Tuesday, July 11, 2006

In a land far far away

In light of what happened in Bombay yesterday I have been feeling esp. depressed. And missing home even more. I had started writing this post earlier.
This one is for everything India stands for. And how much it means to me.
Here's to the spirit and the resilience of my people.

I was talking to my friend the other day and he was questioning why most Indians tend to precipitate together at office parties and social gatherings. Oh yes, and I'm talking specifically about the Indians abroad who are away from their home. And it got me thinking. True I have friends who are not Indian, but a large chunk of my social circle comprises of Indians, and coming to think of it mostly Bongs. And I think I know why. It's the common ground that we share, of similar backgrounds, cultural bonding and understanding that can be traced back to our pre-immigrant days.

Every Indian I know here in the US misses home. India is a treasure chest of sepia-tinged memories and nostalgia. And at the slightest mention of old and fond things from back home the memories get rustled up and we gravitate towards strangers to catch up and talk about India. This is especially true if the people come from the same city. All the more fun as many more memories can be exchanged and shared. We can talk about schools and college experiences and the "do you know so-and-so" banter, resturants and places we used to hang out, how much things have changed and when was the last time we were visiting. The list goes on. So why do Indians precipitate? I guess because of the familiarity and easy identification with each other.

My Dad always said that the main reason he did not settle abroad and kind of rushed back to settle down in India before I started going to school was his fear of raising a daughter in a foreign place, in a culture that he was not comfortable with. And as a kid I envied my cousins who were growing up in UK and USA and hassled my parents for not giving me the chance to grow up and live abroad. But now after all these years I realize what a blessing it was to be able to grow up in a place among family and friends, living and learning about our cultural heritage and being able to identify with things that I would never have known otherwise.

There are things that I would laugh about when I was in India. You know the kind which one tries to deny when they are trying their best to emulate the West. Things that I did not realize the value or significance of, while I had them easily available. Things I could care less about back home in India. Yet now, with the whole uprooting and isolation in effect I have started realizing the importance of so many things. And I miss so much. So very much.

The rain. It rains a lot over here in Virginia. But somehow it doesn't have the same feel as a sudden summer norwester in Calcutta. The swiftness with which one takes shelter under the leaking roof of a roadside shop. And watch other people hurrying past with their wet umbrellas. And the water beginning to accumulate in huge puddles. And sloshing through the waterlogged streets in the uncomfortable Sandak sandals from Bata. God how I hated those shoes! But then nothing would convince me to soak my fancy leather sandals in the rain water.

And returning home to find hot tea and fried pakora. And may be khichuri for dinner.

Drinking tea from matir bhar (earthenware). This I especially associate with my college days when we would stop by a roadside stall after night-duty and drink tea from this enormous bhar. It was priced at Rs 5 which was a luxury considering a regular bhar of tea would cost less than a rupee. The tea tastes so different in a bhar. I think it takes on the smell of the earth which adds flavor.

Window shopping at Gariahat. Gushing over the gorgeous sarees that they would have on display at Trader's Assembly and Indian Silk House. And ending up buying earrings from the hawkers who traded on the streets.

Talking of sarees I think it is the most beautiful dress an Indian girl can wear. Almost every Indian female I know looks absolutely ravishing when they wrap a saree around them. I find it elegant as well as sexy. I had decided that once I got married I would only wear sarees and leave aside my usual wardrobe of jeans and skirts. And true to my word when I got married and came to the US my luggage did not contain anything but sarees and I spent the first few months going everywhere dressed in the traditional saree. We were living at that time in a really small town in the Midwest, a place which was primarily white American with a handful of foreigners. Needless to say I would be catching attention everywhere I went. People would wave at me and smile and stop to admire my "dress". It was a little awkward to be honest. Then I started to go to work and that required me to be dressed more appropriately and I had to go to the store to buy clothes more suited for the work environment here. I miss not being able to wear a saree.

Durga Pujo. Lal-paar saree. Sakha, paula, nowa (traditional bracelets of conch, coral and iron). Dhaak. Sandhi Pujo. Thakur baran. Well, can't say enough about Pujo in Calcutta. Therefore I'll leave it at that.

