Tuesday, January 29, 2008

To tell the truth...

Okay, I’m curious about something. How many of us folks (and I refer to Indians here) living abroad are actually honest when we talk about the motherland that we’ve left behind? In pretty much every blog that I’ve read – whether it’s a food blog or a “regular” blog – when there’s a mention of a trip back “home”, or returning from “home” (with home always meaning India), everybody waxes enthusiastic about how much they miss India - the food, the life, the people, the ambience, the weather and everything else they can think of.

Nostalgia is understandable - I occasionally fall for it myself - but to pretend that India is the embodiment of everything good and to bewail being exiled from it, especially when the exile is self-orchestrated... Aargh! (I would have said "self-imposed" except that I believe that to most people it isn't an imposition. Anything but.) I do not mean that EVERYBODY is a hypocrite in that way, so those of you who are sincere about your love for India and are raring to go back home, please note that this rant IS NOT ABOUT YOU!

Anyway, I’ll allow that some things are miss-worthy (to coin a phrase), and the wild variety of food you get in any Indian city is definitely one of MY top three, the other two being friends and family (and activities to do with the latter two, like travel). That’s pretty much it. I really don’t miss anything else very much… not the weather for the most part, not the crowds, not the nasty dirty streets, not the corruption, not the cheating auto/taxi drivers, not the lawless traffic, not the general lack of respect for humanity – the list is long and I’m not going to make it comprehensive.

So I find it difficult to believe people who write reams on how much they hate leaving India and coming back to the States or the UK or anywhere else in the West, after a holiday. (And then everybody writes in to commiserate with the same sentiments.) I’m willing to concede that students who have come to the West to study don’t have a choice until they finish whatever course they are doing. Beyond that, when they take up a job, or when women get married and go abroad with their husband and raise families there, utilising every facility and every convenience available while still wailing about how much they miss India – well, I’m afraid I don’t find that convincing. If they are pining for India quite that much, all they have to do is go back. Leave the Western countries that are by all accounts so sadly lacking in family atmosphere and household help and friendly neighbours and Indian culture, among other things apparently abounding in Bharat. Fat chance of that happening, obviously. So basically all of it is just hot air, merely the “in-thing” to say or do. I ask you – if they miss India that much, how difficult is it to go back home? Nobody is forcing them to live in the USA or the UK or Europe, nobody’s on their back to get the coveted Green Card or Permanent Residence.

Another thing related to this is culture. I find it for the most part amusing, but occasionally extremely annoying, that people who didn’t much care for Indian culture when they were in India suddenly discover it with a vengeance when they go abroad. Every religious occasion is celebrated with elaborate fervour, with many sighs and remarks about how much fun that occasion would have been were they only in India. Well, I beg to differ. Personally, whether it’s Pongal or Diwali or anything else, I prefer it in the UK. No irritatingly noisy firecrackers, no smog in the morning, no endless procession of “baksheesh” begging scroungers whom you would not have ever seen all year but who suddenly make an appearance and insist that they've simply SLAVED for you all along.

Sure, there are people who revel in all the elaborate preparations required to celebrate festivals and weddings and things, and who take all the accompanying hassles in stride. But I've never been one of them - and more to the point, I'm never going to BE one of them, no matter where in the world I live. No matter how long I'm away from India. In the same way, I love old Hindi film songs. Loved them when I was in India, love them now I'm in the UK. However, once again, I dont love them more by the mere fact of being in the UK.

I know I sound uncharitable. But there’s no point in romanticising what is NOT romantic. I love India, but to me it's more in the abstract than anything else. I love the idea of India, the idealisation of India... but unfortunately I'm much too grounded in reality, and have enough clarity of vision to not deceive myself into thinking that I want to go back there, or to pretend to others that I want to. For plenty of people, being able to travel abroad often while keeping roots in India is the best of two worlds. If I was forced to choose, I would take that option. But I'm glad I dont have to choose.

I left India for various reasons... but one of the top ones was to live somewhere that was more conducive to leading a peaceful, comfortable life. I am grateful that the UK gives me that opportunity. I'm relieved and thankful not to have to argue and fight and bargain and get frustrated and disgusted and annoyed over the simplest day-to-day transactions, never mind the bigger battles against corruption and the like. I didnt intend to end up here, but on the whole I'm glad I have. Do I want to visit India? Sure I do. I've got friends and family that I havent seen in years and would love to meet again. But do I want to live in India? Not if I can help it. And that, as they say, is the honest truth.


ammani said...

Hear! Hear! One of the most honest, unapologetic and excellently articulated write-ups I have read in a very long time. Well done!

~nm said...

TO some extent I agree with you. I know there are lot of people who have gone out of their own will cribbing about things here and now act so 'bechara'. I really don't like such people. They sound complete fakes.

But I also know people (all women) who had to move because they were getting married to a person staying there. I would still excuse them from this group.

Shyam said...

Thanks, Ammani... I think I read one too many blogs that whined about having to leave Bharat mata behind! :)

NM: Yes, there are women who came to the West because their husband took up a job or was posted abroad. But if they knew before marriage that they would be moving abroad on a permanent basis, and went ahead and got married anyway, and THEN complained about having to live abroad... that's when my "bakwas" sensors go off :)

Hawkeye said...

not taking away anything from this rather excellent post.

people with diabetes do want to eat food that is prohibited for diabetics. But they choose not to. At the same time they yearn for that food. Regardless of the fact that they can eat whatever they want, I understand their terrible yearnings for food they chose to abstain from.

you can expand the list of analogies to include 'choosing to stay in hostel but missing home' etc.

both opposing forces are natural.

in effect the weather for the most part, not the crowds, not the nasty dirty streets, not the corruption, not the cheating auto/taxi drivers, not the lawless traffic, not the general lack of respect for humanity

prevents them from enjoying

"wild variety of food you get in any Indian city is definitely one of MY top three, the other two being friends and family (and activities to do with the latter two, like travel)."

