The Year We Spent in India
Rutgers alumna Prabha Chidambaran wanted her children to experience her homeland before it was too late
Early this spring, our family moved from New Jersey to India for eight months. This wasn’t a huge culture shock since my husband and I are Indians by birth who had grown up in the homeland until a desire to venture abroad for graduate studies took us to America.
I studied creative writing in the Graduate School-Newark, and, after graduating with an M.A. in English in 1994, interned at the New York Daily News, eagerly pursuing breaking news under deadline pressures. My husband became an assistant finance professor at the Rutgers Business School, commuting to both the Newark and New Brunswick campuses (he later took a tenured teaching position at Fordham University) and before we knew it, 20 happy years in America flew quickly.
Our two children navigated both worlds, somewhat understanding our native Tamil language but preferring to talk in English, ready to oblige us with yearly visits to India but always relieved to return home to New Jersey. I harbored secret hopes that my children would take Indian language courses at Rutgers – wouldn’t this be a great example of the university motto, ‘Jersey roots, global reach?’
As time passed and our suburban roots grew stronger, paradoxically homesickness gripped me. With the deaths of my father and grandmother, my immediate family’s presence in India dwindled - I recalled a Gujarati cashier telling me sadly that she could not visit India anymore because her family members there were all dead or living in USA.
Would this be my fate too? I could not reconcile myself to spending all my life in the silent American suburbs which were no match for the throbbing, pulsating, cacophonic streets of India. I had to show my kids that the brown man’s land was equally worthy, that they would not ruin their lives by living in India for a few months.
Yet I almost chickened out of this whole experiment after hearing my 13-year old daughter’s maniacal shrieks of, “Why are you doing this to me? I am gonna hate it there, I will not learn any Indian language!” Fortunately I had the full support of their New Jersey schools and my husband got a temporary teaching job at a prestigious Indian business school where the entire community was modeled to support the needs of the many visiting international faculty.
In the city of Hyderabad, in the beautiful campus of the Indian School of Business, the magic of globalization greeted me. Mentally prepared to battle anyone who made fun of my Yankee-accented children, instead, we met other accented children in their school who didn’t seem miserable at all.
Wherever we went, bellboys, autorickshaw drivers, kirana (mom& pop) storekeepers spoke in English which put my children at ease. They attended a small international school which went all out to organize adventurous field trips (my daughter water-rafting in Rishikesh!!). Malls, Domino’s and the golden arches were now the great leveler.
I was giddy with happiness because we got the best of both worlds even if, technically speaking, our kids lived in a bubble isolated from the heat, dirt, pollution, long lines that was the life of the aam admi (regular guy) in India.
I marveled at the way India had blossomed so that doubting NRIs (non-resident Indian) like us no longer feared to bring their children to settle down here. India Shining, Incredible India was the new slogan that lived up to its name – even if it was riding the coattails of America. I now dream that my children will craft an eloquent essay on “The Year We Spent in India” for their Rutgers college applications and maybe even thank me for the memories.