A common trope in Bollywood movies involves a lead character returning to India after having lived in the West, filled with a newfound patriotism or a longing to be among one’s people again. And, on return, he or she is usually welcomed by all (except, perhaps, the mandatory bad guys) and experiences such an ethereal joy at being reunited with the homeland that there is nothing to do but to sing and dance it out. Sounds nice, right
Except, of course, in real life, it doesn’t quite go like that. There are, first of all, for any immigrant, some very practical aspects to making the choice to return. Usually, several lives and livelihoods are impacted by that single decision. Then, there is the matter of uprooting an entire existence in one country before one can even begin the journey. And, there is plenty of headache-inducing paperwork along the way these days — enough to age a person at least ten years in the process. Finally, there is the stress-filled undertaking of trying to assimilate back into a place that has changed in unknown and seemingly bizarre ways and to put all the pieces of one’s life back together again. The cost of all this is incalculable, largely intangible, and amortized over a long period of time.
Knowing all this, when I recently made the decision to spend a lot more time in India after decades of living in Europe and the US, it was certainly not driven by any rediscovered passion for the country. Yes, of course, it’s where I grew up and it has always been a part of me wherever I’ve lived. Then, there’s family there. Yet, I have lived longer out of India than I have in it. And, there’s also family here, in the US, where I live now. More than anything, when I’d left India for higher education all those many years ago, I truly had no intention of returning for good. Nor have I ever considered my separation as a form of exile. As James Wood wrote in his wonderful essay, ‘On Not Going Home‘, “the desert of exile seems to need the oasis of primal belonging, the two held in a biblical clasp”. I don’t know that I’ve ever had that kind of sense of belonging to India. I don’t believe that anyone truly can. What Muhammad Ali Jinnah, one of the foremost leaders of Pakistan said during the India-Pakistan Partition holds true even today: “India is not a nation, nor a country. It is a subcontinent of nationalities.”
So, this urge to reclaim India is somewhat inexplicable and incomprehensible to both myself and those who know me. Yet, something feels right about it. During my last visit, there was a lot of the old familiar: heat, pollution, corruption, violence, traffic, gender disparity (in all its many manifestations, which we’ll come to shortly). And, then, there was something new, palpable and interesting in the air too. Perhaps it was how the entire country was gripped in the final throes of the most momentous election season she has seen since her Independence. Perhaps it was because I saw, first-hand, how technology has begun leveling the playing field not just with other countries but also within India’s rigid, age-old castes and classes. And, perhaps it was just the well-timed confluence of several external and a few personal factors that made the choice inevitable. For the younger, idealistic me, all those decades ago, India was not enough. For the older, world-weary me now, India is more than enough. We are, perhaps, finally catching up with each other.
As I mentioned on the ‘About‘ page, this space is a representation of my own version of Indiatopia, one that is more about a personal mindset rather than about being tied to a physical place or time.
So, welcome. Stay awhile. Share your own Indiatopian story. Start a conversation.