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Neither Here Nor There

Neither Here Nor There

October 15, 2012

Now that I have left India, will I start bitching about it just like all the other NRIs?

We initially came to the US with the idea of spending “just a few years here before we go back”. That was over eight years ago!. I remember first being aware that we were in it for the long haul while talking to my dad on the phone, about four years ago, grumbling about "the NRIs". I could hear my dad sniggering at the other end and asked him what was up. Choking back his laughter, he said, "you do realize that you are one of them now, don't you?!"

It came as a shock to me to realize that, yes, technically at that point, I was a Non Resident Indian. But, I never thought of myself in that way. NRIs were the ones who came to India in sarees which reached just to their ankles and in kurtas matched with Nike sneakers. NRIs were the ones who obsessed about the texture of toilet paper! NRIs were the ones who complained loudly about the dust and pollution in India. NRIs bitched about the lack of queues and the overwhelming number of people on the road. In short, NRIs were worse than 'real' Americans because they displayed the crassness, insensitivity, pomposity and self-inflated egos that Indians normally associate with Americans but were actually people who, till a few years ago, had been happily playing in the dust of the Indian soil!

Then how could I be an NRI?! Would I actually do these things when I visited the next time, which I, till now, have always condemned? Would I complain? Would I get out my Lysol container and wipe the seat of a taxi before I sat on it? Would I prominently display my bottle of Bisleri water and tell anyone who would listen how I had almost died of food poisoning on the second day of my visit? And, would I loudly whisper to my son not to touch any of the street kids because they were dirty?!

Now, every time I visit India, I wonder how I will react to different scenarios as I view my country through new eyes. Because, to be honest, my perception has changed. I do expect certain things that are different here compared to back home. I do expect courtesy from people on the streets. What are basic amenities here; such as a safe, well-equipped playground, a wheelchair ramp, a prominent warning sign next to a broken step; are not so readily available in India. But, does that mean that I display my impatience at the first sign of being inconvenienced?

I have lived in India for over twenty years; I have lived in the US for 8 years. How is it possible for people like me, to forget those twenty odd years? How is it possible for anyone to forget that they rode the public buses in all that 'dust and pollution' to go to college? How is it possible to forget that every evening, they used to go to their neighborhood pani puri wallah to devour 20-30 pani puris in one go? How is it possible to forget that they used to go to movie theatres and sit on torn and shabby seats for 3 hours, and that they enjoyed every minute of it? How is it possible to forget that they once gave their orange bar stick to the small beggar who was standing nearby and looking at them with round eyes? I pity people who forget some of the best years of their lives!

Every time I think of India, I pleasantly reminisce about the sights and sounds of my childhood city of Calcutta. The first rains, bringing up the smell of warm earth to my nostrils; the first sound of the dhaaks on Maha Panchami, bringing a lump to my throat every time I hear it; the annoying cacophony of sparrows and crows on the tree next to my room, which used to wake me up much, much sooner than I wanted to be woken; the sound of the Ice-cream Man in the evening, shouting "Kwo-o-o-lity-y-y- Ice cre-e-e-a-mmm!!", making me scramble to the window to see which direction he's heading and then running to my Ma to beg for money for a strawberry stick; the lights of Park Street where all the Marwari cake shops make special pastries for Christmas; the book vendors on College street calling after me, "O Didi, aaj boi neben na? (Hey, sister! Won’t you buy a book today?)".......................

Whenever I think about of my home country, it does make me emotional, at least for a few days, and I really wish to see and hear some of those familiar sights and sounds. Whenever I visit, I feel apprehensive that my kids will not like my city and my country and will turn up their noses, like the clichéd ABCD (American-born confused desi) kids. Of course, it's ridiculous to expect that two small kids will appreciate Indian culture and friendliness in the span of a few weeks! Each time, all I hope for is that it is a novelty for them, and a pleasant one at that, but that is another stressful thought that I carry each time I visit.

