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Coming Full Circle

September 2004
Coming Full Circle

From ABCD to DCBA, the acronyms say it all.


It was Sunday evening and the skies looked menacing, with the clouds threatening to pour their contents in the next hour. My husband Sai drove the little Maruti to the supermarket and as expected, rain started pelting the car ferociously. He turned off the ignition and we stayed in the car, unwilling to run out towards the entrance of the store. The windows fogged up and Sai opened the driver's side window by a crack. A little later, feeling brave enough, we manually locked the doors and dashed into the store. Armed with plastic bags stocked with Lay's chips, Sprite and other essentials, we returned to the car only to discover that the keys had been left on the dashboard. Our options were limited given that the nearest car repair shop was closed.

Soon a curious group of onlookers gathered around with suggestions and offers of help. Finally one ingenious man managed to get a piece of metal wire into the narrow crack in the window and pull out the old-type lock and voila, we were rescued.

When we narrated this story to a friend who had returned from US not too long ago, he asked us one simple question, "Did you call AAA?" And in the ensuing laughter, we shared the knowledge of a place far away and for a few minutes, shamelessly indulged in a bout of nostalgia.

What makes Indians in the U.S. hang out with other Indians is probably the same urge that makes me gravitate to returned NRIs like myself here. Today the number of returned NRIs in India is fairly large and continues to grow, specially in cities like Hyderabad and Bangalore, with the latter having formal organizations established on that premise alone.

For most Indians who leave the comfort of the familiar to find their future abroad, the early days are not easy, thanks to pronounced social-cultural changes. Consequently, those like us who come back have mentally crossed the barrier that resists change. However, physically, returning home is a different story. We endure the process of reorienting ourselves to a landscape that has transformed considerably from the one that is frozen in our memories from the time of boarding that first international flight.

In times of stress, it is the familiar that soothes and comforts. As we try to find our place in a landscape that is at once recognizable but altered, it seems natural that we gravitate towards others undergoing the same transformation.

So we get together in groups, returned NRIs all, and discuss class sizes and extra-curricular activities when it comes to picking a school for our kids, not tuition costs or academic rigor. We talk about having switched from Palmolive to Prill, Uncle Ben to MTR and to Lakme from Lancome. We exchange notes about how to get an Indian driver's license, tandoori pizza, the new Subway store, the theatre with comfortable seats or the park with the kid-friendly play structures.

While the younger children quickly get over their American accents, it is the parents who watch Friends and Law and Order, to take the edge out of the transition. In trying to find a term to describe the idiosyncrasies of this group, I think the term that fits best is DCBA. I have taken off from the not-so complimentary tag attached to children of Indians growing up in America. Here I propose that we are the Desis who Came Back from America.

In many ways, on returning to a country where we no longer bear the tag of minority based solely on our race, we find it difficult to effortlessly blend in and find ourselves somewhat marginally situated in this vast majority. And therein lies the basis of confusion, not of the foreign born children (as attributed to the ABCDs) but the primary confusion that lies at the heart of the immigrant experience, now doubly compounded by our return.

From the time the monsoons arrived, we have had a deluge of another sort. We have been swamped with visits and phone-calls from the true NRIs, our friends from abroad who are on their periodic visits to India. It is strange to meet them in the common country of our origin since in most cases we had sought their friendship while living abroad. We are now at the receiving end of their largesse as they shower us with large Costco size packs of Hershey's chocolates and bars of Dove soap. In this role-reversal I feel like I am looking into a mirror, having been at the giving end not so long ago.

I detect a touch of envy when I ask my friend to not bother with the dishes after dinner since the maid takes care of it. They mention a new Ikea store in our old neighborhood and I talk about missing driving, intimidated as I am by the traffic here. There is an odd comfort in the sharing of these confidences, like neighbors standing on two sides of the fence that divides their property, knowing fully well that at the end of this conversation, each will return back to the side that they have chosen.

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