as is the wide and vast
channels of choice.
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