The Greatest Journey
Goutam Mitra’s Journey to America (1982) for a work assignment
essay written by Trisha Mitra
Goutam Mitra was born in 1954. The son of a military engineer, he and his family moved all over India. After attending boarding school for many years, Goutam attended the Indian Institute of Technology, and then came to this country in 1982. After living in Singapore for about one year, he was sent to the U.S. on a work assignment. At the time, Goutam’s stay was temporary. However, as years went by, he decided to settle here. His open- mindedness and his exposure to Western culture prior to immigrating ensured an easy integration.
Immigration is the leading factor which contributes to diversity in America. Individuals from all over the world bring customs and values from their own cultures, contributing to the “melting pot” we live in today.1 Goutam Mitra, an Indian immigrant who came to America in 1982, came here on a work assignment. Little did he know, he would eventually settle in this “amazing place” with many “prospects for growth.”2 Although Goutam’s own experience was unique in his life, his immigration experience in many ways parallels that of other immigrants. The passage of leaving one’s homeland, journeying to another country, and adjusting to life is a common thread that unites many immigrants. As Goutam left India in 1982, his high hopes for a bright future drew him towards America. Goutam’s immigration to America was somewhat unexpected for him, because he had come to the United States temporarily; he was to go back after completing his assignment.
Goutam Mitra was born in 1954 in Calcutta, India, into a middle class family. His father was an engineer with the Indian Army, so Goutam and his family lived a very nomadic lifestyle, moving all over India. Consequently, he had seen a large part of the country by that time. As his father moved from place to place on different work assignments, the family was put up in “huge British style bungalow houses” that were “very spacious”, and these houses were built on acres of land.3 The rural setting that surrounded the house influenced Goutam’s childhood. He fondly remembers that he and his pet German shepherd would “spend hours and hours and hours sort of discovering things and exploring places through the eyes of a six year old kid and a four year old dog.”5 Perhaps, these experiences gave him the “itch to travel,” taking him abroad. Because he was so used to moving from place to place in his youth, traveling abroad was not hard for Goutam. He did not have a consistent, permanent home. Some of his fondest memories, however, were spent when he and his family were moving through India. Boarding school was also one of the “best experiences” of Goutam’s early life.5 It was the place where Goutam grew up the most. The friends he had made in school – some still in touch today – also made his experience noteworthy.
As a result his family’s constant movement, however, education was difficult; therefore, Goutam and his brother were dispatched to boarding school where they lived away for a number of years. At just the age of eight, Goutam was on his own at a Catholic Boarding school in India away from his family. Under a strict, rigorous curriculum, he saw the influences of British imperialism. Goutam received an extremely westernized education, for Calcutta was a British colony. Goutam was among the first generation of Indians born into an independent country. The British influence, however, still lingered. Under a very British- based system of education, Goutam attended the Indian Institute of Technology in central India. Supported by a consortium of nine top American universities, including M.I.T. and University of California Berkeley, there was much interaction with America. Consequently, Goutam became “very in tune with American system and the American way of life.”5 The culture scene at his college campus was like that of an American university. The language spoken by choice was English; people listened to American music, and read American books. Many college professors from American universities taught at IIT.
In 1978, Goutam joined an Indian technology company in India. After spending a number of years deciding what he wanted to do, he switched fields and joined a company in Singapore. He traveled through Southeast Asia, and stayed in Singapore for about a year. One day, his boss notified him that he was assigned to Hughes Aircraft in “this place in California called Irvine.”6 The next day, Goutam departed. He flew on a Pan- American jet for the United States, and landed at LAX Airport on April 16th, 1982. Upon first arriving, Goutam experienced cultural shock for Goutam. He had known so much about American culture and life prior to coming, that he felt prepared for his career assignment in the United States.
Upon his arrival to the United States, Goutam noted the slight “culture shock”, but knew what to expect due to the western influences in India. As part of his adjustment, he specifically remembers carrying his groceries from the store to home, walking. He “didn’t have a car, didn’t have any friends.”7 Out of India, where he had always had a chauffeur to drive him, Goutam now realized the need to drive. Goutam landed on a Friday; the following Monday, he began work at Hughes Aircraft Company. A dedicated worker, he remembers going into work when it was still dark, and returning home when it was again dark. In a defense company building that was constructed without windows, he would “go an entire day having missed the sunshine.”8 It is this determination that brought him to the United States.
