In June of 2019, I moved to Kansas City, nestled right at the heart of the United States of America. Excited about working at one of America’s best research institutes, I was hardly concerned about my travelogue as Kansas City is unlike New York or Chicago, bustling with busybody travellers.
What I realised, however, was that this city had a lot more to offer in terms of the scenic urban landscapes and their historical significance. The first thing you notice in Kansas City is not the skyscrapers or make-believe glitter of American capitalism but a city deeply rooted in its history and culture. The largest city in the mid-western US state of Missouri, Kansas City is located right at the confluence of the adjoining states of Missouri and Kansas, giving it a unique geographical identity.
Encompassing different aspects of the American heritage – from food to art and music, this city has often been tagged as the ‘quintessential American’ city. All across Kansas City, the delicious barbecue and soulful jazz music can keep you hooked to its nostalgic atmosphere.
Despite being consistently engaged in laboratory research, looking for answers to the problem of sensory processing in the brain, I often had the chance to visit the major landmarks of the city and appreciate their sheer grandeur.
Perhaps the most recognizable building in KC is the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art, which is one of America’s largest. The sprawling campus of the museum and its adjacent lawn are a favourite among visitors and heaven for any art enthusiast. As you approach the huge stairs to enter the museum complex, you are greeted by a giant replica of Rodin’s Thinker, which serves as a reminder of the value of thought and contemplation in man’s quest for greatness. Receiving that profound message in the midst of a modern, fast-paced world was spiritual bliss in itself.
The museum is populated by some of the greatest works of art you can find in the US, both ancient and modern. It was here that I was introduced to the contemporary masters like Pablo Picasso, Jackson Pollock, and Salvador Dali whose colourful expressions of life and its complexities made me feel perplexed and fulfilled at the same time.
In stark contrast to this hub of human excellence is the World War I memorial, a symbol of man’s fallibility and propensity for war, located next to the historic Union Station. Climbing up the pedestal of the 217-foot tower, I could feel the weight of my own vulnerability for the kind of vices that lead men to war.
Thanks to the visionaries who would have first imagined to build this structure, anticipating that someday another human being will walk on its stairs and understand the value of peace and harmony in a world so delicately balanced on our moral irony.
To escape the tiring weekdays, Kansas City also offered me various options to have some fun and light-hearted weekends. For someone who is not into shopping, Kansas City’s malls and public spaces have a lot to present for adventure lovers. The Sherlock Holmes themed escape room took me back to 1895 when Holmes and Watson were solving crimes in Victorian London while ‘Survive KC’ brought me face to face with a zombie apocalypse.
The Union Station is a center for an array of activities and also has special exhibits that tell stories of history and science in an interactive and creative manner. Shoppers can find comfort in the nearby Crown Center which is full of high-end stores and restaurants.
The Indian community in Kansas City is like any other Indian community in a major American city – vibrant and amicable. Meeting a friendly Uber driver from Haryana or bumping upon familiar faces at a local Indian grocery store strangely makes me feel at home.
Moreover, my own institute employs a reasonably high number of Indian scientists and researchers, which made me proud of the quality of scientific manpower that India can boast of. In spite of some rumours about general discomfort for immigrants in Trump’s hyper-nationalist America, I found the city surprisingly congenial and open-minded for a first-time visitor and worker from a foreign land.
The people of KC are amazingly tuned to cross-cultural conversations which can make anyone feel welcome and respected. Every time I take an Uber to an Indian store or restaurant, the drivers startle me with their own stories of Indian cuisine and spices. Indian chefs definitely have a bright future over here!
Kansas City exposed me to a side of America which is much more diverse and culturally rich than what one sees on the tableaux and fancy Hollywood films. It is a city where one can truly experience the American dream while being constantly aware of the deep philosophical and social values that spawned it. Kansas City is truly a home away from home.