GaramChai.com >> Book >> Section 5
Leisure and pursuit of happiness
moving to the US and other western countries realize that
the western world is equally serious about the pursuit of
leisure and personal well being as it is to work. The working
conditions and hours are highly regulated, and except for
project contingencies, most people work about 40 or 45 hours,
five days a week. Weekends and spare time are sacrosanct,
meant for family, or pursuit of one’s hobbies and other activities.
Even Indians, who are used to enjoying the rat race back home,
after a few months in the west realize the significance of
compartmentalizing the different aspects of life into work,
family, friends and learn the importance of having a leisure
pursuit. They too recognize the significance of all work and no play, makes Singh (or Babu)
a dull guy and learn to strike a balance between their
work and leisurely pursuits.
avenues to pursue leisure activities and hobbies are endless,
and generally affordable to most of us. Some re-discover childhood
passions like music or art and others involve themselves in
the community and spend time working on social causes. Most
large cities in the US with a sizable Indian population also
have Indian temples, community centers, and Indian associations
that provide avenues for people to network and socialize.
A walk down Indian haunts like Devon Avenue in Chicago are
sure to evoke a sense of nostalgia, reminding one of some
street in Mumbai, Bangalore or Hyderabad. The advent of internet
has made networking relatively simple. There are scores of
websites catering exclusively to Indians in the US. A website,
GaramChai.com (http://www.GaramChai.com/) that my wife and
I maintain has extensive listings on Indian resources listing
over 250 temples, 200 restaurants, 50 online shops and 300
bazaars. Other listings include jewelers, wedding specialists,
theaters, beauty salons, mosques and gurudwaras. (A more complete
listing of sites and resources for NRIs in the US can be found
in the Appendix).
us who leave our homeland come to America to further our own
goals and enrich ourselves — by experience and in terms of
amassing wealth. However, most of us do not forget our roots.
Making money may be the means but not the end. Many Indians
in US and elsewhere in the world also tend to periodically
revisit their altruistic side by giving back to the society.
This section of the book is intended to give the readers a
glimpse into the leisure, recreation and altruistic pursuits
of Indians in the US. This section is by no means extensive,
especially considering the fact that Indians from different
backgrounds, cultures and regions have been amalgamated into
the melting pot that makes America and ethnically diverse
in the US
centuries ago, America’s founding fathers envisioned a nation
that would work towards securing “Life, Liberty and The Pursuit
of Happiness...” to its citizens. Long after attaining “Life
and Liberty”, Americans are still serious about the pursuit
of happiness, a key to life that everyone here, including
my fellow Indians, takes seriously.
hours and conditions in the US are highly regulated, and except
for project contingencies or if one happens to be working
shifts, projects and work-cycles are optimized such that people
do not have to put in endless hours of overtime. The work-weekend
cycle here has been refined into an art form. So much so that
the pursuit of happiness is actively encouraged and is something
every one strives for. One gets initiated into this on first
landing here, and realising that to most Americans, weekends
are sacred. The average John (or Jane) Doe has a life outside
work and they rarely like anyone transgressing their personal
time. Of course, that is not to say that one does not come
across the odd nerd who “lives and breaths” work every waking
moment of their life. But the nerds are too few and far between
as to be inconsequential. Most people like to take the weekends
off and pursue their hobbies or passions.
after a few weeks or months in the US, realise that they too
need to ‘get a life’ outside work and fall into the rhythm
of workweek and weekends. It takes a while to get used to
the fact that people work only forty or fifty hours a week.
Weekends are generally reserved for socializing, shopping
or catching up with the new movies. It is the long-weekends
that people start looking forward to. Long-weekend is not
merely an American concept. Canada, UK and the Europe too
have a tradition of long weekends. Although the exact days
vary, the concept is still the same. In America there are
five or six long-weekends, well marked on most calendars.
long-weekend cycle begins with the New-Year’s day - 1st of
Jan, given to people so that they can recharge their energies
for the new year after the revelry of the holiday season.
The next holiday comes during the second Friday in April -
Good Friday. Memorial Day, generally the last Monday in May,
the official beginning of summer, also heralds the summer
holiday season. Fourth of July, the American Independence
Day is as sacred as any other long weekend. Next comes Labour
Day, generally observed on the first Monday of September.
