Tuesday, June 29, 2010

And living here sucks!

I did not think I would say this but there is a lot to be said for a lifestyle where home appliances are cheaper than maid services. It is alarming to be dependant on a maid for the cleanliness of your home, especially when that maid has no sense of time. From what I hear, all maids are supposed to be this way, so it is not even like we have a choice. What is the point in firing someone only to replace them with a similar person?

After having managed myself, my work and my housework by myself for the past year when I lived alone in the US, sitting around here waiting for the maid to come in and finish her chores before I can start my day is extremely aggravating. If I call her because she is late, she may answer the phone or she may not and sometimes after ignoring my call, she actually switches off her phone! And I am not exactly an ogre or a strict task master, I've told her that if she is delayed or can't make it in the mornings all she has to do is let me know. But I guess answering a phone call is too much work for her!

So, I decided I would take a look at the availabilty of appliances like a washer/dryer, dishwasher etc so I can dispense with the maid altogether. After all, I've been doing it all for so long, what's the harm in continuing to do so? But, the prices are ridiculous! Maybe, they are the same as in the US, I wouldn't know as I never had to buy them there as I lived in apartments. Here, most apartments don't even have closets, let alone appliances! But anyways, there is no way I would be able to buy everything I need in one day. Actually, at this point I am not even sure when I will be able to buy them as I have a serpentine list of things I absolutely need to buy before I even dream of appliances. Paying my capricious maid is a hundred times more affordable!

Nevertheless, it is annoying as hell. In hindsight, the smart thing to do if you want to move back to India is set up your India home first, while you are still in the US, fill it up with everything you need under every eventuality and then move during the winter months. Do not move like I did in the middle of a hellish summer to an empty apartment that did not even have air-conditioning and start running around in a state of heat induced insanity to make your home livable!

Do not think that IST has improved...it has not, Indian Standard Time continues to run hours behind any other time zone in the world.
Nothing and no one here is reliable and pretty soon you will also become an unreliable person. So be prepared to accept this before you move. Otherwise you may just break your heart at your own disintegration! And you have to prevent that at any cost, this country sure as hell does not need more broken down stuff...or people...

Friday, June 25, 2010

….And I struggle to go beyond clichéd descriptions…

Something that a friend said to me would not go away. He read one of my previous blog posts titled, America Vs India and stated how things I mentioned about India did not feel strange to him, as that is how he has always known it but he thinks that, having experienced a different system, I thought it was something to remark upon.

On a superficial level, I was aware of this fact. However, it kept bothering me as I went about my day. Was I being too nitpicky about life here? It was hard to say because even when I lived in India before moving to the US, I had plenty of things to complain about India and the direction in which she was headed( like most every Indian I should say). Living in the US, I had plenty of opportunities to listen to Americans lament about the deterioration of the US, which rather made me wonder if citizens of any country are completely satisfied with their country and systems!

Nevertheless, I still wondered about my propensity to compare the two countries, with India somehow coming out sounding weird in my descriptions. I think I had my answer while driving out on one of my numerous shopping trips to fill my apartment with “things”.

I was driving past a huge mall, which has some of my favorite stores that I got addicted to in the US like, Lush and The Body Shop. There are numerous other stores and boutiques where you find the best, the most expensive and most modern of items in there. Right in front of the mall, going past all the fancy cars parked in street side parking spots was a good old-fashioned camel cart, as usual loaded with goods to be transported. If ever there is an instance of the ancient and the modern co-existing together, it was this.

Another time, driving along the Sarkej-Gandhinagar highway, a BMW M6 roared by taking advantage of a two-bit length of traffic free road to come to a full stop near a crowded intersection. The top was down and it was clear the hip kids in the car, in their designer tees and spaghettis were high on hot wheels. Then, a group of sari-clad women demurely covering their heads trying to cross the road surrounded the car. Another instance of old and new marching forth side-by-side?

There are old-fashioned communities in the US too, like the Amish, the Mormons, some Native American communities etc. However, like everything else in the US, organization comes into play here as well and you rarely see them beyond their villages and reservations as part of mainstream life in a direct manner.

India is another story! There are too many people and too many different ways of life for any of it to be tucked away neatly in designated places. The contrasting images provided by this fact are too glaring to be ignored. If you spend a day, viewing a monochromic picture unblinkingly and then move on to a huge canvas splashed with every color under the sun, would not your awareness of these colors and the contrasting images they provide be heightened? Something like this happens when you experience life in a completely modern society in a relatively young country like the US, then move to an ancient land like India that is trying to accommodate the old and the new, the modern and the exotic, and make everybody feel at home within her borders. Also, do not forget “the old” is usually thousands of years old; I would not be surprised if the camel carts are as old as wheels themselves!

If my descriptions of India come out sounding weird and clichéd, it is because I have not yet figured out how to go back to appreciating holistic asymmetry as I am still longing for the coolness of a monochrome picture as opposed to the blast of colors my aching eyes are faced with here!

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Flying Thieves...

