The American Dream
Dr Bhupati Das
Sikha was hardly awake when her cell-phone rang that day. It was 7.30 in the morning and she chided herself that she overslept . The incessant ringing of the phone jerked her out of the sweet embrace of the lazily retreating sleep and she picked up the phone, noticed that it was Amrit’s call and quickly said hello with a warm glow of happiness enveloping her. Amrit was ringing up from New York on his ride back from office to his apartment. He must have noticed her cold-laden husky voice on the phone as he asked, ‘what happened to your voice’. She said, ‘Oh, it’s nothing. I attended a late night party in Pritom’s place on his birthday and after that he took me for a drive before dropping me home. In the cold wind, I might have caught a cold. So, tell me , how is your day in that big corner office’. She was engaged to be married to Amrit though the date was yet to be fixed. ‘Oh, you need to take care of yourself as the season is changing ’, she noticed a chill in Amrit’s voice, upset about her drive with Pritom . Though she felt a bit irritated, she said a matter-of-fact alright and instantly he became enthusiastic and said gleefully, ‘look, I changed my job as I got an unbelievable offer. I also got my H1B visa and the new company is taking care of endorsing the visa in its name. I am coming to India for getting the visa stamped when we can also finalise our marriage schedules’. Her mind drifted away. As the marriage event was coming to a finality, a sense of uneasiness was bothering her every now and then, though she could not put her finger on any plausible reason. In fact, if anything, she should feel elated as she only played an important part in fast-tracking the decision. From childhood, she was crazy about going abroad and America, for her, was the ultimate panacea. She was the butt of all jokes in the family on her obsession about going to USA and so also among the three friends, Amrit , Pritom and Sikha, who were friends from kindergarten days as they lived in the same neighbourhood . They went to the same co-ed school, though she was one class junior. Both Amrit and Pritom would do anything to get her attention. She was first in her class and Amrit was first in his. Pritom was more of a cricketer. Pritom used to get a lot of female attention as he was a cricketer and good-looking. Amrit was highly ambitious and studied hard to make a career. So, Amrit’s ambition and Sikha’s obsession were the talking points during their schooldays. Over time their friendship grew . During her violin lessons, Pritom accompanied her as Amrit always made an excuse that he had some homework to do. Pritom got into the college cricket team and on the days there were matches, she used to quite enjoy cheering the team up with Amrit in tow. Sikha still remembered how often she talked about going to America for higher studies and then settling down there with a nice handsome guy to the great amusement of Pritom and Amrit. Pritom was also exuberant about his exploits in the field while Amrit was hell-bent to appear for CAT to do his MBA.
Amrit’s sharp voice in the phone jerked her out of the reverie. He was almost shouting on the phone being irritated at her silence. She hastily made up an excuse that she was slightly under the weather since the binge last night. ‘I told you to be careful as the winter has set in and Guwahati is quite chilly ‘, Amrit added angrily. He said a quick bye and hung up. Sikha realised he was upset . She should not have mentioned that drive with Pritom last night. But then, why not, she thought. All three of them were friends. Ignoring, she let her mind ruminate the past. Amrit did not get into IIM though he topped in BSc and went to Delhi School of Economics to do his Masters. Pritom stayed back to do his Masters in Physics in Gauhati University. He had got into the State cricket team and earned quite a reputation as an opening bat. Sikha continued to pursue her English( Hons). Pritom started spending more time with Sikha. They were happy with each other. By now all their friends started calling them a couple, which was fine with them. The thought that they should confide about it to Amrit never occurred to them. Time rolled by with their hectic schedules of studies, stage shows (Sikha was a near-professional in violin) and cricket. Pritom was called for India trials but failed to make the grade. Sikha could not get admission in any of the good universities in USA . Perhaps she did not write her SOP well. Meanwhile Amrit was doing even better. He passed out from Delhi School of Economics with flying colours and got admission in Stanford University in their MBA programme. Amrit came to Guwahati for a few days before leaving for US and it was like old time again. They really enjoyed themselves spending time together. Even if Amrit noticed Pritom’s closeness to Sikha, he did not show it . After Amrit left for US, Pritom and Sikha started spending more time together. Sikha felt morose sometimes hit by the twin disappointments of her broken American dream and his failure to get an India cap. Pritom got a fairly high post in Indian Railways mainly based on his cricket credentials. But when he broke the news to her, she involuntarily uttered , ‘oh then, we are stuck in India only!’ She saw the raw pain darkening his face and immediately made up with an exaggerated show of affection. Sikha expected that Pritom would formally propose to her soon now that he had settled into his job . She was incredibly happy about it . Both the families were also delighted and a hidden excitement was prevailing in anticipation of the formal announcement.