You may feel that such sentimentality is all fine up to a certain point, and that I am probably viewing my home country through rose-tinted glasses. You are probably right. Every time I view an Indian newspaper online, I feel the impatience and frustration of an NRI in reading about communal violence, the blatant disrespect and abuse of women, the apathy of people in general and the callousness of public servants, such as politicians and the police. Most of all, I wonder when we will come out of the quagmire of class and caste distinctions, of indulging in petty thoughts, and of our general disregard for public health, hygiene and safety.

This is exemplified by an incident in my Calcutta neighborhood. My mother, who is part of an NGO called Concern for Calcutta, was trying to motivate people to place their garbage in the proper bins at 7 a.m. daily - just before the garbage truck made its round - so that the garbage would not accumulate in the bins and overflow onto the sidewalk each day. Many of the people she spoke to said that it was not possible because their maid did not come that early. It never occurred to them that this was a task that they could perform themselves! Call me an 'NRI', but when I see people here in the USA; normal middle-class people; volunteering to go to the beaches with garbage bags and pick up trash from the sands that they have not thrown themselves, then I feel that at least this is something that we can learn from Americans!

Americans are not perfect by any means. When you listen to all the campaign speeches and the ridiculous propositions outlined in the electioneering, you wonder which century some of these people live in! But, on the other hand, being an Indian does not make you morally and culturally superior to them either, as many desis think of themselves. I believe we can take a leaf from each other's books. I just wonder though whether that will ever happen! 

34 Comments

  • Suraj
    By
    Suraj
    05.01.14 09:26 AM
    I have been out of India for around 7yrs now, although i visit India every 6 months.

    I have seen people do the things you mentioned, but i think i have some how not done it so far.

    I never complain about the infrastructure and facilities, because i know that for a large country like India where every state/district/city have their own agendas it is difficult to move at the same pace.

    The only thing i do get dissapointed sometimes is with the mindset of the people.

    We might have built huge malls, but what about upskilling people who are working in it. Just by imitating foreign countries in terms of malls, we cannot compete with them, we need to have change in the behavior as well.
  • pawan
    By
    pawan
    25.09.13 10:00 AM
    these are the truths everybody knows but don't want to accept them may be because of NRIsm
  • Roshni
    By
    Roshni
    05.01.13 09:59 AM
    Thanks, Deepa!! Glad you liked it!
  • Deepa
    By
    Deepa
    05.01.13 09:51 AM
    Lovely lovely nostalgic post Roshni! I don't know how I missed this earlier, but reading it touched a chord somewhere! I can relate to this so much! :)
  • Roshni
    By
    Roshni
    30.10.12 12:31 AM
    Thanks, Chunmun, for your insight! I must say that I agree with you for the most part.
    However, I wouldn't call NRIs the most privileged! I believe a lot of Indians working in MNCs to be much more privileged....they, after all, earn a huge salary, they have every bit of luxury items that any of us have, and the bonus of a lot of household help that we NRIs unfortunately cannot afford! So, perhaps, the onus of cleaning up the Indian act lies with everyone who can afford their time and resources to do so! What do you think?!
  • Chunmun
    By
    Chunmun
    29.10.12 06:12 PM
    There is a thought experiment proposed by the ancient Greek philosopher Plato, called the Allegory of the Cave, which describes the NRI complex. We 'Indians' were not 'dirty' or 'filthy' until the NRI travelled abroad to the White Man's country and exposed to his/her consciousness a higher ideal of cleanliness.

    Besides, their standards of hygiene are ridiculously high - so much so that they become hyper-sensitive to the slightest amount of dirt - this weakens their immune system in course of time.

    Ultimately the phenotype is a reflection of the genotype - the aesthetically pleasing human landscape built by people of White European racial stock does not have be a natural outcome of an Indian population.

