The eternal desi dilemma

We came here proclaiming we were not here to stay forever, that we would return and repay the debt we owed our families, our society, our country. Our sense of responsibility towards our roots seemed to magnify manifold when we were far away from them. We promised ourselves that we would not stay beyond a certain point in our lives – it could be when we had made a certain amount of money, or our kids reached a certain milestone, or our parents back home were of a certain age.

When people gave us examples of other desis who also resolved to leave before their oldest child started school (so the kids could have an “Indian” upbringing) and how said kids are in college now and they are still very much here – we thought proudly to ourselves that we could never be one of those people. We were way more determined than those people, we knew our priorities, knew what we wanted from our lives. Until we didn’t.

Time passed by and we started getting comfortable. Started enjoying the nice things our new country of residence had to offer – more space, bigger homes, less smog, endless opportunities to indulge ourselves in a world of materialistic pleasures. The list goes on and on.

We constantly make comparisons with our country of origin. We keep telling ourselves that we should stay for the sake of our children. For their better future and well-being. We even give up on the idea of an Indian upbringing. It matters less and less each day that our children do not speak the language we do. They proudly declare who their favorite (US) president is but do not have the slightest idea who was the frail looking old man with a stick and no shirt on whom we called Bapu. Things that matter so much to us, would not mean anything to them. And that would be alright by us. These are the sacrifices we would make for the success of our children. All of these reasons we give others, and ourselves, are completely valid reasons, but they are definitely not the only reasons we want to stay. The complete truth is that we would miss the life of convenience. The idea of waiting in long lines to get our driver’s license renewed, spending insane amount of time stuck in traffic while commuting to and from work, getting home at unearthly hours long after the kids are tucked in for the night scares us now that we know that we have other options.

On the other hand, we hate the feeling of not belonging where we live. And we also know that even if they grow up here, our kids will never belong either. We constantly worry about our folks back home. Phone calls at odd hours from a number with a different international code scare the bejesus out of us. We miss celebrating festivals with our families. We ache for the colors, sounds and smells of a place we once called home. So we start fighting the battle with ourselves. Trying to make the decision that we thought we had made long ago. It is not an easy one to make, we get that now. Definitely not easy to uproot ourselves from a place that has become home in its own way, a place that is the only home our children know,  and make a new home somewhere else. But we need to accept that we cannot have the best of both the worlds. The decision must be made before it is too late, and either way, we must learn to be happy with it and make the best of it.

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How corruption killed Mahi

There was a little girl named Mahi. It was just any other day in her life until she went outside to play and fell in an illegally dug borewell, fell 70-feet deep to her death. People think it is the borewell and the fall that killed Mahi. Actually it was a monster with a thousand heads who murdered her. That monster has its tentacles spread all over the place and is eating away the roots of the Indian society. That monster is called ‘Corruption’ and it is Corruption that killed Mahi.

This is not the first time something like this has happened. I remember at least 2 other similar incidents that became national headlines at different times. Two other kids who fell in borewells and remained stuck there for days. Army was called for rescue, tunnels were dug to reach the children and news channels ran live telecasts of the rescue operations. One of those kids was rescued, I do not remember what was the fate of the other.

Whenever something like this happens, people are shaken by the tragedy. They talk about it for a while – in newspapers, on TV talk shows, and then they forget. We the people are very forgetful you see, but then it’s not really our fault. New issues come up, we forget about the old ones and start talking about the new. We like talking a lot, mostly talking, no doing. Take for instance Anna Hazare’s anti-corruption crusade. People went crazy for a while, going gaga over Anna, holding debates on social media platforms, even changing their profile pictures to support Anna. And then what happened?

All of these people who “supported” Anna, I want to now go back and ask them. What change did they make in their own lives to make sure they do not feed the Corruption monster? Do they refuse to bribe the traffic policeman to avoid getting a challan (ticket) when stopped for breaking a rule on the road? Are they bold enough to not pay any money to the police walla who comes for their verification so that they can get a new passport, and bear the consequences? Did we suddenly stop building encroachments on our properties thinking we will be fine if we throw someone some money to keep their mouth shut?

