Here and there...


Dated 9 Aug 2011 and posted today because, hey, two months on and I still don’t have internet at home

It’s been two months since my massive move back to India, to Mumbai for the first time. And in this short span, I have seen so much: seasons (hot-humid-summer to horrible-rain to current-pleasant-weather), bomb blasts in the city, had endless permutations of pavs (vada-, misal-, bhajia-, etc.), jumped past dog poo, spoken Hindi that makes my new friends laugh in good-natured (I hope!) amusement, among other things. 

The day I landed was a hard-hitting lesson in back-to-India-ness. I had all but stepped out after a shower for two minutes, that I was covered with sweat that was mingling with dust from the roads (yes, it sounds revolting, but you can imagine. I wonder how students on exchange from Europe/the US handle it, but perhaps they have conditioned themselves to the I’m-coming-to-India experience?) Some five minutes after this, I had to cross perhaps the most dangerous road of all times. I patiently waited for the pedestrian crossing signal to turn green, realized vehicles don’t give a damn about it, and ended up running in terror, in between honking vehicles that screeched to a halt so they don’t kill me. I walked around the college campus, somewhat let down by the size of it (the whole campus was as big as the South Wing of NTU), but still happy at how green it was. I was surprised that every girl was in a kurta and chudidar. I found the canteen food good, but it was in a smelly place; I wanted to avoid having to walk over to the other side to wash my hands as far as possible. Two hours outside and I was craving to get into a mall for the air-conditioning (after being frisked and getting my bag checked at the mall entrance). I was disoriented and upset at the enormity of my move. 

Two months on, things have changed. The rains have begun, and the umbrella-hater me has had to walk everywhere with on in hand. Through the slush, into the auto rickshaw, sitting on wet seats, stepping into slush, and the like. Opening the cupboard to find fungus all over my black pair of jeans. Worms in the bathroom, leading the way to other kinds of worms and now, snails. I have gone from the phase of aversion to acceptance to now cold-hearted brutal murder. I have gotten used to saying Rupees and Paise, and not dollars and cents, and the fact that the 50 paise has no value today. I don’t run away from dogs anymore, just stand by and admire the gutsy mongrel doing his business by the tyre of a Honda City. I rattle away in crappy Hindi, know that kulta is a ‘bad’ word, swear more than I ever did, order Indian dishes I’d never heard (zhunka bhakri!), and enjoy my only non-Indian food at McDonald’s, having the McVeggie burger with fries. I negotiate the risky crossing with ease, shouting out the choicest of abuses at sedan drivers, sometimes even in Tamil. I’m used to the delays associated with Indian-ness, and although it gets the better of me very often (and it spirals into a whole hour of grumpiness and Singapore-sickness), I can recover with the help of Amul ice cream, Dairy Milk or Cadbury’s Bourbon. Drinking a can of beer that I queued up and bought at a ‘wine shop’ while the owner threw dirty looks at ‘girls these days,’ was a big achievement. NRI-ness has on the whole gone down, I think. 

And yet, it all feels so weird. I sink in nostalgia when I see Facebook updates on anything to do with Singapore; miss the fact that it’s National Day today and the crazy ads they have for the NDP. I spent a good ten minutes explaining the ‘We must be vigilant’ video they show in the MRTs. I look out for Singapore in charts showing statistics on different countries in class (though they mostly drop it out – either it’s too small or too developed ;)), and ‘lah’ and ‘sian’ have been taught to roommates and anyone else who bothers to hear me rant. I still say ‘I’m going to India’ when I mean ‘I’m going home.’ I miss wearing nice clothes – I’ve been wearing my pretty clothes to school because I don’t know what else to do with them. In a class where pretty much everyone is in a kurta/leggings or pretty tops and jeans, I go with my best workwear, and even dresses, and soon everyone is going to tire of asking where it’s from (and sometimes I feel weird; it feels a little show-offy to say that this dress is from Bandung, a hill station near Jakarta). Terribly miss the variety in food, the outside-of-work life, the endless movies, fast internet and God, the desserts (brownies here are terrible, and cakes, I’d rather not have). 

As I still negotiate the space between ‘I love India and it’s so much fun’ and ‘Ugh, why did I come here’ I guess the brain has already started leaning towards the former, and the heart is slowly following too – a sense of acceptance that one good life’s done and another has begun, and the optimistic self tells me I have to give things in India a fair chance. Thanks to the besties who still call/email from Singapore and keep me in the loop – so much so that sometimes I feel like I’m just on extended holiday in India – and the new ones here in Mumbai who make it so much fun – I guess I’ll survive.


Sandhya Ramachandran said...

I can quite understand your disorientation after seven whole years in Singapore. I also completely understand your frustration at the system here, the complete lack of cleanliness and the acceptance of mediocrity in everyday life. But well, this is a life that begins anew, and definitely a lovely life in your motherland. This too shall pass... and you shall be as much a Mumbaikar as anyone. A wonderful phase begins... :) **best wishes**

Vijetha said...

OMGGG!!! Vani!!! .. I am feeling the move to a villagish small town of US so hard .. I can only imagine what move to Mumbai musy feel like!!
I sooo miss the food .. and yes wearing of the nice clothes .. and yes just telling Karthik that the dress I was wearing was from Bandung felt show offy! :) .. there is the stalking of Singaporean updates on FB too! I feel a weird pinch when I see people (who I know from say my school/college in Blore) moving to SG .. and I am like damn I left it all!!
Guess it is a big part of who we have become and will always remain with us .. Anyway good luck with making Mumbai and India yours again :)

Ramnarayan said...

managed to get iphone4 aircel or airtel contract? ;-)

Anonymous said...

Wow! For an iyer girl, to drink beer is too sedate!!!

Why did you not graduate to drinking hard drinks!!!

Like Rum, Vodka, Whisky, Gin!

Way to go GIRL!!