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Archive for the ‘Ze Motherland’ Category

With the majority of Indian men.

Jugni, by Rabbi Shergill (aka the only Indian male voice that I can bear right now)

This is an angry rant. A very, very angry rant. I’ve been nursing a headache all evening and sleeping, occasionally waking up and trying to understand what’s really bothering me to persistently cause my brain to hurt like this. Today was not an overtly tiring or busy day. I had a presentation in Tsim Sha Tsui, checked out progress on a suit I’m getting tailored, ran some errands and came home just as my head started to ache. But somewhere in the night I realized the same thoughts are running through my head and the same images, and the culmination of all of it has been so overwhelming that I’ve had to wake up to write this post and get it all out.

I realized that I’m pissed off because something that I never thought really got to me that much has finally gotten to me, and justifiably so. I am sick and tired of being leered at. I am sick of being stared at by every freaking South Asian man as I make my way through Tsim Sha Tsui. I’m sick of lecherous, creepy looks and of stares that make me afraid. I’m sick of ‘hello madams’ and ‘can i have your number’ and smiles that make my skin crawl, smiles from men who are clearly thinking at that very moment that they are the hottest stuff to grace the earth and this woman should be grateful they’re flashing this horrible smile at her.

I’m sick, disgusted and exhausted with it.

Let me make something clear for all the arguments that not-rape is all about (though I shouldn’t have to). For all those idiots who think that its about the way a woman dresses, let me tell you that I am a very conservative dresser by any standard. On most days I walk around the city in business clothes, full sleeve shirts and business cut pants and skirts. I don’t usually wear make up. I don’t walk around suggestively or smile at random strangers. Almost every time I’m in TST I’m running from a meeting or to a meeting, and I always have my headphones on to block the world around me. I’m not a gorgeous woman. By most standards, I’m quite plain in my looks, and my figure is very Indian in its curves.

None of that matters. South Asian men will spot me from a mile and give me a look, a wink, a smile, try to talk to me as I pass by. I may as well have transported myself to any town in Punjab, UP, or Bihar, or some village in south India.

And that bothers me even more. What do I worry about the most when I go back to my motherland? These men. These stares. The leering. The eve teasing and the smart ass comments as you simply walk down the streets. A big part of what made my trip back home uncomfortable last April (and in December) was this same thing. My brother would walk with me, fuming and bursting with anger at all these men, ready to kick the balls of each of these idiots, muttering in anger, until I made him stop telling me. Stop talking to me about it. Stop telling me how low this is, because I know. I could feel the eyes, I could feel the thoughts behind them, and it left me feeling abused. It left me feeling dirty and troubled and unhappy in my own birthland.

And the same thing happens here, when that same class of people get lifted and trans located, and the same mindset and thinking prevails. Its okay to stare at women like this, as long as they’re not your mother or sister. Its okay to behave this way. Who gives a damn what they’re feeling like? Its a consequence of a sexually repressed culture, and of much more that’s wrong with the country and the culture today, that I just can’t begin to explain and understand.

I am so amazed at the women who live like this day in and day out. What I value most about my life in the States is my relatively higher level of comfort in this aspect. Sure, these men exist there too, but as long as you steer clear of certain areas, you could walk out in a bikini and not be assaulted by a million eyes. And yes, the same problems exist there, but I don’t associate it with my culture directly. I don’t go to Little India in Houston or the Indian areas anywhere in the States and expect to be leered at or stared at or whistled at. For some reason, it just doesn’t happen. Is it the fear of repurcussion that’s greater? Is it the fact that in general the culture isn’t so sexually repressed? I don’t know. But I feel safe in the States. And I can’t imagine how women deal with this on a daily basis throughout the year and their entire lives.

They do, and then shit like this happens. The Mangalore pub incident is a perfect example of the hypocrisy of the country. Men are free to do whatever they like and behave in any rotten manner, but women must follow this ridiculous moral policing. Jug Suraiya discusses it in his column:

“Both radical Islamists and what might be called radical Hinduists, share one thing in common: their deep-rooted fear and antipathy to anything that smacks of the empowerment of women. Women going to schools, women getting jobs and becoming economically independent, women joining politics and become politically independent, women going to pubs and showing that they are – or at least, want to be – socially independent.”