I doubt if any of these happened. These small acts of corruption may sound harmless – who cares if you can get something done quickly by shelling some money – look at the example we are setting for the future generations. We are basically telling them that 1) it is okay to break the law as long as 2) you can bribe someone to let you get away with it. Just yesterday, I was watching the movie “Ferrari ki Sawari” (a ride on the Ferrari). It’s the story of an honest man who is compelled by circumstances to do something wrong to get the money he badly needs. There was one particular scene in which the guy and his son are riding on his scooter and he accidentally jumps the red traffic light. There was no traffic police in sight to stop them, so this person went to the nearest control room and offered to pay the fine. When the cop on duty asked him why had he come to pay the fine when no one was even watching him, he said – “There was someone watching me. My son.”.

Granted movies are a little over the top, but even in real life, we mock people who are honest and actually punish them instead of appreciating and rewarding them. I know that because I have seen that happening, up close and personal.

I now live in a place where kids, their safety and well being of people in general is given utmost importance. I have been here 4 years, but still feel a lump in my throat sometimes when I see all the traffic stop on the road when a school bus stops, to let the kids get down and cross the road safely. I can’t help but think of places in the world where kids die of malnourishment because some corrupt officials sold the food that was meant for the children, where Mahi had to die on the day she turned five because someone else did not want to follow the rules. I wonder why something as simple as following the rules is so difficult for us. And I hope that one day, we will be free from monsters like corruption who kill our children and kill the society. One day, that day will come.

O dashehari aam, how I miss thee!

I like summers in Indiana, like a thousand times better than winters in Indiana. I actually dread winters here – the sub-zero chills, the driving on ice and snow, make me want to go hide somewhere warm. Summers are way better. Never too hot and almost perfect.

This summer though has been a little warmer than usual. Just recently Indianapolis had a record high temp day (about 110 F/41 C). You actually sweat when walking outside. I have rarely seen that happen here before. Most people are complaining about the heat. But in a crazy, convoluted way, I like the ‘bad weather’ – because it reminds me of home.

It is amazing how the smallest thing – a smell, a taste, a feeling – can take you to a time and place completely different from the present. A couple of days ago, I went for my daily 10 minute walk in the afternoon. It was hot outside, and the cold air from the air-conditioning hit me as soon as I entered the building. That immediately reminded me of coming back from school in the summers. My brother and I used to ride our bicycles to school ever since I was 11 or 12 and he was 9 or 10 years old. We used to be drenched in sweat when we came back home in the afternoon and immediately ran to the air-cooler to claim the place directly in front of the cooler (the kind that you fill with water so that the fan throws you cool air – middle class people in India did not have air conditioners back then). Mom usually had cold neembu-paani ready for us, which is a drink similar to lemonade made with water instead of soda. It has been 20 years since then, but the tastes and the sensations are as clear in my mind as yesterday.

I say summers here are ‘almost perfect’ because there are two of my favorite things missing – monsoons and dashehari aam (mango). Monsoons brought the much needed respite from the heat. We kids went crazy whenever it rained. We used to go out or on the terrace and play in the pouring rain and the puddles for hours. No schedules, no special swimming costumes, no tickets were needed for that pure, unadulterated fun.

And then there was Dashehari aam. For those of you who don’t know, Aam is the Hindi name for mango and Dashehari is a variety of mango very popular in the northern part of India. There are few other things in the world quite like peeling a whole dashehari aam using just your teeth and then digging into the cold deliciousness till there is no more left except the stone. During summer vacations, we would hunt the refrigerator multiple times in a day for seconds, thirds and fourths. Summer is not really summer without the heavenly taste of dashehari aam. Any other varieties just don’t cut it for me.

I could go on and on about how happy my childhood was, how uncomplicated the life back then and how things are just not the same anymore (a classic sign of getting old). A couple of other things are worth mentioning about the summers of my childhood – sitting down on the cold floor at my Daddy’s home (my father’s older brother, we call him Daddy) and eating the really spicy and yummy food Mummy (Aunt) made. Visiting and staying at my Beeji and Bauji’s (maternal grandparents) home during summer vacations where an extended family of anywhere between 10-20 people ate dinner together in the veranda everyday, and followed it up with bucket-ful of mangoes. The countless trips to the comic book store close to their house to rent comic books that I finished reading so quickly and voraciously that no one believed I was actually reading them (of course all expenses covered by grandpa). Sleeping on the terrace of our home at night (that was the only way to beat the heat when it got so hot and stuffy inside), counting stars, making shapes, making up all kinds of stories about the stars and the universe along with my brother.

