Off to India

We leave for India this weekend. It has been five long and eventful years since we’ve been there. Last time we visited we got married. Since then, I graduated with my PhD, got a job, got a dog, bought a house, shut down a major website I ran, and had a kid. So yes, things have changed. Strangely, we are experiencing just as much trepidation as excitement.

This feeling is not just because of certain uncertainties in our life due to visa and immigration issues but also due to changed feelings of attachments. No longer can I fess up to feeling that I’m returning home when in fact, I have spent nearly a third of my life outside India. The U.S. is just as much if not more than home for us. We first experienced independence, built our life here, and started our family in this country. By buying a house, we are as much invested in America’s economic future as much as it should be in ours (it isn’t always). It has progressively become harder to envision uprooting ourselves and moving lock, stock, and barrel to another country. But at the same time, we haven’t put down solid enough roots to call this our permanent home although in this age of globalizations, economically- and professional-driven ‘refugees’ like us hardly ever do. By experiencing different cultures and work environments by crossing geographical borders, we have become attuned to a certain quality of life and a certain level of professionalism. Add to that, the age factor, change is far more difficult.

All these factors whirl in our heads as we embark on the long journey back to our homeland (or is it motherland?) Friends that we once saw several times a day and spent hours with are now mere acquaintances ending up as mere likes and comments on our Facebook timelines. The virtual contact is maintained with those who choose to be online. I have couple of friends who aren’t even on Facebook. I have missed the birth of their kids and various momentous occasions in their lives just as they have missed the ones in mine. A perfunctory phone call on the occasion was all that we shared. Unless one is courting the other person, no one cares to stay up late into the night chatting or as Google would want us to call it, ‘hanging-out’. They don’t relate to our lives in the U.S. just as we no longer relate to their changed lives in India. We were friends as teenagers but are strangers as adults. We might get together and drink to the days past but I doubt we will talk about our present or our future because they wouldn’t understand our uncertainties or professional challenges just as I wouldn’t theirs. I would like to think they have it easy by having their family around for all the joyous occasions and tumultuous times but I think they may envy our independence and solitude from the family for other reasons.

We have been told to use mineral water or boiled water for any of the kids needs lest he fall ill. We’ve been told by people who have visited India with kids that this is not a joke. We’re blown away by the (literal) vulnerability of being in India. We are way past being impressed by ubiquitous malls and cell phones. Heck, this time we even shopped for clothes and other essentials before going to India instead of shopping there because clothes, as we realized last time around, were just as, if not more, expensive in India. Thanks to rising inflation matched by growing wages, no one in India seems to notice but we do. I asked my brother if I can get only my debit card instead of cash since Bank Simple doesn’t levy international transaction charges, he snarkily replied that Indians use credit cards and have phones, TV, and malls too. That may be true but can I use my credit/debit card as ubiquitously as I do it here? India is way past that for us to understand now especially at a distance. We are aware although just barely of the political tussles and pop culture thanks to Twitter but not to the extent we are tuned in to the world in the U.S. We are afraid that we will simply not relate to the people or things in India. On one hand, I have to fight against picking faults by the way things are done in India (because I’ve seen it done better elsewhere) and on the other, I have to avoid gawking in wonderment at changes lest I come across as a wide-eyed tourist as seen in an inde-Hollywood movie. India still is the land where I spent two-thirds of my life, right?

Personally, I think I’m just going to return with a blank slate of expectations and the sole purpose of spending time with my family. More importantly, being a silent spectator to the wonder of seeing my parents and brother with my one-year-old son. I’m sure that will not disappoint.

Bon voyage to us and we’ll see you on the other side of the world (and hopefully back here in three weeks).

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  • Sampada

    Every time I go back to India, I go with the same sense of apprehension. The first few days are very difficult, especially the change in weather. On a first trip outdoors, you immediately are accosted with the lack of personal space. But within a week or so, the Indian in me is back. It doesn’t take time to get used to what we grew up with. No matter what, it’s an adventure. And time spent with family, and the occasional friend who makes time for you, is worth more than anything else. Have fun, you guys! And come back with goodies and lots of pictures!

