Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Barista Bride

When the US government came up with the idea of the H-1 and the companion H-4 visa, it is safe to assume that they did not intend for this to result in a cinema and literature genre. Columnists, bloggers and the rest naturally cannot stop bemoaning the fate of those who have had the course of their lives altered because of the H-1/H-4 visas. Read this WSJ version of the the oft-repeated story and learned a new phrase Barista Bride. In my mind I can see this becoming a new Chetan Bhagat title with movie rights snapped up by some Bollywood heavy weight.

It is the nature of things in India -everyone is in the middle of everyone else's personal business. To wit, the government publishes how-to guides on marrying NRIs safely and the soap opera-esque epics culled from the immigration and visas woes of our people end of up being enacted in the movie sets on Mumbai by all-local talent.

We all commiserate with each other, warn friends and family when they about to embark on the dread H-4 visa journey but they imagine we are jealous of their good fortune and plunge right ahead to dispatch their daughters to such a horrific future. The girls themselves imagine that an employer or an university will come right along and rescue them from their H-4 status and upgrade it to H-1. Often times, such knights in shining armor do not come along even ten years into their marriage and the results are tragic to say the least.

A few months ago at a local fall festival I saw a desi woman who looked vaguely familiar. She was engrossed in helping her little girl on a craft project and did not notice me. In a bit, I recognized her. This was B, a friend and a co-worker from the days of my first job out of college in India. She is a year younger than me and had studied computer science at a reputed engineering school. She was a database developer and one of the brightest techies I have come across. We had been in touch until about five years ago but had drifted apart since. Hers is the H-4 story gone really bad.

She came to America at a time when the job market was very tight. There were no employers willing to sponsor an H-1 visa much less offer her employment. The husband was not able to afford to pay for her to go to graduate school as he was an H-1 himself with limited financial resources. After a couple of years she had her baby and could not focus on job-hunting nearly as much as she needed to. The last time we spoke, B said her technical skills were growing obsolete in the job market and she was not able to learn new ones and with her increasing domestic responsibilities - she was pregnant with her second one at the time. She had resigned herself to being a housewife for the foreseeable future.

Though we emailed and chatted on the phone sometimes, this was the first time I was seeing her after we we worked together in Bangalore. She looked years older than her real age - the ever present smile on her face was gone as was the bright twinkle in her eyes. She looked infinitely tired. B was the kind of person who just did not know how to feel down about anything in life and would not let anyone around her go around feeling low either. I did not have the heart to go introduce myself to what little remained of my once vivacious friend. B had been a Barista Bride too.

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