US and India: that intangible ‘feels like home’ thing

First time I saw that TV ad, an employee spelling out his boss’s name – H as in Hitler, A as in arrogant, R as in rascal, I as in idiot, Hari – I was reminded of my own name spelling routines back in the US.

And I remembered the intangibles that you just can’t describe when your still-NRI friends ask, “So, how does it feel back there?”

Yes, no freeways, no public parks, no drive-throughs, no 2 Mpbs broadband and no Fry’s Electronics. But there is this thing with immeasurable value. I call it “feels like home“.

It starts in the morning. Pick your favorite newspaper. Slimes, times, herald, express, hindu or whatever, you find stuff you just react to. No matter how busy your day looks, an hour is spent with print and paper just like that! Gowda or Lalu, Bomman Irani or Bommanahalli, you seem to have stuff to say about them. I must admit, I never got myself to enjoy that thick pile called San Jose Mercury News. And from back here, rediff now feels like Karan Johar movies – made for NRI.

Daana Bazaar to Chaat House to Real Ice cream to Vik’s, neither provided the thrills you get from a bowl of chat mixed and served at any of the road side enterprises. Lazy Saturday morning, and you want some good breakfast. Think continental, and compare that to fresh rava idli and hot coffee any given Saturday. Well, no way!

Did you too find the Livermore temple a bit too clean and organized :)? The hour-long drive to get there is certainly very scenic. How would you like a 10-minute walk and a more real temple? A temple as in a place where you find both the “haves” and “have-nots”, a place where you see people actually pray and not just thank the Almighty for all the goods showered on their lives.

And not to mention the thrill of asking any random person on the road, “What is the score, Dhoni in yet?” After the question, whether you will like to discuss finer details of Dhoni’s style, batting, walking or hair depends on how much time you have on hand.

There are a few more of such “feels like home” things. But the more I’d write, the more I may hear things like, “Alright, so you love all that dust, soot and grease? Have a nice life”.

So cheers! Home is where heart is. If you are sitting on the fence, it is about time, return to India.

30 Responses

  1. What a lovely piece! :)

  2. Good one, I like the news part most, the “rediff” one is quotable.

    Its all fantastic till you realise there are laws being made due to which your progeny may feel what you did when in an alien country. ‘Those on the fence” you know about the dust,soot,grime,poverty as that is exactly like how it was when you left but think on what more laws would be passed in future where you middle-class-selves will get royally ripped off.

  3. thanks shruthi, howdoesitmatter.

    Middle-class getting ripped off? May be I didn’t get your precise point. But arguably, at this moment, it’s the middle-class reaping most benefits from the ‘shining India’ story.

  4. I agree with you guys…Life is so mechanical and no much human interaction here at Bay Area.
    I was few days in India and people/friends/relatives all were happy to see me again there…They asked me “Are you coming back at all?”
    My mom told me “Bangalore is like US get everything…”
    I went to Forum mall and I was amazed to see the changes in Bangalore.

  5. Silkboard, you hit the nail(s) on the head. Really, reading articles like these make me more and more homesick. I can’t wait to get home to Bangalore permanently in about 5-6 years time.

    Some of the other things that are more likeable there – WALKING to shops and such without depending on a car to go for 1/4 mile or less, neighbours that talk (and are also nosy ;-) ) instead of minding their own business, less prevalance of electronic, droning “voices” (like answering machines, gazillion menu options in customer service), getting fresh fruits and vegetables than frozen and/or genetically modified ones without any kind of beautiful smells and with a long shelf life, meeting relatives / friends without appointment (somehow, never got the feeling that people were busy, even though they are), spicy and tasty food (rather than food being bland with salt and no heat) and on and on.

  6. Sometimes one question always bothers me here at US “This country never spent a penny on my education..but I’m contributing hell lot of money to the social security system” Is that fair?

  7. middle class benefiting from “Shining india” – What is India’s contribution to the money that I earn today. India’s economy cannot even sustain my pay in the domain that I work in. I was provided discounted education
    for which I pay taxes more that anyone else. Only 8% of the population pays income taxes and god knows in that 8% what percentage is fudged. Even in the indirect taxes I am sure it is the govt fearing middle class which pays its taxes.

    Isn’t this an unfair price to pay for the subsidised education and it wasn;t like I hit a lottery to get into the institution in the first place. And now I am being asked to subsidize education of people not necessarily needing it for some wrongdoing which allegedly my forefathers commited. How about asking the britishers to pay
    up before we do any business with them.