Which is why i disagree with the use of 'force' in this statement Nobody is forcing them to live in the USA or the UK or Europe, nobody’s on their back to get the coveted Green Card or Permanent Residence.

Anonymous said...

I think you have it all wrong.. people do want to go back.. they are not pretending.. its circumstances that keep from going back and true the opportunities that the west offers that keep you from going back!! it doesnt mean they are being hypocrites.. yes everyone wants a more comfortable life for themselves and thier families which is easier to achieve in the west than in India, that doesnt make people hypocrites its human nature to go where opportunity knocks if they had the same opportunity in India for themselves and thier families they would never have to move, yes they probably dont love India as much as thier family and thier own well being but it does not make them hypocrites.. and about woman leaving India even though before marriage they knew thier spouse would be moving to the west and still cribbing is called LOVE for which they moved doesnt mean they are not allowed to miss india!!!

Suchi said...

The truth about India (garbage, corruption,etc) hurts so much for some people that they hurry to its defence.

As for their own intentions of going back, I think it stems from guilt (having left family behind, they are enjoying Western freedom) and fear (fear of becoming a "foreigner"). It makes them feel better if they can tell the Indian relatives that life is just as hard here, but in different ways.

Never Mind! said...

I agree with everything you have to say. I know your curiosity was rhetoric, but just add my own thoughts, I think all these people you are talking about (including me), would love to spend time in India as a tourist who does not have to face the everyday hassles like the pollution, traffic and such. When it comes to making a living, we all want to find a place as comfortable as possible. I guess that explains the rambling.

Radha said...

Shyam, excellent rant! I've been ranting on variations of this theme for years now. I knew LONG before I left India that:
a. I would leave (escape) India
b. Once out, I'd never move back

There are also those who bemoan all changes since they left India as "corruption of ""Indian"" culture". And to those people I say - phooey. A culture that doesn't change is a dead culture. Simple as that.

In fact, a first-generation Chinese-American friend of mine was whining about how corrupt the culture is now, and how back in the '50s it was perfect (in the US). I reminded him that back in the '50s, he probably wouldn't even be able to become an American citizen, never mind all the prejudice that was extant then (and still is now, but muted).

Then he went on about how Indian culture is getting corrupted by "Western" influences. To him too, I said "Phooey. So what? Things change, and cultures that refuse to change will eventually die."

There, rant/lecture over now :)

Anonymous said...

Shyam, I think you are being a tad too harsh. There are the decisions made by the head, and then there is what the heart wants.

Logic and reason tells us that opportunities are better outside India. So we leave India. But our heart is still in India. Every time we go there, we are reminded of what we are missing - friends, family, the food and a whole way of life. So yes, I am certainly in the category of those who would hate to leave India and come back to the US. But I do return, because that decision is based on cold logic.

And yes, I will definitely go back one day for good. In fact, I see many people around me doing that of late. Why? Because now there is no longer a shortage of opportunity in India. That cold logic no longer applies in many cases.

The other issues you mentioned - the weather, the dirty streets, lawless traffic..all these also exist in New York City. Does that make it any less attractive for people?

So no, I don't think people are being hypocrites when they say they want to go back at all. They are really saying "I would really love to go back..but cold logic prevails". And maybe one day they will go back.

life said...

You may feel also...but the honest truth is..it takes something to lose to find about we actually makes us happy or what we actually want. Some how you seem to think that it is hypocritic to think about how we miss India or about religious fervor.

Sure, life is comfortable in west many times over the "dust" of India. No body denies that. How many people can do what they really want? Very few and you would agree with me.

The point of moaning of how me miss India or want to go back is only in aesthetic sense. There is always a rider attached to it. If only traffic was better, if only there is not bribery, If only I get the same salary, if only I can party...

Finally, I feel so "want to go back" for the first 2 weeks after I come back from a trip; knowing that its only home-sick feeling but nothing else more than that. I have returned every year for 3 years. Everytime, I feel same.
By the way I am single,working,male. :)

ggop said...

I agree. There was a thread talking about remittances being 200% of FDI in India. Again, investments are yielding better returns there.

That's cold logic at work in going back to India too - do you think its patriotism? Yeah right. :-) Indians will follow the high paying jobs.

Aqua said...

Ah...finally a refreshingly honest post from an NRI. i'm quite tired to listening to desis who only talk about wanting to return to the 'mothership' but do nothing about it.

and LOL yeah i have friends who practically live in the community temple and follow all festivals with a vengeance.

Shyam said...

Hawkeye: See, I know that people go abroad for a better quality of life. I did. And I appreciate what I have here. What gets my goat is people whining about how much they miss what they deliberately left behind!

Anon: You said: "the opportunities that the west offers (that) keep you from going back". I disagree - it's materialism that stops people, pure and simple. I'm not saying materialism is wrong, everybody needs more money... all I'd like to see is acknowledgement of that fact, instead of disguising it under "I'm in the UK/US but against my will... what I really want to do is go back to India".

Suchi: Yes, that's true. Life is not easy anywhere... but it's easier when the basics are better. If that makes sense.

