Thursday, January 9, 2014

Bharat Milaap



Isn’t it a strange feeling to be visiting your own city as a tourist? Looking at what used to be familiar and was home to you for decades through the eyes of an outsider? I was away for a year and a half, ensconced in a laid-back and somewhat quiet existence Down Under. And I was afraid I’ll crinkle my nose in disgust at the sight of callously strewn garbage, complain noisily about the congestion and pollution, breathing laboriously through my perfumed kerchief.

A lot of this apprehension stemmed from experiences of desi friends who came back disenchanted from their annual pilgrimage to their homeland, complaining bitterly about the infrastructure dying a slow death from administrative apathy and negligence. Indians who felt like foreigners in their own country, sighing in relief when they finally came back to their adopted home.

It didn’t help that I had described India as this chaotic fairyland with never a dull moment, to my firang acquaintances. My eyes would gleam with excitement when I’d describe my city and its people – memories of its uncouth aggressiveness forgotten and forgiven. I had started craving for things I had never craved for before – the happy buzz before festivals, sights and sounds of a city that never goes to sleep, things that got done by jugaad. Where neighbourhood coffeeshops don't close by 5.


I was afraid that my sepia tinted memories would feel let down by the starkness of reality. After all, nostalgia has the seductive ability to chip away the dirt from the gems of memory.

Oddly, I felt none of the disenchantment that I had been warned of. Back home with my family and friends, I felt invincible. If I complained about the strange sensation in my throat because of the smoky air, I was rebuked loudly by my Mom. Yes, Delhi looked dustier and smoggier than before. The traffic snarls were exasperating. But these were minor inconveniences to the unbridled joy I felt in my heart.

It felt great to be ‘home’, where all you need to do is walk into a ramshackle store in a dingy bylane to extricate the sim card that you miraculously managed to jam inside the slot in a hurry. Your Mom asks if you’re hungry every 20 minutes and insists that you finish the entire lot of gajjaks and rewris because she bought it for you, calories be damned. Stores where attendants seek you out and not the other way round. Roads where motorists communicate with each other through loud honking and choicest of abuses.

An emotionally charged nation, whose people never shy of expressing rage, helplessness, unsolicited opinion – and joy is broadcast through loudspeakers. I would wake up with a start to namaz at 4.30 in the morning, followed by loud hahahahas emanating from the neighbourhood park and finally the gurbani. I sampled chaat from every thelewala at every gol chakkar unmindful of diarrheal threats. I shopped for kurtas in block-print, dupattas in vibrant colours, saris from Kolkata because I was dying to show off our beautiful textiles and weaves to friends in Australia. When my friends hugged me tight and said they missed my laughter, I had trouble holding back my tears.


I packed all that I had missed in these months of separation in the three weeks I spent in India.

I am not trying to present a Utopic idea of India here. We are a far from perfect nation that has been let down by callousness. Yet, when the unprecedented happened with AAP coming to power in Delhi, we were more sceptical than jubilant. We are so inured to being let down and disappointed that we have turned into a nation of bitter critics, refusing stubbornly to accept hope when it shows promise.

But it hurts me tremendously when I hear Indians settled overseas make disparaging remarks about their own country because I see it as an assault to my roots. I guess it’s a matter of perspective – we see what we want to see. So, while some of us will only see the garbage, third world mentality and exclaim nothing good will ever come out of this nation, many of us will choose to focus on the emerging India – positive and enterprising, a curious mixture of urban longing and pastoral belonging.

I guess mine is a typical case of rediscovering love only after I let go of it. Despite its many warts, failings and shortcomings, a polity that has not kept in sync with its people, one thing that will never change is that this is where we belong, a place that has shaped our ideals, our treasure trove of memories, family and friends.

The gods must have heard my loud sobs when I was about fly back to my new home. Or was it my tears that condensed into such a dense fog that almost all flights taking off from Delhi that night had to be cancelled?

I am lucky – I have two places that I can call home, startlingly different from each other. While one of them is calming, the other invigorates and sometimes stresses me out. I know when I come back for good, I’ll start cribbing about its aggressive attitude and a system that’s more anti-people than pro.

