Today, at the age of 26, I have spent exactly 13 years in either country that so remarkably define my identity – India and US.
My accents for either land still change at the drop of a hat, depending on which fellow I am talking to, like an uncanny brain switch. Moreover, I can defend either nation with praise, and criticize with equal censure.
Every place presents its share of upheavals and joys. When you stay in one place, they become the wins and battles you are willing to choose.
Naturally, my decision to move back to my nation of nostalgia abound, will prove to be another fork in my Frost-like road.
For those who’ve known me well, this decision to shift to Delhi has not been a surprising move.
My playlist is almost always a collection of Hindi songs and I am more likely to belch the lyrics of “I Love My India” from “Pardes” in my drunken avatar than any American pop song. In college, I would foolishly cry anytime I would listen to “Jahan Piya” and the line “chali tu kahan, kasam tod ke, humein chor ke” would surface. Whenever I could find any random import like myself to exercise my tapori Hindi with in the US, I would be elated.
Then there are those who know me very little like my real estate agent, who presume that I should give India a few years before I decide to come back.
But I would like to politely decline.
And this all boils down to the that one line in a medical form that ascertains whom you trust the most — Emergency contact.
Fortunate are those who have more than one. We may have the greatest amenities in a land, but if we do not have even one person whom we can list as a contact in a time of need, it begs us to rethink our priorities.
When my father passed away earlier this year, he not only left the void of a best friend, but also that of my primary contact, going beyond emergencies to fixing any array of problems I may have had.
After him, my mother would have been the next best contact but god forbid, someone calls her about my emergency, she will probably worry herself to the point of getting admitted too. My brother is too far away in the West Coast to help for such immediate calls.
An emergency contact is one who, in addition to truly loving you, must be strong enough to face the outcomes of your being and preferably stays in your vicinity.
Though a father cannot be replaced, it has been my secret endeavor to find my pillar of support in a man in India, with my father-like qualities.
When I finally did, I knew I had to move back.
I had found my new emergency contact. (Thank you babaji 🙂 )
Apart from my parents, I had very few American friends who spoke fluent Hindi. Those who did, I would argue with them to use less English and chat in our mother-tongue instead. When that didn’t work, I resorted to harassing my high school friends over Gchat or Whatsapp and pulling my absurd Hindi liners with them.
I’m certain I have lost many friendships in this process.
(Sorry Achint Naveen, Mansi Singh, Raghav Ghosh, Hemanshi Gupta, Dipti Kishore :P)
Even then, America has been a revelational experience for reasons I shall briefly describe.
It is a country that teaches you self-sufficiency at the core of your being. Every nation has their share of “Shruggers” and few “Atlases” (Ayn Rand, ftw!).
America emboldens you to become that Atlas. In short, it teaches how to get shit done….yourself.
Need to grab an important medication from the pharmacy? Well, drive over with your prescription.
Need to install a new device in your home? Get your tools from Home Depot and read the instructions to do so.
Need to move some furniture? Rent a Uhaul and load it into your truck.
You can hire labor to do the same but it will cost you an arm and a kidney donation.
India, on the other hand, consists of a long line of middle men, whereby one man will pass on the duty to another man, till it falls on the shoulders of the lowest ranking individual.
I am often startled to see some upper middle class folks resort to keeping even the simplest of tasks reserved for the classes beneath them. It would be easier to simply fix that light bulb or wash their own dishes every so often, rather than cribbing about the maid or repairman on leave. I can recall my own cousin who has enough servants to take care of his every need in Delhi, but his study abroad in London taught him the importance of cooking and rinsing his own dishes. This is where living in a land, unlike your home territory, opens the eyes of your mind to value what you have.
I doubt my brother would have ever learned to cook or do his own laundry had he not lived in his own apartment in California. Today, he can whip up some amazing chole and biryani like a pro.
Frankly speaking, if you cannot even learn to complete the basic task of nourishing yourself, what is the point of your excessive degrees?
The surplus of people in India proves itself beneficial in many respects but also has its cons.
For example, I can call for the home delivery of groceries and medications. Companies always provide servicing and installations of devices and even FedEx allows for free pickups of goods to be shipped. These are the small luxuries that I so value now.
The one luxury I do not have with the same ease as I did in the US is the freedom to show affection in public, and by that I mean, specifically kissing in public. As gross as it may be for others to witness, I have to work extra hard to find spots behind bridges, trees, and monuments, only to discover that they are occupied by other such hormonally charged lovers 😛
During my stay in the US, I have erased many misconceptions fed to me by Indian cinema (especially Karan Johar NRI movies). For example, I have seen some of the most successful marriages and close-knit families here, from the Italians to the Jewish, Arabic to the Mexicans, etc.
But I have also experienced the uglier side of America’s healthcare mess. Post quitting work to take care of my dad, I had to purchase my own insurance plan which was limited in its coverage. The most affordable one came at a cost of $185 per month, that too with a $6500 deductible! In short, I did not have the financial capability to fall sick. Even if I was to suffer an emergency, I was more worried about the successive bills it would generate than actually getting better.
India also has its profit driven hospital culture that aims to get your payment before treating you, but I can, at the very least, get regular checkups and meet any doctor without a huge dent in my pocket.
With years of spending one feet firmly in either land, I thank God that I can finally live in peace in one place. My 13 years of exposure in both nations has helped me develop a balanced mindset between America’s independent and India’s co-dependent culture. This will prove useful to withstand future troubles alone and enjoy present joys with family.
I am excited to make Delhi my permanent home, and visit more parts of India that I have heard wonderful things about, but hitherto seen (Sikkim, Leh, Kashmir, Goa, Pondicherry etc.)
And best of all, I can fill in that one line that has remained empty for more than half a year. I am certain it would make my father happy too.