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The NRI's Annual Visit To India

The NRI's Annual Visit To India

February 07, 2012

FAQ and a Survivor’s Guide to visiting India.

Do your neighbors flock to you every time you visit home? Do they show no qualms in informing you how much weight you have put on, or how everything is now readily available in India? Do your relatives think you are not getting married due to suspicious reasons?


Read on....

Despite much talk of globalization and snooty relatives in India dutifully informing you that everything you brought for them (from Toblerone chocolates to GAP clothes) is now available at their nearest shopping mall, the annual visit to India is not without its predictable share of amusement. Most neighbors and relatives would pay a handsome entry fee to come check you out, elevating you to the status of a typical baboon eating a banana in a zoo. They do not hide their amazement at how you can still speak perfect Bengali without an American accent. At one point, I was tempted to fake an accent so as not to disappoint them.

The people all came with many questions about my life in America. However, after meeting a few neighbors, I realized that it became easier to answer their questions about “Tomader America” (“Your America”). It was not because they asked easier questions or stopped asking them for a change. It was because they asked questions from the same question pool, like our very own Calcutta University, infamous for reusing and recycling questions from the time Akbar inherited the throne or your grandfather last watched Krishi Darshan on television.

“Baaabaaa, you look so different”


Which euphemistically means you look old, fat, and ugly. The claim to the prolonged and usually adenoidal “Baaabbaaaa” is not from Baa Baa Black Sheep. You are not a true Bengali if you cannot drone a nasal and dragging Baaabaaaa at the beginning of a conversation to show amazement. What it means, or if it was coined by someone great like Tagore, I do not know.

YOU
: Nod and smile, wishing the embarrassing moment of visual appraisal would be over soon.

WHAT YOU OUGHT TO DO
: Nod and smile. Please do not ask for clarifications, unless you want to be told to your face that you are fat.

“So what have you got from America?”


DO NOT
: Start giving an account.

DO
: Keep them guessing. Say this and that. Smile surreptitiously. Do not let them anywhere near your American Tourister suitcases. Stuff some Hershey's Kisses chocolates in their hands instead.

“Don’t you miss home?”


Now this is a loaded question with no politically correct answer. If you say yes, you will need to answer why you did not visit earlier, OPT and visa transition phases be darned. If you say no, you will be portrayed as that insensitive monster of a child who never cared about your old and ailing parents, and while the poor father was toiling hard and the poor mother was cooking for the family in the heat and humidity, you were gambling and having fun in Las Vegas.

DO NOT
: Try thinking of an apt answer.

DO
: Smile and nod at an angle which could mean both a yes and a no. Just say you have never been to Las Vegas.

“So when are you getting married?”


This question comes in various versions. Some ask if you have decided to marry a foreigner (foreigner by the way is anyone non-Indian). Some specify certain religions and races you should stay away from, even if he is the last man with whom you can repopulate planet earth. Some demand that no matter whom you marry, the social ceremony should be in India, witnessed and blessed by some six hundred odd relatives and acquaintances. Some even ask you if you have come home to (secretly) get married.

DO NOT
: Let them believe you are as clueless about your wedding as they are. Do not inform them that you do not have a plan or that useless software engineer from the Bay Area you dated screwed up the relationship and after four years of hanky-panky, he said he needed more time to “figure things out” and you are too old, stigmatized and tired to find someone new or make a Plan B.

DO
: Smile suspiciously and coyly. Let them know there is something you are hiding.

“Are you going to settle there?”


This is the most unsettling of all the questions. For one, with the screwed up economy and your unstable visa situation, you are light years away from any kind of stability, work-wise or visa-wise. Your boss is making your life at work miserable and the last thing on your mind after twelve hours of crouching in front of a computer crunching numbers, tallying excel spreadsheets or running statistical analyses everyday is to think if you are going to “settle” in the US.

DO NOT
: Try explaining things. Before you know, the neighbors would have found out how much you earn, spend, and save.

DO
: Smile and nod making an angle which could mean a yes maybe or a no maybe.

“I’m not asking you your salary, but how much do you earn compared to Indian standards?”


And you can almost see the currency converter in their heads ticking.

“I’ve heard many Indian girls and boys in the US live together. Is that true?”


TRY SAYING
: Yes, it is known as an orgy.

“Do you cook Indian food at all? No, you must be eating burger and fries, and beef and pork, no?”


TRY SAYING
: Yes, and bison meat too, transported all the way from Yellowstone National Park.

“Aren’t people in your country smelly and refuse to take a bath every day?”


TRY SAYING
: (Assuming “your country” refers to America) Yes, and it is sometimes required by the law in certain states that international students soap them clean.

“Is there some good news we should know about?”


TRY SAYING
: “Absolutely !!”. Then look indicatively at those tires on your tummy, thanks to a diet rich in Nutella and McDonald’s.