    As for NRIs bi***ing about India, they do have a point about the corruption, petty-mindedness and such, but unless they take significant positive steps to reform their motherland - they are, after all, the most privileged Indians - all their talk is more hypocrisy, apathy and cowardice.
  • Roshni
    By
    Roshni
    18.10.12 07:18 PM
    @Vinod..Thank you so much! I really appreciate you saying that!!
  • Vinod
    By
    Vinod
    18.10.12 04:03 PM
    @Roshni
    Thanks for your response and please know that I deeply appreciate the quality of article you have given us to peruse!
  • Roshni
    By
    Roshni
    16.10.12 05:27 AM
    @meoww...thank you so much!!
  • meoww
    By
    meoww
    16.10.12 05:13 AM
    Well written post! Double like :)
  • Mary Thomas
    By
    Mary Thomas
    16.10.12 12:37 AM
    :)
  • Roshni
    By
    Roshni
    16.10.12 12:20 AM
    @Harry....nope! So far, I have indulged in dahi chaat, paav bhaji, pani puri, bhel puri, aloo dum, chinese noodles, chicken roll.....okay, maybe I shouldn't list these out! My mouth is watering!! :D
  • HARRY
    By
    HARRY
    16.10.12 12:13 AM
    @ Roshni

    Dear god woman, you are more braver then me. I guess it adds flavour to the food. LOL, What can I say, do you not get the runs LOL because I tried the pakoras and my guts nearly fell out, from that point onward I decided not to be brave like that. :)
  • Roshni
    By
    Roshni
    15.10.12 11:40 PM
    @Shilpam...you are right, generally speaking. However, I have found that there are rude people throughout the world. On the other hand, I have found ordinary people in India who have helped me and my family with a smiling face and no expectation of anything in return.

    @Harry and Mary Thomas...unfortunately, Harry, I will have to disappoint you! I DO eat pani puris from the same place!! That is one of the major reasons that I go back! I can eat my mom's food when she visits me but where will I get pani puris mixed with the sweat of the panipuri wallah's brow and perhaps, the snot of his nose?!! LOL!!
  • Roshni
    By
    Roshni
    15.10.12 11:32 PM
    @Shail...thank you so much!

    @Nikunj..thank you so much for your encouragement!

    @Priya and Jaspreet..Thank you very much. I agree that there are some things that need to be changed, and perhaps, some may apply universally!

    @Dimple...yes, I understand what you mean. I suppose the issue is that most people abroad are adequately compensated for the work, whereas in India, it may not be the case. This is something that has to be gauged on a case-by-case basis though!
  • Mary Thomas
    By
    Mary Thomas
    15.10.12 11:21 PM
    Deepika... I was concurring with u... not differing but adding to ur point!

    Yes Harry.. I still eat pani puri at the same places... keeps my immunity up! I love the gay abandon with which we can dance at festivals, weddings, all together, the community spirit which is not there in many of these western countries.... there may be good hygiene but that is because the population is lesser in these countries... service levels are pathetic.... teachers don't get much respect from kids they teach or their parents.... they are blamed if kids get low grades.... a crazy attitude to live with... The social structure and class differences also have their advantages. At least ppl are not ashamed to do whatever work it takes to keep them goin... here they will live on social services till they get the job they desire!
  • HARRY
    By
    HARRY
    15.10.12 10:23 PM
    @ Roshni

    Loved the article. :)

    What can I say that it's not being said above.

    Lets start by saying YES to above question if you do one or more things stated in the article.

    The question is do you do one or more things that you said?

    From this we can tell that we don't like dirty and uncleaned areas and chaos and what is wrong in that? so we have different standard but my question is, would you change that to go back to what you had back home?

    Don't take this personally, but when you have climbed few step up in life it's our nature not to climbed down to bottom again. It's not because we are NRI's but because we get conditioned differenly in west, therefore we behave differenly when this conditon changes back to what is was. It's similar to down trading and I am sure you don't want to do that any more that you have tasted different life. Finally one thing I will say is, I bet you will not eat those pani puri from same place again, or would you? just to prove me wrong. Do tell, I'm just curious.

