Tag: #expat #dubai #longing

Rain in the hills

It is raining cats and dogs(as the popular saying goes)in Dehradun since afternoon. As I am writing this sentence there is a loud, long grumble of thunder from the clouds and rain is drumming down on the roof making my mother increase the volume of her Television as her favorite serial comes on. The boys have missed their daily game of cricket, making them cranky. I, on the other hand, have been in a pensive mood.

(picture from unsplash.com Abhidev Vaishnav)

The sounds of thunder and the rain pattering down, the whole atmosphere is making me nostalgic for my grandparents home where I grew up. I miss my bed next to the window, where I would sit with my back resting on the wall  ( it used to be heaven in winters, snuggled in the razai). The sound of the dripping raindrops from the leaves of the frangipani tree of our neighbor. I miss the dampness of my grandmother’s room, the green of the moss growing on the mango and litchi tree.  Hating to walk under the same trees as the raindrops from the leaves would splash on you invariably getting in the collar of the school uniform making it highly uncomfortable. Finding mushrooms sprouting on the trunks and branches of the litchi tree and marveling on their toadstool shapes. Cleaning the water off from the cement seat on the roof, so that I could study outdoors and also look at the sunset.  All the creepy crawlies would come wriggling out making us avoid the kitchen garden patch, remembering to close the screen door else the rain insects would come in drawn by the light, making us swat them with rolled up newspapers. Lying awake after the lights were switched off, hearing the crickets and the jhingoors, trying to watch the jugnus flit by in the dark garden. If perchance there was a thunderstorm in the night, I would spend half the night awake, watching the zig zagging shapes of the lightning fascinated by it, a fascination that I still have. Not understanding at the time how powerful God is, to create something so beautiful and yet so awe inspiring. The alacrity of the electricity department of Dehradun in switching off the power at a single rumble from the clouds. The days when we reached sopping wet to school despite the raincoats, a hazard of going to school on the bicycle, packing our school bag with an extra layer of plastic to protect the precious books. The countless days when it used to alternately drizzle, rain and pour intermittently till you would long for the sun to come out. The brilliant blue of the sky contrasting with the white fluffiness of the clouds when the sun would finally shine; the mountains a dark, sharply etched silhouette against the horizon, the trees, a luxuriant green.

People ask me why I come to India during the rains, I reply that I come because of the rains.While most of us agree that Dehradun is no longer the sleepy town of the nineties, one thing which is still familiar is the rain. Monsoon was and still is a magical time in Dehradun. The world turns green with new growth and moss (most tenacious here, found all over, including the outer walls of the houses). It is damp, it is musty but it is very very familiar. As familiar as the fragrance of adraki chai and crispness of pakoras. It makes me long to be that young girl again, with the bed by the window, whose only worry was to reach school with dry shoes and dry books.

A Place To Call Home

July and August are the months when Dubai empties out. With the majority of the population being expatriate and the schools closed , the people head back to their home countries for the summer. I too join the hordes at the Dubai Airport every year (the airport also issues a travel advisory keeping in the mind the sheer number of people who fly at that time).Once a friendly immigration official asked my sons if they were going “home”; my sons were confused, for them “home” was Dubai and they were going for a vacation to India. For me however even though I had been living in Dubai for many years, whenever I fly to India I always think I am going home.

This set me thinking, as an expat what is home?

Is home the country I was born, raised and educated in? Or is it the country I have made a life in, given birth, brought up my children?

The roots spread like tentacles in the soil of my birthplace. Love of family and friends keeps bringing me back, ensnaring me. Similar roots hold me down in Dubai. Whenever the plane touches down in New Delhi the sights, smells and sounds are familiar. More so in Dehradun, I know where the roads will take, if I go walking I might meet a familiar face speaking a familiar tongue. When I touch down in Dubai the same familiarity assails me. “I am home” is the sentence that plays in my head in both the places.  Both the countries hold me close.

Which brings me back to where is home?

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When you are an expat in the gulf one thing that stands out is that life here is very transient. The only thing constant here is that one day we will have to go back to India (no, we don’t get citizenship here). Like my son was explaining to me that we are “residents” of UAE and “citizens” of India.

The transient lifestyle makes everything uncertain. You make friends, good friends and then suddenly out of the blue you or they might have to shift. I have bid adieu to many good friends and I know I will have to do it again, even though I hate good byes. However this also means that we get together more often, celebrate even the miniscule happenings in life. As expats your friends become your support system whom you bank on and call on in times of crisis.  If you are lucky enough to have family as well then you are doubly blessed (Like I am). Thus when your friends move away you feel something missing in your life. A huge chunk is taken away and you start building your support system again.

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As an expat you start giving more precedence to holding on to your religious and cultural identity , Especially if you are the first generation to move out of India. Festivals are specially marked and celebrated. The rituals and the symbolism are explained over and over again to the children. Somehow we try to make sure that they understand and not be an alien to their religion. Similarly the sense of Indianness and Indian identity is instilled in them with the thought that they should retain their Indian identity even though the children themselves think of India as vacation home. We try and teach them all things Indian, sightseeing  becomes a history lesson and mealtimes become a discourse on Indian spices and their uses. We somehow want that the sense of patriotism and pride that we have towards India should also be in them.Or maybe it is our way of holding on to our roots. The children get pulled by the country they know as home and the country their parents belong too. Somehow in trying to hold on to their identities we expats become more religious, more patriotic somehow more fervent than the Indians back home ( see again the word “home” being used for India).

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It is the lure of money that took us away from our motherland. The promise of a safer place, a place filled with opportunities for the deserving, place with an easy life without any struggle for bijli, pani and sadak.

But even though we leave the country, the country retains a hold on us. Our bosoms still swell with pride when we hear the Indian National Anthem, we still feel happy when our sportsmen do well, we still feel ashamed when a horrific act is committed in our country, and we still defend it when someone criticizes it.

What is this hold that India has over us that even though we may try out cuisines from around the world, the pleasure in simple dal, roti and chawal remains unparralled?