From New Jersey, With Love
It all started on a summer afternoon in August. I was walking towards the university’s auditorium for the graduation walk along with a hundred other black robes, gowns and golden scarves (looking like the dance of death in The Seventh Seal). I was in elite company. Batch-mates who had completed semesters of internships in companies, had landed with lucrative jobs, gone on ocean cruises, brought their families across the world to witness their achievement, had driven in convertibles and dined on roof tops of skyscrapers.
Among them was I, who had accidentally deleted a solitary copy of the resume from the desktop the previous night after making painstaking additions to it.
In short I was still looking for the promised land where manna would fall from heaven. A week later, long after having been rudely awakened from the dream of pioneering research I had started looking for the lowlands of Dice and Monster. And one day by the power of whoever’s-up-there I got a call from an American dude, Jigs!
Jigs said he had a perfect opportunity for me if he was convinced that I had a thorough understanding of a certain “technology”. He only needed a 6-month commitment. My accommodation and food would be taken care of. The location being a city in the north-east of the US. In short, Jigs was Moses. He was taking me to the land of milk and honey. I noticed that Jigs sounded surprisingly Indian when he pronounced words like “opportunity”, “thorough” and “accommodation”. At other times he was the occidental dude again. Given my situation, I couldn’t care less if it was a red-butted baboon on the other end of the line.
So I flew to Jigland. Those in the know may have guessed it already. New Jersey.
Jigs had provided me a number that I needed to call for pickup from the airport. After having left four missed calls and two voice-mails, just as my doubts were taking root a mini-van screeched to a halt in front of me. Out came a sombre looking dark-skinned man wearing a doodhwallah mustache. I was not surprised when he introduced himself as, Ramu. Ramu had three white streaks on his forehead (as if three F-16s had flown their sorties across it).
Not knowing what rank this soldier held in the company I introduced myself well. Ramu wasn’t interested. He simply ushered me to the rear of the van like a professional kidnapper. The next half hour was spent in eerie silence among cans of milk, frozen meat, bags of apples, bananas, and baskets of vegetables as the van sped past the busy city-life. Now, I agree that the past few months of fruitlessness at the university had reduced my self-esteem. But never in that time had I envisioned myself as a future vegetable vendor in some obscure farmer’s market in North America. I was afraid fate was playing a dirty jig again.
We reached a narrow road with two-storeyed apartment complexes on either sides. There were huddles of inquisitive stares from every door. I realized that I was a newbie in town and was being paraded in front of the pros like that scene from The Shawshank Redemption. I secretly wished a different fate. I noticed with a degree of satisfaction that they were all Indians. As if SRK had landed in town with his million side-actors and paid all the gora to take a hike. As the van stopped, there was a stampede. It took a while for me to realize that I was not the prize everyone were fighting for. The stuff Ramu had brought in his van was their weekly ration. I must say it was an awful lot. People were carrying dozens of bananas, crates of egg, and bottles of milk back to their apartments. Some were even demanding certain brand of corn-flakes, snacks and biscuits for breakfast. In that commotion, Ramu unceremoniously dropped me and fled to safety. I barely heard him saying, “room 18”.
I picked my luggage and walked towards the door that once had metal numbers saying “18” but not any more. A dozen hand shakes greeted me. I was told that I would be the thirteenth inhabitant of the apartment, originally designed for six. I set down my luggage, shared my story with my new roommates and confessed for having naively believed that I was joining an actual job. They laughed themselves silly and some even fell from their seats at the mention of a “job”. They pointed at each other recounting the months each of them had stayed here waiting for a job (the top being 18-months). Then the venerable Anna, named so by virtue of his seniority-by-stay at the place very modestly explained to me the following; “Babai (in Telugu), this is a consultancy.
