Sunday, June 2, 2013

Prisoners of Uncle Sam


Its an usual Monday morning and as I rush for my office, I get a glimpse of her. She stands there on the 9th floor window everyday behind the faded beige curtains and waves to her husband. Her husband works in a financial major in New York city. He is a corporate professional who spends 8 hrs. of his day in a swanky office amidst the bigwigs and techies, amidst appreciations, appraisals and promotions intercepted with perks like mini skirts and stilettos.

Alia's day starts after he leaves. She starts her day with the usual India calls. The discussions are aimless ---about the weather, a handful of random recipes intercepted by current affairs and gossips. The calls get over as the time zone in India slowly reaches midnight. Then the usual stuff starts at the kitchen... cooking lunch and dinner amidst aimless posts on Facebook and then finally waiting for the evening when her tired workaholic husband comes back home. Weekends are spent in long drives, grocery shopping, cleaning the house or visiting similar species who are at onsite with H4 wives and finally its back to weekdays again.

Alia Khan, was a Microbiologist topper from Pondicherry who wanted to complete her MS in Immunology. She married when she was 25. It was a love marriage. Alia's husband, a rising techie works for an US financial major. Alia left her parents, her career, her passion and her own space years back just driven by the desire to stay with her husband.

Alia Khan currently holds an H-4 visa, issued to the spouses of H-1B professionals in America. The United States government does not allow H-4 visa holders to work or or pay taxes or issues any Social Security Number for them. Their identity in this part of the world is reduced to and defined by a mere 'dependent' visa tag. Once a budding microbiologist, Alia's achievements are merely reduced to washing clothes, grocery shopping at Patels and Apna Bazaar and cooking Bhindi Masala inspired by YouTube Sanjeev Kapoor shows and of course being the wife of a coveted H-1B. She can buy Louis Vuitton, can drive her husband's BMW and can wear Victoria's Secret and boast about the beach vacations in Florida on Facebook.

There are hundreds of Alia Khans all across United States. The stringent visa procedure was perhaps done to stop the influx of H-1B professionals from the third world by some 'intelligent' US bureaucrat but our part of the world boasts of Alia Khans who can give everything up for the sake of love, marriage and togetherness. And Alia Khans do not repent; they dream of a life where someday their sons will be born as US citizens in a land where Alia Khans are termed as 'aliens' or 'dependents'.


I just saw that shy 7 year old call 'Maaaa' and she responded-- 'Ki holo'. She comes to the park quite often with the little kid. Her slow walk and unsure steps are a result of her old age, unfamiliarity and reduced vision which she tries to hide desperately like her grey hair. Her English sounds forcefully learnt for her accented US citizen grandson. The autumn wind plays with her printed chiffon saris which is merely an amusement for the Californians. Ashima Banerjee, 75 year old lives with her son and daughter in law in Los Angeles, California.

Her son Hrishikesh and daughter in law Sheetal are proud green card holders of United States of America.  Hrishikesh is a lawyer and Sheetal a techie in an IT firm. Hectic work hours and busy schedule hardly leaves them with anytime for their family or their son Ved. So Ashima has been brought all the way from her 1 bhk south Calcutta residence to Orange County to bring up this kid and manage the Banerjee family.

Ashima takes great pride in her role and boasts about it to all her relatives and friends when she goes back to India after every 8 months. The relatives get token supplies of Bath and Body Works, Hollister and Tommy Hilfiger and praise about Ashima's responsible son. Their discussions range from how organized, how beautiful America is and how wise her son has been in grabbing the right opportunity right on time.

Ashima's husband, Animesh died a few years back. She stays alone when she goes to Calcutta for 4 months. She loves it here in US-- the  mall hopping, cars, the long drives, grocery and of all things Ved calling her 'maa' gives her an immense power and satisfaction.  She considers her role in their family of utmost importance. She still converts the dollar and the Indian rupees and finds a strange satisfaction in it. Hrishikesh and Sheetal will be applying for her citizenship as well. So that she can permanently stay here for the rest of her life.

When I look at her I'm always curious how Ashima Banerjees adjust here, away from home, giving up their own space and raising their grandchildren -----why is it that something tells me that all is not well with the Ashimas.

Why do Hrishikesh and Sheetals impose their responsibilities on someone who should have been taken care of at this age? Its difficult for the Ashimas but I guess here lies the magic of Uncle Sam and his dollars. He has always managed to be the winner whenever it comes to human emotions. He buys all our hearts based on its rising economy, land of opportunities, highrises, beautiful locales  and brands which is often termed as the 'Quality of Life'--- The quality of life which is well defined by money in this part of the world.


The other day at Shoprite, a grocery store in Minnesota, I saw Ahana. A fidgety 30 year old was busy doing her grocery with her husband Nikhil. From a distance, she seemed a confident working woman dressed in her Armanis. Her branded sandals and her Gucci bag was well coordinated with her lipstick.

Ahana was a Bengali Honors student from Jadavpur University who currently works in a pharmaceutical company in California. Ahana once wanted to be a writer.

This was a usual work week and people were rushing into the isles with overflowing carts. Ahana picked up a couple of soda cans and looked at Nikhil and suddenly she lost her grip. The cans slipped from her hands. "You asshole bitch you fucked it up again...You can't manage a thing properly"--- her husband almost screamed at her.

I  was so scared I could not look back at her. I could hear every word that man told his wife and I could feel what Ahana was going through as she could not reply back to her husband. She swiftly picked up the cans and arranged them neatly on the rack as if it was her duty. Her eyes over brimmed with tears of humiliation which desperately wanted to run away. But where would she go? She left her space way back in life.

Ahana Mukherjee, 35, lives in Minnesota. Her husband rising high up on his Wall Street career often forgets to value Ahana's emotional need to be respected amidst his hectic and stressful schedules. Well, being short tempered is not something that needs to be changed. Nikhil believes it is justified to abuse her as he has the right , the right that comes out of marriage and love and Ahana-- she is bloody immature. He is caring and takes care of Ahana a lot. But Nikhil has no control over his temper when it comes to his wife. Ahana is not financially dependent on Nikhil like Alia or Ashima but she is legally married to him and so as our society says she is bound to submit to its rules. 

Ahana had a love marriage and she was desperate to be with this man for the rest of her life. Nothing could ever come between them. So every time Nikhil is abusive and Ahana shattered, she consoles herself by thinking everything can't be perfect in a marriage. She must have some fault in her, for him to behave like this.

Ahana wishes she was perfect, the way Nikhil wanted him to be. She wishes she was as beautiful like the women he ogles at on the streets, in his office or  the ones he compares with her. Ahana tries and she never gives up.

But then there are days when Ahana wants to escape far away. Away from this ordeal of achieving perfection, from comparisons, from Nikhil's idea of beauty, maturity and confidence. But she fails miserably.