SHVM, 25, is a quintessential village boy whose name fits the stereotypical multi-syllable name all of us Indians are accused of having. Inspite of living in America for just 3 years, he already has tips for us on how to beat loneliness and live communally, how making mistakes makes life that much better and how parents should always talk about the right and the wrong thing to do with children, even if they don’t want to hear any of it. We met at Krog Street market and here’s the transcript of my face to face interview with him.
Heart: Tell me anything.
SHVM: Right now, I’m in a very rough phase in my life. I’m done with my Masters (program), but it took me a while to finish it. Because, I went through a CPT (According to Wiki: Curricular Practical Training is temporary employment authorization for F-1 visa non-immigrant foreign students in the United States while enrolled in a college-level degree program.) which didn’t go well.
CPTs are usually given for 3 months. The CPT didn’t go well because my employer and I did not get along well. And so, I had to go back and enroll in 3 courses worth of credits for one full semester. Actually, for one full semester, I had applied for one CPT, so that I could spend time working for it. But, things didn’t work out in December, and I had to go back to school for one full semester. I had to spend a lot of money on tuition, and had to work really hard to wrap it up.
And now, I’m finally here, my life as an American student has ended. And I am staying with my cousin while I look for a job.
Heart: Sorry to hear that.
SHVM: Yeah, as far as my education goes, I’m not interested in it. But, when I came to America, I simply wanted to have fun. Not to do my Masters and land a job in Software.
Since childhood, I’ve grown up in a boarding school and had a lot of friends around me. I had a lot of fun. I was the joker of the group. That was how I was.
But, if you’ve a job as a computer guy, you should do your job 100% right all the time. There’s nothing funny about your job. People around you will not appreciate it, if you are funny and light hearted. Actually, I don’t even like to tuck my shirt in. I feel like I’m in a pressure cooker.
Heart: (Laughs) Do you give others the same amount of freedom you want for yourself?
SHVM: I’m a village boy at heart. I think that parents always know better than us. Even if you are in love with a person, your love for your parents will always be greater. That’s what I feel. They’ve done so much for us, but when a new person comes into our life, we only see the excitement of our future. But, what about all the sacrifices our parents have made in the past for us? What I mean is, you can love everyone without hurting anyone.
Heart: Where does the road go from here? What do your parents expect to happen now?
SHVM: From my childhood, my parents know that I’m not a studious child. They actually want me to come back now that I’ve finished my Masters. We’ve a lot of land on which we do agriculture and my father owns fisheries too. He’s doing pretty well.
Heart: OK. So, if you go back, is that what you’re going to do? Support the family business?
SHVM: I don’t think just yet. My dad’s 47. So, my plan is to start helping him when he’s 60 maybe. Right now, all I want to do is prove myself.
I’ve changed since I came to America 3 years ago. When I had come, all I wanted to do was to have fun. But, since the CPT went wrong, I’ve changed. I used to be very aggressive, I didn’t care about anything. I used to think I didn’t need anyone’s help. But, that’s not the case. I need every individual and I should not hurt anyone. Life’s a long journey.
My perspective has changed. For example, I would eat a lot of rice before, but now I don’t like to do that. Because, I want to do everything that’s the right thing to do. I don’t want to be told that I’m doing something wrong.
You know, you’re from India too, and people like to point out everything that’s wrong about the other person.
SHVM: So, I better go back to India after proving myself. So, yeah, I don’t want to stay here long. Also, I miss those days when we would be 30 of us living in the same house. We would all be sleeping next to each other, all of us cousins in my grandmother’s house during summer holidays.
Also, that proving myself part is just for myself, not for anyone, you know. Its not about them, after being in school for 21 years of my life, I have a desire to sit in an office. Everyone has done it, and I also want to do it. Not to prove to anyone but to myself that I can do it. Because after being in school for so long, I should know something, right? I want to lay the ground work for 3 years because I’m still new to the workforce. It’ll be a good learning curve. I don’t have huge goals to where I want to be with my job.
And life.. [pause] Life’s always exciting for sure. But, people should know what’s right and wrong. You can’t play with anyone’s life, and you should be able to understand how the other person is feeling.