    If you want to look at this country thorough the vague glasses of nostalgia you are welcome. If you want to live your illusion you are welcome. But all I wanted to say was get real. If you are coming back because you can buy “xbox 360” of the shelf now, you are going to be in for a little surprise. I can answer to every point that has been raised as reason for returning back. Its good to be emotional but not good for it to let it get the better of you.

    Sorry silkboard I like your articles and don;t want to spoil them by sounding cynical about some of the points. But this advice hit a nerve. I returned and I regret.

  8. NRI bros – yes, there are a few more of these “intangibles”, I touched some I run into frequently. And these are personal, I am sure you will have your own individual things.

    Howdoesitmatter – thanks, cheers and no sweat. You open up a good discussion. But I didn’t intend to talk about those. I just wanted to share “feeling like home” things – nostalgia, emotions or whatever – stuff I like back here and can’t usually describe.

    There are a lot of things to ‘not like’ here and like ‘back there’. And vice versa too. Yes, I have more than just these ‘intangibles’ to talk about on the whole India/US/return thing.

    You are not alone, the frustration you display – I share all of it, (what the HELL is happening to the taxes we pay?). But this frustration is what gives me the hope. Call it my spin on it, but I am not an optimist. However, one thing you got to realize is that things change only when WE want them to. In the end, and magically enough, we get what we deserve. ‘We’ (you, me and more) are increasingly getting frustrated, and some are converting this to “we wont take things lying down”. More we convert this frustration to “participation”, better the things will get.

    Anyway, its a rather hard to put these points across in just one comment. I will try a separate post. This wasn’t meant to be a “venting” type article.

    Cheer up folks. Live where you want to. No one ever said you got to resolve each and every dilemma you face in life. You can’t. But if you too have these ‘intangibles’ that matter to you, and you have been on the fence, you may want to try life back home once.

    I did just that, and despite all the problems and frustrations, it has been so far so good.

  9. silkboard…Tujhe Mera Salaam….After reading your comments many NRIs like me and others have to think about the contribution we have done to home country. I’m sure we don’t want to be like Sharukh of Swades but atleast we can contribute to NGO orhanizations which are doing community services in rural India. We have to dream…dream about futuristic India as we march forward with positive thoughts without having any frustration about homeland. Please please keep rolling this thread… this will be an eyeopener for lot of people.

  10. NRIOnTheCrossRoad, Swades is too tough to pull off. Even contributing to NGOs here takes effort and commitment (I tried, but when it came to giving up on some job and family time, I couldn’t).

    But I am hopeful that just by virtue of being here, some opportunity will arise someday where even dreamers-who-cant-give-up-a-lot like us will get to do something worthwhile.

    Paying for domestic help, nanny and gardener’s children’s education was one such immediate opportunity that came along, and was easy to take up.

    But but but. The ‘feel at home’ is a separate thing, and this ‘give-my-country-back’ stuff is a possible by-product. Dont mix these two up a lot, will only complicate your ‘dilemma’.

  11. Loved the post. I could not live anywhere else in the world for more than 2 months _ I need these smells and noises and tastes and these familiar faces and voices to be happy – that is what home is all about for me.

  12. Silkboard, nice post. Glad to have played a part in inspiring you to write this through this piece.

    As for your question regarding what is happening to the taxes we pay, plenty. Golden Quadrilateral, for one. Defense for another. But most importantly, my favourite, rural employment guarantee scheme. Yes, I know about only 15% reaching the people etc. But I would rather look at that 15% than the 85% “leakage”. Besides, it is not as if I absolutely need that 35% extra money to survive and if I had it, I would have blown it off on some useless stuff anyway, so if the government can even put some part of it to good use I will be happy.


  13. Thanks Usha, Mohan

    Mohan, this isn’t exactly the post i mentioned to you – on why NRIs whine so much – but yes, you and that ad sort of triggered this one.

    BTW, for so much tax tax tax we all talk, did you know that only 1% of country’s population (12.6 million) filed taxes this year? Last year, this was a pathetic 7.7%. Ours is a country of day-dreamers and dis-honest people. But we just have this habit of blaming the next person for all the wrongs. Two philosphies are in play everywhere (Yes, there are ground realities that make most of us follow these)
    – Do your bit first, I will then do mine
    – Everyone does it, so why not me

    There is a saying in Hindi: “Laaton ke bhoot baat se nahin maante“. If we set this “laat” in place (law/justic/order infrastructure reforms that Kapil Sibal talks so much about) then ours will become a developed country in not 30 but just 10 years.

