Sunday, Apr 21, 2024 | Last Update : 11:47 PM IST

  Opinion   Columnists  21 Oct 2023  Shobhaa De | Confessions of an Amrika returned Bharatiya Naari

Shobhaa De | Confessions of an Amrika returned Bharatiya Naari

Irreverent, provocative, opinionated... Shobhaa De has been challenging status quo for four decades... and is at her best when she punctures inflated egoes. Readers can send feedback to
Published : Oct 21, 2023, 12:05 am IST
Updated : Oct 21, 2023, 10:11 am IST

I loved my time with the original Silicon Valley geniuses casually dressed in the Bay Area uniform of tees, shorts and flip-flops.

The laidback lifestyle that encourages these geniuses to chill out with other geniuses and not bother about the rest of the world. (AA Image)
 The laidback lifestyle that encourages these geniuses to chill out with other geniuses and not bother about the rest of the world. (AA Image)

Two things happened during my fortnight-long absence from desi shores… the chilling Hamas attack on Saturday, October 7, and Mahua Moitra’s cigar-chomping pics a few days later. Don’t get me wrong. There is zero connection. The ongoing war being waged in Israel has polarised the world, while Ms Moitra’s bribe-for-query predicament (with or without the cigar) has polarised India. In distant Palo Alto (Silicon Valley), where I was a speaker at SALA 2023, the horrific news about the incredibly well orchestrated Hamas assault was still to register (due to the time difference) as authors, artists, poets and the organisers bustled around a sun-dappled Atherton campus in Menlo Park for the fifth edition of the prestigious South Asian Literature and Arts Festival, the brainchild of two amazing women (Ambika Sahay and Kiran Malhotra), who were determined to introduce “Çhanging Narratives” to  resident billionaire techies who are masters of the universe. They totally are! And yes, these are some of the most successful Indians on earth. Just in terms of brains and money power, there’s more concentrated clout within this 50-mile radius of sylvan Californian bliss than one would find anywhere else on the planet. But for a dumbo, techie-challenged woman (me!), I was just elated to meet so many of my late brother Ashok Rajadhyaksha’s IIT Kharagpur colleagues. After a point, it felt like I was at a huge IIT reunion, with instant connections being forged. I was blabbering away in Marathi to some of the big noises, flaunting our unabashed parochial pride (“Mee Marathi…” type of chest-thumping). Uddhav T -- I missed you! Swear!!! I’d like to think us khadi kurta clad Maharashtrians outnumbered the dandily dressed Punjus.

The idea of such a fest is a huge thing in an environment that thrives inside a tech bubble which all but excludes the Arts. As Mayuranki Almaula, a dynamic SALA board member explained, the Valley is driven by folks whose mental reserves are primarily invested in the next big tech thing. The only “social” talk that one hears involves words like “start-ups” and “funding’.  People are either frenziedly pitching new ideas or consolidating old ones. Attention spans are shockingly short -- if the person you are feverishly networking with, looks away in the first twenty seconds, consider your pitch wasted. Move on.

The magnificent Stanford campus (a possible venue partner at SALA 2024) is shimmering under an unnaturally blue sky as I walk around like a star-struck fan.  What must it be like to be a student here, I ask myself incredulously, after having walked away years ago from a luscious Reuters Fellowship in this hallowed institution. The answer was in front of me -- written in Chinese. Okay. Let me clarify. I only but only spotted earnest Chinese students cycling around the vast campus. “Nobody else can afford the fees…”, someone commented. The Chinese presence in the Bay Area is so predominant, soon the street names may change to Xi Jinping Avenue. And Chef Chu’s iconic Chinese restaurant downtown will open multiple branches to accommodate the demand.

I loved my time with the original Silicon Valley geniuses casually dressed in the Bay Area uniform of tees, shorts and flip-flops. Some chuckled that Elon Musk grabs coffee at his favourite hub, and nobody bothers him. Others talked about the laidback lifestyle that encourages these geniuses to chill out with other geniuses and not bother about the rest of the world. Palo Alto is so deceptive -- it resembles any prosperous suburb shown in popular television serials. I was dying to meet a few “Desperate Housewives” at a posh country club in Saratoga, which will be celebrating a dhoom dhaam Diwali this year. Take that, you Chinese chaps. Go organise your own Dragon Dance.

“Donald Trump is scared of us…”, declared a very successful business lady, when I suggested Palo Alto techies were backing Trump the Chump. Scared? Of The Donald??? Of our desi brigade? Par kyon? Driving around in the latest Tesla, with Maclarens and Ferraris roaring past, I was intrigued by life in the fast lane. Our IITians definitely rule -- that’s a great feeling. A triumph. They’ve made their mark (and millions) in America, but remain asli desis at heart -- they eat desi, think desi, live desi, dream desi. Bollywood remains the biggest connect to the world they’ve left behind. “Stardust!” they’d exclaim, each time I was introduced. Errrr… Ummmm… Stardust is over 50 years old… I’d interject quickly. “Did you really write Neeta’s Natter?” they’d ask, eyes shining. Meeeeeow… I’d respond. The reference points are cute but dated. Like much else about their nostalgia. I was feeling like Dev Anand -- forever looking ahead, while around me, the cravings for home were rooted in the past.

By the time I arrived in New York, I had taken a lot of Palo Alto back with me -- the Google campus can floor anybody. We were shown around by a bright, young, successful Niladari Saha, who works for YouTube and is on to something big (Ssssssh!). His is a story out of India that’s inspiring and worth sharing. Starting off “poor” (his words) in West Bengal, today he leads a great team, lives the good life in San Fransisco, flies around the world, and retains a loveable modesty which keeps him grounded. Nope. He is here to stay. But all he wants is for his parents to enjoy a comfortable life in Kolkata, where he has bought them their first home and car. “They are my primary responsibility,” he states sincerely, as he points to Çharlie’s Café and Sundar Pichai’s corner office. The iconic Android and dinosaur on the premises are there as reminders of where the magic began in 1998. You can take a techie out of India but you can’t take India out of him… it’s all about loving your parivaar.

“Technology is the greatest equalizer”, someone sighs. It sure as hell is, I respond, as we head to the Big Apple. New York is not the New York the world is familiar with. “Çovid has changed everything”, a garrulous bar- tender tells me, as the once trendy hangout empties by 9.30 pm. Hamas has declared Friday the 13th as “The Day of Rage”, and nobody wants to leave home!

Brace yourselves, folks -- it’s “Howdy Bharat” time….

Tags: shobhaa de column, silicon valley, israel-palestine conflict