This ‘Indianness’

When you have been away from homeland too long, you get to learn yourself better. You discover those aspects of your personality that you never thought you possessed. Then you realise, may be you did, but these feelings were hibernating while you were busy taking things in homeland for granted.

Unexpected things and random experiences are known to trigger a wave of nostalgia, taking you down the memory lane, making you teary-eyed and happy at the same time. One thought leads to another, and before long, you are lost in the awesomeness that is homeland. Time seems to slow down while you walk through this beautiful garden of memories. A small smile plays on your lips, much to the wonderment of your co-workers. When asked what you are smiling about, you say ‘nothing’. How do you explain to them what brought the smile on? It’s hard. They wouldn’t understand. They haven’t had common experiences growing up with you. They are not on the same page. And you are in too happy a space to even bother explaining them.

How do you explain endless hours spent playing lagori, shaakli, chupa-chupi, langdi?

How do you explain the joy you felt on enjoying the coolness of kalakhatta, orange or keri flavoured gola on your lips on a sweltering hot summer day?

KalaKhatta Gola Picture Courtesy - Ahujaboy

KalaKhatta Gola Picture Courtesy – Ahujaboy

How do you explain the fun you had playing holi, pelting water balloons on random people?

How do you explain what’s all the fuss about Pani-puri?

 

Pani-Puri Picture Courtesy www.bubblews.com

Pani-Puri Picture Courtesy http://www.bubblews.com

How do you explain DDLJ, Hum Aapke Hain Kauna and the likes have been an important part of you growing up? How do you explain you miss drama sometimes?

How do you explain what’s the deal about maa ke haath ka gaajar ka halwa?

How do you explain those many fun-filled moments you have shared with your cousins, or for that matter even your mama, mami, kaka, kaki, mausa, mausi, bua, nana, nani, dada, dadi? Heck, we don’t even have English words for these uncles and aunties. In Pardes, you realise how impersonal English language really is, you crave to talk in your mother tongue. You try filling the hole by watching Bollywood movies. Bollywood movies remain your closest connection to India. Every once in a while you feel a strong desire to watch some classic movie for the nth time, just so you could relive those memories. Just so that you could take the cheapest ticket back to India for a wee-while. Just for a while, you want to be transported back to India.

In a foreign country, you are constantly battling feelings of ‘neither here’ & ‘nor there’. There are days when you feel like giving it all up and heading straight home. Damn career, Damn pardes.

It’s then when you learn to acknowledge how big a part India is of you. You can take an Indian out of India, but you can’t take India out of an Indian. So true that.

The good thing is you learn to value your roots a lot more. You learn a great deal about yourself. You have plenty of opportunities to pause and reflect. You feel like you have grown years wiser in a small time. You learn new perspectives, you become more flexible. You become more aware of differences in people around you. As much as I have seen, heard or read, I can say every Indian settling abroad inadvertently goes through this unique, one-of-its-kind tug-of-war. Every one feels homesick once the novelty wears off. Because culture, traditions and way of life in India are nothing like in any other countries. There is a whole world within India itself, and it is difficult to explain this “Indianness” to a non-Indian.

All my friends gearing up for a new life outside India; be ready to be challenged. Be ready to unlearn and be ready to learn. All the best.

 

Living abroad

Each one of you, who thinks that living abroad is glamorous, let me put it out there. Living in a foreign country is certainly not easy. It sure has its own perks, mainly depending on which country you live in, but it also has many downs. It really brings out those hibernating aspects of your personality that you thought didn’t exist. It tests your endurance and it tests your willingness to change and adapt.

Living abroad:

Means that you find yourself to be in a socially awkward place very often.

Means you don’t get their local jokes and you have to take cue of other people’s laughter and laugh along in order to not look like a fool.

Means struggling with their accents. Here in NZ, for example, ‘a’ is pronounced like ‘e’ and ‘e’ like ‘i’. ‘Later’ sounds like ‘Laiter’, ‘ladies’ sounds like ‘laidies’, ‘Jenna’ is ‘Jinna’ and ‘yes’ sounds like ‘yis’. Dear Lord, it’s difficult. These are the things you only begin to understand after a while.

Means dreading phone calls because you just don’t get their accents right. It means having to use phonetics even to get their names right. It means asking them to repeat more than a couple of times and imagining their sighing faces on the other end.  It means losing out the main bits of the conversations.

