|Portraits of desi damsels in various degrees of visa distress in the U.S.|
F, L, H, J... No, I haven’t forgotten the alphabet. These are merely the different letters that govern the lives and times of most desis in the U.S. That’s the coveted Green-Card-less desis. If you ar e a student, you have to contend with the J and F visas, while professionals battle it out in the H and L arenas. And since fixing marriages is a national sport (read obsession), the most familiar category up for discussion and debate on desi wives is the H4 visa status.
First, a little lesson in U.S. immigration. While the H4 visa allows spouses legal residence in the country, it does not permit them to work. So that’s pretty much a sure-fire route to turning the blushing bride into the bored and restless. Sure, you could study further but if you have already slogged through a Masters degree of your parent’s choosing, or worked in India, chances are that you are thinking, What! Not Again!
So while these MA (hons) BA (hons) three years work experience at the Times of India/O&M/P&G wives are cooling their heels at home, the novelty of marriage and living in a new place invariably rubs off and things become increasingly mundane. Add a mind-numbing routine of cooking and cleaning to the recipe and you are ready for an excruciating taste of ennui. So what are these bored wives to do?
The boredom manifests itself in interesting ways. Let’s go through a little sampling shall we? There are: the desi-party-throwing wives, the shop-till-I-drop wives, the my-husband-got-me-a-job-where-he-works wives and finally the I-am-no-longer-in-the-H4-wives-club –and-let-me-take-up-any-pause-in-conversation-to-reiterate-that wives.Enthusiastic bunch
The desi-party-throwing wives are usually the most enthusiastic. You would have to be, to invite over 40 people to your home, entertain and feed them and then clean up afterwards. They are also a storehouse of information. I mean, how many people do you know who can tell you when Dussehra, Diwali, Chaat puja fall and when to perform Shri Maha Lakshmi Homam? They know all the best catering deals in town. They’ll throw a party as frequently as the falling dollar makes the news.
They’ll invite all their friends, acquaintances and their acquaintance’s acquaintances. Everyone at the party will be desi. The women will dress in their most garish shaadi-ka-jodha, complete with maang-tikka, while the men will wear their jazziest kurta or Hawaiian shirt. (which is fast becoming some kind of desi style statement, right up there with the white shoes) These wives compete with each other to host over-the-top Karvachauth or Diwali parties or ones where unsuspecting hosts are subject to torturous party games.
Then there are the shop-till-I-drop wives. They have probably hit all the malls in the entire continent. They live, breathe and eat shopping. They drop off their husbands to work and begin their retail therapy for six straight hours. Having scourged all the sale racks (desis are cheap, cheap, cheap remember? http://www.hindu.com/mag/2008/06/08/ stories/2008060850070300.htm) in all the big stores, they form bands of two or four and head out for the outlet malls.
They switch off their mobiles and shop with the single minded dedication and focus of an ant saving its winter hordes. Why they hoard 10 sets of crockery, frosty pink (!) glass horses and more shoes and handbags than they can count is beyond me. But they are always the ones to hit on for information on sales and steals. You might also see them rummaging through someone else’s cast-offs at garage sales.Good economic sense
The my-husband-got-me-a-job-where-he-works wives are probably the epitome of sati-savitris. She’ll hang on to every word that drops from her beloved’s mouth. Even if she has a degree in Political Science and a desire to pursue it further, she follows her husband’s advice and takes up a Computer course at the local community college. That helps hubby dearest place her in the company where he works and where he can bump up a favour with the guy in HR who did the same thing for his wife. No problems of different work and commute timings. It all works out to good economical gains.
She takes every opportunity to tell you how absolutely wonderful her husband is. She will vociferously defend pati-parmeshwar’s taste for Budweiser and Black Sabbath even if all she drinks is the occasional diet coke and her musical taste never went beyond the Titanic sound track.
And finally there are the I-am-no-longer-in-the-H4-wives-club –and-let-me-take-up-any-pause-in-conversation-to-reiterate-that wives. These wives see being in the H4 wives club as comparable to having the bubonic plague (or maybe even the bird flu). They go to great lengths to enrol themselves in some academic programme merely so that they can change their visa status.
Ask them a simple “How are you?” and be prepared for a three-hour-long saga of how the prized J or F visa has been obtained, how they got their status revised and how they gleefully discarded their H4 visa. In reality, of course, changing status is really more hassle than it’s worth and you effectively remain a dependent. They will talk pitifully of other H4 wives and reiterate once again how the prized J or F visa has been obtained, how they got their status revised and how they gleefully discarded their H4 visa.
So some important questions remain. Does boredom lead to regression? Why on earth would someone buy pink (pink I tell you!) frosty glass horses? Does she really listen to his heavy metal music collection? Can you throttle someone in mid sentence? While these musings may not encompass all the H4 wives, it does give you a fair picture of the desi damsel in visa distress.