    HARRY

    PS Wellcome to NRI.
  • aativas
    By
    aativas
    15.10.12 10:05 PM
    Good reflection. However, one never knows when the feelings are replaced!
  • deepika
    By
    deepika
    15.10.12 10:01 PM
    Hi Mary Thomas,
    Thanks for your comment. I hope that you know that I meant exactly what you said: that we can learn from all/every cultures and that I DO NOT in any way perceive that India is a bad example. In fact, quite the opposite: like I said in my post, I think despite our size and differences we have still come a long way as compared to the less advanced countries in our region. I was confused with your comment and wasn't sure if you interpreted mine right,so just clarifying :-)
  • Mary Thomas
    By
    Mary Thomas
    15.10.12 09:49 PM
    Thanks Deepika.... I believe what you say is the best of both worlds.... there is a whole world of goodness in India that does not meet the eye but we know in our hearts. Wherever in the world you live, there is goodness and badness everywhere... your perspective need not get rose tinted by western experiences! India is our mother and despite the fact that she may have many open sores, I bear my allegiance to her. To think there are no ailments in these countries we have made home is pretty short-sighted!
  • jaishvats
    By
    jaishvats
    15.10.12 09:13 PM
    Superb article Roshni. You seemed to have voiced some of my own thoughts. I have been living out of India for nearly 5 years now and I agree to all that you say. There are things Indians need to learn from others.
  • deepika
    By
    deepika
    15.10.12 08:58 PM
    Nice article Roshini. My husband and I grew up in Delhi and have been living in the US for the last 10+ years. Our son is now 3 and I make every effort to take him back to Delhi at least once a year. I really want him to see/know where his parents are from but also understand that it will be unfair of us to expect him to love our city like we do. The most I hope for is that he will look forward to our annual India trip and enjoy the best it has to offer. Right now I am content that Hanumanji is his favourite suorehero!!

    I felt the same way you did about not being one of those stereo typed NRI’s that you see in the movies but after having lived outside India for so long I sure can see (and appreciate) the differences that are too hard to ignore. I do believe that there are good things that we can learn from America and Americans (social responsibility, respect for life and charity being the top three). In exchange Americans can learn and appreciate how India being such a big country with multiple cultures, languages, foods, Gods and pretty much everything has come such a long way in comparison to some other countries in the region. There is a long way for us to go still but I am hopeful in the young generation- a generation that feels much more confident of itself. There are times when I feel dejected when I hear news of the corruption and crimes against women and children but I still have hope in my country and will always have happy memories of the past and hopefully happier memories of my future visits.
  • shilpam
    By
    shilpam
    15.10.12 06:02 PM
    like you said yourself, one does not need to be a NRI to imbibe basic courtesies or hygiene levels. Both my kids study in the US and i see a marked change and improvement in them in the way they speak & treat a servant or a driver or a liftman, i guess they have learnt how to be more civil and respectful. That said i am aghast at our lack of civic mindedness and ashamed at the way we co exist in our cities, there is no excuse for this and it seems we are decaying morally, ethically and spiritually. I have no clue if and how we'll ever get out of this mess
  • Dimple  Patel
    By
    Dimple Patel
    15.10.12 05:41 PM
    'Rewarding for helping people' by that I mean if someone helps us, we just say thank you and go away, but in India there is expectation of receiving something, so maybe we NRI's should learn to reward people. It is possible that In India some people are very poor and if they do an errand for you one must give something in return, as there is an expectation and I suppose it is also a way of saying thank you.
  • Jaspreet
    By
    Jaspreet
    15.10.12 02:48 PM
    Very nicely written Roshni. Brought out all the valid points. I don't know about being NRI but would like to say that there are certain issues that are inherent in India and need huge change.
  • Priya Sreeram
    By
    Priya Sreeram
    15.10.12 02:37 PM
    nice post roshni
  • Nikunj
    By
    Nikunj
    15.10.12 02:03 PM
    Hey Roshni,
    Great great article. I just loved reading it. I completely understand and agree with you when people start looking with bad eyes on the same city, country they have spent the best years of their life (childhood days) when they come back after living in a foreign country.. its just completely bizzare and strange to me.. i have lived now almost 6-7 years away and go home every year.. and enjoy every every moment spend on my tiny holidays in my city.. the bestest of all- Mumbai :) it keeps me more grounded and always reminds me that this is where i need to come back ASAP! :)