Means trying too hard to make new friends only to realise that it’s too much of an effort to actually start developing a bond with them. You realise too soon that finding like-minded people is not easy. And you soon start preferring staying at home than making forced attempts at friendships with people you share little in common with. It takes a loooonng while before you really can find company that you would like to keep.

Means sleeping on ultra-soft beds that give you a sore body each morning. You start missing your bed back home terribly.

Once the novelty dies down, the sudden realization one fine morning that your parents are miles away hits you hard. You miss them. You miss your dad’s constant nagging. You miss you ma’s dal chawaal.

Means missing your friends, their weddings and feeling helpless and miserable.

Means missing the general buzz around the city you grew up in.

It means fighting the sudden craving for a samosa or a wada pav, and making do with a sad burger.

It means missing out on Bollywood movies.

It means not being able to watch ‘Comedy nights with Kapil’ in real time.

It means *sob, sob* missing alphanso mangoes.

It means having to answer all your new acquaintances in the foreign land questions like:

Is India really how it is shown in Slumdog millionaire?

Are there camels and elephants on the roads?

Does everyone in India practice Yoga?

Have you met all the Bollywood stars?

Do they really have arranged marriages in India?

Do you have internet in India? Seriously??!

Do you have wifi then?

Do you use curry powder in all your dishes? Can someone please tell them there is no such thing as curry powder. Who invented this term curry powder? What they know as ‘Curry Powder’ is essentially just a mix of all the spices. That people don’t use curry powder in India. Can someone please also tell them that every Indian dish they eat is not called a curry? And while we are on the topic, can someone please tell them that there really is a world beyond chicken curry. They might not believe you, but still try you can!

And the clichéd:

It obviously means doing your own cooking. There is no mom to pack your lunchbox or to make your meals or to run behind you with your handkerchief and your wallet and your socks and your water bottle. I know many adults who are guilty of this. And I also know that many moms usually don’t mind this, no matter what your age. It’s a very Indian way for moms to show their love. REGARDLESS of your age.

You obviously know about doing your own dishes, cleaning, your laundry, and the dreadfully boring task of ironing on a regular basis.

Grass is always greener on the other side, my friend!

Home and back again

I know this post is long due. I know you have been good and waited so patiently to hear about my big trip home. I hope that each one of you has had a relaxing break and that each one of you has a great year to look forward to.

Truth be told, I have not only been extremely busy on my return, I have also been a bit scared about doing this post and confronting my feelings. Because there is a truckload of thoughts to process.  My mind is a landmine at the moment, ready to explode, if only i’d rock it a bit. But I sure can attempt to share a few highlights from the trip. It was one hell of a whirlwind trip.

The moment I saw my family at the airport is the moment I realised how much I had actually missed them all long. I was seeing them after almost a year. That’s a loooooooooong time. We didn’t bother to hold back our tears. And a few hurried hugs and kisses at the airport pick up point certainly didn’t seem enough. Hasn’t Karan Johar told us that it is all about loving our family?

The chief reason for this big trip home, as you already know, was the upcoming wedding of my brother-in-law. An event we were all looking forward to for so many months that we were tired waiting for it and just wanted it to arrive soon. We were a bit jetlagged, no doubt, but the endorphins kept us going. The first few days of our arrival before the wedding obviously had us running from pillar to post: to the tailors and to the salons and to the market and the caterers, the decorators, the photographers, and what not. Running zillion errands, last minute shopping, fittings and trials, bringing the whole mad house under control made us completely lose track of time until the day of journey to the far, faraway destination was finally upon us.

And how did the wedding go? Oh, it was beautiful, the journey, the venue, especially the gorgeous bride, the arrangements, the food, the dance…it all surpassed our expectations and had our guests grinning from ear to ear. No major hiccups, no glitches whatsoever! And what a big task that is to achieve when you are travelling with the entire baraat for two days non-stop. A few sparks are bound to fly, someone bullies, someone gets bullied, but it was all in good humour.

