The gentleman was in his mid-fifties when I first met him was from the Indian state of Gujarat.
It was many years ago, probably the year was 1993. He owned an Indian grocery store in Torrance Boulevard, California. His store was not far from Torrance Airport. I cannot remember his name now and even if I could, I would not mention it here. But let us call him Mr. Patel which to the best of my recollection was not his real last name.
I used to visit his shop for buying Indian spices because his was the only Indian grocery on Torrance Boulevard which was not very far from Rolling Hills, where I was living. I was working for Nissan Motor Corporation on Figueroa Street very near to Down Town Los Angeles. Within one mile radius of Nissan Motor Corporation all the big Japanese Automobile companies had their corporate offices.
It was probably my second or third visit in his store. Mr. Patel suddenly asked me what kind of visa I had. “Just like others”, I replied in the shortest possible way. I was working with a H1-B visa and most of the software engineers from India were working with H1-B visas. However there were not too many Indian Software Engineers working in America during those days. I had ambivalent opinion about the people from Gujarat who were living in the USA. On one hand they were known to Indian communities for abusing American Immigration system, had a bad reputation for visa fraud. On the other hand they were very down-to-earth people, who were very helpful not only to the people from Gujarat but also to any Indian. There craving to go to America was to give better education to their children and therefore to have a better life. However during my subsequent interactions with many people from this community, I heard them saying, “Did a mistake by coming to America after severing our roots. We are not happy here.” It was because after their children grew up and moved out of their families, the parents were left alone to live lonely lives in a foreign country which they could never imagine would happen to them before moving to America. Now let us hear what Mr. Patel had said after hearing my shortest possible reply regarding my visa status.
“I also came to this country by selling off everything I had in India” Mr. Patel said.
“Why did you have to sell of everything, what kind of visa do you have?” I asked after a brief hesitation.
“I have a Green Card” he replied.
“Who sponsored your green card?” I asked again with some hesitation. I am never interested to know about people’s personal matters but I realized if I did not ask him one or two questions, he might jump into conclusion that I was rude and not appreciating his candid, friendly behavior.
“My father came to this country with Green Card and he sponsored mine. He was brought to this country by my elder brother who is a doctor.” Mr. Patel replied.
“So you are independent, you can do whatever you like. You are almost like a citizen in this country.” I wanted to bring our conversation to an end.
“But getting a Green Card is not an immediate process. I had to wait for few years before I could get the Green Card for me and my two children, a daughter and a son. My wife joined me here after another two years.” I realized that Mr. Patel wanted to share with me something which probably he could not share with others.
“Why your wife did not come with you?” I asked.
“I can tell you if you have time to listen”, Mr. Patel sounded very happy to find some listener.
“Green Card applications are processed under different categories”, Mr. Patel started providing the background of his story, “categories like single, married with no children, married with children, divorced, divorced with children &c.”
“Green Card processing time varies depending upon the category in which it falls. When my father wanted to apply for my green card, the processing time under the category ‘divorced with children’ was the shortest and ‘married with children’ was the longest and the difference of processing time between the two categories was five years.” Mr. Patel continued.
“Therefore we decided to apply in the category ‘divorced with children’. So I divorced my wife but we continued living in the same house and our relationship was exactly the same as before, like a close-knit Indian family. Our divorce was only on paper for bringing our children to this country as fast as possible so that they could start going to American schools.
“So did you apply for Green Card immediately after you had received your divorce paper from the court?” I asked.
“No we did not. Americans knew that married couple in India rarely divorce and ‘divorce after having children’ is extremely rare, almost unheard of. We realized that they could reject our Green Card application if they were convinced that we were deceitful. So we waited for one more year and then applied for Green Card. During that time we were figuring out by ourselves how we could answer the questions which we would face during the Green Card application interview at the American Consulate in Bombay.” Mr. Patel replied.
“We did lots of practices in our home about how we would answer the grilling questions during the interview. We did hours of practice at home and also receive help from an expert who knew what kind of questions might be asked and how to answer those convincingly.” Mr. Patel continued.
“But when we were called for the interview, which was two years after I had applied for the Green Card the encounter was far more difficult than we could imagine. The officer had a suspicion that I was deceitful. I was interviewed alone, then with my two children and to make the situation worse and which we had never expected our two children, who were all below eighteen, were interviewed together and then separately. Even after so much of grilling they could not find out the truth about our marital status, we were so well prepared.” Mr. Patel continued.
“As soon as we had received our Green Card we moved to America. My wife started living with her family in India. My children started going to school in America and I started working in an Indian grocery.” Mr. Patel continued.
“So how did you bring your wife here?” I realized that his story was more captivating than Agatha Christie’s crime stories.
“I met another Gujarati gentleman here in America. He was living with his wife and children. His family was well settled and both he and his wife were well educated and both had good jobs. He agreed to help me out.” Mr. Patel answered.
“The gentleman agreed to apply for my wife’s Green Card”, Mr. Patel continued.
“He was unrelated to both you and your wife. How could he sponsor your wife’s Green Card”, I asked in a haste probably did not realize that he was going to tell me everything even if I had not asked.
“He and his wife decided to divorce, on paper of course, which would make his status ‘single’ and he would travel to India where he would marry my wife, whom I divorced only on paper and apply for my wife’s Green Card. As soon as my wife would arrive here with her Green Card, he would divorce his newly wedded wife, who actually is my wife and then remarry his ‘on-paper’ divorced wife. As soon as he would divorce my wife I would remarry her here.” Mr. Patel told me without any kind of expression on his face.
“But it was only a plan but did he actually do that, did he really divorce his wife in America, travel to India and marry your divorced wife and bring her here with Green Card and divorce your wife here and remarry his real wife and then you remarried your real wife here in America?” I asked. I realized I had never heard anything which was so complicated, so interesting and so risky that it could have destroyed at least two families if not more.
“Everything was done exactly as it was planned. My friend and his wife are still living together because their divorce was only on paper to help me and my family. They were glad to help a Gujarati family. And they are our best friends in this country” Mr. Patel replied.
“Why did you take so much of risk? Why did you not apply in the category which was legitimate for you? Was that much of risk worth taking for?” I asked.
“Indeed it is worth. My children arrived here two years in advance and learnt so much English during those two years. But when my wife was alone in India, every single night before going to sleep I wrote her one letter.” Mr. Patel replied with a very serious looking face.
I used to visit Mr. Patel’s shop almost once every week. During my regular visits I met his entire family, his wife and two children. His two children were actually grown up when I met them.
I do not know where Mr. Patel lives now, in India or in America or if he is still alive but I am sure his children are speaking better.