My marriage took place in June of 1984. My husband was a student at the University of Texas at Arlington doing his Masters in mechanical engineering. As it was easier for the spouse to join the husband when he was still in a student visa he came to India to get married in his last semester. Ours was an arranged marriage. Already a week of his vacation had elapsed when their family came to see me . We met and spoke for an hour. We spoke about just the important issues. The one thing that we both strongly agreed on was, our wish to return to India after living there for some years. We decided to get married on May 22nd and got married on June1st! I don’t know if marriages do happen like this any more 🙂
We lived in a studio apartment with a very meagre income. It was very difficult for my husband to get an opening in Texas and so we decided to move to San Jose, California, in search of better opportunities. We travelled in a very old car for two days non-stop and reached San Jose with just $400 in our pocket. A distant relative had agreed to put us up and we stayed with them. My husband landed a job when our savings on hand was down to $20. We stayed with them for one more month, waited for his first pay check, to pay the advance for a rented apartment and then moved out. We are ever so grateful to that relative for the timely help they provided us. When we lived with them, their friends became our friends too. They were all older to us by at least fifteen years. So we could see how their kids were behaving. More over I started teaching those kids spoken Tamil and also to read and write. So I got to move with them closely. One thing I observed was that they were all coconuts, brown on the outside and white on the inside! They may look like Indians but certainly behaved like Americans. Our resolve to go back to India only deepened after seeing those kids. We knew that if we decided to stay in the US we had to change our line of thinking . The children born there will not.
I was a lecturer in a college for a year before I got married. In the US I was on a dependent visa and hence could not work. I could not pursue higher studies immediately as the non-resident fees was quite high. So I was able to go back to school only after both my kids were born. My husband and myself graduated from the same university with the same degree (MBA) and on the same convocation was a very happy coincidence 🙂
USA teaches us a lot of things. It makes one independent. It is definitely a land of opportunities and once you land a job it is heaven, and of course only until you lose it. My college days in the US were one of my best. The curriculum and the method of instruction were so much different from that of India. It gave importance to practical knowledge and team work.
Some have quite a few relatives in the town they live in or in the neighbouring city. In that case they do not miss India. For some even if they do not have any relatives, the comforts that the country offers is more than enough to compensate their home sickness.The greatest plus point about living in the US is the abundance of freedom one gets while living there. No one interferes in the day today life. No parental control/advice! Pollution free atmosphere, importance given to cleanliness, respect given to knowledge at the work place, corruption free lifestyle, idyllic locations, the ability to own a nice car and a house within a short time of moving to that country – a combination of all these wonderful things makes one wonder about the logic behind moving back to India!
In most families both husband and wife go to work. Hence their kids are left in day care. The children soak in the atmosphere in which they grow. They are comfortable with the American food and their methods of disciplining. They eat a little of the Indian food and listen to a little of their mother tongue at home. The parents are also influenced by the culture they live in due to their proximity to their colleagues at work and soon adopt their methods of raising kids. This is because conforming to an existing pattern is easier to follow and allows you to become part of the mainstream. After all being a Roman in Rome makes it much easier!
Every thing is hunky dory as long as you are healthy! Once you fall really sick all hell breaks lose. For being such an advanced nation and everything, their method of dealing with the sick is not so great. Yes, they do follow a system here as well. First of all to get an appointment with the doctor it takes a week and then he will ask you to do all the required and not so required tests as every thing there is ruled by the fear of lawsuits. Then patiently wait for your test results. If they find something a little alarming, they go into extraordinary detail to fill you in about the worst case scenario of that disease. Then they would tell you about how it can be fixed, give you a prescription, again narrating the full side effects of the drugs that you would be taking. Yes, you will miss your home then 🙂
In India doctors with their vast experience, diagnose the disease with the symptoms and medicate you to bring the problem under control. Simultaneously they order a battery of the required tests to be done on you. Ninety percent of the doctors here say encouraging words to the patient and make you feel better just by their demeanour!
Even a cup of coffee or just hot water would not make by itself and requires your effort. That is when one misses the family very dearly. But friends are a real substitute for family in a foreign land. But again it all depends on one’s luck to get good friends.
I had taken full time employment before I had my kids and again worked full time when either my parents or in-laws were with us. But other times I have worked only part-time since I did not want to leave the kids with a baby sitter or in a day care. That was of course my personal decision. I worked as a lecturer in an evening college and taught classes in week ends as well. My children did no know to speak in English until they started pre-school. We only spoke Tamil at home. When they started going to school both had difficulty adjusting due to the language problem. But both picked up English within a week. To prevent the children from being stamped as different most parents send American food only as lunches to school. Macaroni and cheese, sandwiches and burgers are the most favoured type of foods by the Indian kids who grow there. So our food like idli, thosai and tomato rice become alien to them, as a result of which they do not relish them even after they grow up.
Some times Indian kids get to have Indian kids as their friends in school. But this is not common. Most of the time Indian kids tend to make friends with American kids. When they go on a play date to their houses they observe the behaviour of the family there and consider it as de facto family behaviour. The customs and behavioural pattern in Indian households are certainly different. For example we do not wear shoes inside the house, light a lamp in a Puja room and follow certain other rituals. All this seems unnecessary or unacceptable to them. The kids born to Indian parents ask a lot of questions. If we do not give them satisfactory answers they begin to think that we are not conforming to their standards. Then during the teenage years they have huge arguments with the parents regarding dating. You may ask if parents in India do not face such problems. No, parents here do not face problems created by cultural differences, of course they do face problems which arise due to generation gap which has to be faced by them in any country.