  14. Silkboard,
    Hi! ur homesick posting pulled me to ur blog, mainly b’cuz i share the same feeling.but what impressed me the most, was the amount of concern for the country i saw in most of the comments.i realised, i m not da only one dreaming and seriously hoping for a better india.and the good news is, that there are a lot more ppl feeling like us in India.
    My suggestion is: why dont all we like minded ppl form a body where we can actually work something out to improve the situation of r country, which i believe surely deserves a better deal than what these lousy politicians are giving!!!i noe my idea sounds vague but i hope u understand wat i mean; maybe we all can pool in r resources and in span of time get on the ground and bring abt some changes. whatsay?

  15. I’m an American and have lived here for the past 7 years now, but was born in Bangalore and raised there for my first 9 years. Then we lived in Coonoor and later Ooty. I STILL miss the food and thankfully, have my husband hooked on at least two Indian meals a day. Quite the feat when he’s a “steak and potatoes” kind of guy normally. I too miss the people–the passion of the people. Their openess and friendliness. The colors–so bright and alive. The smells of all the spices. The “realness”. One day I hope to go back. Probably not permanently as my heart is now in two places–but a visit every now and then. My grandma once said “You’ve never lived until you visit India.”

  16. Aditi – one small correction, I am in Bangalore. moved back early 2005. What you said above was one thing (though not the main one, primary reason was this ‘feel at home’ thing) that played a part in the move. If I live here, bigger chances that I will get to do ‘something’. Not that you can’t do ‘something’ sitting there. But being at the ‘karmabhoomi’ may just make it more possible.

    I spend a lot of time thinking on the subject – what can people like you and me do? The problem is this. We ‘want’ to do something, something big and more satisfying that giving away some dollars to charity events. (I believe pure-charity doesn’t work, mostly results in short-term fixes)

    But, we are not the sort with lot of money or influence (infosys founders types). And a harsh reality is – most of us are not willing to just give up our careers yet (admit it?). Essentially, there is energy around. Put some number and quantify it, say 3 hrs per person per week. Then assume that there are at least a million like us.

    Now, can you think of some ‘idea’ that can effectively use this 1 million x 3 hrs/person/week ?

    I will try these thoughts in a separate post, later.

    Astrowombat. True, “alive” is the word. Though “reality” is a bit too real :). India is a must visit place for its uniqeuness, ‘range’ of offerings and diversity.

  17. It is all in the mind .

  18. @ Silkboard

    Cool post…! Loved it. Its funny there are so many intangibles where India is a hands down winner. But sadly, today people care more about the tangibles.

    Newspapers: so true… I used to spend about 1 hour on average daily, browsing through the most mundane and even bizarre news and here all I read is the “METRO” on the subway, half of which is devoted to the sexual escapades and wardrobe malfunctions of Britney, Paris and Lindsay Lohan.

    NRIonthecrossroad hit the nail on the head when he said that “this country has never spent a penny on my education” and yet you are contributing towards SS. I have this analogy in mind which I will write about shortly.

    I think it is a combination of priorities and patriotism for me. Dust, pollution, corruption, pot holed roads, rupee salary etc is all welcome if it means my kids don’t have to grow up in this morally corrupt and materialistic society.

    Write more buddy… I look forward to another post.

  19. Saw some of the comments and feel the need to share a quote:

    ““We must be the change we want to see in the world.” Says it all doesn’t it. We choose to cut and run and then sitting on the other side of the fence keep feeling sorry for India and the state India is in. How is it ever going to change?

  20. I am an Indian, and have always been resident in India so I am perhaps not the best person to comment about this topic. I can however, try to give my views on this subject.
    NRIs returning to India contribute in the following ways to the nation:
    1)Many of them have great expertise in their field, and can mentor others in India in this manner. This is certainly true in the IT industry where there is a clear shortage of senior, experienced people which is the biggest bottlenect to growth.
    2)You will emply an army of servants/nannies/maids/chauffers etc. and provide employment to the poorer and less educated sections of society.
    3)You will buy Indian goods and put money into the Indian economy.
    4)You will pay direct and indirect taxes.
    It is a misconception that you will increase unemployment by taking up somebody else’s job here-in all probablity, you will create jobs instead.
    All the above benefits will be obtained simply by living in India-it does not require you to give money to charity. Of course, you can give money from anywhere in the world. Living in India will enable you to give your time.

    As for the problems of India, I think you can avoid most of them:
    1)Employ a driver-no need to worry about chaotic traffic.
    2)Buy a generator-no problems with power cuts
    3)Live in a gated community like Adarsh Palm Meadows-no problems with bad roads/filth in your neighbourhood.
    4)International schools for your children-complete with GRE/SAT prep if they want to goo back to USA.
    This list can go on I think.

