I still remember the day we decided to shift to USA. Ritesh came back from his office all excited and cock-a-hoop. He told us that he had this offer to relocate to USA for a project lasting five years. Our daughter Nalini was in class XII and was due to appear for her boards.
“She can always appear in SAT and complete her education in some university of USA. The state of California has more than 20 odd universities.” Ritesh had reasoned. “Getting such a tempting offer in the days of recession is very fortunate. I really do not want to let it go. After all, such an opportunity will not come knocking again.”
What had remained unsaid was that I would have to give up my teaching job at St. Anne’s High School to shift to USA. But I did not think much about it in the excitement of shifting to a new country. It would be good for the careers of my husband and daughter, I had thought. And like most Indians, we were completely besotted by the American dream. Was it a mistake? I don’t really know the answer to this one. Ritesh is happy enough with his professional life. The work culture here is much better than the one back home, he says. As for my daughter, she has taken to the American way of life like a fish to water. And that is a source of discomfort for me. As for me, life is very monotonous. Used as we are to the Indian way of living, life in USA can be very lonely. No relatives around, very few friends. Even the desis I see on the street or in the malls tend to look through me. Even though I do not have a maid, housework does not take much time as half the things we eat from Chapatis to Parathas to Chicken are precooked and there is hardly any dust or dirt around. I miss my job in the school. I miss my students, my colleagues and my friends. Why, I even miss our grouchy Principal Mrs. Dias. I miss Delhi and its heat, dust, grime and the teeming crowds. When I lived there I hated Delhi for all these things but now I yearn for them. The only solace is the internet. I watch a lot of Hindi movies on the net. Most of the time I end up watching the latest release much earlier than my sister back there in India. I can talk to her and some of my friends on Skype but the 14 hour time difference is a pain. And it has been just three months since we shifted. We live in Morgan Hill, a small town in the suburbs of Silicon Valley. Ritesh drives to work and it takes him about thirty minutes to reach his office in downtown St. Jose. He reaches back home around seven pm. He does his best to give me company but the only times he is really free are the weekends. He is talking about exploring the nearby places on the weekends so that both of us can spend some quality time together. Sounds pretty American, doesn’t it! Nalini has been accepted in California State University, Long Beach some two hundred miles away and lives in a dorm on the campus. I want her to come home every weekend but in past one month she has made it to home only once. Already the way she dresses and talks has changed and she has picked up a marked American accent. The only person who does not have much to do is me. I really feel like an outcast in this new life we have found for ourselves. God, I am so far away from home. I really need to get a grip on my life. I need to get out of this rut. Maybe joining the Santa Clara County Library is the answer. Maybe it is time I start considering what career options are available to me in USA.
Blog of an unknown Indian
30.9.2008 , 11.00 PM
Today is exactly three months since I landed in USA. I have decided to write this blog as a kind of online diary if my experiences here. I don’t know how frequently I will be able to update my experiences as I find barely enough time to give some company to my poor wife who languishes at home all the time. I have resolved to at least make an honest attempt to chronicle my experiences. I am software professional who works for Wipro. I was working in Gurgaon and lived in Delhi when I got this offer. To relocate to a new country at this juncture of my life was a tough call but two factors tilted the balance. First was the unprecedented advancement in my career and the monetary benefits that went with it. Second was a chance for my daughter Nalini to get an American education.
After three months I can confidently say that the decision was right.
I have made more progress professionally in these three months than I would have done in three years in Gurgaon. I have to say this about Americans that they have a different approach to work altogether. If you know your job and are sincere your co-workers will go out of their way to help you. It is a refreshing change to work in a competitive environment sans any office politics and intrigue. And they respect ability. And of course USA is far ahead of us as far as creature comforts are concerned. We have rented a beautiful house in Morgan Hill, a picturesque little town in the Santa Clara valley, flanked by the Santa Cruz Mountains in the west and the Diablo range in the east. Once Sanjana starts working we may as well buy it. After all, what are hire purchase and mortgages for? And I drive a Honda Civic to work, something I could only dream about back home. And driving on the freeway! It is something that has to be experienced and people used to the chaotic Delhi-Gurgaon road cannot even imagine the pleasure of driving on an American freeway. On my way to work I see magnificent sights. The ‘Incredible India‘ dudes should see this country. I see the grand El Toro which stands guard over the town; the freeway sweeping through the verdant Santa Clara valley; and the changing colors of foliage. My colleagues tell me that America is at its best during the fall.