It was then Shikha received the WhatsApp message from New- York. It was from Amrit . By the time she read through the message, all blood drained out from her face. Amrit, as usual, was quite blunt. He wrote straight, ‘I know your passion about America. I am always in love with you. So, would you marry me, please?’ Sikha felt as if a one tonne boulder had hit her. This was the answer to her American dream treasured from her childhood . Amrit’s phone call disturbed and consumed her . She tossed around in bed till her mother called out to her informing that Pritom had come. She perfunctorily greeted Pritom and went to the kitchen. Pritom left quietly after breakfast sensing her foul mood.
She spent the next few days in great turmoil, her mind wrestling with conflicting thoughts – her life-long dream of going to US as against her long-standing love for Pritom . She knew it was wrong but could not discard the idea of going to America . After brutal deliberations in her mind, she finally confided in Pritom about her dilemma and how it could be a way of fulfilling her American dream. The moment she mentioned about Amrit’s proposal, she saw his face turning white. For a long time Pritom did not say a word. He kept looking at her in utter disbelief. After sometime, he got up and walked out of the room like a zombie. That was the last time she saw Pritom.
After a few days she got a letter from him saying, ‘I saw your eyes and realised how much you wanted to go to America. I wouldn’t say I was not hurt. But I have only good wishes for you and Amrit. I have taken a voluntary transfer out of Guwahati. So good bye.’ That day she cried silently for a long time. She took some time to break the news to her parents. They were quite sympathetic and promised to stand by her. With time she settled down with normal routine though sometimes she wondered whether she would have changed her mind about America if Pritom had forced the issue. A month elapsed in that state of confusion when Amrit rang up asking ‘is it yes or no to marriage’. She took a few gulps and whispered yes and kept the phone down slowly. Meanwhile Amrit was full of plans of their honeymoon after marriage in America. Both the families got busy in the marriage preparations though they did not firm up the marriage dates as they were not sure about Amrit’s exact schedule. Amrit’s phone call informing her that he was travelling to India galvanised the families to actions like checking auspicious dates. Days passed by quickly. Meanwhile Amrit had already reached Delhi from US, waiting for the appointment from American Embassy for stamping of his H1B visa. Sikha also got busy in collecting the necessary documents needed for her visa. She still felt uneasy sometimes whenever thought of Pritom invaded her mind though she consoled herself thinking that Pritom himself would have wanted her to pursue her American dream. Other than those momentary aberrations, days passed smoothly. In the midst of all the hurried activities, Sikha did not realise that Amrit’s interview at the American embassy in Delhi had already been over. It was when she put her feet up in bed post dinner, she was struck by the thought that Amrit had not rung up. As her mind was wrestling over this, the phone rang. To her surprise, it was Pritom. With a sense of trepidation, she said,’hello’. There was an uneasy silence on the other end and then Pritom spoke haltingly realising how much pain it would cause her, ‘Amrit’s interview did not go off well. His H1B visa did not get stamped as the new company he joined did not do enough to justify stamping of H1B visa’. ‘What are the implications?’ she asked mechanically like a robot. ‘What it means is that Amrit can’t get back to US anymore and hence he would join a start-up at Bangalore presently. He couldn’t bring himself up to telling you directly . He pleaded with me to inform you, ….’, he continued talking incoherently but she did not quite hear any further as the phone fell off her hand. She collapsed into the bed, tears rolling down her cheeks uncontrollably. After a long night of introspection which felt like an eternity, she made her life-choice and reached out to dial Pritom, grim determination writ large on her tear-washed face….
Dr Bhupati Das, formerly Managing Director of Numaligarh Refinery Ltd and subsequently also of Bharat Oman Refineries Ltd, a multinational company, Dr Das presently works as an independent consultant, coach and trainer. He had also served a tenure of two years as Emeritus Professor of Dibrugarh University. He is an acclaimed poet and a fiction writer and writes in English