Part I: Dreams in Calcutta

This is the first of a three-part story inspired by my family's journey to the United States in the 1970's.

Habra Village
Calcutta, India  
September 1978

The messenger glances down at the return address on the telegram and then up at the gentleman standing in front of him. The Consulate General of the United States. The gentleman waits until he is alone and then opens the note, wedging his index finger through a small flap of the flimsy pink envelope. His hazelnut eyes widen and jolt into focus as the words hit him like the heat of a Calcutta sunrise: In three weeks' time, he is to leave his wife and newborn daughter to make a life out West.

Habra is a fusion of sharp odors and flavors. Fragrant curried spices and smoke from fast-burning clove cigarettes fill the streets. The post office is the only formal structure, slowly crumbling on the outskirts next to where the rickshaw drivers loiter. The rest of the town is makeshift with hardened clay homes, hand-painted wooden storefront signs and scrap metal shanties.

The people are content here; there is enough commerce and farmland for those who need to work. The power supply lasts no more than four hours each day, and families spend their evenings telling stories together by candlelight. Having enough to get by, the villagers don’t dream of more. 

Yet there is a precocious boy who craves to see more, to feel more. The eldest of seven children, EXPLORER had already left his village once to attend University. His siblings couldn't understand their brother's choice to leave the comfort of their community, even though the school was only 10 miles away.  

The news of Explorer's visa approval spreads throughout the village within hours. Soon he receives two more telegrams from his parents and sister. Explorer decides to leave the factory an hour early. He is pulled home by the thought of his wife and infant daughter. Homeward bound, with hurried steps, the curry-colored dust swirls and expands into the air like a genie’s spell. 

Explorer's stomach tightens as he turns the corner and his home comes into view. Explorer's father planned to continue his medical degree in the States but familial duties called and he took over the farm 22 years ago. Dreams came and went like this every day in Habra.

Going abroad is a foreign idea for many in Habra and Explorer's family reminded him that it was an especially risky one for those with a new family. Before Explorer read the telegram from the consulate, starting a new life in America was a far-off possibility. Now that it is real, he knows he must brace his family for the uncertainty that accompanies great change. 

Check out Part II here.