Monday, April 20, 2009

Degrees of separation

It is Friday morning and I am sitting at the Bangalore airport sipping a horrible Cappuccino and catching up on blogs and news. The airport is quite with sleepy passengers nursing their coffees, teas and hangovers in silence. Thanks to airport car pooling I have arrived very early for my flight to Mumbai. It was just a few months ago that we had individual cabs for airport drops. Sheer waste of fuel, I used to think then. Recession seems to have bought my snobbish company to earth with a gentle thud. Gentle thud…because many other wasteful practices still continue.

I am so engrossed in my laptop that I do not see nor hear a young girl sitting next to me. She is a really good looking Tambram girl. She looks very conservative though from her clothing. She carries a toddler in her arms. She seats the toddler on the chair and goes to get the trolley with her luggage. Before she goes she asks me politely if I will keep an eye on her son. I nod smiling at her. She smiles back reassured. I see her pushing a trolley with numerous bags which she parks near me. Then she glances at the airport entrance and gazes with some desperation at an old couple standing out side. The old couple is dressed in very traditional clothes of Palghat Brahmins. They look so nice and homely that I feel at tug at my heart for the girl who is obviously leaving them for another shore. A young man, perhaps her brother gently guides the old couple away from the door towards the car park. A very tactful move I think. The girl gazes at them till they are out of sight. She swallows hard, wipes her eyes surreptitiously and turns to me and thanks me for looking after her son and luggage.

“Are you the only daughter” I ask.
“I have an anna” she said smiling in relief. She is glad for the conversation.
“Are you married” she asks flicking her eyes at my neck and ring finger.
“No” I say with a smile.
“Don’t marry too far away from your parents okay?” she says turning her face away. She seems to be battling some emotions for it is a while before she looks at me and gives me a polite smile.

She asks me about my college and school and we find quite a few people we know in common. She had studied in a college in Malleswaram and then went on do her Engineering in Coimbatore. We talk about Bangalore and familiar hangouts in Malleswaram, M.G Road and Majestic area, the idiosyncrasies and eccentricities of the people of Malleswaram and Rajajinagar and the numerous book fairs that we attended in droves. She tells me how intimidated she is of girls from my college and how surprised she is that I was normal in spite of being from “that” college. We talk about the eateries in Malleswaram and the movie theaters near Majestic. We realize that we had haunted the same places as college girls though a few years apart. She was senior to me by five years. She was married at 21 on the last day of her Engineering exam and left for the US with her husband soon after. In the US she spent many a boring day confined to the house till her husband returned home late in the evening. She never saw the town she lived in till the snow melted and they were able to go out. Then she was pregnant. She had her baby in the US and her sister-in-law came and stayed with her as her parents were too old to travel to the US. This is her first visit to India after her baby was born. She had apparently had a wonderful time and now a lonely home in the US awaited her after a tumultuous and eventful visit.

Out flight is announced and I help her board with her numerous pieces of baggage. In the aircraft I am surprised to see her heading towards me and asking the gentleman sitting next to me if she could sit next to me. The gentleman obliges. She settles in with a sigh of relief. We talk some more about her life in the US and her loving but rather busy husband. At Mumbai I find her a trolley and help her deposit her baggage.

At the gate we part promising to keep in touch. I spy my cab. Before I get in, I look back to wave good bye. She is standing near the door child in hand gazing at me with some desperation. I wave and quickly get into the car. A tactful move I think. Perhaps she will find another me on the next leg of her journey. I pray that she does.

30 comments:

hari said...

Hi ThinkPad,
That was really well narrated
Sometimes we meet people and instantly establish a connection. It sure would have been comforting for her to have had you in that leg of the journey...
Cheers
Hari

Pramod Abraham said...

Surprised that the toddler did not cry during the entire trip ! Probably must have reserved the best for the US leg.

PHOTOGENIC DEVIL said...

wow

touching

u really do have a way with wqords - i could almost feel tht woman's pain.

do do do keep writing
ill definitely keep a track of ur blog

Zahra said...

I hope she did...find another you I mean :)

It's sometimes hard to fathom why we ever move away from the people who matter most to us, but that's life I guess....

Blessed are they who get to live their lives with their loved ones all around.

mathew said...

that was so nice of you to give her company...yeah..i think thats what its all about...people need each other...beautifully written post..

Karthik Sivaramakrishnan said...

Wow! I can't even begin to imagine how someone can start a conversation with "Are you the only daughter?" and actually get a response that is anything other than bewilderment! So perceptive. I would've just watched the kid from the side of my eye while continuing to stare at the laptop. Or even if i'd witnessed all that you saw, I would've let her be.

You were obviously a great comfort to her :) Well done.
Unfortunately, such women are a dime a dozen.

Annemarie said...

:((

Amal Bose said...

its really hard to live away from whom you love.. i can understand her sorrow.
its nice of you to give her company.

silverine said...

Hari: Thank you!

Pramod: LOL! Looks like you are a "frequent sufferer" :p This kid was quite and drowsy.

