Saturday, February 6, 2010

Indian in Harlem:Inspired by my true story.....

Hope it inspires a few to face any difficulty with determination and know how fortunate they are .......

Long story short.....

It was my 3rd day in the US and T-3 days for the touch down.As I return from the SSN office…

Jan 19th 2006 Afternoon Md Shiv kumars Chamber

knock knock!!

Heah come on in Bharath ,how are things going.Ready for an interview?.There is a huge business opportunity .There is a company Equalizer group in New york which along with some major partners like coke ,jp morgan etc are planning to conduct a training program to a group of economically backward students who then will have to work on a project for Coke and will be placed .

I knew that working with out an SSN is illegal in the US.How are they gonna run my pay stub?.Even then I am Sold!!.The next day I was selected even with out an interview which is kind of fishy but all I wanted is to see my first pay stub and so…..

After a 45 min drive there was a 5 min stop over in jersey city before we cross the hudson river/tunnel.Thats where the punjabi cousins moved my baggage from jersey cab to NY/yellow cab so that they can skip the tolls.As the sun was setting i started loving NY more as we get closer.Looking at empire state building for the first time reminded me of the King Kong movie(old) and my childhood.Leaning on to the cabs window i started remembering the funny/scary words of relatives/friends when they got to know that i will be working in NY.

Dont go out in the dark...

If someone demands money(mugging) just give them everything you have...

Dont get used to burgers...

Don’t marry a American girl…

Reached the YMCA building in 135th street at 6 30 pm.

Quickly checked in to my YMCA sponsored single bed room , and formally dressed I had to meet Robert one of the managers at YMCA who then introduced me to the lab admin.Admin:-What ever you want to install, let me know and i will do over the weekend.Dont uninstall/mess with anything. I could see a dictator in him and also his job insecurity.

Day 1

As tall as i am 6 feet and 2 inches Rose started introducing me to the class and they all seemed to know each other for a while.

Jose:-Its pronounced as Hosey but i never got it right.

Dan:-From North Carolina Effected by Hurricane Katrina.

Twins:- Samaria & Erika.

Calvin:- The c++ expert and on of the big personalities in the class...


I have asked them to call me Reddy instead of killing my Name while killing themselves trying to get it right.Except for Calvin no one else had a programming background. So i have started from Why computers? Why programming and concluded day one running a simple java program.


I finished ordering my rice cooker on Amazon and started walking towards the closest grocery store following the directions from julian the receptionist. I could see people selling audio cds and clothes on the footpath which reminded me of slums back home.As i entered the Acme super market for the first time i have felt like i am in America.Living in Edison was like living in a mini India. I have bought loads of chocolates, cookies, frozen pizzas and tons of soda cans. Spending the dollars i have earned which once was a top currency in my currency collection was fun and also a learning experience to know the different denominations both in paper and metal.

Burger re-defined at Mc Donald’s :- Unlike their branch in Bangalore ,if the bread on the top doesn't touch the bread on the bottom its a burger.Anything cheaper than a dime can go in the middle.

Mexican place...

Cheese slice and coffee..Loved them and is gonna be my standard lunch menu....

Chinese Restaurant…it was like finding a branch of heaven in hell.

Week 1
I used to hear loud shouts and screams from a room close by which naturally freaked my already scared which otherwise is a brave-heart. I don’t have a cell phone yet, so have to use the pay phone downstairs.I used to look out of the peephole , once every 30 minutes at least for a couple of hours before i go make that call which i quickly try to finish. One nice and calm evening as i try to get to the elevator i suddenly hear loud screams and can feel some one running towards me, as i turn back with my half dead face i see a bunch of youth hi-fying each other and all i could hear is giants. It took me a few minutes to take a deep breath and ask them what it is all about. First they gave me a hi-fi and then told me that NY Giants have won the game. From that day i am no more bothered about the screams as i have realized that the room next door is the TV room. But i still look out of the peephole once every one hour.

Back in the class….

It was going at the right pace while I help them they were also helping each other and very soon it turned out to be school on its own. They used to burst in to laughter when ever Catherine asks me a question because she had problems/question in every topic I teach. And I used to make fun of her with phrases like…

If Catherine can do it you can all do it.

Break for lunch….

By the time i return from my Mexican pizza place they used to bring different varieties of food ranging from burgers to pizzas, Chinese to japanese ,Caribbean to continental .Looking at Jose’s box , for a minute thought that its the Indian breakfast dosa was surprised to know that its a pan cake.

My dinner menu used to include... Rice ,pickles ,chips, onions and yogurt and my favorite dessert mom made ariselu (a south Indian sweet made of rice floor,jaggery and ghee).Sometimes at night , as i try to microwave my frozen pizza which always ends up half cooked i used to look at the empire state building. The top portion of is beautifully lighted with different colors each day(yellow on daffodils day etc).