While most questions are innocuous, bordering on curiosity and ignorance, answering them sometimes gets awkward, especially after all that privacy and space you have enjoyed in western society. No one really cares why you are not married or how much your earn in America, unless of course it is the same desi aunty who is visiting her sonny boy in California. You can get away with most questions with a non-committal smile and a head nod which could mean a yes, no, maybe, probably, most likely, anything. Although annoying, answering these questions is strangely not an ordeal after a while. In some comforting way, it is representative of a society that shows care, although in its own idiosyncratic and ostensibly interfering way. I would prefer this society any day compared to the isolation of living in my present, western society, where I do not know who my neighbors are, and highly run the risk of going unnoticed for days if ever trapped in my apartment alone due to a broken bone and unable to ask for help.

Photo credit
: Tawheed Manzoor 

22 Comments

  • Indian in US
    By
    Indian in US
    27.04.12 11:37 PM
    Another question, typically asked by uncles whose kids are in the US, or young people aspiring to go to the US is "Do you have a green card?" "How long did it take?"
    If you have been a student, then you also get to hear "Did you get your H1? I heard they have become very strict now".

    I hardly take any gifts for people in India, since you do get everything there now. At best a few chocolates, and I make sure to take the brands that we dont get in India. A few years ago when I was in India, I was the one telling NRIs not to waste money in bringing Toblerones n Ferrero Rochers to India :)
  • Dev
    By
    Dev
    17.02.12 10:14 AM
    So Devasmita, Tell me " When are you getting Married ?"

    LOL..It was fun reading it.
    Keep writing.
    Dev
  • Girl Cook Art
    By
    Girl Cook Art
    11.02.12 01:39 PM
    Ahahahaha! Friggin Hilarious! And a little bit insulting (in a funny manner of course, no offence) to us - the settled Indians (in India..sigh..) Great post!
  • Meera
    By
    Meera
    09.02.12 09:24 PM
    Oh! How the questions never stop! My street vendor enquired if people ever walk in the US... sometimes its ignorance but most of the time its curiosity bordering on nosiness. Either way, life is easier if we don't take if subjectively and answer with humour like you suggested.At least that way, the aunties will not be the only one who are having a good laugh :)
  • HARRY
    By
    HARRY
    08.02.12 09:25 PM
    @ DC It is such a joy to be Indian isn't it. :) But you forgot the most important question of all.

    Do you have GORI friends you go out with disco dancing? What they really asking is. Do you go out with GORIS and GORAS getting drunk, and doing all the things that an Indian should not be doing. I think this is the most important question for all the aunties at home. So they can gossip about you in your absent to wind your perents to force you to get you married soon. But I don't think you need this explaining do you DC. :)

    I think you are more clever then you are letting on. Nice post, I liked it and couldn't stop laughing. :)

    HARRY
  • Devasmita Chakraverty
    By
    Devasmita Chakraverty
    08.02.12 05:05 AM
    Rajpriya, yeah, I know what you mean ... :)

    Bronwyn, thank you :) Glad you liked it !
  • Bronwyn
    By
    Bronwyn
    08.02.12 12:22 AM
    Hi Devasmita,

    I loved this post! Foreigners in India get asked some of the same questions, just out of curiosity. Your answers were witty and fun. Looking forward to reading more!
  • Rajpriya
    By
    Rajpriya
    07.02.12 10:33 PM
    @Deavsmita,

    Almost all my relations are in India and around 14 scattered in the US. I love to learn Hindi but don’t know how. I have no knowledge of Bengali Oh! Those who said Ayyio are not Indians. I might sound somewhat funny if said Babaaaa instead.

    I know this problem. I travel quite a lot and the number of times I was pestered with carrying things. I hope you post on that topic will be as interesting as this one.
  • Devasmita Chakraverty
    By
    Devasmita Chakraverty
    07.02.12 07:29 PM
    Writerzblock,goodness, you seem to have done quite an analysis of my post, almost point by point :) Like I told Shirish earlier, it is all about context, and maybe you have not met the people I did. And maybe it was not about the general attitude of foreign being fantastic. Maybe these were my aunts and neighbors who wanted to come and see the changes in "me", the girl who grew up before them and then left for foreign shores. It is all context based. If there was even a little malice involved, I would not be writing about it with humor. However, at the end of the day, whether you agree with what you read or not, they still remain my experiences :)
  • Devasmita Chakraverty
    By
    Devasmita Chakraverty
    07.02.12 07:21 PM
    Shirish, what we write is all about context. Maybe you do not know people who ask questions. Maybe I do. The people in my post are not generazible of the entire Indian population. "Exaggerated version"? Perhaps a little, but only for the sake of some innocuous humor, I promise. No malice involved. And the best thing you can do to respond to humor is to see things with a pinch of humor, rather than get defensive and say, "No, it is not true", what say? :)
  • Devasmita Chakraverty
    By
    Devasmita Chakraverty
    07.02.12 07:17 PM
    Jyoti, thank you ! I do not get annoyed anymore, it just tickles my humor :) In fact, the last para would summarize how I feel.
  • Devasmita Chakraverty
    By
    Devasmita Chakraverty
    07.02.12 07:16 PM
    Subhorup, thank you for commenting. I am glad you enjoyed it :)
  • Writerzblock
    By
    Writerzblock
    07.02.12 04:43 PM
    Sorry, 'Antarctica'.
  • Writerzblock
    By
    Writerzblock
    07.02.12 04:42 PM
    @ Devasmita,

