The Perfect Passage
The tale of Sunil Gupta’s immigration from Maharashtra, India to the United States, cerca 1983
essay written by Sid Gupta
Raised during the pro-social era in Pune, India, Sunil Gupta lived an average early life. Following his college education as a mechanical engineer, Gupta took on a local job for the next few years. Boredom soon struck, and he decided to immigrate to the United States for higher education. Completing the graduate program in Clemson University, Gupta quickly married and settled with his new family into his life in America, applying for citizen status.
The United States of America is the land of opportunity where any dream can be made a reality; for Sunil Gupta, that dream was to pursue a higher education and a new way of life. Today, Gupta lives a very happy life with his family in Irvine, CA, but he will never forget his roots, or his upbringing in the streets of India.
Sunil Gupta was born into a relatively middle class family in Delhi, India in 1959 to Mahendra Pal and Shashi Gupta. Delhi is the capital of India, and at the time, was the center of activity in the nation, and thus a wonderful place to grow up. However, when Sunil was age four, his father, a PhD. doctor, took a job as a research scientist in a national lab, and moved his family to Pune. Pune is located about two hundred miles inland, near the heart of India, and is really quite the opposite of Delhi. Pune is a quiet, little town, with nowhere near the hustle and bustle of the capital city; nonetheless, it was a beautiful place to live as a child. Gupta’s father worked in the local lab all day, while his mother was a housewife who stayed home. Their house was situated on the laboratory campus, alongside the tenements of all the other researchers. Pune was also a very good city for education, and Gupta was enrolled in the all-boys German missionary school. Normally such education would be extremely costly, but Gupta’s father’s job covered the expenses of both his and his sister’s primary education. While Gupta’s education was first rate – his school had a premium reputation in both sports and academics – studies did not dominate his early life. Although studying for tests, midterms, and finals was a consuming, daily routine, there was always time for play. After around two to three hours poring over books at home, children were almost mandated to go outside and run around. Everyone in the neighborhood was friends, and they would all meet at the local playground to relax and let the day wind down. All in all, Gupta’s early childhood was “wonderful”, and very similar to that of “any kid growing up [in America]” 1. Gupta completed schooling through the eleventh grade in Pune, but had to move to a college that offered twelfth grade. After completing his twelfth year, Gupta joined the engineering program at Pune University. After completing the four year program, Gupta graduated with a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering, and quickly took on a job as an engineer there in Pune. He joined India’s largest truck manufacturing company, and helped to build trucks for the next few years. It was during this time Gupta first felt the itch to emigrate.
It was the early 1980s, and the United States had never looked so promising. Gupta had just turned twenty-one, and many of his friends had made the decision to begin the emigration process to attend graduate school in America. All his life – through primary school, then college and Pune University, and even his first working years, Gupta had lived at home with his family; the time had come to move out and continue his education on his own. In addition, the 1980s saw India still in a very socialist era; though there were always jobs for engineers, unemployment skyrocketed, as there was not much room for individual success. Furthermore, government restrictions on big business further prevented the expansion of the private sector, and growth was largely stunted. The United States meanwhile, was just the shining beacon of opportunity, and Gupta decided now was as good a time as any to embark down the long, arduous path to immigration.