It makes me so angry. My blood boils when I think of the different moral codes a**holes have set up in India for the genders, and how these incidents show a very low, absolutely illiterate, disgusting side of India to the world. Quit complaining and whining about Slumdog and whatever underbelly it shows the world. How about we first see just a simple day when a woman can walk in the street in six yards of cloth and not be raped in the mind of almost every man she passes? Men can treat women as objects of lust wherever whenever, but as soon as a woman steps into a bar she’s verbally and physically abused? Or the policing gets far enough to control who she talks to?

What kind of messed up, deranged world is this?

Every Indian woman I am friends with has stories to tell. We have stories to tell of childhoods marred by incidents of eve-teasing, molesting, behaviors that would make any father’s and brother’s blood boil. We have stories to tell of teenage years whose innocence was destroyed by men who made sleazy comments, committed lewd acts, who stalked and whistled and winked and leered at every corner. They vary in their extremity, but we all have a story to tell of how we were routinely made to feel low and dirty in our own country, by our own countrymen.

I know that in my anger I am generalizing and stereotyping all men. I wish I could be more rational about it, but unless you’ve been in the sandals of an Indian women, you could never understand. You can’t understand how it feels. After finishing a meal with a group of American friends I left a restaurant and as I was leaving a middle aged South Indian man gave me a lecherous stare I will never forget. I quickly averted my eyes and started talking frantically with a friend ahead of me. She’d noticed, however. She asked me if I had and when I nodded with frustration she said “you should have stared back at him girl! Shown him how it feels!”

Would that have helped? I don’t think so. I think in the sick, deranged mind of this man, my bold stare would have just added to his feelings of self confidence. It would have fed his ego so he could continue to taunt other girls in this way. Whenever I’m walking anywhere in TST with any of my friends, I suffer the same embarassment. I don’t have to look to see the stares, I feel them, and I also know of them by the sympathetic glances my American friends give me. By their occasional “wow, that creep was really staring at you! eww,” or their quick realization that I want to get away from this place as soon as possible. The other night a friend and I were returning from a meeting in Wan Chai and stopped for the light to change. A group of Indian men stood outside one of the bars negotiating prostitutes for the night (I kid you not). We stood about five feet away and as we discussed with each other how uncomfortable the situationalready was, it became ten times worse as, and I could have predicted it, the men glanced over at me with a defiant look. The light changed and we rushed across.

Just as I would never travel or live alone in India, or let any girlfriend of mine do it, I don’t walk alone in TST. I avoid walking in any Indian-concentrated areas in HK alone at any time. And I think about how sad that is, that I should have to avoid my culture and my people like this. A walk into the Chungking Mansion to get groceries is troublesome. Not just for me, but for any young South Asian girl. She could be wearing a burkha and they would still be leering and trying to catch a glance of her face. I have walked past masjids with its crowds of Muslim men (who should stare at no woman in this manner) and have noticed no difference in the behavior (which reminds me of a joke by a female Muslim stand up: “In Mecca I felt someone grab my ass and told myself: I’m in Mecca, surrounded by my Muslim brothers. It must be God.”) I have been in mandirs and had the same experiences.

And some days it just gets me. Days like today, it overwhelms me and it swims through my brain, the images and the sounds and the words. On days like these, all the stories come back to me and flood my brain, and I’m thinking back to my mother, to my aunts, to my cousin sisters, to my girlfriends. I’m thinking about my daughters. I’m thinking about my future and about how the men who repel me the most in the world are men from my culture. I worry about this anger and this hatred within me, and I feel helpless. What can I do? Seriously, someone please tell me. How do you deal with this? The Indian men who pass by here who DON’T think I’m an irrational, exaggerating bitch who’s just dissing all Indian men, and who actually UNDERSTAND and KNOW (I know there are some out there, because I have family and friends I love and trust, but who I just don’t place in the same world that these men must come from), what should a woman do? How should she deal with this? How should she protect herself, what should she tell herself to handle this?