But it will still be my real home, that state of mind where I am in equilibrium with my surroundings. This rediscovery is not misplaced patriotism or jingoism. It simply is a selfish longing for a milieu that I relate to and where my heart resides. 


http://www.indiblogger.in/indipost.php?post=314984

73 comments:

  1. and u had a doubt this may sound drab ? I am touched. seriously love u for writing this all. Can't say more than this !
    Hope u had a great holiday :)

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    1. Phew! I can sigh in relief now.

      Yes! I had a wonderful holiday. Thanks for asking.

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  2. and if U come to hyd I wont miss the chance to meet U :)

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  3. I guess you picked a really nice time to visit Delhi, what with AAP coming to power and the entire country seeming to be on the cusp of a vast political upheaval (hopefully for the better). Loved your post, it so resonated of so many books that authors from the Indian diaspora write every now and then, only difference being that in this post, the characters are not fictional but are real.

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    1. Exactly! Had it been in peak summer, I would have been singing a different Raga.

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  4. If your friends miss your laughter they are being honest. For me home is where my loved ones reside. Heartfelt post.

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    1. I ended up sounding too serious :-)

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  5. After all a home is home & is a home. Where else do you get anything and everything at stone's throw distance?
    What's the fun in going 5-10 miles in a car to fetch just a bunch of 'Dhania' for daal tadka?

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    1. And pay 2 dollars for a measly bunch :/

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  6. At last! At last there is one good Samaritan fending for Indians in India against the westernising expatriates who suddenly start carping about all the things that are wrong with India (in stark comparison to their new homes). But you did come at a rather fortunate time, when Indians quick on jumping to conclusions like traffic lights have already declared AAP as an extension to Congress while AAP starts to start executing its real mandate.
    Sadly, the appetite for 'mirch masala' makes us easily ignore the goodness that lurks everywhere. You managed to see it.

    Cheers,
    Blasphemous Aesthete

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    1. Like I said, we all choose what we want to see. And the media makes it worse by highlighting all that's wrong with our country.
      I feel, no amount of First world comfort can equal the sense of belonging we feel here.

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  7. I tell you, one meal at a cafe down a Yellow Brick Road, and you break into such beautiful soliloquy about friends and idli-chaat! :D
    Very beautiful essay, this was. I am glad I was able to share some of the good times you and the fam had during the trip. Like I was telling someone later (my friend's niece - who is your big Twitter-bhakt, btw), it hardly felt like I was meeting you for the first time!

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    1. How come I never get to meet my blog/Twitter bhakts! *SULKS*

      Btw, you have become the Ray family favourite. We kept recounting your jokes and laughing at them.

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  8. Ha ha...nice! I was in India in the month of December. I might copy-paste this post and pass it as my own after changing the names of the places :D

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    1. Excuse me! You are supposed to be the snooty NRI who can't stop complaining about the commotion and pollution :p

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  9. I second you when I hear disparaging remarks about my roots. I stay out of India presently and whenever I visit desh, I feel so proud to be Indian. I love the small shops and it's so true, we are an emotionally charged nation. Gonna share it on FB, Purba. Brilliant post:)

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    1. In India, everything is fixable and one doesn't have to empty their wallet for it. Help, grocery, friendly voices are just a phone call away. When we were here, we took all these conveniences for granted.

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  10. Yes it's just the perspective when people come back and feel differently about the same old things :-)
    Missed meeting you.

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    1. I'll be coming again this year :-)

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  11. Very true! I lived away for sometime and missed home like crazy. While I appreciate the easy life and comforts most western (and eastern in this case) countries give you, there is no place like home... despite all its shortcomings and quirks.. :)

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    1. I guess, it all boils down to what we expect from life.

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  12. The thing is, home is where the heart is. :)

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    1. Also my friends, family, favourite restaurants and stores :/

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  13. Your visit to home land was at a very correct time. The cold Delhi weather with dense fog and the euphoria of election results putting AAP on the saddle. Isn't it a unique feeling to be among your loved ones? My grand daughter, who is studying in US was also here during this period of all the' hulla gulla'.

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    1. December is the NRI season :-) and Delhi is at its blooming best during winter.

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  14. Well welcome back I say. India is many things but adjectives like Bad, boring, hopeless is not one of them. Hope you didn't just token the Fuchkas ;-), after all they are meant to be eaten till you're full.

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    1. I came back with a heavy suitcase and a heavier heart :/

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  15. I completely agree. There is nothing like home and family. Hope you had a good time. :)

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    1. I did, Pooja. Thanks for asking.

