I lived in six cities over the entire course of my school life. My father didn’t have a transferable job. He simply changed jobs. Oh, I’m not complaining – I rather enjoyed it. I just figured that when I became an adult, I’d “settle down” and it would all come to rest on its own.
When I moved to Los Angeles for graduate school, I thought it was the beginning of the end of all those moves.
God probably rolled around on heaven’s floor, laughing.
“So, you’re finally settled in life!” is a phrase Indian relatives often throw at you, usually once you’ve checked off a pretty standard list of requirements. You know what I’m talking about – graduate, get a job, get married, have children, buy a house. Oh, and a car, let’s not forget a car. Figuring that they never really mention where we should be doing all this, my husband and I actually went ahead and moved to India.
So there we were, after a collective 19 years in the U.S., in Bangalore. But before tackling the above mentioned list, we needed to understand what it meant to live in India. That shouldn’t be too hard, we thought. After all, we were born there, we’d grown up there, lived there up until undergrad. But the gap between that, and living there as working adults looking to raise a family, was wider than the Pacific Ocean.
O.K., if you’re like me, you graduated with a Master’s in Something or Other from one of the 50 United States, probably got your H1B, and went grocery shopping every Saturday for frozen parathas and milk that is sold in gallons. You did your laundry, vacuumed the house a couple of times a week, drove yourself everywhere and paid your bills online. You never carried more than $20 or $30 in your wallet, and the neighbours said Hi and botched your name completely.
Cut to India. You are an employer as much as you are an employee. You have a maid, a cook, a driver, a milkman, a laundry guy, and if you only need green chillies and nothing else, you can have them delivered home. You never carry less than 3000 rupees in your wallet (and it vanishes pretty quickly). You even have someone sitting in the elevator to push the buttons for you. You are the Queen of Monaco, leading a life of luxury, make no mistake. Except, you’re actually more like her Undersecretary. You should be granted an MBA, specializing in HR, for managing such a workforce.
Now, these are kind, wonderful people, who care about you and the job they are doing. Of course, they come with their fair share of problems. They fall sick. Every single one of their relatives, extended family included, falls sick. They have money problems. They have their off days. And when they say it’ll be done “tomorrow”, what they really mean is it will get done in the future, just definitely not today.
In other words, the things you saw growing up – your mother groaning in frustration when the maid didn’t show up for four days in a row? Welcome to that world.
Oh, and you also need a Doctorate in Neighbours and Relatives Management. Now, this is very important. If you really want to live in India, this is The Test. Not the crowds, not the pollution, not standard of living. Put on your seat belts for questions and advice about everything in your life. From strangers.
Here’s a sampler. Three months into our move, we are at a friend’s wedding. An elderly lady is standing in front of me in the line for the buffet. She begins:
“Oh, you’re friends of theirs are you? You moved to India from the U.S.?? Why? Did your husband lose his job? Oh, so he must make a lot of money. Does he have stock options? What is his salary? Do you have children? Why not? How long have you been married? I know a fertility expert who helped my niece. Now, you young people don’t believe in such things, of course, but I have more faith in ayurveda. I know a wonderful ayurvedic doctor I can put you in touch with. You should pray to Goddess-Who-Makes-You-Really-Fertile and before you know it… but don’t forget to pray for a boy. How much did you pay for those earrings? Are those real diamonds? What caste do you belong to? Do you have a sister? My brother-in-law’s son is an eligible bachelor, has a green card. We are looking for a bride for him, thought you might have an unmarried sibling who could qualify…”
This is just the beginning. Neighbours will make your business theirs. Privacy is a very distant (sometimes expensive) dream – you may have to escape to a resort to literally get away from it all. But these people will be there for you, through anything – a heart attack, the birth of your first child, every single festival (and we have so many!), through financial difficulties. They will drive you crazy, and they will never give up on you.
Seven years later, we had checked off everything on the “settled” list. Of course, that’s exactly when the decision was made to move back to the U.S.
We had our fears, despite having lived here before. For one thing, we are now the paranoid parents of two little girls, both born in India, both quite used to having a great many people around them. Thankfully, it’s been four months, and they have settled in very well. (We, on the other hand, are still paranoid).
Do we miss India? Very much. Will we go back again? Three words – never say never!