I’ve been in America for 3 years, and no one in these 3 years have asked me what I’m doing. You’re asking me now, but no one has until now. I went through a very rough phase where I didn’t want to go to college, all I wanted to do was just have fun, but I ended up getting burnt out. So, now I feel like I should figure out what the right path for me is. All my friends who came with me to America, already have jobs. I don’t want to fall behind my peers.
You should also know where to stop pursuing something, and start taking are of your family. Its just not you and your kids, its your parents too. But, I feel in America, there’s more individualistic lives than social lives. I’ve mixed feelings about how people behave. They keep doing something that’s wrong, they get tired of it and they try to do something to try to improve their situation.
Heart: Yeah, there’s no communal living in America. How’s your relationship with your parents?
SHVM: Actually, my dad has no idea what I was studying, what courses I was taking. He knew nothing. Nothing. But, if I called them and asked them for 1 lakh rupees (1500$), the next minute it’ll be in my (bank) account. That’s how much they trust me.
But, I feel that if my father engages with me more to find out what I’m doing, I would be able to have conversations that will make me think about the right and wrong in what I’m doing. I will be guided because I feel like at this age I don’t know what’s right and wrong. By the time I realize what the right way is, I’ve already done some wrong things. (Laughs) I feel that every parent should have deep conversations with their children about every topic. Just give them their guidance no matter whether the children seem to care for it or not.
They will know at some point that the child had taken their advice even if he doesn’t mention it to them. If he listens to them, he will be on the right path right away, but that doesn’t happen all the time. Its upto him if he wants to listen, the parents can’t force him. But they should still tell him what’s right and wrong. They just need to talk at a deeper level.
Heart: Whether the children end up taking their advice or not, its not upto the parents. I read this same thing recently, that we should plant seeds of growth potential in the kids whether they seem to care for it or not. And the seeds will grow when the time will come. Great. So, did you do jobs to support yourself in college?
SHVM: I did a lot of jobs. I worked at this casino kind of a place. Its actually a game room. There would be drug dealers, people on parole, single moms addicted to drugs, they would all come and hang out there. When I would talk to them, I loved it. The way you’re talking to me right now, I would talk to them in that way.
I like talking to people because in America, more people are lonely. I used to talk to this guy, Joe, he used to live in a 700,000$ house, very beautiful house. He had a beautiful life. But, he had cancer. He had a wife and a child. And his wife left him, they had this agreement that because he had cancer and he didn’t want her to be alone after his death, he wanted her to go out and find a life partner. He wanted her to move on even before he died. When I interact with people like him, I feel like money doesn’t really matter. The sacrifice he did for his family is great, its unbelievable. He was going through radiation for his cancer and now he has stopped everything. He just lives pain free. I don’t know how much money he has in the bank or whatever.
Here in America, I’m comparing life in India and America, the way we are all brought up is different. In India, I feel that we take care of our kids really well, and that’s why we grow and do great things. If my parents had left me without raising me well, I would’ve ended up on the streets. In America, I’ve seen two kinds of people. Educated and the non-educated.
In the game room, they would smoke weed or other things, in front of me. The kids will be in the back seats in their cars and they would smoke weed. They don’t even know what they’re eating sometimes. They drink too much soda, they eat sand, they eat all kinds of nasty stuff and they don’t even realize what they’re doing.
Heart: Is it the lack of education?
SHVM: I don’t think so. As I said, parents must put pressure on children to guide them in the right path. From childhood, they have to be told what’s right and what’s wrong. There’re two things that can happen if a parent doesn’t care about the child. Either they’ll end up on the top or at the bottom. At the top, they might become a Justin Bieber, or they’ll end up on the streets. But, if the parents are there in the child’s life, he may or may not go to the top, but atleast he won’t end up on the streets. That’s what I think. This is my perspective.
Because, I don’t know what sacrifices the parents have to make, I don’t know what sacrifices my mom and dad had to make, but they showed me love.
I used to talk to a lot of people in the game room, and they would all be so lonely. That’s why they would come to play games. Because to come to a game room they atleast need to spend 30 or 40$. Some people spend 5 or 600$. But they come because they feel that the machine is interacting with them. They feel a connection with the machine.
Heart: Oh my God. They feel that the machine is responding to them.
