We have this talk in our family once every two years when one of the cousins working in the U.S.A. comes down for a customary 4 week trip to india. (They use every alternate year's leave to visit "home" and the other years to take a vacation in Europe or some tourist destination). They do miss home,the food, the people, the festivals, the language, the concerts but when asked if they want to return for good they are not sure. They worry about the "Quality of life" - the work culture, the discriminations,the traffic, the power cuts, difficulties in dealing with government, lack of respect for others' rights, struggle to get law enforced, the pollution and the lack of recognition of merit. Once we have this conversation, it makes you wonder how you are actually surviving in this jungle and managing to be happy most of the time.
Well, I do not blame them. they have a choice and certainly the grass is greener on the other side. Their daily life is easier there and their children have better chances there. I suppose they should just stop discussing their vague ideas of returning for such discussions only end up highlighting the difficulties of living in India which we do not seem to notice so much and take in our stride and adjust ourselves to until they are pointed out to us.

"Clive Avenue" by T.S.Tirumurthi is a very interesting portrayal of the issues that educated, upper middle class Indians families face. The characters, their beliefs, the issues confronting them, the dilemmas they face are all very very familiar. You recognise them and relate to them so well including the language used that it could be one's own family that he is talking about. Parents clinging to their roots trying to preserve their lifestyle and principles but still having their life invaded by a fast growing culture of corruption, blackmail and violence.The younger generation disillusioned and defeated by the system and trying to opt out. Amusing and interesting conversations, their superstitions, the regional quirks and idiosyncrasies, the changes that the city of chennai has faced during the life of 2 generations in which it has transformed from a quiet, orthodox city to a flamboyant, noisy,cosmopolitan metropolis. The narration is very interesting and absorbing. The conversations and usages are totally familiar to someone from the same background as the milieu in which the novel is set. Very interesting read and raises some very pertinent questions on the current plight, the choices before them and the future of Tamil brahmins in Tamilnadu- perhaps not just the brahmins but most forward classes.

The author is a counsellor at the Embassy of India in Washington DC. While reading the book it felt similar to the feeling that one gets while reading "Malgudi days" and some other books by R.K.Narayan - the delineation of true to life characters, the language the characters speak and the unfolding of the story through normal day to day incidents and the subtle humour that runs through the narrative through the simple contradictions in human nature. After finishing the book I read the acknowledgements and it seems that the author is the nephew of the great R.K. Narayan.
18 Responses
  1. Visithra Says:

    interesting - truthfully i think the grass isnt greener anywhere we just think so

  2. Preethi Says:

    So real...
    But thats what those NRIs think... but we people clearly know that there is beauty in staying near home...:)...

    Now on the hunt for this book..

  3. Anonymous Says:

    >>worry about the "Quality of life"

    People invariably tend to form stereotypes in mind. While they think like that, I might think, in case I have to settle down in US would I adjust to the isolated lifestyle, colder conditions, ageing parents, children's education, teen-age cultures etc.

    I've lived in the US for some time on an official stint. Somehow, (strangely enough) I'm feeling far happier being in India, despite what US has to offer me.

  4. I guess we all make our choices and do what we think will make us happiest.

    I am dying to read the book now! :)

  5. Wild Reeds Says:

    @I suppose they should just stop discussing their vague ideas of returning for such discussions only end up highlighting the difficulties of living in India which we do not seem to notice so much and take in our stride and adjust ourselves to until they are pointed out to us.@

    Absolutely! I serve as city-guide to my America-alternate-year-returning friends. I love them a lot, and in the joy and exuberance of being with each other, the long peregrinations about """India""" - her infrastructure, slums, flyover, shopping malls, ta ta ta ta get overlooked. Then each time we go out they ask "Is the waaderrr safe to drink?". I feel like saying "Sweety, it's the same water you were drinking for 21 years before you scooted off to do your post-grad and never came back. You decide." But I just smile and nod sagely, and say "Yes it is".

  6. The grass may be greener in the US, but sadly, there are no tamarind trees :(
    I really wish there'd be no tradeoffs in such things. In the interest of conserving your comment space, more on what I dream of here.

  7. wild reeds said, "Sweety, it's the same water you were drinking for 21 years before you scooted off..."

    ...but it's not! You may have spent 21 years in India, but it's not necessarily true that you have been exposed to all the bacteria and viruses that may lurk in the water that you drink.

    Individuals differ in their sensitivity and immunity. I have known many friends and family members, who have lived all their lives in India, take drinking water from home when they go out, haven't you? Why are you upset with this hapless woman - just because she's an NRI? Really, tell me what'd you prefer - err on the side of caution, or risk spending half your precious vacation between the bed and the toilet?

  8. Usha Says:

    Visi: There are some times when day to day life is so hard, the grass seems greener almost everywhere else that HERE. But then you come out of the house, smell the familiar smells, smile at familiar faces and hear your language spoken and someone tells you at 10 a.m or 2 p.m or any odd time " you don't look very fine. come and drink some coffee and let us have a chat". Then life doesn't seem so bad. You feel whatever it is you BELONG here.

