As I stepped on the tarmac with tired feet and luggage which was growing heavier by the minute….I was hit by muggy and humid air which sat on my body like a wet blanket. Entering the airport terminal, the cacophony of countless voices and the jostling bodies made it all seem surreal. The sour faced policemen were herding all of us like cattle with their baton and looking down at us with disdain as if we were more of ‘dharti pe bojh’ than 'humans’. Hubs looked at me and said ‘Welcome to India’.
The word ‘NRI’ (Non Resident Indian or Non Returning Indian or Non Required Indian) lost its importance the moment ‘IT’' boom pierced the eardrums of Indians in the year 2004. The frenetic pace at which the ‘IT ‘crowd hauled abroad actually spoiled chances of ‘Non- IT’ people like us, to stand out in the crowd. Now, nearly each house has someone in ‘pardes’ (foreign land) working for a software firm or doing a Masters in USA, UK or Australia.
With the increasing economic development in India and the growth of opportunities, the tide is turning now and many NRI’s like me are coming home. This decision is met with raised eyebrows and skeptical looks by people who moved abroad many years ago and have now settled down on ‘phoren’ shores. They think it is a bad move to give up the lifestyle one gets used to while living abroad. On the other hand, my Indian brethren are doubtful of my return and are already making it their business to sniff out the real reason. Their assumption being ‘They were not able to make it big outside India, tch tch..losers, so they have come back’.
After living for 3 years in Lancaster, UK, hubs and I decided to move back to India. Since this was our first journey back home in 3 years, we were quite excited to meet our family and friends. The image of India we carried in our mind and heart was of an India which we had left 3 years ago. Though we had heard of the rapid economic growth in India, the mall culture and increasing disposable income, the cultural shock that I felt was even larger than what it was when I landed in UK.
My hometown Nagpur, was a laid back place earlier where the cows and street dogs could sleep undisturbed, bang in the middle of a main road during rush hour. Now, the cows and dogs are still there but the pace of life has become faster and flashier, standard of living has increased, wallets have become fatter and people have become very lifestyle conscious.
The steep increase in cost of things right from milk to dining at a restaurant jolted my brain so much that it did a flip inside my skull. I had to unscrew the top of my head to flip it back in its correct place. Some of these prices can now compete in the European market and even win.
After I landed on Indian soil, I realized that the things which earlier did not bother me much and also some aspects of being an Indian which I took for granted have gotten amplified by many degrees.
On one hand India has some things which are incomparable with any place and which I terribly missed during my stay abroad.
- The amazing variety of food and super delicious desserts. My taste buds did a tango and jumped with joy the moment they came across exotic flavors they had missed in the past three years.
- The luxury of having someone helping you clean up dishes and mop up the house. No longer do I have to worry about broken nails and aching back.
- Family support and love you receive from them, help you to face problems
- There is never a dull moment because of numerous festivals, marriage functions and birthday parties. Social life is alive and kicking.
- Shops stay open quite late, unlike Lancaster, where the shops shut at 5 pm and the town wears a deserted look in the evening. No need to plan in advance when I want to go shopping.
- The colorful festivals, colorful clothes, bollywood movies and Indian culture which attracts many people to India from all over the world. I missed ‘Diwali’ for the past three years. Gone are the days, when I would be wrapped up in warm clothes and trudging across town in freezing weather on Diwali, envious of friends having a great time in India.
- Have said bye bye to depressing wet and cold weather and have said hello to bucketful of sunshine.
- A few days back I was on the road driving my bike behind a shiny Mercedes Benz. Down rolled the car window, a pair of puckered lips peeped out and a splash of red Betel Nut juice colored the road. It was disconcerting to see an educated person being so callous. I feel that the education has been wasted on such people who don’t care about their own country. Not that I did not see people spitting on the street in UK, but these people were very few and far in between.
- If you are bored and stressed while driving your vehicle in India, honking the horn at random frequent intervals even when the stretch of road in front of you is relatively free is the favorite pastime. Better still, when you are the 20th vehicle in a row standing at a traffic signal and the moment the signal turns green, it is your prime responsibility to keep your finger pressed down on your car horn. Because the ‘duffer’ standing first in line is color blind and the 19 vehicles standing behind him will uniformly blast their horns to let him know that the signal has changed to green.
- The first day I landed in India, all sounds on the road seem to be coming out through super boom amplifiers. It hurt my ears and I realized that the noise pollution is extremely high. On my first bike ride on Nagpur roads there were quite a few times when I jumped out of my skin when a horn blasted close to my ears and my heart shot up through my throat and just about stopped falling on the road but was saved because my mouth was shut.
- Indians are in a hurry to be ahead of everyone, be it at a traffic signal, standing in a queue or when getting down from a bus, train or plane. Our genes have that special something which makes us ruthless and impolite, if we see someone else getting ahead of us. We will push people, stamp on feet and have a complete disregard for normal human behavior the moment a train approaches a station or the plane taxies at the airport. These situations trigger a panic reaction and we switch on cell phones even when the sign in the plane says it’s dangerous, we will haul luggage and block the aisle in the train (or Plane) and just not care if we are disturbing other passengers.
- A simple job of renewing your driving license can cause you so much grief. Bureaucracy and red tape will urge you to seek help from a middleman who will charge a couple of hundred bucks to make your life simple. Thus we get caught in the cycle of corruption.
Living on foreign soil means you have limited rights plus a totally different culture which just does not make you feel at home. The decision to move back to India was prompted by a combination of reasons. Mainly to be close to family and share our joys and sorrow with them and to explore the booming economy of India. Also, both hubs and I felt the need to belong, a desire to be identified with Indian community and culture. A desire to get back to the social circle and reach out to old friends and not feel isolated.
We landed here with such a dream in our minds to find out that our situation has become like a “laundryman’s dog” (Dhobi Ka Kutta) who neither belongs here nor there. We lost touch with friends in India and many others have moved on and we are no longer a part of their tightly knit circle of friends. We had to leave behind the friendships which we made in Lancaster, relations have scattered and language of friendship now needs an interpreter. The bright spot in this changed situation is family, which thankfully has not changed and has welcomed us with open arms.
I am confident that in a matter of months, we will learn to realign our thoughts and behavior to match with those of people here. Very soon, we will stop cribbing about the dust and the pollution. Very soon we will ask our NRI friends ‘When do you plan to be back home?’ and thus our assimilation would be complete and we would no longer be NRI’s.