Wednesday, March 11, 2015


It has been 8 months since we moved to Austin with the clan. One of the reasons we moved from beautiful Fort Collins, CO was because we craved diversity, and the street smarts and common sense that comes with it. One of the biggest advantages of growing up in cosmopolitan Mumbai is that my tolerance, bias and compassion are not based on race, caste, religion, color or gender. I wanted my children to grow up in such an atmosphere as well.

Since we arrived in Austin we have met people from all over the world and it has been wonderful. I met non-American citizens living in Austin (of course!), American citizens who grew up outside of the USA, mixed race families and children, families practicing dual religions and non-Indians running Hindu temples. With diversity also comes competitiveness and leadership traits like public speaking, instincts about people and openness because you get trained to talk to people with different backgrounds in a way they can relate to. I have found more Indians running their own businesses than I could have imagined. This makes me proud and happy to be here.

My Honda Odyssey had 4 recalls on it over the years that I needed to get fixed (lazy much?) so I took it to First Texas Honda. They needed to keep the car for 24 hours and so I opted for the shuttle service to drop me back home and pick me up the next day when the recalls were fixed. I did not know that these two shuttle trips would be a valuable addition to my diversity encounters. On the first shuttle trip from the Honda dealer to home, there were 5 of us including the driver in the car. One of the passengers, a lady, said she would have preferred a bicycle to ride back to her house instead of the shuttle as that would have counted as her workout for the day. I am always amazed by people like this who want to make everything that they do count towards something. This is a quality I need to get. She was the first one to be dropped off since she lived the closest to the dealership. After that the rest of us in the van started to talk about what we did for a living and I learnt that the Chinese senior citizen had recently opened his own company to make car engines, after retirement. They were only 6 employees big and were always hiring. This got the other gentleman in the car talking. He was a double engineer, mechanical and electrical, and worked for a small company which was recently bought by Intel. He dreaded the 35 min commute to the Intel office that would begin soon. He was unsure how he would adjust to working for a multinational company after having worked for a small company for 20 years. That got me talking about Anant being in Intel for 15 years, and our experience with the company. We talked about creative independence, hierarchy issues, unrealistically long or short project plans and, pay and benefits packages. It was great getting an insight on familiar issues from someone at a different stage in life. He got off from the van with an intention of applying to the Chinese man’s engine company. All this while, our driver was very silent and un-contributing to the conversation. All the people in the car were dropped off, and just the driver and I were now left in the car. Since my destination was still 5 miles away and the driver did not know his way around the area, I started talking to him (yeah right, like I would not have talked to him anyway!). Turns out our driver was a prince turned pauper. He was at a senior level at AT&T and left there to start his own company. This new company faced litigation and he ended up losing all his life savings in settling. There was a point, when he had a ranch in San Diego with horses. He was also a collector of watches. He had to sell everything eventually and move out. He came to Austin about 6 months ago and is looking for work, which is hard to come by because he is over qualified for the places he applies to. He drives the shuttle for now but would love to get back into business operations where he belongs. I have a hard time believing that there can be only two options for someone, either heaven or hell, with nothing in between. I told him not to lose hope and keep trying and good things will happen. When I told him that he will get a chance to restart his watch collection, he said that he did not care about those things anymore. He has been there and done that. Now he only cares about doing what he loves with his family standing by him. It was incredible that when the rest of us in the van were talking about being able to save a million by retirement, there he was silently driving having lost 4 million in a matter of days. He had probably enjoyed more comforts than any one of us in the van and definitely more loss. He said, ‘A bank account has no humility’. He dropped me home and said goodbye with hope of finding himself again.

The next day a different shuttle came to pick me up from home. This time I was the only passenger going to the dealership. The driver greeted me and started towards the highway. After a couple of minutes he asked me if I was Indian and if I was born in India. When I answered yes, he started to talk in Hindi and asked if I would like to hear Hindi songs. It was a beautiful 80’s classics collection. He told me that he was from Afghanistan and had moved to Austin just 6 months ago from there. He used to be a translator in the US Army in Afghanistan. He received his green card in 6 days (yes that’s right) after application. He grew up watching Hindi movies and that’s how he learned Hindi (shocker!). He also spoke Farsi, Pashto, Urdu and a little Arabic. He sounded exactly like the Afghani actors from Kabul Express when he spoke Hindi – adorable. We spoke about Hindi movies and places to watch them in Austin, while ‘Do lafzon ki hai, dil ki kahani’ played in the background. He told me all about his family and 2 little kids that he left back in Afghanistan while he got himself settled in USA. He said he was self-conscious about his English and needed to improve it in order to get a good job. He longed to bring his family here so they could be together. Such pure and simple wants, a longing for a regular life. I thanked him for playing such wonderful songs in the van and that it was great to speak in Hindi with him, before I exited the van at the dealership. When I picked up my car, I made it a point to mention to the dealership serviceman, what a good job both the shuttle drivers were doing.

The last two days gave me not only an experience of cultural diversity, but also economic and social diversity.
Diverse people (Chatty Cathy’s) + on a shuttle + 20 minutes = Great Time!