Because I’ve done the most obvious: just avoided it. I’ve also just tried to banish these incidents from memory (doesn’t work). I’ve tried walking with blinders on, in a sense, looking down or straight ahead, my music loud and my eyes refusing to flit around, but I tell you that is not easy. And you still can’t avoid it. I’ve tried the stern, cold, bitchy stare. I’ve tried the shocked, disgusted look. But how do I help myself? Do I block these memories with effort and continue to do that at a regular basis? Even if I do that, what about my fear and my repelsion of my own countrymen?

Something is very wrong with my culture and my country. When a woman can be respected as a Goddess in one breath and brought down to the level of a slut with a look that matches that same breath, then there is something very wrong with the very moral fiber of this country. When a woman gets unwarranted attention and fears for her safety and her well-being just taking a normal walk in a busy place in broad daylight, then there’s something that needs deep change. Indians have lost perspective somewhere. How can Bajrang Dal and Hindu fundamentalists or Muslim fundamentalists focus on policing the women when men can’t take two steps without being aroused by every woman that walks by? How can the males not need any moral policing? Azar Nafisi discusses in Reading Lolita in Tehran how the Taliban’s rules worked: the nape of the woman’s neck and even her wrist is arousing to men. Ergo, a woman must cover these up. If she doesn’t, if it peeks out and comes to the attention of any man (who, poor thing, is aroused), then SHE must be punished. Its HER fault he was aroused. A man behaves in a disgusting, degraded manner, and the woman is to blame. What freaking justice is that? The same that requires women to sit behind men in certain temples (and follow after men in all the rituals), because if women sat ahead, they would ‘distract’ the men from prayer.

How can ANYONE find these arguments sane? How can anyone support them? I can’t fathom this kind of reasoning and I don’t understand what my sisterhood can do when this kind of fantastical rubbish becomes reality!

When you really begin thinking about it with all this in perspective, the women of the Amazon tribe really were onto something. I hope they really did exist, and to be honest, I can completely understand why they would.

(This rant makes me feel better, but thinking about another unavoidable afternoon in TST tomorrow doesn’t.)

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I have no words to describe my shock, confusion, anxiety, sorrow, and disappointment, my helplessness, my anger, my frustration, my irritation, at what is happening in my country now. I do now know how to voice my thoughts. I just follow the news and think, think, think constantly.

I just want to dedicate this to all those who lost their lives, whose families were destroyed, those who are injured and perhaps crippled forever, for the city, for all the citizens, for all those who were affected in any manner. This should not have happened. I pray for everyone affected, for my friends and family, for my country, for the world.

(The music is written by Amit Trivedi, from the soundtrack of Aamir, performed by Shilpa Rao. The lyrics are by the very talented Amitabh Bhattacharyya)

Ek Lau Is Tarah Kyun Bhuji Mere Maula…

(Why was a flare extinguished like this, my Lord…)

Gardishon Mein Rehti, Behti Guzarthi,

Zindagi Aahein Kitni…

(Struggling through dark clouds, flowing, passing by,

There are so many lives [being lived]…)

In Mein Se Ek Hai, Teri Meri Agni,

Koi Ek Jaisi Apni…

(Your life and my life is just one flame amongst all of these)

Par Khuda Khair Kar, Aisa Anjaam Kisi Rooh Ko,

Na De Kabhi Yahaan…

Guncha Muskuratha Ek Waqt Se Pehle,

Kyun Chodd Chala Tera Yeh Jahaan…

(But God please, may no soul here receive, this kind of ending…

Why is it that a smiling bunch of flowers wilted/died before its time had come?)

{*writer refers to the gradual, sweet smelling natural death of a flower. Edited with Madhavi’s comments: thanks}

Ek Lau Is Tarah Kyun Bhuji Mere Maula,

Ek Lau Zindagi Ki Maula.