Our home in Ahmedabad was burgled while we were away visiting family in the south. The burglars also hit our neighbor’s apartment at the same time as they were away holidaying as well. We received some interesting information while we filed a complaint. We assumed this had been a nighttime affair; however, the police stated that there were plenty of daylight robberies going on. Thieves break into locked houses knowing that the owners are away, clean the house out within no time, and flee the city. Check this out…apparently most of these people are from out of state who fly in, commit a robbery and fly out! Moreover, these people are supposedly from states like Bihar, MP and UP.

Despite being bummed out about losing a significant amount of my gold in this robbery, I had to laugh when I heard this. Traditionally, these states have harbored some of the most ruthless burglars, a number of whom were the best you could find in the realm of highway robbery. So now, it sounds like these people decided that there is no reason why only the local population should be granted the privilege of their visits. After all, India is a vast country with a growing number of wealthy people. What is wrong with a little cross-country charity, albeit forced? In addition, India is big on being a land of growing economy and huge opportunities today and nowhere does it say that opportunities are confined to the poor non-criminal elements of society like us!

So, while people like me are stupidly cavalier about their possessions and the security system, both public and private are still waking up to the fact that India is no longer a sleepy, laidback country, our intrepid robbers have outdistanced us by eons.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Don't I Belong Here?

After traveling some in cooler places, I am back in Ahmedabad where the sun continues to burn earth and all her creatures. The heat is so intense and my inability to tolerate heat is so bad that I can slowly feel myself losing my sanity especially when it is mid-day and the sun is at its hottest.

My friend happened to call at that time and I was full of complaints. After listening to me for a while, she gently suggested that I should move back to the US and that people had to work harder here. That got me thinking about my decision to move. I had always said that no matter where I travel in the world, I would want to come back to India to settle down. When I finally moved, it was not a natural progression of my plans but rather a move forced on me by certain circumstances. I had a choice of continuing to stay on in the US or move back and get started on settling down here and I chose the latter.

I had no idea of knowing if this is the best decision and had to take a leap of faith and then try to make it work. I had anticipated many of the difficulties of uprooting myself and starting from scratch in a completely different place under forced circumstances. The one thing that made it easy for me to take this decision was the thought that no matter how difficult it got, I was still going home, home to a place that I always loved. I did not anticipate any significant barriers to settling down here.

This was just one more false notion of which I seem to be a connoisseur! It has been a month and I am still unable to do anything because of the heat. All the practical problems that I envisioned as a matter of course where change is involved continues to plague me for the simple reason that the heat does not let me even lift a finger to work on settling down. All of my energies are focused on simply surviving. I have never before lived such an idle life and I find it extremely demoralizing.

The typical response I get to this problem is a suggestion that I go back to the US. I could go back to the US if I really wanted to move back. I am sick and tired of living like a dehydrated animal with no purpose in life other than to find the coolest spot during the day to pass out in and cautiously venture out in the evenings to hunt for food. I have also had enough of never feeling clean no matter how many showers I take during the day or how many times I change my clothes. I am tried of breathing in dust every time I walk out of the house and I am sick of seeing the dust and soot deposits on all the older buildings that have not received a fresh coat of paint.

Add to this the general inefficiency of systems in India (yes they are somewhat inefficient, whether we like it or not) and you have the perfect recipe for a metamorphosis of the human into the sub-human. Consider this, we would not have had this heat wave if the systems had been working and the city developers had followed the environmental codes that specify the ratio of trees per square yard of land. This may sound simplistic but anything that would help reduce heat in a hot climate needs to be followed. Instead, officials have free reign to ignore these requirements and then lament when people including newborn infants die due to excessive heat.

Getting back to my original point, there are days when I feel that I would like nothing better than getting back to my former life in the US. My friend seems to think that people in India have to work harder. I am not so sure about that. If people here genuinely worked harder, we would probably have better systems in place, not to forget that household help and family support is widely available here thus making life a lot less stressful. The same cannot be said of living as an expatriate in the US.

However, leaving aside all these comparisons for the moment, the question I am pondering is, why is it considered so strange that I am struggling to adapt to life here? Is it really a solution for me to just give up and move back? Physically and emotionally, this has been a draining experience but that does not mean I am never going to feel comfortable here. At least I hope it does not mean that!

I may complain, whine, and even hate it here at times but that does not mean I am an outsider now. I may feel homesick for the US and on certain days wish myself back there fervently but that does not mean I want to turn my back on India. Do not get me wrong, it is not from any noble ideas of patriotism that I say that. The fact is, I was born and raised Indian and will always be one. It is important for me to maintain my connection to my country.

From somewhere in the mists of the past a line I heard comes to mind, “I need to hate you to love me”…I get the feeling that people think one cannot love two countries at once but I believe you can. I do not have to hate the US to love India and vice versa. Also, I do not need to believe that India is perfect in order to love her; I can do it despite her flaws. To put it simply, no matter what, I am Indian and that gives me the right to crib, find faults, lament my decision to move back here and yet continue to work on making myself at home here again!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

A condescending Repat...

When my husband read my previous piece titled “America Vs India”, he was a little pissed because he felt it had a condescending attitude towards India. My reply was if it comes across as condescending, then that is exactly how I feel! I probably opened a can of worms with that statement.

