A guest post by an esteemed colleague: Sunil Munsif
We completed our first year back in India on 4-Jan-14.
For the past 14-15 years, every trip to India was for a short duration. Now this is where we belong. There is no return flight to Heathrow that we have to track. In those early days, Saloni found it difficult to accept that the apartment we rent in Powai was not a short-let holiday home that we were occupying before we went home to Woking.
I flew into and out of Heathrow a few times in 2013 and it felt strange to think of it as just another airport. In the past, our trips would end at Heathrow. Aurangzeb "Zeb-bhai" Qureshi the Pakistani taxi driver I had befriended would greet us with a warm smile and hug, help us load bag-loads of khakhras and theplas (various Indian breads) and athanu (pickle) into the boot of his car and drive us home. On the recent 2-3 journeys into and out of Heathrow, nothing had quite changed but everything was so different.
On one of those trips, I stayed with some friends in Hounslow and headed to Woking early on a Saturday morning to work out with Fil Artusa and the group with whom I had done Circuit Training for many years. I then drove "home" and sat outside our house and called Saloni in India to ask her to add milk to the cereal that she would have kept ready in anticipation. We had a good laugh but it felt so strange that all those memories that we had of that place were now in our hearts and in some random photographs and videos. A young family was now creating their own stories inside and in our stead.
I have been asked by a lot of people how it feels to be back in India. It has been wonderful.
A few have thought of us as crazy. “Why did you have to leave the civilised world and come back to the chaos that is India?” The honest answer is, because it was time.
For the 14-15 years that we lived away, we had always talked about returning to India. It was always a question of when not if. We could not visualise ourselves growing old anywhere outside India.
So it has been great to be spoilt by the riches of India. We’ve loved having sunshine for ten months in the year. Our nice green neighbourhood and leafy boulevards make an after-dinner walk mandatory and not another attempt to fight the elements. We have loved not having to tune into the weather forecast before we decided what to wear. We’ve stepped into restaurants knowing that they will have great food that we will love. At home our cook has spoilt us by getting us to sample cuisine from across our vast nation. Our maid has always come in with a wide smile to regale us with stories of our neighbourhood. The laundry man gives me choice in what I should wear because I have all the shirts I need properly washed and ironed. The chowkidar (security guard) makes me feel important by snapping to attention as I step out of the house before helping me reverse out of the parking lot. A single phone call and the green grocer delivers vegetables and fruits. Another phone call and the plumber or electrician comes around to repair something that my DIY skills have ruined.
We’ve celebrated Holi and Diwali, Pateti and Eid with family and friends. We’ve been able to be there for family and friends in good times and some not so good times. We were there to hospitalise my 92 year-old aunt when she fell and broke her hip. Saloni was able to see her Dad a dozen times this year and talk to him every single evening before he died suddenly leaving a huge void in our lives. Being an hour away meant that she was able to rush across and be at the cremation, something she could not do last year when her mother died. She broke tradition by escorting him on his last journey and lighting his pyre. That morning I was proud to be a Hindu as the religion rose above petty beliefs and allowed a daughter to grieve and bid a teary final good bye as her father’s body was reduced to ash and reunited with the Five Basic Elements.
The India we have come back to is a young, vibrant India. The youth of the country has ambition and drive. They are living lives that are materially better than their parents. And they want to enjoy the good things in life at an early age. That has put a lot of strain on the infrastructure. Roads are already congested with cars before they are properly built and inaugurated. Sometimes we despair at the “me-first” attitude that they wear on their sleeve. After so many years away living amongst the most courteous people in the world, it has been trying.
But I remain happy and hopeful. About India, about its people and my future. It is nice to come home.
(A guest post by an esteemed colleague: Sunil Munsif)