Soon upon my arrival back in Mumbai, we had yet another major wedding to attend. That of my first cousin. It wouldn’t be wrong if I said that in the past decade or so we have literally grown up together. We lived in the same neighbourhood, which obviously meant catching up with each other on a daily basis and sharing all kinds of stories, secrets, clothes, moments and many, many jokes. It is the kind of bond that only sisters can share. It was hard to see her go. I was simply not ready for that. And the knowledge that she would be moving to a different continent altogether was no comforter either. Thanks to Skype and what’s-app once again, we will survive. Thank God for technology.

Then came my first wedding anniversary. Looking at our busy schedule, I didn’t really expect it to be a biggie. But I was wrong. TCG whisked me away to one of the most exotic and classic hotels in Mumbai for the night and pampered me silly. Between gifts and hugs and over a 3 glasses of bubbly, he said all the right things that I wanted to hear so badly and made my day. I know I should have given him more credit than I did. Looking at our busy time, I really didn’t think that TCG would go to such lengths to make that day so special for us. That will remain to be the most treasured memory of this trip.

Soon after this, we braced ourselves for the big trip to Kutch. By this point, yes we were a little tired, yes we were sleeping very less, yes we were constantly squeezing in time to meet all the people we wanted to really catch up with, yes it got painfully hectic, so much so that we had to literally stick to a timetable to be able to squeeze in all. But the endorphins kept us going. This was my only chance to purely ‘family time’ and I wouldn’t sacrifice that for anything. TCG’s family and mine were together on this trip and I, for one, had the best time of my life. We visited the breathtaking ‘Kala dungar’ (Black Mountain) and the enchanting ‘Safed rann’ (White desert) and marvelled at the beauty that nature is. If you haven’t been to these places, I would definitely encourage you to go there. Several hundred photographs, entertaining conversations around bonfires that we had going every night to keep away the chill, awesome food and treasured moments with my families are the moments from this little trip that I have locked away forever.

After this trip was my last week in India, which I planned to spend at home in Mumbai. But I have two homes now, the house I grew up in and my in-law’s. And I was torn between the two. This was my first trip home after the wedding and sub consciously whenever I thought about home I thought about the home I grew up in, and not my in-laws. And that I think is natural. Even when I was visiting my parent’s home, I had so many things to do, and there were so many guests who visited that I never found any time at all to sit down peacefully with my folks alone, undisturbed, forgetting the new responsibilities that come with being married and asking them how they really were doing without me. I couldn’t ask them if they missed me, I couldn’t ask them if they were doing fine, I couldn’t ask them about their health, I couldn’t ask them about the new developments in their life. There was no time to do any of that.  It pained me to think how marriage has changed the nucleus of life. I know that my parents had been looking forward the whole year to spend some quality time with me, but that could not happen.  There always were people around; there always were things to do. The part that hurts me the most is that I could not find one private hour to spend with my mom and to take stock of her health. And imagine my guilt when I found out, soon upon my return to New Zealand, that my mom was admitted to the hospital. I felt terrible.

I know in my heart that ever since marriage, I have prioritized my marital home over my parent’s. I tried my best to give neither side a reason to complain. And I know for a fact that if anybody at all; it is my own parents who would have received a step-motherly treatment from me because I was always prioritizing my new family. But I guess that happens. I guess that is the called being ‘grown up’. I guess that is part and parcel of marriage. I went out of my way to make things happen seamlessly and to supervise and coordinate all the wedding-related and other arrangements. But I may still have fallen short. Some things may have slipped my mind, given the fully-packed nature of this trip. I may have overlooked a thing or two and I may have hurt some feelings unknowingly. And often the things you miss are the things that people take notice of. Right?  What can I say? I did my best. But I really hope I have given my fair share of time to all who matter. I think, every married Indian woman living overseas and visiting home once a year would be facing this dilemma of dividing her time between two homes. It sucks, doesn’t it? Being all grown up and responsible…not fun!

One of the most irritating and painful lows of this trip was a bad case of my dental health. About ten visits to the dentist, two ceramic fillings and one root canal is definitely not something I had on my itinerary at all. It took up a lot of my time, my mindspace, money and patience. And even upon my return to New Zealand, I still have one rigidly sensitive tooth that has just stopped obliging and behaving. And that it will cost me a bomb to get it treated here, is not in the slightest way comforting. Buying a ticket back to India and getting my tooth treated would be cheaper. AND I AM NOT EXAGGERATING!