Thanksgiving, which generally falls in November, is an All-American
holiday when most families get together to thank the pioneers
of the nation. Of course, December ushers in the Christmas
season, culminating in Christmas Day along with the day after
Christmas, which is also a holiday. These are the major holidays
and most companies have their own schedules of extra holidays
that they dole out to their employees.
brought up to believe that ‘work is worship’, take to the
concept of long-weekends like ducks to water. These weekends
marked in calendars are spent socialising, or planning getaways – weeks, sometimes months in advance.
region in the US has at least a dozen national parks, resorts
and other tourist attractions. The most popular way to get
to any of these places is to rent a car and drive down. Hertz,
National, Alemo and other big car-rental giants anticipate
the demand and hike their prices around the holidays; so do
the local hotels and motels near the tourist spots. Driving
800 to 1000 miles (each way) to visit some of the ‘nearby’
attractions is not unheard of. Of course, the intriguing system
of interstate highways criss-crossing the length and breadth
of the country facilitates road travel. All one needs is a
good car and a map.
people, the pursuit of happiness does not stop with long weekends;
it is a continuous process. There are fifty-two weeks in a
year and about half a dozen long weekends. Regular weekends
are no less important in the pursuit of happiness. The work
culture in organisations here is tailored to be worker friendly.
like to start their days early. They get at work by about
7 in the morning, have a short working lunch and wind up work
by 3.30 or 4 PM and head out to enjoy rest of the day. Days
are generally long, with the sun setting at around 8.15 or
8.30 PM. People have their pet projects and activities they
head out to. The sporty types play a game or two, sometimes
coaching their kid’s little league. Others head out to their
church group or work with voluntary associations. For some,
the favourite summer pastime is to do some yard-work or mow
the lawns. With workweeks highly standardised, people look
forward to their weekends when they get to pursue their passions
or hobbies. For instance, trekking and mountaineering is a
popular hobby in the Colorado Rockies where I live.
in India are generally used to working long hours and more
often than not, end up taking work home. Those who move to
the US find the demarcation between work and leisure quite
intriguing. It is not that Indians are not used to hobbies
or leisure, but recreation generally takes a secondary place
against the grind of daily existence. On moving to the US,
Indians find that they have the time, and resources to pursue
a variety of hobbies. Many like to hang out with friends and
watch Indian movies and DVD’s. Some also pursue an active
lifestyle, taking up sports like racquetball or tennis. The
bigger cities in the US with a larger population of Indians
boast of their own cricket teams. About a year ago, I had
the pleasure of watching an “Indo-Pak” tournament being played
by local Indian and Pakistani consultants.
associations are generally active in many large cities and
they organize get-togethers and functions and celebrate Indian
festivals like Diwali, New Year etc. They are also instrumental
in inviting prominent artists, musicians and performers from
India. At a more informal level, there are a number of local
bhajan groups that get together on a regular basis. Indians
arriving in a new city generally make a conscious effort to
tap into the networking groups, find like-minded people with
whom they share common interests.
the informal networking also helps in one’s professional life.
One of the most popular recruiting tools in the US is employee
referral. Employers dole out incentives ranging from small
gifts to thousands of dollars to their employees who refer
the right person. Because of the informal network that exists
amongst Indians, we are able to market ourselves better. These
networks are also an excellent way to find professional mentors
who can help guide one in career planning. There are also
a number of formal groups, like TIE (The Indus Entrepreneurs),
that promote Indian entrepreneurship and organise formal and
informal networking get-togethers.
in the US have taken to the Internet like ducks to water.
One of the favourite pastimes is to “chat” with near and dear
ones using online chat or voice chat. Thanks to the advances
in Voice over IP technology, chatting using pc-to-pc software
works out much more economical than using the services of
MCI or ATT. Internet is also an excellent medium for networking
and Indians are harnessing its potential the fullest extent.
For example, websites like Sulekha.com and Rediff.com provide
a good forum for people to post their queries and people visiting
their board are generally quite responsive. Web directory
services like GaramChai.com provide listings, including those
of Indian associations in the US.
in the US realize that all work and no play makes for a very
dull life. Like the local natives here, we are becoming conscious
of the fact that in the land of honey and milk offers more
in the way of life than just work from nine to five.
play the Good Samaritan in US!
us who leave our homeland come here to further our own goals
and enrich ourselves — by experience and in terms of amassing
wealth. However, we do not forget our roots. Making money
may be the means but not the end. Many Indians in US and elsewhere
in the world also tend to periodically revisit their altruistic
side by giving back to the society.
seem to be generous when it comes to their involvement with
charities and foundations. They gave $175 billion to charity
in 1999. A bulk of this money went to universities, hospitals,
churches and the arts. Charities in America work like fine-tuned
machines. For instance, Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation,
the world’s largest charity has an endowment of $22 billion.
