I watched as the dawn was breaking outside the bedroom window . I could feel the knots in my stomach getting tighter. I was just hours away from boarding a flight to a land I had only seen in my dreams. I was on my way to America, the land of opportunities.
I had spent the previous night embroiled in a futile argument with my father about the merits of staying back in India. Though I was trying to make a constructive argument out of it, the real reason behind that exchange was my fear of leaving home and going to a strange land. After ending that evening on a losing note I went to bed but couldn't sleep a wink.On top of my worry list was my finances. Though my dad had graciously offered to pay for my education here in the United States, I was reluctant to burden him with that responsibility. After all, funding an US education with an Indian salary was never a prudent idea.
As a student in Virginia, I was chronically aware of my financial limiatations and was always always counting my pennies. Lucky for me the Whopper was 99 cents. In India, a burger was a novelty. I had probably eaten it once or twice to that point in my life. But now it formed the corner stone of my daily nutrition. Each time I bit into that burger, all I could think of was the incredible spread of Indian food that my mom would have laid out for me if I was back home in India. The whopper was that much harder to digest. I spent many evenings huddled up with like minded immigrant friends reminiscing about our years growing up in India often wondering what I was doing so far away from my comfort zone.
In 2003, after a failed startup, I was unemployed for a few months. Being an unemployed immigrant is one of the most unnerving experiences. You begin to question your viability of being in the country and wonder if you had made the right choice by immigrating in the first place. But what made my experience even harder was as I struggled to find employment in a very challenging environment the job market back in India was booming. Outsourcing was at its peak and I began to wonder if going back to India was the right move to make. The decision was made for me when a job application went through in the nick of time. But those were some uncomfortable few months.
As years passed, it was that time. Marriage was in the air. Queries were put forward, if I had a “Girlfriend” and much to my mothers relief my answer was no. So then began “Project Marry Frank”. Having spent a good six years in America I wondered about the girl I would marry. If I were to marry a girl who lived in India, she would have to come to America and make all the adjustments that I made. Would she be able to do it? Or will she feel like a fish out of water. If I were to marry a girl who grew up here, would I be able to identify with here given that I spent my first 22 years in India. As I pondered this, my parents introduced me to Ann and the rest as they say is history.
Today as Ann and I consider starting a family another dilemma arises. When we have kids, how do we strike the right balance of making the kids aware of their Indian roots, while not burdening them with the responsibility of living a double life? Would I rather have the kid grow up an American or an Indian? I admit I do not know the answer to that question. I know that the right answer would be for the kid to grow up as both an American and an Indian but I doubt if there really is such a thing. Time is running out to make that decision and I dread the day I have to make that choice. What would that choice look like I wonder?
In the hustle and bustle of adapting to this country and building my career, the people I really left behind are my parents. As the years roll by they have grown that much older. Gone are the days when my father and mother would make the case for me to be in America. Now all they are concerned about is my next trip back home and when they could see me again. As the only son I feel partially responsible for the loneliness that they feel at this stage in their life. And that presents me with the greatest dilemma as an immigrant. Do I uproot myself once again and go back to support them the way they supported me through my childhood or do I stay back and pretend that everything is alright.
Immigrating to the United States of America, the land of opportunities has to be one of the best decisions that I made in my life. It has given me incredible exposure to diverse cultures, a top notch education, an exciting career and a great standard of living. But these things have not come without a price. The immigrant’s dilemmas have haunted me at every stage of my life here and continue to do so. I suppose the tough choices are mine to make.
But try telling it to those knots in my stomach that are getting that much tighter.