Friday, December 20, 2013

Let's cry foul!

I have been following the Devayani Khobragde drama with much interest for the past couple of days. To be honest, I really wanted to convince myself that America's to blame here. So I was trying to find anything even remotely factual that supported my prejudice. I have seen  how American visa procedures are unnecessarily strict when it comes to certain professions and passports. Your nationality influences the ease with which you get professional opportunities in the US. Since I had a personal grudge against the US Department of Immigration, I really wanted this to go against them.

Take a look at this . It is an account of all allegations against her. It is clear from this report that not only did she commit a false salary on paper, that too on somebody else's visa application, but also made the applicant lie to the consular officers. If the diplomat herself does not take home $4500, how on earth does she write that figure on her nanny's visa application?

Now take a look at this. Indian software corporation, Infosys, has also been recently accused of widespread visa abuse. In a nutshell, Infosys employees traveling on a B1/B2 visa, which is strictly for non-business purposes, were regularly conducting business in the US. This was also a well planned exercise where the employees were taken into confidence about the "arrangement". They lied to the consular officers about the purpose of their travel. Infosys ended up paying $34 million as settlement. All of this came to light because of an American employee who acted as a whistle blower.

Unfortunately, I have seem many anecdotal examples of  maids and nannies traveling from India on a B1/B2 visa being passed off as a "visiting relative". They all are paid in the form of  plane tickets and an "Indian salary" deposited in their banks back home. The legal/work status of an Indian domestic help in the US is none of  "our" business as long as all parties involved are okay with it (and we are served hot pakoras when it is snowing outside). BUT when a dispute occurs and the reality comes to surface, as Indians with "dignity" we have no right to cry foul. We should own up and go to jail with dignity.

I think it is only fair that an Indian diplomat is being tried in a US court for a malpractice that so many wealthy NRIs conduct shamelessly. Their "rationalization" is that Indian nannies would never earn Rs. 30000 a month in India. So for them, it is a good opportunity to make money. Or, in case they are on dependent visas without the appropriate work permit, then paying them $1000 for something that would get them $4000 with the proper permit, is considered 'helping them'. Needless to say, these workers never pay taxes, never get the benefits such as health insurance and, if they are caught taking care of someone else's child without the proper authorization, they could face an extremely harsh sentence in a foreign country (their employer included).

Leaving aside the India-US diplomatic association and the fact that the US does not always have same rules for everyone, there is also a need to introspect why we do this. Why is the allure of having a nanny, or a maid at home to cook for us, stronger than the consequences one could face if it is done by flouting the rules of the land. Don't we get furious when illegal immigrants from Bangladesh work in our country for a lesser pay than Indian workers? And if we cannot afford help at the prescribed minimum wage rates, there is a simple solution that many middle class Americans follow - DO IT YOURSELF! You cannot have the best of both worlds on your own terms wherever you travel!

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Cloudy with a chance of joy

We have all heard that one comment from the opponent in a fight - "It is always about YOU! YOUR feelings! What YOU want!". But fights usually happen, to begin with, because both sides are equally focused on themselves. This was about conflict. Let's try feeling blue. I am not saying feeling depressed, because that could be clinical and completely out of the sufferer's control. I am talking about the pensive brooding about ourselves that we so often escape into. Who we think we are and how that does not match with what others think of us. Or the defiant, stubborn voice inside us, which suppresses all compassionate openness that our minds are willing to have, but unwilling to apply, at the same time.

Now, let's try feeling happy. Sometimes, we get so carried away with our own personal milestones that we completely forget that we are surrounded by others. Then happiness starts feeling a bit weird, because we want to extend it long after the applause dies down. People have an amazing ability to move on with their lives when your happiness is in no way, connected to them. That is why every now and then we have to take the painful decision, of taking a break from making the perpetual FB scrapbook about our happiness, and actually put our hands together for someone else! It sucks. But if you don't clap for me, I won't clap for you either. :)

When you think of how self-destructive your thoughts about yourself could be, be it in conflict, sadness or even happiness, you realize why so many people run towards meditation. And then if you retrace your life, you realize why you were so much happier when you were a kid. As kids, we all had the ability to "get lost" in things that were outside the sphere of our identity. Such as? Such as watching clouds float by! Wasn't that something all of us did? I still do it. That is why I love this talk and go back to it again and again. What is it about watching clouds or watching the night sky that is so soothing?
I used to go to work at 6:30 in the morning and see the sun rise from behind fluffy clouds. More than the sunrise, I loved the sunsets in the Midwest. The confused, pink sky, full of scrambled clouds somehow puts our entire existence in perspective. Then all our sorrows and joys that are purely attached to our identity seem trivial. But things like your best friend sitting next to you watching the sunset don't! In fact, sunsets have an incredible ability of making you grateful for your friendships. :)

I think watching clouds also has the power to make you feel grateful for what you have. Even if it is just being alive, in that very moment. Or being grateful just for the instinct that made you look up 180 degrees from your phone, into the sky. I think cloud watching, is really the first step towards meditation.