Never mind: What you said is absolutely spot on, my friend. Absolutely spot on! :)

Radi: Yes, and yes again. There's a reason we're sisters :)

Lekhni: I know I was being harsh. That was deliberate. But I salute you for making your point so calmly and softly. Opportunities ARE better in India now and I know people who're going back/have gone back. They're the ones who arent hypocrites - they left India because there were better jobs/pay abroad. Now that India's offering what they wanted in the first place, they're going back. I dont have any quibbles with them. But people who grumble constantly about life in the US, then go ahead and buy a house and apply for a Green Card and become citizens - it's them I'm ranting about! :)

Life: No no, I gave the wrong impression if you think I consider it hypocritical to think about India. I miss my friends and family there too. Hell, I even miss the Max Mueller Bhavan where I had incredibly good times with my friends.

I dont think that being religious is hypocritical either. My mother is religious. She follows her religious routines just the same, whether she's in India or in the UK or in the USA. That's genuine.

I'm not religious and have never really bothered about rituals and things even when I was growing up in India. But if I began to draw kolams in the morning and do pujas before work and cook only after having a bath, etc, just to emphasise (to myself or anyone else) my Indianness when I'm abroad - THAT would be hypocrisy! And that's what I'm ranting about.

I do agree with you about the homesickness bit - I miss the fun of having family and friends in one place. :)

Ggop: True. Indians will follow the well-paying jobs. Nothing wrong with that. At least it's honest materialism! :) When it's hidden under a layer of self-righteous hypocrisy, that's when it grates on me.

Aqua: You seem like a person after my own heart! :)

brinda said...

Ah! VERY nice! you've left out this other bizarre reason that i've been hearing of late from otherwise reasonably sane, not-so-old people -- that they're staying in phoren lands "so the kids can have all the advantages blah blah. if it wasnt for the kids, we'll come back tomorrow". yeah right! (but then, what do i know? i'm happy with this blooming country and wouldn't leave it for worlds. AND no kids. come to think of it, i shouldn't be commenting at all...)

Anonymous said...

"But people who grumble constantly about life in the US, then go ahead and buy a house and apply for a Green Card and become citizens - it's them I'm ranting about! :)"

Thanks for the detailed response :) I agree with a lot of what you said - about homesickness, religiosity (or not), life etc.

But I do think most of the people who express reluctance to return to their homes in the US/UK are homesick/ feeling guilty about leaving behind old parents and myriad reasons that are mainly emotional.

For instance take this close friend of ours - he lived for close to 2 decades here, became a citizen and was happily settled in a great job. He did speak often about returning to India but never did anything about it for years. But somehow the itch to return just grew and one fine morning he announced he was going to go - he sold his new home which he had lived just 2 weeks in, and off he went, back to India. He's been there for 3 years now !

My own sense is that the reason to move to India (just as the reason to come to US/UK) will only be based on cold logic. I agree with ggop, and also with "life" that there is always an unspoken "rider" attached when people say they love to go back.

If you haven't done so already, read this very interesting 1st person account of someone who chose to return to India after decades in the US. You can clearly see how she argues with her heart, while he argues with his head :)


ggop: On the remittances issue, all remittances are not necessarily investments. A lot of the money (especially that going to rural areas) is money for parents to build new homes, renovate etc.

Jeeves said...

Shyamala: Your blog title says you are going to tell the truth, but what you have told is "the truth about you", not "the truth"... After reading through your whole post, I totally understand that you have very clear reasons to have left India and be staying in the UK - you have no qualms about it. You are accepting you are materialistic enough and don’t care a damn about India if not for the 3 Fs family, friends and food. Fair enough!

But do not talk for the majority of the crowd - cause for a lot of people, the head wants materialistic comforts while the heart yearns for a feeling of belonging to the place one identifies oneself with - which for a lot of humans, is their own motherland. In some cases, the head wins over the heart and they continue to live abroad. In some cases, the heart wins over the head and they may return to India like a Mohan Bhargava in Swades.

One thing is certain though - There are a lot of matters of the heart that one cannot justify. Just as an example - Why does an Indian sitting in Australia support India when they are playing there? If someone can use reason to justify one's choice, they would rather support the team that plays better cricket and the country they are living in, than a team of people who can get pretty ugly at times fighting with each other and who are not more than paper tigers many times on foreign lands? No one is doing it just because everyone around is doing it - they do it cause they feel that is where they belong. It is that sense of belonging to the country that drives one to support Aamir Khan's Lagaan at the Oscars, the Taj Mahal at the Wonders of the World Awards etc. Not because they feel India has the best cricket team or Lagaan is the best movie to win at the Oscars or Taj Mahal is the best wonder...

You may ask what does this got to do with your post - well it is simply to say that there are a lot of matters where the heart rules over the mind, for the majority of people. There are umpteen people who do the opposite, but that is the minority – like you. Some are pretty open about it. Some hide that and become hypocritical. But if you think that is true of the large mass of people who blog about such feelings and if you say if do not see a reason why anyone other than students who are forced to do it should crib about it, I do not agree with you. Let me get into analyzing your post.

>> Nostalgia is understandable - I occasionally fall for it myself - but to pretend that India is the embodiment of everything good and to bewail being exiled from it, especially when the exile is self-orchestrated.
** No one is saying it is the embodiment of everything good. You have not made a startling discovery about the state of the roads, or corruption etc. It is the fact that despite all this utter nonsense, one misses India when away from it, is the way the human nature works when they miss something they have been so close to.

