Skip to content
August 29, 2012 / theindianamongindians

Goodbye Manaus. See you again!

That day I walked all around downtown Manaus. I walked in and out of Museums, old buildings, ice cream shops selling exotic Amazonian flavors, stores selling native Indian art and gemstones, book houses selling old Portuguese novels, and municipal markets selling everything from dried fruits to fresh fish. I would pass the square in front of the theater again and again. The square was my anchor in an unknown city among unknown people.

At nightfall, the atmosphere at the square turned festive. A make shift stage hosted a live music band playing MPB, musica popular brasileira, a collection of popular Brazilian hit songs. Vendors were making brisk business selling pop corn and potato chips. African house, located on one corner of the square, served juices during the day and at night spread out tables outside to serve ice cold beer. Beer in Brazil is cold, super cold. Even in the hot and humid Amazon, Brazilians find a way to cool their beer close to its freezing point. I sat down by one of the tables for a beer.

I was both afraid and excited about Manaus. I was afraid about how moving there would change my life, doubts whether I would be able to adjust, and uncertain about how Manaus fits into my life. What I hate the most about uncertainty is that it puts fear and courage into your heart at the same time, and then they start fighting. What decisions you take, what path you choose, and what you eventually do with your life is by far the struggle in your own heart between this fear and courage. Courage pushes you to explore, to seek out new experiences, to take chances with life. Fear begs you to settle for something you know is safe. Time went by fast on that first trip to Manaus. Most of the remaining time was spent doing paperwork for the hiring process and getting vaccinations. After Manaus, I was going to Curitiba in the south of Brazil to play a cricket tournament, and then heading to Western Europe with my wife for 3 weeks of vacation. Moving to Manaus a month later seemed like distant future. For the next month, I locked away my thoughts and feelings about Manaus in a box deep at the back of my mind.


To be continued…

August 25, 2012 / theindianamongindians

Sin and Salvation, right next to each other

In a conscious effort to stem my stream of thoughts, I lazily ambled up the stairs of the theater. The square in front of the theater was lined with trees and paved with cobble stones. Later during the guided tour of the theater I was to learn that the stones were mixed with rubber to reduce the sounds of carriage wheels and horse carts going about the square when an opera was in progress.

The racial mix of the people walking about the square was striking. Native Indians from the interior of the amazon, tourists from Europe, descendants of african slaves brought to Brazil during the boom in sugar cane plantations, some of whom moved interior to escape slavery, and people with mixed features due to the miscegenation of different races in Brazil. In terms of race and race relations, Brazilian history took a different path than that of the USA. In the USA slavery was abolished and replaced by segregation. In Brazil, slavery was abolished and replaced by a program of miscegenation. Mixing of races was promoted. While living in the US, one of my good american friends, a devout sothern baptist from Georgia remarked that Sunday morning 9 a.m is the most segregated hour in the US. Whites, blacks and latinos head to their own churches, all praying to the same God. Looking at the people in the square, it was impossible to clearly define the boundaries of whiteness, blackness or anything in between. Brazil disabuses any foreigner of his long held observations on race and racism.

Looking down  towards the statue in the midlle of the square from the lofty platform of the Teatro Amazonas, on the left is the cathedral, the devout streaming in with candles in hand and people inside engrossed in contemplation, kneeling by the sturdy wooden benches of amazonian wood. Right next to the cathedral is the Bar do Armando. Some people in Manaus swear that the Bar do Armando is the best watering hole in the city. Only in Brazil does sin and salvation share this comfortable co-existence right next to each other.

I did not make much of Bar do Armando on that visit. It just doesn’t call for your attention and in some ways it just doesn’t want to. It’s just happy to see people pass by. Back then I did not know that I would return to it’s fold again and again and fall into the twisted tales of it’s conflicted characters that would make me question everything I learnt about life, love, career, success, happiness and above all myself.

To be continued…

August 24, 2012 / theindianamongindians

The beautiful old woman

Manaus is like a beautiful old woman with a wry smile. She knows she’s past her prime. She’s no longer the young princess she used to be. In the wrinkles of her face you can see the grandeurs of her more glorious days. Centro, downtown of Manaus is littered by a reminder of this past. Manaus, a hundred years back or so was called the Paris of the tropics.

On that first visit I wandered around downtown, visiting old portuguese style buildings with their dull brown earth tiles for roof providing a stark contrast to the brightly painted walls in yellow and green. Teatro Amazonas, an opera theater built during the glorious days of Manaus, stands tall in the middle of all this, dwarfing all the other historical building around it in both size and majesty.