Photogenic Devil: Thank you dear! :)

Zahra: And, herein lies the crux of the matter. Most gals marrying to guys in the US do not realize whats in it for them. They cannot work and more often than not have to confine themselves to the four walls of their home for most of the time.

Mathew: Thank you! Like Karthik said girls like her are aplenty!

Karthik: A girl can strike up a conversation with another girl at the drop of a hat. There are no strangers amongst us! :)

Anemarie: I know!

Amal: I was traveling alone and was glad for the company myself! :)

Pradeep said...

These moments, mostly that come as pleasant surprises, tell us how much interpersonal relationships matter in life. Just being together with another person, discussing matters of mutual interests, lots of smiles and exchange of notes.. well, in our busy lives how many of us have the time for it.... Glad you took time off to share some precious moments with another person.

anN-series said...

i always believe that u meet interesting ppl while travelling.. i appreciate the fact that she is close to her family...but why does it sound like she is cribbing abt her life??...if she chooses to, she can lead a better quality life...unless the husband is stopping her from doing so)

Annie said...

Hello,

love reading your blog, specially this post, very sensitively written, and with a lot of imagination too!

I was once in the girl's shoes, away from parents, no job, husband worked all hours - and I whined, complained and sat around feeling sorry for myself, and met lots of other ladies who too whined and complained all day long too:)

And then after a year of doing this I told myself MY attitude is in my hands, put in all the energy that i used for moping and whining into finding a job and a life for myself, and today I am in marketing at a technology company, went from waiting at the bus-stop to driving a mercedes, and generally deciding for myself how i choose to live my life instead of reacting to my life's circumstances.

My point is not to show off but to simply say: It's v easy to feel sorry for yourself, more difficult to be positive and look for ways to come up with a solution to a problem. The lady in question here is an engineering grad, she could have tried for a work permit(more difficult for a arts/marketing person like me)and gotten a job, if she wanted to live near her parents why didnt she speak up when her parents were arranging a match in the US?

In my 4 years of staying in the US, I have met lots of women here like the lady in your post who are very vocal about all the problems they face(parents in india, cant work, lonely etc etc.) yet are very happy to travel to india on vacations and show off their dollars to their relatives.They constantly bemoan their fate in living in the US, yet are the first to point out the realtive freedom they have as women in the US to move about more freely in the US, dress more or less as they please and not get ogled at. If you dont like living in the US and would be happier living in India, why dont you work towards moving to India? Yes it's not easy, there are financial and career issues,but anything worth doing in life is not easy is it?

Very few have worked at their problems - parents left behind? speak up and tell your parents that you wont move out of a particular city or a country, its your marriage, cant you even talk freely with your parents? If you live in another city within India or in another country make sure you have a financial and emotional support system set up for your parents(regular money transfers, keep paid help at home for your parents, etc., identify a set of siblings/close relatives who will form a support system.)

Cant work? Volunteer at your local library or hospital, cook and sell home-made food to indians in your community who dont want to cook at home, engage in hobbies, make friends not just in the local indian community but beyond to americans and other races too, dont be insular.

Cant drive? Use the local bus system. Yes its cold outside in the winters, but if i could wait at the bus stop without dying so can a lot of other people.

My long comment here is not to denigrate your post, but to simply present another point of view - a lot of times in life it is upto to us to decide how happy we are and how we live our lives. A lot of times we have the power to decide our approach to life, whether we are positive with a can-do attitude or are forever complaining and whining.

cluelessness said...

Hey Annie,

I totally get what you are saying. When I moved to USA, I was alone ( not married ) and I had to figure out everything from where to get groceries to how to cross the street. With someone already by your side, I would think that things would be easier to figure out.

I know the spouses can't work in the US initially for about a year, but there are so many things you can do, even if you are stuck in the middle of nowhere. So many hikes to take, communities to volunteer in. People who end up sitting at home all day, bored, do so definitely not for the shortage of options.

Homesickness, though, is another cup of tea all together. And I have been swamped with work and I still felt homesick. But I am at peace with the decision I made.

silverine said...

Pradeep: Very valid point...interpersonal relationships matter a lot in life and I think the lack of it was her crisis!

ann-series: She wasn't cribbing...I guess she wanted to talk to someone. And from what I gathered she lives in a small town with just another Indian family and they are snowed in most of the time.

Annie: Thank you very much for this. This has been an eye opener. I would have never known all this but for your comment. This girl is from a typical conservative family and would have not thought of opposing a match just because he works in the US. I don't think she or any other girl in her situation have a clue about life abroad. I guess they smarten up after some time. I hope she does. I am mailing her your obseravtion after removing the obvious references to her. Hope she gets a heads up on how to proceed from now on! Thanks again! :)

Jeseem said...

Shy girls from small towns, would find living in US tough. It is a little lonely place, especially to start with.
However people are generally very nice and a woman can go fearlessly anywhere.
Also the way to meet people and make friends is different. In india, where you just make friends by being in college or working in same company. In US, you have other places for socialising. Almost all counties have community centers, with lots of classes and programs. They are pretty cheap too. The classes are a good way to learn something as well as a good place to find friends.
Then again, if you try to find indians in a remote place, that can usually be hard. All you need is to just be a little open. I hope the girl's hubby helps her out by introducing her to his group of friends and encouraging her to go out.

