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Deaf in DC: A Memoir

Madan Vasishta

Chapter Two
Arrival in America

airplanes, to me while herding cattle in gagret, looked like birds, a bit larger than a crow and the same size as a vulture. Later, when living in Delhi, I had the opportunity to see some of them at the airport. They were larger, much larger. I saw scores of people disappear into the belly of the “bird.” However, the closest I had gotten to an airplane was the visitor’s gallery at the airport. I longed for the moment when I would also ride an airplane. Now, I was actually flying in a plane. I hoped the plane would fl y over Gagret so that I could look down to see how small the cows looked.

Sitting on the airplane felt funny. There was no sign of the heat or humidity that was suffocating the airport outside. The faint aroma of hot cooked food wafting from the galley reminded me that I was hungry. The combination of many emotions—excitement, worry, sadness, fear—had pushed the basic human need, hunger, to the background. I wished the plane would fl y and those pretty air hostesses dressed in colorful silk saris would serve food.

No one had bothered to tell me if the plane was going directly to London or would stop on its way. I had not asked, either. I sat in the cramped seat next to a young lady who tried to talk to me and, on finding I was deaf, wrote, “Do you know if we are flying over Amritsar now?” She must have been from Amritsar. I looked outside the window. All I could see was white clouds. But in order to look knowledgeable, I said, yes, we were flying over Amritsar. I didn’t feel guilty for lying. I had made someone happy.

The plane stopped in Tehran, Rome, and Frankfurt before arriving in London. A cab whisked me away to a small hotel, courtesy of Air India, in the city. The hotel room was the cleanest I had ever stayed in and the bed was the most comfortable I had slept in. However, sleep I could not. I tossed and turned all night thinking about Gallaudet College and wondering how things would be there. How would they treat me? What was I going to do when my $50 ran out? That was more than my salary for a month as a photographer in India, but it would not go far in the United States. This was the amount allowed in foreign exchange and that I had received using money from my savings and an uncle’s gift. Would I be able to keep up with other students? These thoughts scared sleep away. I was also thinking about Big Ben, the London Bridge, Piccadilly Circus, Hyde Park, and all of those places I had read about and seen in photographs. I wanted to see them all. However, I had only a few hours the next morning. At about five in the morning, I got tired of trying to sleep and got up; showered; dressed in the same suit, shirt, and tie I had worn during the flight; and found my way to the dining room. There was no one there except a waiter. He asked me how I liked my eggs. That was a strange question. Eggs to me were eggs. The only words related to eggs I knew were “boiled” and “omelet.” So I asked for an omelet and he asked what kind. I didn’t know the types of omelets but also didn’t want to show my ignorance, so told him with the air of someone who specialized in omelets, I want an egg omelet. Later, I learned he had given me scrambled eggs.

After a hearty breakfast, I approached the concierge and asked him how to get to Piccadilly Circus. He wrote down directions for getting to the tube station and which station to go to from there and what to do after I got out. He was thorough. Armed with his instructions, I visited several sites in London without getting lost.

It was a surreal experience thinking I was one of those people who had seen all of those famous landmarks. When I worked in the Goyle Photography Studio, I had developed photographs showing people standing in front of various London landmarks. I was jealous of them. Now, I was there! I walked with a swagger. I wished I could get myself photographed in front of one of the monuments to send home. I didn’t have a camera and I didn’t know anyone with a camera within a five thousand miles radius. At that thought I smiled: my world was broadening.

But those landmarks were not what I had expected. Trafalgar Square was full of statues and, surprise, pigeons. There was nothing about Lord Nelson and his glorious naval victory. Hyde Park was just a park and Piccadilly Circus was a busy marketplace not much different than Connaught Place in New Delhi. I didn’t let myself admit that these places had a halo effect because of what I had read about them.

The concierge had told me to be back before 1:00 p.m. for a ride to the airport. I made it fifteen minutes before that. I was hungry and asked for lunch. No, he said, the airline had paid for my breakfast only. I had to wait and eat in the plane or buy my own food. Having already read the menu in the morning, I decided to skip the lunch. I already had spent more than $4 in tube and admissions. My funds were dwindling fast. It was time to tighten the belt, literally.

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