The hero of this trip was my brother, silently slogging, chauffeuring us through heavy traffic, taking us around, helping us shop, lifting our bags (not literally), bringing us things, and overall just helping us with everything possible and treating us like we were the most important people in his world. He never once lost his cool. Vishal, you are the most amazing person in my world, and I miss you the most.

And since I am in the mood of giving credits, special mention of TCG is a must. He single handedly overlooked all the travel, all the wedding arrangements, all the coordination, and in addition to that all the very boring documentation work related to our visas. He with is Zen-like qualities is the epitome of patience and calm. I wish I could have a part of that at least.

It felt like the month raced past us in a blink of an eye. Waking up in Wellington felt unreal.

2013

I know this is a month too early. But this is as good a time I would get in the next six weeks (Yes, my big trip home back is finally here and you don’t expect me to blog during my vacation, do you?) and I cannot say good bye to 2013 without this post.

This is a post reflecting on the year that went by in such a rush. I feel like paying homage to a beautiful year that is (was) 2013.

Some much needed pondering on the hits and the misses (not too many thankfully). Things that went well and things that didn’t quite turn out as desired.

This post is a summary of sorts that I can attach to 2013 much for my own keeping than for anything else. Something to read on, years from now, when fading memories would need a refresh.

So here goes.

2013 started with a bang for me, as I gingerly entered marriage-hood.  Far from being the demure, shy, nervous, unsure bride, I was more like a confident, relaxed bride who was a tad bit bored of answering the question about post-wedding jitters and difficulties settling-in in a new family. Which should go a long way in saying about what kind of people TCG and my new family really are! Even if I counted my blessings each day (which I do), it wouldn’t be enough. They welcomed me in to their home and their hearts and strangely I never felt out of place.

February had me bidding farewell to my family, my city, my country and all that I had cherished all these years of my life. I thought it will be very difficult, I thought I will break down at the airport and it will turn out to be quite a teary good bye. But much to my utter, utter surprise, I was able to hold up quite well and so was my family. They didn’t cry, at least not in front of me; and I hope they didn’t later. I guess it was the initial excitement of the new life that awaited me. But as time went by, their absence has been a constant hole in my heart. Not being able to see my family has been the hardest part of 2013. Thanks to Skype, I am surviving. I am guessing farewell this time around is going to be a lot more difficult.

I spent about a month in Singapore with TCG’s family much like an Alice in Wonderland without the husband around. It would have been ideal if he was there too. But there is nothing to complain, it was time well spent, and there wouldn’t have been a better time than this to be inducted (very formal but a befitting word) into the family. I had a great time discovering Singapore and my new family.

I flew down to be with TCG in March and oh boy has it been a roller coaster or what! My world changed. From a crowded, lively, vibrant, hot, humid, vast, fast and cosmopolitan place that Mumbai is, I was suddenly in a windy, cold, sparsely populated (anything is compared to Mumbai!), small, compact, laid back, slow and relaxed place that Wellington is. Both cities worlds apart from one another in character and strength. From living in an apartment to living in a house by the sea. From aircons to heaters. From summery, cotton clothes to multiple layers of winter clothes. From rains and floods to EARTHQUAKES(?!). From being a friendly, lively, and social Mumbaikar to an awkward immigrant in Wellington who was trying hard to get her head around the place, its people, the accents, the overwhelming newness. From chaat, vada pav and samosa to cheese, crackers and wine. From having a flying career in Marketing to starting from scratch all over again. Has it been easy? Hell no. Has it been interesting and educative? OH YES!

With 2013 I have truly grown a year wiser.  The time I spent with TCG getting to know him, is the kind of time you want to save in a special place in your memory. The time I spent with myself, is the kind I have never spent in all these years that went by; may be out of lack of options, but best time nonetheless.  It’s amazing how much you grow and learn when you are away from your nest.  Qualities you never knew you possessed, show up. Things you never knew you were afraid of, are discovered. Strength you never thought you could muster, pumps in your veins. In the past nine months that I have been in the New (Zea)land (haha, did you see that? I crack my self up sometimes), I have learnt so much. The whole new world opened up for me. I was like a frog in the well, and now I am a frog in a new well.  I feel I have grown as an individual, (re)discovered my passions, spent a lot of time blogging and cooking, travelling and exploring this wonderland that is New Zealand.

