Eight years ago, I disappointed my circle of acquaintances, and let my country down. I had already done the unthinkable by choosing to study in the UK rather than the US. Now I did the unforgivable by moving back to India despite having a couple of job offers at hand, the option to extend my visa to look for an even better job, and the prospect of eventually putting my passport through the shredder for a shiny new one endorsed by the queen.
I am not entirely sure what it is about my country that I like, but I know I love it. I love that my passport proclaims that I’m Indian. I don’t mind that I have to declare everything from my income to my chaddi size every time I want to visit another country. I certainly would mind swearing allegiance to any flag other than my own.
Perhaps my apparently incomprehensible desire to go back home had its roots in the horrific idea that I would have to do my own laundry, wash my own dishes, and recycle garbage on a long-term basis. But, more likely, it was because I knew, deep inside, that I could never be a proper foreign return desi.
[quote]A foreign-desi has a rigid list of duties – as rigid as the foreign-desi spawn’s weekly schedule[/quote]
Over the two-decades-and-an-awkward-fraction that I have spent observing passport-flashing relatives and family friends, I have figured out that a foreign-desi has a rigid list of duties – as rigid as the foreign-desi spawn’s weekly schedule. The regular South Asian, brought up in the degenerate opulence of old money, seven servants with apprentices and understudies, and access to malls, could never fulfil such criteria as:
Constantly talking about how little money you make: Your children could go to independent schools, and you could have a Rolls Royce, Jaguar, Bentley and Audi parked in your two-storey garage, but if you are a foreign-settled desi, you must whine about how the desi next door has two of each parked in his four-storey garage.
Wearing traditional clothes in the third world: So the heat is peeling the skin off your back, and all your cousins, nieces and nephews who live in the lavish luxury that only rupees can provide are lounging about in jeans and T-shirts. But you must prove you’re in the home country by wearing your third-world-wardrobe. Quite like setting your watch to the right time zone, this is a crucial part of your journey. Ideally, you must also wear all the gold you own. That’s how you fit into the society you left. The first world has taught you that life is all about fitting in.
Washing your clothes (but not your bum) in mineral water: The proper foreign-desi must sniff delicately at a proffered glass of water, frown, squint his or her eyes, look apologetically at the host and giggle that he or she has lost his or her immunity. The host could lead you to the water cooler and point at the label that declares this is purified, sterilised, mineral water. But you must shake your head, and explain that you paid for excess baggage, to lug along a suitcase filled with foreign bottled water. You can only drink and bathe in this water. Your dishes and clothes can only be washed in this water. Being foreign, you don’t need water in the toilet anymore, though.
Eating rotis with fork and knife: As Oprah will tell you, there are some people in the third world who still eat with their hands. Just like there are some slums in the third world where the hovels don’t come with en-suite showers. The only thing that separates the civilised from animals is cutlery. God forbid you should get into the habit of tearing at rotis with your hands on holiday. Next thing you know, your children are making their French toast not-so-French. Shudder. That roti will eventually yield to the knife and fork. It may take you two hours, but that’s a reasonable price to pay.
Doing unto your child as your parents did unto you: Remember the dance classes that you were enrolled in the day after you stood up on shaky legs for the first time? Remember the music classes you were signed up for the day your “gaga” first became “Maa”? If you’re a proper foreign-desi, you’ll know the only way to keep your culture alive is to do the same to your kid. This compensates for throwing away the mug in your bathroom. If you still live in the third world, you’ll remember what a nightmare that pre-school dose of cultural education was.
As you’ll no doubt agree, unless you’re a proper foreign-desi, some of these are too much trouble, and some are simply in poor taste. And so, I settled for being the pariah – the ‘foreign return’.