It was quieter than usual last Friday in the office. My manager was MIA, and many of my colleagues were working from home. There were no projects in the fire, so we have been in a very mellow support mode. It was a good day to take a long lunch, or to spend some time catching up with co-worker’s lives.
I had to drop some money by Preeta’s office as my contribution to a group baby shower gift. I’ve always had a great affection for Preeta, even though we have little in common and our contact in the office is strictly professional. She is a bit shy, and tends to socialize and lunch only with the tight circle of the other Indian women programmers on our team. On this quiet Friday, with her usual buds working from home, she was stuck with me.
One of our male colleagues, Rama, is going to be a dad for the first time next month. So, Preeta is hosting a surprise baby shower for him and his wife, Amita. Rama is another one of our Indian contractors who I like a lot. We were on a tough project together and he was completely unshakable. If I had a question or a problem, within seconds he was in my office with a solution, and if not a solution, at least a willingness to find one. And he felt comfortable asking me questions about myself and American culture and I about him and Indian culture. He loves to give me tips on good Bollywood movies to rent, and gave me the skinny about the local cricket league.
I’ve met most of the spouses of our contractors at various social functions. Most of the Indian wives tend to be very shy, but make a delightfully colorful clique in their traditional Indian outfits. Rama made a point of introducing Amita to me. She giggled shyly as she told me that Rama has told her so much about me. “You like Bollywood movies, and you have three cats and a rabbit. One of your cats is very big.” I felt a bit awkward because I knew nothing about her. In fact, I didn’t even know he was married! She was a lovely girl and seemed tickled to be there and to be meeting me.
Later it occurred to me that it was a bit sad, really. She seemed a bit too eager for outside contact. I admit I’m interesting (at least to me), but I don’t think I should rank as anyone’s dinner conversation with their spouse. Later I asked Rama if his wife had many friends, or if she had any family here in the States. As I suspected, she didn’t. But what surprised me was how unconcerned he seemed to be about that. He acted as if that were just the norm.
As Preeta and I were chatting on Friday, I asked her if Amita struck her as a bit lonely. “Oh yes, but that is not uncommon.” She explained that many Indian women find themselves in that position. They come to the states with their husbands who come on a sponsored work visa (H1B, I believe). But, the wives are only granted H4 visas which allow them to be in the States, but they cannot work. So, for many of them, whose husbands work for large contracting firms who move their employees from from job to job, city to city, their lives consist of living in some bland corporate apartment complex, away from their friends, their family and no outlet for their professional aspirations. No wonder Amita struck me as sad.
Unlike in Bollywood movies, where being matched with a potential husband who works in the States is considered a great catch, Preeta told me that now young educated, professional women are steering away from men whose work is going to take them to the US. If they are going to go to the US, they’ll do it on their own Visa, thank you very much.
For some reason, I feel a very deep sadness for Amita. Then it occurred to me: Amita’s situation reminded me of my own mother’s loneliness and isolation. My mother’s restrictions were not of a legal nature, but entirely internal. But the result was the same, sitting at home all day, friendless and living vicariously through her spouse. For myself, I can’t imagine a less fulfilling life.
Amita is due to have a baby next month, and both her parents are by her side for the next six months. I wish her happiness. And I wish for her all the fulfillment – family, social, professional – that she desires.