Thursday, December 25, 2014

Mumbai Musings from a non-resident Indian

(Published first on Medium)

I spent the first two decades of my life in the bustling, ever-changing metropolis of Mumbai before I left it for the disturbing calm of College Station, Texas. As my years in the United States piled on, my physical and metaphorical distance from my city of dreams grew on. Now, I straddle two different worlds. The place where I live — the lush green Pacific Northwest and the place which I still ambiguously call home — the crazy, crowded, lively Mumbai.

I recently came to India with my wife and two sons (6 & 2) on one more of my bi-annual sojourns to meet friends, family and my city. I decided to capture my musings as I spent my time here — in essence, capturing, what every NRI experiences when they come back home. Here’s hoping some of this resonates with you.

1. I sit on the sofa on a warm November day and sip hot coffee made by my mother while reading an actual newspaper as the breeze of the fan ruffles its pages. When I come home, an old deep frozen way of life is thawed into being.

2. The ominous threat ‘Winter is coming’ doesn’t scare people of the Kingdom of Mumbai. Winter never comes to Mumbai.
(update written at the end of another 95 F day)

3. When I come to India, I carry jetlag and Seattle with me. Jetlag takes a while to get over, but Seattle leaves the system in two days. The niceties and laidback attitude are of no use the third time you get cut in line or take five minutes to cross the road.

4. The importance of home delivery and ironed clothes in a Mumbai (Indian) household can’t be stated enough

5. I am an Andheri boy to the core, but when it comes to architectural beauty, the boundary can be drawn at Bandra. Suburbs north of that have the aesthetic beauty of Lego blocks arranged by a one year old.

6. No India trip is complete without your child asking you to stop the car because of an ‘emergency’ and you temporarily relieving yourself (pun intended) of your civic consciousness.

7. The American constitution is better than the Indian constitution. No, not the legal document. I am talking about the gastrointestinal system. My American born kids hold on a lot better to good health here than I do.

8. Squishing a mosquito buzzing near you with a swift clap of the hands is an instinct you never lose even when you lose practice. Mosquito Ninjas never forget their trade. Like biking or swimming.

9. My Starbucks name in India is ‘Parth’. Bart, Mark and John are waiting in Seattle.

10. In deference to all my Parsi friends, I try to keep a straight face every time I pass Horniman circle. Hard to stifle a giggle with a name like that.

11. Your parents will have a trusted steel cupboard, most likely made by Godrej, in their house. It will almost be as old as you, very dear to them,and its groan and shriek while opening is part of its charm. Over the years, amidst its layers, a history of your family builds up. A sedimentation of memories.

12. The domestic air traveler in India is a quirky beast. Among his or her traits, the following stand out
- Jumping over each other to get into the plane. Because, you know, how can one trust seat numbers?
- Getting up to use the restroom as the plane is landing. Because, you know, instructions vinstructions
- Unlocking the seat belt the moment all four wheels have touched down. Because, you know, no one can restrain an Indian a moment longer than necessary.

13. Once upon a time, there were analog meters in auto-rickshaws. The numbers would tick, and at the end of your ride, you’d be staring at 1.80 or 3.30. The rickshaw driver would swing his head and stare into the open, as if computing the number in his head. Then he’d say Rs. 55. Your mind would be alert at the prospect of being tricked, but you were too smart to ask for a rate card. So you’d apply your own computation and then pay up or fight. The new meters tell me exactly what I need to pay. I miss the drama.

14. Parenting principles are often turned around their head in India. After having drilled ‘Wait your turn’ into my children’s heads, I found myself telling them to ‘Don’t wait, just push ahead’. Without that, they’d be standing at the top of the slide for a long time without ever coming down.

15. There is no haircut better than a $1.50 haircut (including tips). Eavesdropping on interesting conversation, listening to radio or watching an old Hindi movie playing on TV, and getting a head massage is all part of the package. The only instruction ever given: ‘Chota kaatna’ (cut it short)

16. With the last ten seconds left for the traffic light to go green, auto rickshaw drivers start a vrooming routine that mirrors F1 drivers at the start of a race. All this to achieve a high speed of 10kmph.

17. You look around the house and find little pieces of yourself left around like breadcrumbs. It is a fallacy to think that you have come back home. The truth is, you never really left.

This is in continuation with the topic I touched upon in my book ‘r2i Dreams’, which is an exploration of the return to India topic from the perspective of three immigrants. As any NRI going back to India will attest, each trip brings upon a flood of memories and a shift of perspective. Hope you enjoyed the musings.

Friday, December 05, 2014

Book review: r2i dreams

My book r2i dreams got a generous and detailed review in the Spark magazine. If you haven't yet picked up the book, here's hoping that the review prompts you to read it.


An Interview

My 50th publication (Yes, I keep count!) turned out to be a very very special one - my first interview. The folks at Spark were kind enough to interview me and I was intrepid enough to answer their questions.

As they say, the first interview is always a special one. You are not reprimanded for putting your foot in your mouth.

Read on.