Jeseem said...

btwn.. so you are from that terror college..
no wonder.. shows :)

Kunjootty said...

i also agree very strongly to what annie had to say... many ladies just go on for years complaining and being sad about the situations they are caught in. where there is will there will definitely be a way! i have learned so from my own experiences!!

btw, guys working abroad are considered prized catches in our 'marriage market' so many parents would not consider listening to girls prefernces to stay close by. instead go ahead with the marraige and then regret not being able to see their daughters often. and in that case if the couple opts to move back to india, the whole town will look at us with a "who would do that?" kind of stares!!!

:-) very nice post!!

Annie said...

Thanks for forwarding Anjali, I hope she leads a happier life than she leads now. I’ve been reading both your blogs for some time now and love reading your posts, keep up the good work!

Jeseem has a good point about the community centers and maybe the local YMCA too. I don’t have kids myself so am not sure but these places usually have mommy-n-baby programs at very low costs, a good place to meet other moms (Indian, American etc.) and make friends - babies are great icebreakers. Maybe the lady can search online for the nearest such centers using her zip-code. Also I believe local county child social services run low-cost counseling programs and other child-support programs, she can search online using her zip-code or connect online with other mom bloggers to know more about this.(Sorry I don’t know much about this as I’m not a mom myself but I remember new-mom friends of mine talking about this).

Also, there’s a huge online community of moms who blog – they would be a good source for the lady in your post to just read their blogs, get parenting tips, share baby stories etc. Here’s a URL to start off: http://www.labnol.org/india-blogs/indian-bloggers.html. Tell her to check the section under mommy bloggers. Also sites like www.indusladies.com and www.indiaparenting.com have lots of sections on babies-specially Indian babies in the US, she can check those out too.

And to end on a fun note, maybe she can browse www.highheelconfidential.com or http://rangdecor.blogspot.com/ just to relax !

Cluelessness, I understand for wives on H4 dependant visas the not-allowed-to-work period might extend to 5-6 years possibly, depending on Green Card status etc. I visit your blog too and love reading it, keep up the good work!

Praveen said...

really got engrossed in that...
sometimes such chance meetings end up as lifelong friendships..
hopefully this is one of those

silverine said...

Jeseem: Thanks a lot for that information. Annie has taken up the thread and given lots of leads! And after reading Annie's comment I realize how clueless we all are about going about life in the US. And yes I am from 'that' college! :p


Kunjooty: You are right...very few parents look at the whole picture when they marry their daughters off to guys working far away. According to a recent news report guys in the US are finding it difficult to get qualified girls as the girls do not want to sit at home in the US.

Annie: You and Jeseem have been a big help. I wish people like you start a blog with tips for women marrying and migrating to the US/UK etc...sort of a survival guide. I am sure it will become the Holy Grail for women like the girl in my post! :) Thanks a lot!!

Praveen: Dunno about a friendship with me but she might make a lot of friends there now with the tips given by commenters here! :)

RAJI MUTHUKRISHNAN said...

It was good you could be of some support to her. Very nice of you to have done that

Annemarie said...

A very heartfelt and touching post.

meera said...

touching story.but pretty soon you will see a different 'her',if you get a chance to see her again:)the kid will start play school,swimming lessons at the Y,etc etc and soon she will find some other indian association groups.time will then fly away so fast and she wont find much time for herself to feel lonely.i was kind of sort of like , in that situation with a 2 yr old kid and none to talk to.but i started going to the library and then started staying at his play school and helping them.voluntary works are very much appreciated.i also got involved with an internet site ,"ammas",for mostly indian women living outside and giving advice on parenting,marriage etc,it was one of the most satisfying time,and you dont feel like you are alone.ended up with a group of friends most of whom i have never met but are the best of friends even now.
now, i almost stopped everything else,since i started feeling bore and enjoy doing nothing:)besides they dont need much help in the middle school:)
what an amazing writer you are!

Sriram said...

wow.. lovely post :) Its funny how we remember such little bits of life later on.. but after it's what makes us human..

PS: I can't start a conversation by myself for God sake!! Simply cant!

flowergirl said...

Lovely and poignant.

The way I see it, its not about an Indian woman sitting around and doing nothing in the US, its about separation and sadness.

Your beautiful narration leaves me with so many questions...

Rhythm said...

very beautifully written.. touched my heart..

silverine said...

Sriram: Thank you! I guess guys are not that chatty like us girls! :)

flowergirl: I think you summarized her state of mind beautifully! :)

Rhythm: Thank you! :)

journalost said...

Yea girls dont think about it when they hear about an alliance from US (or in some cases, maybe their parents dont). They forget the distance, and what is likely to greet them there in the midst of all the excitement. Hmm.
And now I am going to repeat everyone else here - you wrote that well.

workhard said...

HI.. its amazing how strangers become good friends.. nice story...


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Nithya Sriram said...

i felt a lump in my throat wen i finished reading this post ...beautifully written....