I am sitting here, at the O’Hare International Airport. Where I sat exactly ten years ago, waiting for my uncle to pick me up, as I made my first foray into these United States. It is fitting then as I say goodbye, a full circle of sorts, almost an inverted poetic mime. And isn’t it just fun when everything rhymes?
I came here as a naïve, skinny, innocent Indian boy, full of principles and hope. I was fortunate that an American University education was very much part of the script, so despite this being a land previously uninhibited by my body, it was the obvious choice. Wide-eyed and eager, I thought monobrows, untamed hair and sobriety was all naturál, and I preached my pride — like me as I am, I don’t need to fit in. And then the first girl gut-checked my heart, and then another, soon followed by some social punches, and that led to my first American epiphany — I had myself all wrong. I do need to fit in, at least just enough. So, off went the monobrow, and after a beer in Spain with my sister and a trip to the hairdresser, almost everything changed. Even though I spoke with a weird accent, I was suddenly more American than ever, with spiked hair and red cup of beer in my hand. I not only attended house parties, but we started hosting our own, making sure there was always enough alcohol at our apartment, a thumping set of speakers, and the ultimate utility — a sofa bed. Hip-hop was suddenly bearable, and became skeet-skeet melodic after several nights out on 6th street in Austin, Texas. I started listening more to Kanye and Lil Jon and less to Robbie Williams. My life was suddenly governed by the notion of play hard and work hard. And I worked hard to earn my right to play. I blossomed academically, especially once I realized that I might have had a head start in the theory of things, but my application abilities needed major reform, and that was glorious. I was suddenly double-majoring and minoring, doing laundry for the women’s university soccer team (plus ball tending), and became President of brown-town. But, most importantly, I was surrounded by the right people. I made the best of friends, and amidst all the chaos, those friendships were the ultimate sustenance. I don’t ever want to go back to college, not because it wasn’t the best time, but because I can’t imagine the thought of not making the same friends as I did.
Getting a job after college was not an achievement, it was an expectation. I entered Corporate America, ready to rock, and it was quite the concert. I wrote a spoken-word poem which encapsulates this part of the journey like I want it to. Here’s that bit:
After conquering the Texas orange and the Texas brown,
I took an oath under your crown.
And I learnt and I grew.
I brewed a caffeinated version of myself,
Embroiled by this illusion of value-add,
But empowered by the experience,
I was finally an independent man.
Earning my dime in exchange for a part of my soul,
And a bowl full of knowledge,
I won my way to New York.
Oh New York, you beauty!
You accepter of the world!
You melting cauldron of diversity that actually melts together,
Creating a soldered shrine of sunshine,
Glistening the concrete chaos of cooperation,
You are the best of the west.
Sirens distort you.
Wall street infests you.
But, freedom personifies you.
And for once, I felt like I belonged.
I could be who I wanted to be,
And do what I wanted to do.
For the first time, I wasn’t defined by my accent or my color.
I raked in the dollar,
And break-danced my brain.
And after ten years of living in these United States of immigrants,
I am still 15 years away from being considered one.
I am not going to be a slave to that.
I don’t want to be a slave to that.
It’s not about that.
It never was.
It’s about going where I can add and gain the most value.
Because I have been bent, and twisted, and refined.
Revived from the morbidity of innocence,
I am a convoluted convulsion of compromised content.
A tad dramatic, I know, but America helped me create my anthem.
After spending nine years in India and nine years in Dubai, this ten-year chapter in the United States of Immigrants has been my longest, and the most enriching. American higher education is the most flexible and the best, especially if you want to learn and grow, but it comes at the expense of innocence. Maybe that’s okay. Corporate America is the most functional economic art in the world, but draconian capitalism allows for the ignorance of morality. While the governments of developing countries are marred with corruption, the private sector of America has its own demons to battle, and the financial sector needs a schooling in ethics. My professional growth came at the expense of some corrosion, and that, for me, is difficult to swallow. So, getting out of Corporate America feels like a liberation of sorts, but don’t get me wrong, I have no regrets. No good adult story is all hunky-dory, and it is the lows that help seriously etch the statue of your principles.
Thank you, America, for everything. You have been the capstone to my learning experience. I am ready to unleash everything that I have learnt where I think it matters the most, and I have never felt more prepared for my next chapter. As you try and prevent yourself from imploding with all the current political turmoil, I will let you be. I am one less immigrant to worry about.
P.S. America, you let me embrace spoken-word like I could have never had anywhere else. You got me on stage, and allowed me to be as dramatic as I wanted to be, as I tried to rhyme my emotions. Cheers for that!