Akhil Sharma recalls the ‘mad excitement’ of his early years as a poor immigrant in America, ‘where everything was possible’. Or was it?

Akhil Sharma in the Financial Times:

Bdbc-433221273701The idea that money reveals things that our words hide has been a part of me for as far back as I can remember. My mother tells a story of how, when my father was a child, his mother, my grandmother, cooked a dish with peas. Peas used to be meaningfully more expensive than other vegetables. This was in India in the 1940s and 1950s. My grandmother, who was a strange angry person, did not like my father as much as she did her youngest son and so she spooned the peas that were in my father’s portion of the dish and put them in my uncle’s.

My family came to America in 1979. I was eight then. To me the best thing about America was its vast wealth. Everything about the country screamed money: how people had cars; the fact that the buildings were tall; that stores turned on electric lights during the day. I remember how during one of our first days in America we opened our mailbox and found a shopping circular printed on coloured paper. We assumed this must have arrived by mistake because in India glossy paper was precious and could be sold for much more money to the recycler than newsprint. When we found it, we grabbed it and hurried back to our apartment.

There were four of us in our family: my parents, my older brother and me. Anup was four years older than I was. We didn’t have much money. I remember once going with Anup and my mother to buy a slice of pizza as a special treat and my mother asking the counter worker to cut the slice into three so we could share. My memories of those early years, though, are of an almost mad excitement. Everything was possible in America and that sense of possibility was like a constant roar. I used to wake in the middle of the night thinking of all the good things that were going to enter my life.

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