Monday, December 18, 2017







( Mobile Photographs ..Avtar Mota ) 

" Human settlement on the continent we call north America began at least 15000 years ago, as bands of people in present day Siberia came by water or across a now vanished land bridge into today's Alaska .As migration increased, these first Americans spread southward and Eastward, encountering regions widely divergent climate and topography.Distinctive groups with differing languages, social organization, Religious practices, and source of livelihood gradually evolved."…..  Writes Prof Paul S.Boyer in his Book "American History ...A very short Introduction"


I learn that after first European explorer Giovanni da Verrazzano landed at a place now known as New York in 1524, Immigrants from world over started pouring in.First settlement began with the Dutch in 1609.    




Our body-clock is confused with the journey across  more than two time zones. As we boarded Air India’s direct flight to New York at Terminal 3 IGI airport ,New Delhi , it was midnight . Six hours later as we flew over Europe  close to Helsinki ( Finland ) , I saw darkness disappearing on the sky . It was dawn time . A few hours more and we were flying once more into darkness in another time Zone and then once again we were greeted by the dawn  and some time later  our aircraft started its descent to New York . I expected the airport to be crowded but it was not so. I am told that New York has three airports( JFK, Newark and La-Guardia) to handle huge air traffic .

Jet lag was evident on us . I slept as per Indian time. Got up at 2 am New York time. I had my 5 hours of usual sleep. What to do now ? I come to the window to look around . I look at the well lit roads below the apartment . Like Mumbai , New York never  sleeps. Yellow cabs, buses ,red buses , speeding lorries , siren fitted( NYPD vehicles, fire fighting vehicles and ambulances ) speed  on busy roads below. I open the window . It is cold . I feel it like mid November month ‘s climate of Kashmir. I am excited to find climatically connected to my motherland even though being so far off. I am told it is still warm in Kashmir. This year , autumn is arriving late. Suddenly , I remember autumn’s golden hue in the Kashmir valley and the elegant Chinar trees. Albert Camus was right when he said, ‘autumn is another spring when every leaf is a flower’.So true for Kashmir 's graceful autumn. We are told that the ‘Fall’ or the autumn season over here is equally majestic.

 I go back to my bed . Sleepless, I keep waiting for the dawn .Over here, the jet of our toilet in Jammu is nreplaced by the tissue paper roll . My wife looks for a bucket and  small jug in the washroom. Can’t find it. It is impossible to find such things in apartments over here. You need to be careful to keep washrooms /toilets dry and clean simultaneously .You have no choice but to adjust. Now I feel why eminent classical singer Siddeshwari Devi rushed back to India after she was put in a hotel where she couldn’t find a bucket and small jug (lota) in the washroom. She had come to  London  for her concerts along with Sheila Dhar ( wife of P N Dhar, the then advisor to Mrs Indira Gandhi ) . She could never adjust to the paper rolls in the toilet . She cancelled her concerts and rushed back to India .And Siddeshwari Devi told every one ..

 “ Ram  !Ram! I shall never go to Vilayat( UK or overseas) anymore. Never shall I ask anyone to send me abroad.”

 We plan to go for a morning walk .It is 7.30 am and the streets get busier with office going pedestrians . They move fast with almost identical steps and speed. Confidence is evident in their body language . Independent , smart ,young and well dressed people running and rushing with hopes and aspirations. A crowd of smiling faces in flow . New York is inertia . New York is opportunities bundled that attract global talent .New York is momentum. Should you desire to walk casually then move aside or closer to the railings or the shops . Be away from the mid path. You may stop the smooth flow .People sip coffee held in one hand and keep talking on their mobile phones but maintain the pace. Pedestrians and groups of people wait for the hand signal to turn white to cross busy roads at select crossings . Red buses with tourist sitting on roof-tops speed past .Some tourists wave at you. These buses are known as Top View or ‘ Hop On And Hop Off ‘ tourist buses . Many boys, girls and young tour agents in red dress walk behind us crying:-

 " Hey guys. Just $29 for city ride. Rooftop view . You wanna come. Come right now. Come, come. Hip hop sit at top. Sir, you wanna buy ticket. Madam , you wanna buy. Babu Ji , Salam Namaste . You wanna two tickets .”

