A travel guide to the United States? A story laced with humour at every step? Chuckle Merry Spin (CMS) is just that. It is, as author Khyrunnisa A says, “Us in the U.S.”
CMS is a product of Khyrunnisa’s thrilling experience, her first ever overseas venture, to attend her daughter-in-law’s graduation ceremony in 2018. “You must come to Syracuse for my graduation,” said Arpitha and Khyrunnisa could not have said “No.” And the preparations took off on a war footing, right from the first step of procuring a Passport for herself and husband Vijay.
For Vijay, going out of Thiruvananthapuram is nothing short of a major disturbance. Packing and traveling is a pain for this man who is happy staying put in the comforts of his home. Khyrunnisa acknowledges the “efficient” work of the Passport Seva Kendra and the process of traveling to the US commences with the trip to Chennai for completing the Visa interview.
The anxiety of a first-time Visa applicant is hilariously captured by the author who is told by the officer, “Congratulations, your visa has been approved. Have a safe journey and best wishes to your daughter-in-law.”
Khyrunnisa wants to know, “Did the US have to be so far away from India? Imagine having to fly 19 hours to reach Chicago. All because Christopher Columbus couldn’t sit at home and follow his father’s wool trade like a good boy.” The reader is given a lesson in picking money-saving flight and seats as Khyrunnisa and Vijay embark on a memorable journey.
As Khyrunnisa writes, “The US is beautiful. We discovered that first-hand during our 40-day sojourn in the country. But it did take some getting used to. We had to remember a few simple basics. That we were actually breathing fresh air. That a queue meant standing a few paces behind the person in front, not adjacent to them. That restroom had paper, not water. However, it was the heavy reliance on technology that stumped us.”
The book is a breeze. There is not a page you would look to skip. Humour is the main ingredient even as Khyrunnisa includes loads of information which bring to us some little known aspects of a fascinating country. But it is Dubai, the first halt for change of flight that sets the tempo. The author writes, “It’s “Do buy” not Dubai.” In her view, “Dubai International Airport was a shopping mall disguised as an airport.”
The long haul and the discomfort of jetlag was forgotten at the joy of being received by son Amar. The three-hour drive from Chicago Airport to Neenah introduced her to the “extraordinary absence of people. During the whole journey we saw only two people actually walking. This remained our experience whether it was on our bus ride from New York to Boston, the rail journeys we took or the long drives in California. So much land, so many cars, so few people”.
Khyrunnisa’s writing keeps pace with her desire to explore every inch of America, getting in as much information as possible from the smartphone, her very first, gifted by Amar. One of the best passages in the book relives the train journey from Syracuse to Poughkeepsie and of course the many pleasant surprises that come with traveling to new places with new faces as your company.
New York, the city that never sleeps, nicknamed Metropolis by day and Gotham by night, leaves the author in a trance, as she recounts her memorable experiences of urban living – busy roads, bustling people, cosmopolitan crowds, towering skyscrapers, colourfully lit up streets, commercial areas, the yellow taxi, the iconic but totally confusing New York subway. She is so honest when describing Madison Square Garden. “It is neither square nor a garden. Nor is it in Madison. It’s a round indoor sports arena in the heart of New York city, known universally for having hosted the `Fight of the Century’ world heavyweight championship clash between Muhammed Ali and Joe Frazier in 1971.”
Visits to MIT and Harvard, San Jose, San Francisco and watching Macbeth at a proper Shakespearean theatre in Chicago complete the tour with Devon Street, called Little India in Chicago, reminding her of her own India. Time to leave. “Through the window we could see the sky wrapped in the hues of a spectacular sunset. America was giving us a colourful goodbye. We watched and watched till the plane took off. We were going home…”
Published by Westland Books, CMS is a delightful read, in true Khysunnisa style, a brilliant giggle-inducing travelogue. It is also a ready reckoner for anyone planning a trip to the US.
(Vijay Lokapallay is a senior journalist and author)
Check out the book on Amazon