It is incredibly disconcerting to even contemplate moving homes within the same neighborhood let alone moving across cities and in my case across continents (cross the seven seas so to say!). Therefore, as I sit here in my neighborhood coffee shop and attempt to put down into words the heady cocktail of emotions and memories that is sloshing around in my head I must admit I’m positively unsettled and groggy. I find me constantly pinching myself and trying to pick on phantom scabs to ascertain that I’m in fact not wading inside a day dream. It really is that surreal. Then again, the decision is made.
I migrated to the US exactly 13 years ago and have since put my roots down here in the historic southern city of Atlanta. The city which was home to the civil rights movement and to its greatest champion Nobel laureate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. whose ultimate sacrifice ensured that the most powerful nation on the earth was on well and truly on its way to a place where a child is not judged by the color of her/his skin but the content of their character. Well on last check, the US still has long way to go on that front but I digress.
I came here with a couple of suitcases and I’ll most likely leave here with the same number of pieces of luggage. That said, what has transpired in my life in the span of those 13 eventful years will most definitely not fit all the suitcases in this entire world put together. Moreover, I would never trust any airline to be able to handle that kind of precious cargo even if I could hypothetically fit them into suitcases and pay the outrageous excess baggage fees to boot! In a nutshell though, two children, one home, few jobs (some beautiful and some not), and an adventure of epic proportions undertaken with the love of my life by my side were indeed just the ingredients to make a lot of delicious memories with. Memories that promise to linger on my palate for me to savor until such time I have bitten the dust.
The million dollar question
So I know the question on all your minds right now is this: Why would somebody abruptly decide to parachute out of a plane (A ‘Dreamliner’ no less!) when it is on auto-pilot at cruising altitude (comfortable life) and firmly on course to arrive at its intended destination without incident (a comfortable retirement) with no visible signs of turbulence ahead?
One who is gainfully employed, ensconced in the snugness of American suburbia, part of an active social scene, kids in good schools, in the pursuit of happiness (pursuing hobbies and passions) without any restriction and last but not least experiencing ‘matrimonial bliss’ (albeit that phrase could well be categorized as an oxymoron!). What gives?? Long question right! And since the question is nauseously long, it deserves an answer which provides relief the way smelling salts do to one who is in the throes of such queasiness.
Absence makes the heart grow fonder
Well, to begin with, I have always harbored this secret longing for my homeland (Sorry to disappoint you hyper-nationalists, I still hold the Indian passport!) and the longing has only grown stronger with time and distance. The familiar sights, smells and sounds that I lived with for the first 27 years of my life have constantly haunted me throughout the period of my absence. The romanticism of the choicest and fondest memories of my years in India keep rolling back like the indefatigable waves of the sea that keep returning to the shore (with the surety of death and taxes) and which only serve to rekindle and reinvigorate the flame of my desire to return. I’m acutely aware though that these memories are mere illusions now and are akin to the overtures of an enchantress. The ones she employs in a attempt to seduce her intended target into her elaborately fabricated honey-trap. But oftentimes we are willing to surrender ourselves despite being well aware of the consequences that await us when we are terminally consumed by the love for something or someone.
Payback (sort of!)
Secondly, both of us felt the need to move closer to our respective parents (thankfully no logistical nightmares here; they live only 30 kilometers apart) to be able to try and provide them the moral support they ‘perhaps need and expect’ (assuming this at our peril) from their offspring at the current juncture of their lives. Truth be told though, we aren’t doing them any favors. The other way to look at this is that we are actually doing ourselves a priceless favor. We are just trying to obviate the guilt and shame (that would otherwise accost us) of not being there for our parents when they needed us the most (as is the case with many expats).
Connecting the leaves with the roots
We are also acutely conscious of the fact that there awaits a huge dividend for kids that grow up in the general vicinity of their grandparents and other relatives. We would therefore not want to deprive our children of reaping the said dividend especially when we ourselves have been beneficiaries of it. We would like for our kids to know their grandparents as intimately as they possibly can as well as imbibe every drop of knowledge, every pearl of wisdom, every shred of history that the grandparents will be eager to bequeath to the torch bearers of their respective clans. We also desire for our kids to embrace and imbibe our language, culture and traditions that many of our relatives (the older variety especially) will gleefully pass on.