First they train you in a technology of their choice. Then they put years of experience in your resume according to their will. They you go on bench and wait for interview calls. On the call you defend everything on the resume. Finally, if selected you go to work and do justice to that resume. Half of your salary goes to them. With the other half you can live your American Dream. Fair enough?” I wished my fear of becoming a vegetable vendor had come true. That night, Mr. Jack Daniels lulled me to sleep in a way only he could. The next morning I dressed up and went to confront that bastard, Jigs.
Jigs turned into Jignesh Patel in less time than the frog must have taken to turn into a handsome prince. The accent fell apart very quickly as we braced for hand-combat. He assured me that a certain technology was doing very good in the market recently and soon they were looking to place twenty “heads”. I reminded him of our earlier conversation and all the assurances that he had given me regarding the “job”. He faced all my ire with the nonchalance of a professional con artist. Finally, he handed me a couple of CDs and asked that I go through them in the training room.
In the training room there were a dozen more diligent “trainees” preparing for the battle ahead. With headsets on and eyes glued to the computer screen they were acquainting themselves with technologies that they may not have heard only a week ago. They were blindly preparing to defend the lies on their resume that may already have reached the hands of some company looking for expert consulting. Each had a six-page fabricated resume to commit to memory. I crept back to the apartment telling myself that it was no wonder that my emaciated resume was finding no takers.
Back in the apartment things were merrier though. Anna was having a party, along with Venky, Raghu and Malle (all names changed). Here was a creed of men who knew the murk they were in and had learnt to opiate themselves from it. They had long lost the interest of looking for jobs. They were enjoying the “free lodging, free food” part of the bargain. They did odd jobs all day like working at a mall or attending a grocery store or manning a gas-station to fill their pockets with enough green bills. At night they partied. An American dream of a kind I must confess. I joined the guys in their merriment. Knowing that they loved a nice chicken meal (but did not know to cook) I set myself the task of cooking a chicken curry for the dozen. It gave me an odd satisfaction of doing something useful for someone other than myself. I spent the night regretting it though as the apartment reverberated with the snores and winds of a dozen bellies filled to brim with that curry.
In the two months that I spent at this place, I realized how similar it was in social structure to the US penitentiaries that are portrayed in so many Hollywood movies. True there are no Mexican, Negro, or Caucasian factions. But there sure are the Gults, the Gujjus, the Mallus, and off course the Northies. Each abiding by a code of allegiance and secrecy. However, every time a “someone” got a job, all factions would come together to congratulate the soldier. On the day of his parting sympathies and good wishes would pour freely for him. He would need both in plenty defending the heavy burden of a six-page resume. I could only imagine the plight of the poor soul shouting “Freedom!” from his office seat like Mel Gibson in Braveheart.
Every night I stayed there my resolve to get away grew stronger. I kept applying for jobs and preparing for interviews. Ramu used to visit us every morning to say “hulllo”. I soon discovered that he was counting heads to make sure no one had left in the darkness of the night.
Finally, they day of my anointment arrived. I was ceremoniously handed my six-page resume by Jigs. I could barely believe it. Every technology under the blue sky was listed there. I had worked on them all. I was an “expert” in most if not “exceptional”. I had worked in three firms in the US and two back home. And, there was no mention of the Masters’ degree that I had painstakingly pursued for the past two years. That had to make way for two years of concocted industry experience. I would be interviewed in two days time where I must be straight faced about the lies that I now held in my hands. I went to Anna’s room and broke the news to the guys. They exclaimed in unison, “we’re very happy for you ra!” and started planning for a party. I told them, “I want to leave this place tonight”. Somehow, it did not come as a surprise to them. They had known me more in two months than I had expected them to. That night I packed my bags, opened a bottle of whiskey took the first sip and left the rest for the wolves. I left Jigland in the darkness of night under the watchful eyes of Anna. I left for greener pasture, where perhaps even my nightmare of becoming a vegetable vendor could bear fruit!
PS: This author is known to hallucinate. Therefore the above incident may or may not be from the author’s own experience. The characters certainly are fabricated. The author suggests you read the article in zest and not to read too much into it.