I have been trying for some time now to articulate why I love being back in India, after spending so much time in the US. Even when spending an hour caught in Bengaluru’s famous traffic jams trying to get home, even when I grapple with the challenge of managing “the help” for the first time in my life, even while I long for the wonderful friendships that I had around me in the US, the friends who were my family during those years — not once in the past year have I wished myself back in the US. I was honestly terrified when I was coming back, wondering how it would be to return after so many years, and mentally prepared for the worst. After a life-changing decision of that magnitude, it is gratifying to feel so overwhelmingly that this was one of the best decisions I have made. But when someone asks why, I have not been able to put that into proper words, and for once, I thought I should. There are some things that need to be said, and after a year, it’s about time I said them.
When you have been away from home for years together, homesickness becomes a constant ache that you are no longer conscious about. It is the weight on your heart that you only realize was there when it is lifted. I had been away from my family for so long… and I did not realize how much I missed spending time with them, and being there for them. My mother got really sick about three months after I got back. If I had been in the US, I would just have felt really bad, and there would have been nothing I could do but call and ask how she is doing, which would have felt just as empty. Here, I told my manager that I would like to work from home for a week, and I was right there at home with her. I am not a particularly good caregiver, but my dad and I managed together. At the very least, I was able to be there for her. My parents have been the rock I leaned on all my life : being able to offer something more than a call when they need support makes being here entirely worthwhile.
There were two new members in my family that I hardly had a chance to get to know until I came back : my sister-in-law and my little niece; and by the same coin, they hardly knew me. Over the past year, there have been many many weekends spent at home with them. My niece has a nickname she created for me. I know her twinkling eyes and bright smile, and how scared she gets at unexpected sounds. I know exactly which kind of chocolate she loves, and what she calls herself, and what she has been saying these days as she learns new words each day. I have learned to trust my sister-in-law’s opinion about which movies to see, and love her funny stories about things that happen around her at work. And it goes both ways — it was bitter sweet when the last time we were there, as I was packing to go back to Bengaluru, my two year old niece came in, looked at my bag and asked “Are you going?”. I explained to her that I have to go back that evening in the train. She looked at me with those big eyes and said, “It will make Iyya (her nickname) sad.” It was heart-wrenching, but there was a fierce pleasure in that she would miss me as well.
My personal life has taken a leap as well. My husband and I got married – to my surprise and happiness – with both our family’s blessings, even with an inter-religious marriage. It took months of small steps, but it did happen. Over the past 7 months, I have seen my parents get to know my husband, and I have gotten to know his family as well. My heart almost burst with pride, when at a recent wedding, my dad introduced my husband as “my son-in-law”. My husband learned how to sing mappila songs and receive wedding guests in the traditional north malabar fashion. He is also now one of my niece’s favorite people — probably because he teaches her entirely new games that no one else in our family knows. As for me, in addition to the chatter of my niece, now I look forward to the antics of a little three year old boy, my husband’s nephew. When they visited us in Bengaluru, I made a list of every place I knew he would love, and it was wonderful to see him imitate the tiger he saw at Bennargatta animal sanctuary, and name the birds at the zoo that I did not know the names of. I know what kind of puzzles he loves, and the new songs he learned at school. I have spent hours with my mother-in-law and my sister-in-law hearing stories of my husband’s childhood, and learning how to make his favorite dishes. It has always been known that a marriage is more than two people, it is really about two families. Staying in the US would have made it still just the two of us, and we would have been mostly strangers to our spouse’s families. Being here made it possible to build that bond, and it makes so much difference in how we interact with them.
One of the things I worried about while coming back was whether I would be able to keep growing in my career. But in the last year, I realized that it’s possibly one of the best places to be at in my career right now. There is so much energy, so much innovation happening in India now, that even the fast paced technology industry I was a part of in the US feels slow in comparison. I am learning more and managing more than I would ever have had a chance to, at this stage in my role, if I had stayed in the US. There is so much to be done, and so much happening that opportunities are plenty. Another worry I had was quality of life – but I found that there were things that actually made life more “luxurious” here. We can easily afford to hire help to clean, cook and drive – something that would have been quite a stretch in the US. Most of the things we have been used to in the US are available in India as well, and many times, thanks to the global battle for the Indian consumer, at lower prices. I thought too, that after so many years in the US, I may have become too culturally “westernized” and would feel stifled here. On the contrary, I sometimes feel like I am too conservative – the culture here has become so different, so much more progressive. India has changed, and much faster than I have while I was away. Of course there are pockets of things and places that still need to change, but it is evolving faster than I could have predicted.
There are things I miss about being in the US, of course. I would have loved it if, for example, more traffic rules were followed here, or there was more accountability in people for day-to-day things. It was not an easy decision for either of us to come back, and neither was the transition very simple. But when I look back over the year, I know the balance is firmly tilted towards the positive side. We are together, we are happy, and we are where we should be.
In short, we are home: that’s a wonderful thing.