A mandatory conversation before you leave India for higher studies in the US

In 1999, Pappu Patligali “passed out” of the New Elite Institute of Technology with a job in hand. He had been recruited on-campus by Technotomorrow, an IT firm that promised to send gullible prospects on-site to their Connecticut branch to work on VLP (very-low priority) coding solutions for the Y2K problem. Technotomorrow wasn’t innovative and they certainly didn’t pay well, but their share price kept skyrocketing. They had adopted a simple business model: they hired engineers straight from the state colleges for as cheap as possible, trained then in the minimum skills necessary to do the job, and worked them until they quit for better paying jobs. A constant supply of fresh engineers ensured that they could undercut the major IT competitors, and a cadre of perennially-angry managers with no technical skills made sure that deliverables were always on time and on budget.

After six months of working in a converted-godown in NOIDA, Pappu decided he had had enough. He called it quits. In the meantime, he had looked up graduate engineering programs in the US and had taken the GRE. He hired a professional editor to write his required “statement of purpose” and letters of recommendation. He applied to twenty graduate programs and got  a few nibbles. Most of them panned out into “we regret to inform you” letters. however, after an extended dance with a potential Master’s thesis advisor at a very small program, he received a coveted letter of admission.

By the time Pappu was ready to leave for the US, he was very well-prepared. He had taken the necessary medical checkups, bought cheap textbooks for courses, found temporary housing and potential roommates, and contacted his advisor. The Office of International Students at his school had been particularly helpful in making sure that he would have everything he needed to make a smooth transition.

Or so he thought. What the Office had not told him was that he was about to have The Conversation.

The Conversation

For Pappu The Conversation happened the day before his flight out of India. Pappu was sitting in his room at the time trying to fit 200 grams of besan laddoos into a pressure cooker. The pressure cooker was going to go into Suitcase Number One which was exactly 200 grams less than the maximum permissible weight for checked-in baggage.

“Make sure you have the Gita and the framed picture of Guruji with you at all times,” said Pappu’s father who was now standing in front of the door.

“I have put the tulsichandan in his moneybag,” said Pappu’s mother agitatedly as she joined him.

Pappu was a bit upset that his parents had been going through his things and had inserted various divine charms without his knowledge. Still, he didn’t dare to defy his father or to hurt his mother’s feelings especially since he was about to leave the country.

“Pappu, remember your heritage,” his father continued. “You come from a line of rishis who wrote the Rig Vedas. Our ancestors were solving abstract mathematical problems when savages were roaming the rest of the world.”

Pappu sat still. He had heard these stories before, but was puzzled why his father was mentioning them to him now.

“You know, Pappu. You have an opportunity that we never got. You can study modern advances and of course you will apply your knowledge when you come back in India.”

It had already been decided that Pappu would be coming back, although no one had told him.

Pappu’s father cleared his throat and the continued. “Remember to recite the Gayatri Mantra every day during your bath. Never touch alcohol and other impurities. Stay pure and eat only satwik food. Remember cow is like your mother.” (Pappu was glad that his father didn’t say it the other way around).

There was silence. Pappu’s father stopped for a minute and lowered his voice. “And remember… don’t go in that direction.”

What was his father talking about?Which direction?” asked Pappu.

“That direction,” repeated his father as if it was self-evident what he was referring to.

After a pause, Pappu’s father continued. “Chatranang adhayanam tapa. You know son that there are four ashramas in life. Bhahmacharya is for studying. There will be many enticements in foreign lands. Of the six vices – kaama, krodha, lobha, moha, mada and maatsaryakaama is the worst. It is like a fire that engulfs a man’s soul. Don’t go in that direction.”

When Pappu finally understood what his parents were hinting at, his face turned bright red. Just the previous day his friend Bhola has infuriated him by saying “Going abroad, Pap-pu. Everything there is open, no?” At the time Bhola was winking and nudging like a professional Kathakali maestro. But you could expect Bhola to say stuff like that. Bhola was a philanderer. These were his parents.

“I want you to touch your mother’s feet and vow that you will not go in that direction,” said Pappu’s father.

Pappu was uncomfortable. Not because he had any impure thoughts in his mind at that time, but because he was being asked for an agnipariksha by his parents. Pappu revolted in his mind. He would not put up with this embarrassing situation. He froze.

All three of them were quiet for what seemed like hours. Pappu’s parents were staring at him trying to gauge his reaction. Pappu was looking straight at the ground and hoping it would open up to engulf him like it had swallowed Sita.

Pappu’s mother finally spoke. “No, I know my son. He is not like that. He is being a bit shy. Our Pappu has grown up.” She laughed nervously. “He is a good boy. He will study in abroad only, not do any mischief. We know what is best and will fix one bride for him from our caste.”

Pappu’s father nodded. Having somewhat convinced themselves that they had done their duty, Pappu’s parents left the room as mysteriously as they had come in.

Pappu thought to himself, “what the hell just happened?”

More of the Charmed Life of Pappu Patligali here.

© Text, 2010-2012, Anirban

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32 thoughts on “A mandatory conversation before you leave India for higher studies in the US

  1. Awesome post… I heard all of this when I left home 7 years ago and again last year when my siblings went off 🙂

    The talk that I got was ‘Remember there are many distractions, don’t succumb to them. you are going there for a purpose’

  2. Very good post and so apt…i am very much a Pappu’s mother myself with a slight difference…i’d rather my son should choose one bride for himself because my search will be an exercise in futility…no one will be good enough if i went out on a lookout.Enjoyed the true oh so true conversation thoroughly 🙂

    • @shivani so you don’t mind if your son came back with a blond haired, blue eyed Wisconsin farm girl?

