Thursday, January 15, 2009

Conversation with My Mother

My parents made it very clear when they visited that they did not share my love and appreciation for this country. Perhaps it was Gurgaon's fault. They never visited Mumbai or Kolkata.

One day as we were doing errands in Gurgaon, my mother turned to me and asked me why I would want to live in such a shithole. I paused. How do you explain India in one sentence? It's not possible. I looked out the window as my parents discussed the trash, dirt, filth, pollution and I noticed the women walking along side the road.

"I think the women are a primary example. Look at the clothing they are wearing. Bold, gorgeous yellows, golds, reds, brilliant greens and purples. They're like birds of paradise. You need the paradox of filth to match the incredible beauty that is India."

They may not have understood, but it's the truth. Without death, life would have no meaning. Without despair, one cannot appreciate pure joy. India to me has the ability to go to such extremes, one or the other - there's simply nothing in between. Well, except places like Gurgaon.

Maybe it's because I was trained as an artist - I "see" things, even regarding common objects that most might not notice. The misspelled sign, the Sikh rewinding his turban, the paanwallah cross-legged in his lean-to booth... The woman in the slum carrying washed vegetables in a basket on her head while wearing all her jewelery... henna tattoos... women hiding their faces behind veils, men with bright red hair... suits and ties in August in Kolkata... the kites circling my building, cows transforming my street into a parking lot... stray packs of dogs... someone practicing their sitar... India sings to me in a way no other country ever has. Each round of a corner on "Asian Way" on the way into work in Kolkata was a discovery. Going to the liquor store or a cigarette walla is an adventure here. Of course it's also frustrating, slow and absolutely maddening, but India really couldn't be any other way, could it?


  1. Forget people in the first world countries, even people in Burma don't want to come to India. They usually look at me like I'm insane. I'm constantly told to go to Bangkok, Singapore, or go back to New York. They know the ethical practices here even without having to work or live here. Even Indians warn me continually of dangers. India takes getting used to, I hated it too at first. But this is life in India, it has so many different layers, every neighborhood has a story and the stories behind that story. Even locals don't know everything but that's what makes India so beautiful. Everything works in its own hodge-podge, masala kind of way. I wouldn't change that for the world.

  2. Hi, I have been reading your blog for sometime now..I am an Indian and the reason why I landed up on this blog is I was trying to see how expats are managing their lives in India and what they feel about India. I have been abroad for some time, was fortunate3 to work in London and Paris before heading back to Mumbai. I really appreciate that you see so much beauty in this country...though I am born here and lived most of my life here I surely cant anymore adjust with my society..I feel more lost than ever. Your observations about India are fascinating and you are right when you say we can either love India or hate it. The blame is only ours for this land is truly blessed but we Indians just went wrong somewhere.

  3. I was seriously considering moving to Mumbai and had made a concerted effort to find employment and then I spoke with someone who left India same year as me, but moved back 15 years ago. He says Mumbai is "shit, man. Nothing's left."

    We're planning on moving back to Kolkata somehow... I don't see a lot of hope finding work at my level, but there has to be something. The only thing is that it has to happen soon. Something's gotta give...