    I loved your earlier article on driving on single lanes. While I enjoyed the humour in this article, I also found this post slightly unfair to the people we visit in India.

    The general attitude is not 'phoren is fantastic' any more, but that 'India is not far behind' and the questions being asked are out of general curiosity!! Even if you were to return from say Antartica, you would still be asked a volley of questions about life there.

    Infact, I feel they aren't being snooty, but only proud of India having moved forward. The thing with NRIs is that we believe that clothes/chocolates available abroad are unique, therefore we perhaps EXPECT appreciation and/or gratitude.

    I visit India twice every year, and I don't think people in India care much about accents and stuff these days. Unless you are referring to a very very specific group of people/friends/relatives!

    The question of 'when are you getting married' is the same.. NRI or not. It is simply a checklist that has to get ticked off, whether you are a boy or a girl! Once that box has been ticked, the next question will be 'So , any 'good news?'!! And yes, like you said, the best way to answer is to smile it out!

    I liked what you said, about preferring a nosey (but apparently, more caring) society as compared to faceless/nameless neighbours abroad. Amen to that!
  • shirish patwa
    By
    shirish patwa
    07.02.12 04:19 PM
    If at all, it is a exaggerated version of what really happens.Previously people used to ask similar types of questions to those who stay in Mumbai.Bambai se aaya mera dost ,dost ko salam karo!But now Mumbai has become city next door and has lost its importance.Similarly U.S. too will be a place next door and people will lose interest.My dear Devasmita, do you want to wait that to happen before your next visit to India?
  • Jyoti Agarwal
    By
    Jyoti Agarwal
    07.02.12 03:30 PM
    I have been to a number of countries, but(thankfully)for not more than six months. Still, some people back home expect you to change completely just because you lived with FOREIGNERS for 6 months. While it is annoying to face such people, it is equally amusing to see how confined their thought process is. A great post and a good laugh :-)

    Keep it up!
  • Devasmita Chakraverty
    By
    Devasmita Chakraverty
    07.02.12 01:29 PM
    @ Rajpriya, for me, the aiyyoo is substituted with Babaaaa .... the equivalent mark of exclamation in Bengali. The stuff people ask you to carry back to the US is a different post altogether :)
  • Rajpriya
    By
    Rajpriya
    07.02.12 01:07 PM
    @Devasmita

    I forgot to mention the funniest part. Their relations exclaimed Ayyio! Why did you carry them all the way from there when we get plenty of them here?

    Could it be a serious problem with how they communicate with their relations back home?
  • Rajpriya
    By
    Rajpriya
    07.02.12 12:56 PM
    @Devasmita

    Was great fun reading an NRI' annual visit to India than being at many humorless Annual General Meetings with grim faces seated right round huge tables and the resulting Annual Reports.

    I would suggest you inform them due the difference in time and jetlag you are sleeping may be for 48 hours through a third party. Go out after dark if at all.

    Don’t tell them exactly when you are leaving because you may have to carry many things you will be given to hand over to friends and relations than your own things.

    Once some one gave me twenty packs of Poppadum’s, curry leaves and Green Chilies. I left them behind and bought the same in an Asian shop in Germany and gave their relations.

    Enjoy your stay.
  • Devasmita Chakraverty
    By
    Devasmita Chakraverty
    07.02.12 11:33 AM
    Jayanth, how could I miss that? Not to mention aunties who give you scraps of paper with phone numbers belonging to some mausere dewar's chachere bhai ki bhanji who lives in Iowa, and who I should call just in case I need something, or I need to reconnect with an Indian family :)
  • Jayanth Tadinada
    By
    Jayanth Tadinada
    07.02.12 11:28 AM
    One more thing question you probably missed out is

    My childhood friend's son lives in California too, have you ever run into him?

    At which point you'll have to explain that California is a state, not a hotel :p
  • subhorup
    By
    subhorup
    07.02.12 08:40 AM
    Great post. Though this appears to be specific to a country and a community, this is really universal, and the more contexts I tried placing it in, the more I realized how it is. It is not just the west and India, it works with any two cultures that are separate and distinct. Of course, the concept of personal space and privacy are not greatly honored in India, but that is changing, especially in the cities. Was laughing my way through the post. Thanks.

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