Cannot believe it has now been 15 years for me living in this country. I will never forget the plane ride that brought me here, changed my life so dramatically, the look on my dad’s face as he bid me farewell at the airport, the blue track pants I wore during my journey, my hair that I cut super short (I had heard rumors about haircuts being very expensive), the guy who sat next to me, Gaurav, a total stranger who I chatted with for hours.
I was 23 and brave, and in my heart knew I would figure this out. I was going to America, to the land where dreams come true and even though I hated leaving home, I was equally excited to get my own taste of this great country I had only seen in movies or from the endless tourist videos my brother sent dad and me.
I will admit, I had never heard of Sacramento. I was surprised to hear that San Francisco nor Los Angeles were the capital of California. But then again, I was moving to the Golden State and all was good, till I embarked on my first car ride from SF airport to Sacramento. The gigantic fields, golden hills, and grazing cows with no human or high-rise in sight, thwarted my Hollywood version of big cities buzzing with people, traffic, arts, and romance.
I read the sign for Vallejo with a ‘j’ versus ‘h’ and remember being laughed at. At that moment I was shocked to realize I had been mispronouncing San Jose from the days my brother had sent dad a map of Silicon Valley, which he in turn framed and hung on his bedroom wall. It still hangs in our Kolkata flat.
As I laid my first step into my in-laws house, I was immediately reprimanded for my hair, clothes, and was given a booklet on the history of American women, asked to watch a show by this lady named Martha Stewart, and at our first dinner together, asked to learn to make spaghetti. From there on, each step was a lesson to be learned on how to seamlessly blend into the Indian population living here for years, walk the walk, talk the talk, and not be that awkward FOB Desi.
My crop tops were soon to be replaced with blouses, my pants with sarees, and every weekend I would have to adorn myself in bride-like attire and show up at homes of friends of my in-laws and compliment the home cooked food they had labored on for a whole week. I stumbled upon an entirely new world of how to cook and freeze food for 70 people, Mikasa and Noritake chinaware, and endless crystal vases, bowls and platters that were the inevitable gifts for our hosts. I was never quite sure what purpose those gifts really had, to later find out they would be recycled as future gifts to future friends such as me.
I failed miserably. I never had enough jewelry on me, or my sarees were too simple, and worst of all, I spoke my mind. I hated eating anything from the freezer and the party leftovers stuffed in Ziploc bags from the humongous aluminum trays brimming with food made me want to throw up. I did not want to go to parties, I did not want to spend money, buying gifts for people I did not know and worst of all I did not want to be someone I was not. It made me feel like I was the village idiot who was brought into civilization and now required to be taught to be a certain way so I was no longer an embarrassment to be presented to the outside world. I had traveled far and wide to know adjusting to a foreign country was hard, but I also knew it did not require you to sell your soul.
I guess all of it was not bad. I remember inviting friends over to our place for dinner one night, getting drunk, passing out, leaving my guests to clean up for the night. What can I say? That’s how I partied in my 20’s. I was thoroughly embarrassed by what I did, but I guess I was breaking the shitty mold I was thrown in to. It seemed like I had landed up in another India far away from India that existed only in pathetic television soap operas.
On the other hand I was trying to make the most of my new American life with unlimited access to a computer, Internet, and a new Juno email account. There were things I was beginning to enjoy like my walks to the library, our $5 Chinese dinner, and discovering the Blockbuster store.
For some reason in my mind, weather in America was always cold. I remember my sister-in-law mentioning to me once how coconut oil in this country was always solid. That my dear readers, is nature’s thermometer for Bengalis. We determine the weather based on the solid or liquid state of our hair oil. Little did I know, Sacramento in May is HOT. One afternoon out in the lake had turned me several shades darker. This was horrifying on levels only an Indian woman can understand, especially when you are under the impression that this glorified country is also supposed to make you fair. That is what a friend’s mom told me in her moment of shock and confusion at her first encounter with me here. I was an anomaly.
Being an anomaly was only the beginning of my journey here. It helped me venture out, find myself, learn the true essence of this country and its people, and helped me carve out a place for myself in this world.
Coming up…“The Desi Dream in America”