My husband worked in various good organizations in the US. But there was this glass ceiling which prevented my husband to go higher than a certain level. There was always a subtle racial discrimination at work. May be it has changed now. Though he was very good at what he did his inability to climb the ladder was causing him mental agony. He also lost his job in a reorganisation at his work place. The fact that he lost his job though he was a high performer, came as big shock to us. We had bought a big house with a big mortgage payment. We had two cars and two car payments as well. For nearly five months he was without a job. That was when we seriously thought about going back to India. It was 1993. At that time there were not many openings in his field of work for him in India. So we decided to move to Singapore. As luck would have it he got a very good job offer in Sun Soft, Singapore. But as if to test our resolve about leaving the US, he also got another offer from a very good company in Mountain View in the Bay Area. But we decided to take up the Sun Soft offer and move to Singapore. The main reason behind that decision was our children’s ages. Our daughter was six and son four. If we waited for another opportunity to move out of the US, the children would have grown that much older and established their roots that much stronger. It would have been harder for us to uproot them.
But our decision was not welcomed with cheer in our friends’ circle. Anyone would give their right hand to move to the US and you guys are going back was their snide comment. A few even said that it was foolish of us to do what we were doing and made of list of the negatives in going back to India.
After my husband left for Singapore I stayed back in the US for nearly five months for my children’s and my school year to end. We had also put up our house on the market for sale but we could not sell because of the economic down turn in the US then. We decided to rent the house and were able to sell it only after two years.
On the day when we were leaving the country, my friend had arrived to give us a ride to the airport and I was about to lock the house. My daughter relinquishing my hold on her ran to kitchen and hugging the oven started crying loudly,”This is my home, my country. Don’t take me away from here.” Even at that age the bonding to that land was so much. Just imagine how hard it would have been for us to make the move if we had decided to do it after a few more years.
We lived in Singapore for three years and then moved to India. Our stay in Singapore also has quite a lot of stuff to be retold but in another post and for another day 🙂 One of the main reasons which hastened our move to India from Singapore was our daughter’s bold decision to move to India on her own, as she was unhappy with the discrimination showed to Indians by the Chinese. At the age of eight she decided to live with her grandparents and go to school in Chennai.
I stayed with the kids in Chennai and my husband in Mumbai for about three years, only after which he was able to find a good job for himself in Chennai. Our children adjusted very well in India. Every day, after returning from school my son will go out to play in the streets only to be back after it was dark. That joy alone was enough for us to validate our decision about moving to India. Our in-laws stayed with us. In the US Indian kids attended Bala VIhar or Bala Vikas on Sundays and what they absorbed there was only a mere introduction to the Indian culture. But in India no effort on our part is required to imbibe the cultural values to the kids. It just grows on them. Normally in the US we buy so many toys and other stuff that the children ask for. But in India even losing a cricket ball is made a big deal and children learn responsibility, ownership and the quality of sharing at a very early age. They also realise how fortunate they are by looking around and seeing the less fortunate kids here. These thing cannot be taught in a class but only be learnt through observation. Festivals like Deepavali, Pongal, Vinayaka Chathurthi and Navarathiri are still celebrated with pomp and religious fervour in India. It is also a time to rejoice. In the US it is just another day. If any of these festivals falls on a week day friends get together on the week end and have a grand meal. The significance of the festival is totally lost there.
My children now live in the US. I do not know if they will come back to settle down in India. There are many reasons to come back as there are many reasons to stay in the US itself. It all depends on our priorities. Surely we can say that we have brought up our kids well in the Indian soil. They are close to their aunts, uncles and especially the cousins. Soon after we came back to India, many of our friends who were visiting here for their vacation would ask us,”Tell us, honestly are you guys happy here? With all these mosquitoes, horrible roads, water clogged roads during monsoons, how can you really be happy here?” Yes, whatever they said was true about India. When we came back it was so difficult to get a telephone connection, a ration card and a cooking gas connection. Another hardship that we faced was trying to get admission in a good school. You cannot expect America in India. Only if you are mentally prepared to accept life here as it is can you make your return here a success. Our country lacks nothing now. Everything is available in the retail market. When we returned to India in the mid nineties even Kellogg’s corn flakes was not available and my husband would buy them for our kids and bring them back when ever he travelled to US officially 🙂
When children come from there for their vacation it is like visiting a foreign land for them. There is no attachment to this country. Sometimes a lot of enticing gifts and other forms of bribery by the parents only make them come to India and tolerate their stay here. Once they become much older, that is in their late twenties or thirties they see no reason to come to India at all. They get married to somebody living in the US and the first generation parents are only too elated to get a son-in-law or a daughter-in-law of Indian origin. Even otherwise they learn to accept a person from another race into their family. Once the older generation are mentally prepared for such a life then they are happy in that lifestyle, no issues.
After going there we begin to appreciate the work culture that prevails there, the wonderful opportunities, the generous nature and the welcoming attitude of the Americans. We will then wonder why those things are lacking in our country. All I can say is that those who have lived there and returned can try and share that experience with our brethren here. That is a start!