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  16. Missed you on this trip sweets, but was happy to hear your voice, especially on the birthday! And no, what you write here is totally understandable. I am so glad you had a swell time. You deserve it. And now, happy that you are back in your writer avataar. Muah!

    PSssst I love your mom! :D

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    1. We will meet, of that I'm sure. When, is the big question.

      Psst - Wait till you meet her.

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  17. Home is where the heart is always! I quite love your mom for stifling your tantrums ;-). A lovely heartfelt post, Purba! It did help that you came in winters, na. Socho, what you'd be thinking and feeling in summer.

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    1. I would have been tearing my hair in frustration. Delhi is so stiflingly hot during summer!

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  18. Lovely post! Home is after all our own. A great read! :)

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    1. Thanks for reading, Preeti :-)

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  19. Ha! I wrote about snooty NRIs a while back! And though I've ceased to call Calcutta my home it is where my roots are and also where I can eat delicious phuchka made from the sweat of the phuchka wallah's brow....and the snot of his nose!! :P

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    1. Look what you did, Roshni! Now I'll never be able to have phuchkas :-(

      Psst - I'm partial to the Delhi golgappas. Phuckas, it seems, is an acquired taste.

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  20. Ha! I wrote about snooty NRIs a while back! And though I've ceased to call Calcutta my home it is where my roots are and also where I can eat delicious phuchka made from the sweat of the phuchka wallah's brow....and the snot of his nose!! :P

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  21. First of all, I really missed meeting you up!!! it was bad bad timing for me when I had to choose between doing my social duties and meeting friends!!!!


    now, I am glad you shopped so much and from Soma, show off those fabrics to the aussies gal!!!

    and yeah, lot of my hubby's friends in UK and USA tend to turn snooty...but the good part also is..lot of people after going there find that the things that they take for granted are not so easy and life sometimes is more easy and comfortable here (especially when one doesnt have to shovel snow one hour in the morning before getting to the car to go to office)

    http://www.myunfinishedlife.com

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    1. I missed meeting you too, Sushmita. The good thing is, there's always a next time (hopefully).

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  22. You have put it in such beautiful words Purba. The emotions are all coming through. Loved how you have described nostalgia :)

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    1. I'm not too happy with what I wrote. Guess, I wasn't in my best frame of mind when I wrote this.

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  23. This post brought a big smile. Our home is one emotional turbulent episode!!!!
    India...you can never go away from it!!!
    I was wondering where had you gone. I can now read your posts!

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    1. Hehehe...Just a month of absence and now you'll have to tolerate my avalanche of posts :p

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  24. Nicely penned down Purba..really , home is where the heart is..:-)

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  25. After so many years spent in both countries – NZ and India, I feel there’s much to enjoy or complain about in each. As for human nature, there’s an even sprinkling of all kinds everywhere – good-bad, fun-serious, warm or cold hearted, arrogant or with feelings of inadequacy – and the many layers in between. The type I feel no affinity for, apart from the obvious cruel or criminal, are the callous and indifferent. On a more personal note, I do enjoy your posts for their humour and warmth and this one didn't disappoint.

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  26. After so many years spent in both countries – NZ and India, I feel there’s much to enjoy or complain about in each. As for human nature, there’s an even sprinkling of all kinds everywhere – good-bad, fun-serious, warm or cold hearted, arrogant or with feelings of inadequacy – and the many layers in between. The type I feel no affinity for, apart from the obvious cruel or criminal, are the callous and indifferent. On a more personal note, I do enjoy your posts for their humour and warmth and this one didn't disappoint.

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    1. You said it, Khoty. No place is perfect and we learn to adapt and eventually love our new home.

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  27. I love India because of the memories that are associated with my family and friends... India is very unpredictable... everyday cannot be the same. Even though it is pretty peaceful in Sydney, sometimes I miss those an-adventure-a-day kind of lifestyle I had back there. It's kind of a choice between big bad boys that thrill your heart to well settled patient man. :P

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    1. Hahahaha...and we all know, women dig bad boys!

      I happen to love Sydney. It's so vibrant and the food scene is beyond amazing.

