In 2006, my husband and I had decided not to move to the US. We wanted to be close to our family and the US did not seem all that exciting. We had amazing jobs, close friends and lived the life of the 1%. Why would we leave?
I was burnt out from my job. An opportunity arose for a six month sabbatical. I had go with him to California as he set up the west coast operations of his Indian company. Six months of vacationing, site seeing and gallivanting sounded good at the time. 6 days in to the “vacation” and I wanted to do more than sit in my hotel room and watch HBO. But I had no papers yet, so I started volunteering with a non profit as their marketing consultant. When my papers came, I became a paid consultant for the same company.
Six months became 15 months, became two years. We were still planning to return to India. We did not even buy things that might seem like essentials to others. Instead we spent our money and weekends exploring California. We would take off on road trips at a moment’s notice. There were no weddings, thread ceremonies or birthday parties to attend on the weekends. We knew two couples outside of work and had no interest in making new friends. We had enough good friends…10000 miles away. California was just a stop in the exciting train ride of our young lives. That is what we believed.
Once we realized that we weren’t going back (we are still grappling with that decision), we decided to put some roots down. We got long term jobs, bought a house, got “settled in”. We still did not make friends. I always believed that true friendship is not a matter of give and take and the transactional type of friendship is shallow and not worth the effort. Life long, meaningful and deep friendships had spoiled me. I did want to do mediocre. I wanted all the greatest hits:
Yelling my name from below my building to have long conversations
Talking till the wee hours of the morning till I lose what remnants of sleep I have
Dragging me to go shopping for my birthday because I hate shopping
Standing outside the railway station and letting many trains go by before saying Bye
Feeding me roti and rajma when I get sick (try it, it is really hard to do with grace)
Getting me multiple copies of the soundtrack to “Bombay” because I hinted that A R Rahman is god.
I wanted it all.
I figured all my friendships were made while studying. I had spent large amounts of time with my friends and that was not possible at work. At work, people were amazing, but they already had friends. They didn’t need to spend their weekends with me as well. There was only one place one could find that kind of friendship: school. And since I never went to an American school, I did not have the friendships that come with it. The people in a desi’s life that got the same racial treatment you did, the same prejudices, the same privileges, the same taco-hell tacos you did. The people that got you.
Getting a job was easy, I had my brains and my education to help with that. Getting a house was easy. I had my preparedness and my research to help with that. Getting settled in was easy. I had my empathy and assimilation to help with that. But getting friends stumped me. When my husband walks in to an Indian grocery store, there is every chance he will run in to an old college friend. He is from IIT, we live in the Bay Area. Enough said. No one I knew in school has ventured this far west.
I have even relaxed my criteria to 3 simple things:
They would have to live in SF or one of the accessible suburbs
They would have to figure out how to have conversations that are not about Indian food
They would have to not assume that my spouse or theirs is automatically added on to the friendship (this is not a car rental).
But something tells me that this by itself is a long list, considering I have not found a single person that would satisfy all three. Really, am I chasing a unicorn here?