Nalini has joined the California State University and as far as I can tell she is pretty happy. University education is expensive in USA but with my enhanced financial muscle I can afford it.
The only cause for concern is Sanjana. She is finding it very difficult to adjust to this new life. She looks utterly bored and wears a permanently wan expression. She says that sitting at home the whole day doing nothing is grating on her nerves. And she has put on so much of weight! I strongly suspect that she is fast turning into an Internet addict. I really do not know what to do for her as I hardly have any time on week days. I keep pestering her to be more outgoing and make a serious attempt to adjust to this new life but to no avail. I keep telling her that the only way to survive in a new country is to adjust and adapt and eventually get assimilated. After all, isn’t America a huge melting pot of different races and cultures and most of its citizen’s are descendents of immigrants. And who are the original residents of this country? The Native Americans who are hardly seen around nowadays! So why consider ourselves as outcasts? And as for loneliness, it has to be faced squarely. Sitting at home and moping will not solve anything. I think I must take Sanjana on drives around the state during the weekends and explore the surroundings. We need to check out the lake and the aquatic centre and the beach is not all that far. Maybe that will put some color into her cheeks and cheer her up. And she would not feel so ‘away from home’.
Hi! It’s been exactly after three months since we left Delhi. It is not that I had not thought about mailing you but with so many things happening in these three months I just did not find time to email you. Now let me tell you all about our American adventures. Well, we came here and initially stayed in a guest house for around a fortnight. Then we shifted to this beautiful rented house in the suburbs. You might remember that I scored 82% in my boards. Good thing that we shifted or I would not have got admission in a decent college in Delhi. My SAT score were good enough for me to have secured admission in California State University, Long Beach. Now this is some place. I am told that the total number of students is around 45,000. Kind of boggles the mind, doesn’t it? By the way Karen and Richard Carpenter are ex-students of this University.
I am staying in a dorm in the University. Things are very different out here. One thing is that everyone from the Dean to the teachers to your classmates treats you as an adult. And none of the students wonder what their parents would think before doing anything. And they dress so differently. You know, my trendy jeans, kurtis and tee shirts looked positively dowdy here as all girls dress in minis and shorts (very short shorts). There is not much pressure of studies in the beginning as the Dean has told us to take our time before deciding on our majors. So I will decide my major next semester. Here, everyone goes out on dates and does everything in them. The boys here say I am exotic and sexy and they keep asking me out. I have gone out with a couple of guys but made them stop before they went too far. I have even sipped beer (Ugh) but I liked the cocktails. My mom wants me home every weekend but I am trying to find my feet in this milieu and we do have so many things to do on weekends. Anyway dad is cool and he says he wants me to do well academically. Do mail me and let me know how you are finding Ramjas College and Delhi Univ.
P.S. Nobody except mom and dad calls me Nalini anymore.
27th December 2009
I am making an entry in the diary after more than a year. So much has happened over the year. My life has changed and I have become so busy that I have hardly had time to myself. Nowadays, I am free as Christmas holidays are going on. It has been snowing for the past three days and now I know what a ‘White Christmas’ means. My daughter Nell is home for her Christmas break. Ritesh is also free and my little family is together after a long time. We had planned to visit Florida this time but Nell was more interested in snow than sand. Besides, she wanted to stay at home and eat Indian food. Although she dresses and talks like a typical American it is good to know that inside she is still Indian. And anyway, with the advent of winter all her short dresses have disappeared. Ritesh was also swamped with work and this break has come at an opportune time for him. All he has done since the beginning of this holiday is drink beer and watch sports on TV. He has not been helping me with house-work as he claims he is on a holiday. Not that I mind. With my job in the library, my workout regimen and my commitment to community work, I hardly have had time for my household and kitchen and am enjoying rustling up long forgotten Indian dishes. But I am jumbling things up. Let me pen down the events in a chronological order. I see that I had written in my earlier entry that I had nothing to do. I was sitting at home getting terribly bored, putting on weight and feeling like an outcast.
