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Kolkata's New Market bazaar

Kolkata's New Market bazaar

A Tale of Two Indian Cities

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Having the ability to create your own adventures outside of the office is important to enhancing any career. Edelman Escape is a unique program that provides select employees with a mini-, one-week sabbatical and $1,500 to pursue a dream, goal or experience that will enrich their lives. I had the opportunity to travel to two cities in India Kolkata and Indore – to spend quality time with my extended family, particularly with my maternal grandmother, whose health has been steadily declining in recent years.

My parents immigrated to the U.S. from India over 40 years ago. They moved in pursuit of the “American Dream” with the hopes of providing their descendants with opportunities they never had in India. Back then, coming to America usually meant leaving behind your own family. So, with heavy hearts, my dad left his parents and two younger siblings, and my mom moved out of her joint-family home consisting of her parents, uncle, and four younger siblings. Moving 7,000 miles away from their families was not easy, but my parents believed their decision would ultimately benefit the lives of their own family one day.

Like most young girls growing up in India, my mom had always dreamed of coming to America – a country she knew intimately only through books, songs, and the big-screen. In her late 20’s, when the time came for her to actually move to America, the experience was more challenging than she had envisioned as a little girl. In 1980, my mom landed at Newark airport in the middle of winter after a 40-hour journey from India. Wearing a traditional saree and sandals, she stepped into the freezing cold and quickly realized how far away she was from the world she knew and loved. Despite feeling like a fish out of water, my mom’s spirits lifted when she saw my smiling father waiting in “International Arrivals” section with flowers in hand. This was the start of their new life together.

My mom’s apprehension about America soon turned into full-on admiration for the country, but she never stopped missing her family in Indore. As the eldest of five siblings from a humble background, she couldn’t shake the feeling that she had abandoned them. Determined to bring her family stateside, she applied for their green cards but quickly learned how arduous the immigration process could be. Several years and obstacles later, in 2009, my mom’s siblings were granted green cards. Unfortunately, in the time that had passed since she originally applied, her own mother had been diagnosed with several debilitating illnesses and was handicapped from the waist down. For my grandma, the two-day trip from India was life-threatening, and as a non-U.S. citizen, finding affordable healthcare would be impossible. Simply put, my grandma would have to stay in India, and my mom’s two sisters decided to stay because she required 24/7 supervision. Meanwhile, my mom’s two brothers, their wives and two young sons moved to America. While it seemed unfair to separate the family, the whole purpose behind applying for everyone’s citizenship was to provide the young boys (my cousins) with better educational opportunities.

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Pia visited her family’s ancient Hindu temple as part of her Edelman Escape in India. The temple is located in the city of Kolkata on Raja Rajendra Lal Mitra Road, named after Pia’s fore father, who was a pioneer and a key figure in the Bengal Renaissance.

Today, my uncles and their wives each work two jobs to make ends meet, but they never regret their choice to move to America. Due to their hard work and sacrifice, their sons have had opportunities unimaginable in India. One son is about to graduate from Lehigh University while the other is a senior in high school and has already received a full scholarship to college. Still, I know my mom and her brothers live every day with the guilt that their mom and sisters are back in India. My parents go back to India every year to try and alleviate the burden on my aunts, but they can only do so much during their trips.

My sister and I were both born in the U.S., and I feel lucky to be able to call America my home. This is due in part to the sacrifices I know my parents made to allow for me to grow up in this country. So, while I will never know how my mom truly felt when she left her own country at the age of 26, I can imagine how hard it was for her to be separated from her mom and sisters, especially when my grandma fell ill. For me, it’s painful to see my grandmother suffer, but it’s equally difficult to know my aunts sacrificed a life in the U.S. for the greater good of their family. I’ve had the urge to return to India with the hopes of bringing joy to the otherwise hardship-filled lives of my aunts and grandma. However, it’s rare to get enough time off to make such a long trip when you’re working full-time. My Edelman Escape allowed me to do just that.

In December, I traveled back to India with my husband for what was our first trip to India since we got married. We visited Indore to spend time with my grandmother and aunts. Although my grandma wasn’t able stand up to hug me, her face lit up every time we walked into her room — and for a moment, it seemed like her suffering had subsided. We also traveled to Kolkata, where both my dad and my husband were born, and where most of their family members still reside, including my paternal grandmother. In Kolkata, we attended a traditional family wedding, shopped in the bazaars, visited my ancient family temple, and of course, enjoyed tons of delicious food.

The three weeks flew by in an instant, but the trip was everything I imagined and more. I am eternally grateful for the opportunity my Edelman Escape gave me to see my grandmothers and make memories we’ll cherish forever.

Pia Singh is a senior account supervisor, Employee Engagement, Edelman Seattle.

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