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.

Randomness..

You know those weekends where you whiz through stuff and Monday leaves you gasping for breath? Well, we had one of those.

Monday is a holiday for daughter as it is a training day, and both of us just wanted to laze around, doing nothing. We did that and some more. We went to the City Centre and shopped(not as much as I wanted to), and ate (pigged out – way more than I wanted to). We had planned to go to the City museum. It used to be our regular haunt a couple of years ago. We hadn’t been there in a while, and thought it would be fun to revisit the places we loved once before we bid adieu to the city that has become home for us, for the last 4 years. Unfortunately, for us, it was closed. I hadn’t bothered checking the opening timings before we started.

Now we that we wasted the day effectively, I spent the rest of the time on FB and daughter did Mental Maths for ‘fun’! We had picked up a book today and daughter enjoyed the first ‘test’ so much that she sat and did 12 tests in a sitting. No, I am not complaining at all 🙂 Am just happy I don’t have to fight with her to do work. Although how long this phase will last is something I am not too optimistic about. Did I mention that we’ve been having marathon sessions of Monopoly in which she has been beating me hollow 😦 Yes, I don’t play like a mercenary, the way I play with husband 🙂 We’ve had so much fun with Monopoly that I’ve decided to take it in my luggage back to India, rather than shipping it. I’m sure I’ll need it to keep her occupied. And after today, I’m stocking up on mental maths workbooks as well 🙂

I had plans to pack and plan my packing, but nothing concrete seems to be happening. Although I have to say, I have done considerable research on all the makes of refrigerators and dishwashers in India. And scoured pictures of Model homes that we had hoarded up, all those years ago when we dreamt of moving into our own house. All those had been kept aside when we realized that we weren’t going back anytime soon. Now of course, it is back to those days, when I spent hours staring at my floor plan trying to figure out where I could do what. Daughter and I have been pouring over colour schemes and room decor. She, of course, has already planned out her room 🙂 After years of living in rental homes, I can’t wait, and neither can she. Husband, unfortunately has to wait a bit more before he can join us, and he is already feeling bad. Fingers crossed, it shouldn’t be too long.

As I said, I just can’t wait to be back in Bangalore! Every passing day brings more excitement now 🙂 Wish me luck, and do drop me all the info you can – tips for getting the furniture, appliances and the like. I’m going to be setting up home from scratch and totally excited about it 🙂

Relocating..

.. is fraught with all sorts of unexpected trouble and is becoming a complete roller-coaster of emotions for me.

Heartbreak
– Finding hardly worn skinny jeans in your wardrobe, that you had kept away, in the vain hope that one day, you would fit into them. And now coming to the realization that its not going to happen in a hurry, not with the amount I’ve been eating 😦 Those skinny jeans will have to find another home.

– Finally giving away gorgeous hardly worn clothes of daughter – because she grows out of them so quickly!

– Throwing away winter coats that stood you through 8 cold winters, I don’t know why, but it makes me cry. Who would have thought that I could get all sentimental over clothing!

Physical Labour
– It is no less that hard physical labour to haul bags after bags to the charity shop. There is no decent place to park close by, which means I have a long trek with bin bags full of clothes to be given away.

Discovery

– When you find buried in the storage cupboards things you had completely forgotten about. A cake decorating set, for instance. And it makes you want to bake and decorate right away:)

Frustration
– Toys packed away for giving away to charity, toys which have been ignored for years, all of a sudden, become, ‘My favourite ones!’. And I, of course, am the evil one giving away all her things!

– When daughter finds it very funny to pop the bubbles on the bubble wrap that the packing company brought for me to pack. We have taken a complete pack and move package, but for some reason I thought that it would be good if I could do some of it myself. So I got them to drop off some packing supplies. I now realize that I had not thought things through. Someone is now spending her term break bursting bubbles on the bubble wrap!!!! I can only hope that they bring more supplies when they come around to pack.

Seriously, how do people manage when they have to ship everything across. I am not taking any furniture, and it is still driving me crazy. Moving houses in the same city or even in the same country was much easier. Atleast I did not have to make decisions on throwing away stuff, which I think I find the most tough.

While I might be oscillating between what to take, and what to leave behind, one thing I have certainly decided is that Daughter goes to school until the very last day. Having her underfoot while trying to wrap up things will certainly drive me mad 🙂

Relocating back to India..

.. and the cultural baggage that comes with it.

IHM’s latest post triggered this, but the ‘going back to Indian culture’ bit, I keep getting from people around here. We are relocating back to India this summer, and the most common conclusion that people jump to, is, that we are relocating because of daughter – so that she gets inculcated in ‘Indian values’.

