Asha got off the Continental Boeing 747 with a constipated stomach and a flutter in her heart. She had just crossed the proverbial seven seas over a fifteen hour non stop flight from New Delhi.
She was in America.
The past two weeks had been a whirlwind. She had met Ravi on 20th Nov, and ten days later they were husband and wife.
Ravi was a strapping 30 year old vice president at Goldman Sachs. He had been lapped up from NYU’s Stern school where he had been among the top performers in his MBA class. He had managed to hold off his mother’s insistence for the past few years, but now that he had gotten the promotion he so desperately wanted, there was no stopping her.
All he had to do was take a picture with his Lexus in clean clothes and send to his tech savvy mom. She set up his profile on Shaadi.com and set about finding a suitable match for her son. A shortlist of 25 was prepared and Ravi was summoned to headquarters in Mumbai.
Of all the doctors, engineers, and finance types that his mom had shortlisted Ravi liked Asha most. They got married a week later. There was no time for a honeymoon in a two week leave.
The newly weds were in New york.
Asha used to teach math to high schoolers back in Mumbai. She would have to find work once she was in America. Alas, she didn’t know jack about the visa and related vagaries involved in living the American dream. Ravi was still a few years from getting his green card, and as his dependent, she was in the US on an H4 visa.
She was not allowed to work. Not for money. Not legally, at least.
There were three options. She could enroll in school and get the Phd she had wanted for so long. She could wait for Ravi to get his green card which would allow her to work. She could find an employer willing to sponsor her work visa and wait till that came through. This of course wasn’t just time consuming, but also potentially involved going through a lottery.
None of these options offered an immediate solution to her problem. She needed to do something meaningful with her life. Illegal immigrants were being given citizenship and qualified professionals such as her were being subjected to the probabilistic game of a lottery. The ironies of life!
Asha did not lose her asha yet. She was an optimist, and Ravi had prepared her (somewhat) for this possibility. For now, she could just take it easy and stay home till she figured out a plan.
The first month was spent being homesick, and putting her messy Jersey City apartment in order. Her husband was smart, but his apartment looked more like a hostel. There was a lot of cleaning to be done. Soon the apartment was tide clean. Asha wasn’t homesick anymore. Now what?
Asha was lost. She felt trapped in a vortex that the US government had created for the hapless wives of immigrant workers. She wasn’t entitled to a social security number. As a consequence she could not get a credit card. She could not get a driving license. She of course couldn’t work.
They made sure dependents stayed that way.
The husband worked long hours. The wife was used to a busy life herself, but now suddenly she was stuck inside the four walls of her Newport apartment with nothing to do.
After months of desperate solitude, she managed to make a new friend. Veena lived in the same complex but it took four months for their paths to cross. Anyway, cross they did. Veena also was a H4 wife, and had been one for over two years. She was a software engineer, and had failed to get a visa this year. Thanks United States Lottery!
Asha’s life became a teeny bit more interesting. She now had someone to talk to. Someone who understood the pain she was going through. They became close friends. The long crib sessions to discuss the senseless immigration policies of the US helped mitigating the anguish she felt.
Small mercy for Asha and Veena – finding others in their position. Many H4 wives have had to live their lives in solitude with no recourse to alternatives outside the home. Socializing in new cities in a foreign culture can be tough.
American dream some might say. Ask the H4 wives.