The first thing I noticed when starting the interview was that It was kind of awkward. My dad and I haven’t talked deeply about his experience in coming to America, although I was excited to see where we would end up and how far back time would take us.
I started by asking him to explain his background in India. My dad, Kiran Shinde, was born into a middle-class family with an honest dad and mom with 3 other siblings in Vadodara, Gujarat, India. Until the age of 16, he lived in a neighborhood of fishermen considered to be a “low caste community” but that was what the financial situation allowed them to live in. The rental place he lived in was an 11×11 ft 1 room apartment.
On one corner was a bathroom and the on the other was a cooking stove. He explained how he had to share the bathroom with 7 families. I have heard stories about his house and the fact that he used to sleep in a room with 6 other people but every time I hear it the story just gets more interesting.
I asked him was what made him leave his country and his response was quite surprising. He started by saying that he never wanted to leave his country, he was so proud of it that he never had an idea of leaving it. He continued giving me his reason as to why exactly he left his country. “After I finished my degree in engineering, I was expecting a good job being that I was an electronics and communication engineer. Although when I was graduating the share market in India faced a big scam and due to it the entire market crashed and with it, itbrought the first-ever economic recession in India. This caused the industry to stop offering jobs and I became a victim of it.” My dad, Kiran, has always talked highly about his education so hearing this I was dumbfounded because now people call him to work for them.
The thought of him not finding a job is quite surprising if you look at how successful he is now. “Somehow it got stable for the next three years while I was finishing my MBA in Marketing and Advertising. The year I finished my MBA, another scam happened in the share market similar to the previous one causing the same economic effect. These events caused me to lose my trust in the political environment of the country.”
He said the scam happened because the Indian political system was so corrupt that it caused a financial scam to happen. “Somehow I found a small company job but again corruption and irregularities did not allow me to stabilize myself.
Around this time I was introduced to a software career, which I found interesting, and started learning to invest money beyond my feasibility. It was anticipated that I would get a better job at the end of the training in 1997 but suddenly Y2K (the Year 2000) trend started and it again caused jobs to crash.”
Around this time India got an internet revolution and I got information about the foreign job market. I found a job in the year 2000 with low pay which I took knowing I was getting exploited but I had to accept it for my needs. Then the international market started booming and I found a very good jobthat not only paid me big money but allowed me to visit 14+ countries in a 3-year duration. In 2004 I came to USA first time and after living in the USA for 4 months I likedthe environment, job market, etc.” Kiran continued to go on about how his soul was closed to his home country and how he was missing his friends and relatives back home.
“My company offered to process my Green Card but I was not emotionally ready to live in the USA despite lots of benefits compared to my home country. In 2007 my company again approached me to process a green card and I compared the pros and cons of both the countries and decided to accept the offer of a green card.
2008 I completely decided to live in the USA.” my country and would have rather lived there instead of immigrating here. I haven’t thought about how my dad had a completely different life before he had my sister and me. We have always lived here so we feel indifferent to my dad’s home country. I could tell by the numerous stories he has told me that India was a haven for him. His college days where he played pranks, his time with his friends, and the number of relatives that lived in India made it hard for him to decide to come to America.
Do you ever regret coming to America?
“Yes, one incident in 2007 made me think back on my decision of staying here. I was traveling on new year’s evening after finishing a celebration at a friend’s place at midnight time. Suddenly I saw a blue and white light flashing in the rearview mirror of my car. I heard that the police car following me was shouting behind me to pull out the car from the freeway. I pulled my car to the side of the road and followed all instructions from the cop.
I was asked to get out of my car and realized there was a lady cop and a male cop was there. Looks like lady cop was a senior to the other one. She asked me where I was coming from and headed to. I calmly gave all the answers, then suddenly she asked me whether I had drunk alcohol. I told her I am a nondrinker and nonsmoker, and if she needs she can take my test. She took a walking test and a breath test but they were negative. Still, she insisted that I should accept I was drunk.