    Preeti: I guess the choices are determined by ones experiences and priorities. A good book, you will enjoy it. Publisher:Penguin

    Kishore: it is nice to hear this from someone like you who has the choice and the qualifications to seek greener pastures outside. We need some of the creamy layer to stay here to make the India story happen.

    Vaish:Je suis totalement d'accord avec toi. In case you do not find the book, just let me know. Will get it and pass it to mom for onward transmission. Else. You can wait till DEC. It was Shibs who actually gave me the book.Her mom just could not stop smiling throughout the book, it seems.

    Wildreeds: I understand the fear about safe drinking water but when the kids ask for peanut butter and jelly sandwich I think it is a big mistake bringing them to grandma's house on a holiday. And when they complain about the crowd and the noise - a billion people is a lot of population. Tough to get rid of a few millions overnight to make it easier for returning Indians! It might be interesting if you wrote a post on some of these experiences of yours. When someone goes out and come back, they notice things we ourselves have become immune to or accepted long ago. And when they are pointed out it is always fascinating.

    Rational Fool: Enjoyed the poem - hope i get to do some of them once in my life time even if never at the same place. I am a bit old fashioned in the sense i prefer to enjoy each place for its special flavour, sounds and smells rather than have the best of all together in one place or in all places. But I guess that is the direction in which the Globe is headed.

  9. Anonymous Says:

    Taller, greener grass or not, I know I'm not gonna be am'bush'ed here. That's a safe thing, isn't it? ;)

  10. Mahadevan Says:

    I wonder whether I should marvel at the post or the manner in which Usha has responded to the comments.

    One always feels that the other man (or woman) had a better choice. It is a delusion. The problem of choice is only for the earlier generation of Indians in the West because they have a deep root in India and are caught between two cultures - one in which they are born and the other they opted for.

    Due the efforts of a few Statesmen, there has been a great leap forward in India since 1991,and yet today these Statesmen too are struggling to steer clear off the way.

    We are used to the smell of the earth, the dirt,squalor, crowd and the often oppressive heat (Bangalore excluded) in India, but not the younger generation of NRIs. The younger generation of Indians are unhappy with the political system.To return or not to return, must be the great Hamletian indecisiveness in the minds of the senior generation of Indians.

    'a billion people is a lot of population. Tough to get rid of a few millions to make it easier for returning Indians ', you have observed, while replying to the comments of wildreeds. What a fine way of putting it across!. I would walk miles to read such lines from Usha.

    I have read the poem of rational fool and I admire the last three lines -
    'Free to choose what I like
    Free to live where I like
    And free to die when I like'.

    Do we have this freedom? One has to go to Existentialists like Sartre for an answer.

  11. Usha,
    Thanks for recommending the book. I live on the other side and always felt the "grass was greener" but right now I am in Bangalore for a few months and hey I am not complaining at all. This is home and it just feels right.

  12. GuNs Says:

    All that is green is not grass !! [:-D] Sorry for that sloppy quote but I agree with your point on that issue. We only SEEM to think the grass is greener. When I was in school, I longed for the freedom of college, when I was in college, I hated the pressure and the competition and longed for the independence of working. Now I am working and I long to go back to school and do it all over again !!


  13. passerby55 Says:

    hi Usha,

    NRI: everyone calls
    "NON returning Indians"

    Its true, life is much easier on the other side of the Globe, but trust me all MISS INDIA ones they step out of it...

    they may complain, but somewhere they are aware, their roots lie here, and many do return because roots are always safe in their own soil...

    Its a good post, i enjoy your writing. I will read CLIVE AVENUE


  14. Usha Says:

    Ravi: HM. I hope so!

    Mahadevan:I agree that the dilemma is only for the first generation. Their children have no such problems as India is a foreign land to them and the question of where to live doesn't arise at all.

    Orchid: Welcome and hope you have a good time in Bangalore - the weather turned beautiful just when you came. :).

    GuNs:I am not sure that those who leave India see all the good points we have. Actually the contrary. And the things they miss in india are slowly disapperaring as we move to a coke and burger culture.

    Passerby55:To return or not can be their choice. It only gets my goat when they grumble endlessly about India and do nothing to change anything.
    YOu will enjoy the book, I hope.

    And BTW, I must add this. The book is not about non resident Indians. It just so happens that the main character has just returned from higher studies in the US and decides to go back after all the frustrating experiences. But the book is more about life in Chennai and what a delightful book!

  15. Wild Reeds Says:

    Dear Rational Fool,
    You did not get my point at all - it is completely ok to not drink water abroad and to err on the side of caution. But why ask the locals every two hours, when a particular glass of water in a particular restaurant is safe? How the hell does the local know? Are we supposed to go around sipping water in every restaurant before you guys visit? You either drink mineral water everywhere or drink the local water. Why do you need to ask such a stupid question?

    Also interesting how you assumed the person I referred to , as being "an NRI woman". I never made any gender reference.

  16. Hip Grandma Says:

    i would like to read the book.i do hope that it is not out of print.

  17. tris Says:

    I'll mail it to anyone who wants to read if. have been dying to get it off my hands.

  18. Hip Grandma Says:

    i'd be glad to relieve tilo of the book if he could loan it to me.