A NEW LIFE
Asha sat at her desk staring at the computer screen. There was a clatter of human movement telling her the days work had begun as papers and files made their appearance on desks and filing cabinet drawers clanked open and shut. She could already hear the muffled conversations coming from seemingly endless cubicles in this open plan office space. Just over the top of a partition separating her cubicle from the one next to hers on his aisle a man was arguing loudly with his wife. Realizing his exposure his voice toned down, so the remainder of that conversation was a muffled mix of voices. He must have been on speaker phone she mused to herself. Most inconsiderate of him.
She hated this temporary office and the circumstances that brought her here. Where was that high-rise office she’d dreamed about? The set up was similar in some respects to the office she’d worked at in Mumbai in that the layout was somewhat the same and partitions and furnishings similar though made locally to specifications of the head office she now worked at in New York. But it was the atmosphere she missed. Here movements were measured and private as each transported their personal environment to the office and protected it to emerge mechanically and do business with management in their fully enclosed offices with marvellous views from tenth story complex overlooking the city. She remembered the pioneer social scientist Toffler’s predictions part of a course she studied at university. Would you believe it they were still using the out of date Asian edition reprints for some of their supplementary reading. Toffler had offered the society of the future would be one of the “hurry up handshake” where busy people in a nod to civility shook hands as they went past pushing the one they greeted fleetingly behind them as they went. In other words, too busy for personal warm interaction.
Not so in India. She smiled as she thought of the little clusters around cubicles discussing the latest Hindi movie or some other event tamasha the topic of conversation for the day. That is before supervisors ranged the corridors to herd them back to their individual cells where they continued their discussions over top of the cubicle partitions while they worked at breakneck speed to catch up. They got their work done though. At that time the dreaded eve teasers would linger to make snide comments as they took their work in progress to supervisor offices for suggestions and approval to be rebuffed sometimes in irritation and sometimes with stinging rebuke to their masculinity in revenge. Irritating then, but something she now missed as part of a living breathing vibrant office. This one lacked that vibrancy she thought. The head office was a sterile place.
Asha remembered their extended family large bungalow on Malibar Hill overlooking the Arabian Sea. Generations of her extended family co-habited and enjoyed each other’s company with occasional fights over the pecking order within the extended family. Society had it all nailed down, that pecking order from ancient times, but now and then there’d be a challenge to the established culture particularly from those who’d studied abroad. They were all very comfortable with servants to call on and vehicles to be called for when needed. It had been a very satisfying upbringing. University had exposed her to modern ideas to fanaticise her mind with ambitions not easy to achieve as a woman. They were fighting against established culture.
One of her brothers had returned from The States with his surprise American bride who was horrified at what was expected of her within that undivided family unit. Her father had been embarrassed as a suitable bride had been chosen from distantly related family connections and they were waiting for her brother to return from his studies at MIT before arranging the wedding. There’d been much loss of face, and a hasty expulsion to Dubai where her father had connections.
To mollify the offended party a hasty compromise was offered. Asha would be married to their son Anil who now worked in New York and was eying off the local damsels to the consternation of his parents. The casual remark she was to be married at the next most auspicious time calculated shocked her. She’d just been offered a supervisory role and coveted one of those enclosed offices with the fabulous views. One day she’d make it there she’d thought at the time. Now her ambitions were dashed.
Asha remembered asking for some information about Anil, but that kind of information had not been considered necessary. It was enough the families had agreed to the transaction and dowry agreed upon. Asha’s role was to cooperate and take her place as his wife. The ceremony would be held in Mumbai and Anil would return to New York to work on her visa. She remembered the half-hearted preparations and the brief introduction days before the wedding. She’d been pleasantly surprised and found him easy to talk to, perhaps it wouldn’t be a bad match after all? She was further encouraged when Anil kept in constant touch but was still upset at having to give up her ambition at the office though mollified when word came through head office could use someone with her experience there with the potential to travel between New York and Asia for local training assignments when necessary. She’d have to be oriented to that new role.
So as Asha continued at the Mumbai divisional office and the waiting time to join her new husband dragged on beyond six months, she thought to get help from the office. She was amazed that head office worked a seeming miracle and informed her an appropriate working visa could be arranged within weeks by them classifying her as an experienced administrator needed at the head office for international liaison. She did not share this with her family or Anil wanting to surprise them when the visa came through for her to enter the US. She’d patted herself on the back anticipating a happy Anil perhaps meeting her at the airport and them commencing married life together. He’d expressed regrets the visa situation was taking time to resolve and had kept in daily contact with her by email and facetime. In consultation with her office a date was set for departure overseas and with only a few days to go she broke the news to her family. This news was greeted with a combination of anger and dismay to think this had been done without family input. But on the day of departure the whole clan accompanied her to the airport for the farewell. She’d told them to keep it a secret as she wanted to surprise Anil who she was certain would complement her for her intelligence and skill solving her difficult visa problem.
So, when she arrived at the airport and had been cleared for entry after a thorough examination of papers carried with her she sought an internet café and contacted Anil. She still remembered her message.
“Hi Anil, guess what? I’m in NY and at the airport. I guess this will be a surprise, but the office arranged everything knowing you may need help getting me in. They expect me to work for them in return and I know you’d casually mentioned we should both work for a while to save up for our own apartment not a rented one. What do you want me to do, wait for you or contact the office to see if they have transportation to get me to where you want me to go?”
There’d been a half hour delay and then the message came in response.
“You’re quite a joker Asha, how’s things there in Mumbai?
Asha was quite taken back at this response. Perhaps she should have prepared him as it was obvious he had no idea she was really in the country. Looks like her family had kept the secret for a change. She smiled at the thought. She missed them already.
“No joke Anil, I really am in NY and I’m quite tired after this tedious journey. What do you want me to do?”
To be continued.
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