Day 17

As i open the door i was shocked to see…..

My suitcases are missing .I don't see my clothes that i have dumped on one side of the bed and not even a single dollar on the dressing table. As i collapse on the bed i see some home made cookies and a note next to it which read Thank You.

Suit cases are in the closet, clothes on the hangers, combs and all the $$ in the drawers.

All that for helping the 62 year old maid lady fixing her grandsons laptop the day before. From that day i felt closer to home....

Free Food@YMCA every Tuesday and Thursday-----------------

They had fried chicken ,strange fruit pieces and lemon tea which i dint know until i tasted it thinking its coke. After that i used to go there every Tuesday.

Drug free school zone…week(3)

Will a.k.a Williams had a small tube in his hand which at times he used as a inhaler. It was not till he fell flat on the desk banging his head hard while every one looked at him shocked did i realize that it was not a normal inhaler but one with a drug so strong that it can make you unconscious. As i rushed to his desk preparing for the worse, he got up in pain holding his head. I took him out of the class and told him not to come back. As tears ran through his eyes he told me about his struggle as a orphan and how he walks four miles every day just for this class. He promised me that he will never again touch drugs in his life.

That evening on my way to the grocery store as I walk past the basket ball courts,I felt happy when I saw the sign which reads "Drug free school zone" (coincidence AKA fate).

Faunda often used to get home made corn cakes for all us.

Amits adventure/visit………….

Inside the building i used to walk like a king but outside i could not even go the Burger King which is 2 blocks away. All that because of Amits visit…

Amit my engineering batch mate who did his masters in jersey and a regular visitor to NY planned for a visit….

Instead of taking the subway amit planned to use his network/smartness and took the bus which stopped two blocks away. As he started walking he quickly realized that it is no time square.Standing next to trash can leaning on the brick wall was a 6 foot 7 inch black man whose face was covered with hoodie and all Amit could see was the smoke coming out as he lifted his head Amit looked straight in to eyes(you should never do that with someone whoz on drugs) which were red like the sun which was setting a few blocks away. The man quickly started walking towards amit…

With in the next minute Amit dashed in to YMCA and to my room and that was the first and last time he visited Harlem.

Day 27 Spider man revealed 

As i wake up to the cop car sirens i felt cold more than the usual and i thought the they have stopped running water through the heaters. All the rooms at YMCA had old/German style room heaters where they continuously run hot water through the pipes. As i look out of the window i see bright white light calling me towards something beautiful, something i haven't seen before. As i jump out of my bed and almost fell out of the window , Snow is everywhere. I immediately opened the window and touched the first snow flake ,may be to make sure its not a dream. I was so excited that it took me 5 minutes to get ready and to jump out in to the streets.

Even though i was scared on that day nothing on this planet could stop me from running through the Harlem streets like spider man after realizing his powers.

Friday evening...@the subway station waiting for No 3 Train

As i get my leather jacket out of the backpack i could see a cop standing right next to the ticket counter with a dunkin donuts coffee in one hand and the with the other hand on his pistol. But that doesn’t bother me any more because i know the beautiful place and the people better now....

Day 30 The twister…

I knew that they will be placed at the end of this program,but what i dint know was the stipend of 1400$ they were promised every month.Sitting at one corner of the room all i could do is to watch tears rolling out of everyone’s eyes when Rose announced that they dint get the expected funds.

Twins cry.

Shuba: walks out saying ,i know this is gonna happen.

Dan..I am sad today more than i was when Katrina hit us...

Faunda...My uncle is a attorney and i will file a case against all of you and the sponsors..

What i initially thought is fishy turned out to be a rich-mans scam...

I was mentally preparing myself to pack things and move back to jersey. But when i come back on Monday after having a quick talk with Shiv over the weekend i was surprised and delighted to see 18 members in the class.

Here is a email from Ebony after missing out a few classes…..

Hello Mr. Reddi,

I received your email on Wednesday informing me that I could continue to come to class. Rose told me that she was going to ask you if it was alright. I failed to mention to her that I was, and still sick. As you know from last Friday's meeting when you came with Rose, & Charles, when Rose informed us that we weren't getting paid, and didn't know when the money from the grants, and other sponsors were going to come in. I can't continue in a program run by a board that doesn't confide in their students that their is financial problems going on.

