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
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