The NRI between Arrival & Departure

One of the commonest NRI complaints is that with every return trip to India, the country is looking more and more different, not necessarily better or worse but different, like an actress’ lip job leaving her neither here nor there.

I can understand how my Delhi gang, now divided between the US and UK, feels about coming back to India.

For them, India looks neither European/American nor South-East Asian! For example, the cars are modern, drivers are feudal and the roads ancient.

A food court in a Mumbai mall.
A food court in a Mumbai mall. Photo courtesy: Wikimedia

Our malls have that pizazz but with no value-for-money merchandise, the offering at the Mall of Emirates is vastly different from the one at Viviana in Thane (Mumbai).

We have embraced western fashion but not yet their bodies; as a result the cellulite that could have so easily and legitimately stayed hidden behind a full sleeve kurta now screams from a sleeveless Zara top (pronounced Jhara in some corners), much like the pot-belly that did not deserve a nylon skin hugging a ‘Barca Messi’ t-shirt.

But the issue for my NRI friends is, why doesn’t Delhi look like saadi-Dilli anymore or why has Mumbai lost the flavour that Bombay had. India, they feel is pretending to be the place they grew up in.

As one of my friends’ aptly put it, I feel like a Neo Resident Indian owing partially to the constant name-changing of cities and iconic city centres.

For example for Delhiites, even the sound of Def Col (for Defence Colony) or K.Nags (for Kamla Nagar) sounds sweet, yet all that nostalgia gets shattered when he hears youngsters substituting Connaught Place for Rajiv Chowk (of Metro station fame); similarly for those landing in Bombay and hearing Mumbai or having to substitute Victoria Terminus for Chhatrapati Shivaji Terminus; some wonder what will happen to lingerie brand Victoria’s Secret?

One of my friends from Gurgaon, now in his last 20-odd days (of a four-year stay) in Glasgow still can’t come to terms with the fact that he has to return to Gurugram. Not that Gurgaon was Glasgow’s brown cousin or had world-class infrastructure as opposed to Gurugram (during rains both transform into GuruJaam) yet he feels like he is coming back to some unfamiliar downmarket land. Even while narrating to someone, “Oh we had so much fun in Gurgaon oops Gurugram”, it dims those bitter-sweet memories.

Instead of concentrating on Lokpal not becoming Jokepal, our Parliamentarians are investing energy into other trivial issues like name-changing. A rumour is doing the rounds that even Bhopal will now be renamed Bhojpal!

The new sign for A P J Abdul Kalam Road, the renamed Aurangzeb Road in New Delhi.
The new sign for A P J Abdul Kalam Road, the renamed Aurangzeb Road in New Delhi. Photo courtesy: PIB

Imagine the NRI’s plight, sitting in their cosy cars heading for a single malt whiskey to toast to old friends and old times, directing Google map by punching Marine Drive only to be redirected to Netaji Subhash Road.  

Also, a peculiar thing that many of my NRI friends have revealed is that now everyone expects them to have a “foreign accent”, as one of my friends uncles pointed out - what’s the point of spending so much money abroad and still returning home sounding like a dehaati (rural folk)?

Besides name-changing, there is yet another ulcer-causing complaint that our poor NRIs share - food. Not the quantity but the quality.

On their fleeting visits home, their local friends/relatives/prospective in-laws inevitably treat them to swanky upmarket restaurants with Continental or International food, I guess not so much with the intention of feeding them as with impressing them with their own ‘arrived’ status.

A Western-style breakfast.
A Western-style breakfast. Photo: Connected to India

Imagine after having eaten insipid, baked/roasted and boiled meals in Michelin-approved restaurants and other local fast food joints why would they want to have Pizza Express, KFC’s, Pasta and sizzling Chinese food when the gastronomist in them desires what they had relished in their old avatars.

One of my friends from Hong Kong, based in traditional Kowloon, was treated to one such nightmare when his relatives took him to dine at China House at the 5-star Grand Hyatt hotel in Mumbai; nothing wrong with the food per se, but what he wanted was street side greasy pav bhaaji, that he relished in his college days followed by a bowl of sweet Srikhand and not chocolate mousse.

Nostalgia, mostly painful yet, is best enjoyed over aroma and food, like Arundhati Roy very aptly stated - smells like music hold memories.

Rajindar da Dhaba or paranthe waali gali (in Delhi) or a bade-miyan (Bombay) may not set the benchmark for the most hygienic of places, yet their very aroma stretches saath samundar paar (across seven seas) reviving the good old memories, be it the struggling days of yore, first romances or cheap munchies with your first-ever Old Monk.  Eating at At.mosphere (BurjKhalifa, Dubai) will certainly catapult the NRI’s status on FB but it’s the greasy tunde kebabs at Lucknow that keep his heart beating.

Bangalore NRIs' food dilemma is slightly different. While in Bangalore’s burgeoning sweatshops (read IT industry) where time is precious and five minutes could well mean 50 new startups, they relish mostly the bullet-train-speed Chinese food from the dime-a-dozen fast food joints that act as Siamese twins to IT companies; both exist and feed off the same bodies.

Fast food outlet in Bangalore.
Fast food outlet in Bangalore. Photo courtesy: Review of Restaurant

However, the Bangalorean, whether based in Singapore or Shanghai, rejects Chinese food the moment he exits India. It seems that the Chinese food served here have the exoticness of Oriental and the masala and oil of South India as opposed to Chinese food abroad yet their (NRI) relatives would rather be caught dead taking their trophy relatives to such places.

Poor NRI.

To add to this dilemma is the survival of the fittest theory; sadly, lots of places; nightclubs, pubs, cinema halls and many other such hangout spots, simply disappear; something better and bigger ones replace them but the heart yearns for  ‘that’ not ‘this’, and before you know it, reality checks in - it’s the last boarding call.

Anand Sharma
Anand Sharma – Contributor

Anand Sharma is a media professional, associated with leading names in the Indian TV industry for almost 20 years. He has worked with broadcasters like Channel V, Star TV & MTV India, to name a few. He specializes in creating TV concepts in his parallel roles of Director, Creative Head and Writer. His range of creative expression shifts seamlessly between tongue-in-cheek humour, emotionally-charged writings and stark satire.


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