Land of Opportunity
The other reason is opportunity. The moniker that had heretofore been synonymous with and the exclusive copyright of the US (my adopted home) for the longest time has now been co-opted by India (land of my birth). India truly is the new land of opportunity (actually has always been and therefore attracted raiders across centuries) what with it being the fastest growing big nation (alongside China) for more than a decade and half now and firmly poised to become the worlds next dominant economic superpower by 2050. The sheer scale of development and the avenues of innovation, commerce and enterprise that this unbridled growth has spawned in its wake are simply awe-inspiring. And when you have a billion plus mouths to feed, clothes to drape them in, vehicles to ferry them in, and every other human need to satiate that cavernous aspirational appetite of a young demographic it quite simply translates into a billion plus opportunities. We definitely want a small slice of that gargantuan pie!
Giving back to society
The concept of charity was for the most part limited to giving alms to mendicants when I was growing up in India. The real breadth and more importantly the depth of the concept of charity dawned upon me after I came over to the US (which is the most charitable nation on earth going by stats) where charity is deeply entrenched in the social fabric and is taken with utmost seriousness (religion has a part to play here but more of that in another piece). One cannot deny as well as not appreciate the palliative impact these charitable endeavors have had in many parts of the world. My charitable endeavors though have been limited to donating a few bucks to foundations fighting illnesses or poverty etc. and on occasion lending a helping hand to pack and distribute food for the underprivileged as part of group activities. Therefore, I would like now to take a step further from these comfortable tokenisms and try and make some real impact on the ground if possible. Therefore, I want to use my new found knowledge and appreciation for charity to hopefully do my bit for my country of birth where charitable actions (not just donations) could prove to be the difference between life and death for a sizable percentage of her citizens.
Just so it is abundantly clear, this is not like moving from Atlanta to Antwerp. We’ll be moving from Atlanta to Bhubaneswar (the capital city of the state of Odisha on the eastern seaboard of India). What that really means is that it won’t just be a minor adjustment like it would be if we were moving say from America to any part of Europe (like adjusting to everything smaller in scale from the size of the apartments, to food portions, to smaller cars, tighter clothes and of course better beer etc. I could adjust to the last one in a jiffy! My move is more like a wiping the board clean and relearning my numbers and letters from scratch exercise. What I mean by that is, none of the things that I have come to take for granted over the last decade of living in the states will either not be available or be applicable in my new environment. Coming to grips with things like frequent interruptions to the power and water supplies, the turnaround time to get really basic work done (to cultivate the virtue of infinite patience will come handy here), general quality of service in all walks of life, the checkered track record of integrity and honesty of service providers (public and private alike), the constant and flagrant violation of traffic rules and utter disregard for public safety, a shocking lack of civic sense (think Queues, Methinks we Indians took the proverb ‘All roads lead to Rome’ a bit too literally!!) and our etiquette free disposition when in public (or private), absence of personal space , a drastically narrower selection of options in food, beverages, gadgets, fashion et.al. (that I’ve come to fancy) are only the tip of the iceberg. Another thing that will be a major departure and one that promises to impact (irk) me the most will be the difference in the concept of accountability between the two places. When it concerns this facet of life the difference is like chalk and cheese. Here in the US you are virtually guaranteed that despite goof-ups at certain levels within a hierarchy your issue/grievance will ultimately be addressed by someone with whom the buck stops. That construct is simply non-existent in India. In India, the prevailing culture is to keep passing the buck until such time that the aggrieved party has either scored a self-goal or has defaulted the game away. We just love to wield power and covet positions of authority without wanting to be answerable to anyone or for anything that falls within the ambit of responsibilities of that position of power. This will be hard pill to swallow for me and will take some serious getting used to (a lot of yoga and self-restraint!). Additionally, the rapidly depleting green cover, the poisonous and inescapable fangs of pollution (air, soil, sound, and public discourse), the annoyingly frequent encounters with traffic snarls, the grossly inadequate public infrastructure, limited avenues for entertainment will all present formidable challenges.
The Next Chapter
We aren’t fooling ourselves. We know fully well that there will be a myriad of challenges eager to confront us and raring to punch us in our teeth. For some reason though we are looking at those not as challenges to fret over and angrily grapple with but as opportunities to accept and embrace. All the things that we feel India is deficient in (by our now exalted NRI standards my friends back home will tease!) are to us analogous with empty plots of land on which one could build a home of their dreams or the ruins of an existing palace that has fallen into disrepair owing to abuse, apathy or/and negligence of its residents (citizens) and curators (administrators and lawmakers) and one that could use some TLC (tender loving care) to return it to its past glory or to unravel its true potential.
I’m a dreamer. I always have been. This though will easily take the cake as the most grandiose of them all. The gremlins of doubt pop up from time to time in my mind but they are forced to beat a hasty retreat every single time by the sheer ferocity and might of my resolve. I also know that the belief, effort and commitment it takes to bridge the gulf between a dream and its realization is immense. I do think I have the belief part covered and the coming months will be a test of our effort and commitment.
Wish us luck.