Bangalore Club

A simple email I got some time ago.

On Oct 13, 2014, at 10:22 PM, Vikram Rajaram wrote:
Dear Shobha,
We have, in the past, been in touch re the possibility of getting you to speak at the Bangalore Club. Your father-in-law was unwell then and I did not feel it was opportune to push it.
Can we pick up the threads again?
Would a slot in the third week of November work for you?
Please let me know.
With kind regards,
Vikram Rajaram

So Vikram and I went back and forth. It ended in a talk
If you are in town and a member of the Bangalore Club, please come.

Tagore and Return to India

A Tagore quote prompted this piece. The quote is included in the piece published in The National here and pasted below.

The National Conversation
After a return to India, life has become more interrupted
Shoba Narayan
Aug 14, 2013

Ever since my family and I moved back to India after nearly 20 years in the US, people often ask me what it is like to be back in my native country. My answer is always the same. As the movie title says, “It’s Complicated.”
If I could describe the difference between my life in New York City and my life here in Bangalore using one phrase, it would be this: friends versus family.
When you are an immigrant in a faraway land, you set down roots and make friends.
You choose people you like and nurture these relationships. They broaden your horizons and teach you new things.
I was raised a Hindu. In New York, I made friends with Jews, Christians and Muslims. My lunch partner was an orthodox Jewish woman who catered kosher meals. My PTA partner was a Muslim woman named Ameena. She grew up in London, wore a hijab and made the best guacamole ever. Her daughter Ayesha and mine were friends. Ameena’s husband, Mohammed, was a banker like mine. Over time, the men grew friendly towards each other.
We belonged to minority cultures and faiths and this brought us closer, particularly after the September 11 attacks.
Most of our neighbours were Christian and we celebrated Christmas with them – organising parties for the building staff and going to midnight mass at a church on Park Avenue.
Here in India, a web of family surrounds, envelops, and occasionally suffocates me.
My parents, brother, cousins, and assorted uncles and aunts all live nearby. They will drop everything to come at my behest at a moment’s notice. The trouble is that they expect the same from me. There are weddings to plan, family functions to attend, gifts to buy, and relationships to keep track of.
My life in India is fraught with interruptions, both delightful and frustrating. Cousins often drop in to see me and give me things. These are objects of love: a samosa that they made, delivered piping hot from their kitchen to mine; or mere objects: vessels that are returned; borrowed saris that are given back.
My relatives know what is going on in my life on a daily basis and I know what is going on in theirs.
When my uncle complains of a chest ache, I worry about it. I call the doctor. We talk for hours. He tells me about astrology: a passion of his. This never happened when I lived in New York.
During weekly phone calls to my parents, I would get news of the extended family. But it rarely touched or bothered me.
Sometimes I wish for the anonymity that I had in spades when I was an immigrant in a foreign land.
I don’t want to account for my choices to all these relatives who care deeply about me and therefore have a view as to whether what I choose to do is right or wrong.
I wish for the friends who knew what to say and when to say it. Friends are a choice. Family isn’t. It comes bundled with birth.
These bonds of blood are tight and embracing, but intrusive as well. On the flip side, families have a history that is hard to replicate.
Your cousin can push your buttons like no friend can. He can irritate you into exhibiting emotions that you didn’t believe existed. My brother and I speak in a shorthand that only we know. A look between us can cause us to collapse into giggles in the midst of a family wedding.
Since I cannot escape my family, I have decided to come to terms with it.
I want to find joy with my new life here in India – not resent the intrusions and opinions.
A line I read recently will help me in this quest. It comes from Rabindranath Tagore, the Nobel laureate poet of India.
He said, “Deliverance is not for me in renunciation. I feel the embrace of freedom in a thousand bonds of delight.”
That is exactly what I want to feel.

Shoba Narayan is the author of Return to India: a memoir


A piece that came out in Femina a while ago about Return to India. Did I post it before. I did a search on ‘Femina’ in this blog and couldn’t find it. Here it is


dear shoba
how are you? here we are getting on as usual. first let us congratulate you shoba for the article that has been written by you and published in FEMINA. have you been given a copy? the library man gave the issue only now and hence we are attaching it for you and the other family members to see in case nobody has seen it,keep up the good work shoba and may there be many more such achivements for you! with my love and fondest blessings to you all


Some time ago, when my book was published, I sent the following email to NDTV.

From: Shoba Narayan
Subject: Immigrant angst, NRIs, diaspora
Date: October 7, 2012 11:13:23 AM GMT+05:30

Dear NDTV newsdesk:
I am sure you get a lot of requests from people wanting coverage on issues. Let me add one more.

In case any segment producer is doing a story on immigrants or NRIs, or the Indian diaspora, I would like to submit my second book, “Return to India: a memoir,” as a good fit.

