The American Dream

Radhika M B recounts the pink slip horror nights and job-hunting in the USA

 

      Strongest is the heart-beat of a potential H1B visa holder who waits to fly from somewhere in India, to somewhere in the `States’. Those anticipation filled days equal cliff-hangers of world cup matches.

      American Dream. Rupees to Dollars! Wow! What a thrill when you realise that dream’s coming true! And what envy from those around who cannot make it to US!

      “You will get US returned stamp now!” remarks a cousin. `NRI tag’ that you so loathed till now, becomes yours suddenly through your `on-site’ posting.

      That Aha moment after you step out of the airport, braving Port of Entry troubles, somewhere in US! It’s only after you live in the `States’ that you realise what you have gotten into.

      Ame-rican dream’s other side is not just about frustrated H4 wives who dream of working, yet-to-own car families struggling to buy their groceries, or lonely kids yearning for playmates. Every now and then, those Indian millions chasing dollar dreams come face to face with what they dread throughout their `work-your-ass-off to release’ days and nights in client companies of the Outsourced world. Two-weeks’ notice. Sometimes, only a week. No escape.

      And the nightmare begins. To stay or not to stay in US? To find a job in US or stick with your back-home company? Will the home company find another project so you do not have to move continents? How the hell to find a job in two weeks? Is my job safe back home?

      Which city in that vast landscape of India will my company shunt me to? North or South? Mumbai, Gurgaon, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Chennai…or Kolkata? And then, there is the apartment lease to wind up. Bills to be paid. Insurance to re-check. Reviewing what is left of all the effort in savings. Rethinking kids’ education, their health needs.

      Sigh! But no time to sigh. Call up friends. Get contact details of consultants. If you are lucky, your phone rings every few minutes with consultant calls. If you get no calls, doom. Should we pack up?

      You wonder: Is my CV good enough? No. No CV is `good enough’ until a hiring consultant or recruiter tries his or her level best to twist a little to suit their CV sale.

      “Why not add some extra skills to your CV (even if you haven’t worked in those areas)?

       “We have an opening with a direct client for”, many a time, a position different than the application you sent for.

      “Do you have a Z skill other than the A-P you mentioned?”

      “Is your CV genuine?”

      “Have you applied elsewhere? Do you have other offers on hand?”

      “Are you willing to relocate?”

      Many a time, you get only these first time calls – a dozen a day. And the callers vanish into thin air. Just as quickly as their voices ran into your ears. Hundred such calls later, you may smell an interview from a caller or two.

      Most consultants want money for a visa transfer to the future company.

      You’re lucky if your home company calls.

      “ Will you go to California?”

      Do you have a choice? You say, “Yes”.

      No news from home company for two days after that while you agitate over not getting job consultant calls either. And then another query. “Are you willing to move mid-West?”

      “Okay,” you say aloud. “Like I have a choice…” you mutter under your breath.

      Two days later they say, “we’re trying.” Meanwhile the company’s travel desk calls you.

      “Shall we book your India ticket?” You beg for time. “How long?” And this sets off a chain of emails and clarifications. You just bought your sofa of dreams. After a whole lot of struggle, you have managed to get a car.

      If you are networked enough within your company, you get news of the company’s fiscal health.

      Sometimes, the only answer is, “Right now we have no projects there. Come back and we can place you there in a few months.” As if, moving an entire home overseas is all about booking a plane ticket.

      Perils of a capitalist world that makes nomads out of professionals. And looks down upon the nomads of forests and villages as if they were committing a crime by moving places.

      “Will you go to Canada? We may have a requirement there after a few months but for that you must come back to India,” your home company jumps up suddenly. Oh Hell! You scream inside. You thought Canada was a seven hours’ drive from your home in New Jersey!

       Some more salt on your wound. It’s appraisal season. And your home company boss who was reasonable till now suddenly decides to give you a bad rating. “It’s because you are on `the bench’. Good luck next time.”

      The client firm boss who kicked you out assures that you worked efficiently, but that their decision was fiscal. Your home firm boss says you don’t deserve a raise because the client company sent you home. So your hard work meant peanuts.

      You decide to look for another job. If a job clicks, you wonder where within US you must shift. If you are the traveller variety, what better a boon than this?

      If not, cringe at the thought of having to sell your stuff, deals you need to strike, ads on Craigslist. Or look to other Indian friends who will do you a favour by buying your goods even if they are as conservative spenders as you.

      Each happens happens, a fellow Indian friend or H1B visa holder is bound to empathise with you. Dollar country offers no escape from such nightmares.

      “So what! You knew this could happen. You went risking with full knowledge!” Yeah, I heard you.

      This is what I hear at least once a month from some, about being an H4 wife.

      Really? Would no one go in the direction of their dreams? When USA is painted the answer to debt woes in India? If your husband goes, don’t you face pressure from family and the system to follow your husband? And what is wrong in wanting to live with your husband?

      Some women in well-paid jobs do make that difficult decision of staying back in their jobs. Don’t they know how living in a society full of cultural scrutiny, that invades any sense of private space is?

      “If I decide to stay back, my family will play guardian, which I hate. I have become independent now. I cannot to be parented or in-lawed any more,” cries a friend who needs to make her decision now. She knows it is a double-edged sword. And yet, she will face those taunts once she complains of her lonely US days after she comes. “But you knew this would happen!”

      A handful of spouses get lucky, and follow their partners, with their own H1 B visas. That option is limited though, to an elite minority in the software industry.

      My husband has just faced his few weeks of pink slip horror nights.

      His slip came in the form of a phone call, from his home company. Ten days after he brought his parents over, to show around US.

      The result: hurried trips to four cities besides Niagara Falls. As for Niagara falls, he drove us for seven full hours to the falls, and another seven hours back home.

      Whew! You bring your parents `abroad’, get a sense of untold accomplishment, of having been able to do so. And before the happiness sinks in, they hand you `go home’ orders. Like you mattered nothing – a mere labour-machine that put bags of dollars in your home company, in return for a handful.

      Five moves in five years of marriage through four cities on, I am too tired to leave. Dollar dreams do force us lot to become cyber-nomads. But even nomads get their time to stay awhile in a clearing.

      We pray like crazy for miracles to happen. For some mercy in the form of a job. And yeah. We have our blessings. For now. It’s thanks to friends who went out of their way to help.

      In the case of someone we know, the story was similar, albeit, related to Toronto. After the marching orders, the family packed up and visited CN Tower, before they were to board the flight the next day. They got a call, that the project was extended for two months. Two months later, with their suitcases ready, another call – another two months. And two months after that, the family decided to go back to India.

      With our own episode like a previous one that we had, our psyche got humbled more to the Almighty’s will. But our spirit steeled to fight. For years, I read about NRI experiences that spoke of “fighting it out”. It all falls into place now.

      It’s the other side of the American dream that doesn’t get talked about in Hollywood flicks. It’s the pain that seldom finds voice in that Indian madness to `move to States for a better life’.

Radhika M B

Radhika M B

(Radhika M B is a journalist, blogger and crafter living in New Jersey, US. Over her 12-year span in the field of news writing, she has worked in print and internet – The New Indian Express, Tehelka, Techyolk and The Times of India. Her work in print has ranged from environmental reporting and human rights, to politics and lifestyle. An aspiring writer and avid blogger, she blogs at www.cerebraltoothbrush.com, http://sandbythesea.blogspot.com and www.imprintshandmade.blogspot.com. She is currently Consultant Editor with The Thumb Print. The Bangalorean has lived in Mumbai and Chennai besides in Delaware, US, before moving to New Jersey).