SHVM: Yeah, they feel that they are connected. What’s happening is that people these days are not talking to one another like before.
Heart: And loneliness is a stigma. You can tell everyone that you have cancer but you can’t tell anyone you’re lonely. You can’t just reach out to people to tell them you’re lonely, it will freak them out. Its sad.
SHVM: I feel in America, more than cancer, loneliness is killing people.
Heart: Can you tell me where this game room was, can I mention the state atleast?
SHVM: Yeah, its Texas. Its a small town called [redacted]. Its a crazy place. There would be moms in my game room who were 25 and they would have 6 kids. 2 of them are taken away by their first husband, 2 are taken away by their second husband. They’ve just come out from jail. There are prostitutes, there are moms who’re addicted to drugs. They can’t get rid of their addictions, they can’t go back to their children. There are too many people who’re suffering, I don’t know how it is in the rest of America.
Heart: What’s the demographic make up?
SHVM: Everyone. Everyone’s like that. I feel like you become that way, because of the place you’ve grown up. I think people should support one another, just not saying, “Hi” and “Bye”, “Good morning” or “Have a good day.”
Heart: Someday, I want to tell someone who asks me that, “No, I’m not well. Is there something you can do?” (Laughs)
SHVM: They’ll do nothing.
I feel that everyone should be happy, they should talk to one another, they should discuss things.
Heart: I want my interviews to start that conversation again.
SHVM: Yeah. Everyone knows what’s right and what’s wrong, but they don’t speak up. And I feel that there are two kinds of people. One with weak minds and one with strong minds. Weak minded people have a lot of problems. They’re really good people but they’re wrong too. Because they can’t say “No.” But strong minded people, they know what’s wrong and they won’t do wrong. Even if they’ve to do something that’s wrong, they’ll do it the right way. They won’t hurt anyone in the process and they know when to stop. And they know where to open it up.
Whereas the weak ones, they are emotional, they want to be kind to others, so they mess up their lives and they’ll mess up the whole situation. That’s what I think. Its your mind and the surroundings that should support and guide you.
Heart: Great answer. How was the owner of your game room?
SHVM: No, he was a very good guy. My boss was a good guy. He’s from Pakistan. He didn’t have this feeling that “You’re from India, I’m from Pakistan.” He trusted me with cash. Typically if you go to a restaurant, they’ve everything on the menu, or in a printed form, and everything you order goes into a system right? But, in our game room, its all cash. And I could do anything if I wanted. But, he trusted me.
Heart: Wow. So, favorite food?
SHVM: Depends on the situation. But, I need my stomach to fill up. (Points to his stomach) I told you, I’m a village boy, I need to eat so much that I’ll go into a trans. (Laughs)
Heart: Food coma. (Laughs)
SHVM: Exactly. You know how it is, even for breakfast in our village, we used to eat 6 or 7 dosas. (crepes) (Laughs)
Heart: Social media?
SHVM: I don’t do social media at all. I sometimes go to Facebook, but that’s not too often.
Heart: Do you have any hobbies?
SHVM: I’m looking for a job now. But when I was working at the game room, I would work and get tired, have dinner with friends sometimes, come home and sleep. But, now I’m watching “Friends”, its a good comic relief. But, I feel like, I’ve had enough fun, and now I need to get serious. So, no time for hobbies. Time for business. (Laughs)
Heart: (Laughs) How did you learn how to understand people’s emotions?
SHVM: It might be from my grandma. My dad’s also like that. I feel I’m emotional, because from childhood I was in a boarding school. And when I think about Amma (mom), I get emotional. I used to wait for one month before they would visit and take me home.
Heart: Good luck to you.
SHVM: I’m getting into real life now, we’ll see.
Heart: Real life is fun, but it also sucks really bad.
SHVM: When you say sucks, I feel like only when life sucks, we become a better person. If we’re always happy, we’ll never know anything. There should always be ups and downs.
Heart: Good luck. It’s going to be an awesome life.
SHVM: Its going to be awesome for sure. Or its up to us to make it awesome.
Note: Before you rate this episode, please consider if you would’ve been so open and authentic about your own life. Earlier episodes available at The Anonymous Manifesto.
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