Immigrating to the United States was by no means an easy venture. The entire process could take years, as there was no email, and one had to communicate by means of handwritten letters, which could take weeks to arrive. Gupta however, sought to arrive on a student visa to complete a graduate studies program in the States, which was a slightly more bearable process. Gupta first had to travel to Bombay, India, to take the GRE, the Graduate Records Exam, and the TOEFL, the Test of English as a Foreign Language, through the US consulate in the city. Fortunately, English was Gupta’s primary language of instruction throughout his childhood, and the TOEFL was a “no-brainer”2. After submitting both scores, Gupta had to sort through a lengthy list of colleges offering the mechanical engineering graduate study program, and request application forms from a few, chosen simply by friends’ words. From here, all that was left to do was complete the essays and mail back the applications with the included fees. Once Gupta heard back from the schools whether he was a candidate of interest or not, he was required to show if he had the money, in US dollars, “for coming to the US, for living in the US, and for paying for graduate school”3. India was a closed society, economically, in the 1980s, and Gupta had to obtain funds from various sources; ten thousand US dollars was too large an amount for his father to cover. Gupta first applied to the Reserve Bank of India and took a low interest loan for students traveling to foreign nations for high studies, and was readily approved. To cover whatever his father couldn’t take out in an insurance loan, Gupta found a benevolent group of individuals who loaned out money at nearly zero percent interest to students who could prove themselves dedicated and were studying abroad. With his stellar engineering college transcript, Gupta was once again quickly approved. Once the school checked out the money was available, Gupta could at last take his acceptance letters and proof of funds to the US consulate and apply for a visa. After sitting through one final interview in which he had to prove his ties in India would bring him back once finishing his education, Gupta obtained the visa and was set to go. It had taken almost a year, but Gupta could finally see the light at the end of the tunnel, and, with the purchase of a one-way plane ticket, that light was near. As the year of hardships related to obtaining the visa drew to a close, it became apparent the emotional baggage lay just around the corner; actually leaving would be a story in itself. The day Gupta was to leave, his parents at last broke down; they had supported his every action thus far, watching as he “worked the whole process through and be successful at it”4, but leaving was entirely different. His mother was in tears, afraid for a son who had been at home for the last twenty years and was finally leaving, going ten thousand miles away; his father was simply stunned, saying morosely, “You’re a good hardworking kid, go and do good”5. Gupta took a plane from Bombay to New York, and then from JFK Airport, NY to Greenville, South Carolina. Clemson University however, was another hour away from the airport, and Gupta had landed late at night, a week after the fall term had begun. If not for the assistance of an elderly lady who housed Gupta for the night and drove him to the school herself the next morning, it is really unknown what would have become of the “fresh off the boat” Gupta.
Once he truly settled in however, things got underway relatively quickly and smoothly. Having arrived in Clemson a week late, Gupta was assigned to a dorm with a young undergraduate student. Unhappy with the restrictions of dorm life however, he had moved into an apartment with three other Indian graduate students before the end of the week. Being an entire week behind led to problems of its own, but Gupta quickly assimilated into the life of a student, fresh off a two year break from any real education. In the apartment, everyone had to make adjustments to make for peaceful living, but things were definitely easier for Gupta being around fellow Indians in the absence of his parents. In fact, there were nearly fifty Indian graduate students in Clemson, and overtime a majority of them became close friends and formed sort of a community. It was this cultural link to home that really motivated Gupta through those years, and even contributed to helping graduate school be “some of the best years of [his] life”6. Gupta’s graduate study program required completing a master’s thesis. Gupta’s dissertation focused on robotics – a blend of the automation and manufacturing he had learned thus far. On top of all the schoolwork, Gupta needed money to cover living and other superfluous expenses. He took on a job as a lab assistant for a professor in the school, grading papers and watching over some labs. By his second year at Clemson, he was a part-time lab instructor in the industrial technology department, teaching his own undergraduate labs despite his relative youth. The year after he graduated with his Masters, he picked up a job as a full time lab professor in the department. Within just a few years of arriving in the United States, Gupta had a full time job making good money, and there was really no incentive to return to India – the “lifestyle was more fun over here”7; life had progressed quietly – naturally – and before long he was well situated in a rather short period of time. Life went on day by day, and as those days turned to weeks and weeks turned to years, the decision to go back was simply pushed farther and farther back; Gupta was not in the US with a set purpose, he was simply exploring life, and taking it as it was given. In a trip to India in the late eighties, Gupta met Deepa, and they wed soon after. When the two returned to the United States in 1991, Deepa entered Clemson graduate school, but soon felt dissatisfied and decided to move to a bigger city. Gupta himself had grown tired of teaching, and a month after giving birth to their first child in 1992, the couple moved to Rochester, New York. There, Deepa completed her MBA in the University of Rochester, while Gupta entered the workforce to support his wife and son. With his own family living with him in the States, even if he wanted to return to India at this time, Gupta was obliged to remain in the States, for his son’s sake. Looking back on his decision today, Gupta blatantly expressed that he never had and never will regret his decision to stay. Simply put, “it is what it is… it’s done… move on” 8. There was no loss in the decision to stay and no incentive to move back, so why abandon the fantastic life he had built for himself? After a few months in New York, Gupta at last made the decision to apply for permanent residency status in America.