      How about letting him visit strip clubs every Friday afternoon and bringing home a girlfriend called Crystal or Candy or both ?

      How about letting your son imbibe, on a regular basis, some of the more exotic herbs and mushrooms that are available so readily in US campuses

      How about he decides lives the rest of his life with a Mexican kid called Juan or even an Indian kid called Janardhan ?

      Something not so controversial : how about letting your son drown himself in credit card debt and get to a point where he’ll never get out?

      The point the author is trying to make is that Indian parents will be Indian parents and will pass on similar words of advice to their progeny

      It’s easy to claim that you will let your son choose, but when push comes to a shove, differences WILL crop up..

    • Shivani, many of the questions that Yogesh posed are rhetorical in nature and broadly directed (and not at you personally). Those of us that have had any sort of similar conversation may have similar questions in our minds. I wanted to make this clear so that you didn’t feel that you compelled to answer them. You are not being attacked by Yogesh, “parenthood” is under fire.

      There are desi parents who are very liberal when it comes to others’ children but super-orthodox when it comes to the personal matters of their own children. On the other hand, there are parents who talk tough, but are flexible enough to support their children when push comes to shove. It is hard in India though where what someone does is everyone’s personal business!

      For example, I’ve seen people disowned by parents because of differences in caste, state of origin (in India), and religion. I still read about honor killings ever other day. On the other end of the spectrum, I have a few friends are in interracial relationships that have been accepted by both sets of parents (usually after some initial apprehension).

      As they say, “your mileage may vary”.

      😀

      • Thanks Anirban, for clarifying that. I did not mean to flame Shivani personally or offend in any way

        I too was thinking of the people I know who have been disowned by parents who claimed to be broad-minded before their offspring’s decisions.

        What I mean to say is that while your sentiment of being open an honest and trusting of your kid is shared by many parents, when it actually comes to it, they opinions do change in a majority of cases. Don’t ask me to quote statistics.. I’ll just make them up 🙂

        Nothing personal.. its just a general observation

  3. That was hilarious! I particularly liked ” Remember cow is like your mother.” (Pappu was glad that his father didn’t say it the other way around).” Have you read Anurag Mathur’s ‘The Inscrutable Americans’? All about the travails of an Indian student in America. Very funny indeed.

    • Thanks for stopping by, Deepa. I haven’t read Anurag Mathur’s book, but I’m thinking that I need to start writing fast before I get scooped on every book idea that I have as well. 😉

  4. @Yogesh thanks for that and i understand what you have to say but i believe in something called Sanskaar and just like Pappu’s mother i believe he should not do some mischief but i also belong to the category where if he tells me about some non Indian girl he would want to marry then both of us will definitely not make life hell for him.Finally parents want their kids to be happy.i knew this only when i became a parent and there are many around me who have shed their orthodoxy and are ok with this.
    The parent of either a girl or a boy when they go on a lookout trust me they never find anyone perfect.They do settle down eventually because they want their kids to get married but knowing ur child’s likes and dislikes finding one for a perfect match is rather an onerous task.If the marriage clicks it’s ok if it doesn’t it’s the kids who turn around and say,”as parents u forced the wrong one on me… u ruined my life….”
    Having made their own decisions they stick by it.As it is parents are always on the firing line these days…this part i’d rather have them having their own go if they want to, otherwise we are always there.
    @Anirban thanks for softening Yogesh’s arguement and taking a more rational stance of… there is this and that.
    enjoyed every bit of this discussion…seriously! thanks Yogesh& Anirban

  5. I enjoyed this post very much. Took me back 11 years in time. In my own experience, after the lecture, was reminded of Mahatma Gandhi his ideals and his “promise” to his mother.

    Something in common with Pappu, looks like both of us left India in 1999. Cheers!!!

  6. “working in converted-godown” sounds familiar.Yes i am a soft-where engineer too 😀 …
    These conversations didn’t happen at our home but i am sure some if some of my friends read this, they would think you eavesdropped on their family discussions :D..

  7. &*^%$#@
    I didn’t get any lectures – neither from parents nor from the only surviving grandparent.
    I’ll forward this post to my parents and request a lecture from them the next time I’m in Kolkata.

    (Result of mandatory proof-reading: “Pappu’s father cleared his throat and the_N_ continued”)

  8. Gayatri Mantra every day during your bath? Didn’t know that. 😀

    “Remember cow is like your mother.” (Pappu was glad that his father didn’t say it the other way around).”

    hahaha

    I didn’t get any advice but it was a fun read. 🙂

  9. G*ra – brilliant. From personal experience, I should add that The Sendoff Conversation is as true now as it was 20 years ago and, I daresay, 30, 40, 50 years ago.

    This is a ritual middle class desis have been putting their phoren bound kids through for centuries.

    – B*buda

    • Thanks for reading and replying, B*buda…

      There are other variants of the Sendoff Conversation that desi parents give to their children going to college in India too!

      Hope all is well at your end.

      🙂

  10. I love the name ‘Pappu Patligali’. You have developed quite a character here…sometimes I get the feeling that Mr Patligali has a lot in common with a certain Anirban .

    Anyhow, I’ve not gone abroad, and I don’t remember having ‘the conversation’ with my parents. I have no qualms about going in ‘that direction’ either.

    But that may be because I’m slightly anti-social and I dislike all the “you must do this because it’s what the society expects” crap.

    • Thanks. I started off with one or two posts featuring Pappu including the one on writing a letter in Indian English. He does have a lot in common with me, but also resembles others that I know. Pappu is a thoughtful everyman. He tries his best, but always finds himself in the middle of humorous everyday situations.

      The benefit of writing about a fictional character in the third person is, of course, that I can embellish a bit.

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