The smiling face of Barack Obama—as large as a shop-front in my native village in Assam, India—welcomed me to the United States of America, at the end of a long corridor. His teeth were so very white and perfect, almost too perfect. The smell of America hit me right away—an antiseptic, clean smell that seemed to say, “Here we like to have things in order—our way.” My nostrils didn’t know quite what to make of it.
In the weeks and months that followed in Los Angeles, I felt anonymous for the first time in my life. In the beginning, this was a wonderful thing. I had grown up being singled out, regularly taunted, for my father had converted to Christianity, bringing disgrace upon his family. Then I became restless; I looked for a way and place to put down roots here, but I couldn’t make sense of this American soil, bloody and rocky in unexpected places that were so clean on the surface. I began to say “budder” for butter and “ske-jool” for schedule instead of “shay-dool” so that people wouldn’t say, “Come again?”
Almost eight thousand miles from home, in this sterile land, I would realize that the world was my village and the village my world . . . I was reborn as a writer. But I still can’t write about America. Its smell still tickles my nostrils. Once in a while, it makes me sneeze.