This is Pratima. She is from India. “I never liked Indian food in India. Whenever I would go out, I would have Chinese food, Italian food, etc. but never Indian food. After coming here, I am the one that drags my husband to Indian places… Suddenly I have new love for Indian food! (laughs)”
– – – – –
Growing up in a military family in India – a country renowned for its cultural diversity – Pratima has long been in love with discovering new places and meeting new cultures. So, when her husband Arvind was accepted in a PhD program at Georgia Tech in 2015, she was excited to join him on this new adventure in the United States. “When I was growing up in India, my father was in the Defense and we moved a lot, and I used to really be happy to be able to experience the other cultures in India. I think I’ve gone one level up now, not meeting just different regions of the same country, but people from different countries and I absolutely love that!” More than just a chance to experience the American culture and its people, however, moving to the university town of Atlanta, which attracts a vibrant mix of different ethnic and cultural groups, has offered Pratima a chance to befriend people from all around the world, especially through Georgia Tech’s International Spouse Group. She tells us that the group has been a great platform for her, as well as a place to meet other people who are all in the same boat as she is. “Before I knew about the Spouse Group, I had no idea that there were other people in the same situation as I am. Just the fact that there were and that they were all coming together once a week to talk to each other, etc. was a comforting feeling.”
Even though she is happy that she has made friends here in Atlanta, Pratima admits that these friendships don’t feel as close as the relationships she has with her good friends and family back home. For her, they are what she misses most about life in India and, while she tries to keep in touch with them as often as she can, she realizes that the distance between them has inevitably altered the nature of their relationship. “I’m sure that the saying ‘out of sight, out of mind’ has certain ground to it… When you move away from home, you are no longer part of the festivities and their everyday life and I’m sure that does affect your relationship.” Still, though change may be inevitable, it is not necessarily negative. For as long as she can remember, Pratima has always been hand in glove with her brother and, even now that they are separated by thousands of miles, he is still her main soundboard. Moreover, leaving home has led to a new appreciation of her mother and it has made the two of them closer than ever before. “When I was not married and didn’t have so many relationships to manage, I may have taken my mother’s hard work for granted, but after a point you realize that there is no mom here and that you have to do everything yourself. I think I have this epiphany every week: I am the mom of the house now, so I have to do it! (laughs)”
Pratima jokes that having watched so many American sitcoms, combined with the popularity of American culture among India’s younger generations, has prevented the expected culture shock of moving to the United States to really happen to her. Still, it would be a lie to state that certain elements of the American way of life did not manage to take her by surprise: from the difference between Mumbai’s active nocturnal life and Atlanta’s utter darkness after sunset at 9 pm, to being engaged in conversation by complete strangers on the street, Pratima is often enchanted by her new home. “I just love the spring here! India is a colorful country, but the color is on the people, in the clothes and in the festivals; but here, the colors may not be in the clothes, etc. but in the environment, in the city. The cityscape is quite colorful as well, with all the trees, etc… I’m already looking forward to fall!” For the couple, travelling is a big part of their life in the United States and in the short time they have been here, they have explored over 20 states and have enjoyed all that the country has to offer: from relaxing beaches on both coast, to fun-filled cross-country road trips and the beauty of nature in many of its national parks.
For Pratima, the beauty of Indian women lies in their ability to poise themselves on the cusp of tradition and modernity. Like them, she has also found a balance between the traditional values she grew up with and the lifestyle of the modern world. Even though she admits that she does not follow all of India’s traditional festivals since moving away from home, she still tries to incorporate some of her favorite ones into their life here. She still observes Karwa Chauth, a day in which married Hindu women traditionally fast from sunrise to moonrise for the long life of their husbands. “When the moon comes up – and it always takes a particularly long time on that day! – you see the moon through a sieve first, then you look at your husband through the sieve and then you break the fast; he will feed you some sweets, water, etc. You know, of course, it has nothing to do with his long life, but I think it is romantic in a way; you wear nice dresses, doll up a little bit and your husband has to pamper you the whole day! It’s a special day.” In India, Pratima loved her job as an HR professional in a strategic HR advisory firm and she was proud of the work she was doing there. Because she is not allowed to work in the United States at this moment, however, joining her husband in Atlanta meant assuming the more traditional role of homemaker in her new home in Atlanta. “In the beginning, I was so excited that I wouldn’t have to deal with the pressure of deadlines, long work hours etc. that come with having a job and that I would have all the time in the world for hobbies, travel, etc. My job in Mumbai was fun and exciting, but also very demanding, so I thought a break would be nice, but when I came here I realized that I hate sitting at home!” Now, Pratima’s philosophy is that if she can’t work, she will use her time in the United States to improve her professional qualifications and rethink her career options, as professional change was already in the cards for her, even in India. She has recently passed the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) and hopes to fulfill her dream of enrolling in a Management program at an American University, for which she is currently applying. “I always knew that if I had this time, I might as well study here and do something with my time, but once I came here, the law of inertia seemed to happen and oh my god, getting out of bed to open a book… It is so difficult! (laughs)” Pratima admits that she does not know whether they would like to stay in the United states long term and that it will depend heavily on the couple’s future career paths.
Ultimately, however, Pratima does not regret her decision to say goodbye to her old life in India and she has, at least for now, embraced Atlanta as her new home. “I think my husband will always appreciate that I left everything and came here for him and I feel a lot of gratitude that he often goes that extra mile to compensate. Even when we both lived in India, it was a long-distance relationship and we were really tired of the long distance, so both of us decided that I should come here. The fact that both of us are together now after living apart for so long helps me feel at home here.”
– – – – –
Interview and writing by Tineke Van Varenberg
Make up by Denise Batista
Interview and Photography by Sonal Sukheeja