Once the cultural shock of being in a new country wore off, I decided to put my life back on rails. And it all began with the gym. I joined the neighborhood gym and started working out. Initially, it felt terrible as I was out of shape and lacked the stamina to work out for more than five minutes at a stretch. The other members appeared to have great bodies and their skimpy clothes embarrassed me. But I did not give up and within a month I was looking and feeling better. Gradually I got to know the members who were regulars and even struck up a friendship with some of them. Susan was one of them. She is a teacher in a school. We became close when she learnt that I was also a teacher back home in India. Susan helped me to understand and adjust to the American way of life. She told me to apply for the post of Assistant Librarian in her school. After getting the job I joined a correspondence course in Library Science. I am doing fairly well in my job as well as studies and hope to be promoted to the post of librarian once I complete my diploma. She also made me realize the importance of community service in the American way of life. We are regular members of ‘Save the earth’ initiative and go over to the local ‘Retirement Home’ which is basically a home for the elderly. The inmates are all successful people on their own. It is not like the ‘Old age homes’ in India where the unwanted elderly are dumped by callous relatives. This is a proper retirement home with all amenities and the inmates usually come here out of choice. The only problem is most of them are very lonely and they look forward to our visits. Sometimes I feel that they are the real outcasts of American society. I feel very good to be there and it feels like being a part of a large extended family. I do not feel like an outsider in a strange country anymore. But it is difficult to do so many things at the same time and as a result I have been spending very less time in the kitchen and in house work. We have been eating precooked food. (The range and variety of Indian precooked food available in the Super mart is amazing and the microwave does the rest) But I have learnt many things from my American odyssey. I have learnt that it is never too late to make a fresh beginning in life; I have learnt that we should always realize ones self worth and that true happiness comes from helping others. Yes, I do miss my country and my people but I think that the move to USA has helped me discover myself. And this is Home now.
Blog of an Unknown Indian
So I am living my American dream. Am I happy? Yes and no. I have no complaints about my work. The work culture here is definitely better than that of India. Yet after working here for almost a year and a half I find that I have no friends. I have colleagues, contacts and acquaintances but no friends. I work like a dog for five days a week and weekends go in a blur of activities like mowing the lawn, cleaning the house and stocking up the fridge. And now I have an additional chore of shoveling the snow off the drive. Boy, do I hate snow. It is everywhere from my lawn to the roads. It is impossible to drive to the Super mart without putting snow chains on the tires. And if I don’t shovel my drive the neighbors complain. Bloody crazy Americans! What the heck does it matter if there is snow on my drive-way? They are neither my friends nor ever visit my home anyway! But they complain. A snow covered house detracts from the value of the neighborhood, they say. Yeah, sure! Now I know what the outcasts in middle ages felt like.
I am earning well, though. Maybe I’ll go back home after this project is over. But Jenny and Nell (that is what America has done to Sanjana and Nalini) are not willing to even discuss this option. Nell is completely integrated with the American way of life and says she cannot imagine going back. Her aim is to major in Classical Greek Literature. Greek, for Christ’s sake! j Jenny, I mean Sanjana says she has discovered her calling in life and the purpose of existence. All I know that she gives less time to me and more to those old fogies of Retirement Home. Still, it’s her life and I dragged her to America and she does everything possible for the family so I should not complain.
It’s been a long time since I mailed you. Actually with Twitter and Face-book around who needs emails anymore? The only reason I am writing this mail is that I am in the middle of a lazy holiday at home and we are snowed in. With time hanging heavy on my hands I thought I should tell you all about the direction my life has taken. You will be shocked to know that I am majoring in Classical Greek Literature. I have discovered that I have a flair for languages and that Greek is far from a dead language. In fact it is a living, breathing and vibrant language and learning it opened vistas for me I neither knew nor imagined existed. I am able to follow Greek classics in the language they were originally written in. Believe me, each day brings with it new joys and discoveries. I am very glad that we shifted to USA when we did otherwise I would never have discovered my true calling in life. Now my ambition is to major in Classical Greek, go on to do my Doctorate and eventually land a teaching job. I must say this for the American system of education. It certainly allows you to chart your own path and sets you free from the preconceived notions. I am sure you would like to know about my social and personal life. Not much to tell. Initially when I landed here I was thrilled by the permissive lifestyle and unlimited personal freedom. But after a few months I realized the superficiality of all that. The boys here are simply interested in sex, beer and baseball (and in that order of preference) and rarely think beyond that. I have been there and find life has much more to offer. I am sure with time I’ll also find my soul mate. Till then I prefer Greek texts to these aimless parties and dumb dates. Yes, there are a couple of handsome Greek Professors but they are married and don’t seem to be interested. The only problem with life here is the frantic pace of life. Both Mom and Dad are very busy and I have been able to spend some quality family time after along long time. That is about all. How are you doing? Good, I hope! I know that you have found a boyfriend and his name is Arjun. (It is a small world, dear.) Do let me know all the juicy details.
Love and do keep in touch.
P.S. Even Mom and Dad call me Nell now.