Monday, July 6, 2009

Excess Baggage

My dad hates it when my sister and I make fun of Indian accents and say "it's true" to "you know you are Indian if... " email forwards. Sometimes I wonder, too, why we do it. I figure it's an awareness of how we are, and moreover, an acceptance of the fact: "yes... that's exactly how we are. so what?"

I laugh at all that because I know its true. after all, i still have to sprinkle chili flakes all over my pizza and pasta and still like my chinese food to be called "manchurian" and "chow mein". i still think of the saree when I think of formal wear. And at the end of the day I definitely want my bollywood, no matter which part of the world I am in.

What Giridhardas says(in the link pasted above) about the import of products and envies is not entirely one way. Till the last years of my stay in Thailand, each trip to India would mean loading our suitcases with incense sticks,papadam, all kinds of food,perfumes, biscuits, chocolates (yep!), maggie, audio tapes, movies, books, clothes, soaps etc. the list is endless. each time we came to visit, we wanted to take everything back with us. Just as exciting as our visits to our relatives' homes were our visits to the local grocery shop - "His Highness" - and more recently, "Varkey's". My sister and I used to load up on Liril soap while my perplexed aunt couldn't understand what about that lime and lemony soap was so great. we couldn't get enough of five stars, perks and dairy milks and used to treasure it in our fridge and have it stingyly long after we got back home to Bangkok. To this day I sometimes feel I should be careful with my supply of Maggie, a habit i'd got used to.

As kids our room was full of bollywood and cricket posters (some I am Very embarrassed of now)and audio tapes of Hindi songs that,i am sure, many children our age living in India had no idea about. We used to be experts in Antakshri, going on for hours and hours. There was hardly an instance when one group would run out of songs. To the extent that we found the game not challenging enough for our "extensive knowledge" of Hindi film music and started making up our own more difficult games.

Yes, its very easy when staying "abroad" to be convinced that the movement was one way. It was perhaps more true for our generation, or maybe just us. Maybe we were exceptions and still remained very Indian in our consumerism. I don't think kids living abroad today have a shopping list similar to ours. But that's also true because lines of Indian and foreign products are blurring.

But the changes that we see in India right now is rather an anti-thesis to the India of my parents' days and dreams. That is to say, the "price" one pays for malls and convenient stores is with that of "remembered simplicity". Perhaps its also true that at the age my parents left the country they were too young to realize what they were leaving and took with them only the parts of our country that we love best. And that is what they passed on to us. The India I grew up with was glorious, full of love and food and festivals.

The India that my parents will come back to a few years from now will be very different from the one they left. But when they do come back, they will return bringing with them reverse importation. Those things that they took 30 years ago will come back with them in their imported suitcases. The pressure cooker with the broken lid, the steel plates with their names engraved on it, sarees, some of which are older than me and music - old, worn out cassette tapes - that is definitely older than me and already lost to many of those who have never left the country.

Often the concept of India is much bigger than our experiences with it. I've met both extremes: "I never want to go back to that country again" and "there's no place like here" but I find that everyone has their own special tie with this place. Those who never want to come back here still have India on their Ipods and tongues. No matter were you stand, whether you love it or hate it, India has a way of pulling you in and forcing you to be part of its throbbing vibrancy.

What I came to was an imagined India and the transition was smoother, than it might have been for many others, because I found that life was much the same to the one I have been living - though people are very different. But during my time here I realized that feeling at home, to a large extent, is just a matter of constant import and export. My Maggie then is my MaMa now.


  1. I love this. I have never seen or heard this perspective. Perhaps the importers or exporters of my family don't express themselves that well.

    I will understand them better now!

    Thanks :)

  2. remya...totally love this :)