He is an average teenager living his life to the full extent of Indian normalcy. Playing cricket, cheating in exams, ogling at pretty girls, and constantly being harrowed by his parents about his studies. He is comfortably reared up on middle-class comforts and neither tries nor has any desire to leave his familiar town ever.
He loves English movies, the English actresses even more ...but no siree, he likes his country too much to leave it for another.
After school, the competitive parents huddle him off to nearest Engineering College, after enquiring about its annual campus selection rate of course. He braves the 4 years of ragging, back-papers, half-baked relationships, etc. with the devil-may-care attitude of a true Indian.
And yes two companies have selected him for lucrative job offers once his degree is finished. But then his mother's sister's brother-in-law's neighbor (or some “close” relation like that) has decided to send their precious son to US to complete his post-graduate degree. This has gotten his parents thinking.
My son must go, the Mother thinks.
It would help in the marriage market and we can get all the money spent on his education back as dowry. Good investment surely, the Father thinks.
So the son, who was planning to enjoy his upcoming 'earning' status, is now being shipped off to US for a Masters degree. Don’t get him wrong, he is super-excited about visiting Uncle Sam, but horror of horrors more studies awaits him there.
And the proud-almost-to-the-point-of-arrogance parents are proclaiming about it to everyone. No one is spared. Neither the jealous neighbours nor the unsuspecting milk-man. And the mother has discreetly done a puja to ward away the evil eye from her son. All this through the medium of the servant who has been sworn into secrecy with a 100 rupee note. The mother has heard hushed stories of innocent Indian boys laid to trap by the disgusting temptresses that are these 'gori' girls.
The son starts his new life in US. He is slowly learning the American ways of life and their terminology. He is learning to respond to 'Wassup' and 'Good morning'. He has learnt to answer when he is asked if he wants to upsize his MacD meals instead of ending up with too much food on his plate. He has managed to say 'Aaawesome' to most things too.
All this punctuated by regular webcam chats with his parents and emails to friends. He can’t believe how fast the Internet speeds are here. But deep down he still yearns to go back and be among his kind again.
Fast forward to graduation day and the young graduate has been offered a job at a reputed firm. The salary is a staggering amount when you convert to rupees. So naturally he agrees. Just for a while, he tells himself. After all a US returned employee would earn better in India.
Used to the material comforts of life, the once small-towner, now holder of a Masters from US is thinking of settling down in one of the metropolitan cities back home. Not his little town. Maybe the nearest city? After all it does get a little mundane without the occasional multiplex movie experience and sausages and margarine and peanut butter indulgences.
Back home, the mother is a bit worried now. She is still updating people about her son's 'Amreeki' status, but he hasn’t been back for a while. And she misses him.
The father is busy uploading his son's picture in matrimonial sites and sorting through the alliances by wealth. He can finally hear the distant ringing of cash registers.
The son meanwhile is surprised that his company boss can be called Bob instead of Sir. He is also relieved that 3 out of 5 of his colleagues are Indians. Phew!!!
Finally, father has selected a handful of suitable alliances. Wealthy girls. Must be very beautiful too, the not-so-beautiful mother has added. She has clearly not heard the proverb about throwing stones and glass houses.
The son is all geared up for his first visit back home. He has been to Walmart to buy the chocolates, emergency lamps, torches, cheap perfumes and the new mobile for Dad.
The journey back doesn’t feel so good. The 18 hour flight leaves the son in a bad mood. Happy greetings in the arrival hall and his mother's embarrassing tears is all a bit over the top. His stomach feels queasy all the way home from the jolts of the car.
Did the roads get worse than before, he asks.
It’s the rains, sahib, answers their driver of 20-odd years.
Ah, the monsoons, thinks the son joylessly.
The following week is a whirlwind of visiting prospective brides. Short ones, fat ones, pretty ones, ones who turned out way too different from their photo-shopped profile pictures. The son tries to find a combination of pretty and nice-to-talk-to. And finally the marriage gods beam down on him and he zones in on 'The One’. Horoscopes are matched, dates are fixed and marriage preparations take over.
The America-returned boy now finds himself cursing each time the electrician, the government officials and the caterers cause a delay in his meticulously laid out wedding plans.
Why can’t people be more efficient like in the US? , he thinks.
His head keeps buzzing from too much noise. He could really do with a Starbucks latte with an extra shot of espresso right now.
Shall I make you some badam milk? , the mother coos only to be answered in the negative.
Marriage rites are performed and relatives have finished gossiping about the wedding. The couple is all set to commence the journey back "home". The bride with her red bangles and mehndi filled hands contemplates her new world with wide-eyed wonder. The husband, now proudly guiding her through the escalators, elevators and sliding doors of the US airport, is thoroughly enjoying his new role.
They settle in to the early days of marital bliss. Movies, pizzas deliveries, shared tubs of ice-cream and sleeping till noon on weekends. The wife now has no intention of heading back home.
Good bye to in-laws, nosy relatives, and long-winded recipes. Hello to privacy , shopping and fast-food.
And the husband, after his whirl-wind visit to India, is not so sure himself about heading back anytime soon. He realises he had missed his Starbucks and waffles and his emails far too much. To hell to bandhs, hartals and electricity outages.
We'll stay on here till the kids are big enough.
Buying a house is always an investment. We won't be here forever, but still.
The children can’t be uprooted now; they would never adjust anywhere else.
Over the years, the excuses change, but the decision remains the same.
And like that, one more Indian ‘crosses over' to the other side - The NRI side.
Back home, the mother is cursing the day she met her sister's brother-in-law's neighbour (or some “close” relation like that) who put this idea in her mind. She is sure it’s her evil daughter-in-law who is brainwashing her beloved son. She has again resorted to a puja and sworn the servant to secrecy with 200 rupees this time to get her son back home.
The father is happy the bank accounts have been replenished by the dowry. Yes he misses his son sometimes. But he is more eager for grandchildren now. And of course he IS hoping for a grandson!