Category Archives: Culture Shock!

Moving back to India – what to expect.

A Rotten Apple Spoils the Bunch

By Isheeta Sanghi

You may not know what happened in Delhi two weeks ago, most likely because we were mourning the loss of all the innocent children in Connecticut, who were murdered a day earlier. But something horrible happened. And no loss, or tragedy should be pinned or measured against another, but I feel like what happened on December 16, 2012 in New Delhi is something that every woman, every man, and especially every American of Indian heritage needs to know about.

I am too emotional to put into words the horrific events that led to the brutal rape and subsequent death of a young woman, but I’d like to recommend a blog article posted by a former colleague of mine.

The Mayans predicted that the world would end, and in my view, they were right. Humanity has died, and has been laid to rest.  I think, when something like this happens, when something like Sandy Hook happens, you start to think about things, you start to use those two words, ‘what if.’ What if, it was my child, who I sent to school that day, but will never get to send to school again? What if, I was that girl, who got onto a bus, after just watching a movie with a friend, but would never ever be able to get onto another bus again?

What if.

What happened makes me want to retract everything good I have ever written about India – hence this title. Never have I been so ashamed of being Indian, never have I been so mortified and completely shocked by the human race.

I think more than anything I am disgusted that this is something that has happened, in 2012. In a city that claims to be metropolitan, in a country that wants to move away from being “third world.” Guess what, you just moved all the way back, and then some.

I lived in Delhi alone, for a year, and I can’t help but think what if. That girl, she did what I would have done, she got on with a male friend, and assumed a natural level of comfort, which 6 barbarians have just stolen away from every single young, working woman in the capital. What if it had been me?

Following the girl’s death, reports came out that she and her friend were actually waiting for an auto before they got onto the bus. I can’t tell you how many times I had to wait and wait and wait for an auto, but I never got onto a bus, because I never knew how they worked, and I would just start walking. I’d walk on main roads, and again assume a natural level of safety thinking “If I stay on the main roads I’ll be fine.” I guess I must have been really, really lucky.

I am an optimist. I like believing people are good. I still want to believe in fairies and love, but at the end of the day, you read about something like this, and you re-evaluate everything you’ve ever thought of, everything you’ve ever believed.

What’s worse is some of the comments we’re hearing from officials. “Ladies shouldn’t be on a bus at that hour.” Really? Well, why do you have movies that start at 10pm? Oh wait, I’m sorry, that’s only something for men to do? “Ladies shouldn’t dress inappropriately with short skirts and tank tops.” Um. I don’t even know what to say to that because that’s the most illogical reasoning I’ve ever heard in my entire life. So what you’re saying is that I’m inviting someone to rape me by wearing a skirt? Sorry, but, no.

I think it’s beyond ridiculous that we’re still living in a society that places women underneath men.  I think it’s beyond ridiculous that the officials of the country are coming up with reasons that justify the accused’s actions. Basically what you’re saying is that it’s a crime to be a woman at all, and we should wear baggy trash bags so in order to not encourage men’s primal instincts. Not that it’s going to stop them anyway.

Being under the influence of alcohol makes you do stupid things, this we know. We all say things, text things, FaceBook things that we end up regretting. But this, this is inexcusable; I don’t know how much you’d have to drink to do these unexplainable things.

Luckily the 6 accused are in police custody. Though I’m not entirely sure how effective that is, given that the political situation in “The World’s largest Democracy” isn’t what one would call organized or fair. I’m not sure what fate awaits them, I’m not sure what their mothers, sisters, or wives must think of them, though I do know what the world thinks of them.

I don’t know what will happen; I don’t know if things will change, though I’m sadly doubtful that anything will come of this. The thing is we still live in a world where these unspeakable things happen on a daily basis, but we just don’t hear about them. It’s true that these unspeakable events don’t happen only in India, but when it happens so close to home, we feel it so much more. The reason we don’t hear more about them is because we, as a society, shove them under the carpet. Because, as women, we’re ashamed of what the world will think of us, what our families will have to deal with. What we should be more concerned about is highlighting that we didn’t do anything wrong, WE were wronged.

We do not know her name, but one thing is for sure, we know what happened. Wherever she is, she should know that we all heard her story. We know that when she got to the hospital she told her mother and the doctors that she wanted to live. We would have wanted here to know that what happened wasn’t fair.

Her legacy, horrifying and painful as its origins may have been, is that we are all talking about the vile act that is just an extension of many smaller indignities that Indian women face all the time. I hope she knows that, and is comforted.

Isheeta is one of the many first-generation American born Indians that relocated to India for college. She studied in Delhi, and after finishing up relocated to Bangalore, to work for Reuters as a journalist. After a few years of living and working in India she recently relocated back to the Bay Area, where she was born and raised. She shares with us her unique perspective on her experience of living in India, and dealing with various cultural issues. She currently works at a start-up in the Silicon Valley.

Enjoying it

By Isheeta Sanghi
delhi foxypar

A lot of readers have said, ‘Ok so you moved to India, and you’ve told us it’s not that bad. Great, so what?’ They’ve asked me how I’ve coped, how I handle the poverty around me, how I adjust to the social scene here, and how I’ve adapted in the work environment.

