Sunday, November 16, 2008

A short trip to Dallas

Nov 10, 2008:

This is the first trip that I am making since the stock market crash and I hope that the traffic at the airport might be a bit lighter. The Fall colors have been gorgeous this season and I drove down the Parkway in an autumn afternoon when the sun streaked through woods in the process of being shorn from their leaves. It is a golden glow in the air that Autumn disburses to us, with the light that has turned with the winter sun bouncing around a tapestry of warm browns, reds and yellows of the leaves. I am headed to Dallas for a quick trip and will be back tomorrow night. Heading south towards the city on the Sprain Parkway feels like a river headed to the ocean. The initial traffic up north near Yorktown is lighter but as we dart southward, the convoy of cars thicken, and the flow of traffic becomes viscous. The sky is bright blue after days of drizzly weather and in this pretty setting I do not mind the drive. These are starkly different environs from where I grew up-in a crowded suburb in Kolkata—ten thousand miles distant, but we view this distance today as just a curtain pull away. I am now used to these Fall colors and the impending snow--for the past seventeen years--though the idea of this place remains a construct borne out of adult experience and adaptation that is yet foreign to my natural sensibilities.

We like to think that time has shortened distances and the mingling of people, and it has, as a quick look at immigrants in every walk of life around in Westchester tells us. We like to think that this is a recent development and that the men and women who walked these maple and oak forests were firewalled from the world of India a century or two ago. As I drive I think about the book M returned home with last weekend, about an American who settled in rural India in the earl 20th. century and was responsible for triggering the apple industry in India under a seed license for the American Delicious variety from a nursery in Louisiana. This gentleman, Mr. Stokes, went to the Mohegan Military Academy, the remains of which are minutes from where we we used to stay. Or even earlier, to Colonel James Gardner in the 18th. century, who grew up in the Hudson valley in a family of British sympathizers and then went on to settle in India and sire a clan whose descendants are still extant around Lucknow. These are people who knew these worlds, of what the snow, the autumn leaves, the stone fences dotting the woods felt like, and then on to what it felt like to sit still on a breezeless evening in stifling humidity, by a muddy river with a dusty sky beyond it.

Nov. 11:

Dallas airport is sparse this evening and a cavernous space of cold tiles and big passages. After a short bus ride to the rental car center I walk into a waiting Ford Explorer SUV with country music piping through the loudspeakers. This is an apt entry into Texas, and my first visit to Dallas. The George Bush Highway is as American as it gets. Sweeping flyovers across expansive plains bank and merge playing games with the horizon. Big vehicles pause past toll booths manned by African immigrants. A thunderstorm threatens the air, it hangs heavy with the smell of wetness. Later at night the storm hits with the accumulated strength of the clouds gathered across the plains. In the rainy night a creek gurgles beside the house of a friend where I am staying. I strain my ears for the night sounds through an open window and hear no frogs.

Dallas in the daytime is flat, large, and crowded with storefronts and I pass numerous used car dealerships and pawnshops. The roads are wide, wide enough for a big SUV to make a smooth U-turn at a traffic light with lots of room to spare. There is a crystallization of an American cityscape here and it is the kind of image one has of America before arrival. It is also surprisingly cosmopolitan. I have lunch with some colleagues at a restaurant called Ali Baba. The buffet is surprisingly good with kebabs, chicken, rice with saffron and nuts. The hummus is smooth, and the tabouleh is fresh tasting. I have been having a stellar time with the food in Dallas. The night before my friend’s mother cooked us a pefect south Indian meal and then in the morning she made me a trio of dosas.

Dallas, Houston, and Austin have been spots of blue in an otherwise red background, in the recently concluded presidential elections. Not quite as liberal as Austin, it is still squarely to the left of Texas. The state is flush with oil money and its universities fast growing. Founded in the early 1840’s and intended as a trading post with Indians, Dallas had its share of a rich frontier history and colorful residents of that time such as Doc Holliday. The discovery of oil in 1930 kept the city less affected by the Depression, and today it stands a sprawling metropolis, and clearly a rich city. It is too short a trip to try to sense a unique pulse to the city and I do not try. I move within the vanilla conveniences and assembly line motions of routine travel.

Cliches aside, everything is indeed larger in Texas. And of these, it was the enormous Texas thunderstorm and the memory of the rain laden skies that I bring back with me as I fly home.


  1. Loved the article- esp. the part where you strained to hear the croak of a 'kolabeng'. It made me remember the sprawling landscapes, the endlessly far horizons, the 'rukhkho' arid beauty of the south, reminiscent of old bengali literature set in Bihar; only yours comes with a western twist. Also got reminded of the thunderstorms in Arkansas- it was a grand experience every time. I hope you get to travel more frequently, because I am eager for more..

  2. For your information Sir, It was not Col. James Gardner but Col. William Linnaeus Gardner who was born in 1770 in New Brunswick NJ to an English Captain Valentine Gardner and Alida Livingston daughter of Col. Robert Livingston 3rd Lord of the Manor of Livingston New York. The Lvingstons were among the riches land owners in NY and a family that was deeply associated with the American War of Independence.William Gardner came to India in 1789 and made a legend of his name he raised a cavalry regiment called Gardner's Horse which exists in the India Army even today as an armoured regiment.

  3. You are correct--this was an error on my part. It was indeed William Linnaeus Gardner, godson to the famous botanist Carl Linnaeus.