Twenty years ago, Krishna Anand began living a double life. It was the same day he left everything he ever knew in Jaipur, the pink capital of India, and moved to Rumson, New Jersey. Despite leaving home, home could never leave him. He may have trudged his way to a green card, an American drawl, and a minivan. But, all he ever ate were theplas, spiced flatbread with coriander and red chillies, kachoris, fried dumplings stuffed with masala onions and potatoes, and dal baati churma, a sweet and savoury mixture of crispy dough. Krishna’s feet were planted in Rumson but his mind flew to Jaipur every single day. Today, on his twentieth wedding anniversary and the day of his expected promotion at Infosys Engineering, it was no different.
Krishna and his wife, Reema, did not have a fairytale wedding. Their arranged marriage was a logical option for both parties, and so their parents did all the courting, wooing, and romancing. In fact, Reema’s parents offered Krishna’s parents a dowry so tempting that they were married off and on the plane in the same day. It was Reema who had insisted on moving to America in the first place. She knew Krishna had been offered a job in New Jersey, and him taking that was the only way she would marry him. And so he did, just to get his parents off his back. Now, they were stuck together. Before he went to work today, she gave him a moorthy, a s small statue of lord Ganesha, for good luck and told him to think of how important this promotion was for their whole family. On his way to work, he stuck the lord in between his air vents. The baby Ganesha swayed on the dashboard and it took him back to the days he had at home. In tenth grade, before his first exam, his mother had handed him the same moorthy. He carried it to school with him, navigating through streets of destitute on his rusted bicycle, until he reached the iron gates. Oh, how he wished he could be on those streets right now! The sound of street vendors yelling for attention, the smell of garam masala drifting through the air, the freedom of feeling alive. He wasn’t alive now. As his car swerved out of his lane, Krishna snapped back into reality. He was going to be late to work.
Krisha and his work had a complicated relationship. He had started his job at Infosys Engineering as a bright-eyed twenty-something year old looking to make it big in a new country. He began working long nights trying to solve problems that no one at work cared about. It got him a pay check every month. It was enough to send his two boys to Rumson Country Day School, fund the monthly rent of his white picket fence, and allow his wife to keep up with the newest fashion trends. It wasn’t enough to take a single trip home. In all his years of living in America, he had put his extra savings into his boys’ college fund or his wife’s bank account but never into a trip to see his family. He had other responsibilities, like being present at work. At work, when he didn’t get the promotion yet again, he couldn’t live in the present. And so, his mind snapped back into his version reality at home. He went back to his first job out of college in India. It was the first time he had lived outside of his parents’ home and he had been having trouble mastering life alone. Instead of having a bed, he slept on a charpai, a woven bench, on his balcony. Every night, he looked up into the stars as the mosquitos tackled him. In the cool breeze, he wished life would never change. He had the stars, the twinkling lights that showed him worlds beyond his own. He didn’t need anything else. It was the happiest he had ever been because he felt free. His happiness was cut short by his boss yelling at him. As the only junior consultant who hadn’t moved on up, this was common. He was damaged goods, according to everyone in the office. Eventually, he had started to believe them.
At home, Krishna no longer had to enunciate his a’s in water or his draw his o’s in cool. It was the one place he could take off his facade and just be himself. Or so he thought. Every time he messed up a syllable, Ravi and Rohan were there to pounce on him for being wrong. Krishna’s two sons may have had the most Indian names there could be, but they had never set foot outside the East Coast. They were what Krishna used to call ABCDs when he lived in India. American Born Confused Desi’s (desi is how Indian people refer to themselves). Don’t get me wrong, Ravi and Rohan had grown up on dal, savoury lentil stew, and roti, rounded flatbreads. But, could they actually carry out a conversation in Hindi? Well…it’s more stammering than actually speaking. The boys were very selective when it came to being Indian. When it was Diwali, the festival of lights (and the time to light every firework possible), they embraced it. They even decked out in their fanciest Indian clothes, that were hand-me-downs from their father. But, when it came to accompanying their parents to the local temple on Tuesday evenings, they both suddenly had homework. The 15 and 16 year old boys would go as far to write fake essays to get out of going to listen to prayers being sung. But, Krishna and Reema would always go. Krishna went because it was the only place that reminded him of home in an otherwise foreign land. Reema went because as a dutiful Indian wife, Krishna was her home. And, so, with Krishna and Reema out of the house, Tuesdays were for the boys. It was their time to relax, unwind, and smoke the joints they hid the underwear drawer their mother never looked in. But, not this Tuesday. This Tuesday, the boys were driving their parents to their date night.
Every day, when Krishna got home from work, he sunk into the leather sofa and away from everything else. But, today, the leather sofa wasn’t going to be his friend. His anniversary meant running home from work and rushing to change into an even more formal outfit. For him, wearing Western clothes was still hard. He had become so accustomed to wearing sherwanis, the fancy Indian coats, for formal occasions that he didn’t like wearing suits and ties. Reema, on the other hand, could fit in just fine. Despite wearing nothing but traditional sarees, complicatedly draped dresses, for her first twenty seven years of existence, she found it natural to wear dresses and heels. She was going to trip in her heels and ruin her dress when she discovered that Krishna had not been promoted again. She had really been rooting for him this time. In the days leading up to today, she had been telling Krishna how nice it would be to take a vacation with his new pay grade. Reema had become so sick of all of her blonde American friends telling her about their getaways to the Bahamas at their weekly brunches. She too wanted to flip through pictures on her phone of her at an exotic location with her seemingly perfect family. That was all she had ever wanted her whole life- to make her life seem perfect. That’s why she moved to America- to make everyone in India think her life was going to be perfect. But, here she was, doing the same chores that she did at home in India. Only, this time, it was her own home. In India, she lived in a joint family, with 15 of her cousins. She never felt as if home was ever truly home. She didn’t even have her own room. She shared the small corner room with her parents and her older sister. She longed to be married, for that was the only way she could get a home that she could call her own. And, now, she finally had that, and she never wanted to return to the corner room. Today, was a celebration of how far she had come. With her elder son at the wheel, she grasped Krishna’s hand in the back seat of the car on the way to the restaurant. He looked away as he always did. His mind wasn’t on her; it was on his life past. He wanted to reach into his coat pocket and finally show her what he had. But, the surprise had to wait till the restaurant.
Outside the restaurant, Krishna called the family together. Ravi, Rohan, and Reema. All in a circle. They stood together, four equally lost versions of India and America mixed together. They held hands, in anticipation for the moment that was to come. It was time for him to present his wife with her gift. Or more, aptly, the family’s gift. In the pale moonlight, under the hopes and dreams of the twinkling lights, Krishna pulled out four one-way plane tickets to India. The majority of Ravi and Rohan’s college fund. A chance to return to the old, and start anew. A place miles away from the home they all knew together.