On Saturday I was visiting one of my long lost friend who was in Sacramento for 1 week on some project work. He is trying to change jobs and as a part of the process, he was there to check out the new job for 1 week. In that process, I happen to meet another Indian guy who is a consultant too and also just moved to Sacramento for work.
Talking to them reminded me how I was like them only a couple of years back. A consultant moving from place to place. We also chatted about a lot of issues the usual Indian guys face when they actually come to US for work purpose. As I was speaking to them – I was fascinated by the journey any Indian consultant makes through his career.
So here is my (partial) list of things that a typical or standard Indian consultant goes through. To all those Indian consultants – “keep it going yaar”! For the fictional aspects as well as for understanding purpose who are non-Indian I am going to use a character name called “Babu” (Thanks Sienfeld)
Birth of a Consultant
Babu is born in some remote village of Southern India. His parents are farmers and they are very hard working people. His parents have learned from what they saw around them in contemporary India that Education is the best thing they can give to their child.
Babu ends up working hard in his school and college. Babu’s parents can’t afford to pay for all his education so they borrow money and send him to College. Babu secures an admission in one of the prestigious schools. But the problem is it’s not in his village/town. It’s in the capital city. Babu is very excited and so his parents. Let’s say he goes to ‘Hyderabad’ city for his education.
Babu goes to City
Babu makes new friends and starts living in a place which could be described as 2 room apartment with no furniture. He lives with 4 of his friends as they have figured out that more the number of students less the rent they have to pay. They do have a TV which they watch on a regular basis. Their eyes glued to the boob-tube and their dreams hitched on high hopes in Western countries.
Babu gets introduced to binge drinking. The perennial skill of Indian common man. Checkout Indian mythology to see how much liquor influences us Indians. Then follows terrible throw ups and not to mention the favorite acts of breaking the beer bottle.
Babu also gets introduced to movies. A lot of them. As movies consume his time, he wishes that he too has some super powers (Google Rajnikant on Youtube) like those stars. He wishes that he too want to get some “pretty”, “fair skinned” girl to fall in love with. This is the same time when Babu explores his amorous side. Since it’s been taboo with his parents and relatives to talk anything about Sex (Yes, we did invent Kamasutra), his friends are very much open to talk about it. Since none of his friends had a proper education Babu ends up learning all the wrong things from them. He gets more adventurous and visits a movie theater which is far away from the city and watches his first ‘xxx’ movie. Which obviously was censored and he feels cheated.
This is also the time when his parents visit him. They bring him food and money. His room-mates eat away all the food in first few days and Babu throws extravagant parties with his money.
Babu goes to Consulate
This would be his first visit to the American Consulate. After Babu finishes his studies. With all the knowledge he gained about the ‘Foreign land’ from his Bollywood movies watching he decides to go to US of A for his higher studies. This is the phase when the seeds of so called ‘American Dream’ TM are sprouting in Babu. He is scared to go to Consulate all by himself. But he does a good job of hiding it.
After spending 6 hours in line and then finally getting inside the consulate. Babu with all his nervousness and broken English fails to impress the guy at the counter. His application gets rejected.
Babu does Higher studies in India
After 5 hours of binge drinking with all the sadness of getting rejected for Education visa, Babu decides to pursue his higher education dream in India. He applies for a local University and gets in. The saga contiues. He stays in a similar room with 4 other guys. You would expect for him to do mature things. But nah, he is the same and the same patterns repeat themselves.
Babu gets a job as a Progammer
After looking for 3 months Babu gets a job as a Programmer in a local company. But there is a catch. He is an intern for 6 months and gets paid in pennies. Zilch. He accepts it as the competition is very high and also he needs the experience.
