Saturday, October 9, 2010

Best and worst of both worlds

When I came to know that my fiancé got admitted to Harvard Business School (Oh ya H-B-S), I admit my respect for him shot a little higher. I felt reassured that I had proposed the right guy, at least in terms of intellect.

Preparing to come to the US, I thought, nothing better could have happened to us. After the prestigious school, his career and our lives would be set. We did not know where his business opportunity would take us after graduation. May be we would not return to India immediately after.

However that was acceptable. In India the general perception is that Indians living out of India, especially in the US and UK are privileged for some reason. When these “foreign-return” folks visit India, they are held high in community get-togethers in terms of respect with which people talk to them. Even our families seize every chance to flaunt that their children go to HARVARD. To be truthful, I occasionally brag too.

How much I love celebrity-like attention.

Although I tell them that the US is as great as they think, I keep cultural dissonance to myself. In America, I try to be like Americans and all internationals like me who have succeeded in becoming like ‘cool’ Americans by echoing ‘like’ several times in a sentence.

My sub-conscious is programmed to blurt out “great” instantaneously when encountered with “Howz it going?” I have learnt that the answer should remain constant (because nobody cares if you say otherwise) irrespective of “it” in the sympathetic question referring to my B grade in the class assignment or my recent quarrel with my husband or my health down with fever and cold.

I make deliberate, painful attempts to show utmost enthusiasm in biotechnology study or management job that people are doing even if I may have zilch understanding and/or interest in it. This trick serves several purposes: You do not appear dumb; you do not let the other person know what they’re doing is absurd; and you get brownie points for pleasing them with your listening ‘skills.’

Also, I broach the topic of weather with people because it seems that’s the norm here. “It’s a gloomy and depressing day,” I tell them when I see an overcast sky although I love rain and think it’s romantic.

I wonder why then do I Indianize sandwiches and pastas I make by spicing them up. Why do I discuss only the good things about India with my non-Indian friends with such fervor as if I am the ambassador of my country? Why do I find peace in yoga after shaking by butt on “Single Ladies” in the cardio-dance class?

Before coming to the school, I had the image of HBS as a group of nerds who would be concerned only about learning. But the scene on the ground turned out to be much more versatile. From my on-campus apartment-window which looks down (no pun intended) on the path leading to classes, athletic center and the outside world, I always see students going somewhere; hear girls’ heels making sound akin to microphone attached to seconds ticking in a clock. At 8 AM, I watch them rushing to their classes with coffee in their hands and schoolbag on their shoulders. At 4 PM, they hit the gym and workout “efficiently”-read case-studies for the next day along with running on the treadmill. At 10 PM, however, altogether new creatures come out, get wasted in pubs to de-stress. The following day, same jig.

While our families back home are in the same laid-back rut and girls my age are in the baby production phase; I challenge myself everyday-taking classes, attending seminars and meeting the brainiest people from across the globe (and enthusiastically listening to their esoteric talks). Last summer when we went to India, we wanted to run back to school. We were addicted to deriving satisfaction from our eventful lives here. Although our families would wrap the same advice that we should eat, sleep and rest well in several creative fashions, it would still sound mind-numbing to us.

My husband has decided that he would be pursuing social enterprise in India post-HBS (no six-figure pay-checks at least in the short-term). Knowing that we are going back for ever at least makes us take a grateful sigh of regaining 'royalty.' No more laundry, dishes and cleaning (we get ample domestic help in India). And not to forget the support system (our families) to produce babies.

Nevertheless, I will regret not having enough intellectual stimulation. I will miss my dance-exercise class. How would I live without Bounty and Charmin?

But when the time comes, I think I’ll be ready to go home, to people who look like me, to people I can actually tell what is going and what is stuck, and to people with who I do not need to create a façade.

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