I’d be delighted to send a copy of the book in case you’d like to see it.
Thanks and kind regards

Details below.

It was an email to the proverbial “slush pile.” I didn’t think anything would come of it, because the feeling is that in India, you need “pull” to make things happen. As it turned out, some weeks later, a correspondent called Maya Sharma, who is Bangalore-based got in touch and did an interview. She tweeted about it too.

Sharma said that top/senior producers– including Radhika Roy– actually look through emails that come cold to that email address. So if you are an author that wants to publicize your book, might be worthwhile sending an email to news

Yesterday, a couple of people told me that I was on TV. Here is the link. I haven’t watched it yet, because the vegetable lady just arrived downstairs and I need to go!!

For the record, I am a fan of NDTV. It really irritates me that even news-junkies like my father-in-law (who has no agenda) now watches the shrill Headlines Today these days. He watches all news channels for sure, but often it is Headlines Today. Why is that? Is the age of dignified news over?

Thank you, NDTV!

Oh, and if you haven’t watched the TV show, “Newshour,” it is a great show.

Review of book

Thank you Kari O’ Driscoll for the kind review here

Author: Shoba Narayan
ISBN: 978-0988415799

Shoba Narayan’s memoir is as much the story of an immigrant to a foreign country as it is the story of how becoming a mother changes one’s perspective in so many unanticipated ways.
Shoba was born and raised by a traditional East Indian family who observed their Hindu beliefs closely. While she was encouraged to pursue an education, she was also expected to marry someone her parents chose for her and stay in close proximity to her extended family. Unfortunately for Shoba’s parents, their daughter had a fierce desire to go to America.
In the first part of the memoir, Shoba describes her life in India with clarity and precision – evoking the scents and sounds as well as the cultural standards she lived with as a child and a young teen. She was determined to get to America somehow, despite the frantic pleading and often dramatic scenes her parents employed to convince her otherwise. And her determination paid off. Shoba left India for the United States to attend college and with the exception of a few visits back home, including the one in which she met and married the man her family chose for her, she remained in the US for decades.

Shoba and her husband lived a very comfortable, upper-middle class life in New York City, socializing and taking part in the active culture of the city and, by all accounts, Shoba was happy. The turning point came when the couple had their first baby.
Shoba writes about so many of the typical anxieties of a first-time mother – her constant self-assessment and questioning her own judgment. Living in such a culturally diverse community presents her with many different examples of how to raise her daughter and yet Shoba doesn’t seem to feel comfortable choosing any of them. As she navigates her own worries, she begins to reminisce more and more about her own childhood and wonders whether she would be better off raising her child as she was raised.
She leads the reader quite honestly through the discussions and arguments she has with her husband regarding a possible return to India, armed with the stark differences between the country she so desperately wanted to live in and the one where she grew up. Ultimately, Shoba decides that returning to her homeland is the best decision for her and her children and, while the final decision played out over the space of years, the end of the book finds her settled and at peace with this choice.
I found the book intriguing because it allowed me to see India in a way that I have not been able to experience it and because it gave me an entirely different perspective on my own country. Woven throughout the book are the angst and worry that I, as a mother, can identify with as I struggle to ensure that the choices I am making about raising my own daughters are in their best interest. I found the book to be as much about finding yourself in a different country as it was about growing up and realizing that what you once desired isn’t nearly as important anymore.

Follow Here To Purchase Return to India: an immigrant memoir

Profile in Khabar


Longing to Belong

By Deepa Padmanaban
February 2013

Longing to BelongShoba Narayan is living in India and loving it. Why did Narayan, a successful author who spent some of her “best years” in the United States, go back to her homeland—and what was her life like in this country? She has written about her experiences in a new book that was released in India recently. Another India returnee spoke to Narayan.

In her recently released second memoir, Return to India, renowned journalist and author Shoba Narayan poses this question to herself in a Shakespearean fashion, with an immigrant twist: “To be American or Indian, to return or stay?” She elucidates the challenges of an immigrant in America and the dilemma of wanting to return to the home country after living in the U.S. for almost two decades—a dilemma that every immigrant has probably faced at some point in her life.

Having made the trip to the homeland myself after living in the U.S. and encountering some of the questions especially as a parent, her book resonated with me on many levels. I decided to interview Narayan, partly to hear her unwritten thoughts and to validate my own experiences. Narayan, who has written for The New York TimesThe Wall Street JournalThe Washington Post, and Time, won the MFK Fisher Award for Distinguished Writing. She published her first memoir, Monsoon Diary: A Memoir of Recipes, in 2003.

For decades now, young Indians have been attracted by the ethos of the American dream, in pursuit of a better life and better opportunities. Narayan, too, starts off her book by expressing her staunch desire to go to the U.S., partly wanting to escape the influences of a traditional South Indian upbringing. In her usual honest and humorous style, she pokes fun at herself and her well-meaning but conservative family who try to dissuade her from going abroad. The trepidation and joy accompanying the process of applying for and getting the student visa, and finally arriving in the U.S. with a sense of relief and excitement are familiar terrain to most Indian immigrants who have gone ashore as students.

