Saturday, June 18, 2011

What do I miss about America? A review

The monsoon arrived in Mumbai a few days early this year.  One day it was all hot and sultry, and the next the gods had finally had enough and let the thunderous clouds loose.  As lively pellets pelted the thirsty earth, I realized with a sudden sensory jolt - it has been a full year since I returned to India.

I had expected to get here right alongside the monsoon last year.  Sitting in my basement in suburban Northern Virginia, I looked to this season of seasons with equal parts dread and fascination.  [See my blog post from the time: The Monsoon]  As I watch the thundering rains this time around the very best way you can (i.e. from indoors), my mind goes back to how much things have changed over this year.  Back then, I was - yes it needs to be said - scared.  I certainly had the faith that coming back to India at that time was the right decision for us, but hey, there were a hundred different ways things could go wrong.  We were leaving a country where everything worked, and moving to one where everything needed work.  If others have made this move and have truly had no doubts, they are bigger men than I am.

More to soothe my nerves than anything else, I had then made a list on Brick and Rope of Top 10 Things I Will Miss Most about Life in America.  In that post, among other things, I wrote - 

There is so much about the US I will miss back in India. Or I expect I will miss, is probably more accurate. I don't know for sure, do I? I might think I will miss something, but in reality I might actually not even remember it, and something much more mundane might tug at the heartstrings. Only one way to find out.

Let me put my stake in the ground. Let me put out in the public domain what I think I will miss most about life in the US. Maybe a few months after I move to India, I can look back upon this list and see whether reality at all resembled my predictions. 

One year on, sitting on the right side of clear French windows watching the grey downpour falling 18 floors down, with a wet Mumbai spread out below me, and a steaming cup of coffee in my hands, I think it is time I looked at that list again.  What are truly the things I miss most about life in the US now?  Did I actually miss the things I thought I would?  Here is a review of my predicted Top 10 and how they turned out:

#10:  Things:  Turns out I don't miss the material things about the US much at all.  Practically everything is available in India now (yes dear JS of one year back, even 60" HDTVs and TiVo).  No, this prediction was a 'miss'.

#9:  Suburbia:  Life in the city is a world removed from the suburban bliss of America.  But it has its own special addictions.  I wouldn't say I miss suburbia terribly, but I haven't quite become the comfortable city dweller yet either.  Let us chalk this prediction down under the 'mixed' column.

#8:  Saying Hello to Strangers:  Common courtesy is as lacking in the India of today as I remembered it to be.  There are little pockets of civility in an otherwise 'too busy running and too scared of strangers to care to say hello' world.  Yes, I certainly do miss the comfort of everyone being polite and courteous with each other.

#7:  Football:  Well, it took me three years to learn to love football.  It took about three months for cricket to regain its place in my heart.  Notwithstanding my desperate surfing at 3 in the morning to catch live streaming of Super Bowl XLV, I have to say that I don't really miss football that much.

#6:  Flowers:  Flowers blooming everywhere were one of the great pleasures of living in America.  There is no shortage of flowers in India, only the relationship with them is different.  Where flowers in the US are about adding color to the surroundings, in India they are about pretty-ing people (or gods) up.  Indians tend to have a much more 'up close' relationship with flowers than their western counterparts.  It is a difference I have gotten used to.

#5:  Driving:  Long drives and road trips were a source of great pleasure to the wife and I for years.  I never expected to gather enough courage to start driving in the crazy jungle of Indian traffic, and that hurt.  It took me close to six months, but I did start driving again.  I feel confident enough to give the driver a two day weekend.  With the parents in Pune, the (extremely beautiful) 100 mile drive there every month or so is the closest we have had to a road trip, but the confidence is building ... maybe something more ambitious soon?

#4:  Doing business on the Internet:  India is getting there but isn't quite there yet.  Google maps works quite well.  Buying books (and other essentials) on the net is a breeze.  There is a Reliance version of Netflix.  But if you want reviews on schools or doctors or plumbers; find the best furniture shop in your area; get your passport / driving licence renewed, you are out of luck.  What is available is well short of useful.  The slightly crazy thing is - one doesn't miss it that much.  Like the H&R Block ads used to say 'we have people'.

