Monday, 28 May 2012

The Green Green Grass of Home...

After leaving the Army, I did a year’s stint in Iraq, setting up mobile communication towers in the immediate aftermath of the war.  During my interactions with the British Army troops, I was surprised to see their total apathy towards their homeland, and the fact that almost none of them chose `back home’ as a place to finally settle down. They were mostly reservists, and served in Iraq for only six months. This included a two week holiday which they could spend anywhere in the world. Most of them `paired up’ (seriously!), and flew off to exotic locales like Thailand, Bali or Philipines. Going back to Blighty to look up the family, or to re-connect in any way was unthinkable!

Having travelled a fair bit around the world, I cannot think of any place other than India, my beloved Poona, to come back to – chaotic traffic, noise, heat and dust notwithstanding. Be it howsoever humble, et al... 

Settling abroad? Not the best option certainly. American Born Confused Desis (ABCD’s) may sound harsh, but the confusion is very real. Sheena Iyengar, the acclaimed author of `The Art of Choosing’ describes it beautifully.  As the blind daughter of immigrant Sikhs to the US, she says she was always in a state of conflict.  "I had a dual identity — I was a Sikh at home, and an American at school. We are told at school 'Just pursue your dreams, do what you want'; that you get to decide what you can eat, what you get to wear, who you would marry. As a Sikh, I was taught the importance of doing your duty, doing what your parents, your God said".

The parents are Indian, the children are American – if that isn’t a recipe for conflict, I don’t know what is! How many generations does it take for the transformation to be complete – for a Piyush to become a Bobby Jindal, for a Namrata Randhawa to become a Nikki Haley?

My nephews and nieces are abroad, and I’ve seen this confusion first hand. Quite naturally, the parents want to retain their Indian-ness, and pass it onto their children. Rohit and Sumi perform rituals and pujas in Seattle and Chicago which they never dreamed of at Poona. Amit and Nisha go to such great pains and harbour loads of patience to instill Indian values (as distinct from Hindu rituals, mind you) into Alisha and Neel.  But when they reach the stage, as they surely will when the kids grow up, and they will have to let go – where will the kids go? Is there a base, a safe haven to come back to, and if so, where is it??

The other day, I was on my way from Viman Nagar to FC Road. As we crossed Jehangir Hospital, I looked up and sighed wistfully `So this is where it all began..’ Barely a kilometer away, I crossed the ghat at Sangam bridge, `And this is where it will all end..’  The start point and end point stood fixed and unmoved. And in between lay a lifetime’s journey – meandering, maddening, and yet so intricately balanced..  Today, so rich in all my yesterdays, and tomorrow – well, tomorrow’s another day, another promise... 

The future, as Richard Church says, owes all to that past - as every graveyard shows...


  1. We have now been away from India and particularly Pune for a decade now, and Pune remains home for us.
    Hence the yearly trips home, without much travel to other places in the world for holidays. This obviously may not apply to the kids, who will hopefully come back to wherever their parents settle down and where they have their best memories.
    But we do constantly remind them when they have questions about their identity, that they are and always will be Indian. And it is amazing to see the connection that most 2nd generation Indian children have with their country of origin, especially when the cricket team visits.
    Although they do find it difficult to accept some of the realities which we take for granted...the children on the streets, the smells of Mumbai as soon as you land etc., that's when it seems like a foreign country.

  2. You have made me melancholy, Harish. Beautiful piece!