I have many local and international friends – all interested in the Indian culture and food. I remember, at one point, I thought to myself, “I am an ambassador of India in my own way. I have the power to make an impact and influence what others think of India”. Then, I officially turned Swiss. Not just because I changed citizenship, but because I felt at home here – with all my heart. The India within me continued to reside as part of me. I realized I will never be white or a native speaker of Swiss languages. I accepted it. But when asked if I am Indian or Swiss – my natural response was and continues to be “Indo-Swiss”.
Over the years, I was often asked whether I have any “non-Indian friends”. Whether I felt comfortable in Switzerland. Whether I felt homesick. My answers have puzzled many. For, I have mainly non-Indian friends. I feel completely comfortable here. And how can I feel homesick in my own home-country – the one I have adapted and adopted by choice?
But, I admit, there is one point in time every year when I feel slightly nostalgic. Every year, October and November bring along the festive season, reminding me of the constant chatter of mums and daughters, aunts and cousins, the ritualist ‘rangoli’ and ‘mehendi’, gleaming bangles, intricate jewellery, traditional bright coloured Indian outfits that change with fashions and trends, yet hold on to the sophistication and charm of timelessness. While whatsapp messages, pictures, videos and Facebook and Instagram updates and photos keep my spirits high – my emotions often sit on a see-saw. The updates cheer me up, at the same time, they make me feel a touch left out, slightly out of place during the festivities of Navaratri, Dussehra, Karvachauth and Diwali.
I go on autopilot where I turn more Indian – the house smells of rich Indian food, sweets and masala chai. Indian food, colour, jubilance, meeting and greeting with love and laughter and some extra weight creep into my Indo-Swiss being.
I have few – not a few, but few – Indian friends; and ‘now’ is the time to catch up with them and grasp the moments of ‘desi-fun’. But when it comes to mingling with a larger group of Indians at organized festivals – there is a huge amount of uncertainty and hesitation that comes to the forefront. The basis is a very real and strange history linked to the early years of moving abroad. I have often mentioned this to a selective few twho I feel will understand my point of view in a non-judgemental way (although my own view is obviously judgemental).
With not many sides to flaunt – people see me for who I am, but they don’t seem to be satisfied with my inability to politick. I am also slowly turning into a ‘slightly private individual’, too. So, this time, when I found myself – strangely enough – not upset about not going for one of my favourite cultural events, I began facing my true feelings.
With no offence whatsoever to anyone, what I found was rather ‘amusing’ to say the least (and my Indian friends who understand me well enough will laugh out loud… My international friends will be amused). So here are just some of the things that come to mind:
* A different alignment of mindsets. I have been called “not Indian enough” because: I don’t constantly miss India; I don’t go for 3-6-month long holidays alone to visit the country of my birth and upbringing; and because I don’t crib about the country where I live in and share a sense of belonging with… Yes, complete integration into the system raises questioning looks. Honestly, I don’t understand what’s wrong in embracing certain practical and likeable Swiss traits? Isn’t that all about integration in the true sense of the word? ‘When in Rome, do as the Romans do’ – so what’s wrong with integrating? No one has forced any of us in this country to stay here against our wishes. Occasional bouts of homesickness and nostalgia are part of the package, but they can be dealt with. If not, dear friend, it may be time to stop moping and move back to where your heart belongs…
* We (my husband and I) don’t fit into a pre-existing type. I noticed that people love to slot others into neatly pre-arranged drawers in their heads. And when you don’t fit the spaces available, you’re confusing or not worth interacting with. In our case, we don’t fit into the usual scheme of things, for neither are we bankers and nor are we IT professionals. Neither of us is “typically Indian” in our food and cultural habits, nor are we entrenched in religious beliefs. But is this not a form of ‘diversity’? Remember that good old the concept of ‘unity in diversity’ being India’s core strength? If India can be culturally diverse and yet the Indians there can be accepting of differences, why is that trait wanting here?
* Pseudo warmth and a ‘hi-bye-out-of-sight-out-of-mind’ scenario. There is an unexplainable, typical open-hearted warmth and acceptance that we all crave. A sense of belonging or ‘apnapan’ – and many of us get at these events from known and relatively unknown people. However, it’s clearly short-lived. Long-term friendships cannot be expected here. The person who claims to know you inside out will be the one who probably is most confused about you!
* Too much bitching, too many comparisons…. Seriously, does it matter if my child is a karate champion or a football bystander? Does it impact you if I don’t wear Cartier and choose to wear something more label-free? How does it make any difference to you if I cook chappatis or not? Is that single criterion a reflection my home-making abilities? How does it matter if my child learns Kathak, Bollywood twists or classical ballet? It’s a matter of choice – free choice! Does my lack of knowledge of the latest Hindi movie blockbuster or gossip on the new face of Tinseltown make me a lesser mortal?
* You have pay for more than you get. Everything in Switzerland is exorbitant – but quality matters. However, we as Indian suppliers, sellers and organizers end up cutting corners, thus negatively impacting quality. We as Indians consumers and buyers have worked hard in sometimes-difficult environments to earn our ‘moolah’ and want to squeeze the last droplet of value from each cent spent.
Groups within groups: we are certainly not Indians living in Switzerland.
We seem to divide ourselves consciously or unconsciously – I really don’t know. So, we could be:
– Rich bankers wives or bankers
– DINKs (double-income, no kids)
– Stuck-up individuals who judge everyone and everything – from hobbies to professions, personal styles to cultural preferences…
– Well established in making Switzerland home – but not truly from the heart. So, yes, torn yet established – quite in a perpetual state of dilemma
– Self-appointed critics of everything and everyone not conforming to our ideas
– Telugus, Gujjus, Punjus and more – but not Indo-Swiss. Not even Indo – for that matter
– Show-offs and aggressive, with that desire to “throw up” all our knowledge (even if half-baked) all at once – right here, right now, because we know it all
-Regular moms or trendy international school moms. This automatically divides our time schedules and approaches to life in the Alps
– And a few of the Indians are normal – just normal and nice (with perhaps some overlaps from the above categories).
So there! I’ve had my ‘vent-it-out moment’.Without casting aspersions on anyone I have simply conveyed my experiences – mainly the bad and the ugly ones.
Normal is nice. But as they say, normal is boring so why dedicate a blog on it (though I dont’ quite agree…)?
The good ones are too personal and, once again, pretty much known to all my friends – close and upfront.
Phew – all of a sudden – there is a sense of peace in my being. I have openly stated what I have concealed over years. Said it out loud, with no concern about being impacted by the “judgements” of many of the readers. Just as you all are free to express your opinions – I am too. And it feels good. I feel light.
I feel right about being simple and simply, ME.
My ‘post-Dussehra-pre-Diwali devi roop’ is certainly that of open and uninhibited expression.