A dash of Melbourne

Right in the center of the Federation square, a few feet away from where I stand, an Australian free-lance artist juggles three fire-torches in the air, enthralling a multi-cultural audience comprising hugely of Aussie nationals and a whole bunch of Asians – mostly Chinese, Koreans and Indians. Every few minutes, there’s a spattering of jokes in his act, some lame, some witty. Across the street, teen kids dance to punk music as a crowd gathers to watch them. A few blocks away solo guitarists play their instruments and croon along. Along Swanston street, there’s a sprinkling of spray paint artists too – mesmerizing people with their skills. Armed with brochures and tourism pamphlets about the city and my newfound knowledge about the upcoming Arts festival, I attribute the presence of artists to the festival, but I soon learn from the locals that a lot of it is a common occurrence.  

Flinders Street Station, Melbourne, Australia
Flinders Street Station, Melbourne

There are hundreds of people walking the streets, people coming back from work, people walking to their shifts, some using the omnipresent public transport, some eating, gossiping, biding time. From Mumbai to Minneapolis to Melbourne (leaving aside the ones I have lived in for shorter durations), I have loved each and every city I have lived in for reasons I cannot even begin to list. Minnesota kindled in me the love of driving. Driving down those non-populated streets, long winding roads and open freeways with the wind on my face was always an adrenaline rush. I have since concluded that people who do not drive are definitely missing out on that one high! But a true Mumbaiite at heart, I have also always been a city girl. I have loved the feel of being one in the crowd, having your own unique pace and yet being one with the mass. And now, Melbourne has brought me back full circle. Not in a position to own a car right now, I whisper a silent Thank you for the myriad forms of public transport in Melbourne, be it the trams I have come to love in such a short period of time, the trains, the buses or variations of the said like the City Circle Tram. We talk about the upcoming Monorails and Metro rail in Mumbai, wonder if it would help with the ever booming population. Talking of population, did you know that India produces an Australia every year in terms of births? 

I grab a cup of coffee from a local Australian deli, there are scores of them – Aussies seem to be a patriotic lot, I don’t see many big brand names or store chains, local produce is well marketed. Passing by fast food restaurants, I notice Indians manning every other counter, sometimes successive ones too. Many more pass us by every few steps. My husband and I are astounded. Stretching our legs under a Subway awning, I strike up a conversation with the Aussie store manager of Subway while my husband chats away on a work call. I ask him about his experiences with Indian employees, I am curious. He tells me they make great employees because they are hard working and trustworthy. He tells me he would rather trust an Indian with money during an evening when he needs to step out rather than an Australian teenager or a European. We talk about the shifts they work, the fact that most are students but some are wives of working men too. He tells me about racist customers too, the feelings of anger that arise within them when they see hordes of Indians landing well-paying jobs in the city. He doesn’t try to justify their actions, he’s simply stating his experiences. I wonder if his words are sugar-coated because he’s talking to an Indian, but then he stumps me with a hard-fact, something that I also believe to be true. He tells me Indians majorly lack customer service as a skill and that it’s not an individual who’s at fault but the culture. He tells me he’s been to India and he’s learnt Indians do not believe that customers need to be pleased. If one isn’t the next would be, if he also isn’t, then there’s always another one in line. We chat some more, I thank him for his honesty and get back to walking and observing people around me.

On the train I observe Aussie women, who seem to be more aggressive and not particularly beautiful. Many have told me that Indian women symbolize beauty. I do agree to a large extent. There’s an earthy beauty, a  compassion in Indian women that I haven’t seen elsewhere, not that I am an expert on the multitude of cultures in the world. American women exude a sense of confidence that I have always admired. The Chinese women I see come across as dainty and refined, petite elegance. Every spoken sentence has the word ‘mate’ thrown in! Quite a few Aussie men, many more than usual, seem feminine. I reflect that Aussies don’t use the Golden words of Please, Thank You, Excuse Me and Sorry as much as Minnesotans did. Again, I cannot generalize Minnesotans to Americans, but having stayed in a quaint little Minnesota suburb for a good part of my life, I cannot help but compare the two. 

League teams play a cricket match on a sunny day at Fawkner Park, Melbourne.
Image credit: humeweekly.com.au
Flash-forward a few days. Jogging/walking along the trails of the Fawkner park we find dozens of men indulging in the one sport that the nation is famous for internationally, CRICKET! On about six of the eight grounds in the park, we see padded and gloved professional uniformed Aussie men along with an Indian/Pakistani or two in their midst enjoying the sport as typical white-hat umpires stand by observing. Now, these look more like the Australian players on television, the non-feminine kinds! On the sidelines, other men work at net practice or cheer their fellow mates on the ground. The atmosphere is rife with excitement and every few minutes we hear cheers and yells as someone is declared out. In the other two grounds, un-uniformed regular-wear tracksuit clad Indian/Pakistani men with unrequited love for cricket indulge themselves in an intense game. My husband is elated, he looks like he’s finally attained Nirvana. I strongly believe that if you put him on an island with cricket gear and just enough of them to play a game, he’ll gladly stay stranded. On the way to the city, the light towers of the Melbourne Cricket Ground – the famous MCG, loom high on our right. He can’t wait to visit. 

Little penguins come waddling in at Penguin Island, Melbourne
Image credit: journals-worldnomads.com.au
Over the weekend, we pay a visit to the Melbourne visitor center and lap up information about the areas around Melbourne. Philip Island looks promising, we’re told that thousands of penguins waddle into the island every evening. So does Ocean Road, looking at the pictures I am already transported to a world of my dreams. We discuss some more and leave the place armed with more brochures. Through phone calls and Facebook, we find out about a couple of our friends in the vicinity. I learn about a long-lost relative of mine staying close by and I think of catching up! Around us, posters of the fast-approaching Melbourne cup are in full display; the Derby horse races which are touted to bring the nation to a stop! I chat with a dear friend of mine in Sydney and we make plans to meet sometime around the Australian Open. Back home, our families are eager to know how we’re managing and curious to learn more about the new continent. From hearsay, they’ve gathered that racism is rampant. We assure them that so far, we haven’t witnessed any such incidents. 

Outside, it rains a little and the sun plays a game of hide-n-seek with us. Spring is slowly giving way to summer, temperatures are on the rise. The cost of living in Australia is way more expensive than in US or India, we figure. We still have to find an apartment to move to, the company provided accommodation will last us a week more. Groceries to be purchased, internet, utilities to be set up. A regular member already at the city library, I apply to jobs and scout for apartments in parallel. Sure, moving entails a lot of work. But the promise of a land unseen, of new sights and experiences, new friends and acquaintances keeps us going. It’s already been a week and it feels like we landed just yesterday. The Hindu festivals are all lined up along with the Christian ones – Halloween’s just around the corner. My friend tells me New Year in Sydney is supposed to be magical. I sigh. There’s so much more of the world to be taken in, yet so less time!

Upon my arrival, a good friend of mine emailed me, suggesting that I pen a post titled ‘USA to AUS: Been there and beyond’. A little too early to do that, but, how could I resist? And hence, this post is simply a bowlful of my musings in this new foreign land, that for the next three months, I would call home. 

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