India – Home Away From Home?
India is my second home; I spend a lot of time here. I’ve been visiting this mahaan country, off and on, since 1980. I even lived here for 3 years, from 2008 through 2011. I have a love/hate relationship with her. I guess it’s like being with a spouse of many years, growing dependent on each other. You know, can’t live with them without wanting to escape, but staying nevertheless.
I guess this feeling comes from the denial of a permanent ‘home’ since childbirth. I was born in wonderful Tanzania, and love the country when I visit. But growing up as an ethnic Asian generously tolerated by Black people who my ancestors and I grandly abused and exploited, the country never felt ‘home’, especially after the Arusha Declaration and the upheaval Nyerere unwittingly caused. So I, like others in similar circumstances, perhaps, have floated around the world after leaving. For me, ‘homes’ have been Dubai, Houston, Minneapolis, Austin, Toronto, Mumbai and now Sanford.
Many people, especially those born in the West and not intimate to the quirks of developing countries, although it is now debatable if India is still in that stage, the country can be, most times, overwhelming. It’s overcrowded for sure, almost 3 times smaller than the United States in size with a population more than 3 times bigger. It can be filthy in places, especially congested urban poor areas. Pala Ghali in Dongri, Mumbai is a prime example. The depilating, depressing buildings, some older than 100 years, are not blessed with a proper sewer system, so the filth is cleaned up periodically. Manually. The stench has made me barf. Many times.
The traffic, vehicular and others, in any city, can make me weep in genuine anguish. The untouchable holy cows on highways can choke up traffic for hours, and there is not a damn thing that can be done until they tire and meander on. The monsoon rains can/does make life miserable, since most Indian cities still rely on pre-independence colonial British infrastructure for rainwater management. The country is polluted for sure, New Delhi among the worst polluted cities, if not the worst in the world. The urban infrastructure is crumbling, with ancient homes, bridges, both pedestrian and vehicular simply giving up and collapsing and killing/maiming many. Shoddy workmanship / shoddier maintenance. And for women, India is often dangerous, especially the capital, where brutal rape of them have made sensational headlines.
Yet, India has an addictive allure. For me. My mother and forefathers originated in this country. So I have an ethnic, cultural, culinary and linguistic bond to her. Rightly or wrongly, Bollywood played a huge role in my adolescence, shaping my mindset, especially in relation to romance, relationships and dramatic tragedies. I feel completely safe and at home when in India, especially in Mumbai. It’s a feeling of bindaas, no tension, the moment I land at the airport. India has grown by leaps and bounds since I first met her in 1980. I’ve, most times, cleared immigration and customs and collected my luggage at Mumbai’s Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport in Mumbai in 30 – 45 minutes, better than many ‘developed’ cities. The expanding Mumbai metro is efficient, clean, airconditioned (a lifesaver in summer) and cheap, although taking the local city trains or buses can age one dramatically, and life insurers will probably tack on a premium if they find out.
Domestic labor is relatively cheap, and the luxury of a live-in maid who makes life so much more comfortable can be had for about US$200/month. Transportation is cheap-cheap, a rickshaw to anyplace in a 2-mile radius is for less than US$1. Housing, however, can make a serious dent in the household budget; a decent 2-bedroom apartment in an upscale locale will cost at least $1,500. Petty corruption is rampant, like in other same-same countries, and can be pesky. And sometimes funny, when a lathi-armed potbellied policeman on feet threaten persecution on false offenses; I can outrun them before they can say masala dosa.
Yet, within the crowded and smelly streets and the gullies of Mohammedali Road in Mumbai, I can have a super cheap divine culinary experience in Indian cuisine, especially in Ramadhan after sunset. The scene is surreal when the roads are jampacked with revelers of every religion come out to sample the mindboggling array of food and take in the scents. I cannot vouch for hygiene worthiness of the food, but the taste from the bewildering array of food is divine.
India is vast and varied, with so many religions, cultures, tribes, tongues, foods, colors, and vistas. I’ve been fortunate to travel up and down and across the country in my role with CAI, from all major cities to the most remote villages. The country is very picturesque away from the congested cities, especially the north and the south. The street vendor biryanis in remote UP are unbeatable in taste and flavor, if the stomach can put up a fight against the spices and chilies without the runs next morning.
I’ll probably be heading to Bharat in the near future for permanent residency if I get the green light from Allah Mia. CAI donors have constructed a number of schools for the poor and I would be ideally situated to ensure their quality standards are maintained and improved from close by. I personally believe education opportunities are a universal right across our economic class divides. Whether a child will grab this is another matter. It gives me no greater pleasure and smug satisfaction to see a child, especially a despondent girl, graduate and become an educated and productive mother, who is a teacher of her children and can hold her own against a wayward husband.
The vast majority of Indians are bindaas, peace-loving and accommodative, innocently bhole, almost. However, the country is going through political challenges that may sully her thus far struggling-to-maintain secular credentials. Religious intolerance raises its ugly head occasionally, especially during elections, which is expected, does happen and is typical. However, this bias has prevailed and encouraged by a few powers banking on the emotional tug of religion. The future for the minority may become dicier if the saner heads that have sacrificed and ensured a place for all Indians do not prevail and wrest the future back to more smoother roads.
So, Bharat Mataji, leave some space for me. Jai Hind!
A Human Face In NZ
I, like1.4 billions of others, were numbed silly with what transpired in Christchurch on March 15. The act was vile, unfathomable evil manifested, something I’ve been fearing and praying fervently would not happen. But it did, and my mind will forever cry from watching the pain and anguish of the survivors and the victims loved ones.
There was, however, a warm and human face from within this deep tragedy and misery, in the face of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern of New Zealand. Her rapid response and expressed empathy to the citizens of her country, especially the aggrieved Muslim minority, was classic material. Perhaps this compassion can only come from the fairer sex? It was first-class leadership that should be captured in textbooks and made mandatory reading for all wannabe leaders worldwide. Many will greatly learn a bit about humility if they choose to.
So, for whatever it’s worth, Madam Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, I salute you and your astonishingly admirable actions as a human being, and leader of a beautiful country. God bless New Zealand. I promise I’ll visit. Again.