(Why was a flare extinguished like this, my Lord,

A flare of Life, my Lord)

Dhoop Ke Ujaale Se, Aus Ke Pyaale Se,

Khushiyan Mile Humko…

Zyada Manga Hai Kahaan, Sarhadein Na Ho Jahaan,

Duniya Mile Humko…

(The light of the sunshine, the beauty of the morning dew,

We recieve joy from all of this…

Is it too much that we ask for a world with no borders*)

{*As in, borders/divisions between people, ethnicities, religions…symbolizing all artificially created conflict amongst humanity}

Par Khuda Khair Kar, Uske Armaan Mein Kyun

Bewaja Ho Koi Qurbaan,

Guncha Muskuratha Ek Waqt Se Pehle,

Kyun Chodd Chala Tera Yeh Jahaan…

(But God please, why should anyone be sacrificed to fulfill this desire*…

Why is it that a smiling bunch of flowers wilted/died before its time had come?)

{*Why should there be sacrifice for the sake of creating this division-less, conflict-free society? Thank you to senthil to pointing out I had left this out, and for giving an apt translation}

Ek Lau Is Tarah Kyun Bhuji Mere Maula,

Ek Lau Zindagi Ki Maula. (2)

(Why was a flare extinguished like this, my Lord,

A flare of Life, my Lord)


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Ab Main Rashan Ki Qataron (Now I Wander the Ration Lines), Jagjit Singh, Cry for CRY (Child Relief and You)

(The song above talks about a person’s struggle to feed his family. Jagjit Singh sings of how now he wanders the ration stores for food, suffering the punishment for leaving his fields. The first stanza describes that he buys some little food from the expensive markets, and is ashamed to have to distribute even that among his children. This song is one of many touching, beautiful ones on a very old compilation Jagjit Singh released in conjunction with CRY, Child Relief and You (link above)).

My brother just sent this email (in quotes) to friends and family forwarding a news article in BBC about the state of the malnutritioned children in MP, India. It is one of many describing the horrible affects of the international food crisis.

 Malnutrition getting worse in India

“And those who say to me “It’s not that bad anymore, even the poor have TVs and refridgerators, etc etc.” To them I say, “Are these children are all faking???!!!!”
 
How much have YOU really contributed to the poor of India? How often do you claim to be a PROUD Indian, happily living in the USA, your adopted country? How much have YOU given to the poor of India? How much of their welfare is really in the hands of MISSIONARIES AND FOREIGN givers?
 
http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/south_asia/7445570.stm

If you wish to be a part of the solution, please give generously to a charity of your choice!”

We were in India together and we both observed the same things and felt the same kind of gladness and disappointment about the paradoxes present…the impressive development that contrasts with the stark poverty…the large chasms amongs the society that are still present, all the deficiencies we’d hoped would be a little bit better. (See Impressions)

The article is simply written and factual, yet its story struck me hard enough to make me literally cry. Mainly this line: “The children ate it, then sat hoping for more, but there was none.” It reminds me of a scene during this visit which was heart wrenching to observe.

In Delhi we went to a popular shopping enclave. My family shopped at a cell phone store and I sat near the entrance. It was quite late in the evening. The store was near a mandir (temple) and some big family must have done some puja and were handing out prasad (offering). A small group of very poor people huddled in front of the gates…with dark, streaked skin, torn, tattered and greasy clothing, arms stretched out, eyes shining in anticipation of the food to come. The group included 3-4 children, ranging from eight to four (perhaps they were older, stunted by improper nutrition). Puri and aloo sabji (bread and potato curry) were handed out in small bowls made out of leaves, the norm for such events. The children grabbed their bowls with excitement and gratitude. One ravenously bit in and ate with gusto. He was clearly famished and could see nothing but the food in his bowl. Another broke off each piece of the bread slowly, savouring each bite. Another child picked up his bowl and settled on the pavement, next to the sewage ridden gutter. Inside the store was a large television, visible from the street. The child sat at an angle so he could see the television (just the flashing images was enough), and relished his share. A hungry dog wandered at a dangerous distance. Piles of dung dotted the same pavement, flies and mosquitoes hovering around the food and the children.

After a little while, the bowls were empty. The children were still hungry. Their eyes looked appealingly at the temple gates, hungry and sad, wondering if there would be more. They didn’t stretch their arms out again, didn’t cry out for food, but they sat there for a long time, hopeful for another morsel. That food, that small meal, was a luxury, a rare experience, and they longed for just a little more. A little more to fill their stomachs and comfort their small, malnutritioned bodies.