She states that “the best years of her life” were as a student in Mount Holyoke College, her first home away from home, where she explored a variety of subjects such as music composition, cross-country skiing, and theatre, and experimented with new cuisines. At the same time, she faced the challenges of an immigrant student—living on a tight budget and trying to make ends meet by doing odd jobs. I ask her how living in the U.S. as a student helped her personally or professionally. She replies, “As a girl growing up in India, there were too many voices in the head—too many people telling what to do and what not to do. Living geographically away allowed me to find myself. It was a liberating experience. I think that everyone should have the gift of foreign education if they can afford it, to explore different cultures and open one’s mind.”

While she embraced all aspects of American culture at Mount Holyoke, it was when she moved to Memphis for a master’s degree that she chanced upon the concept of “straddling two cultures.” As she interacted with Indian families who had assimilated into the multicultural ethos of America at work but came back to Indian homes and socialized with like-minded Indian families, she also became aware of the apparent generation gap—what she terms as a “gaping hole” between India-born parents and their America-born children.

And it was after she started her own family (after an arranged marriage) when her daughter was born that the first conflict between Indian and Western values rose in her mind. She was worried about the mixed messages her daughter was receiving from her—her role as a traditional “Indian bahu” in front of the Indian uncles and aunts and an aggressive feminist in the presence of Americans. In a bid to inculcate Indian values, she even tried to assume a sartorial identity, wearing saris every day and taking her daughter to the temple, but the phase didn’t last long. Though her husband believed that it was possible to achieve the best of both worlds, she felt one couldn’t choose both. But aren’t there many Indians in the U.S. who are able to achieve a balance between the two cultures, I ask her. She replies, “Yes, certain Indian communities do seek out cultural experiences actively for their children such as Bal Vihar or Bharatnatyam classes, mostly in areas with a large Indian base. But it’s the little things that mattered to me—the familiar sights and smells of childhood, the social fabric in India that allowed a casual interaction between friends and neighbors, and the luxury of dropping off one’s kid at a neighbor’s or aunt’s place at short notice.”

Gradually, Narayan encountered the “moving to India” question as other young Indian couples discussed the booming economy back home and their plans of returning home. She had moved to New York by then and witnessed the chaos that ensued after 9/11. So, my next question to her is: Does she think that 9/11 played a role in Indians returning? After all, until then, very few actually made the journey back though the dream of returning home remained. Narayan pauses before saying, “I think yes. America never had a Department of Homeland Security before. It was unheard of. America had tightened its borders to outsiders. But then there was the recession in the U.S. which hurt or helped depending on who or where you were. And it was also the booming economy, the buzz of entrepreneurship in India that attracted people here.”

Eventually, after years of introspection and discussions, a job opportunity for the husband brought them closer home, first to Singapore and then to India. The book ends with the author and her family making the decision to move back to India. She doesn’t touch upon her experiences on returning home, but I ask her if the journey had gone as she had expected—did the children learn Indian values? She says, “It did not happen in a structured way as I had anticipated. But rather in a nebulous but organic way, through stories narrated by grandparents, watching Grandmother drawing kolams or breaking into a classical Carnatic song. Living in India makes you realize that you’re not the center of the universe, makes you selfless and forces you to think in a multipronged fashion. Here you learn to live with a certain lack of control. Besides, here I can walk into their school wearing a sari without causing them any embarrassment!”

Narayan says her book was in the works for about 10 years. This insightful and poignant memoir, with a basic theme of family, culture, and identity, is sure to resonate among all immigrants, those who are living abroad and those who have moved back. In the end, it is also the story of a person whose ideas and opinions change with the vicissitudes of life, but whose value systems remain the same.

After living in the U.S. and Germany, Deepa Padmanaban returned to India. Currently based in Bangalore, she writes about people, human rights, travel, education, and all things Indian.

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I have been following r2iclubforums for years and years.  I have written about this forum in my book, Return to India.

When I posted in the forum recently to publicize my book, the organizers came back to me with a barter arrangement.  They would help publicize my book and I would help publicize the forum.  There is no legal agreement or fee from either party.  It is a shared cause that we both believe in.

This made eminent sense because it is both transparent and useful.  For anyone who is caught in the r2i dilemma, I highly recommend this forum as a place to engage in.  There are countless people who are going through the angst and dilemma and therefore, you feel that you are not alone; that people understand what you are going through; and that there is a community of people with shared goals.

Having such a community is invaluable when you are doing something that you think is contrarian.  For that reason, I recommend r2iclubforums as a place to visit.  And I thank them for publicizing my book.  The link to the website is below.