Episode 13 from Hubbard, Wisconsin- “Sachin’s Early Days”

Sachin Patel grew up in Ankleshwar, a medium-sized city in the state of Gujarat. As a teenager, Sachin admired his Uncle, who was the managing director at a large chemical plant. Sometimes Uncle Kamlesh would introduce Sachin to Americans who were visiting India on business. Sachin was always impressed with these visitors from the United States. They would tell him stories about their homeland and they always had some sort of fascinating new technology, like a Sony Walkman or a digital watch. It was as if these Americans came from another planet where there was unlimited wealth and a treasure trove of neat gadgets. These Americans had everything, thought Sachin. What a country in which to live!

Because he was an average student, Sachin didn’t have the test scores to get into a Medical or Engineering school, so he was destined to a lesser occupation. He joined the Indian merchant marine as a deck hand on a container ship. This was a physically demanding occupation for which Sachin was not well suited. One sunny afternoon, while his ship was docked in the Port of Chicago, he simply walked ashore. His American dream had begun.

Instead of the easy life that he expected, he found life very difficult in America. The streets were not paved of gold and people weren’t as friendly as the men who had visited his Uncle in India. The 2,000 rupees he had in his pocket didn’t buy much here and he soon ran out of money. He found work “off the books” in an Indian restaurant on Devon Avenue in exchange for room, board, and some meager pocket change. His boss was an Indian from Delhi who had absolutely no affinity for foolish young Gujarati’s. At the restaurant Sachin worked harder than he had his entire life and his reward was bare subsistence. He often longed to be back in India where, even living under his parent’s roof, his life would have been better.

These Americans were insane, thought Sachin; always chasing the dollar. They had no time for tea and chat. Even the Indians he knew who lived in America spent precious little time with their families. Sachin remembered the many hours he and his family enjoyed each other’s company on the veranda swing. Just when Sachin was at his psychological bottom some light unexpectedly entered into his life. One afternoon while running errands for the boss, he stopped in a small store to buy a Pepsi. A young Indian girl came to the counter and asked him what he wanted. He could hardly answer. Her beauty was overwhelming! She had medium brown skin, long hair, a perfect figure, and a smile that melted his heart. She was a year or so younger than he but she was also a Gujarati and her name was Smita.

Smita’s father Mukesh, owned the store, a small place on Artesian Avenue. He had come to Chicago from Baroda ten years earlier after his wife had died. The store was barely 300 square feet, crunched in between a video rental shop and a Pakistani restaurant. While the store didn’t exactly exude prosperity, Mukesh struggled at the only way he knew how to make a living. What he lacked in financial prowess he made up for in love for his only child. She was his only reason for living and he would have nothing but the best for her.

Sachin certainly wasn’t the best. Not even close. Even if Mukesh had liked Sachin, he would not have approved of him because of his lack of education and dearth of ambition. But Sachin and Smita would see each other on the sly, escaping Devon by taking the bus down to Logan Square. In this predominately Hispanic neighborhood they were relatively inconspicuous. Furthermore, none of their relatives or friends ever came to Logan Square. Once in a while they would meet at Wicker Park, just to establish random destinations for their frequent disappearance.

Whether Smita’s father wished it or not, these two were perfect for each other, or at least thought themselves so. They were inseparable and kept their relationship secret for five years. By then Sachin was working as an assistant manager at a grocery store on California Avenue. He was well liked and with the help of some knowledgeable friends, he had acquired permanent residence status in the United States. He had also put a few dollars aside for savings. He planned to marry Smita some day, if only he could get the permission of Mukesh.

The day finally came when the two of them approached Mukesh. He had already been talking to a matchmaker for Smita and was well along in the process of finding a suitable partner for her. Although Sachin had matured and Mukesh thought of him as a decent boy, Sachin’s request for the hand of Smita was to Mukesh an outrageous proposition. What did Sachin bring to the table? While he had mastered English and was from the same caste, he had no formal education. He had no wealth. There was no way to check out Sachin’s family background or genetic history. What if his relatives had a history of physical or mental diseases? Besides, what kind of Indian family would raise a child who would jump ship and abandon them forever? This match between Smita and Sachin was an easy decision for Mukesh. It took him about 45 seconds to reply with a resounding NO!

Smita and Sachin were crushed, for they had prayed for Mukesh’s blessing. A few months passed and Mukesh introduced Smita to suitor after suitor, but she refused to marry any of them. Mukesh was frustrated. He told Smita that in India there would have been no refusal about it; she would have bent to his wishes. After all, a couple marries because they are suited for each other, not because they love one another. Love, as every Indian knows, is a long-term response that is learned as the marriage matures. But Smita was determined to spend the rest of her life with Sachin. They would meet in a Wicker park coffee shop and sit for hours discussing the situation. Tears would come into Smita’s eyes as she pondered the vast gap between her Father’s wishes and desire to bw with Sachin.

Finally, in the wee hours of a cold December morning, Smita threw two large suitcases into the back seat of Sachin’s old Pontiac. The couple headed north on the Kennedy Expressway and proceeded on the Illinois tollway, crossing the Wisconsin border at Beloit. They had a full tank of gas and kept driving through town after town until they found a place that looked peaceful and promising. As the sun rose and the fog lifted, they found their abode. The sign read “Welcome to Hubbard, Wisconsin”.

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