>> So I find it difficult to believe people who write reams on how much they hate leaving India and coming back to the States or the UK or anywhere else in the West, after a holiday.
** This is where I have a big objection with the intent of your post. If it was just a rant from you, it is fine! But you just cannot say that you don’t find any reason why someone (other than students) should even crib. There are a million reasons why someone needs to be abroad…

>> If they are pining for India quite that much, all they have to do is go back.
** It is easier said than done - millions of people have various reasons - right from the lure of big money, to living conditions, to repaying loans, good educations, parents health expenditure etc. It does not mean that they are doing what their first choice is. Yes, they are materialistic enough, to want the same comforts for which you are in the UK. But this focus on materialistic needs stems from a well entrenched theory – Maslow’s hierarchy.

>> Fat chance of that happening, obviously. So basically all of it is just hot air, merely the “in-thing” to say or do. I ask you – if they miss India that much, how difficult is it to go back home? Nobody is forcing them to live in the USA or the UK or Europe, nobody’s on their back to get the coveted Green Card or Permanent Residence.
** As I said earlier, I am sure you would have come across the Maslow's hierarchy? Things like money, security, food etc. are much lower in the Maslow's hierarchy compared to the feeling of belonging and esteem. So, a good majority of the people are trying to satisfy the basic needs by sacrificing the belonging and self-esteem. And these basic needs are found in plenty and very easily in the country you have adopted and the many other western countries. It is not because it is the in-thing that they miss India. They do miss India – it is just that each individual’s threshold of the physiological and security needs keeps altering over time. So many of the people in this world never cross these two layers in their entire life-time…

>> Another thing related to this is culture. I find it for the most part amusing, but occasionally extremely annoying, that people who didn’t much care for Indian culture when they were in India suddenly discover it with a vengeance when they go abroad.
** It is very true even inside India. You go to any campus in India, the regional festivals are celebrated by people from a particular region in much more fervour, with traditional dressing and colors and food etc. much more than they would have if they were in their own city or state. If you are a Bengali living in Chennai, you will jump at the slightest idea of a Bengali event for some Durga Puja in Chennai whether you cared to stroll out of your house during the festival if had been in your home town. When it is so pronounced for people inside India, why do you accuse people of celebrating with a vengeance when they are in a foreign land, much farther away from home? It is a mechanism of the human nature to feel closer to home. You miss things a lot more if you are away from them – that is at least how things are for people not so grounded in reality!

>> But there’s no point in romanticising what is NOT romantic.
** Sorry – It is too tough for you to be romanticising. You are just too much grounded in the reality of all things as you yourself say in the same paragraph. That is why you cannot attempt to romanticise something as fascinating as India.

>>I didn’t intend to end up here, but on the whole I'm glad I have.
** Its true for so many thousands of people that they also didn’t intend to end up abroad. But the truth of the matter in many people for the above reasons, is that they are not glad about it. If their basic needs were satisfied in India, they would have been glad. Here, they are satisfied, but not glad. Those few who are actually glad about it and still write those blogs, I totally agree with you, are hypocrites of the first order.

>> But do I want to live in India? Not if I can help it. And that, as they say, is the honest truth.
** Yes - that is the truth... about you... We understand that...

You may be a person who has transcended all the levels of the Maslow's hierarchy, a person who has a really strong mind that you are prepared to reason out every single aspect of life - using head over heart always... or most of the times. Kudos to you for that! But this may not be true for a vast majority of the people in this world. And I am thankful that the world is that way. For if everyone was opting for the easy way out for settling for the comforts of the world, it becomes extremely difficult for a country like India to ever prosper…

I am not saying everyone other than you is an angel. I am sure there are quite a few people who do exactly as you are saying - but that is probably the minority and does not consist of everyone around who is writing such blogs. Yeah I know your perfectly logical reasoning is very sound - but there are things in this world that are far more matters of the heart than the mind - and your whole rant is only valid for the minority in such a world.

I do have a lot of cribs too similarly on our country, but I personally believe that there is no point in just blogging rants about it when I did not have the guts (to put it more mildly!) to do an iota to set it right at the grass-root level…

meerkat said...

jeeves - your example of a fictional character in a movie does a great job of scuppering your long argument.

in the end unless your family are living in utter poverty in india and you need to earn money in the west to save them there is no reason why you cannot go back. you bring up reasons why people cannot go back. to that all i can say is that they dont want to go back desperately. if they did have an overwhelming desire to go back, they can go back.

if you dont go back, you just dont want it enough.


Jeeves said...

meerkat: there are lots of non-publicised characters who have done exactly what the fictional character in the movie did...the example there was to show the two extremes...

yes - there is no overwhelming desire to go back. that is true. again that is because as you gain more money and more comforts, the greatness of the place that offers it becomes that much more... so your homeland becomes all crappy... but my point is that it does not stop you from missing your homeland...and yearning for it.

Terri said...

shyam, if you're taking votes for this post, please mark my vote in your favor. Now, if you and I had a similar opinion on puppies and other furry creatures, I might vote for you for president.

Anonymous said...

WOW is all I can say. Havent visited for a few weeks, and I come back to see so much action. Good to read your post and all the comments. I dont agree with a lot of what you say, but then again its your blog and your opinion- both of which you are entitled to.

I've lived in the North for a decade before moving back to my 'home city'. I've lived abroad for more than a decade and have since returned to said 'home city'. No place is perfect is all I have to say. There are things about the US I miss (respect for personal space and privacy being foremost among that) and things about my city that I absolutely hate, and hate in this case is not a strong enough word (example: roadside romeos).