Lakshmi Pujo at home. Uposh (fast) and alpona (decorative motifs on the ground with rice flour). Alta pora ( I don't know what alta is but it is a red liquid which women in Bengal use to decorate the feet) and poribeshon kora (serving food).

Biye bari (weddings). Dressing up and looking out for eligible bachelors. Sticking together with friends and giggling at the slightest pretext. Staying up all night in the bashor, singing, dancing and eyeing the groom's goodlooking friend.

Rabindrasangeet. There was time when I found Rabindrasangeet monotonous and boring. But that was before I even started to realize that it went so much deeper than the melodies. Given the proper context they can drive me to tears these days.

Phuchka, jhaalmuri, alukabli. Egg-chicken roll. Mutton chop and fish fry. Chinese from Tangra. Biriyani from Shiraz. Momo at Elgin road. Kwality ice cream.

Bunking class to catch a matinee show at Nandan. Skipping the movie. Sitting aimlessly near the jheel. Adda.

Cricket at Eden Gardens, boat ride on the river, book-fair at the Maidan, circus at Park Circus, rowing in the Lake, books in college street, infusion at the coffee house, double-decker bus and trams. The sound of the conch-shell at dusk and women lighting diyas.

Inspite of the non-stop blaring of horns, incessant traffic that knows no rules, roads full of potholes, throngs of people that spill over into the streets, badly damaged sidewalks crowded by stalls, decaying rubbish piling high, homeless people in makeshift shelters, poverty and pollution, it is still home. These are still things we identify with, talk about and remember with some affection. We talk about Jyoti-babu and how communism has ruined the potential of Bengal for such a long time. We talk about Lalu and his regime in Bihar. We feel pride at all the technology and global advancement that India has made in the last decade. We seek out each other in lands far away from home. To talk. To bond. To feel at home.

Because our roots are still embedded over there.

That is where home is.

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Blogger Rohan Kumar said...

Well written and biased towards Kolkotans as always ;)

11:34 AM  
Blogger Acroyali said...

yesterday, for the first time i felt fear first hand. i can't tell you what it feels like.

there are many people who probably suffered worse.

i shudder everytime i look at my phone and see the time of the call my friend coming to see me off at the airport was made from ville parle at 6:17 p.m.

her train probably went further up ahead to jogeshwari and blew up into pieces.

12:07 PM  
Blogger Mohit said...

Beautiful. Thanks for saying so eloquently what I would have loved to. Have linked to this.

12:07 PM  
Blogger Mohit said...

BTW, why do you allow only people with Blogger accounts to post? I had to give my defunct blogger id, instead of my wordpress blog! ;-)

12:08 PM  
Blogger J. Alfred Prufrock said...

Lovely list. I can see where your stream of thought merged into a torrent of nostalgia.

Be prepared for the entire Bangali diaspora to descend up on you with comments! (Should be a good feeling)


12:16 PM  
Blogger M (tread softly upon) said...

@ rohan okay...okay...I know. Well can you blame me for being biased? I haven't really experienced any other part of India other than Cal. Honestly haven't even been to Bombay except when I had to change airports en route to Calcutta. So how can I bring up memories if I don't have any from the other places? So bear with me :) And like I said I wrote this before the blasts in Bombay. It was geared mainly towards what I am missing 'bout the place I grew up in. Bet you could do the same, if not better about your hometown.
@ acroyali oh my God, that must be such a terrible feeling. makes you want to go down on your knees, right? Did you talk to her? BTW is this M?
@ just mohit thanks. And will see if I can take that off. I guess that was earlier to get ris of anonymous comments. But people tell me that there is very little spamming these days. So might even do away with the word verification thingy.
@ j.a.p. coming from you that means a lot to me. oshonkhyo dhonyabad! Was feeling horribly nostalgic and homesick. Sometimes we need to lose something to realize how much it actually meant to us.

