For the second leg of my sabbatical, I chose India. This wasn’t an easy choice. I have always wanted to spend time in Scandinavia and Australia much much more than I have wanted to visit New Delhi. But part of this sabbatical was to understand myself and like millions of Indians who left India for greener pastures, I constantly wonder about how Indian I really am? The color of my skin and my confused and convoluted accent are set in stone. No one who has seen Indians will doubt that I am from anywhere else. But here’s the thing – I barely know India. I am much more a Chennaite, Californian or even Internet-ian than I am an Indian.
I grew up in Chennai and Bangalore and left the country at a very influencable age. My India was five parts cricket, three parts hanging out with male friends and two parts studying for shit I hated. My India was two erudite cities in South India. My India was protected and shielded from the poverty, heat and dust that define India. My India was being uncomfortable in my own skin as I feared judgement and deviation from conformity in the intersecting neighborhoods of a smallish city. My India spoke Tanglish and made fun of Hindi. My India did not know how to hold a drink or a mature relationship. My India did not know Muslims. My India barely knew girls. My India did not know how to talk to girls. My India only served spicy food. My India skipped all the fun parts of school. My India was enabled by servants and chauffeurs. My India saw the birth of Indi-pop and coffee shops. My India was very different from most people’s India. My India was small, incomplete and personal.
It has now been close to a dozen years since I bid a tearful goodbye to the city of Chennai and to my India. Most trips to the country since then have been short (<=2 weeks) and did not take me past my neighboring Zip codes. So I decided this summer that Norway and Copenhagen can wait. I really just wanted to experience everyone's India. I wanted to visit the cities that most people associate India with. I wanted to experience public transport in all its forms. I wanted to visit the countryside and experience an Indian village. I wanted to watch test match cricket from the stands. I wanted to eat street food and talk to some locals about politics. I wanted to experience an India that was some one else's India.
Over the next few weeks I will share with you my experiences in the India of New Delhi, Jaipur, Mumbai and Bangalore. I will write about monuments and places that everyone assumes I'd have seen and I will speak with farmers and taxi drivers about their lives. I will vent about the hardships of watching a cricket match live. I will have at least one embarrassing Hindi faux pas and will share the story of at least one digestive malfunction due to overindulgence of the greatest cuisine in the world.
Pretty soon, this sabbatical will be over and I will be driving on the right side of the road again. I will be drinking Starbucks and driving at 70 miles an hour. I will have reverted to my American accent and I will come across someone who will ask me where I am from. In my confused, convoluted accent I will repeat – India. And this time I will be saying so with conviction that I am more Indian than I was a few months earlier….
This is the restaurant sign that welcomed me at the New Delhi airport! Couldn’t be a better start!