A New Country, A New Life – part 1

Today marks the 25th anniversary of the day that I entered the United States as a 21 year old (yes, go ahead…do the math! I am 46 years old!) bright-eyed, idealistic and excited to create a life of my own. The story is actually quite interesting…that year…1994 I had spent my birthday with my best friend in her hometown of Bhopal. When I returned from that celebration, my parents introduced me to this guy that they had been looking into for me…a potential husband. Arrange marriages are alive and well in India. However in this case, my parents were progressive enough where they were just making the introduction, with zero pressure to actually marry him, or anyone at that particular point. He lived in the US, was a Stanford graduate and was starting to work for Apple. The company was going to do his immigration papers, and his desire was to have an Indian wife (he was Indian) whose papers could be done at the same time as his. Our families knew each other, and apparently there had been talk for months that perhaps we should meet. So mind you – this is pre-email or cell phone, so we resorted to old fashioned letter writing. In my mind this was a NO-WAY-JOSE situation. BUT, he DID live in the US, and I had known from a very young age, that I wanted to live in the US. I just had no idea how to make it happen, or whether my parents would approve. You see, I grew up in a culture where women at the time went straight from parents’ house to husband’s house with not much opportunity to have a life of one’s own. I imagine its different now, but this WAS 25 years ago.

So, I did communicate with this guy, lets call him Samir (not his real name!). I remember thinking that he was a bit arrogant (He probably thought that his just having graduated from a top Ivy League school, and a job at a top company should have impressed me…it didn’t!). That summer, I suggested to my parents that we go visit said potential beau in California. We decided to make a vacation of it, never having been to the west coast of United States. When I let Samir know we were coming to Los Angeles, he offered for me to go stay at his place for a few days in San Francisco. Well, this was perfect, because I knew my parents would NEVER allow me to ‘go off on my own’ and it in fact showed significant disrespect that he hadn’t extended the invite to my parents. So, they didn’t resist too much when I said I didn’t want to meet the guy and that I didn’t think he was for me. Phew, thank goodness that one died in the water.

Funny story about our visit to LA. Never having visited this coast before, and being used to East Coast cities where ‘downtown’ is the place you want to hang out – when the travel agent was booking us, she asked where in LA we wanted to stay, we shrugged our shoulders and said ‘downtown.’ Imagine our surprise when we pulled into our Holiday Inn downtown LA just after dark when everything was deserted and there was no festive activity, no restaurants or culture or really anything to do. This of course is pre-LA Live, pre-Staples Center etc. Downtown was NOT where you hung out after dark, downtown was not where you touristed either. Needless to say my parents never let me out of their sight. Not that I can blame them. We did touristy things like the Beverly Hills celebrity house tour, (the OJ Simpson trial was going on so the tour guide had to take us via the courthouse too!), Universal Studios, Disneyland, Santa Monica (realizing that THIS is where we should have been staying). And then one day decided to go check out Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco. So yes, we DROVE to San Francisco, had fish and chips at the Wharf, walked around that area (also so significantly different than it is today!) and DROVE BACK to Los Angeles! All in one day. hahahah! We still laugh about that one.

After our vacation on the West Coast, we made our way to New York. My parents had extended family here; my desire to stay back and convert this vacation to permanent residence was known to my parents and so we settled on this small town of New Rochelle, NY; 20 minutes on the Metro North red line to New Haven from Grand Central Station. They enrolled me in school at Iona College (even though I had a B.Sc in Economics from a college in Bombay, the US system required one more year worth of classes to get an equivalent B.A. in Economics. We rented me a small finished attic room in a home within walking distance of Iona College. They paid for 3-4 months rent, 1-2 semesters tuition and then we said our final goodbyes. For the very first time, in my life at the age of 21, I was truly alone. Yes they were always just a phone call away, but I had NEVER lived alone, never paid a bill, gone out to eat, cooked for myself, run a household or done any adulting. Now I had to figure this all out for myself, in a new country.

More later…stay tuned.

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