    • Patrix

      Thanks for that. Now I have been back enough times to know about this familiar feeling but this is the first time, I’m returning after 5 years and with an uncertain future. Hence the apprehension. But I guess, like everything else, this too will pass and once we land, these feelings will be long forgotten.

      And of course, lots of photos will be taken and lots of food will be consumed.

  • supremus

    As I said elsewhere, more things change more they remain the same. I’ve been fairly regular visitor to India over last decade and have seen the country change colors, literally so to speak sometimes. One thing that has changed over time is I get sick on my way back with something or other – 5 years is a long time for your immune system to be fucked up, so take care all three of you ;). And 5 years is also not that long for India – sure malls and residential plots and traffic galore, but really not much will have changed. Enjoy your stay – and come back with lots of pics ;)

    • Patrix

      I guess I’m underestimating how susceptible our immune system has becoming. considering how short our trip is, we hope, we don’t fall ill.

  • Arunima

    I thought you are going back forever. Three weeks will pass just like that. Do not worry. Enjoy!!!

    • Patrix

      Ha! It does read like that, doesn’t it? Well, if the U.S. Consulate wants it that way, it may just be.

  • Ashwin

    I just returned from a trip to India…went there after 5 years…same trepidation/ uncertainties…travelling first time with my kid…. So I exactly know what you are talking about. Have a safe trip.

    • Patrix

      Thanks. It went well.

  • Parmanu

    “I’m just going to return with a blank slate of expectations”

    This will be hard, but it is the best approach to a visit to India. After eleven years in Europe and many trips back home, I’ve realized that trips to India are among the best attractions of living abroad! You come back a different person each time.

    Thank you for sharing your thoughts and feelings here, Patrix. Wish you all a wonderful trip, and I look forward to hearing about it all when you are back.

    • Patrix

      The blank slate, actually lower, of expectations actually worked well and I was less angry at state of things :) But then things have changed quite a bit and most of it for the good. Some things obviously remain the same but that was expected.

      I’ll get around to writing down my observations and thoughts soon. Thanks for dropping by so frequently; keeps me motivated to write.

  • Lekhni

    Good luck with the visa/ immigration issues. Been there.

    Credit cards are pretty ubiquitous. I actually put away my US$ purse the moment I get on the flight. Just take the credit card you use most often, and you’ll be fine. But if you still want to play safe, get some Travelers checks from your bank. Cash may be helpful if Ash wants to buy jewellery etc. (every jeweler charges VAT but some do give a discount for cash).

    Also, International transaction charges are one thing, but you may want to check whether the exchange rate Bank Simple gives you is better than the exchange rate for Travelers checks.

    Completely agree on using boiled water, even if there is an Aquaguard. The other thing you may want to take is diapers. Indian diapers are especially no good for overnight wear. This may be because most Indians use disposable diapers only sparingly (for going out etc, not for everyday wear). The other issue is that diapers dont come in numbered sizes (from what I’ve seen) but only Small/Medium/Large, and it’s difficult to find what fits. So take a jumbo pack of your usual diapers.

    More later, gotta run. S is awake.

  • Lekhni

    Ok, where was I? Diapers. When we visited last, S was 7 mths old and still in an infant carseat. We checked her carseat, so we just put the 100 or so diapers in the carseat. If something like this doesn’t work for you, make sure you at least carry enough for overnight use. Wipes are available everywhere. We also found that Gerber oatmeal and baby food is available (S was using those baby food jars back then). Pack Desitin/ Aquaphor etc. – India has these, but brand names are different. You’re mostly fine because you are visiting in October (we went in end March) but be vigilant about diaper rash.

    Good luck and enjoy your trip! Don’t worry, R will be fine and everything will work out.

    • Patrix

      Thanks for all the tips, Lekhni although I read them late. But in the end, everything worked out perfectly and we had no problems. Finding diapers was a bit of a problem but not too bad. Best of all, we didn’t fall ill but I credit relying entirely on mineral water wherever we went and avoiding street food.