We have some reasons to relocate to India, but daughter’s cultural well being, is definitely not on that list. If anything I worry if it is the best decision for her. In fact, I think for her, UK might be a better place to grow up in. The other day, I went to watch ‘Ek main aur ek tu’ with some friends. One of my friends remarked that it is going to be so difficult to bring up daughters when movies promote having boyfriends,sex and all that. She claims that it is easier in India -because of the ‘culture’. I couldn’t help asking her if she really thought that all this does not happen in India? Yes, people might keep things under the wraps – but it does happen. Just because parents refuse to acknowledge it, does not mean that things don’t happen. Yes, it is out in the open in the Western world – but as a parent, wouldn’t you prefer that you know what your child is up to, rather than live in blissful ignorance. And hopefully, she/he might be able to take you into confidence, and you might be able to explain why getting into a relationship at that time in life may not be the best thing.

Someone once told me that it is easier to ‘stay in touch with India’ than it was some years back because we get all the Indian channels here. She lets her child watch Indian serials so that she is comfortable with ‘Indian values’. Yes, those saas-bahu serials, those are just perfect, totally appropriate for 4 or 5 year old! Nice way of inculcating ‘values’, I should say! And what glorious values too!

One of daughter’s friends told her that they are learning Bharatanatyam to learn how to be ‘good Indian girls’. I was shocked when I heard that. I then explained to her that she is learning it because she enjoys it – not because learning a dance makes you a ‘good Indian girl’! Whatever that means, anyway! I had no ideas that there were such parameters to measure the ‘goodness’ of Indian girls!

But living here, I can see the tightrope some parents are walking, They want to do everything to prove that their children are as ‘Indian’ as people back in India. They live in dread that their children will compare unfavorably to cousins/friends back in India. So much so that they compare everything from cultural values(that they believe matters), to the education system. They also refuse to believe that India has moved on since the last time they visited.

They refuse to believe that in India we might face different challenges and sometimes the same challenges. Of a teenage child rebelling, of children testing their boundaries. At the end of the day, it is going to be the test of our parenting skills, no matter where we live.

When I see the way daughter is growing up here, as a confident person, who is never told that she is different because she is a girl, exposed to age appropriate things – I sometimes, wonder if I am doing the right thing, by moving back. Of course, there are other compelling reasons to move back, and I do believe that she will be fine, even if we have some initial hiccups. One thing is for sure, it is not because of the ‘cultural benefits’ that we are moving back.

All I know is that I want her to be a confident young woman, who is in a position to decide for herself what she wants in life. That I believe would be the same, no matter where I live. I certainly do not want her to be a puppet who does things because they are expected of her. I want her to know that any relationship she gets into, she should be happy and that she need not be a doormat to be happy. That any relationship that expects her to change into some other person, is probably not right for her. That things change, and if one has to walk out of a relationship, it is not the end of the world. And that no matter what, her parents will be there for her. And these things, I think, should not change, no matter which part of the world we live in.

Of Weekends, Baking and Term break time

The dreaded time is here. It is term break time again, and that means a week full of chaos.  Whoever designed these term breaks for children, never consulted the parents! And I say this being a SAHM, I can’t even imagine what it does to parents who work.

The only thing that makes it bearable is that we had a great weekend to kick it off. Actually, I had a great weekend. I had a girls night out with my friends, watched Ek main aur ek tu, while husband stayed at home with daughter. We had nothing to do, so we went sofa shopping on Sunday. We have been advised by so many people to buy sofas from here and ship it to India, we decided to at least check it out, and then make an informed decision. As soon as we stepped in the first showroom(, we realized that Husband and I were after 2 totally different things. He wants a recliner, which goes totally flat. Some of them had trays, and cup holders, and had husband go ga ga over them! While I refused to have them in my living room. Can you imagine that monstrosity? Horrible things  – they look like airplane seats(albeit, roomier and more comfy), why why, why would one want to pay ridiculous amounts to put that in the living room? Husband and daughter loved them though. I prefer fabric over leather, something that feels welcoming, and homey, where I could have loads of colourful cushions. Husband, or course, detests cushions! So needless to say, we certainly did not buy a sofa. Daughter fell in love with some children’s bedrooms on display. We had to peel her away from them. Some of them were so cute, I would love to have one for myself. One of them especially appealed to me, it had a bookshelf along the bed, and that felt just perfect! We came home with a bunch of brochures though.

The whole furniture browsing reminded us of the time when we were totally into doing this sort of thing in Bangalore. Both before booking our flat and after, we used to spend hours pouring over interiors, and visiting show flats, just to get design ideas. Some we would love, some would just show us what not to do – but it was totally fun, all the same. Funnily enough, daughter seemed to enjoy it just as much we did. She even gave us her inputs. Some genes have been passed on, I guess!

We came back home after all that window shopping and baked cookies – heart-shaped ones, teddy bear shaped ones(Deeps, inspired by the ones you did long back), and sweet& salty ones that husband wanted. He had had them in his childhood, and he has never been able to get it in the stores. So I gave it a try, and apparently it was spot on 🙂 Now that made me really happy, after all it is rare when any taste matches up with those in our memories 🙂

After a fun weekend, I can’t really complain if it happens to be term break, can I? So how was your weekends?