 

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Not this post, ‘course. You can bet on that 😉

Sha La La, Full House OST

‘Coz how can you not listen to this and remember Song Hye Kyo posing around on her trip, and wish you could pose around and look as pretty on your trips?

Right after I made my first post about my recent trip, I planned to make another describing everything I didn’t in my mousy mood. Because it was also one of the best and most important event in my life, returning home after such a long time. Its something I’d wanted so much it hurt, and then when I was there it was suddenly so strange to be there, so unreal. Things usually hit me much later anyway…the cause and effect time line is somewhat skewed in my system…so for some time it was like I’d always been used to this. Hadn’t I? I had always jumped away from traffic threatening to run me over, walked while minding the potholes and sewage water, and tried to make my way through the crowds. I think, in essence, that was me getting used to being back to who I was. None of this was shocking, because I wasn’t a foreigner, it just took getting used to to get back in the rhythm.

The best part, of course, was to reconnect. Re-adjusting was part of the reconnecting, and I was surprised at how well I did. At one point, I managed to live without electricity, with mosquitoes, and in questionable hygienic situations, being sick all the while, without any signs of the reaction I would have expected. Eight years ago maybe it wouldn’t even be a matter of consideration, but I was still somewhat pleased with myself that I could adjust. However, re-connecting with the people was the best. Sure, we had our gaps, our moments of awkwardness or ‘um, now how do I move past this uncomfortable situation without treading on toes?’, but those were few and far between, and with very few people. Mostly, it felt like time had failed to create a rift between the people we cared for the most. Like my childhood bff, D, said, it was like no time had passed between us. Hadn’t we always laid around like this? Gossipped about old classmates? Discussed movies and food and the city and the torture of waxing, all in one conversation?

I won’t discuss the family part so much (this being a public blog and all), but enough is said to convey how beautiful it was to just see everyone we could, relive the memories, and just discuss and catch up on where we were. It wasn’t always perfect, and we didn’t get to see everyone (and managed to offend many, but isn’t that always how it goes? ;)), but it was good enough :). And of course, one of the most exciting parts of the trip, which will go undescribed, was the meeting of people you’d always wanted to meet, and welcoming in beautiful, new parts of the family.

And then there was just the sense of realizing I was back in my own country and appreciating that to the fullest. Where service and being served is just a given. It was strange to have people open doors, serve your food and water, do your laundry, having a waiter stand next to your table the entire time as you tried to hide your disconcernment and continue your casual conversation. It was strange to realize that you weren’t expected to cook, clean, do any of the chores you usually did (and yet there was so much to do, but thats different!). Some of it was difficult to get used to (esp the constant waiter! eek, i’ll serve myself!), but other stuff I was too happy to oblige with (you can guess which). It was relaxing, and it was kind of a reminder of how hard we work here. Its not marshmallow smores here…in fact, its more sweet and chocolatey when you have somebody doing all the mundane things so you can focus on the important things in life. Like shopping.

And shopping was…well, fun. Styles change with the flick of a celebrity’s wrist, but thats okay with me because everyone’s going to be out of style here 😉 After being embarassed (but refusing to be ashamed) after my outdated wardrobe at the wedding, I stocked up on suits and whatnots, and ran after and shouted and urged and pleased with tailors as they kept failing to get it right (I still don’t understand why…), and then finally did (and that was the really fun part). I didn’t get to shop as much as I wanted to (or ‘needed’ to), but shopping and getting stuff tailored is an experience in itself. Don’t miss it. And no matter what anyone tries to tell you: stuff isn’t really that expensive. Sure, prices have tripled, even quadrupled, from eight years ago, but if you know where to shop and if you know how not to act foreignerly (or if your skin gives you away, take someone brown in a sari ;)), because its the people who get phoreigned who lose out.