12:36 PM  
Blogger Trevor Penn said...

loved the post... We Indians do tend to be innately clanish and that is where your argument holds fort. Doesn't matter which part of India you are from, the heritage is rich like none other...

2:42 PM  
Blogger Kausum said...

Yesterday, seeing images from Bombay, hearing it from my bro when he was travelling, hearing from my friends who were witness to all the mayhem, I had a feeling of anguish and soon, when I heard things returning to normal, started feeling helpless and nostalgic about the same trains, the same places I was there.

Then, this blog reminded me of all the fun things I did when I went to Kolkatta on my vacations. Although, never been to Cal during Pujo, I like Bombay ones better (I know it is sacrilege to say that and all fellow bongs already deciding to protest) but, now I miss Bombay since it has been 2 months since I last visited it and 4 years since I last visited Kol.

2:46 PM  
Blogger Kele Panchu said...

Beautifully written! Reading your post is a nice prelude to my journey home. I'm going next week. :)

5:58 PM  
Blogger Tabula Rasa said...

funny - my folks also rushed back to india right before they decided to have a child, and my wife's folks did so when she was four. both sets of parents told their kids it was to give them "indian roots". today, i understand what my indian roots are, and i thank my parents for that decision -- the alternative reality may conceivably have been better, but it could definitely have been worse too, and i think things worked out well. that said, today i myself am a member of the bong diaspora. but i do not miss india at all. i miss my friends and relatives who live there, but no more than i miss those who don't. i miss my childhood and the years gone by, and relive the past whenever i get together with those i was fortunate to share it with. but whenever i go back to india itself, it takes just a few days to find that most of my friends are gone, and there's really very little left of the ways and things i grew up loving. but i cannot think of myself as anything but indian. so much for roots.

i'd like to blogroll you when i get around to doing so. may i?

11:25 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

brilliantly written, yes 'THAT' is truly where home is

My dad is like your dad, even though he passed out of MIT & Sloan he decided to go back home and the rest is history. Its tough to judge whether I'd have been happier here or there, but now that you mention the simple pleasures, there is nothing better than India

Makes me wonder sometimes why the hell I am wasting my time here


12:37 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

1. Thanks M. i notice you have already changed it! Keep the word verification though. Even nowadays, there's a lot of comment spam.

2. Do write about Kolkatta in more detail. Been 8 years since i left the city!

1:19 AM  
Blogger Anand said...

Beautiful post M!
And being way from India I completely relate to every single word in this post!..
In fact Bombay is my home..born and brought up in Bombay for 24 yrs of my existence and pains to see your home going into ruins!!
But even then I bow to the people of Mumbai , for their sheer courage and guts to defry the people who have done such ghastly acts and to live life...showing that the show must go on!

3:12 AM  
Blogger Anand said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

3:12 AM  
Blogger Priya said...

Oshadharon! And guess what? It's not just because you live abroad, even in godforsaken Bangalore, we tend to huddle together more with the Bongs than the others. And that, as N says, is only because he can talk about all you have mentioned in your fabulous list. Pujo'r shomoy ekhane kanna paye, because despite being in India, it isn't always possible to go "home" whenever we want.
For me, it's different. It's just about the people I miss. And I still miss them, beacuse they don't live in Calcutta anymore, not even in India:(

3:38 AM  
Blogger eXPerience called L!FE said...

yep, i decided to change the look, it was getting monotonous. Your post made me miss Calcutta, again.

5:58 AM  
Blogger karmic said...

It's a very well written post. I have slightly different opinions and trust me this is not just to be a contrarian for the sake of being one.
I was talking to my friend the other day and he was questioning why most Indians tend to precipitate together at office parties and social gatherings.

I haven't been asked this Q before I think. But I see this at my workplace too, where we have a few guys from AP who always come in together have houses in the same development, they eat
lunch together as well. They have their own little thing and I do feel at times if my being a non-AP guy factors in, not to mention that I speak
different. Unlike you we hardly talk about India, they probably do but not with me, it's mostly work.

