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.