Touring? Who has time for that? Granted I’ve barely seen most of the country. I’ll say it outloud: I HAVEN’T SEEN THE TAJ MAHAL. There. But touring takes a back seat when everyone’s inviting you to dinner and feeding you and you’re trying to visit everybody so you can stay in their good books. Its a lillll bit difficult. I was lucky, however, to have excuses to be in a lot of different cities this time. And we did make a little byway to Mysore, the city of breathtaking temples and palaces. Just a sneak peek at a picture post I hope to make again later. And I’ll have to make a whole different pictures post for the fantastic trip I had with P’s AWESOME FAMILY 🙂 to Shivaji’s Fort in Pune. We had THE best time (probably the most fun I’ve had in ages), and we saw the most beautiful things…birds, flowers, the most beautiful sights of the rustic land…and had the yummiest fresh food under the shade of some trees. Yup, that was quite some day. (Thanks!)

Srirangapatnam:

At Srirangapatnam

Mysore Palace (probably THE most beautiful palace I’ve EVER seen. It was just astounding)

Have you said hello to Mahishisura?

The famous Chamundeshwari Temple

(The Goddess Chamundi killed the wicked Mahishisura Rakshas (lovely pic above). The temple is in the Chamundi Hills)

The Goddess herself. Women (and Goddess) Power!

Last, but oh definitely not the least (how can it ever be the least), THE FOOD! Which is what everyone goes home for. Every foreigner. No matter what they tell you. Because can you get the same taste at any restaurant in the world? Can you get the same tandoori chicken, the same sweet corn soup, the same aloo tikki, the same saag and makki roti, the same peda and phetha and laddoo and gulabjamun? And the uncle chips, pudina flavor, which you’ve loved since you were about three? Can you get fed with the same love, care, pressurizing? Can you be filled to bursting point each meal, and then be offered some chai? Where else will your didi feed you sabji-roti with her hands, and where else will you eat the juiciest, sweetest, red carrots? Where else can mausis make your favorite foods and sweets and you almost cry because its just all so good and yummy and touching.

Now I’m hungry, and nostalgic and sad. And I didn’t take any pictures of the food. Oh darn.

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Yeh Tara Woh Tara, Swades

For the first time ever, I’ve been really jetlagged. For the past couple days I’ve been in a zombie state, and crashed randomly come 8-9pm. I think its the joint effect of being sick for most of the trip and getting little/no sleep, plus traveling constantly which makes for a terrible schedule. I don’t do well with randomized schedules.

While I don’t like writing about the personal bits of any trip, I will comment on the overall feeling of being back. Firstly, it wasn’t as shocking as I had expected it would be. Not until I got back to my home town, which was actually the only place which would be familiar anyway. And while it was very strange to be unable to identify the roads for a day or two, it was sad more than shocking. Sad in a ‘well, yes, ofcourse’ kind of way. It was expected. And then, when I did start looking beyond the new shinyness and development and saw those same roads and places I knew it was somewhat comforting and nostalgic for a little while.

But see, this has what has changed the most everywhere I went in India: there’s a lot of development. There are supermarkets, which sell everything from everywhere nowadays. There are malls and electronics stores and car dealerships, pizza huts and mcdonalds, all the sure-fire signs of a society becoming rich and growing Westernized with a zeal. There are a lot of things that I didn’t grow up with, that bring a lot of comfort to life and which are good to see. Everyone has a cell phone (and everyone means everyone. Even the rickshaw drivers. I think someone once saw a beggar with one).

But while this is great change in eight years, and while I’m really glad for it, it isn’t exactly what I imagined when everyone talked excitedly to me about how wonderful life has become in India. How everything is dramatically different. How its all comfort and sugar and spice. Because it wasn’t. You might not agree with me, completely understandably, and you might have your own reasons for it, but my eyes (ofcourse, jaundiced with activism), saw a somewhat different picture.

And I wasn’t looking at things pessimistically or critically. This is my country as much as anybody else’s, and I went with hope and eagerness. I hoped to be able to exclaim proudly at the wonderful changes and throw around compliments. But I didn’t get the chance to do that, because underneath all the fancy, dressy facade, nothing had really changed. Nothing that had formed the reason for my adaptation to this country. I didn’t leave because I wanted to shop in malls, or eat at Pizza Hut, or get a burger and then go to a giant multiplex. And those are also not the reasons I love America. Opportunity, respect (as a person not in the upper ranks of society and as a woman), the desire to not be faced by the hopelessness of life every day, the chance to be active in society and actually watch my actions create change…those factors are why I have adapted here.

