Book Review – CHENNAI TO CHICAGO – The Literature Today

CHENNAI TO CHICAGO: memoir of a software engineer.

“All our dreams can come true, if we have the courage to pursue them.” -Walt Disney.

A memoir is a narrative writing, based in the author’s personal memories. Chennai to Chicago is a nostalgic memoir of a 90’s boy, a software engineer. 195 pages long, it forms a quick read. Sriram Ramakrishnan has poured out his heart, weaved his life journey in 8 chapters which are a treat to read and get enlightenment in the process while enjoying the turns and twists that happened in his life. 

The people born in the 80’s-90’s form the only generation who have seen some major changes in their lifetime, in addition to being part of two different centuries. The multiplying of the cable channels, the boom of the software industry, the internet revolution, from floppy drives to laptop, dial-up to wi-fi, from landline to cellphones and from black & white Doordarshan to Hd Home Theatre, this generation saw it all!

After achieving his American Dream, Sriram ponders on the meaning and reflects back on his life. This memoir is all about that and more. It is written in first person narrative with use of very simple language and is not at all heavy but can be easily absorbed by beginner level readers. His story begins with the year 2006 when being a software engineer and going to America was every Indian’s dream. He delves on his experience with getting a visa, crossing the first hurdle.  All the 8 chapters begin with a very appropriate and inspiring quote, which looks very aesthetic and gives further weightage to the content. 

In the 1st chapter, he says, we have always been taught to go with the crowd as it is always safe to be camouflaged in the crowd but he, Sriram wanted to do, otherwise. He talks about his first hand experiences with the fellow students, mentors, getting self-dependent doing all the chores which normally mothers did in India, getting a short- American name, learning about casual relationships, his speech and accent problems and racism. He says he saw the world through the interactions with the foreign friends he made. Read the book to know about all these sweet & sour experiences, in detail. 

In the 2nd chapter, Sriram compares his relaxed undergraduate years in India to the hectic workload in the states. He questions himself for reasons on leaving a comfortable life. He feels life is so unpredictable and every event in life is connected. In this section, he talks about his driving experience, his experience with 911 and cops. 

The next chapter talks about his crush, which lasted only 6 months. This episode brought back his bitter and sweet school memories where he had his first crush and betrayal from his friend. 

“And I took the road less traveled, and that made all the difference.” – Robert Frost.

These heartbreak & bitter memories caused a storm & lots of restlessness in him. He became angry at everything. To take a time-out from his daily routine, he ventured for a long drive aimlessly on the roads. He met various kinds of people on this road trip, learnt to observe and appreciate nature, experiences various things so much so that his travels form the crux of his soul searching experience. Read it to know more.  Sections on yoga, meditation, searching for the meaning of life come and go throughout the read. This memoir skips timelines according to the sections or chapters the author talks about but it is seamless and the transition is smooth and not abrupt.

“When I was 5 years old, my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down ‘happy’. They told me I didn’t understand the assignment, and I told them they didn’t understand life.” -John Lennon, The Beatles.

In this chapter, he talks about his working experience in the states versus that in India. He also compares the restless, impatient, present generation to the people of the previous generation who worked for 30-40 years in the same organization. Sriram, himself worked in 5 different companies, travelled to 8 different countries before turning 30. He says, with too many desires and choices the world has become restless.

Throughout his journey, from being a pampered child in India to being a software professional in the USA, Sriram has felt a void, where he searches for the meaning of life.  “The two most important days in your life are the day you were born, and the day you find out why” -Mark Twain.

He ponders about the impermanence of life and feels everything is fleeting. He wonders about the purpose of life. Here he talks about his spiritual experiences when he leaves everything to come back to India and goes for a soul-searching trip all over the country. He eventually understands, that nature never gives us anything which we cannot handle. He says we all come and then go, whatever game we play, we all have to go home in the end. 

Reading this memoir was a wonderful experience, stepping in someone else’s shoes to discover and tread the nitty- gritties of life. We read memoirs to experience and learn from the life lessons of another imperfect human soul. 

This memoir is suitable to be read by the masses and it would touch every student’s heart who is aspiring to go and study in the foreign university or one who is already studying there, students who have just ventured out on their own after leaving their college life and all the non- resident Indians. It is sure to bring nostalgia to every kid from the 90’s generation who remembers Jurassic Park, Malgudi Days, Terminator and Mahabharat. It is also a must read for anyone looking for the purpose of life. Reading this heartfelt, raw, extremely personal memoir was a very enlightening and satiating experience. 

Book: Chennai to Chicago
Author: Sriram Ramakrishnan
Publisher: Notion Press (26 August 2020)
Total Pages: 194
Reviewed By: Noor at The Literature Today
Order Book: Order on Amazon

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