My parents depart for India today and I’m thinking about the wider implications of this. We’ve usually been on trips to the homeland at several yearly intervals whilst growing up. But in the last five years or so, as our lives have become more involved in the UK, our need to visit has dwindled. My parents have continued to go, whereas my sister and I have opted to stay behind. These days, there is very little for us to do there (unless we visit as tourists, but this is unlikely to happen with our parents). I realise that the journey is ultimately very important to them, but I wonder whether they consider it a visit home, or a visit to India.
Many first generation Indians, now NRIs, often speak about retiring in India. For me, this seems like a fantastic idea; to be given free reign of things here, whilst not having to worry about the nagging influence of parents. However, I do think about how realistic this might be – for both parties. We’re used to so many luxuries in this country, will they be able to live without them, the NHS, welfare system, emergency services, sewage networks, constant energy supply for example? Of course, one can adapt to a different way of being abroad, but when you’ve spent the best part of thirty years in England, or any other western country, you’re likely to feel a little torn. Still, on the bright side, it’s probably better than an uncertain nursing home or retirement village in a distant part of England. The sun is likely to shine a lot more, and you’re likely to enjoy the services of those you employ yourself.
The idea of my parents retiring abroad has been pitched to me by my dad as bliss. I wonder whether he’s considered the practicalities of looking after the administration of things in both countries. I think it would be good for him, but as I sit here filling in landing cards in advance for my parents, I do worry how they’ll cope without a little administration assistant. My dad’s ability to assert authority in India once used to help him a great deal, born out of a culture of back-scratching. Too bad it didn’t do so well here. As India modernises, he’s finding that traditional manners and modern methods of etiquette are doing just as well there and that he may find himself at a bit of a loss.
The airline they’re travelling with specialises in Indian destinations. These days they’re allowing more and more baggage to be taken. So what would have ordinarily been two suitcases and two pieces of hand luggage has now been turned into three and a half suitcases (including two duvets) several hand me down items of clothing, which my mum thinks would be too much of a hassle for the Red Cross, and some old pieces of tech to keep some young cousins amused. I’m donating an old laptop. I wonder if I should be worried about the hard drive, but I’ll try not to let it bother me. With all of this in mind, you can’t help but wonder what little luxuries one might need if living in India?
When we were growing up, our parents always stressed the importance of having a second home. Should one day the prime minister turn out to be Idi Amin or something; this was highly unlikely, but we were always encouraged to have the thought at the back of our minds. My first thoughts ran to how on earth we’re going to get broadband set up in our house and that I might have to move to Mumbai or Delhi to get a decent job, but perhaps I could go there and set up my own media empire and so on. As I let my thoughts run away with me, I realised that a lot of the comforts I was seeking in my imaginary world abroad, were luxuries that I’d been accustomed to in my NRI state of mind, and that it may be possible to live a sort of good life without them. Emphasis on the ‘may be’.
Although in the right environments in India, you’re very likely to meet like-minded people, so perhaps this wasn’t such a far-fetched ideal. In retrospect, I realised that it wouldn’t be the same for my parents. They’d have to get used a network of friends and family that has grown very much set to their own ways. Will they really be able to find their equals in the same friends and family that they grew up with, or will they need the familiarity of NRI co-workers, neighbours and friends who have lived in England for the best part of their lives like they have?