 We come to Times  Square .

 "Come , come , hey guys , see what we gonna do. The Brando entertainment. We guys make you feel good. Clap ,clap doodle drap "

 The music is loud. Onlookers are motivated to clap. We  are tempted to join and clap with the foot tapping  music beats. Some boys in shabby looking dresses with heads covered with a cloth talk to each other in something like a question answer session the way an Indian Madaari and Jamoora do on streets. And then a girl or a boy stays at the centre while another runs fast and jumps over his/ her head . He makes an acrobatic finish and gets up. The crowd cheers him up. He gets up and raises his hand acknowledging appreciation of onlookers. Music , cheers and another boy repeats this act.

 " Take your pictures. Guys something you wanna pay. Free will. God is great"

 Some people put their hand into their pockets to look for the wallet. The crowd Starts thinning and we move.A little away, with crowds moving past him, a man sleeps on pavement .A notice board kept close by declares," Hungry . Need Only Food .God Bless". As we walk, we feel the tempting smell of hot food coming from many restaurants and food shops.Near Madam Tussaud's Museum just opposite  the Regal cinema , we are confronted by a young man:-

 " You need your portrait . Just thirty minutes. Pay $15 . I draw. Madam , I draw .Sit 30 minute only . I artist." 

 As we stop to see his work on display , a young girl with some tickets in her hand comes close to us and says:-

 " You gonna right now. Hilarious  comedy show. Two tickets $30. You going."

Kiosks on pavements are busy selling coffee, bagels, croissants, pretzels and snacks. Some kiosks sell fresh fruits and juices. I find boards in many  kiosks like, " Halaal  Foods  " or "Roasted dry fruits " . The Halal kiosks are mostly run by men from Middle-east. Many  men, women , young and old smoke as they walk . Some stay closer to  the shops and smoke  leisurely.  Nobody looks at us. We are lost in this unfamiliar crowd.

Many shops and stores display a prominent notice board ’OPEN 24×7’ . In Manhattan , some pharmacy ( medicine) shops like the CVS are open 24×7.In every row of shops , roughly seventy percent  shops sell coffee, snacks and  food. The young and the  old  flock to the restaurants for breakfast , lunch and dinner any day and almost everyday . Home  kitchens are meant for storing and displaying appliances and not put to used everyday for cooking   food. Modern life has driven  women out from the kitchen . Like men , there is an equal need for her to work and earn for the family .This in turn has created ever increasing  employment opportunities in the food and restaurant industry and every section in that loop or chain . At a restaurant ,I read a notice board that attracts my attention; "TICK TOCK..ROUND THE CLOCK" . I am led to believe that most of the employees begin their day with hand held foods and relish subsidised  lunch in their offices.

 We are guided to move towards Bryant Park for our walk  . Pathways and roads are free from stray animals. Nowhere did we see a stray dog,  cow or any other animal.

 I find massive billboards of Johnnie Walker's latest advertisement slogan "Keep Walking New York " displayed prominently  at many places in Manhattan.


 That is what the hand written small board ( displayed by the person ) says . The person sits on the pavement opposite Regal Cinema close to  Times square. He does not raise his head . A bottle of water , a blanket and a bag is close by . Possibly all that he owns on  at that point in time. He is a European American ; " ANGREZ" . I ask my wife to move on. A little away , we come across a tall elderly African American with similar Board “ HOMELESS .PLEASE HELP. “ .He is asking for money . An elderly lady is sitting on foot path with a board  “ HOMELESS “ that attracts  our attention . A little ahead  we find a man playing guitar with some coins spread on the cloth kept on the pavement. He is seeking attention . Another  man sleeps on the pavement along with his dog ,  bag,  water bottle and a blanket. I was advised no photographs at such points. I follow the wisdom and move forward.

 A well dressed man stands close to wall . As we pass by , he comes closer to me and says,

 " Can you spare a few dollars? "

 I look at me wife. We smile and move on. As we walk some steps, we find a young woman sitting on footpath. She is reading some book . She looks up and displays a small hand written notice board  that reads this:-

 "Homeless and alone. Supporting a child. Anything will help. God bless you. "

A man delivers her his half smoked cigarette and moves on. We wait to see her smoking the remaining half.