About New Zealand – Oh it is so beautiful! You have got to see it to believe it! Cities here have the best of both worlds – comforts and luxuries of a modern city and unmatched scenic beauty of a country side. Tall, glossy, glass buildings on one side, and trees, plants with hundreds of colourful flowers on the other. It’s like viewing a bustling city and vast patches of greenery in the same frame. A place is known by the kind of people it has. People make places. And after spending almost a year in this beautiful country, I can safely say that Kiwis are a lovely bunch of people. Warm, friendly, smiling, greeting, cheering and easy to work with.

Flying back home in a couple of days feels like coming a full circle, like fully completing a whole cycle of transition. 2013 feels like a dream. Could it be that I am actually dreaming and when I wake up I would be the old-me once again? Do I want to be that old me? Not sure. But what better way to end 2013 than celebrating with family and friends?

Thank you 2013. Thank you for being so awesome.

Mumbai

Mumbai

Wellington
Wellington

Time, where are you racing to?

It seems like 2014 is in a big rush to make its grand entry and is determinedly forcing 2013 out of its way. Poor 2013 seems to be making a hurried exit. Can you believe it? Wasn’t it just yesterday that we finally got a hang of writing 2013 in the dates instead of 2012 and now soon we have to start writing 2014. Phew!

Oh time, please slow down!

Though personally, I am hardly complaining, the sooner the time passes, the quicker I would be in India and sooner I will be seeing my loved ones. But keeping that one selfish wish aside, can I just ask you to slow down just a bit? What is the big rush?  If you continue at this hurried pace, my month long visit to India will turn into one hell of a whirlwind trip. It will be over, no sooner than it starts. I can already feel the post-holiday depression, even before the holiday begins. It will be over too soon. There is so much to pack in so little time. It is too depressing to think about how it will end. No, I am not letting my mind stray in that direction, at least for now.

You will get where you want to get sooner or later. So please, will you stop sprinting? And you are especially nippy on the weekends. No sooner than you arrive, you prepare to leave. Soon in February, you will tell me I am 27. What?!!

For the last few weeks I have been observing how quickly you are moving through the work week too, not just weekends. Monday through Friday in a wink of an eye. This is my third week at my new job and I have hardly had any time to think, pause and reflect. And after work, there is house and husband to look after. Fresh meals to be prepared every single day, not because I have to, but because I want to. I have hardly had time to breathe, forget checking personal mails or reading my favourite blogs.

Truth be told, I am actually a fan of these fast-type days. I love it when time does that. Consumes you so wholly, that you forget to keep time of time. I love being busy, I love being occupied. It is the slow, uninspired days that I dread the most.

Living in New Zealand has given me enough time to pursue a dual life. A life after work. Life that begins after office hours. And I don’t mean a life of wild partying (never had a life of wild partying anyway). I mean that window of a couple of hours  in the evening that gives you time to pursue your passions, your hobbies, your dreams, things that you want to do more and more.

Cooking it is in my case. No two days pass by without whipping up something new. Not a single phone/Skype call is complete without endless discussions on food. This is one passion that runs through the family and we are the family that discusses lunch at breakfast and dinner at lunch. And not to forget the snacks in between. And we never get tired of this. Guess what am I thinking about in the 5-7 minutes of free time that I might get at work? Food. I think of what is in the fridge and what is in the pantry and what can go with what and result in to a good dish. Suddenly out of no where, a new recipe would start taking shape in my mind. And once it is in the mind, it has to be on the PLATE.

Away from home, there is absolutely nothing that can fill the void of family and friends, but when life gives you lemons, you try to make lemonade out of it. So I can hardly complain about my less-than-active (almost defunct) social life in New Zealand. I have heaps of time, and I make most of it by doing what I do the best. Who knows, few years from now, when I look back, this is the life I would look upon, this is the time I would miss.

P.S. Thoughts about having a food blog are making more and more frequent appearances in my head than I would like to admit.

You amaze us Rahul Gandhi!

I don’t write about politics and politicians. But this time, I just have to. Trust the politicians to keep coming up with some crap or another to keep the media busy.

People have had a field day on Twitter yesterday, taking pot shots at the young (not so much) Gandhi czar for his infamous comment “poverty is just a state of mind.” Really?!