Babu meets software
All during his college/University Babu was very good at memorizing stuff and ogling it out when required in exams. But the reality is a bit harsh. Here he needs to write programs and come up with actual programs that work. His project manager is an ass and sloppy. Babu never learns anything about project management. He learns some bits and pieces of software technology. He does want to improve though and he makes up his mind to learn everything about real life software development
Babu goes to Consulate
But he gets constantly distracted by his colleagues who are no more interested in doing their job but to just use the company’s internet connection. He forgets about his learning and just gets content with quick fixes. Time goes on and 2 years later, his dormant ‘American Dream’ TM wakes up again. This time Babu goes to consulate with all the proper paper work, good enough english and a confident outlook for ‘H1B’ work visa.
He gets the visa!
Babu prepares for America
Babu refers to the excel sheet which gets passed onto all Indians travelling to America. It’s the mother of all lists. It has all the things that a american newbie needs to know. What to bring? Winter clothing? What to say to the cab driver? How much to tip? Where to find cheap cigarettes? How to avoid black people? etc
Like all Indians be buys – ‘checkered full sleeves shirts’, ‘Indian camel leather made jacket’, ‘Thermals’, ‘Nike Shoes’ (china made). He splurges on himself. His parents borrow more money for his tickets as they know that once Babu is in US he would be sending money back to pay off their debts. Babu is talk of his village. He is the first guy from that tiny village of 1000 people to make it to America!
Babu comes to Boston
Like any other consultant Babu is picked up by the Guy whose company sponsored Babu’s work visa. Let’s call him ‘Ram’. Ram is a typical India Consulting firm owner who sponsor Indian talent to US, makes money off of them and gets rich.
Ram takes Babu to his 4 bedroom house. Babu is excited as he is in US and he is going to live in a 4 bedroom house. On arrival he realizes that there are about 16 people in that 4 bedroom house and he is back to square 1. Sharing 1 room with 4 other people. First chink in his American Dream TM
He brushes it off and adapts to the environment. He makes friends with the guys. There are groups within 16 people. There is a South India group, North India Group, ‘Gujju gang’. They don’t mix up much. These groups cook separately, watch TV till late night, whistle while watching ‘Basic Instinct’ and are ready to give Babu with advice about America
Babu starts his American Education
Babu starts to learn quick. It’s November in Boston. Frigging cold. He realizes that the Camel leather is not gonna keep him warm. He dons his ‘Monkey Cap’ from India and walks around. He get’s his SSN, learns to drive, attends interviews for jobs.
He is introduced to Costco, Walmart, Sam’s club. All 16 people use 1 Costco card to share and shop. He is introduced to ‘Chalupa’ at Taco Bell, Big Mac at McDonalds. His weekends are filled with travelling to New Jersey to meet other Indian friends and eat some more Indian food and driving to Rhode Island to go visit a strip club.
Babu get’s a Job
Finally after 4 weeks he gets a job. But as usual this job is not in Boston. He has to move to another place. All by himself. The journey he made from his village to the city in India is repeated again. He moves to San Jose for his new job. He looks up sulekha.com and finds a place where he can live temporarily.
He moves into a 2 bedroom place which is shared by 4 people again. He is happy that atleast this time he has to share the room with 1 more guy. He gets a closet for himself for the first time. He buys about 50 hangers even though he doesn’t need them all. As usual this room has no furniture, no internet, no tv. He irons his shirt and pants for his first day at this job.
Babu’s first day at Work
He is nervous. He thinks everyone asks him how he is doing, but don’t really wait up to hear his answer. He can’t understand most of their American accent. He says “Yes” to everything they say to him and does his ‘Indian head nod’ a skill only Indians are expert at. Indian head nod is a circular bobbling of the head which could either mean ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ depending up on the person who is interpreting. For 400 years British were so cruel to us that I think we developed a special way of realying our angst and disagreement without being lashed. It’s an Indian thing. Check with you local Indian friend if you want to find out more.