    looking forward to more amazing articles from you.
    Cheers!
    Nikunj
  • Shail
    By
    Shail
    15.10.12 10:21 AM
    Very well written Roshni :)
  • Roshni
    By
    Roshni
    15.10.12 08:02 AM
    @Mary Thomas...thank you so much. I will definitely visit your blog!
  • Mary Thomas
    By
    Mary Thomas
    15.10.12 05:43 AM
    Simply loved ur piece... identify with most of ur feelings and also sometimes feeling superior in some ways due to some tenets of our culture.... it was a lovely read.... urge u to read my blog on the same topic.... http://mercuriousity.blogspot.com/2010/10/another-year-in-canada.html
  • Roshni
    By
    Roshni
    15.10.12 04:58 AM
    @Dimple Patel, you're right about the fact that there should be no shame in doing work with your own hands, whatever it may be! I am interested in understanding more about what you mean by NRIs do not reward people who help them though.

    @Amruta...so glad you liked it!

    @Vinod, thank you so much for your comment. I am not in the least offended by an exchange of ideas! The point which I hoped to make is that every society can learn from the other; nothing we do can or should be stated to be 'the best'! In that way, it is a matter of perspective and what is suited for the situation at hand! I believe that is what you feel too!
  • Vinod
    By
    Vinod
    15.10.12 04:21 AM
    Interesting topic and a good one too!Please excuse me if I am trying to look at the same issue in a different angle.

    My life has been much more fragmented than many with 11 years north of India,13 years south of India, 2 year professional life in Central India,3 years each in 3 countries and 5th year in the US. In other words I have started my life by being critical about South in North and North in South because I failed to associate my allegiance to any one place!!!

    Life taught me something and thanks for giving me this space through you to state what I feel. Every society is like 'a species under the lens of Darwinism'!! Each population(read society!)evolves in a way that is required to help it adapt well in that environment.The genetic pool of the population too plays a role in this evolution. Now when we see each country or society and the plus and minus, we bare our own lack of knowledge about this story of evolution of a society living in a geographical entity.

    We,often become critical instantly on some experiences 'suddenly' difficult in our home country or adopted country of stay but fail to realize that everything we experience has come to that point due to a reason or reasons.

    Let me conclude with one example of life, I came across. There is a tribe in the world where there are no handicapped members. They kill the handicapped newborn immediately, by leaving it to die. I am sure all of us would instantly term it as cruel!!! If we analyse the reasons,the act would appear not so cruel because in that hostile environment which is one of the hottest places on Earth,only the fittest of the fit can only survive and none can help another being with a disadvantage to survive!!!

    I think it applies in every way of life that we see around!!If India is what we experience,then India is in her own path of evolution and would shape up according to her situation and demands of time like the US or any other nation. So there is no room for cribbing but do our bit to set an example if we think that conveys a better way of doing things as you mentioned in your article.

    The good news is that 'Evolution' never stops because we call it by another name everyday...'Change'!!!!

    Good to read your article and please do not be offended if ever I sound critical. It is more about academic exchange of thoughts and your article is also part of that grand design of 'Change'!!:-)
  • Amruta
    By
    Amruta
    15.10.12 03:57 AM
    Roshni,

    Thank you. You have suddenly made me nostalgic and now "I really wish to see and hear some of those familiar sights and sounds."

    :)
  • Dimple  Patel
    By
    Dimple Patel
    15.10.12 03:54 AM
    Our lifestyles and cultural attitudes are so different.NRI's do not always reward whoever helps them straightaway and this causes problems. We are constantly cleaning everything, hands, surfaces and our houses and toilets by ourselves, whereas in India people cannot understand that there is no shame in doing such chores ourselves.

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