I still feel that someone knew that there was a problem with raising money for the program months ago. Waiting to the last minute just doesn't make sense. So with with that said I can't continue because my school loans, & other bills aren't going to wait on the possibility that we might, or might not get the monthly stipends we were promised in the very beginning. I have some jobs that I'm looking in to right now. I don't think that the time spent was wasted, but being that we're not getting compensated, I can utilize that time working. I thank you for giving me the opportunity to learn what you know as a professional java programmer.

I will continue to learn, and study what I have started with the program, by changing my major to computer technology when I go to Grad school this fall. Can you do me a favor and tell the remaining members of the class to continue to do well, keep their heads up, and that I'll me praying for all of them, but to make sure that they have a plan B, because of the uncertainty of the programs financial capabilities.

Thank you again,

Exam (Divide and conquer)

At the end of the 2nd month Rose wanted to the cut down the number of students by half. I think she dint expect 18 students to come back to the class even after knowing that they will not be getting their stipend. I felt that they wanted to end this program as soon as possible to fill in their accounts with more $$ and I think she was also scared about Faundas uncle and his law firm.

Director at dinner: Met Elaine the director at the tuesday YMCA dinner. He likes Indians because the one who did his bypass a month back is a Indian doctor Mr.Naidu.After exchanging a few words ,he said that i am doing a great job coming so far and praises for my teaching abilities coming from a programming background. He gave me his card. I wish it was a credit or at least a debit card. But as always it is his visiting card*****.

I have reduced the number of working days/classes to 4 so that they can do some par time jobs for 3 days atleast.Though it was not going great with the students-sponsors i used to grab a lot of energy from my weekend train trips to jersey.I have to take a sub way till 34th street Penn station and then a NJTransit train and i used to enjoy every minute of it.I tried to read a book or make a short note of my experiences from that week classes. It takes a medium sized dunkin donuts coffee to wait for the bus and get to the guest house from the metro-park station.

As weeks passed by the number of students fell like the leaves in the fall.

Break for lunch

No one was moving. I remembered Ebonies words from the sponsors meeting..

"We cant continue our class while spending off our hard earned money"

With a dumb enough personal reason to celebrate i have asked them to choose a place to order food. Calvin was the first one to come up with papa johns pizza and from that week i used to order pizza, wings and soda on Thursdays.

-----------------------Baby in the class------------

Like every morning i quickly finished my cup noodles and rushed to the class .As i walk out of the elevator i heard a baby cry.On the stairs next to the lab door ….

What happened Catherine?

In her thick African accent she replied...

They told me that they will pay stipend. I have left my job .Now i dont have money to pay for daycare. The only reason i come here now is with a hope that they might pay some day and not to be expelled from the class. Feeling sad for a minute i thought of brightening up my day and that of others by telling her to go home not worrying about the grades and i will call her when the stipend is ready.

Checkout in 10 mins ...

As i return after the weekend from Edison i looked at julian in the reception who always throws a welcome back smile.But she dint smile.Not bothering much i quickly got in to the elevator and landed in front of my room.As i try to unlock my door i find that the key doesn't fit in to the lock.Tired trying i went downstairs to talk to the manager ,but he was waiting to talk to me.You can't use your room.You have not payed the rent for the last 2 months .He had a expression which i could read as - i don't know anything about the whole program.In despair i pulled out my valet and as look for my phone card i found the visiting card of Elaine the YMCA Director.I could see the light at the end of the tunnel.But looking at the way things have progressed in the last few months i was sure its from a train.As he spoke with the Italian manager ,i had a man waiting outside the door while i grab everything and call a cab.

When i told shiv what happened he has asked me not to go back on Monday and end it right there.But i could convince him that in 4 more days i will finish the course.

The next four days i travel from metropark station to harlem every day. In those four days I have made their resumes look close to that of mine.I have asked them to collect every piece of information(paper Ads,Emails etc) that they can about this program and sponsors(JP Mrogan Chase, Blackstone Entertainment to name a few) and use all the big names as references during the interviews.


Shuba raised her hand to give me a hug ,not knowing that, i just shook her hands and she laughed at me with embarrassment. But when it was Faudas turn to say good bye she politely said "Thats not the way we do it here MR.Reddy and gave me a hug" and so did Wil and Calvin.

A month later Calvin got a job as a software developer at a investment management company up state NY.

Calvin now works as a senior software engineer at a top notch telecom company in Manhattan.

Faunda joined her uncles law practice.

Wil is pursuing his masters in computer science.

Shuba is all set to take over the lab admins job.

Things and people are not always what you think they are.No matter which country you live in Africa or America  the rich will exploit the poor to get their share before the government snatches its own.U.S gives around $25 billion in foreign aid every year.And i have heard that $60 billion is all that is needed to eradicate poverty from this planet.But do you see that happening?.I wish the students of my class will one day answer that question if not to the planet to the streets of Harlem.