Before immigrating, Goutam had heard much about the environment and the education system in America. Several members of his family had come to the United States for higher studies. Goutam knew a lot about the United States from the people who had settled here. His westernized education also contributed to his knowledge of the American culture and way of life. Prior to immigrating, his English skills were better than those in his Native language. Much of his life was in the medium of English. Goutam believes that the Indian middle class experience in this country is distinctive due to “200 years of colonialism” and “exposure to western culture, western ideals, and western thought.”9 As a result, Goutam came to this country rather prepared, knowing what to expect.
Goutam was fascinated by how much prosperity laid in this “enormously successful country.”10 It took a while for him to get an understanding of what made America so affluent. He noticed “obvious differences” in the environment and the people, and he confronted them on a day-to-day basis. These were seen in the environment, and the people.11 The strong sense of community is not found in America. Goutam immediately noticed that people in America were more insular, more isolated. The support system he had in India was not present, and for the first time he felt that he was truly on his own. Over the years, Goutam strove to understand what about America made it so successful over the last century, as it had certainly “met and exceeded expectations.”12 Before coming to the United States, he had traveled the world; he was very cosmopolitan when he had landed in the U.S. For somebody like him, a discovery like this was amazing, for he had lived in a country where the quality of life was not nearly as high.
Goutam found that the United States is obviously a much more affluent society than India. People tend to be very “hard working” in this country, and are rewarded more for their efforts.13 For example, Goutam notes that in India his father never owned a home until he retired. After retirement, he used his hard earned money and purchased a home. Goutam, on the other hand, was able to buy his first home at a very young, when he had just started working. During his father’s career in India, the family was supplied with a temporary place to live in. In that place, there would be a staff of seven to eight working people in the home. Things were taken care of by the servants, who did everything from cooking to gardening. When Goutam came to America, he found a labor intense population. He had to get used to doing things for himself. Going back to India, he notes that it was “uncomfortable to be waited on by somebody.”14 America, with its hardworking population, is much more affluent. Although India was much more frugal in existence, the support system found in India is “unmatched from a mental standpoint than anything else.”15
The hardest part of Goutam’s immigration experience was making the decision to immigrate. Getting into the mindset to leave home was definitely a challenge. A solid education and skills in demand made adjustment in the workplace fairly easy. And again, his westernized background allowed him to fit in easily in American society. Goutam did not come to America as an immigrant, however. He came as a worker on a work visa. It was originally a temporary stay, for he would be going back after completing his assignment, and so Goutam’s adjustment was very smooth. In 1987, however, when his son was born, the absence of his family in India gave him a sense of isolation and loneliness. At that point he felt distant from a “culture that was kind of all pervasiveness.”16 It was finally decided in 1988 that Goutam and his new family would be staying in the United States, and he received his immigrant visa. Having received a great education in India, Goutam did not have much difficulty in his career. His skills were much in demand, so jobs were easily available to him. However, unfortunately he was truly alone when he first arrived. Overtime though, he became acquainted with others like him.
In the 90’s, Goutam became a citizen of the United States. It was a “pretty awesome” experience.17 Because of his nomadic lifestyle back in India, Goutam had never lived in single place for more than three years, and so, Irvine California became his home. When traveling back to India, he recalls the benefits of U.S. citizens when it took him about five minutes to clear customs, whereas it took his wife, an Indian citizen, a few hours. He felt that being an American is a “kind of privilege, because you are treated very well.”18 Although adjustment in his profession was easy, there were “certainly issues of adjustment” in his psychology.19 Despite his comfort and familiarity with American life, Goutam still faced “immigrant insecurity.”20 Halfway around the world from his birthplace, he was apprehensive, and noted that perhaps this insecurity gave him a “very high need for achievement.”21
Being a Hindu also made it easier for Goutam to travel from India; there were “no barriers to having this diversity.”22 The flexibility of the philosophy of Hinduism ensured an easy integration. The lack of stringent cultural barriers and codes of conduct gave Goutam some litheness when traveling to other countries. His family also made it easy, for “they were not a clinging family Goutam noted that perhaps, his immigration experience would’ve been different had he been, “say, a Muslim”. He did not have the same structural boundaries that he would’ve had if he followed a different religion or culture. Understanding and accommodating, they facilitated his desires to travel the world and work in different areas. Originally, his decision to travel the world came from a desire to explore.