Like every other Indian, resident or non-resident, I have an aversion towards criticism of India. I think our flaws are unfairly magnified and beauty either totally ignored or facetiously exaggerated. On the other hand, people who genuinely try to relate to the country and culture find themselves hugely rewarded. Growing up here, I obviously had no problem relating to this culture on a visceral level and deriving huge benefits from it. In fact, I was so much of an Indian, that the highly organized, straight forward and fast-paced life in the US felt quite alien and boring when I first moved there. I felt that this made life too predictable and mechanical and longed for the vibrant chaos of life in India.

Where else would you find gutsy idiots riding their motorcycles on the raised medians between opposing freeways with an elephant carting firewood on the shoulder of the said freeway to boot? Or how about you open your office door to find a monkey in charge curiously inspecting the water cooler? Here, BMWs and bullock carts share the road with equal élan and progress and corruption continue to rise higher hand in hand.

I have no recollection of when I began to fall in love with the comfort of structure and predictability. Nor do I recall when I began to regard the lack of seamlessness of life in India to be a source of frustration rather than fun. The truth is, as a repat anything disruptive in my life here, of which there are plenty provoke intense reactions. To my chagrin, they are usually negative or “condescending” as my husband so kindly put it and I live in hope that it will change soon.

America Vs India

Mornings in the US-

Curse the ringing alarm clock at 6.30 AM, jump out of bed at 7.00 AM and into the shower, do my hair and face, gulp coffee, more often than not skip breakfast and jump on the freeway for a 25-mile commute to the office.

Mornings in India-

Wake up around 5.00 AM sometimes 4.00, because it is too hot to sleep, have coffee, wait for the maid to come in and start her chores. Place a chair near the window and an air cooler near the chair and sit staring alternately at the cooler and the shimmering heat outside. I think I probably know the blades and blinds of the air cooler far better than I know my husband’s face despite having known him for almost ten years and my cooler for two weeks.

American Remedy for Insomnia-

(Or remedy for when your body is coddled and your mind is fried and you cannot sleep)

Half-fill a champagne flute with chilled whole milk, add lashings of vodka, a dash of sweet stock vermouth and some drops of kahlua…multiple flutes allowed until you pass out.

Indian Remedy for Insomnia-

Go out in the hot sun, catch yourself a baby heatstroke…leave the adult heatstroke alone unless you are on a suicide mission, go home and pass out…in the interest of remaining alive, multiple jaunts in the sun are not allowed.

Buying a cell phone in the US –

Walk into a store and buy a phone and a telephone plan.

Buying a cell phone in India-

Walk into a store and be seated respectfully to be told respectfully that you have multiple options. After you choose your desired plan, you are again respectfully told that you cannot buy it as you have not brought any legal document to show that you are legally present not just in the country but in the state and city as well. “Sir/Madam, can you at least, please get something from your bank showing proof of address? And Oh!, please get a passport size photo as well”.

You don’t have a bank account in this city yet so you take a document that says you are a legal resident of this city, procured God alone knows how, so you can get a gas connection for cooking, only to be told that it has to be notarized. Go out, get it notarized and go back with the photograph. “But sir, this is a stamp size photo! We need a passport size…”

American Highway –

If you are stuck in a traffic jam and all vehicles have come to a standstill, call someone to chat, listen to music, read a book, sing a song, fall asleep…whatever but stay put in your lane.

Indian Highway-

Stuck in a traffic jam with all kinds of vehicles, cars, trucks, motorcycles…trucks monopolize the lanes and crawl and truckers from their sky-high seats guide the cars and motorcycles along the shoulder…what fun!

American Maid Service-

Walks in to a dirty apartment and walks out leaving it a hell lot cleaner than what you have ever accomplished by yourself, and you are lucky if you even know her name.

Indian Maid Service –

Usually walks in an hour late, mine even brings in little satellites sometimes and delegates tasks to them! She multitasks, asks irrelevant questions, inspects new items in the house, complains about pains in the hip, hints that she wants a washing machine to do the laundry, all the while, I am chasing after her to make sure she has cleaned everything well and hasn’t left things half-done which is her usual style.

Monday, June 14, 2010

How can you hate living in a country that you love so much?

Although planning my return to India was a bittersweet experience, I was more excited than sad about the move. I had loved life in the United States; however, I also had great memories growing up in India, so I was confident that my return would be seamless.

Well, so much for such high hopes!

After the jet lag wore off and the initial hoopla was over, I began to feel increasingly homesick for the US. I knew I would miss my life back there but I was not prepared for the gamut of emotions flooding my mind at the thought of permanently residing here again. The most bewildering thing about this experience is that I cannot honestly say I dislike my life here or find nothing to enjoy here. On the contrary, I am enjoying the abundant sunshine, delicious food, colorful towns and cities as I am traveling in country quite a bit these days, catching up with family, friends, and a host of other things.

Nevertheless, even as I am enjoying all this, something inside me screams for the US!

This has me in a quandary. How can I love this country, enjoy so many different things here but continue to pine for what I left behind?