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.

The Buddha in the Attic by Julie Otsuka

Recommended by Saks, it took me a while to get hold of it. And just like all the books she recommends, it was priceless.

The tale of young Japanese ‘mail order brides’ who left Japan to come to America for a multitude of reasons, all believing that the migration would do them good, in one way or the other. The book charts the collective life of the brides. From the time they board the ship to the time the Japanese disappear after Pearl Harbour. Then they all left, while one of them left behind a ‘Buddha in the attic’.

All these young women, have one thing in common, when they board the ship. They are all looking for a better life. They have all a picture of their future husbands, which had been sent to them telling them that they would have comfortable lives in America. As they reach America, some of their dreams and aspirations are shattered, some are wives, some have just been sold, some are lucky enough to get what they were promised. Some were not even lucky enough to complete the journey. Some become laborers, some become maids, promised by their husbands to their employers. All of them realise that the English that they practiced was of no use. Their lives as wives, workers, mothers and immigrants in America. Holding on to their culture and beliefs, they struggle to bring up their children who are in a hurry to shrug off their cultural baggage.

A powerful tale, sometimes which sometimes takes shape of a story, sometimes a poem, sometimes a collective voice, and sometimes that of an indivudual. It’s a great book, and one that gives great insight into lives of the women, and the migrant Japanese community at that time. It also gives an insight into the way migrant communities work all over the world. The style in which it is written is unique, one that I haven’t read before, but extremely effective. It brings to the reader the lives of the women in a very strong and emphatic way. A book, that will stay with me for a while. A quick, un-put-downable read.

Notes from a Big Country by Bill Bryson

All through the book, the one question that kept pestering me was, ‘What kept me from reading Bill Bryson for so long?’ Seriously, I cannot figure it out. But then, I’ve done it before as well. I kept away from Harry Potter. No idea why. Just stayed away from it. And then when I did read one, finished four books in four straight nights. Sigh! But better late than never, right?

I picked up this book on a lark, as this was the only interesting book I could find in my apartment complex’s library.

After living in England for twenty years, Bill Bryson moves back to America, his home country. He finds himself a stranger in his own country. The book is a compilation of articles that he wrote for a newspaper about his experiences in America.

I found it extremely funny and loved his sense of humour. A lot of his sentiments, I could identify with because when you move back into your home country after some years abroad, so many things seem different. The things you enjoyed and cherished might not even be part of your new experiences. The reverse culture shock that is part and parcel of moving back to a place after spending time away from it. Having gotten used to the British way of life and terminology, he struggles to remember/find out the American equivalent of things. His British wife and children, though, seem to love America while he seems to be the one having the most difficult time. Rediscovering America with it’s joys and it’s trials, all the while poking fun at himself and others around him, it was a fun read. I chuckled through the book.

Some of the chapters, though did seem dated, after all , this book was written in 1999. Some chapters about computers for instance remind you that this book is of another time. But for most part, it is Bryson’s style of poking fun at the things he observes that stands out. The sentiments and the humour, I have to say, are timeless. Reading the reviews of the book, I realize that this might be one of his not-so-great books. If that is indeed true, I can’t wait to read his other books.

Exclusive: What Osama really thinks of Obama!

Team This post has been published by me as a team member of The Wordsworth Legions for the SUPER 3 round of Bloggers Premier League (BPL) – The first ever unique, elite team blogging event of blog world. To catch the BPL action and also be part of future editions and other contests, visit and register at Cafe GingerChai

Verity’s foreign affair’s correspondent, managed to get an exclusive interview with Osama Bin Laden after a lot of difficulty and several close shaves. The international fugitive who has not been seen in person by any body from the outside world for the last 10 years in an exclusive interview!  We are keeping our special reporter’s name a secret for now, for security reasons.

