I had not seen Rajeev ever since he visited me in Pitt in 2002. But then I moved to Atlanta and got busy with my new life as a PhD student. It was about time I visited him. Recent acquisition of a license also gave me the opportunity to drive and hence I set up the plans and along with Jitesh and Abhishek and started for Texas one fine morning.

SMU at St. Forth, Dallas

The Southern Methodist University (SMU) is like one of the many universities in small towns where the whole focus is on the baseball and football. On the day of the game, the whole town stops and watches. Also, the undergrad crowd of the university seemed to be coming from pretty well to do homes. Many kids has really exquisite and expensive cars. Just like any other undergrad crowd in a university however, we found on arriving on a Friday night that there was much humdrum going over in the neighborhood with many kids roaming around, completely drunk. Somehow, I also recall Rajeev telling me that the club owners send chartered buses to pick and drop the undergrads from the hostel and dorms.

I was a bit surprised to see that the logo on the Ford Mustang is the logo of SMU! Suspect there might be some kind of deal between the university and the car manufacturer.

The university itself is quite open and spacious and somehow they have even managed to plug in a museusm on the campus. The entry to the museum is free and it is a nice place to visit. They had an exhibit on, if I remember correctly, black and white photographs from the World War II. Many of them pertained to the torture of Jewish people under the Nazi Germany. Many pictures, however, were taken recently, and showed the places and devices used for the torture. The whole scenario was horrifying and makes you realize what freedom means and how precious it is.

The student center at SMU is just like one of the many other student centers at other universities, except for the fact that they have this curious artifact in the sitting lounge. There are birds in bronze hanging from the ceiling. Overall, a pleasant effect of birds soaring in the sky.

Rajeev works on a lab far away from the main campus and misses out on a lot of campus life. He works in some sort of rapid prototyping lab. Even though the location of his office is pretty non-descript, the machinery in that lab is quite impressive. We learned of techniques for creating ultra thin layers using material deposition and cutting iron using abrasive materials put in a jet of water. Mechanical Engineering labs always leave me awe inspired.
SMU seems to have been built in the era when America was getting educated and Universities and educational instutions were being built. Even though I do not know the educational history of America, it is my general perception that during a certain era (maybe 200 years back), a lot of rich people realized what education means and how valuable it might be for the advancement of the country. Thus, they created many instituitions of higher education and donated land, buildings and money to them. Many Gothic style buildings and artifacts around SMU seem to corroborate this theory.

San Antonio

Coming to San Antonio, we went to see the Alamo first. Well, well, well, guess some things ought not to be judged by the size of the artifact. I had been thinking that Alamo would be a great castle like thing with huge barriers around it. To my surprise, all it had was a hut like thing. If you don't know the story behind "The Alamo", well, I believe it goes something like this, "Once upon a time, in a galaxy far far away, there was this country called Mexico which was encroaching on Texas (which wanted to be a free country). Alamo was the last standing pocket of resistance against Mexico. The resistance held for something like over two months on a very limited number of men. Eventually, Texas asked for help from USA and became a part of the USA."

Finished with the Alamo, we roamed around a little and sure enough, there was this guy telling the story of the Alamo to wide eyed kids. He was taking so much enthsiasm in his story telling that even adults stood momentarily and listened to his story with this trance. I have heard too many stories about seiges of castles, kingdoms (one such hero being Maha Rana Pratap Singh from Indian history), so I was not really impressed. However, I found these two colorful people a nice shot.

After walking around a while (Rajeev had been there earlier), we planned to follow a trail by the side of a river like thing, which presumably goes around most of the sites in San Antonio. Sure enough, after walking for a little while, we kind of got confused. So We asked for a few directions and kept on walking.

I guess, this particular way of arranging all the tourist spots (i.e. just follow the river and take an exit to see a spot, when done come back and follow the river) is extremely convenient and should be followed in other places as well. The river provides a nice view and has many artifacts on its banks. Every now and then you pass under an overpass bridge, which, gives you the jolt of reality that you are actually in a city. There is some contemporary art under a few of these bridges. A multitude of restaurants line the banks of the river, so if you start feeling tired and/or hungry, you can take a break.

Every now and then you come across trees by the side of the path. These trees too were alive once.

If you believe me, the Texans are a bit like my grandfather. If you just praise them, or just talk to them very politely, they will do a lot for you. I mean, they will pose for you, smile for you. In fact there was this dude, who was being so friendly, he wanted me to take his picture. When I started focussing my camera however, he started getting all shy.

Once at IIT, Rajeev had his own niche in his batch and I had mine. I came to realize that he has a very adventurous spirit. Well, some of the poses that those people had in those pictures, well you had to see them to believe them. T. K. Satish, Rajeev and one more friend, they had a whole photo shootout masquerading as gunda and mavalis. Since I was with Rajeev, I thought we might pose in somewhat fashionable ways and get some, er, different kind of pictures.

When I met Rajeev's advisor, he was a bit taken aback. I guess he expected me to be much like Rajeev. Of course, I am a totally different kind of person. Rajeev usually dresses smartly, is more health conscious than me, has wavy brown hair. I on the other hand, dress somewhat more casually, am a bit thicker and to top all, at that time I had long hair and really huge side burns. In fact, most of the people around there had a hard time believing that we two are brothers.

As we went around the river, we came across quite a few sights. I had this impression about most of the America, that it is not really all that colorful. I mean even the dressing sense of people revolves mostly around only a few colors (blue jeans, white t-shirts), but being in San Antonio, this view was quickly shattered. I am not really sure whether it was the effect of the Mexican culture or people when uninhibited, start taking on a colorful identity, but it was nice to see anyway.
Being a photographer is like adopting an attitude towards life. You incorporate a certain way of thinking and looking at things in your life. You become somewhat unattached, notice the smallest things, evaluate beauty in everyday, common things. Once I started taking photography somewhat seriously (i.e. when I bought my digital camera and went all out taking pictures), I often found myself pondering about how a certain object would look like in a picture, I also found myself fretting over the lighting. I would come out of my house and immediately think, wow, beautiful lighting, or dang, this light is too harsh.

At San Antonio, we visited a mall of some sort, it was mostly like any other mall in any other city of USA, except for the fact that there were a lot of open spaces and right in front of the food court, there was a mexican band playing. Man, those guys were playing really well.

My final impression of San Antonio was that it is an impoverished place, not much developed, the place thrives solely on tourism. It is possible that the long war with Mexico, left the place sparsely populated and without any significant industries.