Exposed. Now what?

I’m here to rant. To rant about everyone, who when they heard we were moving out of the country, came up with the cliche – ‘It’s so much better for the kids – they’ll get such exposure.’ [May I toss in a wee rant about that word exposure? It’s an over-exposed word. Used for cameras, starlets and kids being displaced.] There’s always been that little bit of attitude when desis and their kids come back on vacation. A little arrogance that they’re somehow better for having moved away from home. (The biggest challenge is to ensure that they don’t go home too big for their boots, picking fault with everything, praising clean roads but unable to appreciate the glorious, chaotic, warm mess that their home country is.) They’ve been exposed. So? We’re exposed to malaria and measles back home. There’s something to be said for that too, you know!

I didn’t understand what this concept of exposure meant when I was back home and now, six months down, it still seems like a lot of gibberish. One of those incomprehensible lines that you pull out of storage and offer to anyone who is leaving home, wrenched from the bosom of all that is comfortable and familiar. Torn from the arms of motherland and thrown into unfamiliar food and driving on the wrong side of the road. Yes, of course I like drama. Why do you ask?

Don’t get me wrong – it’s always great to shake things up a little. Keeps one from getting too complacent. But to imagine that getting ‘exposed’ is a better way of life than being, well, ‘unexposed’, is to my mind, a little bit of bullshit. And also, extremely patronising. Eventually it boils down to how open-minded you are. If you plan to carry your pressure cooker, your thepla or your dosa rice everywhere. If you seek out the local desi sanghs and committees. If you insist on speaking your own language at home instead of practicing the new ones around you. Then you’re really just struggling to keep your own culture alive. A few meals, a few concerts, a visit to the local library and three playdates do not give you more insight into a culture than regular travel would.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s your choice if you choose to close ranks against outside influence, and I don’t judge you for it. But eventually the amount of exposure you get is really limited. Limited to a wee bit more than the average tourist gets while sightseeing. Whether you are open minded or not depends on you. Not on whether you’ve moved six countries in the course of your career or died in the house you were born.

Hell, you want me to concede and say you’re getting huuuuge exposure to another culture, I’ll grant you that because I’m in a generous mood and don’t feel like quibbling. You might have learnt a language or an art – and that is great. But I draw the line at the implication that it is somehow preferable, or superior to the alternative (PS: many languages and arts to be learnt within India too!). It is, if anything, a different way of life. Like choosing not to have kids. Or to stay single. Do you know what it’s like to be a married woman and a mother of two at 27? Nope? Well, neither do I know what it’s like to be a single woman at 40. We’re even.

A few years ago, some friends moved back from South East Asia complaining that it was uncomfortable for them because they didn’t find enough Indian food, that there were too many strange animals being cooked, that it was too immoral a society, that it wasn’t as religious as India. They pointed out that the OA and I were good candidates for a move because we’ll try anything once, eat every type of food and not have to worry about kosher, don’t follow any religion and usually eschew religious gatherings, avoid get togethers that are based on community or caste, avoid speaking an Indian language if even one person around us doesn’t understand it, and so on. I didn’t know whether to be flattered or insulted by the picture they painted of us! But they were right of course. We’re fairly ideal candidates to be comfortable out of the country.

Except that unlike many, I really like being in my country – and if I get to choose, then I prefer Delhi over other Indian cities. It bothers me that a person who has lived in four countries is somehow considered to be ‘more’ than a farmer in Vidarbha or a middle class housewife in Calcutta. Richer, maybe. Better traveled, maybe. But better life experiences? I think not.That a little old lady who has seen hunger, or famine, or buried three children, or suffered through riots is somehow seen to have experienced less than our privileged kids in their fancy SUVs, shopping at the closest Indian store. It’s rather patronising to believe that one experience is somehow better.

A few stamps on a passport, learning a new language, trying a new food, seeing a different fort, are all great experiences, no doubt. But so is growing up in a certain locality, building lifelong relationships, seeing a sapling grow into a tree and shade you and so on. There is much to be said for stability, familiarity, and being one of those pillars of society that people can depend on.

Having lived away for a while now I can claim to speak with a little experience. And eventually it all boils down to the same damn daily lives. How we manage our relationships, what the kids are taking to school for tiffin, the bills to be paid, discord in the family, that nagging pain in my knee that casts a shadow on all that I do through the day and so on. The pain of death, the pang of death and loss, the joy of holding your child in your arm – these are things we all experience regardless of geography and they shape our lives far more than anything else.

Here we have cleaner streets, shinier buildings and better traffic. The kids have settled in as best as they can. The OA is busy with work. Fortunately my job moved with me and I am busy during the day. But at night, when the lights go down and we shut the outside world out and gather around the dining table, nothing much has changed. There are still worries at work, still bullies in school. Still bills to be paid. Still new places to visit. The more things seem to change. The less they really do.

PS: Since I can’t answer all the mails I got in response to this post, I’m editing it to add my responses here – Yes, we’re more or less settled and as the Bean would say if you asked her – it’s comme ci comme ca.