What would I give to take a trip back to that time and place, to eat one more dashehari aam? Quite a lot, I would say, quite a lot.

Walk. Smell. Heal.

Not too long ago (maybe a couple of months), I found a haven close to where I work. It’s a shame it took me so long to find it. I always knew it was there, just never paid much attention to it, never thought it could change my life in so many different ways. You may think that I’m being a little dramatic, but it is true. I know it, and I feel the positive changes with every visit.

Over the last couple of months, going here for a walk has become an important part of my day. It’s like a 10 minute vacation I get, sometimes the only time I get for myself in the day. I walk around the circle, taking in the aromas of coffee and food, watching people, watching life and its hustle and bustle. So many different kinds of people – walking, eating, talking, doing nothing – each with a story of their own, stories that I want to hear sometimes.

Ten minutes go by quickly, and then I get back to life – stronger, happier, with a resolve to do better, be better. Looking forward to coming back tomorrow to this oasis in the middle of concrete, and heal some more.

Why I started this blog

It’s a bleak, dreary Thursday afternoon. The reasons why I started this blog is exactly what you want to know today while you look at that little clock in the lower right corner of your computer screen yet another time, waiting to be free again. If you are however, that stay-at-home-mom/dad or that lucky gal/guy who has her/his dream job , feel free to get back to your perfect life now. You’re probably too busy to be reading this anyway. Just for the record, I hate you!

So.. <regains composure>, since the rest of you are dying to know, here are the reasons why I started this blog, without any further delay:

1. I lead a very quiet life. Can’t exactly pinpoint when it happened, but there was a period in my life when I went from being relatively talkative to being very quiet. Somehow, it seems to coincide with the move to the United States. I was a new mother with separation anxiety (from the family as well as from the baby who started going to daycare when we moved). Too much was going on within me that I thought others would not understand, and started keeping to myself. It did not help that I was part of a very small team with little to no interaction with anyone all day at work. There were times when the husband was out-of-town for work, when I would go without talking to any adult for days. It drove me crazy.

The separation anxiety has ended now (almost), but the introversion stayed. I have turned into a loner. Depending on who you are, you may or may not agree with that. For example, if you are my brother, you are probably shouting “Liar liar!!” by now. (By the way, if you are my brother reading this, call me right now and tell me what you think about this blog. And it better be good!).

So, since I could not talk to anyone about what I really wanted to talk about, I started writing. And it felt good. Like having an imaginary friend who would just listen to what I have to say, because sometimes I get so tired of listening and just want to talk!

2. The second reason behind this blog is, I am awkward as far as conversations go. Sometimes I say stuff I don’t really mean. A few times I have said something to an American friend/coworker and realized a year later that they may have found it rude or offensive. If you pass a witty comment, I will likely never know what to say and will just grin foolishly, until 38 minutes later when a witty reply flashes in my mind and I think ‘Oh! I should have said that!’. So you see, I’m not very smart as far as having a good conversation is concerned, especially with people I don’t know very well. That’s why this blog comes really handy. It allows me to think, edit, delete as much as I want before putting it out there. Problem solved!

3. I love languages. Hindi and English were my favorite subjects in school. One time in school, our English teacher gave us an assignment. It was a sentence. Something about how a train came to a halt. We all were supposed to write a story that started with that sentence. Everyone in the class wrote an essay to describe a scene at the railway station. I wrote about a train robbery. I still remember the proud look on the teacher’s face when I read it aloud. Somewhere along the line, I had forgotten how much I had loved reading and making stories up. This blog is an effort to remind me to not forget that again.

4. The last reason why I started this blog is that I simply enjoy observing the differences in cultures, how same things mean different things to different people. How there are not really any rights or wrongs. How at the very basic level, we are all just the same and sometimes despite all the differences, you find a way to connect to others that you never thought was possible.

Makes sense? To me neither. But I do feel better even though I spent my sick-and-came-home-early time in writing this instead of sleeping.