When you live in a foreign country, especially a country with a better standard of living than your own, questions are bound to crop up. Innocent questions no doubt, but ones which make replying Yes or No seem equally bad.
"So female infanticide still happens in India, huh?"
"Ummm..yes, but...only in the really remote villages."
I say Yes, and their eyes glaze over. So I come from the country where baby girls are drowned. That is really the end of the story, isn't it? Except it’s not.
The answer is either Yes or No. It should be either Black or White. But my answer is in Grey. I want to tell them about how special India really is. I want to tell them about all the instances where Indian women are given a place of honour. About Raksha Bandhan, when brothers tie a special band around their sister’s wrists promising eternal protection. About the Taj Mahal, which was built as a monument of love by a king for his queen.
"Slum Dog millionaire - some movie that. So do these slums actually exist?”
My hesitation is answer enough.
"It's OK, there's no need to be ashamed”, their expressions tell me.
Yes, we do have slums and that heart-wrenching kind of poverty. But where you only see grime and misery, I see happy faces of slum-dwellers who squat beside the tracks and wave at you as you watch them from the open windows of your train compartments. I see kindness and brotherhood forged out of hunger and hardships where two children share a single 'roti’ to keep themselves alive. All they need is a single square meal, the grass below and the sky above and they are happy. Where you see poor living conditions, I see satisfaction and contentment with the simple pleasures of life.
I want to shine the torch on the positive aspects of India. The hidden, uncommercialised ones. Not the spicy curry or even spicier Bollywood movies. I want to tell them about the soothing calm of temple hymns at dawn, the colours of paddy fields against a setting sun, and the smell of wet earth after the first rain of the monsoons.
No, we do not have Starbucks. Ok, we do have Baristas and Cafe Coffee Days. But to taste the real India, all you need is a cup of Filter Kaapi, served in a tiny steel tumbler with a line of froth on top. It might not come with a fancy cardboard holder to keep you from burning your ahnd. Or toffee nut or caramel flavours. But it comes with enough warmth and flavour to invigorate your senses.
And no, snakes, Maharajas and elephants DO NOT walk the streets anymore.
"Yes, we have traffic lights, thank you very much. And yes they work. Well, most of the time."
And again among these questions, I find myself caught in a web of ‘Yes’s and ‘But’s. Trying hard to convince, and somehow making it worse in the process.
India is as unruly as it is peaceful. It is as dirty as it is beautiful. It is as imperfect as it is perfect. It is as much home as any place can be. And let there be no question about that. Because the answer to that is neither black, nor white nor grey. It comes in beautiful shades of Saffron, White and Green with a Navy Blue Chakra in the middle.