Babu’s first year in America
His first year goes well. He moves out to 1 bedroom apartment with another colleague at his work place. He buys a used ‘Honda Accord’. He has been sending money every month diligently to India. He has learned to cope up with some more quick fixes at work. His hiring firm promised the client that Babu is an expert in all the relevant technologies. But it was a lie. Ram just wanted to make some money. Since Babu couldn’t say no to the job, he just acts that he is an expert and learns the new technology in 1 week. He knows that he is good at remembering stuff. It comes handy to show that he is indeed an expert. But that was interview. In his day to day job Babu is just putting off new fires and using Google to find out answers to his technical problems.
He has a TV, bought again from a Mexican guy on Criagslist. His furniture is all bought from Craigslist as well. He buys his clothes from Target and groceries from Costco which he shares it with his room mate.
Babu visits India
After 3 years of struggling in America Babu decides to go visit India. In the mean time he has changed about 5 jobs and in 5 different places. He has learned the art of Indian living in US. Saving money and living on very few dollars per month. Some times he is reminded of his grand dream but he no more believes in it.
He has planned to go visit India as his parents are bugging him to get married. They have already setup about 5 meetings with would be bride’s parents in the village. As he is the first guy in the village to make it to America – they can demand high amount of Dowry for him. Finally all the investment they made in him is paying off. This is the day they have been waiting for.
Babu arrives, visits all 5 possible bride’s places. Ok’s 3 girls and his parents pick the one who is paying the highest dowry among the 3. He get’s married and brings the mail order bride to the US of A. Before he left for India, Babu got his single friend to move out of the 1 bedroom apartment so that he can live with his new wife now. Let’s call his wife ‘Babi’ (You know I like short names!)
Babu doesn’t know anything about Babi. This is the time to know more about her. Babi is scared to be with a new person and also in a new place. They both go to Las Vegas for their Honeymoon. Babu gets to know more and more about Babi. He decides to fall in love with his wife. He figures – it’s going to be just like his job. Putting out more fires!
Babi’s American experience
Babu is the new teacher of Babi. She is dependent so she can’t work. She be-friends all the other Indian dependent mail order wives in the apartment complex. They have potlucks during weekends. Babi learns to operate Microwave, dish washer, dryer. Babu teaches Babi driving which takes about strenuous 5 months and few minor accidents. For the first time Babu let’s his car get scratches after he bought it. He discards it off as she bought a lot of Dowry to his parents. Babi gets more and more friends and learns to shop by herself. Yes, she uses the same Costco card.
Babu’s new baby
Babu doesn’t waste time. Why waste money buying condoms? Babi is pregnant and this is a good reason to get his parents visit him. He sponsors his parents to visit them for 6 months. He takes his parents to visit Disney land, Las Vegas, NY, Grand Canyon, Florida, San Diego. Babu has a baby boy.
Babu applies for Green Card
After talking to Ram and paying him money to sponsor his own green card (I told you Ram loves money), Babu gets his green card process started. By now he is settled and his job is going good. He has not yet learned the Software in real world and project management which he wanted to. But he is happy. He knows how to make this work. He works like a robot. Totally forgets his dream. Now and then wondering was it worht it? He is just another cog in the wheel. Another modern slave to the capitalistic market. He is just happy that he gets to eat Indian home made food and takes his kid to Indian cultural programs.
- He has one more kid. It’s a girl this time
- He grows a beard and gets over weight
- His kids make fun of his English Accent
- His kids call themselves – ABCD (American Born Confused Desi)
- He has a receding hair line, eventually goes bald.
- He still shops at Costco
- He goes out to eat on weekends with kids (not at Mc Donalds)
- His kids grow up.
- He is worried about their education
- He wants them to excel him and NOT have any false dreams
- His son turns out Gay (not that there is anything wrong with that)
- His daughter is dating a black guy
- He is speechless and shocked.
- A fitting finale of ‘Nightmare’ to his ‘American Dream’ TM
That’s all folks. Thanks to my many many friends who have gone through most of these experiences and all the acquaintances who shared their stories with me. I could go on and on but my fingers are aching like hell.
That’s the journey of a typical Indian consultant. Next time you see one – just check how he is doing. There is a lot more going on behind that ‘Indian head nod’!