We keep moving. A young boy speeds past us. He is on roller-skates. A girl walks close by, she has dressed herself as a character from some popular comic series. A boy dressed as Spider-man confronts us ;we smile at him ,he waves at us and moves ahead. Another young man dressed as Phantom walks past us.

 A shabby looking man is pinned down by two policemen on the pavement . Three more policemen stand and surround him .They direct pedestrians to move from other side. We come to know that the shabby looking man was involved in some crime. A little away we find two policemen putting an elderly person on a stretcher to be carried to a nearby hospital. The elderly man had some medical emergency . We see his nose bleeding. Smart , impressive and young men in well stitched dark blue uniforms . A pistol , a walkie-talkie, and a torch tied to their waist belts.That is New York Police. They look like super commandos ; tidy, smiling, robust and professional. This is NYPD, looking true to their slogan ; ‘Courtesy, Professionalism and Respect’.

 We move towards Bryant Park for a morning walk session that I must have despite Jet lag discomfort . The park has a fountain at the entrance that freezes during winter season. It provides you free WiFi and sufficient chairs to sit. I find many people busy with their laptops. You have the grand  New York  Library close by to this park.

 On footpaths , we come across notices displayed on vertical iron pillars in red " NO STANDING .NO STOPPING HERE" . A suggestive method to deal with heavy pedestrian traffic. No place to park cars except spacious shops converted to parking spaces. We peep and find cars parked close to one another. Cars parked over cars lifted and kept inside steel jacks .The charges could be as high as $10 per hour. Don't be surprised if you are stopped by some garage guard on the pavement for facilitating in or out movement of cars .

 Public transport has enormous utility and visibility in Manhattan. You have city buses , Metro trains and taxis. I am told it is not so in other places and consequently people travel by their own cars.

 We confront affluence, courtesy, mannerism, fashion , hunger, want and homelessness in Manhattan. The crowds that move past us  are a part of the highly individualistic society. Individual liberty and self dependence is visible . Yet the man walking on the street has not withdrawn from society or feeling for  fellow human beings around. Never an outsider nor living on periphery . The problem may be with our understanding his issues in our own way. Speak to him the way he understands men ,matters and situations. Should you do so, you find him warm, full of human empathy and compassion.

 From Manhattan, we go for the underground Metro train ride to downtown. Trains appear heavy and old. As they move, they make noise . Many people commute using trains .The crowd at every station looks disciplined and orderly. Many trains do not have dangling hand grips. You have to catch hold of the vertical slim steel pillars to keep balance should you travel standing. A shabby looking man sits in a corner seat along with his big bag, a stick, water bottle and a blanket. He keeps talking to himself . As I look towards him he raises the pitch of his voice . Could be a homeless ? We move away. My wife is unable to balance herself while standing in the moving air-conditioned Metro train. A middle aged man gets up and offers her his own seat. I thank him profusely. He smiles and moves away. As the doors slide open after the  train comes to halt at any station, commuters who have to enter keep waiting till the last person comes out.

As we walk from Madison Square Garden to Times Square , we get a feel of accommodative multiculturalism of this great city . We come across people from any and every corner of the world walking together in brotherhood.

At IGI T3 airport, New Delhi, we bought Matrix Global pre activated SIM for use in  the US. It didn't work even when the salesman assured us of its global utilities and unlimited merits. To get cheated with this so called Global SIM card, we had to stand in a queue . And then it was not needed at all ; you get free WiFi at JF Kennedy airport, New York. For use in the  US, , I am advised to buy T Mobile instant activated SIM for $50 from Manhattan market that gives an unlimited talk time of 30 days and 10 GB data. No ID or address proof is needed.

 We have to adjust to miles ( distance measurement in the US ),order of days and months as these are written or spoken ( like 9/11 means 11th September to which we are used to refer as 11/9) , pounds and ounces ( weight measure ), Fahrenheit ( centigrade scale not in use in the US) for temperature , right hand drive , looking for a restroom ( toilets are called restrooms over here and there are no public toilets in Manhattan, New York ), racing elevators / lifts , price phobia due to a habit of currency conversion at every point of purchase and the reverse press at electric switches to switch on lights .

We are told that the Jet lag issues shall resolve in  three  or four days .

( Avtar Mota )                             


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