Dependent America

-Telugu Original by Dr K.Geeta

-English Translation by Madhuri Palaji

Evening is shining brightly with the diagonal rays. It looks warm outside when we look from the glass windows from inside the home, but actually, the wind is blowing fast and it’s very cold.

The Moon in the sky is chasing away the day. My thoughts were twisting my heart roaming tirelessly in the two room house. 

“By the way, a lady named Catherine called me on my cell phone. I told her that I will have you call her as soon as I reach home,” said Surya as soon as he came home.

“Yeah, she is a friend I met in the park. She lives in the lane behind. I called her yesterday evening. May be she saw my call today. Since I called her from your mobile, she must have called back to the same number. I messaged her that I will visit their home this Thursday,” I said.

“What’s special on Thursday?”

“She said she is free on Thursdays. Anyways, you come home late on Thursdays because of your meetings, right?”

“Come on now, I simply asked. Go and visit her. It’s good for you to make new friends. At least, you won’t bother me saying you need job.”

I shook my head looking at him laughing, thinking he would never change.

                                                     *****************************

“Kids become friends very quickly,” Catherine said looking at kids lovingly.

Their house is a three floor town house building. Though each floor is not very spacious, its well maintained and beautiful.

With minimalistic and modern furniture.

“Nidhi, do you like America?”

“Nidhi is very shy. She doesn’t talk new people much,” I said.

“Don’t know how long it will take for her to speak English in their accent,” I thought.

“It’s okay. Kids learn everything very quickly,” Catherine said, as if she heard my thoughts.

“Nidhi got admission in school. They will find time only in the evening to play like this, from the month of August,” I said.

“No problem, we will plan play dates according to our comfort. Actually, I have free time only on Thursdays this semester for my college. I don’t know how my schedule is going to be for the next semester. I miss kids during the days when I go to college. That’s why I spend today completely with them,” she said.

“What’s your job in college?” I asked.

“Not job, I am studying. Accountancy as major, this is final year. I am thinking of taking a break during this summer semester and join a job,” she said.

“You did your post graduation, right? Are you not looking for job?” she asked again.

She noticed me thinking and said, “There is no use of job for people with kids in this country. All the money you make is spent for day care.”

“I don’t have an option of working here. I looking for a way to come out of this situation,” I said.

“What do you mean?”

“I don’t have work visa for this country.”

“Oh, that! It’s not a big deal, if you ask me. I shouldn’t be saying this, but if everyone starts thinking like you in this country, nothing can be worked out here. There are many people here who will let you work and pay in cash. For example, if we start paying our baby sitter, lawn cutter and mechanic in check or with credit card, my husband’s salary won’t be enough for food after paying our house mortgage.”

“That means they work for lesser amount than the registered companies. Will that be enough for them?”

“Enough money is another story. This is much better than the money they earn legally, and save after paying the taxes. Some people work in multiple jobs every week and make a living.”

“Nope.. that is difficult with our visas, Catherine. If anything goes wrong, my husband will lose his job,” I said.

“I think you should meet Prashanthi. I saw her last week in the park. She also came to America recently, like you. You said you are from South India, right? I think she also said the same,” said Catherine.

“Is it? I will definitely talk to her, when I meet her,” I said happily.

“Are you missing your country?” she asked looking into my face.

“Yes, too much. Especially, I’m missing my friends and colleagues,” I told her and bid farewell.

“Let’s go to the library next Thursday,” she said while sending me off.

                                              *************************

As soon as we entered the library, “ Wow, the girl you are searching for is right here,” said Catherine, showing a girl coming our way wearing a pant and a Indian long top.

She said, “Hai Catherine,” and looked at me questioningly.

“I’m Priya,” I said.

“Hai, Which part of India are you from?” Prashanthi asked.

When she heard my answer, Prashanthi said, “Wow, I’m glad we met. You know, Catherine, we both belong to same place.”

You guys carry on, I will take kids to the children’s section,” said Catherine.

Nidhi ran that way.

I said, “Would you like to come? I don’t want to leave the kids completely to Catherine.”

“I’ll be here in this section. You go ahead. I spend my time mostly in the library. My house is walk able distance from here,” She showed the glass doors behind the library and said, “I met Catherine in the park nearby. Can you see the apartment building on the other side of the road?”

I liked Prashanthi immediately for her talkative nature. She had sharp and big eyes. But I thought there was some emptiness in them. I felt so, even when I talked to her for the second time.

I asked her about the cash paying jobs mentioned by Catherine.

“As far as I know, people with our kind of visa can’t dare to do that. Even if we do, how much can we earn, tell me? At most, maximum five hundred a month. When compared to the profit of earning like that, the loss and disappointment we get if anything goes wrong is more. Moreover, they are not white collar jobs. We can’t work like that,” she said.

