A Story About Believing
This is the finale of a three-part story inspired by my family’s journey to the United States in the 1970’s. Please share your thoughts below – would love to hear from you!
Ann Arbor, MI
The wooden swing we’re sitting on is squeaky and smooth from use. I know the story of Jothi’s journey from India to the U.S. well, hearing the sequence of events on this very swing year after year. I can’t remember how it comes up tonight but here we are, once again revisiting the details together as father and daughter.
He tells me how for his first two months in the U.S. my father slept on the floor of the YMCA in Cleveland, OH, thousands of miles away from me and my mother, his dear Rani.
He tells me how he lived on Lay’s chips, popcorn and orange juice since he only had $0.50 to spend each day for several weeks until he found temporary work as a shipping clerk.
He tells me how every night before shutting his eyes, he would quietly talk to the wallet-sized photo of Rani and I and say: “We are one heart and I will be with you soon, my loves.”
He tells me how, despite Jothi’s foreign and thick Indian accent, he befriended the Y’s community manager who ultimately helped him type up his first resume for a local mechanical engineering position.
He tells me how after 15 months of struggling and saving, Jothi was able to rent a cramped apartment and bring over Rani and I from Calcutta, India.
All of these extraordinary details have helped me to push through tough days, yet tonight, I yearn to hear the softer and messier moments– the moments when Papa didn’t know whether he would reach his destination, because my confidence is faltering on whether I will reach mine. Earlier that day, I received a letter from the last major publishing house in the country that had yet to respond. I immediately recognized it because of the signature blood-red wax seal on the envelope; the twelfth ‘no’ in a week.
“Papa, were you scared when you first arrived to the States? I have heard your journey several times, but I never catch a whiff of fear and uncertainty,” I say, my words coming out frenetic and rushed.
I know where I’m going with this line of questioning, and I worry that my concerns will seem trivial to a man who has endured so much more than I ever will.
“How did you know you would get here to live this great, fulfilling life?” I ask.
Papa looks at me in surprise, eyebrows slightly raised. The expression is fleeting and he pulls me closer, putting his velvety arm around my shoulders. I don’t pull away.
“That’s a good question, Shunduri,” he says. “I suppose I never allowed myself to feel worried or fearful for too long. Every night before I went to sleep, I would look at that photo of you and your Mother, and even if only for a few moments, I believed that no matter what had happened that day, all was well. On especially difficult nights, I told myself all would be well.”
Papa pauses, and I know he is reliving those nights in his head right now. I can’t fathom the depths of his loneliness which he must have felt at times.
Jothi begins again. “I never lost faith because that was all I had. I made myself believe that it was just a matter of time until things would turn around. My parents sent letters begging me to return to Habra, but going back to India was never an idea I entertained for more than a few seconds. I remember thinking that I was the one that got myself here and I would keep going until I had my family with me again. I have seen the same resolve and tenacity within you. It comes from your Mother and I because of how much we had to fight to keep believing in ourselves and our dreams. iIt’s in your blood. The hard times made us tough enough to get here with you, to the good times – it’s like forging a piece of metal to make it stronger. Keep exploring and trust yourself, Shunduri.”
I sit back and we’re quiet for several minutes. A firefly dances in a curved line, passing us. Ma joins us and I move to the middle of the swing to make room. I feel a brush of air behind me, and I notice that Ma and Papa have linked fingers. Papa has called her Rani, his queen, since I can remember.
Yes, perhaps you’re right, my dear Papa. All will be well. All is well.
Note: ‘Shunduri’ is a term of endearment and means ‘beautiful girl’ in Bengali, which is Jothi’s native language.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: MINI MUKHERJEE
I’m a late 20-something life explorer with a slight always-on-the-go itch. I have lived and traveled all over for the past 15 years. I live in Los Angeles where I spend my days helping to build Kaleo, a knowledge-sharing software startup. On most days, you can find me with a green tea and writing anywhere I can find a few quiet moments. Before coming to Los Angeles, I had a software company in Boston that I started after working at companies such as Goldman Sachs, Nielsen, and Fiksu. I have been fortunate to see firsthand how technology transforms, connects and elevates across many different industries. The Smile Project is my way to connect with others, share inspiring stories and have a lot of fun along the way. From my heart to yours, enjoy!