There are some positives to being here, infrastructure and order wise, and availability of a variety of things as well as the opportunity to travel to neighbouring countries. And there are the negatives such as homesickness and lack of a social support system. Most of all though, we’re unhappy about the kids having to attend a mainstream international school. They’ve just had their first report card and while the Bean is doing fairly well – the Brat is soaring high. We’ve never known how well they’re doing in India since their school didn’t do comparative marking. So we know that their education was good in India and that their fundamentals are strong. But most of all, the system was good and we’re not very happy with the competitive attitude being instilled in them in a mainstream school. And no, before you ask, we already did a thorough check – there are no alternative schools here.

21 thoughts on “Exposed. Now what?

  1. Dear MM,
    Love this post! I feel happy and at peace in my own soil. I grow and feel my best in this soil. There was a certain void while in the 1st world …felt so out of place. 3rd world is where I feel myself alive and kicking….so important!

    Hope to are able to make your way back to your Desh.

  2. Really looking forward to more entries in the “Desi in pardes” label! Best of luck with the new city and the move 🙂 I am sure you and OA and the kids will fall in love with the new country as well (hopefully soon!)

  3. Yeah, I get that it’s hard but it’s also important to take advantage of this opportunity and make the most of it. It’s very easy to sink into a stupor and not realize what an amazing, incredibly opportunity it truly is. I have been in the U.S. for a decade now (and it seems like you are, too but I could be wrong) and while the nostalgia and homesickness never really goes away (always lurking beneath the surface) it does get easier with time. Of course, moving at your age is harder than it is for kids or teenagers (I moved to college at 18) this is now undoubtably home and I always think of myself as Indian by birth, American by heart. Then again, I was never super close to my family or staunchly “Indian” in any way, so YMMV. Take heart that it will get better and easier with time. Funnily enough, I was fine during my college days, it was when I got married and realized that this is where I was going to live FOREVER, it hit me harder and took me almost two years to get over that phase. I am surprised by your move though, you never elaborated on what prompted it? You always seemed so rooted and happy where you were and always “yay, India!” – must have been something big. Hope you settle down soon – that feeling of rootlessness is weird and hard to overcome. Reading other desi in pardes blogs might help!! 🙂

  4. Look carefully – the ones who rave the most about moving away hurt the most. Like a Sindhi friend from Pakistan confided to me once – Zahar ki gunth pee Rahen hain. I would never have guessed. Your rant gives you away as a global citizen and an easy adaptor.

  5. Dear MM,
    I have been reading your blog for a few months now. I love all your posts especially the ones about parenting and kids, am able to relate to each one of them, including this one. We moved back to India from US a few years back, and I got to hear the same things from the closest of my friends over there…How can you do this to your kids? You are not thinking about their future? Think about the kind of exposure they will be missing in India?

    And listening to all this, I was in exact state of mind as you are. I fail to understand why people cant see the positives of living in their own country, especially when they have spent 90% of their life living there..!

    Hang in there, I know the frustrations of moving to a foreign land, when you love to be around your folks and your city! It does get better 🙂

  6. Dear MM, This whole ‘exposed’ attitude is nothing but a sheer cover-up on the part of insecure parents, whether living in India or abroad. I am someone who has lived in the US for over a decade now and am raising my kids here in a really nice community. Most of us here (immigrants from various countries) are hardly raving about how diverse or exposed our kids are. And we definitely don’t go about doing that when visiting our home countries, just because we’re the typical middle class mentality – spend a lot of time with our kids, are generally happy the way they’re turning out and don’t feel a need to claim to be raising better kids than others.
    I have faced the same kind of attitude from a few insecure desis living in India too – you know, the kinds who leave their kids with maids from 8 am to 8 pm and then claim to us visiting NRIs how sanskaari their kids are compared to kids being raised abroad. Or the ones who feign shock when they see me talk in Tamil to my kids or feeding them idli while stating ‘oh they don’t eat pizza for breakfast?!’ 🙂
    Bottom line is that whether India or abroad, well-meaning parents are all striving to raise their kids well.. there’s really no need to get into these foolish ‘exposed’ or the flip ‘well-cultured and traditional only if raised in India’ debates.. those are meant for the insecure ones and not the nice ones like you, MM 🙂
    –Kutty’s mom

  7. Funnily enough your post threw up as related posts “Disappointed” which was about those that moved back and are disappointed (not in dirty roads etc but the attitude and entitlement). You also know the back and forth we were having on email about moving back. The thing that strikes me about our own outlook to staying “home” (motherland) vs going abroad is that we have emotional reasons and defenses for staying home (all valid) and mostly rational, practical reasons to staying abroad (opportunities, order etc.). Smells (stenches), the vibe, the incessant noise and the pitch of Indian languages is what draws me home – nothing practical about it. I think there’s a turning point when your adopted home reasons are emotional and you stop citing things like your kids education or the fact that there’s no smog. Having now spent 3 weeks on vacation with 1 more to go, I find myself smiling wistfully thinking about the most mundane things back in NY. I think about my C train commute, my elevator man, the neighborhood park, our own life’s cacophony. Nothing fancy or phoren about it. So yes you are right – common themes are there for middle classers across the world, around the dinner table as you say. There are some things I cannot replicate. I don’t have the swath of relatives I can call in the same time zone and just ask for 2 mins what they are doing and hang out impromptu. My kids will miss that. And there I have like minded parents, mild-mannered children and more grounded growing up than I can manage here I think. I don’t have to catch up to any type of life or aspire to anything – we are left to be without judgement. Perhaps that’s also possible here, why not. I don’t know what I don’t know.