I looked at her surprisingly thinking a girl looking so innocent on the outside is thinking so smartly. I told her the same.

She smiled in answer. I found that afternoon, what is missing in those eyes. Lack of the ability to smile in those wide eyes filled with sorrow and disappointment in spite of the smile that lacks enthusiasm.

                                               *******************************

“We went ahead to meet those chain business people without thinking at all, but do you know something?” Surya asked as soon as he came home that evening.

“What happened? You look moody!” he said staring into my face.

“Priya, I’m talking to you!” he shook me while I was looking into the distance instead of the book in my hand.

“What are you thinking so deeply about? Are you planning to cover the roof of our home and cattle shed with asbestos sheets?” he asked, laughing.

“What? Did you say something?” I asked shaking my head.

“Our home and our cattle shed,”

“Not that, did you say something else?”

“Yeah, I was saying that you or me should never get into those chain business kind of things.”

Yeah, Babitha told me. Since she can’t work legally here, her husband started it and asked her to continue, it seems.”

“Exactly. Legally, he should not take up any work other than the work for which he got the authorization. If we would have gotten into it without knowing all these details, we would’ve been in trouble.”

I couldn’t hear anything that Surya was saying.

I kept thinking of what Prashanthi said in the afternoon.

“I think I might go crazy with all these visa conditions. I am stuck at home and not able to do anything, I feel like I’m tied up.”

I knew the meaning of the tears in those eyes, but what can I do?

I’m in the same situation, too. Why did I come to this country? For Surya’s work. For his career. When I was coming here, I only thought about being with him. In the excitement of visiting another country and settling there, I didn’t think of anything else.

“What happened, dear? What are you thinking about, again?”

“Nothing. You will never understand.”

“Are you thinking about working again?”

“Look, Priya! Take good rest. Watch TV. You worked for some stupid job while we were in India, without listening to me. At least, be happy now. This is a good chance for you,” I sat there like Surya’s words didn’t have any impact on me.

I don’t know if he understands only that much or if he speaks like that intentionally. Stupid or great, I’m habituated to working some job and living independently from the beginning. Now, how do I make him understand how disappointing it is for me to live in this country like a dependant?

I told Prashanthi, in the afternoon, that I’m happy living like a house wife but really, I keep thinking about it everyday.

“In the beginning, I didn’t know all this. We never talked about my visa and the conditions,” said Prashanthi.

“What? You never thought about these things while you were there?” I asked her, but to be frank, I too, had no idea about all of this. I only came to know about the situation after coming here and doing some research.

“I talked to one or two before coming here, Priya. Is there anyone who will tell the problems here? Everyone keeps boasting that this country is heavenly and it is fortunate to be here. Don’t you already know how people in our country imagine about the lives here?”

“I don’t understand, Priya! We, women, over think about unnecessary things and completely neglect the important things,” she said again.

I nodded my head in agreement to her true words.

“What kind of clothes should we wear? What kind of medicines should we take? Which pickles should we bring along? These were the thoughts in my mind until we came here,” I said.

“With my ignorance, I started an online application near the super market for a job. Exactly, in the fourth counter, my application stopped at my social security number. When I came home and looked for the procedure to apply for it on the website, I was shocked. There is no social security number given to dependents, in the first place,” she said.

“Yes, Prashanthi. We need a social security number for any job, legally. To have that, we should have work visa. People with dependent visa like us have no option of working to earn money. Still, your situation is much better. You have a post graduation that qualifies for any country. With my post graduation in Telugu language, I don’t even know what kind of job I can do here.”

“You have graduation in Education, right? That might be useful for teaching jobs.”

“Our B.Ed.s are of no use in this country. We have to qualify some other tests here,” I tried to smile.

“Even if we are qualified to do any job, we don’t have the opportunity, right?” she sighed.

“Since there are not servants here, I heard that housewives here usually spend their time cleaning the houses always. I heard when someone from a group I met in the temple, told this.

“They asked to volunteer in the temple. I want to do some job that is more useful than simply reciting the spells. Didn’t you think why I must have gone to the temple, in that case? My husband is very religious,” she whispered and said.

“You talk very funny. If you really go for a job interview, you’ll definitely get the job,” I said.

“What is the use of the talent, Priya? I applied in the library to volunteer,” she said.

I looked at her curiously.

“They don’t have a vacancy for the next three months. The job in the library is to arrange the books nearly in the racks.”

“What about studying?” I asked.

“Shall I tell you the truth? I tired of studying all my life in India. I can’t go after colleges here.”

“Whenever I see people doing jobs, going in groups during lunch time, I feel so desperate. I don’t know if I would ever get a chance. I don’t feel like dressing up. I don’t like spending time for make-up. I feel like the walls of the rooms are the walls of jail, in this country where nobody cares about the others. I didn’t think that the situation will be this worse,” she said with pain in her throat.