I don't think about it much but your post brought that to min. It took me a while
to realize that a lot of folks here at your blog are Bengali, not that it bothers me, I visit cos I like your blog.
I also like to hear, read something different which is probably why I let this lone crazy republican rant at my blog on my political posts. :)

But as you said people of a particular
culture language aggregate esp in a foreign land. The familiar is comforting for all of us as human beings,
as people born and brought up here can also attest to that same feeling when they go someplace else.

Frankly I haven't seeked out people from my own background or Indians in general partly due to some
bad experiences in the past, and one tires of some of the same issues and bickering that we sometimes see.
I saw at an India association how people of a particular region just formed their own clique to the point of excluding
others. I was again left wondering where the heck did I fit in.Having said that I don't avoid them either.

Also I wanted to be open to new experiences and meet people not like me. Guess my social circle which is small to start with is
pretty much non Indians. But then Delaware has been my home state for only a little over a year and making friends
does take a while so who knows. Maybe I am like other fellow Americans with their slowly shrinking
social circles (and increasing waist lines ;-)). The latter I refuse to be a part of.

I do miss India too but more cos of my parents and family. The rest I think I can deal with. The memory and
nostalgia only take me so far.

Don't get me wrong, my roots
are pretty strong too as is the Indian cultural identity which will always be a part of me. But I am American too and although Americans in general
have been taking a lot of flak out there for how they are, there are a lot of good genuine well meaning folks here.

I have sometimes pondered about my sense of belonging. In someways when I visit India I feel disjointed and feel I don't completely belong there.
I have family and I might love visiting places there but I look forward to coming back here in about 10 days of being there.
I think home is where you make it to be whether in India or here or in both places. Having spoken to other people who have spent some time here
some are more comfortable in India and some here and some in both places. So I guess the experience varies for differnt people.
I think I must be one of those strange people who feel they are on the outside looking in, no matter where they are.
My apologies for having turned a comment in to something akin to a post.

8:56 AM  
Blogger M (tread softly upon) said...

@ seashells bingo! Wonder why it took me so many years to actually appreciate the rich heritage.
@ kausum no its not sacrilege to say that you like pujo in Bombay more than Cal. the truth is we all enjoy familiarity and if you grow up someplace and are familiar with the happenings there, then that is 'home' and that is where the heart is. I'm glad your family and friends are doing okay.
@ kele panchu now I am envious. Koto bochhor jai ni jano? But I wish you the best for the journey and hope you have a fabulous time there. Aamader hoye beshi kore anondo kore esho. Blog korbe to?
@ tabula rasa boy I can identify with every thing you say there!
"there's really very little left of the ways and things i grew up loving." absolutely true. Which is probably why it better to be away and be able to remember and be nostalgic about old days than actually be there and realize that it is all gone. People grow older and things are not the same. If I go back there will be no more hanging out at college fests and checking out guys for sure :))
But thinking about those days give me a warm fuzzy feeling.
And blogrolling me? absolutely.
@ t.b.g. well to be honest I guess my life is here in the US right now. This is my present and may be even my future. But the past haunts me. And I miss it like crazy. And that will always be in India. What the hell are we doing here? Just making a life I guess.
@ just mohit I'll turn it back on if I start getting spam. I hate trying to decipher those words myself too.
I've written at length about Calcutta. Atleast the cal that I remember. I think I put a couple of posts on Cal in the calcutta blog. Haven't been home in a long time. So cannot say much about the present Calcutta. But you can be rest assured that I will keep on writing about Cal because I miss it like crazy.
@ anand hope all your friends and family are doing okay after the blasts. I am so proud of everyone there for showing so much courage and strength. And like you say....the show must go on!
@ priya thank you. And when I say Indians abroad I did actually mean anyone away from home. If it were Saratchandra he'd say tomra paschimey achho :) which technically is like being abroad. And I am sure you feel exactly the same way as we do out here.
@ experience called l!fe well the new look is very nice. And nice to have you blogging again.

9:15 AM  
Blogger M (tread softly upon) said...

