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Tilak Rishi, born in India, has been working as a career corporate executive, after doing his MBA. Passionately pursuing his hobby for writing, he also remained a regular contributor to newspapers in India and the U.S. Many true happenings and characters he came across in life, including interaction with former president Bill Clinton, inspired Paradise Lost and Found, his first novel. A family saga, it starts from Kashmir, when this paradise on earth is lost for the tourists who thronged in thousands every year to enjoy its scenic splendor. Terrorists have turned it into one of the most dangerous places in the world. The family is not only a witness to the loss of this paradise, but also to another tragedy of much bigger magnitude. In the aftermath of the partition of India, along with millions uprooted from their homes in Pakistan, the family leaves behind all that it has in Lahore. Starting from a scratch on the difficult path to progress, it still has many joyful moments when along the way it makes a difference in many a life. The survival-to-success story climaxes in California where the family finds the paradise that was lost in Kashmir.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

"Indian candies? No problem, ..."!

Ever since we had sent our son to USA for studies on his passing senior secondary, the main topic of conversation with our friends would be how our son was doing in the U.S. Some of them were skeptical of our step. They thought that we had made a big mistake in sending our only so far away, and at such a young age. They expressed concern that he might not be able to withstand the cultural explosion he would confront in the U.S., where drugs, drinking and dating started in schools. One couple even gave example of their nephew, who went to USA and never heard of from there. We were upset by such comments but did not regret sending our son to USA, as we were quite confident that we had taken the right decision for his future, and had full faith in his ability to face any challenges there. Still, some of the fears our friends expressed stuck in our minds and made us concerned about them. We decided that we make a trip to the U.S. and visit his university to see for ourselves the atmosphere and the environment in which he was pursuing his higher studies.

It was our first trip abroad. Since Los Angles was our first airport of disembarkment in the U.S., we had to go through the custom check there, even though our ultimate destination was San Francisco. Four big bags and two hand bags between two of us, traveling on tourist visa, looked too much luggage and therefore, too tempting for the custom staff to let it pass without checking the stuff inside. They asked us to open our bags. We looked at each other with a little nervousness, which was noticed by the custom personnel, a young man and a woman, who smiled and seemed pleased on the prospect of a prize catch by them.
“You seem nervous, is there any stuff that needed a declaration or attracted custom duty?” asked the lady custom officer addressing my wife.
“No, there is no such thing in the bags. Our only worry was how would we close the bags once they were opened, as it was a real tough job to close the over packed bags.” She answered.
“Don't worry, we shall help you close the bags after our inspection,” the officer replied reassuringly.

Opening of the bags became an anti climax for the custom officers. The bags were packed with all kinds of items of daily use, but not one to put us in any trouble. The officers were amused to see dozens of bath soaps, tooth pastes, and other toiletries packed along with shirts, under wears, vests, socks, shoes, and on top of them a tennis racket.
“You carried all these toiletries and cosmetics from India, when these are all the items tourists carry from here to their countries,” the officer commented lightly.
“We knew these were available in all varieties and best quality here, but we do not have dollars to pay for their purchase, nor our son has, who is a student here and for whom we have brought all this stuff. Our government allows very little foreign exchange for traveling abroad.” My wife tried to explain, which the officers hardly understood, especially not being allowed to bring dollars from our country.
“And what is there in these beautiful boxes?”
“Indian candies for our son. We can leave them here if we are not allowed to carry these.”
“Indian candies? No problem, let him enjoy.”

I wondered at my wife's presence of mind in calling Indian sweets as candies and getting away with them. I was pretty sure they would not have permitted Indian sweets, as they did not allow any eatables into the U.S. When the ordeal of inspection was over, the custom officers did help us in repacking and closing our bags, which would have been unbelievable back home. Throughout the checking, the officers remained cheerful and remarkably cool, and made us feel the same way. We were happy to have come to a very welcoming country, with very friendly and pleasant people.

Our most important engagement in the U.S. was to visit University of San Francisco, and meet the Dean, for which our son had already taken appointment for us. As we settled down to talk to the Dean, he complimented us for sending our son so far away from home for higher studies. He very emphatically brushed aside our doubts about students taking to bad habits in American universities.
“Students from all over the world come to the U.S. for higher studies because here they have the finest facilities, excellent environment and the first class faculty available anywhere in the world. Since the education is expensive, especially so for foreign students from developing countries who have to pay exorbitant price in their own country's currency to arrange foreign exchange for fees, only very serious students enroll. It helps the universities to have an environment that is ideal for serious studies.”

Our meeting with the Dean that went on for more than an hour was, indeed, the most rewarding experience of our trip. We were not only relieved of all our worries that had arisen out of the fears expressed by our friends, but were also overwhelmed by the news, which the Dean delivered us as a parting present.
“I'm happy to inform you in advance that your son is eligible for merit scholarship for the full tuition fees for the second year, on the basis of his grades in the first two terms. The official announcement will be made sometimes next week.”

All our doubts dispelled, we were fully satisfied to see our son in good hands at the university. It helped us enjoy the rest of our trip to its fullest, giving us great memories to cherish for ever. The one that kept us always amused was our encounter with the customs on landing at LA - “Indian candies? No problem, ...”!


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