My 10 year old son returned from school one day and said, "Amma, I dont like my school. I dont like the bathrooms. I dont understand my teachers. My friends dont understand my accent. But when I walk into my classroom I see that everybody has black hair, my kinda skin and they say my name like it should be. I like that". Till that day I didnt know that these things were important to my son. I didnt know that he needed to belong so much among his peers. For that one sentence the move back was worth it, even though here the streets are dirty, neighbours are nosy (I kinda missed that in the US, I have to say) its polluted (name one country that isint) noisy etc etc.

I am proud to say that I am partiotic and I do recognise India's shortcomings. I am a romantic idealist and I hope to contribute to my country's betterment in some way. To me Mera Bharat IS Mahan. Priya

Premalatha said...

WOW. Very well said.

Shyam said...

Jeeves: I apologise for unintentionally misleading you about the truth in this post. Allow me to set that right.

The truth I write about is mine own, from my experiences, as are the opinions stated herein. I do not speak for the world, and certainly I'm no guru who speaks universal truths.

That said, I dont feel the need to defend myself against anything you've said. My opinions are mine, just as yours are yours.

If you're one of those few honest people actually "working to set things right at the grass-roots level" in India, instead of pointing out to others that they are not, congratulations. Let me know how I can help. To redefine a popular saying - Those who cant do, contribute monetarily. That's me.

Meerkat: "If you dont go back, you just dont want it enough."
You paraphrased my entire post in one sentence! Brill! :)

Terri: Not taking votes! :D But you have my sincere thanks for it anyway! :) As for puppies and similar little furry darlings, if you love 'em as much as I do, you CAN vote for me to be Prez!

Priya: I can see your point, and of course no place is perfect. It's up to each person where they live and how they feel about it. But if you (I mean "you" in the general sense, not you in particular!) left India for a reason - more money, better living conditions, whatever - and that reason or reasons were more than fulfilled abroad, sighing about life in India doesnt cut it. It just smacks of hypocrisy to me, not heart over head or whatever. If someone's still abroad after years of "wanting to stay in India", it's the head that's won, not the heart. The difference between that person and me is that I recognise that I got what I wanted and am grateful for it.

GSIK said...


New visitor here who just surfed your post. I had so many mixed feelings while reading this - anger, acquiescence, nostalgia... and wanted to come out lambasting your point of view. But after spending some time reflecting on my own thoughts and reading the comments, I believe this is a very relevant issue especially with so much global attention on India and the prevalent exuberance and (almost) jingoism in the country.

That said, some people (as yourself) have distinct reasons for choosing to stay abroad and thanks for sharing your point of view.

People have brought up nostalgia as being the reason to remain so deeply connected to India irrespective of their situations and I think that stems from a basic concept of nation-building and communities.

I was reminded of a concept that I learned in film school—coined by historian Benedict Anderson—the imagined community. I going to quote the wikipedia definition since it really captures the essence well:

"...a nation is a community socially constructed and ultimately imagined by the people who perceive themselves as part of that group."

Benedict Anderson defined a nation as "an imagined political community [that is] imagined as both inherently limited and sovereign". An imagined community is different from an actual community because it is not (and cannot be) based on quotidian face-to-face interaction between its members. Instead, members hold in their minds a mental image of their affinity. As Anderson puts it, a nation "is imagined because the members of even the smallest nation will never know most of their fellow-members, meet them, or even hear of them, yet in the minds of each lives the image of their communion".

As an Indian living in New York, for me it's not about the garbage, corruption, crowds, etc. etc. it's about a perceived sense of belonging... a mental identity which could be very different from an actual community or physical interaction.

Shyam said...

Gsik: Thank you for your honest opinion and measured PoV. Seeme like the "actual community" of Indians in the western world is trying to recreate the "imagined community" that is India, outside India. Not really possible, is it, without coming across as false?

GSIK said...


To counter that I'd say that there isn't a recreation of India in the West. It's an experience of India, of being Indian no matter where you are... channeled and defined by your individual experiences and memories of the nation-sate/community that you identify with.


Anonymous said...

Shyam, I just wanted to say thank you for opening up this discussion. It's been fodder for my brain, which feels like 'kali mannu' sometimes. Playing house and taking care of responsibilities doesnt leave time for intelluctually stimulating conversations. Reading this post and all the comments these past few days reminds me of discussions we used to have during our college days. Thanks again and here's to more... Priya

Chitra said...

Splendid post! I lived in UK for eight months myself. Could not agree better with most of the points about living abroad and given a chance, I would pursue the same. However, with racism rampant in UK, do you think that homeland is where one's treated the best?

Shyam said...

gsik: Um... going by that, people wouldnt feel the need to externalise those feelings by trying to recreate the Indian atmosphere - and then saying that things are different back in India :)

Priya: Actually I thought twice before publishing this post... I knew it would raise some argument. But so far it's been fun and stimulating for me too - so thank YOU for voicing your opinions!

Chitra: I've been in the UK for nearly 8 years now, and honestly I've not come across overt racism even once. Maybe I've just been lucky so far. But if you think racism doesnt exist in India, you're so mistaken. There's so much discrimination there, it's disheartening - and to think it's Indians against other Indians... from different States, because of accent, because of skin colour. There's not even the saving grace - if there's any grace involved at all - of the discrimination being against foreigners!

UL said...

Applause to you for such brave writing! Thanks to Musings for bringing me here. I have moved around so much ever since I was child that...I have never felt overly attached to any country. My opinion is where ever you are, reap the good, let go of the ugly and learn from one's experience and share that knowledge. There are plenty of things about India one can be proud of, culturally and historically, there are plenty of practices that can still be followed, but there are plenty that are ridiculous too. But same goes for any other country, be it US, UK or Oz...Finding the balance and acknowledging both the good and the bad is what makes a person better or worse.