Such a decision did not come lightly; Gupta had to consider that it means he would no longer have the option to simply bail out and return home to mom and dad should something bad happen while abroad. In addition, it meant that he had to be prepared to fully accept American ideals and culture, no longer allowed to cling to any preconceptions about Americans; after all, he was applying to become one. Many internationally popular presumptions about the American people are strongly held to this day. Gupta was made to believe, while living in India, that Americans in general did not care for family bonds; men and women married and would divorce in a year, simply citing they needed to move on. That, he found, was entirely untrue, as people here value families and children just as much as anyone living in India did. In addition, it was widely believed the American work ethic was a joke; indeed, Gupta found quite the opposite. He saw that people here were extraordinarily motivated to finish their jobs on time if not early, and would only party when their work was finished. In India, Gupta noticed the work ethic was rather lackadaisical, and workers put off deadlines as long possible, often resulting in mediocre finished products. Gupta came to love the American work schedule: pour heart and soul into a job five days a week, then take two days to simply relax, and live without another worry. Overall, perhaps the only negative notion that held true after experiencing life in America, was the general disregard for international affairs. Whereas in India, where people would scour over newspapers and magazines to keep up with the latest news around the world, Americans would prefer sports to international crises that do not affect them directly. Politically, both India nd the United States were free democracies, which undoubtedly help bridge the gap of entering a foreign nation. At the time of Gupta’s immigration however, the United States openly supported Pakistan, India’s long time archenemy, and a military dictatorship. This support boggled not only Gupta, but every Indian in India, and only became conceivable after living in America for awhile. The logic behind it was that the US may have always promoted democracy, but it would never forcefully attempt to change the government of another nation without just cause, thus allowing her government to justify supporting both India and Pakistan.
After living here in the United States for the last quarter-century, Gupta felt that he had learned more than a for things about the nation and its people. He has encountered his share of problems stemming from prejudice and discrimination, but never anything significant enough he couldn’t brush off his shoulders. When asked if he recommended the move, he quickly responded, “come on over, this is a great place to live, a great place to work” 9. America truly is a wonderful nation, with people ready at any hour to help out with the smallest of problems; however, one must leave behind any notions that life will be handed on a silver platter, as it takes hard work and dedication to establish a firm foot in society. Assimilating into society should be a no-brainer, as it was for Gupta, but one must be open, be ready to make new friends; one must be able to adapt to his community if he wants to be accepted, and cannot refuse to change preconceived conceptions. In Gupta’s words: “[leave] that cocoon behind you, you have to form your own new extended family” 10. You are alone in a foreign land, and in absence of immediate family, friends are all you have, and will be required to survive. And good friends will come quickly and easily, for American society is very welcoming to those willing to show effort and work hard. America was truly the perfect location for a young scholar like Sunil Gupta, who, in a mix of good sense and luck, was able to establish his new life in a comparatively short period of time. With his optimistic attitude and determination to succeed, Gupta maintained control of his life though the rough, early years, and never lost sight of the ultimate goal. Today, living in beautiful Southern California with his wife and two children, Sunil Gupta’s early life and immigration story could be the material for future textbooks.
1. Gupta Sunil. Personal interview. 01 June 2009. 2.
2. Gupta, 01 June 2009, 4.
3. Gupta, 01 June 2009, 5.
4. Gupta, 01 June 2009, 2, 3.
5. Gupta, 01 June 2009, 6.
6. Gupta, 01 June 2009, 8.
7. Gupta, 01 June 2009, 9.
8. Gupta, 01 June 2009, 14.
9. Gupta, 01 June 2009, 17.
10. Gupta, 01 June 2009, 17.