I guess it was inevitable. After I wrote the post on Top 10 things I will miss about living in America, many readers were left asking - "So ... why are you returning to India again?"
It is a fair question, even if somewhat unanswerable, at least unanswerable satisfactorily. The case for America is taken to be self-evident. You can touch and feel the reasons. Large house, big car, low traffic, clean air, gadgets and toys. What's not to like? In the land of the free, every pleasure can be had for a price.
So why the return to snake-charmer land? Why the willful walk to treacherous traffic? The deliberate decision to go to potholes and pollution? Why the conscious call to jostle mallus in a mall?
Yes, dear reader, there is both rhyme and reason. I am no cheerleader for the 'everyone should return to India' brigade. I do not return with silly, overly romantic notions of how great life in India is, or how all my emotional and spiritual vacuums are going to be filled just by stepping on Indian soil. But while I am no chest thumping jingoist, I can't deny that there is a certain pleasure I feel in returning to the country of my birth. Irrational? Sure. Without reason? I beg to differ.
Here are my top 10 reasons for returning to India:
10.Help: Never having to do my laundry again. Ever. Expecting hot chai after work and not feeling guilty. Having the house cleaned and my books dusted every day. Finding the car hand washed every week, as if by magic. Having a never ceasing topic of conversation with the wife. ("You can't imagine what the bai did today! I really think we should fire her. But then, Sanjana fired her bai last month and still hasn't found another ..."). Domestic help - You are a new dimension to my life.
9. Bollywood: Watching trailers of the latest movies. Discussing the latest in the rivalry of the Khans. Hearing snatches of A.R.Rehman's music from that car waiting for a green signal. (Saying 'signal' instead of 'light'). Watching movies in theaters that seat a thousand people - not the glorified TV screens that call themselves 'cinemas' in America. Having samosas during interval. (Having an interval). Bollywood - You are escape like Hollywood could never be.
8. Festivals: Pandal hopping during durga puja. Eating piping hot khichuri off paper plates. Waking before dawn to be the first to set off crackers on Diwali. Looking for old yet white kurtas for Holi. Eating ghujia at friends' houses. Neighbors setting up Golu on Navratri, women going to sing in each other's homes - a new person's home each night. Chants of 'Ganapathi bappa moriya' as elephantine idols are paraded out to their watery visarjan on Ganesh chaturthi. Festivals of India - I haven't seen your color in seven years, and I can hardly wait.
7. Having life "in your face": People on the roads (oh so many people!). Poverty and luxury jostling for space. Slum dwelling children playing in the water from a broken pipe. Hearing the bells of a temple, the muezzin's call from a mosque. Men proudly wearing their religion on their foreheads, and women their marital status. Life that hasn't been sanitized out of all character. (Life that hasn't been sanitized - yes, that too.) Feeling alive, in a hyper New York sort of way. Having life "in your face" - it gets tiring, but it never gets boring.
6. Getting personal with work: Making your closest friendships at work. Having long chai sessions every day. Getting invited to the boss's house for dinner. Having 'colleague' be a loose, and seldom used synonym of the word 'friend'. Really caring about your work. Having it be more than just a job that pays the bills. Going on offsites to the best resorts. Having spouses (and kids!) invited. Mixing business with pleasure - You are rarely efficient, but always fun. I have missed you!
5. Having mojo: An economy growing at 8%. Subji-walahs with two cellphones. A spring in everyone's step. Boundless optimism. An obstinate belief that the future will be better than the past. Trans-generational mobility. Old giving birth to the new and shiny everywhere you look. Opportunities for everyone to make their children's lives better than their own. An elephant waking up. A society discovering its mojo. I felt it last when I left India, and have seen it grow every time I have visited. As the woman told the waiter in When Harry Met Sally's restaurant scene (shamelessly unrelated link to an all time favorite movie clip), I will have whatever she is having.
4. Family: Being able to meet my parents over the weekend. Getting my daughter to know her grandparents. Seeing my brother more often than once every other year. Calling to tell him a silly joke, or to discuss the latest T20 match. Having an extended family. Sleeping on the floor because there are more guests in the house than beds. Making jokes the next morning about the ceiling fan's ineffectual groans, the uncle's snoring, dad's too frequent trips to the bathroom. Family - you don't come with a 'hassle free' guarantee, but then what worthwhile thing ever does?
3. Making a difference: Tackling the big questions. At work and in life. Building teams. Creating strategies. Driving change. Making something new, something big, something that might last long after I am gone. Touching people's lives. Giving back to the society that subsidized my education, my opportunities. Making a difference - in a way that you can't being away.
2. Food: Thali at Saravana's in Chennai. Dhokar Dalna at Aheli in Calcutta. The all night dhabas in Delhi. The hole-in-the-wall Khichdi Samrat in Bombay. Eating pani puris outside cinema halls. Ganne ka ras that can't possibly be germ free. Vada Pav at the halfway stop being Bombay and Pune. Kachhi dabeli. Dhokla. Calcutta's mishti doi. Sri Krishna Sweets' Mysore pak. My mom's chinna vengaya sambhar. Food. For vegetarians. It doesn't get better than India.
1. Belonging: Taking people for granted. Inviting oneself over for lunch. Instinctively knowing the cultural context. Breaking out in a smile when 'pehla nasha' starts playing on the radio, because it reminds me of college. Making Ramayana and Mahabharata references in everyday conversations. Not having to be PC. Being part of the mainstream. Belonging - I am really looking forward to belonging.
So, as I was saying - there are good reasons to return to India. Koi shak ya sawaal? (Bonus points for identifying the pop culture reference)