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Imagine a matchbox of an apartment that opens into a dismally dark hallway of an old, pretty smelly, dirty brown building. Throw in three flatmates that fall in either or all of the following categories: oily-haired geeks, self-confessed intellectuals (but actually dull,rambling losers), surprisingly sane tennis partners and psuedo-hopefuls. Next, create an ambience majorly composed of sagging sofas, ragged mattresses and empty beer cans. And there you have it: the place i call home. The little corner of the earth that i refer to everytime i tell someone, "i'll call you when i get home" or "i think i left my cell phone at home".This has been my escape from the coding world of the client on all weeknights and a majority of the weekends. And this, my friends, is exactly what i am seeking to escape.

A year back, i got onto a KLM flight from the Indira Gandhi International Airport as a twenty three year old software engineer with super-shiny dreams in my eyes. The dreams seemed even closer to reality during the stopover at Amsterdam, and were positively within touching distance after several beers on the American Airlines flight that was sweeping me across the Atlantic. And sure, i lived the dream (or what i thought was the dream) for a while till i realised a hugely glaring fact: my dream was the pitts. I needed a new dream. Thats when i met Maggie. Or should i say-saw her. And there was no looking back.

When you first leave home (single or attached, it does not matter)for videsh, you can bet your mom will not send you away without a pressure cooker, lots of food (the kind that can last a pretty long while-namkeen bhujia, gond ke laddu, uncooked dals, blah blah) and a truckload of her blessings. I was no exception. My clothes were outweighed by the food and kitchen things i carried (some of these still lying unused in a suitcase), it was as though i was leaving all sanity behind and venturing into a place that suffered from 'wholesome' food shortages and possibly besieged by scary strangers who would jump at you from quiet street corners. Admittedly, there are such places in every country, including India. Didnt our media at home talk of such incidents pretty much all the time? But i had been warned not to even attempt explaining this to my mother. The silent, acquiesing path was the least tumultous, and sometimes moms did know best. With that benefit of doubt (however miniscule and in fact non-existent), i too had allowed my mother to do my packing and had therefore ended up trudging along LA airport with my ridiculously heavy baggage, searching the right terminal for my connecting flight to Seattle. Try walking nearly half a mile with your Fresh- off -the- boat luggage in an effort to make sense of the maze of directions. Not recommended for the weak-hearted (or those who did not gym with reasonably heavy weights previously).Seattle airport had been a pleasure to arrive at-not too much lugging around the tiny place, and a sardarji with a punju-yankee accent asking you "Wherrrre do you waaaaant to go, beta? first time here yours?" The rrs were rolled as yankees do, but how can you take away that deep-rooted punjabi soul from a jatt.

Its important to remember that as a software engineer, while you're billed to the client at profit-maximising hourly rates, you would be lucky if you manage to get a weeks' stay in a hotel from your company in the period between your landing and finding your own place to stay. My relationship manager informed me the moment i landed at his place that "unfortunately" all the under-80 dollar a night hotels were booked, so would i mind shacking up with some other folks till i could figure out an apartment to share? They had a sofa-cum-bed in their living room. Sure. I was jet-lagged, travel-weary and a little lost, and a hard-as-nails excuse for a bed was just what i needed.

Thankfully, i found an apartment (my home) pretty soon, some guy had been on the bench too long and was being sent back to India the same week. And his flat-mates would be more than happy to let me have his room. Rents were split equally, as were most other costs. And it seemed like a fairly agreeable arrangement. The poor dude who was homeward-bound balefully sold me his furniture for as much as he had bought it for a year back while making me believe i was getting it at half-price(i learnt later that one should never buy stuff from desis, they were always plotting for profit and werent the kind you could get deals out of).

Its not fair to generalise,perhaps. I have met enough bohemian desis who just wanted to live it up while the greens rolled in, to restore my faith in the fun-loving Indian engineer.Perhaps i had been stuck with the dull flat-mates to start with, the dollar-pinching, travel-only-if-absolutely-necessary, always-cook-and-eat variety and thankfully the churn in this industry ensures that i shared 'my home' with possibly every variety of

my clan. The current folks of 14213 NE, 28th Street, Apartment 1C were certainly a curious lot. That we got along, in an endearingly awkward sort of way, was pushing it too far. We co-existed comfortably-now that is close.

