I have become a socially isolated individual.
There, I said it. You have to realize that for the “gregarious and extroverted” me, that is an incredibly hard admission to make, almost an embarrassment.
Before I turned eighteen, I had studied in seven different schools in six different locations in India, schools that ranged from the poorest to the best-equipped, in locations that ranged from small towns with crumbling infrastructure to buzzing cities with chic neighborhoods. There are very few activities I missed while in school – be it acting, writing, public speaking, drawing, singing, or playing the violin (the last two, most people wished I would stop). I was there everywhere, literally, everywhere. I even contested and won elections to my college student union. I did several odd jobs to make a few extra bucks – selling random stuff, hosting TV shows, even modeling for unknown brands. My post-grad was a residential program with students from all over the country.
So, do you see what a “typical” friend looked like growing up? Unlikely. There was no typical. No typicals in what they studied, how they looked, who they prayed to, what they liked to eat, what they did for a living, or how much money they made. Some of my best friends were artists, copy writers, camera men, journalists, salesmen, software engineers, accountants – and they were not just friends I met occasionally, these are friends I would hang out with, a lot.
I have lived in the US now for some fifteen years. America, the “melting point” of cultures from around the world, right? Wrong, at least for me.
My American social life has extended from desperate attempts at integrating and belonging, ranging from participating in gay parades in San Francisco, to preparing for football Sunday parties with Spark notes from B&N…to a complete embrace of Diwali and Krishna Jayanti celebrations at the local temple trying to connect with Indians here (and I am hardly religious). My professional life has ranged from technology consulting, to, well, business-technology consulting, with sporadic ventures into jobs that looked and felt like…consulting.
In the last years, I have made….one, may be two, or three…no, at best two new friends who are not Indian immigrants working in the IT industry, and plenty of others who I call friends. “Friends” who I can meet for coffee occasionally, for lunch if I get lucky, and dinner perhaps never. Friends who have visited me at home once during my housewarming party, and who I have probably visited once over a Christmas party.
I’ve spent the last few weeks and months thinking about how on earth did I let this happen. How did I, of all people, allow myself to be so socially isolated. Some part of it might have to do with not having kids, since having kids means having common challenges as their friends’ parents, and common challenges do bring people together. A more honest perspective that explains this fallout seems two-fold to me:
(One) As a society of immigrants from different parts of the world, we couldn’t be more different from each other in our backgrounds, challenges, fears and aspirations. I am one of the many stereotypical Indians who came here came with a work visa, with a reasonably good pay starting off, and a decent level of job security. Our worries are about how long the Green Card process takes, not, if we would even qualify for a Green Card. We are insensitive, apathetic, and only superficially aware of the struggles of other immigrant or minority communities.
(Two) As for the “locals” as we call them, people who have been here for generations, they have enough going on staying in touch with their own families, and extended families. I feel like I’m only intruding into their lives even when I’m invited in.
Sometimes, it feels like we are in a permanent temporary state of living in the US.
So, my universe has gone from the variety of sub-cultures, languages, socio-economic conditions, educational backgrounds, and professions in India – to a small and fairly homogenous subset of India – the IT professional, or at most, their spouses from ancillary backgrounds.
I really just shrunk my society, didn’t I?