@ karmic_jay ooops missed you by a second there. And thanks for your comment because it does mention a lot of issues that are true for me too.
For example I have tried to avoid seeking out Indians/ Bongs at work and in social gatherings. I also make it a point not to associate myself in any indian organization primarily for the reasons you state: "bad experiences" and "bickering". It happens a lot and I hate it and the only way to avoid getting involved is to stay away in the first place.
But I have been realizing this recently. In spite of having friends from different countries and cultures I find it easiest to relate to the ones that hail from my country. Yes it is interesting to learn about new cultures and new places. But sometimes it is very comforting to be able to rally around people who understand where you are coming from. Like why I was upset and depressed after the Bombay blasts. Or what I mean when I talk about power cuts and traffic jams and horrendous public transport and being swindled and being harassed on crowded buses. Or why I constantly stare wistfully at images of Durga Puja on the internet while I imagine the festivities back home. Or why I spent an entire day browsing through wikimapia trying to traverse every road I have ever taken , every place I've ever been to in Calcutta. And why when I run into someone from Calcutta I get excited trying to find out where they come from and if I can find some sort of connection.
You see it is not about specifically trying to seek out Indians or Bongs, but about being able to relate more easily. And yes I do have a fair number of Bongs visiting my blog and sometimes I do lapse into the vernacular. Because you see sometimes it is just easier to say something in Bengali because it hits a certain chord. Like Rohan mentions I am biased. Yes I am. Because although my life is here in the US and I have friends here, my roots go way back and every once in a while I just need to water them to keep myself going.
And like I mentioned above, home is where the heart is. My present is here. And I am fortunate to have so much going for me here and I'm thankful to this country. But the past haunts me and I keep going back to find myself there.

9:34 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Ok another Bangali with heart rooted in Kolkata descending here to comment (as JAP predicted!).

Among the things you mention, ones I miss the most are: matir bhaar-er chaa (used to have endless cups of those on the train), Durga-Pujo, just hanging around Gariahat (never window shopped there - but used to be our haunt), the Book Fair and finally all the food that you can find in Kolkata only....especially the junk foods - phuchka, telebhaja, rolls et al

12:59 PM  
Blogger Rajesh &Shankari said...

Well Written ! It is true we miss all things Indian, but I also feel that we should come out our comfort zone. At work, we all gather together and it really looks bad...

1:03 PM  
Blogger Jinguchakka said...

You are spot on. Me too in the same mood.
Well, you could not have written better.
I was more angry than depressed by the blasts. Those terrorists, whoever they are, could not have been born of a mother. Fiends.

3:02 PM  
Blogger Jinguchakka said...

Another thing. I don't think we should feel self-conscious about huddling together. Italians do that. Mexicans do that. Greeks have their own parade and festival (in Chicago atleast). Everyone does that. But because there is not much difference among them, we are not aware of the subtle fault lines.
My friend at work is Vietnamese, eventhough there are people from India and even my own state here. At the same time, all my friends off work are Indians.

3:08 PM  
Blogger M (tread softly upon) said...

@ bongopondit thanks for the comment and I guess the feeling is mutual. Someone told me that you can get pretty authentic chicken roll in NYC. Will have to check that out the next time I visit :)
@ shankari I like the way you put it "comfort zone". Yeah that's exactly what it is.
@ jinguchakka I know what you mean. Also being self conscious...no, that's not what I was saying. I was trying to reason with an observation. And yes I've plenty of friends at and out of work who are non-Indians. In fact at work I don't know any Indian except a second generation Indian american girl.

3:47 PM  
Blogger Ron said...

Lovely post. If it werent for the fact that I am going to Cal this Monday I would have been all misty eyed. I shall remember to remember you every time I indulge in something uniquely Calcuttan...and every time I eat alu kabli and phuchka :D

1:19 AM  
Blogger Joyful Heart! said...

M, in my current state of anger(!) I can't even read this post. But the real me will come back soon and just love it, I know :)

1:34 AM  
Blogger Ekta said...

