Although I never asked my parents, I know that leaving India was difficult for them. Fresh out of India’s premier medical institution, they left, along with a majority of their peers, to fill a dearth of specialized physicians and medical researcher positions in the United States in the late Seventies.
While in the United States, every week they would write letters on blue aerogrammes which would take two weeks to reach my grandparents. They filled the margins with scrawls in Bangla and read over the responses received over and over. Sometimes, they would go on long drives in the countryside. My mother would listen to songs of Tagore pensively. My father would find lakes where he would go fishing just as he had in his childhood. When they saw another desi – perhaps a lady wearing a sari in grocery store, they got visibly excited. From what I can gather, it didn’t happen very often in suburban Texas back then.
In the Eighties, we all moved back to India. It was a different India back then. There was no cable TV at the time. You couldn’t buy a decent pair of jeans in the country or a bottle of Coca-Cola anywhere. Very few movie theaters showed movies from Hollywood. Thomas Friedman would have hated this India.
And so my formative years were spent in both the United States and in India – two countries in which I have spent roughly an equivalent amount of time.
My parents never told me that they had been homesick. They didn’t have to. When I decided to leave for the United States to get my PhD, I knew exactly what they had felt decades earlier. I was educated, upwardly-mobile, as fluent in English as any native speaker of the language, and as capable as the other researchers in the academic setting I would be joining, but I felt a bond with those who had left Calcutta for places as distant as South Africa, Guyana, Mauritius, and Fiji a century earlier. Perhaps, even those who left as indentured laborers kept a spark of hope in their hearts that they would someday be returning to the country of their birth, even as the passing of seasons made it more improbable?
My generation is not disenfranchised like the earlier generations of immigrants who were indentured laborers. But are we completely in control of our fates? No one wants to admit it, but moving to any country is more an impulsive decision based on random life-events than a calculated undertaking. Situations change and we rationalize based on the outcomes.
Go to any party attended by first-generation desi immigrants who have lived in the United States for a few years and you will run into people who have bought homes and apartments in India with the goal of returning someday. Who knows if they ever will? I am like those party guests. I can never completely rule out returning to India without acknowledging that I would have to abandon my parents and family for good. That is a price I am not ready to pay.
I am fine with those who decide to stay in whatever country they are most comfortable in and whatever rationalization they use to justify their decisions.
For me, it is not about the traffic. It is not about who does my laundry.