“True, feels like all the walls are closing in on us,” I said.

                                            *****************************

My conversation with Prashanthi, yesterday, are making me feel restless. 

I called Jyothi, who lives in New Jersey. I don’t know her in person. She is the sister of my colleague in India. They have been living in America since last five years. 

“You cannot do any job and earn, because of the visa restrictions in this country. But you can work as a volunteer. Parks and libraries here, hire such volunteers.”

If you have the patience and money to study, you can take admission in colleges and pursue further studies. If you need to be at the stage of earning money, your visa status must change. There are very few options like, converting your visa to student visa by joining in a college, or look for a company that change your visa to work visa or if your husband applies for a Green Card, you can wait till you get an EAD. Until then, you must forget about the idea of being independent. It consumes you and won’t let you live peacefully,” she said.

“It is true. My poor friend, Prashanthi constantly thinks about this and worries all the time,” I told her without sounding too sad.

“In this country, it is very difficult to find friends whom you like. You are very lucky to have your friend Prashanthi with whom you can share your worries. Give her some confidence by telling her some ways to divert her mind,” she said, “I, too, am just like you. My situation was also like yours until we recently got our EAD. I read books a lot. Time flies by, if we spend on internet. Last year, I enrolled into a course about tax filing. My graduation in commerce was came handy for this. Now, I’ve a small job. Though it is part time, I feel much better now. My work timings suit well for my kids’ school timings. You do one thing. Plan for another kid. In the current situation, by the time your visa status changes, your kids will be ready to go to school,” she said smiling.

Next week,

“There is a good news for you. My company is starting Green Card processing for us tomorrow,” said Surya.

“That means, it will take another five years for us to get a Green Card,” I said thoughtfully.

“Wow, you seem to know things better than I do. That’s about it, approximately. Or may be longer.”

“Do you mean I should stop thinking about International Student visa?”

“Thank god, you understood. Otherwise, we will face problems if we each hold a different visa.”

“If I had graduated in engineering instead of Telugu, will any company sponsor visa for me?” I asked hopefully.

“Look, girl! I don’t know all that. But still, for your satisfaction, I will enquire about it. Don’t spoil your mind thinking about all this. Why should we live a life that is not ours?” he said convincing me.

He won’t enquire. I understood that, clearly. I thought it is pointless discussing such topics with him.

“Let’s go out for dinner. I don’t feel like eating food with the same curry I made this morning,” I said.

“This is America. Do know that there are some people who cook only once in a week? My colleague’s wife works in another state. She visits only once in a month. She makes dal or sambar sufficient for a month and he eats that by re-heating it every day,” he said laughing.

“Are you saying that I have not Americanized even after spending four months?” I asked. Though I said it out loud, I was not sure if he was telling it genuinely or to tell me that, these are the kind of problems we could face, if both wife and husband have jobs.

Seeing the serious look on my face, “Oh no, I said it for fun. If you had called and told me that you feel like eating outside, I would’ve brought parcel while coming,” he said.

“By the way, I forgot, there is pot-luck in my office. We should go this Friday evening. Please make some hot and nice vadas,” he told.

I felt extremely jealous when I saw Surya and his colleagues happily chatting. All the families that came were very formal and were struggling with their own kids. I started getting irritated after an hour.

Surya looked at my dull face while returning and said, “Looks like you didn’t like it there. If you talk to new people, you will automatically become friends by next year. You will like the party next time.”

What should I say.. that something I don’t have is troubling me? After getting down from the car, I wanted to say that I will come inside after a while. But then again, I realized that the problem is not going to solved no matter how long I sat outside, I said, “No, nothing like that. I just have a headache,” walking inside.

We are now in the month of October. All the trees now turned into yellow and red and looked like some artists have turned time into paintbrushes and started painting them.

I started searching for sponsorship in the internet. I even called a couple of phone numbers.

I could get hold of one number.

“Thousands of people are losing jobs. We are worried that there might be a recession. Many people are going back to their countries. People with engineering degrees are also not getting any visas,” said the voice from the other side.

Prashanthi visited us that evening.

“This girl is not at all listening to me. She keeps doing things that I ask her not to do,” I complained showing Nidhi.

“What are we doing, though? Are we not thinking about the things that we are asked not to? That’s human nature, Priya! If anyone restricts us from doing something, we feel like doing that stubbornly. I, particularly, think constantly the same. Surprisingly, in spite of having many opportunities, are there not many women in our country who choose to be housewives? Why are we not able to think like that here? Is it because we feel that these conditions are restricting us? Or is it because we have been independent until now?”

The sky with only questions but no answers slowly started turning dark.

Four months turned into forty months.

I signed on the dependent form online.

Thousands of Prashanthis.. Thousands of Priyas.. same questions, same waiting!

*****

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