A Stranger in No Land

October 31, 2022 § 1 Comment

I published my “fun book” nearly six months ago, entitled A Stranger in No Land, tales of assimilation. With considerable reluctance, because it smacks of self-promotion, I am linking you to it. The sneak peek that Amazon gives is well selected. But the Preface may be more informative relative to your wanting to investigate it any further. Accordingly, it is reproduced below. The cover art is a painting by my mother, and the illustrations are by my grandniece. As I noted, a fun book.


“People are strange when you are a stranger”

From People are Strange by The Doors (Written by Robbie Krieger and Jim Morrison)

            As the Doors song line goes, a stranger in a new land will be faced by strange behavior. The episode described in If it Moves. . . was the author’s introduction to the stark contrast in sexuality of California in the 1960’s to the experience of a 21-year-old from the all-boys (at the time) Indian Institute of Technology in sleepy Madras. Culture shock about defines it. These shocks can range from the essentially pleasant and intriguing, as was this one, to the shocking. But they all share the trait of a feeling of inadequacy. Of a lack of preparedness.

            In this situation, the stranger has two choices. One is capitulation. (S)he simply returns home. This may not be a physical return; it could merely entail making a choice not to be involved in said activity. In context, home is a zone of comfort. Similarly, the interpretation of “land” in the book title would be a place or pursuit (public speaking, for example), not necessarily a country. When I (the author) was a child, the capitulation option was not available when the family moved every couple of years on postings. Children of such professional nomads, affectionately known the world over as army brats, are reduced to the second choice. Assimilate. Minor avoidances are possible, such as school changes. But in the main, one simply fits in. Personality differences matter for the ability to fit. I was blessed with malleability and the childhood experiences served to inspire confidence that I would not be a stranger in any land for too long.

            This book is largely devoted to tales of assimilation. Characters appear with the familiar names used by the author in addressing them. The meanings of the names and relationships to the author may be found in the Glossary.

The principal criterion for inclusion as a chapter was that something interesting or fun had to have happened. On more than one occasion, that criterion was compelling in its own right. Assimilation took a back seat unless one indulged in flights of fancy to find that association. The Scrooge Strategy was one such. At a performance of The Christmas Carol, the actor playing Scrooge took some extemporaneous license which appeared to give Scrooge a sense of humor. This emboldened me to present a side of Scrooge that Mr. Dickens never intended. Business schools tempted to include the Scrooge Strategy in their branding classes best come calling for permission.

            In Jodhpur I do start the book at the beginning of the journey. An early chapter is Forty-nine Not Out which recounts the considerable step for a 16-year-old to leave home on a two-day train journey to live and study at an elite institution where everybody could be expected to be as competent as he. This would be unlike the relative walk in the park high school experience. That I became comfortable enough even in the first year to take time to help launch the campus monthly Campastimes is as much a testimony to the embrace of the setting as it is to my assimilative skills. That is when my love of writing emerged. My second to last book is dedicated to Campastimes, and not to a person.

The Stanford University years are prominently represented, beginning with If it Moves, and followed by Forks in the Academic Road and De-mystifying Legendre. These last two have more academic underpinnings, but fitting in takes many forms, and the “something interesting happened” stricture was always in play. That period was transformational. The process of becoming an American was well under way at the end of the Stanford era, even recognizing that California, especially in the sixties, might not have been fully representative of the US. Domicile had not been intended. The plan had been a master’s degree at Stanford, at essentially no cost, followed by a return to India. Events conspired.

The next major change, working for a living, at first on the other coast and later in Houston, merited three chapters as well. All fall in the main theme of the book, beginning with Folded or Crumpled, with an amusing rite of passage at work. When Cultures Cross and When in Rome have the shoe on the other foot. I am now the American dealing with strangeness in England and France, respectively. Interestingly, once one crosses a major cultural barrier, all the rest appear easier to traverse. In When Cultures Cross, I am put in the position of saying grace prior to the company Christmas meal in Cheltenham, England. With ten minutes notice. The Director of the facility realized he was no longer the senior person present; I was. Custom decreed that I, the Hindu, who had only read about such things, perform. Perform, I duly did; having read Jane Austen came in handy.

The two chapters The Rao Dog Tells Tales and The Last Lap for the Rao Dog relate to the assimilative trials faced by our dog Kalu following adoption from the SPCA. Written in her first person, it will be annoying to some. My defense is Peter Mayle. Not that I aspire to his stature, but this author of A Good Year1 also took a flyer with a first-person narration by his dog in A Dog’s Life2. A great read, as are many of his other books set in and around Provence.

            Even the chapters departing from the assimilation theme have elements of cultural differences. Culinary Matters describes the compelling social circumstances under which horse was consumed for the first (and last) time in West Germany (was West and East back then). Close Encounters, on the other hand, is a pure capitulation to whimsy. But closely adheres to the stricture of being interesting, with intent to amuse. If the last is all that a reader gets out of the book, I will be content.

1 Mayle, P A Good Year (2006) Vintage ISBN 0307277755 

2 Mayle, P, A Dog’s Life (1996) Penguin Books Ltd. ISBN 0140261559


§ One Response to A Stranger in No Land

  • Abe palaz says:

    Sounds quite interesting I am not sure if it is avail on audio books will check if yes will get it. If not will get and read when I return to the States.

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