Verity’s Reporter recounts his experience.
I was taken by road, blindfolded from North West Pakistan. There were stringent requirements that needed to be met. No electronic devices, so the entire interview was taken down in shorthand. No cameras allowed either, so I could not bring you a picture of what he looks like now. It took almost 2 days to reach Osama’s place, which was entirely underground. Technically it was inside a cave, but a cave this well-equipped, I have never seen before.  I had no idea where in Afghanistan we were. I was never allowed to see the the Afghani sky.

I was taken to a room, patted down, made sure that I was not carrying anything else apart from a pen and notepad.

Finally, when they were satisfied, they took me to a room where finally my blindfold was taken off. In front of me was a frail looking man, who did not look much like the pictures I had seen of him. But his eyes, his eyes were the same. They could be recognized anywhere.

Contrary to my expectations, he treated me very politely, like a gentleman, if I could say that, and yet, he was purposeful, while being surprisingly gentle. One could see the reverence with which the others treated him. His word was the command. ’

Excerpts from the interview are being shown here as part of an exclusive preview. Osama talks in detail about Barack Obama. To read the complete interview, get the latest copy of Verity on the stands right now.

V R (Verity’s Reporter): So Mr  Bin Laden, America has a new President now…
OBL (Osama Bin Laden): Obama? Hah! For a while, I was enjoying the circus when people thought that Osama was contesting the elections! American People! I even heard that some of the ballot papers were printed wrong. Can you believe that?Allah help them! The things that people do! People even thought that he is my secret agent!

V R: So was he? Your secret agent, I mean?
OBL: Are you joking, young man? Of course not! I do not meddle in another country’s internal matters like some other countries we know! And even if I did, I would have got someone smarter than that young fellow who has been led to believe that he is God’s gift to mankind!

V R: Why do you think of him that way?
OBL: Think of him? What is there to think about him?

He is not doing anything different, is he? All these people only talk about upholding the ‘American way of life’.

Had he been my secret agent, he would have, in the first place, removed this democracy thing. And then he would have imposed our Taliban way of life. I feel sorry for them, they have no idea what they are missing out on. How wonderful the Taliban way of life is! Inshallah! One day, all the people in this world will be able to experience this. Inshallah.

That gives me an idea. I am now going to arrange tourist trips to Afghanistan so that people can come and see and learn from us. For those who are very interested, we will even have special training programs and camps to help people pick up our way of life. They could then teach and propagate it in their own countries.  I heard that some people in your country, some Khap Panchayats or something have learnt and implemented some of our ideas there? See, I always felt that India is a smart country, if only they did not insist on hanging on to Kashmir. Inshallah, God willing, your country will see the light soon too.

V R: But Obama says the Taliban way of life is inhuman, that it violates basic human rights.
OBL: That’s what he would say! He knows nothing about the Taliban way.

The Taliban way of life is very orderly and controlled. People don’t have the ‘freedom’ to do what ever they want to. You see, when people are given unlimited freedom, they don’t know what to do, and that just leads to chaos. Human rights is just another fancy term to hide all the chaos that this unfettered freedom gives rise to.

In our society, people know their limits. We have laws and punishments to deal with people who do not conform. See the young people of Obama’s country… what was the name? Yeh, America. They claim to be a liberal society. But, what do their people do? Listen to disgusting music… Wear (or not wear) what they feel like… No respect for religion…. And on top of everything, women get to do whatever they feel like? I ask how can you allow women to work even if they wanted to? One day women will ask for the moon, will you give them that too?

I say the whole system of beliefs propagated by Obama’s land is false. It’s faulty and against the wishes of Allah.

Allah be merciful to such ignorant people who talk about freedom and equality!

V R:  But the world tends to believe Obama when he talks about freedom and equality?
OBL: What else can be expected out of you people? One person appears on TV and talks senseless things… and you guys end up believing him. And when I give my messages in tapes, you call it ‘threats’.

Obama is using his interviews to threaten and challenge our way of life, and none of you people understand this? He is inciting fellow Muslim people by talking sweet to them, and that is fine, but if I talk, it is a threat? Double standards, my friend!