As most other immigrant groups in America, Goutam “fosters and protects the subculture”. He states that his children, who were both born here, easily adapted to the culture. They are “much more American” that is, and “will continue to be.” But Goutam’s Indian subculture allows him to regress back to the past. It brings him closer to his home, and soothes his feelings of isolation. He, like many others, seeks solace in his own culture, for the immigration experience to him was always on of “being removed from mainstream culture”. Although proud of the fact that he has integrated into this economy, society, and life, he still holds on to his culture, for it defines him. Even after a full adjustment to this country, immigrants still believe their roots to be in the country they left. Goutam’s “immigrant insecurity” created a sense of isolation that was counteracted by reminding himself of home.23 Helpfully, there is also a large Bengali community in America that somewhat mirrors the support system Goutam had at home. But over the years, Goutam still considers himself close to his mother country. The information technology of this day and age has been responsible for keeping him close to his roots. For example, he calls India almost “three to four times a week”, and is able to speak to family and friends at will.25 He has also tried to take his family back to India every couple of years. Therefore, he does not “much as one would expect”, because he feels constantly close to it. He does not feel too distant from his roots, so he does not feel a void. Goutam is like many of the immigrants who travel to this country. Each of them retains their culture while integrating into society.
Overall, Goutam’s experiences of traveling and immigrating have “opened his mind”. It originally “emanated from a desire to travel”.26 After coming across all kinds of people from different positions in life, Goutam claims that the experiences have left him without any prejudicial views, and he is truly thankful for that. Around 1960, when Goutam lived in India, there was a border skirmish between China and India, and there was much fighting that led to many casualties. Goutam remembers being surrounded by war propaganda depicting the Chinese people in a disrespectable light. People then ignored everything good about the Chinese culture and Goutam includes himself when describing the attitudes formed about the Chinese people at the time. On his first assignment out of India, however, he ended up in Singapore, in which the population was 70% Chinese. In that bustling city, he lived and worked alongside numerous Chinese people. He got to know a lot of them, and soon enough grew to have long lasting friendships. At that point, all the preconceived notions he had held in India that had come from the war propaganda disappeared. As his prejudicial view was replaced by a more tolerant one, “it was like freedom, having gotten rid of that”.27 As whole, the experience broadened Goutam’s perspective on the world, and of people. He was thankful for being able to travel abroad, for the events in his life have shaped his personality, making him “much more broad minded and tolerant”. Overall, it turned out to be a very righteous experience.
Goutam’s story is one of many immigrants who leave their home country and travel abroad. Everyone brings diversity to America. The struggles and hardships experienced by them in leaving their home country, coupled with the cultural ties to their mother country are seen in America today. Years after his immigration, he still holds on to his culture and these roots. Although considering himself an integral part of American society today, he is still an immigrant, who still considers India his home country. Through the years, he did let go of many customs and traditions from India. However, the few that he cultural and religious practices brings a piece of his home to America. Ethnic, cultural, and religious groups found today were all once formed by immigrants who created groups to feel closer to home. The immigrant group as a whole shares a common tie, in that each one brings a piece of “home” to the place in which they immigrate to. The multifarious cultures found in America today traces back to a long history of one’s life spent in another country.
1. Mitra, Goutam. Personal Interview. 28 May 2009. 7, 8.
2. Mitra, 24 May 2009. 1, 2.
3. Mitra, Goutam. Personal Interview 25 May 2009. 5.
4. Mitra, 26 May 2009. 3.
5. Mitra, Goutam. Personal Interview 25 May 2009. 4.
6. Mitra, 26 May 2009. 5.
7. Mitra, Goutam. Personal Interview. 28 May 2009. 5, 6.
8. Mitra, 26 May 2009. 4, 5.
9. Mitra, Goutam. Personal Interview. 28 May 2009. 3.
10. Mitra, 26 May 2009. 3.
11. Mitra, Goutam. Personal Interview. 28 May 2009. 2, 3.
12. Mitra, 26 May 2009. 3.
13. Mitra, Goutam. Personal Interview. 28 May 2009. 1.
14. Mitra, 26 May 2009. 4.
15. Mitra, Goutam. Personal Interview. 28 May 2009. 7.
16. Mitra, 26 May 2009. 5, 6.
17. Mitra, Goutam. Personal Interview. 28 May 2009. 7.
18. Mitra, 26 May 2009. 7, 8.
19. Mitra, Goutam. Personal Interview. 28 May 2009. 5.
20. Mitra, 26 May 2009, 8.
21. Mitra, Goutam. Personal Interview. 28 May 2009. 2.
22. Mitra, 26 May 2009, 8.
23. Mitra, Goutam. Personal Interview. 28 May 2009. 1, 2.
24. Mitra, 26 May 2009. 8.
25. Mitra, Goutam. Personal Interview. 28 May 2009. 2, 3.
26. Mitra, 26 May 2009. 6, 7.
27. Mitra, Goutam. Personal Interview. 28 May 2009. 6, 7.