During those 45 minutes, she abused and insulted me many times. She wanted to frame me under DUI and I kept telling her I should be taken to the hospital for a blood test, she got angry at one point in time and she took her gun and put it on my head. I thought, it was the last day of my life but don’t know what happened but she got some call on her wireless and she let me go that night. I realized my brown skin made her do that behavior with me. If I did not have family and social responsibilities I would have packed my bags and returned to my home country but I realized instead of leaving this country, I should stay here and build myself as I had family and social responsibilities to fulfill.”
Did you have trouble going through the citizenship process?
“Not much. That is what I liked about this country. While going through the green card process I was offered a Green Card process under a special category because of my education and international experience. Normally people used to get a Green card in 12-15 years those days but I got mine in 12 weeks. Even the naturalization process was quite simple to become a US citizen.” I guess luck finally caught up to him.
Do you like your life in America or India?
Kiran started by saying that there were pros and cons to both. I could tell he was having a hard time deciding which one was better so we started with small topics like job opportunities, the cost of living, etc. In India, Kiran said the cost of living depended on where you lived. For Kiran, if he lived in his home town then the cost is low but as major opportunities are in metro towns the cost will be high. Renting a furnished one-room apartment in cities like Mumbai and Bangalore, the most populous cities in India will cost you around $400-$600.
The same goes for salary. Being able to earn a similar salary in India as in the USA translates to a high standard of living in India. If you are a skilled professional, it’s possible to earn between $4,000 – and $5,000 per month which is great considering how much you’ll save on living costs. Running a household in India is extremely cheap. Meaning that most middle-class families can afford to hire a maid and at times a driver. In India, you can hire a live-in cook and maid for around $200 per month. In the USA, you’ll end up paying this per week just to have a maid come in a couple of times to clean only.
India was a quite complex environment for doing business when Kiran left India in 2003. Even today doing business in India requires a huge chunk of money and it risks nurturing abilities for a long time. While in the United States it is an easy and simple process to start any business. It’s also easy to get business funding to start businesses in the USA.
Kiran explained it was one of the reasons he was able to reach the financial status he has today. I continued to the next question asking how his first few years were in America. Kiran explained that he came to the USA on a work permit to do a job of being a manager in IT projects. The initial challenges he faced were learning to drive and getting a license. “It was difficult to pass the driving test, it took me 2 attempts to pass and I had to pay extra money to auto insurance because of my driving history.”
Another challenge Kiran faced was his accent. “Because I am of Indian origin I carry a heavy British English accent. I had to face a hard time due to my English as most of the people laughed at me and made fun of my English. Then I started giving focus on my speaking and writing skills, used some tools to validate my written drafts, and improved my English.”
Was it worth it coming to America?
Kiran said yes. He has always wanted to earn money to improve his financial status so that he could help people around him. Kiran’s wife, Kamini, whom he married out of an arranged love marriage, worked very hard since they came to the USA in 2005. Kiran was in IT Project Management Profession and his wife had a rich beauty salon experience.
While living in Silicon Valley, they realized that in a few days there would be lots of potentials to run an Indian-style beauty service business. So they decided to start a salon business along with his job. After some initial few years of opening a beauty salon, Kiran expanded it to 4 locations. “Our risk-taking abilities, determination, and commitment started producing good results for us. We were able to increase our income and savings. This allowed us to help needy people around us and help our family members back in India.”
Growing up he always told me about how he sponsors kids from India and helps them go to college. Hearing that always made me undeniably proud of our business. Although I always wondered whether he had any regrets about the things he left in India.
He’d wanted to start a business in India but due to the lack of opportunities and financial challenges he couldn’t fulfill his wishes.
“I used to work with an Indian employer and my team members were 99% Indian, hence the use of the Indian language was common among all of us but we realized to use English as a first language when we were among or around the gathering where non-Indians were there. It was instructed that the moment a single non-Indian comes around me or us we should start to shift to the English language.
He continued explaining the work parties he had trouble fitting in with “I have been a non-drinker and it was up to the level where I used to not drink coffee, tea, or soda. In the first month when I was invited to a client gathering in a local restaurant everyone was enjoying themselves and I was standing with them empty-handed. At that time one of my non-Indian friends advised me to put something in a glass to fit myself into the local culture and I adopted that.”
The interview and write up were done by his daughter Tanisha, a student at a Bay Area college.