    The personal advantages
    1)You will enjoy the advantage of lots of cheap labour in India-you will, with your income be able to employ lots of servants-unlike in US where even a CEO has to drive his own car, for example.
    2)You will also get a high salary compared to the cost of living in India-much more so than in USA. You will be able to afford a better or at least comparable lifestyle.
    3) India is a growth market and will keep growing in the next 5 years at a high rate-can the same be said of USA?
    4)Job security-layoffs in USA with jobs moving to India. Which country will you want to live in?

    I thank silkboard/Pranav for allowing me to use his blog. I also thank ApunKaDesh, Iamahotgirl, Mohan, NRIs etc. for engaging in discussions

  21. @ George Matthew:

    All valid points and based on the above, I think you are more than qualified to comment on this topic.

    There is one point regarding the growth rate comparison of India and USA which is on dodgy ground. India needs the growth rate of 8-9% or maybe even higher but USA doesn’t need that. It would in fact adversely affect the US if they achieved that rate of growth. It is a developed country and even so it is growing at around 2-3% which is exactly what it needs, unless say its population explodes suddenly which it won’t.

  22. OI – yes, we tend to ignore intangibles. But once you are blessed enough to have basic necessities of life, your state of mind living day to day life may be determined more by these intangibles than tangibles.

    George – Thanks for the thoughtful comments. I share the thought that you do a lot simply by being here. But at the same time, if one is planning to return, once should not look to justify it via these reasons. NRIs fall in this trap of justifying things a bit too much. Just think where you feel at home. List 5 things you like most. Think only about yourself first and you will have a quick answer!

  23. “If you are sitting on the fence, it is about time, return to India.” Hmmmmm…..Coming from you, I can’t even say that it’s so much easier said than done.

    I agree with the newspapers and Livermore. Daana Bazaar and Vik’s too (although I may end up missing Vik’s just for the heck of it, when I return to Bangalore). Fry’s, I SURE will miss it :)

    I read your post completely. Honestly, I was afraid to read all the comments. My mind just didn’t allow me to. It gets confusing as the days go by and that is so frustrating. But, I do like it here. “I want to be here, but I can’t stop thinking of there” is such a nasty thing. Too young to have a mid-life crisis :)

    On that note, a very good friend, colleague and a neighbor is leaving to India for good in two weeks. He has a get together this weekend. I need to go wish him….

  24. Senti boss, senti!

  25. Lot of such post these days. One thing I can say..’India is Poised’, The time is NOW :-) Very Apt!!

  26. Did you guys see the new Hero Honda ad that shows a young man deciding not to go abroad and stay and work in India instead? So looks like this (home is better) concept has become mainstream enough for ad-men and psychologists to tap.

  27. Pranav,

    Impressed with your “walking the talk”. You made the move back. I myself am moving back from Singapore at the end of June.

    When I first came here, I was amazed at how clean and orderly Singapore was. But within 3 months, I was itching to go back to India. But the money was good and life was comfortable, so kept going and now it’s become 5.5 years.

    At some point, I started wondering where I was headed in life. Was I getting caught chasing this elusive thing called “quality of life”. What is this thing that has become much quoted? Is it simply the absence of negatives or the presence of positives. Is life simply about trying to avoid discomfort? Or to do something meaningful?

    Why did I feel so happy each time I was going to Changi airport to catch a flight back home. And quite miserable on the way back?

    I also felt that my two boys were missing out on their grandparents.

    So have decided to follow my heart and get back. Let’s see how things go.

  28. Srivathsa, that sounded emotional.

    Hey that “walking the talk” part is over-crediting me. I wrote this after I returned. Didn’t have the courage to publish anything like this before the return, though I did talk this language. And that annoyed a few folks back in US. You know, this is not the first thing NRIs want to discuss or talk about.

    You are right about getting caught in the ‘quality of life’ vortex. Though what happens is this. Once we think we can get the basic minimum we want back at home, we will consider a return. Emotions only do that much, comfort does matter. Of course, this is a personal thing.

    I like to put your positive/negative thing this way (copying a blogger friend here, forgot exactly who). It is so easy to count and mention things you don’t like. But do we ever pause and count things that we like?

    Will see you soon at Bangalore. Or if possible, we can meet sooner at Singapore on Apr 7. Wrote you an email to plan that.

  29. […] Silkboard who migrated back to his native Bangalore calls it “that intangible “feels like home” thing”. He describes how even after finding a good job and security in the US of A, he always […]

  30. Like decemberstud, I too read this post fully – comments included. I moved back after a long stay (never thought of a return) but circumstances did change for us. I am “here in Bangalore, but of course can’t stop thinking of there” what with a huge circle of friends build thru a period of 1.5 decades!I occasionally blog about Bangalore too (provided link above).

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