When I leave the country I am always a little bit nostalgic and a little bit excited about going back to what has now become home for me.It is also a time to take stock. What will I miss and what will I not?
The couple standing in the check-in line in front of me who suddenly morph into a group of 12 is not something I will miss. The musical chairs start when the check-in agent needs to see everyone. Then mummyji and papaji, mausi and bhatiji amble up to the counter and mark their presence. The passenger standing behind me was mumbling about their bags declaring they were probably full of food for their foreign jaunt!! Our line was stuck for 25 minutes while the group was being checked-in. If I had realised the couple was actually representing so many others, I would have chosen the other queue as would have the people behind me. It is not fair to spring this upon unsuspecting passengers.
While Indian airports have become super-efficient with minimal security and immigration lines and generally courteous staff, the passengers need to learn about travel etiquette. Lack of travel etiquette is my biggest bugbear while travelling in the country. To give another example; passengers break lines regularly. They will inveigle their way into queues and pretend as if they are doing nothing wrong. Should anyone pull them up, they ignore you or act as if they did not realise there is a line. Another travel etiquette Indians break unfailingly is when they disembark from an aircraft. There is no question of showing courtesy to passengers seated in front rows. It is a free for all with people from seats at the back of the aircraft barging ahead without giving way to passengers seated in front.
And then there is BO. On a recent trip in a taxi, the driver’s reeking body odour had me gasping for fresh air when I finally stumbled out at the end of my ride. I cannot understand why Indians do not do something about this. The assault to the olfactory is one thing I will not miss about this country. And there are many such instances when my poor nose goes into a spasm. The plumber coming to my house, removing his shoes and walking around with his rotten egg smelling feet makes me gag. My Parsi friends like to talk about the ‘methi’ smells. As a thepla eating Gujju, I refuse to accept their complaint but everyone once in a while I get a whiff of their predicament. In fact, body odour is a huge issue for me in the US too. I know there is a desi in my vicinity even if I do not spot them, because my nose sniffs them out. A combination of closed homes and Indian cooking has created a smell distinctive to the desi community.
But on the bright side, there is much I miss about being in India apart from the obvious of family and friends.
My cellphone screensaver cracked and I had no time to go get it fixed. No worries. The vendor I regularly use for my cellphones came home and replaced the screen saver in a jiffy. Likewise, my jeweler understood I had no time to make the trek to Main Street so everything was delivered home along with a credit card machine. Talk about convenience. This kind of service only happens in India. In fact, everytime I come on a visit I bring back all the items that need to be fixed from shoes, to clothes, jewellery to spectacles and watches. The service rendered is impeccable. No job is too small and it is done at a fraction of the cost. I was bringing back a painting for my apartment and my artist friend immediately took it upon herself to make sure she packed it properly to survive the trip. And she did it for love not money.
I also miss my doctors. The healthcare in America is complicated and comes at a high cost. For people with basic care, it is cheaper flying to India and getting medical issues attended than paying through your nose in the US. I do my dental work, show my eyes, visit my homeopath, get my orthopedic issues sorted and while I am at it, finish my annual check-up too!
And as a desi, we always miss the food. My mum starts from day one with my favourite foods and my friends continue the trend. I get my fill of Bhel, Panipuri, Dosa, Idlis, Ragda-pattice, Pav bhaji, Goa prawn curry, Sabudana khichdi, Sindhi Sai Bhaji, Aloo Tuk, Stuffed Parathas and other popular favourites.
Above all I miss the camaraderie and warmth extended to me by friends, family and casual acquaintances too. I do have friends and family in the US who are always there for me but it is not the same as being in India. May be it is because of a lack of time or distances or the fast life or even a sheen of indifference.
On the whole though it’s great to be able to have the best of both. When I miss India, I hold on to the fact I will be back soon enough. And when I miss the US, I know I will return to my life there. It is a win-win.
I just hope the body odour issue gets resolved one day.
Monika Patel – Monique to her friends – is now a permanent resident of New York City, but her heart is permanently in our city, her home for 28 years. Monika’s Musings will appear every Friday on Pune365.