    And yes I am definitely taking back my mother’s dosa batter by the bucket load. My gora wants it 🙂

  8. I am sorry to hear that you don’t like it over there. My apologies, for thinking that the exposure will be good for the kids..and maybe for OA and you also. Like most of the others, I also joined the wagon in thinking that this will work out for better. I was wrong.

  9. MM
    love you and your rants. Rants are also about expressing extreme points of view But i wonder why you moved out and continue to stay out if it is soo painful ?

  10. “But so is growing up in a certain locality, building lifelong relationships, seeing a sapling grow into a tree and shade you and so on.”
    Oh, I can relate to this statement. I am an NRI brat who’s lived the majority of her life in SE Asia and when I come back for vacations I see how happy my uncle is–my uncle who is retired and settled exactly three houses away from the house where he grew up. I see how easy life can be when you have a network of friends willing to help you with everything. And how strong friendships are when you’ve known each other all your life.
    i hope the homesickness gets better. You said that you’re unhappy about the kids being in a mainstream in’l school; if it’s any consolation, I’m sure they will love it and thank you for it later. I think putting me in an international school was one of the best things my parents did for me. I gained so much confidence and made so many amazing friends from all over the world.

  11. Will you please tell us where you moved? My itinerary for Delhi is largely based on your experiences in that city so do us readers a favor and once you start to blog about what you like in the new city, we will all get a virtual tour 🙂

    Of course it all boils down to daily life and perhaps a little more money in the bank to be able to travel more. Or if a luxury SUV is what you fancy, then that. Either way its all the same and its all very different. Good luck with settling down.

  12. I completely agree with you about open-mindedness being the key to getting exposed to new experiences. You can live away from home and have limited new experiences and you can live at home and have very limited experiences. And I also completely agree about how many new experiences we can have in India. I’m ashamed to say I’ve lived there most of my life and seen so little of it. However, assuming you’re open minded, it is good to have a little of both right? Seeing and experiencing everything India has to offer but also having the opportunity to see how people live in other parts of the world? I lived in Manchester for 3 years and did the whole desi-cocoon thing and I can safely say I wasn’t getting much more ‘exposure’ to new experiences than I was in Delhi. But then I lived in London for 2 years where I made a conscious effort to get out and do things I wouldn’t usually do in India and I had experiences, changed in ways I wouldn’t have while I was living in India. E.g. I met people from all over the world and I learnt about new cultures and ways of living and challenged the thinking I had grown up with. Of course Delhi and Bombay and so many other places are quite cosmopolitan and global and you can learn about different ways of living if you try but I suppose living with different people all the time changed me in a positive way. Again, this isn’t a value judgement. You can learn so much about people just by experiencing a lot of Indian cultures which I see from your blog that you have, but I feel like living away from home even briefly does help too. Sorry for rambling on. I need to think about this a bit more to be clearer about what I’m trying to say.

  13. I feel your anguish! But I am the opposite though. I enjoy change! I live in the US and now want to mpve to Europe or maybe Africa! Ah how I wish! I left India when I was barely a young adult, at the age of 21. I never experienced the youth life style there. So the US has now become my home. It was easy to adjust then because I made the choice to move and nobody made me do it. When people asked me if I would get homesick, I would reply Yes. But not much because the decision to move was mine. Maybe that made a difference!
    Btw are you in/near Chicago? I hope you are! Because then I will be your BFF and drive the blues away! (Stalker alert!)

  14. Hi MM,

    Just got to know you moved out of country (had been offline for long). Was both shocked and surprised. 🙂 Wish you and your family loads of luck.
    Every word you said rings a bell. Most of my cousins have moved out of the country. I hardly know my nephew and nieces. All of them love the law, order, cleanliness and the sorted lives (every one has their own definition) they get to live there. The main factor that overshadows everything else is the amount of money they make. However, one amusing thing I have noticed in all of them is, they have become more sensitive to the relations back in India.
    Struggles in life remains, whether you live here or there. But sometimes too much order in life restricts your growth as a person. All of us have cried, laughed, cursed and cribbed while struggling in life but imperfection has a beauty of its own.

  15. Hello Mad Momma,

    Visiting your blog after a long time. I agree with almost all your points. Exposure/non exposure – plain b s if I have to comment. All the folks who talk about exposure would be living among close knit Indian communities. And all the other things such as language, art, working with folks of different countries etc etc – these things can be done staying in India too. If at all there is an advantage it is the currency. Nothing else is a big deal…

    Have a good time…

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