Unemployment is always hard. It insults your self confidence and saps the soul. But down to the earth level, it is so much more to the woman at home. My wife was devastated the first time I lost my job and came home in the evening and told her. She looked at me with disbelief. As if her eyes were telling me, “What do you mean that you have lost your job? Is that possible?” I knew her. My wife came from a traditional Indian family. Her father had a steady government job. Their family life was stable; not pampered nor luxurious but free of worry. And that’s the way she envisioned the family life in USA to be. When we were getting married, I somehow felt that Shoma’s dream was that there is only sunshine and eternal rainbow in America. It was not her fault. At that time, in India, travelling to England (we called Bilet, but no one we know knows why) for education was losing its luster. America had become the place to go! USA! The United States of America! And in Bengali we called it ‘Markin Jukta Rastra’. She had heard so much about this country: students in America earn money cleaning dishes in restaurants (and, you know, no one minds! It is not like in India that people look down upon manual labor!); young women, scantily clad compared to Indian standards kiss and caress their lovers amorously in full public view and without any shame (hee hee, we blushed!). They have over one hundred and eighty TV channels that run twenty four hours a day; and all in color! White sahebs and mems and black negros live there, and everyone owns a car. She had heard this story from someone that even beggars in America own cars! What a country!
Tidbits gathered from friends and stories written by a Bengali author, who secured a Fulbright fellowship to visit America and wrote his experience. Shoma also had a Bengali college professor who got his degree from Princeton. He had long flowing hair, this bohemian ‘lost in his deep thoughts’ look (some jealous ones alleged he was faking) and smoking pipes (he got this habit from America!). This professor would often tell about a road building story in America: he was going to his class one morning and saw workers working to build a road. And in the next morning the road was complete and cars were running on it! “The workers worked all day and night!” the professor admired the workers with ample respect. “Not like the patal rail!” He would sneer at the metro rail authority in Kolkata that took decades to finish the track and for which the workers dug all over the city (to the immense inconvenience of common citizens). This professor always mentioned America as ‘states’ and that he could have ‘settled’ there! There was this forlorn nostalgia in his eyes when he talked about his days in that country. Shoma would feel a warm ‘oomph’ in her imagination in ‘settling in the states’!
So she was inquisitive when she learned that I was visiting from the USA. Our distant relatives from both sides, co-workers in a company, were the match makers. Shoma had already finished her degree from a well known girls college in Kolkata and her parents were looking for a suitable boy: appropriately educated with a good job and decent salary, with right height (and though not mentioned publicly, good look with fair skin and preferably from the same caste!) And no, they would not mind a NRI, the non resident Indian Immigrant from America!
The correspondence somehow cliqued and we got married in the traditional Indian way. And I softly tried to minimize her enthusiasm about America. But she had so many dreams about the American life! And my unemployment gave her the first jolt. And the crippling uncertainty overpowered us all.
My doubt about my technical abilities grew. I silently started to think that economy might not be the only reason for my unemployment; I felt that other factors are contributing as well. May be it is my non Caucasian look, my brown skin and my buck teeth. You see, we never went to a dentist when we were young and never had a orthodontic brace. I felt that my upper teeth was tilted up. Unconsciously I started to use my tongue to push down my upper teeth, as if that will lower them. And many such similar self doubts.
I found complete reason why Alok Bhattacharjee had changed his name to Alex Bartlett. “Is he related to any white Bartletts?” friends joked and laughed when we first learned. Some of the fearless ones even asked him his rationale. “Well,” Alok is said to have replied, “it is not God given anyway. There is no one in Europe or Africa with my last name. So my ancestors also chose theirs from somewhere”. Sharmila, his wife had changed her name to Sharon! I started to find reason to their action. And I secretly admired their efforts.
Alok was unemployed for over two years. He did not even get an interview. He theorized, right or wrong, that his name was getting in the way to secure an interview! As soon as the human resources reps were seeing his Indian name, he suspected, they were throwing his application into the wastebasket. If that not be the case, he thought, then with all his degrees and experiences why did he not even get an interview? An Anglo name may remove that obstacle! I started admiring Alok for his street smart. I quietly changed my earlier attitude about all these name changes. I stopped giggling the way I did for Dan Singh, the erstwhile Dalbir Singh, or Gill Chadley, the erstwhile Gulab Chauhan. I reasoned that a similar sounding name change is the best bet. And researched if there was one suitable for me. None did satisfy me at that time. Also I landed a job soon. And then I forgot about it. But the lesson taught me that we are what our circumstances made us of!