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The Ex(f)iles

The Ex(f)iles

July 20, 2012

Delhi - I don't live there anymore, but dislike the fact that other people are moving in there and making it their home.

It was somewhat ironic. The fact that on my recent trip to my hometown, Delhi, I happened to be reading about its history. I was reading 'City of Djinns', a book about Delhi and its history, as seen from an Englishman's eyes, set in the 1980s, and there I was in Delhi, seeing it through an expats eyes in 2012.

The City of Djinns explores the history of Delhi and is testimony to the city's constant evolution, the way it has changed with every civilization, every empire, every race that has ruled or inhabited it over thousands of years. What I continue to notice, on every visit back home, is how it continues to change, to adapt over much shorter time spans and how Delhiites, continue to change with it.

I grew up in Delhi, before I left for med school in 1999 at the age of 18. Since then I've of course, made several trips back home and lived there for a couple of years in between med school and moving to the US for my residency.

Things change, no matter what. You leave home and home changes. You change. Nothing stays the same. What is more resistant to change, however, is your perspective of home. You want it to stay the same, you try to cling to the happy memories of it that you have. You don't live there anymore, but you dislike the fact that other people are moving in there and making it their home.

You build a life and career elsewhere but you don't want to miss anything that happens back home. Its a strange life, once you're transplanted. You begin to experience this disconnect in time and space. I've physically been in several places, far away from Delhi over the last 13 years, but mentally when I go back there, I feel like its 1999. I want it to be 1999.

I've often noticed how many NRIs get stuck in this 'time warp'. Their perspective of home gets stuck in the era when they leave. They may or may not continue to evolve and be progressive in the community and country where they now live, but the ideas and values they apply to their homeland tend to stagnate and I'm not sure how others react to it, but my reaction to it happening to me is one of bemusement and mild annoyance. The people who are clearly not from Delhi, but are seemingly more comfortable than me driving on its streets, annoy me. The girls who wear these really short shorts, which would not be out of place at all in an American mall, shock and scandalize me (and make me wonder why I left in the first place). The heat that I used to play tennis in now feels almost intolerable.

Now that I feel it happening to myself, I feel a certain degree of inevitability about it and still don't quite understand why its happening. Is it a voluntary mechanism to try and stay connected? Is it just that impossible to progress with the country once you've left it? Is it that one can only adapt to one changing culture at a time? I'd like to fight it, but I'm not quite sure how. I'm not even sure if its that much of an issue and if it bothers other people as much as me. Looks like for now, every trip back home is going to be a mild culture shock, from my own culture, which seems to be moving at breakneck speed and is not going to be easy to catch up, or keep up with. 


  • Ginu George
    Ginu George
    29.07.12 05:35 PM
    I can so relate to your feeling, Ms.Mehta. The state of my life coupled with my age of 30, the feeling of nostalgia and "lost time", the ever widening gap between the "India I knew" and the "India sinking into today" all combine to create a sense of longing for the old days. Part of this yearning can be blamed on a vociferous dislike for the state of things in the country today, especially in the teeming metros.
  • Britul
    28.07.12 12:29 PM
    nice post ... ;-)
  • Deepa Duraisamy
    Deepa Duraisamy
    24.07.12 01:12 PM
    I feel every NRI returning back home can relate to this piece. I like the whole concept of the time warp that you have applied in this context. So very true!
  • Pranjali
    21.07.12 07:58 AM
    Very well said Dr Mehta...We all have the same thoughts.. You have the right words.
    20.07.12 08:06 PM
    @ Sonal Mehta

    Wellcome to my world dude. :) Thank goodness, that I'm not the only one who feels this way. Your perception has changed toward your home and the country. You have been accustom to a yank way of life.

  • Khadija
    20.07.12 04:19 PM
    "I want it to be 1999."

    A beautiful, sensitive piece.
  • C. Suresh
    C. Suresh
    20.07.12 01:16 PM
    Nice! I find this dis-connect too - when I came back to Bangalore from Delhi and found this sleepy Pensioner's paradise converted into a bustling town of IT and traffic jams :)
  • Rickie Khosla
    Rickie Khosla
    20.07.12 10:17 AM
    I feel even your perspective of 'home' changes over the course of time that you are away from it. The vision in your head is of something much nicer than it perhaps ever was in reality!
    Great read!
  • Aniruddha Dutta
    Aniruddha Dutta
    20.07.12 09:56 AM
    good job! Feel the same sometimes.

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