Staring at the theater, I was staring at the uncertainity gnawing at me. I had known this uncertainity before and had wished then that I never have to know it again. I always had a plan with life or atleast one was given to me. All I had to do was follow it. Growing up in Hyderabad, India, this was the typical plan given to me and kids around me. Go to school and do well so that you can go to a good college. Do well in college so that you can get a good job. Take the GRE and TOEFL and try to go to the USA for your Masters. Find a great job there and start you green card process. Get a green card, marry a fair slim tall Indian girl, preferably one arranged by your parents. Buy a house with a white picket fence. Send tickets to your parents and in laws to visit you so that they can bask in the glory of their vindication. After all, among their peers, sons and daughters living in the US is a vindication of their parenting and by extension their self worth. A proof that they had done well in life. They had passed the test. To me most of the things went according to the plan. The few things that did not go according to the plan, lead me down to Manaus, Amazonas.

The first time I had known this uncertainty was in the US, when after my Masters, I was looking for jobs. It was just after 9/11 and the US economy was in a recession and finding jobs was hard. I was in Dallas, Texas back then. I took up a job hauling loads of detregent boxes and stacking them into monster 18 wheeler trucks that would neatly line up into the loading gates of the warehouse in a predominantly latin neighborhood in Dallas. Backing up those 18 wheeler trucks is a skill. Every time a trucker backed up the truck into a perfect alignment with the gate, you could see a glow of satisfaction and acheivement on his face and admiration writ large on people around. It was back breaking work. My slim tall Indian frame of 56 kgs screaming under the weight of the boxes that this is not part of the plan! It was not supposed to be like this! That experiece taught me a lesson I still carry with me. Life is less about what you do when things are going to plan, its more about what you do when the most well laid plans fall apart.

Ten years later and a continent apart, staring at the Teatro Amazonas I was getting to know the same uncertainity again and I was not liking what I was seeing.

To be continued…

August 23, 2012 / theindianamongindians

My first impressions

The plane turned gently to the right and descended through the dense clouds to reveal a vast expanse of water and a green carpet of trees that extended as far as the eye could see. The water was meandering though the midst of the green carpet, and with it’s black color, was like a snake crawling on the carpet with no apparent urgency. The cabin radio in the plane crackled with the announcement that we would soon be landing at the Eduardo Gomes international airport in Manaus, Amazonas.

A bridge across the water with it’s white color brightly reflecting the midday sun was in stark contrast to the black water greedily gobbling up all the light falling on it. Days later, I was to learn that this was the river Rio Negro, a swim in it’s water salvation to the weary souls suffering from the unforgiving heat and humidity of Manaus.

Exiting the airport, I felt a gust of hot wind on my face reminding me of the hot summer days in Hyderabad, India. Within minutes the t-shirt I was wearing was clinging to my body with droplets of sweat running down my neck. The tingling sensation it set off provoked an instinctive reaction to wipe it with my bare hands. I was warned about the Manaus weather by Brazilans I met earlier in Brasilia.The joke goes that there are only two seasons in Manaus, hot and wet, hot and humid. The only option you have is to decide which season you like best.

As I took the cab and drove past the “Welcome to Manaus” sign, I had a distinct feeling of expectation and trepidation. I had interviewed with this company I was about to visit and their partners in Malaysia on the phone. Still, I wasn’t sure if this is what I wanted to do. Part of visiting Manaus was to know this place better before I decide to accept the job offer. In hindsight, I think I had already made the choice to move there and was just looking for validation of that decision on that visit.

On that first visit, I spent 3 days in Manaus taking in the sights and sounds of the city which both looked familiar and alien at the same time. I was both brave and desperate. Six months of job search in Brazil had crushed my confidence but not my spirit to explore, and here I was with a job offer in a city with an improbable location in the middle of the Amazon basin. Manaus looked every bit a challenge.

To be continued…

August 22, 2012 / theindianamongindians

How it all started

“If fate does not make you laugh, you do not get the joke” – from the book Shantaram.

By some strange twist of fate, I am currently living in Manaus, Amazonas, Brazil. Born and raised in Hyderabad, India, I was one of the hordes of the Indian IT guys, whose biggest aspiration was to land on the shores of the USA. American dream was the dream. To me, that dream came true. This is the story of what came next.

Love came next. That captivating thing which catches us off guard and leads us down paths which we rarely thought we would ever walk along. I fell in love with a wonderful Brazilian woman in the USA. The next 3 years, we built a life together, got married and moved to France where I did my MBA. The American dream was replaced by a Brazilian dream. I felt the urge to live in the country of my wife. There was a challenge to it. Learning the portuguese language, going and living in a country where few of my country men had gone and lived. I decided to do an exchange program in Brazil! My wife was supportive of my wishes and moved to Brazil where she found a great assignment with a multilateral organization in Brasilia.

I finished my MBA and found a job in Manaus. I commute every weekend to Brasilia and back. This is my story, our story and the story of the people around me as it unfolds. I want to be able to capture the essence of living in Manaus, in the middle of the Amazon basin and Brazil. The sights and sounds I see and hear in this country are extraordinary and I want to be able to paint a picture of it using words. A picture wich goes beyond stereotypes and skin deep understanding of people and cultures. A picture which increases our undertanding of a culture and its people and by extension our own selves and humanity.