Friday, November 18, 2005

Impersonation

Quite recently I was talking to someone who is back in Bangalore after spending a couple of decades in the US. He is happy with the quality of life specially because domestic help is so afforable. It is a luxury he had forgotten all about. "Given your line of work, India is the place to be in right now. You should consider returning" he tells me.

I tell him my decision to leave had nothing to do with quality of life or the lack of it. It was all about freedom and independence. While my situation is far from perfect but I don't lack for freedom and that makes up for everything else that is missing. I no longer have fictionalize or
impersonate to survive like I once had to.

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J was going to turn a year in a month, I was apartment hunting in Bangalore, getting into the rhythm of being back in the workforce after a longish hiatus. The hunt came to a happy conclusion with me finding one that was spacious, airy and sunlit. Being sparsely furnished, J had the run of two thousand square feet of space. I thought that was perfect as she was learning to walk and could not practice her new skill enough.

My first challenge was fending off inquisitive neighbors and co-workers on the state of my domesticity. I had figured fiction would pass easier than truth, and told everyone who asked that my husband was in the US working and studying; it was difficult for us to sustain a family on one income.

In a time when lay-offs were rife in the US, it was not hard to convince anyone that I was a re-orged, down-sized IT worker returned home to look for work. There was pity and condescension as in what a perfect loser I had married in the way this was received. I preferred that to shock and awe followed by being told I had acted in haste and jeopardized J's future. The few people who knew had satiated my appetite for truth.

The landlord atypically was a young, well-traveled BPO exec. He lived out of town. The thin veneer of sophistication wore off as soon as he asked about my spouse and I gave him my regular schpeil. Though the deal was struck, lease agreement signed and monies paid, he treated me a little different knowing that I would be living man-less with a child in his property. Where before the disclosure, an e-mail to fix a broken fan would elicit a prompt response and action, now I would be ignored until a few days before rent was due. We were falling into a pattern that I was wearying of.

It was the peak of summer when the ailing water pump finally broke down. I called the landlord beseeching help. Water was in short supply every where in the city, the annual Cauvery water disputes and skirmishes were gathering momentum. My parents were staying with me at the time. They foraged for water like slum dwellers while I slaved away at my twelve hour shifts at work.

No one had a lot of time for J after making sure she was bathed, clean and had enough to eat. My sense of inadequacy as a daughter and a mother had peaked at that point in my life. The landlord e-mailed me that he was getting rate quotes from pump-fixers and would keep me posted. One evening, I decided to move out - and within a week I did.

As is typical in Bangalore I had made a hefty deposit before moving in and the lease-breaking terms were wholly unfavorable to the tenant. My landlord was now telling me that I would have to compensate him for his loss and also write off the deposit. I was stunned. After numerous acrimonious exchanges, with my company's legal department throwing in some free advice, I came up with a cruder idea. Sometimes the obviously asinine works surprisingly well. I thought I may have found a way out of the impasse.

I decided to impersonate R and write the landlord an e-mail that appealed to his male ego. It was a challenging exercise to think like R would in the circumstances and introduce a male tone into my writing. A few revisions later, I hit pay dirt.

R was directing his wife to apologize to the landlord for her bad behavior and was asking that the landlord forgive her considering she had acted out of stress without a husband around to make life easier. I promptly apologized as dictated by "my husband" like an obedient wife should making sure to copy husband on the communication.

I was on tenterhooks after that. I did not have a Plan B should this one misfire and I was leaving India in a few weeks. I had underestimated the power of male ego-stoking. It worked like a charm. The man simmered down immediately and the week before I left for the US my bank account was credited with an amount not wholly unsatisfactory.

Where my company was advocating the use of legal help and my co-workers the use of local political muscle, all it took in the end was an impersonated e-mail from R from a fake e-mail address. There was something comically surreal about my e-Ex bailing me out of a mess that the my real Ex had been responsible for getting me into.

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