Let me start this article with a disclaimer. If you’re blissfully happy with your life as an NRI, don’t continue reading – you will not only be wasting your time, you will become angry and ask everyone to quit complaining about life abroad. But you maybe happy but at times are baffled, and are someone who feels alien at certain instances even after living their whole life in a foreign land and who feels the pinch sometimes inspite of having the state-of-art facilities here.
“No matter under what circumstances you leave it, home does not cease to be home. No matter how you lived there-well or poorly.” ~ Joseph Brodsky
The confused lives of an NRI. I like to refer them as Not Really sure Indians. The never ending dilemmas of how much to live, adapt, conform and earn. The unsure feeling of how much to learn, ask and bear. Having lived abroad for just some time now I have been witness to my fellow NRIs caught up in the middle somehow. Some are here for quite some time now, some settled while some can’t wait to go back. Whatever the case is and however well they are doing for themselves, there is always an ongoing tussle in their minds. Tussle pertaining to actual belongingness, culture, weather conditions, family values, kids upbringing, adaptability, freedom and period of stay. Notwithstanding the fact that NRI life is a cut above the rest or is definitely much more organized, relaxed and time saving when we compare it to back home. The health-care system is much more advanced and offers a safety in our minds. The schooling and education system is among many of such benefits. The jobs opportunities and infra-structure of a developed country create a far better living experience, in spite of some usual hurdles for immigrants. Nevertheless we Indians unknowingly always play the foreigner card. Neither we can or want to be one of them nor want to give up our Indian-ness. And why should we?
So how much is too much?
1. How much to ask around?
It is always a difficult task how much to ask? Whether you are with your colleagues or friends who may not be from the same country as yours, you are sometimes not sure how much to ask around. How much to wait for the taxi to come in, how much to ask about the rights you have as an immigrant, how much to ask about the relationship status or families of others. You have had some forgettable experiences in the past and you don’t want to rebuff others by being your curious self. I remember a close friend cutting a sorry figure in public when she innocently asked her boss why he didn’t bring his wife along, only to be met by Oh, She left me for another man!
2. How much to wait?
The wait at the supermarket. The wait to get a job. The wait to get admitted to a good university. The wait to get your VISA stamped. The wait to get your Social Security number. The wait for your Permanent Resident ship. The wait for the dreaded winters to go away. The wait to get a driver’s license. The wait to see the glimpse of the spring. The wait to go back to India for the vacations. Yes, like back home you need to wait patiently here maybe a bit longer. Nor there are any perils of nepotism and corruption so the wait can be a tad more. Moreover you are not in your own country so things might be little shaky for you like getting a PR or a Green card.
3. How much to earn?
Some people come abroad for a short span just for the experience or to earn money. Then that time gets extended as the initial years goes in visiting places and living a high lifestyle resulting in no savings. So they get married thinking to get ‘serious’ in life. Mostly the earning of one and expenses of two. Then comes the child by the time the wife starts earning. Eventually, the confused NRI gets more confused as to how much to earn? He had come abroad just to earn some money to buy a house in India, but what happened was not a part of the plan.
4. How much to adapt?
How much to adapt and live the culture. Of course it is always good to know and adapt to different cultures but how much? Is there a threat of adapting another culture so much so that our own starts dwindling away? Or is it bad to stay engrossed in our own traditions and customs that much that we stop learning or even worse become dogmatic? This is the question on the lips of every NRI.
5. How much to stay?
The unsure question. Ask every NRI when they are planning to move back to India and you will be met by, not sure maybe a couple of years more. After a couple of years more, it would be like the company’s project got extended so maybe more. Then the entire social circle is abroad, wife and kids like it here. Finally, they don’t know and nobody back home knows.
6. How much to be free?
How ‘free’ to be? Of course, outside we have leverage to do anything without worrying about the society to comment but how much to be? It is ok to wear clothes of your choice and date the person that you adore but this ‘freedom’ seems a tad too much to our families and friends abroad. The lifestyle choices clash and too much freedom according to our parents makes us forget our values. Or does it?
7. How much to teach the kids?
Chances are there you might not have been born abroad but your kids who are spending a major part of their childhood here would be accepting the culture as their own. The danger lies in telling them how much to follow and accept this culture and how much to overlook. Teaching them every day about Indian culture seems quite a task when they hardly have experienced anything but it is vital. As for some others, they themselves have been born here so they get to experience only one culture abroad, the global one:
8. How much to accept?
The acceptance of always being an outsider. The acceptance of missing to cast your vote when India has elections. The acceptance of always ‘fighting’ for good jobs abroad even when you deserve one. The acceptance of missing festivals abroad. The acceptance of missing the taste of real Indian flavors. The acceptance of always being ready to miss out a good as well as unfortunate event back home, just when you are needed.
9. How much to buy?
Material goods are meant to be acquired, used and cast away after a certain time in life. Abroad, we see lots of interesting things that we can own, wear and decorate in our homes. How much to buy? There is always the ‘fear’ of not being able to take it back to India one day when you finally leave. Would you be able to part ways with your flashing Audi? Or the elite interiors that you spent a fortune on? How much should one own so that they might not stand the danger of losing it one day? Or how much to own the country you are living in?
10. How much is enough?
Finally, when do you decide it is enough? That moment when you decide that you want to go back or maybe stay behind. Or when you feel that you have tolerated the silence or solitude. The time that you decide to pack your bags and set homewards. The time you decide that you don’t want to be a recluse or wanderlust. Or maybe feel that you don’t know what the life back home was? You don’t even know that anymore.
What’s your response to these issues? Typically, we get stuck with analysis paralysis. We can’t really decide to go back home, and we aren’t fully happy in our host nation. And then what happens is this: we succumb to the mundane-ness of everyday living.
In a nutshell, life moves on everywhere. When we miss India, little do we realize things are not the same anymore like we left them. We need to go and create our new abode from the scratch. So life won’t be a cakewalk there like we assume. Either we live with the problems abroad, or we live with the problems in India. Both options have problems and happiness. None is idyllic.