Sunday, August 15, 2010

To India and back...

This post comes on the day the greatest democracy in the world celebrates its Independence.

If you ask me what is one thing about India I'm proud of, may be its the Indian culture, traditions and family values. That's the only one that comes to my mind. Its the Indian history that's impressive, not present-day India. In 63 years of Independent India, I really don't think we have achieved that much compared to how a country like Japan rose from the ashes after WW-II. After fighting for 90 years, we finally became independent only to be governed later by a group of selfish politicians. The whole scam about the Commonwealth Games makes me feel so ashamed while all those people using tax-payers money to make statues of their own, sanction budget for maintaining some non-existent bridges and dams, don't even feel a pinch. IMO, corruption, uncontrolled population growth, and brain-drain are some reasons we haven't been able to do much and continue to be a developing nation. Anyways, will stop here for now and get to my story about a recent trip we made to India.

So, after postponing our India travel for a long time we finally landed in India during peak summer, that's May. Though its the wrong time of the year to visit, I've been missing Indian mangoes for three years and was prepared to bear the scorching heat for the love of mangoes. Desi mangoes are something. After feasting on sweets and mangoes, I came back with 4 extra lbs :( Anyways, "jo hua so hua". Like most international arrivals, we arrived at midnight in India. After tears of joy at the airport on meeting my family, it was time to check-out the city of Hyderabad. Though its not that glitzy at night, I did notice a lot of new construction. Amazing to see how silent the city gets at night, particularly the colony where we live. Here in the US, it really doesn't matter.. Day or night, the residential streets always carry a deserted look. Sometimes they look like picture postcards to me, no motion whatsoever. Anyways, I had the best time and definitely the tastiest food in about 1.5 years. I always have this jetlag problem when I travel from India to US, but not vice-versa because I just don't feel like sleeping while others are all awake, talking, eating, doing the typical Indian family activities, you know.. Attending functions in your best dress, meeting the newest additions to the family, man! I miss all that here. Dear S, those two hrs I spent with you, that's one of my trip highlights.

Most NRIs start cribbing, the moment they land in India. My only complaint is the traffic situation. After zoom-zooming on US freeways, I really wonder if I can ever drive in India. Who cares, I'll have a chauffeur-driven car :) I was a little surprised to see quite a lot of working families there have a maid, a cook, and a driver. I so envy them 'coz I play all those three roles while being a 10-to-6 "alien" worker at the same time. My mom, if she wants some groceries real quick, all she does is make a phone call to the neighbourhood department store and there he arrives at your door-step bringing all you wanted. There are times when I get dressed up, wear my winter clothing and all just for a trip to the mailbox. My husband was a little cranky about the heat and the filth on Indian roads, but I felt so much at home :) Talking about uncleanliness, during my trip to New York, I was surprised to see soda cans and fries along the sidewalks in downtown. Cleanliness is directly proportional to population. When New York can get dirty, why not India? My hometown of Vizag is relatively prettier with more greenery and all, mainly because its not a major "city". You can't argue with me about the shadiness in India, I can always come up with a counter :) Trust me, only when you don't compare India to US, will you have a good vacation there.

The only one thing that always bothered me even when I was living in India is the lack of civic sense, or its the lack of respect to your fellow-human. I always used to feel bad about it and now after 3 years in the US, I feel more disgusted. Agreed, people here are more in-their-own-world kinds, but atleast they are not indifferent. Even though conversations begin and end with "How you doing? You have a good day", atleast there's a conversation. In India, everybody is in a hurry Nobody cares for pedestrians crossing the road, getting work done in public offices is a Herculean task, people pushing each other in buses, stampedes at temples, there's no concept of "queue" - its always multiple lines converging into one with a mad-rush at the vertex. Those are some of the things that will never change, its in our mindset may be 'coz even here, I find a few desis who put up this rude expression as I walk past them. May be they're thinking "so you're also here to make money huh?". Whatever..

After shuttling between Hyd and Vizag, I began to wonder how different both these cities are. More than anything, its Vizag that surprised me. Bigger malls, newer multiplexes, wider roads, newer chain-stores from the Reliance group. Even though Vizag doesn't have any techie companies, the real estate there is like crazy. A 3BR apt in suburbs for 30Lakhs, no kidding! Talking about afford-ability, India sure has become much more expensive to live, particularly in the last decade. Yes, Nike shoes may cost the same in India as well as US, but I had to spend my two-days salary on the Reebok I bought several years ago while its only a fraction of my daily-wage here. And yet, people in India don't think twice before swiping the card at all those fancy shopping malls. The biggest shock I got was in one super market, all those groceries, soaps and shampoos cost about the same, may be a little cheaper when compared to what is sold in the desi stores here. I was more concerned thinking about the quality of goods I have in my kitchen out there, how could they be so cheap? Is export duty really nothing?

Family is the one big reason anybody plans a trip to India. But for me, there's more to India, besides my loving family. Memories.. The house where I grew up, that bus-stop where I waited for my school-bus for 8 something years, the friendly gesture from a bookseller who saw me graduate from a school-girl to an Engineer, my neighbors, my driver, the beach road, so on and so forth.. Yeah, I may sound silly but they all matter to me. That's why I so yearn to return. Home is where my memories are..

This time, for some reason, I just didn't want to return back. May be its my parents who've grown older by an year since I last met them, may be its the fear of ending up as a non-returning-Indian, may be its the "I'm so done" feeling after experiencing everything I wanted to in the US (trust me, working here is no different from working for a multi-national product based company in India).. The first few days after I landed here, this place felt more foreign to me than ever before. The empty residential streets even at mid-day made me miss India so much. Despite living in the bay area, despite my frequent trips to El Camino Sunnyvale which can be re-named MG Road for the number of Indian businesses that set up shop here, I still feel this is not where I belong even after two months of returning from the vacation. I wish and pray this feeling grows on me with each passing year. Got some unfinished business to wrap up here, a week each in Hawaii and Alaska, quick darshan of Fall colors and that's it,, I'll be all set to hand over my I-94 in style! Looking forward to the day we purchase one-way tickets.... to India!

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