Hey M,
Your post got me nostalgic too...been missing bombay loads and after seeing and reading abt the blasts..made me wanna go back home!!
Hope all in your family are safe and sound!

2:59 AM  
Blogger twip said...

lovely, m.

and yet it left me a little dejected...


10:52 AM  
Blogger M (tread softly upon) said...

@ ron you'd better!!! I am envious but I'm also happy for you. Have fun!
@ pearl I hope to see you when you're feeling better. Take care.
@ ekta yes they're all fine, thanks.
@ megha aww come on now....I'm allowed to get a little misty-eyed once in a while.

4:07 PM  
Blogger Rohan Kumar said...

@m Either all that or u cud have just repeated the last 2 lines from ur post :)

4:20 PM  
Blogger P said...

chanced upon your blog today...very touching post. You had me misty-eyed...there's no place like home. Truly!

10:55 AM  
Blogger nomita said...

misty eyed..me too..totally...just no place like home..will never be either.

3:04 PM  
Blogger Prerona said...

very nice post ... :)

I think its not just bengali's or indians but all humans who tends to be slightly clannish intrinsically, which becomes worse away from home ... i guess as long as its not an extreme form of it, its cool and a little sweet. sometimes we get too clannish and exclude other people and thats sad. for example when ur in a situation where there's a handful of indians abroad and they r trying to stick together but all the bongs say stick together and leave out the one southie guy and btch abt him saying shala tetul etc in front of him, in bengali ... i've seen that and i hate it. but thats extreme ...

1:22 AM  
Blogger That Girl said...

its addictive you know...lol now even my white honky tonk husband wants to settle down in India....he loves the people!!

*hugs* hey M...its good to be back. Calcutta felt good...even though its dirty....its home.

3:11 AM  
Blogger M (tread softly upon) said...

@ rohan ok :)
@ fortunata hey thanks for stopping by.
@ nomita long time no see. hope you're doing well.
@ Prerona i know what you mean and i hate that clannish isolation too. I would hate to be part of a group where people are speaking in their own mother-tongue and pointedly ignoring me. And I never do that. That is downright rude and disgusting. BUt like you say the seeking out and linking up part is cute.
@ grafxgurl gosh where were you? Good to see you back.

9:25 AM  
Blogger RajpaL said...

Very well put together, M! I think only a true Calcuttan can understand this feeling!

"Phuchka, jhhalmuri, alukabli. Egg-chicken roll. Mutton chop and fish fry. Chinese from Tangra. Biriyani from Shiraz. Momo at Elgin road. Kwality ice cream."

...ahh! almost got misty eyed. Been almost 3 years since my last visit home. There are so many things all Calcuttans can relate to and your blog had them all!

Your post made me miss Calcutta, again...thats twice in the last hour!

As 'True Blue Guy' said - Makes me wonder sometimes why the hell I am wasting my time here!

Exactly my sentiments sometimes!

6:47 PM  
Blogger Dadoji said...

I happened to be in Mumbai on leave when the rains, Bhiwandi, Shivaji Park and finally the blasts happened. Everything subsequent happened as expected and the city is back.

My best friends in US were non-Indians and I, unfortunately, do not have any fond things to say about Indians there. I wouldn't avoid them either. But I completely understand your feelings. We returned to India earlier so that our son may grow up there. To quote my wife, the subziwalla, market, dhobi, grandparents, buses, uncle-aunts all have a role to play in their lives. I will be returning to India again in a month's time but this time it will be with the conviction that I am doing the right thing second time around.

11:09 AM  
Blogger M (tread softly upon) said...

@ rajpal thank you. same here. haven't been home in over 4 years! Miss it a lot.
@ dadoji I know where you are coming from. Children growing up in a foreign culture miss out a lot on the culture back home and esp the love and affection of an extended family. I wouldn't trade anything for the wonderful times i've had with both sets of grandparents, my uncles and aunts and cousins. It has made me the person I am today.

12:16 PM  
Blogger Sudarshan. A. G. said...

Hmmm... Will keep my eyes and ears open on the way back from work today... today and every other day...

7:32 AM  

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