One thing I would like to point out though is this. The hypocritical behavior of an Indian that you speak of here need not be restricted to an Indian alone. Hypocrisy is human nature. You will notice the same in many others...have you noticed that there's separation amongst the Scots, Welsh and say a Londoner...But the minute they leave Britain, they're all proud to be British and equal in all respects...! A Londoner wouldn’t discriminate a Welsh outside of Britain. But oh there's rivalry, you and I know that. That can be called Hypocrisy too...I reiterate that hypocrisy is part of human nature. To a certain extend all of us carry it in some way or another, if we don’t we have to be yogis! Acknowledgement is first step. I liked this post because you have made people think with such an honest piece of writing. Nice to encounter you in this blogosphere, thanks for sharing your thoughts.

Teesu said...

SO true. Me? I turn a blind eye and a deaf ear to those -- even good friends who crib about anything associated to being out of India. Please. As you said, if you REALLY want to be here, you WOULD. And I don't want to hear any bleating about how there are better opportunities outside, etc. and THEREFORE, moving back to India simply CANNOT happen. I agree that living in india has its 'downs': the weather is sick, the mosquitoes are sicker, many sights depressing, etc. but I love it no doubt. Still, I do from time to time envy people living outside of India (mostly to the west of her) cos currently I need some SPACE. And no, it's not an option for me so I shall bleat about it a bit...to YOU anyway;)

For the rest of the NRI whiners out there, either quit whining or get your butts back -- as you are aware, there are plenty of people already squashed in here and a few more there IS unfortunately, space for!

Also, I DO resent the way people celebrate Indian festivities abroad. There is a certain over-enthusiasm in it that's deeply annoying.

Ok, cuz, what am saying about your post is: WELL SAID!


Coffeerocks said...

On a slight tangent - I've noticed that when a bunch of Indians get together, there are a few who crib about US society having so many flaws and how in India you wouldn't have that - and then they also expect you to agree and nod. Why is that?
I once tried saying - "I think each society has it's own problems. I am quite content here for now." This caused everyone to think I was having major problems in India with my ILs and that's the only reason I'd feel this way. Ha ha!

The only thing I truly miss are some people I love and left back in India. So if at all I decide to move back, it will be for them.

Shyam said...

Teesu, thanks :) Nothing so heartwarming as a supportive cuz! :)

Coffeerocks: True, very true. I keep wishing that everybody I love would move to the UK and spare me the trouble of missing them! :D

Shyam said...

ul: Oops, my reply vanished... anyway, thank you for your comment. I agree, there are plenty of things in India to be proud of, a huge and varied history that's fascinating. I do see the pluses and minuses of India and the UK - I certainly dont think that Old Blighty is perfect! :) It's just that my basic requirements are met here, so I find it easier to face the minuses.

Chitra said...

Couldn't have agreed more with you, Shyamala! I have had people giving me a cold stare when I mention that people are at ease living in places which offers them the way of life they desir...something without compromises and undue tension. It that's the case the west has to offer, so what? Pat comes the repartee about 'moral values','ethnic behaviour','cultural heritage', 'family values' so on and so forth. Personally I feel that those points mentioned above (and more) are degrading by the day back home rather than abroad. There, we (supposedly) have the (evil?) western influence to blame. What do we have to blame here? Our 'rich, cultural traditional values'?

Laksh said...

Honest piece of writing. Not sure I agree 100% but absolutely get what you are saying. I still have not understand what I refer to when I use the term home. In fact am not sure about a lot of things but what you say rings true to me.

Shyam said...

Chitra: You're so right, India's acquiring all the perceived "minuses" of the West with hardly any of the pluses.

Laksh: When I'm in India, I find myself referring to the UK as "home" and when I'm in the UK, my mother's house is "home". So I guess I know what you mean :) I just consider myself lucky to have two places that I think of as home!

.:: Roshni ::. said...

3 cheers for this rocking post! I loved it!!

Anonymous said...

I am a newcomer. Read the post fully and skimmed through the responses. I am probably repeating what some have said. I think what migrants lament or yearn for, is not the 'materialism' (in which aspect the West wins hands down!) but something beyond that. Perhaps, not being able to articulate it, or even recognise it, they take recourse to what they think is being 'Indian', the 'cultural' practices that you refer to. It is also often owing to a genuine fear of losing one's cultural identity that people become more fastidious about certain things once they leave their country. I am not sure however what 'Indian culture' is though. People seem to refer to it as if it is a composite, static whole, which it is not!

I have travelled to the UK, Europe, lived in the West, gone back 'home' to live, moved back to the West and will probably go back 'home' for good some day! And in every place I have been, I have missed something (not just food, family and friends!) of other places! I frankly don't see why one should not yearn for those things or talk about them and should instead take pleasure only in the good things around them.

Of course, there is no perfect place. But pray, what is wrong in longing for it?

Shyam said...

Anon: I love the lucidity with which you've put forward your opinion! I could not have put it better, what you said about Indian culture not being a composite, static whole.

There's nothing wrong in longing for anything, as long as you dont deliberately run down the country you're in of your own choice while longing for the homeland you deliberately left behind for materialistic reasons. That's what bugs me - the ingratitude, the inability to recognise the positive things about the country in which you've chosen to reside and bring up your children.

Also, I disagree totally with your opinion that the West is more materialistic. It might have been, once upon a time, but today's generation of Indians is as materialistic as anybody in the West.

Sachita(india) said...