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  28. Very nicely expressed, as usual. Home is where our heart is. So glad India is our home. It's said that we must have done some punya to be born in this great land...
    Happy homecoming to you & bestest New Year wishes :)

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    1. Thanks and wish you a fabulous New Year :-)

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  29. I think the comments on this post must already have told you how much it was appreciated. As I told you once, I usually read your posts at 6.30 in the morning. Yesterday when I read this, I teared up.

    India, my little town for which my dad says, "Bechane jaao to bikega nahi, khareedne jaao to milega nahi", these places are our home. And your home isn't perfect; it is just home.

    I am not able respect those who have no love for their roots. They show a deep disrespect to their own person. A being who paints his own face black surely has something broken within. I edge away from such people and keep a healthy distance.

    You, are the other side of the coin. Thank you. May I reblog this?

    Dagny

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    1. I was pleasantly surprised to see that it was well received. I guess, most related to the sentiments of a homesick Indian. I feel, most of us have a love-hate relationship with our hometown. We are quick to criticize it but hate it when someone else is doing the same.

      And of course, you can, Dagny :-)

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    2. I describe it as a -- I'll kick my dog if I damn well feel like it because it is MY dog but if you so much as look at it, I'll claw your eyes out! -- feeling. :D

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  30. What can I say you have wonderfully put forth the importance of our roots..that no matter where we go and no matter how cliched it sounds home is the best place in the world :)

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    1. No material comfort can equal the sense of belonging we feel at home.

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  31. It seems I should have met the real Purba

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    1. I'm sure it will happen sometime in the near future.

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  32. I agree to every word of yours. Home is home...even if I live more than half my life away from it. Still, will you be mad at me if I say, "I felt a foreigner in my home land"? These are the exact words that came out of my mouth, I think on my 2nd India trip. The first one was after a stay of 10 months abroad. But after that, when I visited home after 4 years, I did feel foreign. Ask me why? I forgot how to push people in the crowded buses to get down at my stop. I would miss my stop. I would ask the shop wala, can you please show that 4th saree in the 3rd row? I was 'pleaseeeing' all...after a point, mom started saying, what's wrong with your voice? why are you talking so low? I felt my MIL was rude with the milkwala..rude with the maid..I would thank our watchman....huh...I donno..may be that is minimum courtesy or we are not used to that kinda stuff...anyway, glad you had a fun trip.

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    1. I relate to what you felt. Politeness is not one of our virtues. My decibel levels have gone up a few notches ever since I returned from my India trip. I have become used to people holding doors for me, strangers smiling at me, apologizing profusely for the minor inconvenience they may have caused.

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  33. I just returned from India after a week long trip and it was just awesome... however I dared not to complain about the pollution and the traffic that gets worse by the day... Not one person stops at zebra crosses for pedestrians and people are so much in a hurry ! But I am glad you have a post here, its true after seeing other places we feel we lack a lot of things. But for the fear of being quoted like a foreigner I just keep mum.. It is also true that each time I come down to India I feel certain changes... but home remains the same, the food from home only gets tastier.

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    1. No country is perfect. We learn to live with the shortcomings and appreciate all that's beautiful :-)

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  34. I read this post on the day it was published and have been wondering since then about the concept of "visiting" your home country as a tourist.

    I recently returned to India after 4 years and to my hometown after 8. I felt exactly the same about every small thing (the shopping, the street food, traffic pollution etc) every time I made a small trip in the last 8 years, as you did- nostalgia and the general "i-am-home-and-its-perfect" sort of feeling. The heart, more than the mind, was hell bent in overlooking every single shortcoming of the city, and the country in a larger perspective, just for the simple reason that it's home.

    But these feelings tend to chip away this time when it feels I am here for good. Now I see the pollution and the chaos and the traffic and the rude shopkeeper etc. Now I miss the peace and the serenity and, by God, the lack of societal obligations!

    My point being, once you are away to a better place, you can enjoy your "home" ONLY as a tourist , through the "sepia tinted" memories. When the reality dawns on you that this nonsensical chaos is home, it's not that pleasant. We get used to comfort too soon.

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    1. I am aware that my new-found love for Delhi is temporary and will vanish into thin once I come back. I'll start missing the clean air, the beautiful Brisbane river and the stress free driving. But nothing will change the sense of belonging I feel in my own country.

      Tedha hai paar mera hai :-)

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  35. You know this one is brilliantly written. Can so relate to it.

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    1. And home is not a place but a feeling ; thanks.

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