Sep 9, 2011

Living in India

From the time I was born till the time I was 15, I lived outside of India. I grew up in the land of the Arabs. Saudi Arabia. Although my mother and I came to India every summer during vacations, for me, home was always where I was growing up, where my school was, and where all my friends lived. No amount of my grandmother's love and cooking could ever shake that strong identification that I had with that country as my home.

And yet, coming to India was always an amazing experience for me. My mother tells me that the first time I saw a cow on the streets when I was old enough to recognize the animal, I could not stop telling my mom that that was a cow. "Mummy, that's a cow!" "Yes sweety, it is." "But... that's a COW!" The streets back in Saudi were so boringly devoid of any interesting cattle-folk.

I suppose I should start from the time I woke up in the morning. My aunt (mom's sister) would be getting ready for work, listening to Vividh Bharati on the radio. This was the sound that invariably woke me up every day. Of course, being summer, I wouldn't really want to get out of bed even though I was wide awake. So I would simply lay there on the floor (yes, we slept on rugs on the floor!) listening to Vicco Vajradanti (ayurvedic jadi bootiyon se bana sampoorn swadeshi) and Washing Powder Nirma commercials. Trying to sing along in my head. That is, until I would be the last one in bed and some adult would come and kick me till I got up.

There were no wash basins at Grandma's, we brushed squatting on the Cinthol-smelling bathroom floor. It was so cool. Well back then, bathrooms were just a room with taps where you took bath. You took care of your other businesses in a different toilet. So it was cool. And I would then have one steel tumbler full of steaming hot horlicks waiting for me on the kitchen shelf. To this day, the smell of horlicks reminds me of my grandma. The drinking water needed to be filled in big brass pots from the tap downstairs every alternate day. So as I sat on the bed with my milk, I would watch as the adults scurried up and down with the pots at their waists, dreaming of when I would be old enough to carry a pot on my own waist.

Once breakfast and lunch were done with, it would be entertainment time. And what an entertainment it was! Door darshan of course. I remember watching some really nice shows like Dekh Bhai Dekh. In the evenings there would be those song programs like Chitrahaar, Chitralahiri and the likes. Each day of the week brought some excitement along with it depending on the programs that would be telecast that day. On most days however, there would be a power cut just before the program started. And we would start playing candle-light antakshari. And of course, on Sundays everyone was hooked to the telly with those Ramayana and Mahabharata epics and those old Telugu movies in the evenings. There was something just so enchantingly simple about those times.

Life was slow, uncomplicated. I looked out the window, I could see a myriad possibilities to keep my imagination engaged. The vendors who sold everything under the sun, just deciphering their strange calls was sheer fun. There were just so many kids to play with. And to them, I was a strange creature from a foreign land and hence very much subject to all sorts of weird questions about my life. One kid actually asked me if I lived in a tent in the desert and drank water from an oasis!

Our family outings were simple. There would be those token trips to Birla Mandir and Tank Bund that would be completed within a couple of weeks of our arrival. And I would be taken out to watch one movie that one of the adults would choose. I remember watching Jagadika Veerudu Atiloka Sundari and Seetaramaya Gari Manavaralu and Anjali and other such movies at the theatre. I was always given one packet of potato chips and one Goldspot to munch on. Ahh, I miss Goldspot.

I loved the shops. The bangle shops that my aunt took me to, to purchase bangles for my birthday. The towers and towers of multi-coloured bangles stacked up in neat columns was nothing short of pretty to me. The small kirana shops at every street corner that sold 5-star and poppins. I even loved the names of the sweets in India. The flower shops and the coconut shops and the pharmacies that smelled like cough syrup. They bring back such happy memories.

I loved travelling by cycle rickshaws. I would sometimes flatly refuse to come out of the house if we were not going to be taking one. And the honks of auto rickshaws were simply a delightful sound. I was so filled with curiosity over these fascinating rubber objects that I once went up to an empty auto and started honking away. And the temples, how could I forget the temples? The Ganesh temple near the railway station I always loved for the laddoo prasadam. It was so divine. And the jatras that happened where people would dance wildly on the roads. And my grandma would take me to the jatra market and buy me little wooden toys.

There is no end to childhood memories and I could probably write a book if I kept going. When compared to the neat, urbane, organized, life we lived in Saudi where there were laws and rules and all the streets looked the same, India was a breath of fresh air to a child's imaginative tendencies. Many an afternoon, I would simply sit by the window, looking out and making up stories about all the people I saw on the streets.

The time came when I had to leave Saudi for good, to continue with my education. I had to come to India. As difficult as it was to leave the place that I called home for 15 years, moving to India was something I looked forward to more than anything else. Many friends of my parents warned me that it would not be as easy as I thought. There were a lot of perceptions about life in India among the Indians of that community. That the people are not good, there are no facilities there, and the kids, the kids are the worst, there is nothing but cut-throat competition in the schools in India. These are a few of the many things people would talk about. Many of my friends never did live in India. They chose to move on to other countries. But the India of my heart and my dreams beckoned me, nevertheless.

My intuition proved every one's fears wrong. Of course adjusting had it's own ups and downs. But as a teenager, I found that life in India provided me with the kind of freedom that I always pined for. I discovered so many things about myself, how independent I could be, and how I loved exploring and wandering and just walking on my own. Contrary to everyone's fears, India, rather Hyderabad, proved to be a safe place filled with warm people who were always willing to help. The kids in my new school were kind and helpful, even more so than any of the other kids I had met before.

I don't have a concept of 'home' anymore. Moving countries was a big change and the word 'home' doesn't really mean anything to me anymore. But India is truly a beautiful country. Her beauty is in her chaos. In her music. In her dance. In her sense of devotion. In her absolute freedom. 


  1. well i read this blog almost after 1 yr..........but wht u hav written is simply awesome...........India is a country which needs to be is an adventure in India........thank you so much for a beautiful hav described everything so beautiful tht it took me down the memory lane......