Friday, March 16, 2012

Ratna's Story Part One: Collections from interviews, life stories, and shared narratives

Thanks to my friend Bud Goodall for the inspiration to take a narrative turn, although I am rough on the edges and a novice with this...



Ratna came to the US in August 2010, newly married, with her dreams tucked lovingly in the corner of her Sari and with her hopes to make a life in the US with her husband, Subeer, a high flying PR executive in a large multinational in New York City.

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The first three months in New York were like a dream sequence of one of those Bollywood movies, amidst high rises, surrounded by people all around, and immersed in the glitz and lights of the city. For her, this was a new lease of life, a new opening to make a home in a completely different country with her husband. She used to spend each day taking the subway to a new part of the city, a map in hand. The newness of her discoveries made up for the feelings of missing home in the late afternoons. Her heart filled with hopes and her spirits filled with courage, Ratna immersed herself in putting together her home that she had come to make in this new city far far away from the hustle bustle and chatter of Kolkata.

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Ratna's life though was about to quickly change just like it had with her arranged marriage to Subeer.

It was the time of the Pujas. Ratna and Subeer would spend weekends planning out all the different puja activities they would attend in the City.

Subeer came home one day, his look pale and flush with anxiety, as if someone had sucked out his life energy. His hands trembling as he took off his jacket, he shared with Ratna the news that would forever change their lives, and her life:

His company had suffered huge losses in business and he was being laid off.

He had two months to look for something else.

This was the time to stand beside Subeer. After all, that is what she had seen her mother do all her life. Stand beside her father, in the moments of joy, and in the moments of anxiety. In the moments of glory, and in the moments of sadness.

She learned to hide her anxieties and her worries, to put on a smile for Subeer when he came home after a long day of job search and dropping his resume at different PR offices.

The Pujas came and went. The beautiful colors of Fall appeared, and started disappearing, and there was yet no job offer for Subeer. Ratna and Subeer quickly started running out of the money they had saved together so diligently.

Someone suggested to Subeer, apply to graduate school, and gave him a few suggestions. This was the last resort. A last dicth attempt at finding a way to survive in the US. Subeer sat for the GRE, scored pretty high grades, and sent off his materials to several schools after speaking with Graduate Directors at a number of these schools.

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Subeer received admission from four of the six schools he applied to, and after a great deal of deliberation, picked a school in Ohio. In the summer of 2011, when the weather meters were consistently stretching toward the upper 90s, Subeer and Ratna, Ratna and Subeer, packed their bags and embarked on another new journey across the plains.

This was going to be a new life, trying to make a living at $1250 a month after taxes. It was going to be difficult, but they could manage. A lot of changes will need to be made, but they could survive these changes. At least they would have a legal status in the US, and an opportunity to pursue the American dream. Subeer would still have a job, and Ratna would eventually look for graduate schools.

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Life in Columbus, Ohio turned out to be not so easy. Getting paid $1250 a month it turns out was not exactly $1250. After the taxes and the insurance for both of them, Ratna and Subeer had $879.00 to be precise to run their home each month. Of this $879.00, the rent for what they thoought was a cheap apartment deal took up $463.00, leaving them with $416.00 for groceries, gas, other incidental expenses, and some money to save up for the summer months when Subeer would not be getting paid by the graduate school.

It turns out that each month, after trying really hard to save, Ratna and Subeer ran about $300.00 behind in their expenses. For as long as they could, they used up whatever money they had saved when they lived in New York City. But the money eventually ran out.

By the time the Pujas came around, Subeer did not have $5.00 left in the bank account at the end of the month.

So to buy the Puja gifts for Ratna, he opened up a credit card, and charged it.

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To make up for the "abhab" (this is a Bengali word that stands in for shortage, and means much more than shortage) in her household, Ratna decided to take up many odd jobs in the community: cooking for people, cleaning in their houses, selling box lunches, occassionally baby sitting for acquaintances in the Bengali community that they had gradually built up in Columbus.

She worked over fourteen hours each day to try to help Subeer out. This was her chance to stand beside him, to be there beside him like a rock. After all, this is what she had learned from her mother.

She worked hard and pushed herself as much as she could. Extending the many hours of work that she could put in physically. Having Subeer drop her off for baby sitting early in the morning at 7:30 a.m., and cooking until 2 a.m. in the morning for the tiffin lunches to be delivered.

She was going to stand beside Subeer and try as much as she could to take away his worries. She was going to be his rock.

Finally, it looked like Ratna and Subeer were finding a way to make ends meet, and to save some for the summer months.

Now they could afford the Darjeeling from the little Indian store on the corner of Washington and Penn that they so craved. At the end of each month, sipping the precious Darjeeling tea that was a cherished ritual, they would sit down together to do the accounts, and with a sense of accomplishment, carefully transfer ijn $75.00 to the online savings account.

They were once again back on the road to savings.

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To be continued...

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