All the hype over charities is contagious and even Indians
tend to catch the “charity bug”.
in America, especially those who can afford to, generally
rally around to help others although we do not have a formal
tradition of donating to charities. Many of us in the US consider
ourselves fortunate to be working towards a position of financial
security and do not tend to easily forget where we come from.
Some like to volunteer their time to manage local chapters
of charities or organising events. Others like to be more
hands-off, preferring to donate a set amount of money every
prefer offer their used odds-and-ends to charities. Interestingly,
charities like Goodwill, Salvation Army etc are extremely
well managed mega-industries in the US. They accept donation
of almost anything one wishes to offer – from used TV’s to
Toyotas and generally operate out of huge facilities with
a drop-off areas. They also help employ disabled and disadvantaged
people gainfully. Items received as donations are cataloged
and (if needed) mended. They are then placed for display and
sale in the ‘showroom’. The atmosphere in the showroom of
most of these thrift shops is clinical, sometimes mall-like.
Just to give you a sense of perspective, retail sales of donated
goods of Goodwill alone totaled over $941.1 million in the
year 2000! And, Goodwill is just one among the dozen or so
mega-charities in the US.
from the gratification one receives while giving to charity,
there is a tax benefits from Uncle Sam too. One can claim a certain percentage of rebate on taxes
for items donated to charity. No wonder even Wall Street Journal
runs advertisements from charities asking the well-to-do readers
to donate their ‘used’ cars, automobiles and yachts! It is
a win-win proposition. The donor gets a hefty tax-write-off
and the charity collects the car or boat, spruces it and sells
it, generating cash! Many a time, the donor does not even
have to visit the charity, they will send someone to your
place to tow the car or take the old sofa!
with all the social and economic problems that it faces, needs
all the help it can get. There are millions of enthusiastic,
energetic young people, if given an opportunity would be more
than willing to find a niche for themselves. In a nation where
a good percentage of population is below the poverty line,
even the grind of daily existence becomes a chore. This is
where NGOs (non-government organisations) and other charities
need to step up to the plate. Many social problems stem from
the tremendous inequality of wealth in the world today. Charitable
organisations are intended to rectify these social problems,
partly by a voluntary redistribution of the wealth.
charities have started realising that Indian expatriates form
a good source that they can tap into. Some of them have found
the support of volunteers in the US who manage local chapters
and branches. Most charities in the US are highly regulated.
Charities operating in the US also have a tax-deductible status
under IRS (Internal Revenue Service) codes. Contributions
are generally acknowledged with a receipt including tax-ID
number along with the amount of donation. This way, people
donating to these charities can also claim a tax break, making
for a win-win proposition.
charities in the US also conduct regular charitable events
and fund raisers. The Web and e-mail have been harnessed to
generate awareness. Case in point, the Gujarat earthquake in early 2001 rallied thousands of Indians
abroad who became aware of the tragedy and were able to communicate
and rally support over the web.
in the US, especially those with a sizeable Indian presence,
sometimes rally around special causes. Immediately after the
earthquake in Gujarat, employees of Microsoft Worldwide pooled
about $150,000 for the victims and talked the company into
matching the sum, raising a total of over $400,000. Many large
corporations also have a policy of donating a part of their
profits to local charities and Indians working in the higher
echelons of some of the Fortune 500 companies have been instrumental
in channelling some of the corporate donations towards their
favourite charities in India. Many US corporations also have
a matching donations program whereby they donate an equal
amount towards their employees preferred charities.
money for charity need not be a dry and monotonous affair.
As volunteers of Asha- Colorado recently set out to prove,
it can also be a lot of fun. Founded in 1991 at the University
of California at Berkeley, Asha aims to bring hope to underprivileged
children through educational opportunities. Asha works with
organisations in the Indian states of Bihar, Karnataka, Maharashtra,
Rajasthan, West Bengal, and Tamil Nadu. Asha has local chapters
all over the US managed by Indian professionals and students
who volunteer their time. They recently organised “Geetanjali”,
an ethnic cultural festival in Denver that attracted nearly
six hundred people. Local talent volunteered their time to
organise and co-ordinate the event, netting over 5,700 dollars,
which is a good amount considering that Asha-Colorado is a
small chapter and the Indian community here is very small.
This program also helped increase awareness about Asha and
charitable organisations in the Indian community.
‘Charity’ is generally looked upon with suspicion and disdain.
There are innumerable horror stories about misuse of distribution
channels, and ways in which the money that is donated to India
is misappropriated. On hearing and reading about these stories,
many feel disillusioned. Of course, for every black sheep
there are dozens who are trying to do their bit.