Okay! Tell me whose views do you support? And while you do that, please pass on that gun to me… there… the one on the table.

(V R panics but manages to maintain his composure)

V R: I agree with your views completely, which is why I risked my life to meet you! So, you were telling me why freedom and equality is bad (somehow manages to deflect Osama’s attention).

OBL: Yes, that of course. See, the more freedom people get, the more they are likely to question and revolt. If everyone had their way, chaos would take over.

In an orderly society like ours, everyone knows their place. Everyone knows what clothes to wear, what things to do. Women know their place, children know their role.  More importantly, people know the consequences of not conforming to the societal norms.

We, Talibans, are envied for our stringent and quick justice system. We don’t waste years fighting in courts. Justice is dispensed on streets. People know that they can get instant justice and instant punishment. We don’t need extra police force like Obama’s county needs. Every citizen is a policeman in our society.

Look what happens in America. If they manage to catch a criminal at all, they then have to frame charges, move the courts, and then the jury will deliberate upon it! All this is such a waste of time! By the time the justice is dispensed, the victim must have forgotten what the issue was all about!

VR: But, despite all this, America is one of the most sought after countries to live in.
OBL: Ha ha ha! Sought after country? If that’s true, why do they look at Obama as it’s saviour? If everything were that perfect, what do they need saving from? Did you know they even liken Obama to Jesus Christ.

And I know all this adulation has gone into his head.

But, I think he is a big fool. Does he not realize the same people are targeting him for not handling things right? His own Army chief has the guts to oppose him! Not one of my people will ever do something like this! Tell me, which sensible people will attack somebody they consider god? Clearly, American people are not clear about what they want. When people do not know what they want, it is upto the leader to tell them, and in such a manner that they never question him again.

He should have taken his cues from us and learnt to set some boundaries within his society. He would have then got the respect he deserved. Instead, look where he is now.

Not just that, he even had the bad sense of appointing a woman as his second in chief. These decisions of his will be his downfall. In the name of democracy, he will be pulled down and replaced by another Bush replica, 4 years down the line. Praise be to Allah, he will ensure that countries like America will never flourish, try as they might to destroy our countries.

If only Obama had the good sense to implement our tenets of life, that would have ensured that he remained the president until he chose to give it up. Now, it is just a matter of time…Allah willing.

VR : What about allegations that Afghanistan is underdeveloped ever since the Talibans have taken over?

OBL: Underdeveloped? Says who?

We are the most developed country in the world. Our education system starts very early in life. Every child knows the basic tenets of our way of life from the beginning. We even recruit our soldiers as soon as they are potty trained. You see, that is the best stage. They are ripe for moulding. What they learn at that age, will stay with them for life. In the so-called developed countries, children spend hours watching mindless television. You know what that does to them? It eats into their brains and turns it into mush. All they can talk about is some character they follow on TV.

Look at our society. At the same age, young boys in our country, know that they have to protect our culture, and our way of life. The young girls know how to take care of everything inside of their homes. Everybody knows their place in society. Inshallah!  You don’t have women divorcing men, drinking on the streets, dancing all through the night.  How can you call such a society civilized? Allah save them!

Jannat on earth is here. And our people know that by living by these rules, they will achieve Jannat after they die too. Allah the merciful, will ensure that the faithful get their just rewards.

VR: Ok, I get what you are saying. So what do you really think of Obama as a President? Do you think he is a better President than Bush?
OBL: Better than Bush? He is the same, worse, in a way, because he should have known better.

What really irks me is the countless comparison between the two of us, mainly because of our names! To be honest, I am insulted that I am compared to that boy. How can people compare me with that young fellow? Look at Obama. He was once championed as the change, as somebody who could smooth ruffled feathers, someone who would take care of the mess that Bush created. Instead he goes and increases the number of troops in Afghanistan, pushes Pakistan to take us on in the Swat Valley. He tried ‘reaching out’ to the Muslim world, with some meaningless gestures, but that was it. He is now back to following every other American President’s path.