One common interest unified us: beer. It overcame all our personality differences. The oily-haired geek swigged just as enthusiastically as the over-analysing intellectual. Beer was the occasion for sharing lewd jokes, swapping firang-manager stories and pizza-hogging. It was also a subject for debate-light versus regular, cans versus bottles, lager versus draught. Maybe we became friends over beer, or maybe it just aided the process of co-existing. Either way, some of our happiest evenings were spent finishing off 6-packs, watching pirated copies of Hindi movies readily available online (the kind that have been recorded with a cellphone camera in a movie hall, sometimes bearable prints, other times absolutely unwatchable) and sharing stories of the days when we stood in queues for hours waiting to buy 7-rupee front-row seat tickets at the multiplexes back home. Aaah! Those were the days alright.

I have been here over a year now, and am fairly tired of waiting for buses to take me 'home' on rainy Seattle evenings, and trust me, there are plenty of those! So i had toying with the idea of buying a car, a second-hand Corolla or a Honda Civic-the typical desi choice for the first car. I do not know for sure how long my project here will last, but i have been getting feelers from my manager that i might be due for a promotion and greater responsibility. For me, that spells a little more money, less coding and possibly another 2 years here. It also means i should start thinking about having my parents visit. It might be their only chance to visit the fair,shiny shores of the United States of America.

Expenses are pretty negligble here-when you're splitting rent three ways, barely go out to eat, and entertainment is restricted to an ocassional trip to the movies. This, after the fact that i dont penny-pinch, try to urge my friends to go out a lot oftener than they wished and have only been wearing Tommy Hilfiger and Gap ever since my salary started coming. You end up saving a lot, so you can go back home converting your dollars in rupees and imagining a pretty hefty bank balance that would have been impossible to amass in this short period if working in India. That is the power of the 46 -47 multiplier. But i am not hankering after that bank balance, not yet anyway. I just want to live this life, soak it all up while it lasts. So i went ahead and started hunting for second-hand cars. It was all part of the new dream i wanted to see. A car to zip around in, instead of lugging my weekly groceries in the bus. A car for road trips, for indulging in valet parking, for late-night movies and partying in downtown. My search was extensive.Dealers, private parties, craigslist, the microsoft network-i ravaged them all daily for something that fit my requirements. And thats how i met Coco. At the noticeboard on my floor.

Was it love at first sight? I do not know for sure. All i remember of my first encounter with her was that she had the most beautiful,beguiling eyes i have ever seen. I knew i was not thinking straight, that i could never actually pull this off, but i just wanted her. Period.

Now this is difficult alright. Here i am, a desi software engineer with not even an apartment to myself, with no clear idea how long i would be breathing American air, and i was aspiring for that golden-haired, melty-eyed beauty. She'd probably not be happy with me, even if i could have her. Somehow, i felt getting into a commitment, this sort of commitment,was what i needed, more than the car, more than a bank balance, to make me feel truly satisfied with my life and where i was heading. Maybe it was too early. If i even mentioned this in vague terms to my flat-mates, they would sputter in shock,or tell me to get real and stop kidding. Did I even know what i was talking about?I dont even want to consider my mother's potential reaction. She'd probably never visit me here. And there were so many other angles to consider. What was i bringing to the table anyway? Do i deserve her company at all? Why would they agree?

I thought over this long and hard for a whole day and night. Like a tennis ball thwarted from one side of the court to another, i tossed the idea back and forth, back and forth, till i knew what i was going to do. Before i could change my mind, or before i found her wooed away by other takers (and i am certain there were many) i decided to make that all-important phone call. I had dropped hints the night before to my flat-mates, and was surprised to find encouragement from, of all quarters, the oily-haired ,geek. He seemed pretty thrilled that one of us was finally taking that first step, and he truly believed it would be good for me. All of us, even!

At work, i could barely concentrate on my screen and was relieved when it was time for a lunch break. This is it! Now was the time. I headed to the notice board where i had seen her the first time, and felt my heart leap. I was going to call. The number was clearly mentioned below the name. I dialled the number from my cell phone and spoke, hesitantly at first, " Hi. I'm calling for Maggie... Uh-huh. Sure. Sounds great. I'll drop by. Thanks so much."

That evening i offered to take my flat-mates for dinner. A little celebration. And to drop the news officially. With effect this saturday,i was going to be the proud owner of an adorable 6 month old terrier. Joy to the world, and more power to Petco. My Maggie and I have arrived!


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The following comments are for "Meeting Maggie"
by sakshi

Well done
Well, I must say you had me fooled nevertheless, a delightful twist, and I hope things work out. Very nice indeed. Welcome to the USA.

( Posted by: HarryB [Member] On: February 27, 2007 )

Didn't suspect until the last couple paragraphs. Well played and well written!

( Posted by: Nepsis [Member] On: November 11, 2009 )

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