While it may seem unfair and while its hard to hear and write about, these are the factors that are yet to change back home. I did not expect poverty to be eliminated, but I also did not expect the gap to have increased. While the middle class can now afford gigantic palace-like houses, the slums haven’t changed one bit. While the middle and upper classes may be getting better care in the hospitals (though that may be questionable with the reservation system, but thats for another time), the lower classes are still catered to by inadequate, dirty, and makeshift government clinics by overworked doctors and nurses (I should know this, I had to be rushed to one mid-journey and even while I was half-conscious, I was painfully aware that this was not where I should be). Beggar children still clamored and hung onto my arms. The rich still got away with murder (a car ran over four people at 5pm in the city. The driver was drunk, and presumably, from a rich family. The police came too late and I doubt any action was taken). The apathy has become stronger than ever, settled in like pollution and become a part of the environment. Natural human conscience, just plain goodness, is still biding its time somewhere else: my mother and I observed a large middle class family joyfully and greedily stuff themselves and their children while their children’s young caretaker (probably 7-8?), starkly brown and destitute against their rich, whiter, skins, sat right there morosely and hungrily. Not only was it unthinkable to buy her some food of her own, but the family was cruel enough to have her sit right there with their gluttunous family. I wished them all cases of severe appendicitis.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m not sitting here pointing out all the deficits I noticed, whining or complaining like the typical ‘NRI-foreigner’. Though it may come off like this right now, I actually hate the kind who sit around and describe the negative side of India and all that BS, like they dropped from heaven and don’t belong to the same place. I am from there, and I’m proud of it…so much of who I am is because of my culture, my traditions, my ethnicity, the values I was raised with in India. Like I’ve said, there’s a lot of good change. There are new roads and highways (Mumbai-Pune highway: amazing), there are new sources of employment, there are greater opportunities than there were eight years ago. The people who can afford it have the chance to live a fantastic life. I’m proud of all of this. But as a child of that nation, I also have the right (perhaps the duty), to observe that there’s a long a way to go. Everything isn’t fine and dandy, and as people who have it in our power to make changes there, we should be well aware of this.

I love America simply because there is unabounded opportunity for anyone who wants it and wants to work for it, and because there is an ingrown desire to cause change and better life. I’m upset at India only because there are all the tools for these same qualities–the nation is rich (don’t believe otherwise, its just corruption thats sucking it away) the economy is booming, a significant portion is getting richer and growing in many ways, the education is probably the best in the world, even the entertainment sector is growing and maturing–and yet with all this, there’s not enough where it needs to be. More importantly, there isn’t enough drive to make it change. I know (too well), that change doesn’t happen overnight. But I also know that you need the drive, the feeling, the sacrifice of apathy, to initiate change. When does that happen?

In one way, what everyone tells me is right. If you’re rich, if you can afford a house, a car (preferably with a driver), and servants, and have a nice chunk of income (all this isn’t hard to get), then life is absolutely great. Actually, better than America, since you don’t have to worry about cooking, cleaning, laundry, driving, any of the mundane and tiring chores of life. You can live life the way you want, you can socialize, relax, shop, travel, enjoy the simple pleasures. You just have to close your eyes to the woman begging at your window, and forget about the slums a minute walk from your house, and stay in your social circle. But I have great respect for the people I know who live this comfortable life, yet, have quietly but actively begun to cause change, participate in or create movements to improve the life of those who are far from this life. Who are actively trying to pull street children off the streets, who are trying to lobby for the betterment of life with housing projects, who may live the good life but haven’t closed their eyes to their maidservant’s much different plight.

