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The American Dream, with Indian Touches - 2004-05-20


During the information technology boom of the late 1990s, many American companies looked abroad, especially to South Asia, to hire skilled computer specialists to fill the many new jobs being created. Today on New American Voices, you'll meet Vaman Kamath, a computer engineer who came to the United States in 1998, and is now building the foundation for - what he calls – the American dream.

The living room in Vaman Kamath’s spacious, brand-new townhouse is furnished with a white couch, a green plastic chair, and a soft quilt spread on the floor on which Mr. Kamath practices the tabla, or Indian drum.

(Sound of the tabla)

“This instrument – I would say that to a fair extent I’m addicted to it and I really enjoy it. You know, when I came to this country in ‘98, I got a lot from this country, so I’m trying to return, in my own small way, as much as possible. I mean, I’m not a big person, so I’d just like to be a messenger to share this nice instrument with the kids and the community.”

Vaman Kamath was a tabla player well before he became a computer network engineer. He recalls that when he was a little boy in Bombay – now Mumbai - India, his parents didn’t want him to play in the mud and dirt, and so encouraged his interest in music, and sent him to study the tabla. But as he grew older, he had doubts about trying to pursue a career in music.

“In our Indian culture, education is given the highest priority. I didn’t have that much confidence to bank on my music skills to make a career, because it’s extremely competitive. But with the engineering, it’s my parents’ outlook, that any time your education is there for you to fall back on. So I would say that both are very important, but yes, engineering is definitely my bread and butter – or I should say engineering is my bread and music is the butter. (laughs.)”

After completing his degree in engineering, Mr. Kamath found a job with a computer firm in Bombay, became engaged, and at the time, had no particular desire to emigrate to the United States. But a friend who had gone to America to work for one of the new information technology firms piqued Mr. Kamath’s interest. The friend’s brother offered to introduce him to the people who were recruiting Indian engineers for U.S. firms. Three hours after submitting his resume, Vaman Kamath was interviewed over the phone by the American company, and 45 minutes later was told that he had been selected for the job.

“I would say that strange are the ways of God, you know. So in four hours… At 7:30 I started, and by eleven o’clock, from a small paan shop – you know, you have betel that you eat, betel leaves – from a paan shop I’m giving a call to my home and saying, ‘Mama, I’m going to America.’”

Before leaving for America Vaman Kamath married his fiancée, Anuradha , who had just received a master’s degree in pharmacy. He says it was not difficult for him and his bride to pull up stakes and leave for a new life in a new country.

“When we took the step, we didn’t think much. (laughs.) We just stepped into it. Because America, being the land that we had heard about, where even the sky is not the limit to explore your skills, and life being a journey, we thought, you know, we need to travel if we want to add some experience to our life. Because in the end it’s all that matters, you know, the memories. So we thought, okay, there’s nothing to lose, we can bank on our skills. You know, some American said that, ‘if worse comes to worse, work!’ So that’s all we thought about, and we just took the step. And I’m glad!”

Adjusting to life in the United States was not difficult for the young couple.

“This country is really accepting toward immigrants like us. I would say from my experience that if you’re focused on what you want to do, anything can be done. It’s a very encouraging environment. I was able to put my experiences and education to actual test in this land. You know, whatever we could build, it’s like with a dream, it keeps you mentally challenged in how to convert your dream into reality.”

After six years in the United States, Vaman Kamath still works as a networking engineer for the same company that originally hired him in India. His wife works in a pharmacy and is finishing her doctorate in the field. They have a car, a new house, and optimism about their future.

“We’ve just been trying to put down our foundation, you know, as an immigrant, you try to put down a foundation, it’s like your Empire State Building, you can build a higher tower when the foundation is good. The good thing is, it’s all up to you, the freedom, freedom for you to do what you want to do. If you decide what you want to do, and you value what the system has given you, then you can just explore it to the fullest potential.”

While pursuing the American dream, Vaman Kameth has stays connected with his Indian heritage and traditions. He says his coworkers and his neighbors are interested in his Indian culture, and find it enriching.

“As I see it, the Americans really want us to be the way we are. So, we bring our culture here, bring the good things that we have learned from different places, and we want to share. Of course, there is the question of adaptability. But the fact of the matter is that you want to just be yourselves, and this is the main factor which the community accepts and wants you to be. It’s better to be a first-class yourself than a second-class somebody else. So this country just lets you be what you want to be, have your own faith, discipline, culture, and share it with the people here –that’s how I look at it.”

In his spare time each week, Vaman Kamath teaches two classes of tabla students, and says he hopes to spread knowledge of the instrument “outside the standard boundaries” -- that is, to more Americans.

English Feature #7-38642 Broadcast May 17, 2004

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