This Indian wants to discover the real America!
Fulbright Scholar Rajeev Gupta sets out on a car journey across the nation to meet 30 families in 30 days. George Joseph reports
July 15, the fourth day of his 30-day journey -- which he has titled 'Discovery of America -- 30 in 30,' -- in his Chevy Cruise from New York City, Rajeev Gupta, a Fulbright Scholar, Indian Institute of Technology alumnus and documentary filmmaker, reached Bloomington, Indiana, to a grand reception from a local family.
"It was a gay family with two fathers and eight children, all adopted,” said Gupta, who is on his way to Illinois. "It was a lovely family and the reception was touching."
The children -- the youngest 10 years old and the oldest 30 -- were adopted from single mothers or abusive families.
The journey is Gupta's attempt to hear the stories of 30 American families he meets in 30 days as he drives from New York to California.
After spending three years in the US, Gupta is going back as per Fulbright rules, but he wanted to see America through Pennsylvania, Indiana, Ohio, Illinois, South Dakota, Colorado, Wyoming, Utah, Montana, Idaho, Washington, Oregon and San Francisco.
It is a journey, he said, to learn about America from Americans he has not met before and to convert the learning into a documentary he can share back home so that they can see the America of small towns and big cities.
"I gain a perspective of America beyond the big cities, and beyond white collars," Gupta said. "I have advanced degrees. All my friends happen to be white-collar workers. I am curious to know about the lives of blue-collar American families. And also what people in small towns think about India and what shapes their worldview."
On the way, he eats mostly raw vegetables and fruits stored in the car and drinks water, Gupta said.
He started from Central Park, New York, July 12.
"It was encouraging to see friends who I hadn't seen in months, they came to send me off," Gupta said. "I got tips for what to do and what not to do while on roads. Since I hadn't slept well the past few days, I was feeling sleepy on the way. So I had to eat and drink anything to keep myself alert awake. This vanilla milk came to my rescue! In no time, I was welcomed in the state of Pennsylvania. It's a beautiful state with rolling hills and green meadows. I was playing the songs of Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jaayenge to make it very filmi. It was indeed reminiscent of my days in Europe. No wonder many German Baptists settled here back in the day because the place was similar to Swiss-German region -- something my host family educated me about later that evening."
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This Indian wants to discover the real America!
Few hours later, I found my destination. My host family was Rachel and Matt Lewis. Rachel is marketer in Hershey and Matt is a professor of Kinesiology at Messiah College," Rajiv said.
"They were very kind to host me for my first stop. In fact, Rachel had invited many of her family and friends from near by towns to meet me so that I can learn more about America from their experience."
"After quick greetings, we quickly sat for dinner. I wasn't used to prayers before the meal, therefore as soon as the food was on table, I took a sip of water and then saw the hands joining and heads bowing to begin praying, I quickly placed the glass back on the table and joined hands. It was a nice tradition. Very soon wine and food was doing rounds around the table. The supper table had eclectic mix of people."
"There were academics, non-profit employees and corporate professionals. There were those who were worried about the sad state of American diet through consumption of sugar, and there was my host who helps market chocolates!"
"It was interesting to see various shades of political, religious and economics leanings. They were very curious about Hindu faith and asked about different gods and goddesses. I explained how individual and personal Hinduism is practiced in my family where each person does his or her own style of rituals at his or her own time."
"Next morning I had a nice intimate early breakfast with Rachel and Matt and learned that they both grew up in small towns and in fact Rachel spent lot of time on farm growing up. I found the couple very grounded and easy to talk to. Coming from the madness of Manhattan, the simple living of the Lewis household in the town of Harrisburg was like a breeze of fresh air!"
For the second night, in Cincinnati, Ohio, he could not find a mainstream American family, so he stayed with Indian friends. He has not found hosts for all of his future stops.
"I tried to reach out to friends to ask if they know someone in the town," Gupta explained. "I don't have hosts lined up for all the places. I am reaching out to churches or high schools or universities or community organisations in the small towns. So far I have been fortunate. I am carrying a camping tent, so last solution will be camping somewhere."
Gupta is a native of New Delhi. He is computer science graduate from IIT and came to America as a Fulbright Scholar to study business. His earlier films include a documentary on life in mountains, (http://vimeo.com/24311866) which he made when he spent a year in the Himalayas in 2009.
He said he plans to show the documentary made of the journey at film festivals and schools and colleges and also at American embassy and American Centre events in India.
"Currently, I do not know," he said. "I will go home and figure out."