Return to India by Shoba Narayan

Shoba Narayan’s memoir of her family’s Return to India process, after living in the US for about 20 years. I knew I had to read to read it as soon as I came across it. To add to it, Smita, heavily recommended it on one of my posts. I just had to get hold of it.

Shoba charts her journey from the time she first started to dream about going to America. Her parents are horrified at the idea, and try everything to stop her. Fate, finally, had it’s way, and she made her way to America as a student, with stars in her eyes, all set to live the American dream.

America gave her opportunities that she had dreamed about. She had come to America to pursue a master’s degree in psychology, but ended up a full-fledged art major trying to do a master’s in sculpture, For Shoba, this was the essence of America’s opportunities.

As Shoba immersed herself in America, she also develops close friendships with her fellow Indian students as well as her American friends. Living her new life, the experiences of being a student on grant in America, studying subjects that excited her, finding funding and help in the most unexpected places, washing dishes to make some money, Shoba is content. Somewhere down the line, she gets married – a traditional, arranged marriage to Ram.

From her happy existence in America, her perspective on living in America starts changing after she became a mother. She slowly started thinking about the ‘India Question’, with more and more of her friends and people around her talking seriously about moving back to India. The country that she had fought to leave, was now, beckoning to her. The culture and society that she had once tried to avoid, was the one she started trying very hard to inculcate in her daughter. There are some hilarious episodes mentioned of how hard she tried to make her daughter ‘Indian’. She calls herself a ‘born again Hindu’, when she drags her family to the temple, she had never before visited, or tried to wear a sari the whole day, for a month, just to make it familiar to her daughter. In her own way, trying to bring India or being Indian, closer to her American born and bred daughter.

While she was passionate about moving back, her husband Ram, was more resistant to the idea. He was less bothered about the parenting worries that Shoba had. She was quite worried about how to parent her daughter, the American influences worrying her tremendously, while her husband believed that with the right values, their daughter would be fine anywhere. They had their discussions, their disagreements, and their concurrence on the ‘India Question’. Finally, after a few years, things fell into place and they did indeed move to India.

So, how did I find it? I really enjoyed her perspective on life in America(or abroad anywhere, for that matter). Her observations of how people behave, some reject India completely, while others become born again Indians. The way she herself changed after her daughter was born, is quite interesting to read. In some places cliched – just the way, we have heard of NRIs behaving, and in some places interesting.

When I started reading this, I couldn’t help wonder if I would find similarities in my situation with what she recounts, but I have to say, her situation, and her reasons for moving back were quite different, so I did not really relate to her story much. It was just reading her story than reading a story that I could totally relate to. Probably because we had not lived abroad for so long, nor had we ever planned to live abroad. Returning to India was a given for us, rather than a ‘question’. Also parenting worries of the sort she had, somehow, does not bother me. Influences of all sorts, would be there in any society, in my opinion. My daughter’s childhood cannot be exactly the same as mine, even if I went back to the town I grew up in, and did everything my parents did. But that is entirely my opinion.

An interesting read, in some places very cliched, but pacy and gripping all the same. The way her priorities changed over the years with changes in her circumstances is very interesting to read. I would recommend it to anybody who likes memoirs although I think I enjoyed her first book – Monsoon Diary more. Would I recommend it to someone who is relocating/planning to relocate to India? I don’t know. Mainly because I could not relate to it at all, but perhaps if you are in a similar situation as her’s you might relate and enjoy it much more. Other than that, as a memoir, it is an interesting read.

19 thoughts on “Return to India by Shoba Narayan

    • I enjoyed Monsoon Dairy – much more, if my memory serves me right. Have reviewed it here -

  1. This is something I have thought about myself. Someday when I have kids, whether I would change my lifestyle to bring “Indianess” to it, so that “practice what you preach” happens and the message gets conveyed. But then what really is this Indian-ness??

    From my own experience – I am pretty much what I was. I still believe in the same things. And as for Indianness – as you say, what exactly is it? And I think we are all Indian in our own ways 🙂

    And this, considering I am still living in India!! 🙂 It’s worth a thought.

  2. Its interesting to hear of one becoming more Indian. I find the Indians here are so much stricter, doing classical dance and music lessons for their kids, going to temple every Sunday. 🙂

  3. “with the right values, their daughter would be fine anywhere” I so totally believe this! Also, completely agree with you that we can never give our kids the same childhood that we once had! When I go back to my childhood city, it, as well as every other city in India, has drastically changed!
    Great analysis!!

  4. Loved the sound of this book. Sounds very interesting, and I do like reading memoirs. However, I don’t think I would be able to relate to the book at all. Maybe I should give Monsoon Diary a shot. 🙂

  5. I just read this Smitha (in fact finished it 10 mins ago :))
    My thoughts happen to be the same as yours. Having lived abroad for a much shorter period of time (4 years) + never wanting to settle anywhere other than India, I could not relate to her dilemma in any sense. I felt she was chasing a chimera – as many many NRIs in america do. I know so many people who are as confused as she was (!) therefore I would probably recommend it to some friends who are pondering this very question. Having said that, the India of 2002-2004 and the India of 2012 are very different, especially in terms of work opportunities and income potential.

  6. Pingback: Reviews of Return to India | Shoba Narayan

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