Sunday, March 11, 2007

Greener Grass - Anil's Story

Anil came to the US five years ago from Nasik in India. He had trouble speaking without lapsing into Hindi words to fully express himself. Often, his American co-workers lost him mid sentence of what sounded surprisingly English-like. He was just above 5 feet tall, dangerously underweight, wore clothes that were bought for really cheap from roadside hawkers back home. His watch was a trusty Titan and shoes Lakhani. When his mother called from India, he would ask his boss for permission to speak to her.

Just another code coolie, he tried very hard to blend in because fitting in was not a realistic goal. In three years, he had blended a good deal. The gallons of whole milk had given him several extra pounds. He had also come into a raggedy Corolla, an apartment he shared with just another room-mate and not five as it had been at first. The Indian footpath brand had been supplanted by Wal-Mart. He no longer lapsed into Hindi while at work. The desis who had been around for much longer than him, still treated him superciliously but they cringed a lot lesser.

Sometimes, he thought about how his life had been shocked into transformation from the instant of his coming to America, about the pain of being yanked from his comfort zone and what it was worth. Back in Nasik, his three younger siblings and parents longed to see him return with enough saved to rescue the family the family from their lower middle class existence. Though, they never mentioned anything other than how much they missed him, Anil could tell he was their great white hope. He scrimped and saved from the $2500 paycheck he got every month. The apartment was the cheapest he could find, the gas and electricity was free. He spilt all other household expenses with his room-mate. Every month he sent some money home.

Thanks to him, the family home got repaired and painted, the younger siblings wore hip clothes, his mother got a full time domestic help. Pictures of Anil outside his apartment, opening the door of his red Corolla and atop the Empire State Building were proudly displayed in the living room. Over time, Anil came to like how the distance between him and his family gave him this aura of greatness. His $10,329 bank balance converted to Indian rupees would diminish his stature to nothingness. He did not have what it took to land a cushy job in Mumbai like those MBA types from posh English medium schools and the right connections. They were born privileged and were destined to live privileged. Unlike them, he would never be chauffeured from a home on Nepean Sea Road to work, he would just ride the train with the teeming millions.

Instead of trying to find a comfortable social niche in America, Anil focused on what was within his ability to control and achieve. He worked tirelessly at his job, learning everything that he could get his hands on. It helped that he did not have a social life. If there was work to be done on the weekends or holidays, Anil was always available to do it. He had made himself as indispensable as anyone in his line of work could hope to become. The scepter of outsourcing hung a little less threateningly over him.

Sometimes, his parents talked about marriage. He would tell them that he was not ready just yet. At the workplace he watched the desi women who did not even know of his existence. Every once in a while there would be a new face, a younger woman who seemed unsure of herself, not nearly as well adjusted with the culture as the others. He would make tentative efforts to get their attention.

But following some instinctive rules of natural selection, even these women showed no interest in him. They gravitated towards men who were taller, healthier and confident. Anil was not sure what kind of woman may even consider marrying him. His mother expressed concerns about him falling prey to the temptations of the licentious western world. He felt sorry for her that she was naive enough to believe that those temptations would even look his way and sorrier for himself knowing that would never happen.

Unless he made a heroic effort he would die a virgin in America. His only hope was to let his parents find him a bride he could get married to on a three week vacation to India. But it worried him to see how the awkward small town girls in shapeless pants and loose shirts emerged from their pupae to become these charming butterflies in no time at all. They had the right clothes and accessories along with the first hint of an accent. He wondered why he could not transform as well. What if the woman his parents chose for him changed her colors once she got here ?

Anil loved how the quest for greener grass had opened an unexpected and welcome escape hatch. No one back home had to know about his insecurities and fears, to them he was the emperor of all he surveyed from the Empire State. He was the philandering, rich bachelor in their imagination and his own.

6 comments:

b v n said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
b v n said...

Nicely done ! it takes a lot of sensitivity to see through the glitz. your rendition was touching to say the least.glad i found this one !

ggop said...

Beautiful. I've never heard the story from Anil's point of view. It was so easy to dismiss such guys when we played the dating game.
gg

Full2 Faltu said...

Nice story!

I think many of us feel like Anil when thrown in a new environment.

the social status, the culture, its difficult to grasp things

-Punds

Ricercar said...

thank you. in an oblique way, you reminded me of why i left my job to come and study :)
very well written!

Pawan said...

Very well said! Many of Indian immigrants get into same quandary when they come to western world.