He does manage to irk us, doesn’t he?

Rahul Gandhi, in a discussion on Monday, said, “Poverty is just a state of mind. It does not mean the scarcity of food, money or material things. If one possesses self-confidence, then one can overcome poverty.” Looks like he was caught on a wrong foot, and clearly did not pause a moment for thinking before saying. I feel like shaking him up, splashing some cool water on his face so that he realizes what a stupid thing he has said.

It’s no wonder that this insensitive, stupid and unintelligent comment has garnered a quite a bit of backlash.

Well Mr. ‘Youth icon’ Gandhi, it’s easy to say so when you are nestled within the cool confines of your resplendent home, when all your basic and much more advanced needs are perfectly taken care of, when you have access to the best of everything in the world, when you haven’t gone a day without food, when you don’t have to worry about paying bills, and when you are miles away from reality.

Feels like he is just trying to shake his hands of his responsibility by calling poverty to be a thing of mind.

Sigh!

I tell you what – you know everything you say is going to be dissected and ripped to bits. So either pause to think before saying or take the Manmohan route to eternal silence. Isn’t silence golden?

Growing Homesick

You can take an Indian out of India, but you cannot take India out of an Indian.

Having lived away from my beloved home for more than half a year now, I can’t help but nod in complete agreement to the above. May be it’s the distance that is making my heart grow fonder, but the fact is…it is growing fonder.

Isn’t it paradoxical that we realise how valuable some things are to us, only when we have lost them? I now realise how I have (like many others) taken so many things for granted back home. Small joys, small conveniences, family, friends, flavourful food…the list could well go on.

In most cases, people get homesick once the initial frenzy of new life, new city, new country, new friends die down. Once the initial excitement fizzles out, they begin to miss the old life, the old country, the old city and the old friends. Old is after all, gold.

In my case, I knew from the start…that no matter how well I embrace the new, the old in me is so deeply rooted that it will always be on the ‘snooze’ mode. It will keep resurfacing time and again, reminding me of what I have left behind. It can get so overwhelming sometimes. You can actually watch movies like ‘Swades’ and go all teary eyed. Because you can relate to the story so-darn-well. Not an hour passes by, without thinking about India in someway or the other. No Kidding!

It is a complex set of emotions. I am so happy to be with TCG, to be experiencing everything new, to be enjoying every bit of it, yet at the same time there always is this longing to be at home. Every time I see something new, get to experience something beautiful, see a picture-perfect scene of the endless sky in the myriad of colours, gorgeously contrasted by clear green waters of the sea, I wish I could be with my family. I wish they could see what I am seeing. I wish they were here to enjoy the marvellous view. I wish they were here to comment on how beautiful everything here is. What I am meaning to tell is, all the beauty and all the new experiences that otherwise should have been counted amongst the ‘best experiences of life’ are not so best without having shared them with my friends and family.

It’s funny but every time I hear the word India, my heart skips a beat. Every time we pass an Indian restaurant and see the locals going gaga over ‘butter chicken and garlic naan’, I feel my heart swell up with a teeny weeny bit of pride for my country, though I have nothing to do whatsoever with the evolution of Indian cuisine. I feel like telling each one of them, “hey that’s our food from our humble country, isn’t it delicious?”  May be because there is something beautiful about seeing ‘other’ people experiencing and appreciating what you have experienced and taken for granted all your life.

Every time I read about India in local papers, I inadvertently feel a small tug at my heart. Every time I hear someone saying positive things about India, I feel good about myself. Every time someone shares a negative experience, I feel sorry about it and feel obliged to correct the misdoing. It’s like that figure of speech we learnt in our grammar classes in school – part for the whole. When something is said or discussed about India, I can’t help but take it personally.

Indian food, Indian customs, beautiful Indian clothes (haven’t wore them for 7 months?! What?!! Really?!), Indian movies, Indian festivals, Indian ways, Indian attitude, Indian spirit, Indian jokes…I miss it all. I have tried to keep it alive here, inside me. The Indian inside me is too proud to let all these things just disappear into thin air.

India might have its problems. Its inconveniences, its issues, its peculiarities. But then, which country doesn’t? It is what makes us who we are.  I am so grateful to be born Indian. Things I am grateful for: Reason # 21

I miss you India. I will see you very soon.