These people want to force democracy on the world, but look where it has taken them? Does democracy really mean anything when people think that Barack Obama is Osama Bin Laden just because the names sound similar? See, this is precisely why only people who are informed should be in a position to choose a leader. You give the right to every body, see what happens. First you get a Bush and then you get an Obama. We would never such leaders among the Talibans, because we mean business!

People believed that he could set things right by magic.And when he failed, the democracy turned against him. The magician, the Mr Fix-it-all, is just another American President now. Just another puppet for democracy. Mark my words, if he has the guts to turn America into Afghanistan, he will be worshipped by his people. But the silly boy, does not understand these basic things.

He is already slipping on the approval ratings. After the initial honeymoon period, which by the way, was almost non-existent, thanks to the Financial crisis. The euphoria about his election started fading when he could not do anything much to handle the crisis, apart from the pumping in money. Within 2 years of becoming the American President, Obama is already slipping downhill, while I, Osama Bin Laden continue to strike fear in American hearts and loyalty amongst his own people. That is what a leader should be like!

Only Allah can save these people, and they refuse to understand that.

To me, Barack Obama is just another fugitive. A fugitive of first degree.

VR: Barack Obama a fugitive? Why ? I mean.. Why is he a fugitive?

OBL: Allah help you! You are still in doubt?
He is a fugitive because he is opposing me, Osama Bin Laden, the ruler of the world’s most powerful country! The person who could bring America to it’s knees. Obama  stands for everything I oppose. We are out to capture him and bring him to trial, in our own special Taliban way.

We are a peace-loving people, who do not do anything to provoke anybody, unless they harm us. And yet, that man Obama, is refuses to understand. He is adamant on taking us on. He is forcing us to take action. Only Allah can save him now!

He is guilty of forcing continuing his predecessor’s attack on us. I can understand Bush – he is a nincompoop, but Obama? He is also a traitor to his real religion. How can a man with Hussein in his name, attempt this and expect to get away? Only a man who rejects his father’s religion and takes his mother’s religion can do such things.

Not only is he trying to destroy my country, he even tries to gang up against me by trying to turn our neighbours against us. Praise be to Allah, our neighbours are smart, they take his money, and then help us! If only he knew how he was being taken for a ride! Inshallah, all his tactics will fail because Allah is with us in our fight for justice.

In reality, all that Obama wants is oil. He wants our this rich, beautiful land to be his gateway. He is not bothered about our people or their lives. All they want is to take everything that out beautiful country has to offer and impoverish our people, until they have no option but to give up. But I am not going to allow that to happen. Even after I go to Jannat, my faithful, loyal people will ensure that our beautiful country and our way of life, our culture is preserved. No Obama or Bush can take away our land from us.

I would like to tell him that all his interviews and speeches that he sends across to try to frighten us is of no use. He cannot terrorize us.  We have a great spirit. Our Taliban spirit will not be broken. Even if you bomb us, we will continue with our lives as usual.

A war continues to be fought in my name, Two countries have been ravaged in an effort to catch me. Who do you think is the more powerful? Don’t they say that Helen of Troy, the face that launched a thousand ships? My face has launched thousands of bombs! And you people, how dare you compare me with that toddler, Obama!

Osama’s eyes flashed. He looked at VR as if he were Obama and almost pounced on him as if he alone were responsible for all this.

VR, panicking:  Oh no, I did not mean to compare you at all. I just wanted to know what you felt about him. I just wanted to tell the whole world about your point of view.

OBL:  Yes, you do that! That Obama thinks that he can give interviews left right and centre and change people’s minds? Let me tell you, I am the true ruler of this world. I have shown the world who is king!

Osama refused to let us have a picture of his. However he did give us this poster that has been circulated to capture Obama. It is the handiwork of some of those young recruits that Osama is so proud of.


To read the Super 3 entries of the rest of the team hop over to at Shilpa’s,Lazy Pineapple’sKshitij’sPujitha’sHitesh’sParth’s and Tavish’s.