* I find the reverse problem. People wonder all the time why I want to go back or dismiss it saying "oh, we all said that and didn't" or assume I hate the local culture here. And then when they see I pretty much try to experience the local culture as much as i can, they ask me for a logical explanation. As if I can have one for such decisions in my life.
I don't like the dirt, crowd & so many other things yet strangely love that entity called india. I have always envisioned my future there. Can't change them. And there are so many other feelings.
Every one has their own form of extreme serious attachments, the country is one of them for me. How do I state the above sentences as part of normal conv? As such I get wierd looks for wanting to go back. Nowadays, I try as much as possible to avoid the topic altogether.

** Part of why I want to go back to India also explains why some people rant(where are these people, why do I hardly meet them?) about missing India. You and I have been able to decide one way or another, some people can't. Hence the rant. I am sure you have your own set of such topics with life's limited choices. If not, good:)

Besides this is not just restricted to Indians, I have met people from european countries here in USA, rant as well! A Britisher I met once, went on about how you can spot more than 600/700 year old buildings in england and how USA lacks any form of history, I listened:)

Displacement of a home is a major enough change to warrant such things.

On a note aside, this culture reference always makes me smile. I mean if onething, culture is one constant changing entity. I do what I feel like. I am sure my future generatons will call that our family culture:)

India must have been a definite melting pot like usa sometime ago. From our food, religion to our physical differences state that.

Sorry for the long long comment. I have been reading both your blogs (cooking and this one) for a long tiem. Seeing the deluge of comments, I got guts to post mine.

Shyam said...

Sachita: please dont worry about leaving long comments - I appreciate the fact that you've taken the time to put down your thoughts.

I think it's terrific that you try to experience the local culture of wherever you live - that's how it should be! Like you, I dont see why that should be incompatible with wanting to return to India.

Anonymous said...

I am one of those NRI whiners... but I stick around here just to hoard $$ so that I can get back HOME and live comfortably.

As many have already said in the preceding comments, there are things we do just to go thro the motions of doing so, without any enjoyment...

Many of us hated going to School as kids and naturally long for those annual holidays.. Kodaikanal trips/Grandma's house..

"who forces you to go to school, if you like XYZ (kodaikanal) so much... why dont you go there instead of toiling in school??"

well, we can if we could - in a repercussion free world.

we just need to go thro the drab motions, however much we hate it, for the promised carrot (in my case taking a long sabbatical in India to pursue my passions)

(hopefully just <4 more years of this Vanavaasam :)

GettingThereNow said...

Shyam, you have done me a great favor. I used to feel guilty about my views on returning to India (I don't want to because I am happy where I am). The only reason I will ever return is if my parents, or my husband's, need us. I don't feel guilty anymore (after reading your post and the comments) because I know there are others who think like me.

Shyam said...

Ram: Just one point - as children going to school, there was no choice in the matter. We HAD to go to school, not holiday all the time in Kodai (and believe me, I've wished for that an AWFUL lot!).

I respect you for being honest about why you're abroad. No quarrels with that, none at all. I hope the rest of your vanavaasam goes by pleasantly.

CK: There are plenty of others who feel the same but wont admit it - that's whom I've written about! :) If this post has helped you in any way, I'm very glad!

Anonymous said...

Hi. A friend of mine sent me here. She said what you wrote reminded her of discussions that she and I have had.

To be totally honest, I love being able to go to India and treat it as one giant shopping mall with a fantastic food court!! Lol...Hope that's not offensive.

But seriously, I notice that wherever I am, India or abroad, I'm going to be in the minority. It's a fact of life now.

All those kids that people raise in different countries- we've grown up now. We have ties to India, but we've never lived there, and would never want to.

Even if I was in India, just moving to another state would make me a member of a minority group.
I really enjoy living abroad for all the living advantages it gives me.

I feel sorry for ram(above) who's saving up money, but doesn't sound as though he's taken the thought or time to explore his current country.

I'm sure that just about any place in the world has its advantages, and you might as well enjoy it while you're living there, instead of missing things from India(like food, and jewelry).

I totally understand the poster who talked aout the lack of 600 year old buildings. I agree. I'm in a place just like that. But the natural beauty of this place is staggering. And I hike in the summer or ski in the winter to enjoy it.

And yes, experiencing the mindset of 'roadside romeos' in India is another reason I'm so happy to be here.
Thanks for your post!

Anonymous said...

@Anon - Thanks for feeling sorry :) but I've travelled/lived/photographed all 4 corners of US and inbetween - so its not that I don't enjoy what is around here. Montana's scenery has brought tears to my eyes. There are things here which we cannot even imagine doing - US does have a long list of +ves, but somehow I feel its just not mine - I am only a guest.

I know this sounds like a Karan Johar film :) but the minute I land in India and get outside the airport - a feeling of PEACE sweeps over me (+1000 taxi guys :)
A feeling hard to express...a feeling of invinciblity, as in, this MY country. I guess you can call it a sense of belonging.


KiwiGee said...

"I am sure many of the things I am saying below have been said by various people in the comments, but unlike u, my thoughts are chaotic, and nowhere near coherent. Well, first off, for me what really struck a chord was ur reply to Laksh in the comments section – here it is.
"Laksh: When I'm in India, I find myself referring to the UK as "home" and when I'm in the UK, my mother's house is "home". So I guess I know what you mean :) I just consider myself lucky to have two places that I think of as home!"