In the end, I wasn’t impressed by the mega marts and the malls and the restaurants and the cell phones. I appreciated the comfort of life there, the time to relax and slow down, the chance to be catered to, to not have to worry about the dishes and the laundry. I was appreciative of all the positive changes (especially the Metro. That was pretty freakin’ amazing. Just to have any place in India lasting this long without betel stains and garbage on the tracks is laudable and its so convenient!). I was proud of the media and the youth which is clearly less tolerant than it was eight years ago. News isn’t hidden and suppressed anymore with money and threats, and the youth are the propellants of this new phase. The media gets to where the injustice is, makes it known, and joins the fight where the police force doesn’t. And while biases always exist, I feel the urge to trust media there much more than the suspicious sources that are trying to feed the nation fabrications here. I was happy that my friends have more opportunities and more ways to direct themselves to than there were when I was a child.

I also came back aware of what was lacking, and with heightened respect for all those working to fill these gaps in that kind of environment. I came back driven to join forces one day when I have the means and knowledge to do so. And I think thats why it was necessary to stay honest to myself. If I refused to acknowledge these deficiencies, I’d stay happily away from actively working for a solution (however small my contribution), and I want a chance to do that.

And I came back grateful for the life I had here. It isn’t easy. I’ve worked hard for it and I keep working hard, just like everyone else here. And this country can be crazy and difficult, with deep seated issues in its young psychology. But I’m proud to live here. It has taught me how to be a person who has ambition, aim, and the drive to help, so I can serve both where I came from, and what I’m a part of, and I’m glad for that.

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Its been a while.

I always planned that when I’d have a really good stretch of time free (i.e, no college, no classes, no exams, no (or not too many) applications, no significant stress factors), I’d get all the other chores done. You know, that stuff you jot down for later? And that becomes even later? I figured graduating from college was a good point, and after my trip I was all geared up to get down and get things cleared up.

But vacation puts me in an ennui. Its like everything slows down, my motor and my mental skills. I can barely get myself off the bed, let alone try to complete and scratch off stuff from the many yellow post-its that decorate my laptop desktop. I guess it might be because this is my first nothing-to-do-at-all-nothing-to-worry-about vacation in a long, long time (probably my first since I was a kid), and it takes time to get used to it. I’m still on the procrastinating-college-student routine and I have to shake myself out of it so I can get everything done with before I leave for ze Motherland.

Ze Motherland!

Going back after eight years is all kinds of surreal. On one hand, its terribly exciting. Its like anticipating a giant present that you know will have all kinds of good things (and familiar sweet smells and sounds and tastes). You know there’s so much that you wanted all in that one gigantic present. And you just can’t wait to rip apart the wrapping and peek inside and revel in it. On the other hand, it has a sense of unreality attached, and something else that makes me anxious and nervous. Mostly because eight years is a long time. Its such a long time, and in that time the entire country has changed dramatically. Everything that I knew to be familiar, that I grew up with, that I was used to and loved has changed. People have changed. My roots, that had tightly hugged that ground, have grown weaker, the bonds I had with families and friends have loosened. I didn’t live the life that I had started there, and so I didn’t share the lives of the people who had been a part of that life eight years ago. For better or for worse (we’ll never know), my family and I transplanted ourselves, and circumstances did not allow me to return, even for a brief visit. In those eight years, I have become a different person from the child that left.

How will it be now? How will it be when I meet the family I held so close to my heart? Who I know love me so much, but whose physical affection I missed so much and longed for these eight years. How will it be when I meet those friends I held hands with as I skipped around the school? When I try to find my way around the city I grew up in? When I go back to the house I grew up in, now so lonely and cold without the bark of our dog and the smell of our family in it? When I try to relive the memories made in the 7 years I went to that school? How will it feel? How will everything have changed? Will I remember the nooks and crannies of that house? And of the school grounds? Will I recognize the streets? The smells? The sounds? The restaurants? The neighborhood store? Will it be joyous, painful, nostalgic, poignant, too difficult, wonderful?

How will I meet the people I have missed so much all these years? Will it be strange? Awkward? The distance insurmountable? Or will we in a minute traverse those eight years, so that it feels like the time never passed, the disconnect never happened, that it was always like this.  Will we laugh and cry and embrace, or will we be uncomfortable, shifting around till we find that place where it feels just right? I know the love and affection will be there, but how will it feel to be back there with everyone again, after the weight of the years and distance and age has been measured and exposed?

I won’t know till I get there.

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