My parents are humble and generous people, some of the original 1960s desi settlers of the Indian community. When Dad first moved to Minnesota, desis in the snow were sparse, mostly men like Dad, “uncles” in graduate school at the University of Minnesota. Growing up, my brother and I were dragged to bhangra dance lessons practicing for the Festival of Nations and religious functions.
After Dad set up his architectural practice, the doctor and businessman uncles hired him to design their posh suburban homes, then refused to pay fees (I guess this is the despicable way the rich stay rich). The unethical uncles knew Dad was too dignified to beg for his fees, which caused Dad to slowly retreat from our community.
Spending 30 years of your life watching “your own people” behave like this makes Desi Girl suspicious when the uncles call the office looking for Dad. When I see the greasy, pig-faced uncles at the mall or restaurants, I go out of my way to avoid them. But, God bless my parents, who are karmic-ly wired to take in, what I lovingly refer to as “desi refugees” --- students, H1-B visa recipients and new hardworking desi immigrants to Minnesota. Mom invites them for dinner, and Dad doles kind words of support in what I call his, “You can hack it speech."
So when one such refugee began renting the upper floor of the office building, I was less than thrilled. But in time, as I got to know Desi Refugee, I warmed to him. He had a wife, kids and was seeking the American dream. And every time he saw Mom and Dad, he immediately touched their feet out of respect and made them his adopted parents. When Dad was not in the office Desi Refugee would stop by and ask my brother and I to pass on our regards. At least he was not greedy and I knew he would not cheat my parents.
On my last afternoon in Minnesota, I am at my desk working on my final assignments, and Desi Refugee comes by. “Knock, knock, Sister,” he says. This is also interesting. I am probably five to seven years older than him, and like my brother, Desi Refugee out of respect doesn’t take my name, literally calling me “Sister.” “Hi! How are the kids?” I ask and stop typing. “They are doing good…say do you know Tapan Gupta?” “Yeaaah,” I say slowly.
When you grow up brown in Minnesota, you pretty much know all the desis in your age group. So the thought of dating or even liking a desi boy your age is disgusting for three reasons. One, he was probably friends with my brother, which makes me think of him as my brother, and the thought of dating him was incest-gross. Two, you know his parents are and the thought of being in-lawed to them is enough to make you gag. And three, the aunties in the grapevine are notorious gossips and I cannot imagine the stories they would tell. They would turn a harmless mall and pizza date into, “Desi Girl was seen drinking, dancing and kissing a desi boy at the club."
“Why do you ask about Tapan?” I ask, knowing my brother is listening to the entire conversation from the other side of the office. We have an open office space. “Well his parents are fantastic. He has a successful business. Is divorced and in New York.” Divorce is and will always be a tabooed stigma, especially for Indian woman. Do you see why I’m so picky? I have one chance to do this correctly. Or else my parents are going to wear a giant “DD” for “divorced daughter” on their reputation forever until death saves them from me.
Besides, I have a few good years still on me, I am sure I could still find an unmarried desi man. I am tired of this mathematical equation with desis. One old-maid, pretty, educated girl + one divorced entrepreneur = perfect desi match. “What about Tapan?” I probe, knowing where this will painfully end. “You should call him. I will send you his email and number,” Desi Refugee says and leaves.
The office falls stone cold silent and my brother finally speaks, I hear amusement in his voice. “…are you going to call Tapan?” “Nope. If Taps is interested, he needs to call me.” “That is pretty much what I figured," my brother says, pleased that he knows me better than anyone else on this planet. “Ready to go to the airport?” he asks. "Yes, ready," I reply.
For the first time since I moved away, Minnesota doesn't feel like home. I don't live here anymore. I don’t fit in anymore, if I really ever did. Minnesota is like a first love --- wonderful and heart-breaking. Something to cherish with fondness, but not where I spend forever.