I step out of home early on Sunday mornings. Sunday is the time to buy vegetables from a nearby farmer's market. And at 6 am it seems rather early. But I have to make myself useful to mom.
I somehow manage to get out of bed, slip into flip flops and reach the front porch. I dust my two-wheeler, roll a big jute bag and try the automatic ignition (that mostly fails. I was supposed to recharge the battery).
As I drive I see a guy taking a leak on the street. He also manages to speak on his cell phone at the same time. What can I say - it is not a pretty sight. I need to keep an eye on the random buffaloes and stray dogs on the road. I stifle a yawn.
It feels warm already although it is only few minutes past 6 am. I see paper boys hustling about on their bicycles. I see delivery guys carrying open cases of milk packets. I see the old folks walking, military like. I try to take a whiff of the air. It feels stuffy. I remember as a kid (during one of those hated early morning walks) the smell of fresh morning air. Unfortunately, that is a thing of the past. Now, the air is always thick, a combination of rising dust, pollution and gas. I park my vehicle at a "No Parking" zone. One of the rare times when you are sure there wont be towing activity of any kind.
I am a noob at bargaining - I don't even try. I can already see vegetable vendors relishing the sight of me. A few extra rupees that I "giveaway" without putting up a fight. Later at home, I am (always) told - "Those 5 extra rupees could have gotten me half a bag of assorted leafy greens." And those 5 rupees over time would become big enough to buy a quarter kilogram of chicken meat. You know, the conversation amplifies like that in magnitude. I have learnt to just nod, accept my flaws and promise to try the next time.
I also have to go to a designated store to get some eggs. Apparently the eggs are the "biggest" here. Don't ask me why they would be "biggest" only there. That's what I am told to do. Never question the middle class counsel. They are almost always true.
The few trips I made to India from USA, I never stayed long enough to understand how much I had become sensitive to the environment in India. But now, after months of living in India, even after all the traffic and heat and dirt and open sewages and power cuts and a million other things that affect me on an everyday basis, this feels like home.
Allow me to explain a bit later. But first some more insights (or rather jogging up memories of those who have already experienced the Indian lifestyle).
A service provider will never guarantee you his services even if you pay the dues and even if you pay him a tip. He will rather fix it for you if you abuse him, verbally. And after all that verbal exchange, if you offer him tea, he will happily sit and talk with you about local politics and how the petrol and food prices are affecting everyone. Yes, Indians are full of contradictions like that.
A service technician will come (minimum of ) 4 hours later to the appointment time. And that after a swamping him with phone calls where he will tell you "baaju mein hoon madam" (I am almost there by the side of your home) and yet he has not even stepped out of wherever he exists. You rage, grumble and get angry and upset at his audacity to lie at your face, blatantly. And when he does show up, it's probably close to dinner time.
And where in the world would you find unified hatred against queue system. Jumping the lines is so common in India it exasperates me. No matter where you go, right from a 5 star restaurant to the local movie ticket counter, people always want to get ahead of you.
So does this still feel like home? Strangely, yes.
The first month I was upset. I was really really upset here. I couldn't get half my errands done here. I found everything ugly, disoriented and chaotic. My moods got so uncontrollable as if I was PMSing. I was constantly grumbling. I would look at the homeless people and children begging at the traffic lights, tugging at my jeans, prostrating at my feet - they would do anything to get a currency note from me. I would look around and find people going about their normal routine.
Why aren't any one of us concerned? I would think to myself. Why are we so insensitive?
And yet I forget this is where I was born and brought up. That I lived in the exact same circumstances and I didn't feel necessarily this upset then. So why this change now in my belief system? And why now after months, I have become insensitive as well.
I have no clear answer to this. But what I believe happened is I made peace with a lot of things here. Indians have heard so many false promises before that they have sort of moulded themselves to fit in this confusing grid of Indian life. Those who are rich live a rich lifestyle, those who are middle class go as far as their reach can go, and those who are poor, well, they don't have the privilege of making a choice.
The first thing I learnt after a confusing first month was to let go things that are not in my control and stop getting upset about random stuff. The second thing, if anything can be outsourced (i.e delegated), I do so immediately. There is always labor, ready to fix things for you, at a nominal price. Third, if I want to have fun, I really can have fun. It takes time and planning but it is possible.
And last, but the best part, you are in the proximity of your family and loved ones. There is nothing more calming and fulfilling than that in this world.
I use my smartphone less, I spend more time with family, I hardly watch TV, I celebrate every Indian festival, I debate local politics and government policies. I feel special because I have a decent lifestyle, I have a congenial workplace, I have delicious food, I can read Indian magazines and newspapers, I can have pickles, papad and breakfast food anytime of the day, I can talk about all things Indian without trying hard to explain. Ridiculous but true. In a way, I feel humbled, privileged and accomplished. And it feels good. Because this is what feels like home, smells like home and looks like home from the time you were born and lived here.
Of course, it is not love all the time. There is nothing romantic about poverty, corruption, scandals and other prevailing issues in India. Yes, we have an overwhelming number of problems here - something I wouldn't have acknowledged years ago, when I hadn't stayed outside of India. I think living in USA for half a decade has given me a fresh set of eyes; to take a hard look at the problems here and really focus on where I can provide value.
This is home. This is where the heart is. And this is what will matter.