Saturday, July 29, 2006

Going back home

Saw this post linked at Desipundit, where M shares his thoughts on coming back to India for a visit. Well written, and brings the sights, sounds and, yes, smells, to life. I identify with a lot of it (Not the coughing part. Maybe Bombay just isn't as polluted as Calcutta! Well, I've not really spent a whole lot of time in Bombay ...). Of course, in the twelve years since I moved to the US, I've been back nine times. Three of those within the last calendar year. And this current visit (now over two months long) is the longest. I think I felt closer to what M describes maybe on my second or third visit back ... now, as I've mentioned before, it's like there's a switch. Turn the US off, turn India back on: the accent, the body language, the expectations, the driving skills, etc. The transition isn't too difficult.

Besides, the distances have shrunk. Calls are so cheap. Email and chat are ubiquitous. I've seen the mobile phone revolution unfold in front of me, exponentially growing, on each visit. When I first arrived in the US we wrote, yes wrote, letters. There would be the monthly aerogram (remember those?) from home, updates on the family, inquiries about health, and studies, and, of course, "are you eating well? Enough?" At some point, they stopped. The weekly, or more frequent, telephone call took over. Then, friends who'd been working up the corporate ladder in India's IT revolution started visiting the US on work, or staying, for a few months, or a few years (but, invariably, always itching to go back. Kya batanaa yaar. What to say? It's easier there). The dazzle of "impoted" consumer goods has all but vanished. Besides, one can get everything that one wants from the Alpha store in Irla, so why bother? (As it is, pretty much everything one would get would be made in China anyway!)

The gulf between here and there has narrowed to a mere river or stream, and so many bridges effortlessly cross the span.

Yes, I laughed out loud when the NDTV anchor cheerily said one evening, "And Bombay will be a pleasant 31C tomorrow." Who the heck would think that 88F is "pleasant?" So, one gets used to sweat, and especially in Bombay, that constant layer of sweat and grime clinging to your body, your clothes, everywhere. And now, two months into it, the 80F weather in Baroda in the rains does feel "pleasant" ...

And yes, (and this is more in Bombay than here in Baroda), what is it about hawkers? They must have some NRI sensor. Especially over in the vicinity of Colaba or DN Road. All those stalls selling pirated CDs and DVDs and the owners chirp into bad English as I pass by, "Yessh? DVD? Pliss look!" Now they didn't do that for the smartly dressed office worker type strutting ahead of me ... ! Maybe it's just my camera, I console myself. I can't yet be completely phoren And gosh, coming off the train or out of the airport with my backpack? No matter how natural my Bambaiyya Hindi sounds, the taxi fare goes through the roof. I want to scream, "Boss apun idhar kahich hai! (I'm from 'round here!)

But then, on occasion -- when driving (especially while driving!), or waiting in line somewhere (there's always lines), or when something simple that really shouldn't be such an issue just doesn't work, I find myself blurting out, sometimes to myself, sometimes under my breath, sometimes loudly, but always in proper American, "What the bleeping hell is wrong with this country!"

Sorry boss, apun phoren ka hai.

[The determinant, for me at least is this: when in Europe, which accent do I speak with? American.]


assiniboine said...

Yeah, well, it happens to all of us. On one of my recent visits to Canada I went to a nursery to get some basil seeds for a Pakistani friend (Islamabad was the next port of call) who has trouble getting them; the clerk referred to the "bay-sil" and I was a little startled. "Is that how it's pronounced?" "Well, no, but I thought from the way you speak that you were an American." Oh. I guess that's the effect of having lived in Australia. Need to practise my "Canadian-raising" (as linguists call it) a bit, I guess, before my next venture there.

M (tread softly upon) said...

Hi, came upon your blog and saw my post mentioned. Just wanted to let you know that M is female and not male :))

Gashwin said...

Whoops!!!! My bad! :)