#3:  Two day weekends:  As its #3 position shows, this was something I was really worried about.  Once you get used to 2 day weekends, it is difficult to go back.  As it happens, I needn't have fretted.  I work strictly 5 day weeks and practically never work on weekends (and no one from work ever calls me either).  So on this one, I am happy to note that the fears were truly unfounded.  I must mention however that this is very company specific.  My employer in the US was very respectful of my personal time and I am grateful that the same has turned out to be true of my present employer.  Let me not jinx it by talking more.

#2:  Public libraries:  Hell yes!  I miss them like hell.  There are no libraries worth the name in Mumbai.  No bookshops inviting enough to encourage me to go there on weekends simply to browse.  I find bookshops here too transactional, too interested in getting you to buy something and get the hell out.  I miss my Sunday morning trips to Barnes & Noble with the daughter, my occasional nocturnal visits at 9 in the night, to read something till 11 when they finally close down with a "we would be happy to welcome you again tomorrow morning at 9".  Personally, this is probably what I miss the most.

#1:  National Parks:  A close second.  Yes, I miss them a lot.  With the grace of Bombay Natural History Society, I have started discovering the bountiful gifts of nature in India in recent months.  (We went for an immensely satisfying hike in Borivili National Park yesterday - the one year old in a kid carrier and the 'I am almost five' daughter treading the rocks gamely.)  But I haven't yet been to any other national park in India.  I haven't necessarily pushed myself hard enough, so no excuses, but the sheer accessibility of natural beauty in the US is missing here in India.  

Before I conclude the review of this list, I have to mention one additional item that wasn't on my original list, but is something we sorely miss now - reliable child care.  The many professionally run day care centers everywhere in America are what make two working parents possible.  There is nothing comparable in India.  The social infrastructure almost forces one parent to be at home, unless you are extraordinarily lucky with domestic help or local availability of grandparents.  If you ask my wife her list of things she misses about the US, this is, without any hesitation, her #1.

So then, how did my original list do in terms of predicting what we were going to miss most about life in America?  It was a mixed bag, I think.  There were a few items that were spot on, a few that were way off.  

Overall though, one year later, what surprises me the most is this - I don't miss my previous life nearly as much as I thought I would.  To be honest, I don't believe I miss it much at all.  Life takes over, I guess.


  1. Its been a month since I moved back and I can already relate to #4 and #5. I am still struggling to find good furniture which otherwise was easier to search for and could be ordered online.

    BTW have you checked the british council library. It is pretty decent and they deliver the books at your doorstep. Check the link below

    --Anish P

  2. Hi,
    For Natural bounty, please travel all over the Sahayadris, they are great for a hike / trek.
    If you want to go with a guide and a group of people, join some trek with Odati (, they are good fun.

    Or buy the 'Outlook Traveller' weekend breaks from Mumbai book. or use google, there's tons of places near Mumbai.

    Am appalled that you are living in India and cribbing about lack of natural beauty - not in Bombay maybe, but just step out. Hello, we have the Himalayas, for god's sake !! Dinky little American outcrops don't compare, no matter how well they market them.

    Don't moan, start travelling. Use your two day weekends more.


  3. :-) Though I admit, not like you can travel to the Himalayas, or even anywhere close - over a 2 day weekend.

    But you may as well start with the Sahayadris.

  4. Zen, when the blog writer talks about national parks in America, he specifically mentions the "accessibility". You can talk about these 2 day trips in the Sahayadris all you want, but, it is not easy to manage those trips with a one year old in India. Not so in America, where we had our older one a pro at trekking and camping by the time she was 2 years old.

  5. Well, the US misses you. I see your smiling face on Facebook and wonder what you are doing. We just had cross cals, another one of your old favorites. :)


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  7. The impressive ten main points to be remember while we are going to America, which they missed. Thanks for the sharing.

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