That is so what i feel and say to people, that i have two places that i am so happy to live in and i am really lucky for it to be so when most people don't even seem to have one.

yes, i too have the whines about missing India. But the truth is i do miss india dreadfully, especially after a holiday. but what do i miss? not all of it. you know that all your dislikes and peeves on India are shared by me. I do miss the 3 Fs that you mentioned.

another thing that i want to add to that list is the spirituality - not the crap, pseudo one, but the real one. i do miss the temples, but not the crowds in them. when i lived in india i used to go to the temples more coz i had to. now i go coz i want to. i really feel and react to the atmosphere and vibrations there - the divine ones, not the human. the human atmosphere is awful and we know it. money talks everywhere, even in temples. but for me, now, it is not just temples. there is a buddhist monastery here in nz, and i love going there, for the peace and atmosphere prevalent there. likewise any other place of worship or place of peace.

do i want to go back and live in india? truthfully, i am not sure. i know S wants to go back, so am sorta trying to psyche myself up into liking going back, but i do dread it sometimes. not just for myself, but for the kids too, for whom the study culture there will be a total and negative shocker. apart from other shockers. i do my bit to expose them to the indian way of life, culture etc. nowadays the advantage for them is the fact that india is so westernised and that they visit so often.

but i am so grateful to nz and my life here for so many reasons:

for giving me back some of my childhood ideals by putting me in a position where i can do voluntary and charity work, for being able to help monetarily, etc - am sure u get the general drift of that.
for giving me a real and enduing love for the real india – ironical, but true. the culture and the spirituality, resilience anrd resourcefulness of India and her people - all of which were things i took for granted when i was in india, and never really appreciated enough.
I want to clarify here that i do not mean the current pseudo-culture indian culture that passes off for the real thing. the hypocrisy, double standards, materialism (which by the way u were completely right about, we are no slouches at that when compared to the West), the routine aping of the West, consumerism, etc. but the real culture/spirituality/religion (they all mean pretty much similar things to me) which has now gotten buried and politicised (witness the Ram setu controversy). the epics and the doings and sayings, the vedanta, the spirit of the vedas, the way of life, concepts like dharma, artha and karma etc - that is what i mean. i could go on and on about this, but once again, am sure u will get the general drift. i mean doing and reading these things and understanding them, not just doing them ritualistically and blindly. even when i light a lamp for puja, it feels great to know why i am doing it. and of course, we need to make sure that we dont equate raditional/religiousness automatically to goodness. My theory has been (since the days I've lived in India) :, the more visible the caste marks on forehead and whiteness of dhothis or kurtas, the darker the heart inside that body... prayer and religion seems to be becoming (in most cases) so materialistic in india - people pray only when they want something....

i know it all sounds garbled and nowhere near as coherent as your piece. but wanted to share my thots and let you know that i do agree with what you say. nothing makes me madder than people dissing kiwi culture and nz. esply when they are living right here and making max use of all opportunities here. Hate Indian guys who go around with gori kiwi gals and then make rude remarks about their morals. u r right, if they hate it so much here, they shd go back. Or learn to look for and love the good things about here.

and the last straw (for me) against NRIs who crib abt racsism is the fact that they crib abt racism in the West. India is so racist and fair skin and northies (in most cases, they go together) are valued more than dark-skinned southern shorties. Fair and Lovely's biggest market is India, not the West!!! And you speak from my heart, Shyam, when u say that this hurts more, as this is Indians discriminating against Indians. At least here, it is not so....

on the other hand, i've seen indian jerks who say, 'oh, india is a nasty, dirty place, very ineffecient and corrupt' to kiwis. i mean, what are they trying to do? they're going to be brown however much they diss india...i really hate that sort of disloyalty.

But my take on this is that anywhere, any place, any culture, has its flaws and perfections. the sensible person tries to get the best of both worlds.

there are indians here who wear saris and bindis to work. i c ud willingly strangle them. such people shd go back to India if they want to do this. and i get more inrritated with others who praise such people and say, 'see, even after coming here, they haven't changed'. AAAAAAAAARgh, then why come here at all?
i dress indian on indian ocassions/visits and otherwise do as the romans do.

i am proud of being an indian kiwi and i am a good ambassador for both countries. but if it is a nz vs india match, i will be rooting for india. if you asked me why, i may not be able to express it clearly. I don't believe or will ever believe that India is perfect. Neither is NZ. but, still, somewhere in the bottom of my heart, there is a longing that maybe, just maybe, one day I will be able to go back to India, maybe 10 yrs later, maybe when I retire…the affection and pull for India is stronger than what I have for NZ (much as I love my adopted country).

but as I said earlier, I am never really sure, coz when reality kicks in, I envisage the roads, traffic, creeps, diseases... and will wonder if it is worth going back. For me, now, the ideal would be to have nice long visits to India, probably twice a year…

I am a great believer in fate and destiny and would rather leave such things to fate.

umm oviya said...

you must live in the gulf for a while. more fodder for a rant like this. real nice.
me? there are many reasons for staying away from india.
i am on the run... from inlaws, parents, friends, better journalists, severe competition, the autorickshaw drivers, metro water, stink of pee and shit.
i am also running towards money. but don't tell a gulf indian that... they won't accept that they are here for the money. strange and demented indeed!

Anonymous said...

Gee: As you know, I agree with you about 98% :) The remaining 2% isnt disagreement, but just something that doesnt figure in my life.

Vani: You said it! I've been in the Gulf and nobody can really claim they're there for the easy public lifestyle or the good weather or the beautiful scenery (although there's probably some of that) :)

- Shyam

@lankr1ta said...

Why did I not discover you before. I always thought I was the minority not thinking like this Indian. I came to the US mostly to escape. And I find the whole "we are Indian, we have values( whatever" microscopically moronic. Thank you for your post.