Thursday, December 01, 2005

Chapter 1

“Where the mind is without fear, and the head is held high...’, again and again Raj repeated this poem by the great Rabindranath Tagore. This had almost become a mantra for him. After years in the brutally competitive Indian school and college system, he was at the brink of something big. He finally had a chance to go to the United States. They said that if you get into a college there, a job was sure to follow and it was only a matter of time before you got the Green Card.

But first things first, “What’s the formula for Pythagoras theorem again?...ummm...’a2 + b’....jeez...the tutor said this was a sure thing on GMAT and I can’t even remember that.’ thought Raj, as he cracked open his book again.

It was late 1995 and Raj’s eyes were set on going to the US for his MBA. The way things had worked out over the past few years had left him with few palatable options in India. He had refused to go for an engineering degree and had enrolled in a generic program in a local University. And now, running out of options, he opted for the long shot and decided to go to the US for higher education.

Sitting in the hot room for the GMAT test, he felt a familiar feeling of confidence and focus come over him. He had all but forgotten this feeling in the tumultuous years since high school. The test was long, but he raced through it and finished well before time. Even before he had handed-in the test papers, he knew he had done well. Now all he had to do was wait a few weeks before his results came back.

“Yaar, my uncle has already bought me a bimmer in anticipation of my coming to the US.”, bragged Mukul. Raj had just met him a few months ago while preparing for the GMAT. With his long flowing hair over his face and designer clothes, Raj had immediately pegged him to be a rich brat from the countless business families in Delhi. Mukul had the lazy arrogance of someone whose parents always gave him what he wanted. "People like him had no real self-confidence and flaunted their money to hide their insecurities and gain acceptance", thought Raj.

“Which schools are you applying to?” Raj had asked. “My family has given enough money to Harvard, I’ll probably go there. But I am giving my GMAT to get into University of Chicago. They have a killer finance program.” Raj was stunned, he had no idea that US colleges accepted students based on money and not merit nor did he know that different Universities in US were rated based on programs. He had always thought that in US people didn’t think about rankings and such. “Aaagh well...maybe the Americans were similar to Indian after-all.”

“Dude, lets go to Rodeos in Connaught Place. I will call rest of the gang as well.” suggested Mukul. Rodeos was the new Mexican restaurant that had recently opened, and was a hangout of the young college kids of Delhi. “Sure! I need to get some petrol for my bike first. I’ll catch up with you.” Yelled Raj as he zipped off on his motorbike.

Rodeos was an oasis compared to the hot and sultry examination room. Young waitresses walked around in short plaid skirts and white shirts. Raj wasn’t quite sure if that was a Mexican look or a Catholic schoolgirl look. The air-conditioner was cranked on at full blast to beat the 110 degree heat outside and room was heavy with the smell of beer and cigarette smoke.

“Anything to drink?” asked the waitress as she leaned down to put water on the table. Raj couldn’t help but glance at her long shapely legs and the back of her thighs as her skirt rode high. She was probably nineteen and was earning pocket money while going to a local college. With long straight hair that alternated between brown and auburn depending on the light, and a full bosom tapering to a tiny waist, she looked like someone who would be more at place on a modeling ramp than serving food at a restaurant.

“Ummm...a pitcher...and some chips and salsa.” mumbled Raj, his head spinning. He could feel his heart pounding in his chest and his mouth going dry. He hadn’t felt like this since the first time he had kissed a girl. That was years ago and he had just been fourteen. It had been so sudden. One moment he was leaning forward to give her a hug and the next moment their lips were inter-twined. But this was different. He was twenty one and this wasn’t supposed to happen to a grown up like him.

“Dude, take it easy!” chimed in a cheerful voice. Raj turned around to see his childhood friend Rishi standing behind with an impish grin on his face. Apparently, he had walked in along with the rest of the gang, just as Raj was staring up the waitresses’ skirt. “Invite her to Ghungroos tonight,” suggested Mukul, “We were anyways planning on going there and having a blast.” “Why not? Its not like there is anything much going on between you and Sheila.” said Rishi. Sheila was Raj’s on and off girlfriend. Lately, it had been more off than on and Rishi had insisted time and again that it might be best for Raj to move on.

“Here’s your pitcher and the appetizers. What would rest of you like?” The waitress asked the new faces at the table. “They will have the same and your number to go” quipped Mukul, feeling decidedly cool and hip. “You ass...always putting your foot in your mouth.” chirped Rishi “why don’t we try something new for apps? What’s good here?”. “We have pretty good chicken wings. But I haven’t tasted for myself as I am vegetarian.” Replied the pretty waitress. “Aaah...I bet your chicken wings are not as good as Ghungroos” interjected Raj knowing fully well that Ghungroos did not serve any food items. “I’ve heard of Ghungroos but never been there. It’s my first month in Delhi.” replied the waitress with a shy half smile.

“You know what!?! We were thinking of going there tonight. You’re more than welcome to join us.” Damn...he was good thought Rishi. All Raj had was a small opening and now he had blasted through it and was home free.
“Tonight’s probably not going to happen. I have a family commitment. But I’d love a raincheck.” She said with a coy smile. Neeta was new in town. She had come to Delhi to study economics at the prestigious Lady Shri Ram College. Her father was a doctor in Jaipur, and they lived in a nice house in the well-to-do civil lines area. As a doctor, her father was more involved in charitable work rather than his private practice, and as a result though well off, never really made a lot of money. Neeta had been lovingly raised in a sheltered environment by her idealist father and home-maker mother. The mother was only partially educated and so really encouraged her daughter to do well academically.

Now in Delhi, Neeta had decided to supplement her allowance with a part-time job. She realized that she had led a very sheltered life and wanted to go out in the real world and get some experience. She had been working at this restaurant for only three days and had already had some bad experiences with rowdy customers. In Delhi it seemed, men left all civility at home and like wolves tended to prey on vulnerable women once out of the house. Yesterday, for instance, there was a man who had given her a big tip and then waited for her outside the restaurant as if he now owned her. As she had finished her shift two hours later and gone out, he had accosted her and demanded that she let him drive her home. She had to muster all her courage to be firm with him and had to take a cab back to her hostel. Even now she was a little bit apprehensive about running into that man again. These college kids, on the other hand, were a breath of fresh air for her. None of them had the lecherous look like some of the other male customers and they seemed to be genuinely interested in her. She saw in them reflections of her own friends back home, and that gave her more reassurance.

“Raincheck is good. How about we exchange numbers and try to sync-up later in the week?” And so, on that day, seeds of a relationship were sowed that would affect their lives for the next decade.


At 11:25 AM, Blogger dkjariwala said...

I like your writing style. Keep it up.

I am waiting for Mr. Raj to arrive in US so that I can share my story with you and then you can include it in your novel! :)


At 12:01 PM, Blogger Nachiketa said...

He will arrive in the US in a couple of weeks.

I look forward to getting your comments. My H-1B story is less humorous than I would like it to be. If you or your friends have any funny cross-cultural incidents...I would love to hear about them.


Post a Comment

<< Home