Sunday, December 22, 2013

The Delicate NRI

A colorful Taxi ride home at Kolkata. Clicked with a Samsung S3 and an unsteady hand

Like most generalizations in the world, the ones about NRIs are also a bit unfounded. And sometimes wrong. I have bantered a bit about my dislike for stereotypes before on this blog, but they come back to haunt me again and again. So when I come back to India on vacations, I have to deal (and sometimes cater to) the image people have of what NRIs should be like. For the uninitiated NRI = Non Resident Indians, oft confused with ABCD where ABCD = American Born Confused Desis. Read Desi = of Indian origin (all equations for the benefit of my non-desi readers). It all starts with my colleagues who have to make arrangements when I am on official India trips. Out of their immense concern for me (which I completely appreciate, by the way) they make elaborate arrangements for pick-ups from the airport by a chauffeur with a placard. And when my wise chauffeur unwittingly abandons me at a petrol station in an unknown location in Delhi (not sure why everyone keeps asking "where was it exactly?", if I knew it wouldn’t be so much of an issue) for half an hour at 4am after a 25 hour flight and I freak out, it is "the delicate NRI" making a big fuss. And I wonder if I lived in India and was "the toughened resident Indian", if I would respond any differently. 

Or when the "toughened resident" friend has a puncture in the middle of Kolkata "Bypass" (read intercity), is not sure if the equipment to put the spare is in the boot, and panics.. and I take over the wheel, drive safely to a little known shady garage in the middle of nowhere and convince the mechanic to change the tires in the middle of the night, there is a lot of surprise about “Oh you can navigate the Indian system quiet well and you are know your way around shady areas and can convince mechanics!”. For ***** sake, I grew up in this country and lived a tough life in 5 cities, I can probably navigate my way around better and know more about those cities than a lot of people who have lived their entire lives there know. Given that it is a fast changing country and multiplexes have taken over nice cozy theaters and malls have become the norm, but believe you me, when you have a puncture on a highway and stop at a shady garage in the middle of the night, where the mechanic is indecisive about whether he should help you or take out a knife and rob you, the way you talk your way through  does not really change. And by the way, there should be a rule about not being allowed to drive unless you know how to change tires, and not being allowed to say "I am interested in cars" unless you know you should not be on third gear when you are hitting 60.

On the flip side, I do exemplify some of the common beliefs associated with NRIs, I am not used to all the noise - cars honking 24X7, vendors screaming, loudspeakers blaring music/political gyaan - anymore (Kolkata just drives me crazy, Bangalore and Delhi are a bit more sane), or the pollution (Kolkata again takes the first prize here). I stop for pedestrians when driving and fall ill when I eat roadside food (which btw does not stop me, who can resist golgappas), prefer mineral water while doing road trips in India and I get totally infuriated with people cutting queues (I am the irritating guy who will confront the culprit and ask him to get back in queue). But then again, some of my "resident" friends tell me they have the exact same opinions/experiences, so again, I am not so sure that I still adhere to the NRI stereotype. 

The people who never care about who is resident and who is non-resident is the family and extended family, I get the same amount of pampering and love as ever, NRI or not, and the love is directly proportional to the amount of food and sweets I am offered, my weight and "weak NRI stomach" not being limiting factors at all. Add to that no gym and no sports and being chauffeured around everywhere and you get a Merlin with a few extra pounds. Which needs to be burnt up very soon. Which is the New Year Resolution.

Oh yes, you guessed it right, I am in India for my annual India vacations! And if I am not back again to Blogosphere before 2014, here is wishing everyone a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!!