The process of meeting people, friends and acquaintances (who later became friends) continued throughout my trip to the US. People take back souvenirs and memories from the place they visit. I shall take back the warmth of the people I have been meeting in this land.
Tour of Wall Street
That I end up losing or misplacing things is not a one-off event. But people coming forward to help me when I land myself in one of my self-created mess is not that frequent an occurrence. When I left my phone in the cab that I had taken to Philadelphia, chaos ensued. My Uber driver was kind enough to acknowledge the existence of my phone in his cab but refused to come even an inch off his way to help the phone reach its rightful owner. After 24 hours of constant pleading and follow ups with Uber I was thoroughly exhausted. It was amidst this gloom that my flatmate who works on Wall Street, Sushmita , came home from work and asked me to get ready because she was taking me for a tour of Wall Street. That I was morose because of the phone fiasco would be an understatement. But I did not want to disappoint her and so off we went.
Having stayed indoors all day I was glad to be out in the evening breeze. The walk was invigorating and made me forget my phone troubles. For the remainder of the evening, Sushmita was the photographer and I was her subject! She would point out the relevant things to me and when my curiosity would get the better of me I would ask her follow up questions. They were very promptly met with responses that in effect summed to: Behen maaf karo! I have no idea. I am no encyclopaedia. Just be happy that I have brought you here! All in good spirit.
From the St. Paul’s Chapel to the Charging Bull all points of interest were duly pointed out. The objective was to do all the quintessential touristy things. I figured that out when we entered Wall Street and Sushmita asked me to go and stand next to George Washington’s Statue in front of Federal Hall National Memorial. When I asked her why she very tersely replied: Because that is what tourists are supposed to do. Not wanting to try her patience, I obeyed.
By the time our winding path brought us to the Charging Bull (the unofficial end point of our walking tour) I had seen the Red Cube, Trinity Church, One World Trade Center as well as the 9/11 Memorial. Our touristy eccentricity continued at the Charging Bull where Sushmita and I followed the tourist tradition of touching the balls of the Bull (apparently if you ask for a wish while touching the exalted balls, it is granted!).
The tour ended and so did all my worries regarding my lost phone (at least for the time being). The icing on the cake was the life lessons I received from Sushmita on our PATH ride back. It is amazing how sometimes it takes strangers to see the extent of your grief and pessimism below the layers of smiles and laughter.
Walking the Brooklyn Bridge
Walking the Brooklyn Bridge features on the bucket list of quite a few of my friends. Never too big a fan of walking along bridges (but a perpetual fan of listlessly walking), I decided to do it anyway. I roped in Sneha (my ISI classmate) for company. The view was no doubt amazing, the walk interesting (more on account of our conversations than anything else) and the bridge magnificent. But that it needs to feature on so many people’s bucket list is slightly beyond my comprehension.
It was a long walk full of talk (on eclectic issues) to Brooklyn Bridge from Sneha’s apartment. We talked about pretty much everything that there was to talk about while we figured out our way to the Brooklyn Bridge. Once on track, we were two souls in the sea of tourists thronging the bridge. Having chosen one of the best times to walk across, ie sunset, not only were we on the bridge during the golden hour (wrt photography), but also by the time we reached The River Cafe on the Brooklyn side the Manhattan skyline was twinkling in all its glory. (PS: The River Cafe is definitely the go-to place if like me, you enjoy your drinks better when the view across the bar is amazing).
Walk through Colombia
While NYU had no campus to boast about, my ISI seniors would keep telling me about the campus of Colombia University. So a visit was duly planned. Divya, my ISI senior, was to meet me at the relevant Subway station and take me for a tour of Colombia. That both of us were horribly unprepared for the chilly winds meant that we had to keep rushing for warmth (be it the Library Building or a cafe or finally to Divya’s flat). The magnificent sculpture of Alma Mater on the steps leading to the Low Memorial Library was the first thing to draw my attention. (I have not yet spotted the owl in the folds of her robes though).
From the Library to the not so impressive Columbia Law School building, Divya showed me all that she could in the horribly cold weather. What really stood out in this visit was the fact that most of the things I saw were described as “this is my favorite…where I like to come for….” be it a garden or a church. In this spirit I saw the Riverside Church, Sakura Park and General Grant National Memorial.
After a lengthy talk at Divya’s apartment over tea, we finally headed towards the riverfront (this time fully equipped for the cold). We stood there looking at the lights across the river and down the river front on our side till it was time to go our separate ways with a promise to meet again.
Guided Tour of Princeton
With work almost done, all travel plans made for the remainder of my stay and farewells having begun, I had given up all hope on meeting Shoumitro (my Stephen’s senior). On account of his hectic semester and my work & other commitments it was a pleasant surprise when on a chilly but bright Monday I received a message from him asking me if I could make it to Princeton on Tuesday. A momentary dilemma ensued that was promptly resolved through a mail. The mail was sent to my boss informing him that on account of some unforeseen emergency I shall be going to Princeton the next day! It was a decision that shall not be regretted (courtesy the “world’s best” cappuccino I had there).
Special mention needs to be made of the mail I received from Shoumitro titled “How to reach Princeton”. The mail surpassed all standards of precision and detail in terms of giving directions. Thanks to that I arrived at Princeton without any hassle except the -3 degree temperature (which according to the weather channel felt like -9).
We walked along the campus with Shoumitro highlighting things which I would have otherwise completely missed or not understood: for instance the Arabic inscription on a stained glass painting of Christ in the Princeton Chapel or for that matter the Zodiac Heads installed at the University’s Scudder Plaza. The high point of the tour was our visit to Small World Coffee. An ardent coffee fan, more often than not I’m thoroughly disappointed by the cappuccino served to me. So when Shoumitro told me that he is going to take me to this coffee shop where I will taste the world’s best cappuccino I mentally dismissed it as mere rhetoric. However, the cappuccino was indeed better than anything I had ever tasted. My day and my trip to Princeton were made by that single cup of cappuccino.
Thoughts & Observation
It is a habit that I picked up during my stint at The Scindia School-whenever I need to introspect or think about something, I need a spot at a height with a vantage point view of the world. Manhattan offers a plethora of such vantage points and on a day when I needed to go to one I zeroed in on the One World Trade Center Observatory (the options included the Empire State and the Rockefeller Center Observatory). The lift ride up to the observatory and the 360 degree view of NYC lived up to expectations. Having gone there slightly before sunset, I saw the golden orb disappear and the lights gradually come on in Manhattan. The renowned skyline slowly came to life as the sky turned black. And amidst all that I sat pondering over my trip to USA.