I have done all of the above, but it has taken time, more time than I could have imagined. How I’ve managed to do it? With a positive attitude. It sounds cliché, but that’s the honest to God truth. I won’t be able to answer how I accomplished all of those things in one go, but here’s one for starters.

When I started college I quickly realized all of the people in my school were your typical rich Delhi folk. They drove around in fancy cars, wore huge sunglasses, were probably a few years older than me, and never came to class. Needless to say I really didn’t have many friends in college. The few students that did end up coming to class once in a while, either conversed in Hindi (and my Hindi is probably as good as Katrina Kaif’s in her first few movies- no offense, I’m a fan, I love her) or thought I was a total weirdo/loser since I attended each and every single class without fail.

So yes it was tough, and initially I thought, I was going to be such a loner and my only friends in college would be my professors. Luckily that didn’t happen. I managed because I found people that I could relate to – outside of college.

I joined the American Women’s Association in Delhi (men have no fear; you are allowed to join as well.) It’s an organization that allows you to interact with other Americans who are working, or going to school mostly in the NCR area. Being part of the organization makes you feel at home, because you’re doing things that you would do if you were in the States. They organize all sorts of activities from 4th of July BBQs, to Easter Egg Hunts, as well as events for a cause, like the annual ‘Walk For Life’ which I was privileged to have been part of.

All your major cities will have some sort of expat community. In Bangalore there’s the Overseas Women’s Club, in Mumbai there’s the American Women’s Club – yes they all have the word ‘Women’ in it, but men can and do join as well.

I’ll also go ahead and say that though some of my really close friends are parts of these organizations- I can’t spend all of my time in the expat community. For starters, you’ll go broke, because they tend to wine and dine at the five star hotels and restaurants, and secondly you can’t always relate entirely because at the end of the day they may not have any sort of cultural ties to this country, but you do.

India is not the same place we use to visit as kids; there are plenty of people like us working, volunteering, studying or just living life here. You just have to make the effort to find them, and when you do you’ll be able to talk to them and share stories and frustrations – which funnily enough will make your stay here enjoyable.

Also, you really need to start looking at the whole experience as one big adventure. That’s how you will get through this, and that’s how you will be able to have happy memories of India. I’m not saying that life isn’t serious, and that there aren’t serious issues that you will eventually have to deal with, but if you look at it from a different angle, you’ll relieve some of the stress you’ve started to carry with you.

Yes the infrastructure isn’t ideal, and there are cows on the road, there are huge buses with way too many people in them, there is pollution all over, there are places that smell bad, there are drivers that drive like maniacs (how many drivers have you seen with glasses on- you’re telling me they all have 20-20?), there are people who cross the road when they shouldn’t, vagera vagera. Seriously, my advice is to look at it as one big game of Mario Kart.

I’ll never forget one winter morning in Delhi. My Mom and I were taking our daily stroll around the building and we saw my brother walking towards us. Apparently he had missed his bus. Now, my brother is like me, he enjoys going to school and getting full attendance. We decided to follow the bus route and catch it ahead.

We call my Dad from the lobby and tell him to bring the keys to the car. We get into our inherited dark blue Maruti 800 (which if you ask me, really does look like one of those cars in Mario Kart), and were on our way. First road block, the water tanker, conveniently unloading water when we need to get out. After twiddling our thumbs for 2 minutes we’re on our way. Next road block, traffic light, which refused to turn green, “Come on man, come onnnnnnnn,” another 3 minutes, and we’re on our way again. Driving, driving, bumpy road – no shock absorbents on this baby! Watch out for the pothole, Dad I think we lost a wheel! Now we see the bus! Yes, we’re almost there, hmm why is the traffic moving so slow? A big, brown cow!  Can anything be more clichéd?

Jai Ho, now get out of the way, ah we see the bus it’s pulling into someone’s building, we made it!! Brother goes to open door- but the door doesn’t open (really really old Maruti 800.) Mom opens door up and there goes brother, on his way to school, backpack, brown bag lunch and all.

See, there were two ways of looking at the situation. With my backseat commentary the full way, I’d have to say that this experience is probably one that my family and I will take with us for a long time, and we can look back and laugh at it. We could have looked at it as a problem. Mom and I didn’t get to do our exercise, Dad didn’t get to have his morning tea, the car probably got a few extra dents in it, the roads were bad, and we were driving around in this crappy car when we were used to driving around in Fords and Toyotas our whole life, but that was all irrelevant at that time.

Be IN the moment, as a wise guru once said. You have to enjoy it – live it and be there- nowhere else. Stop comparing. In America it may be like this or that, and that’s great, but you live in India right now, focus on that. Philadelphia cream cheese costs about 500 rupees, which is insane; it’s however also the same amount that I believe people pay in the States for a bag of namkeen.

There are days where you will curl up into a ball and just cry your heart out- think about how life used to be, where your life has taken you now. If you didn’t have those days I’d wonder a little about you, it’s only human to have those feelings. Crying helps, but I get up the next morning or maybe it takes me a few days, and I realize not everyone gets to do this. Not everyone gets to move to a place like India and live life, heck not many people even get to see India.

You can go on living life here and constantly imagine how wonderful your life would be in the States. How you’d go out and party at night, how you’d be able to drive around by yourself, how easy it would be to get work done and how customer service is excellent, how your apartment would look, and how you’d have a dishwasher. Try to live IN India – with your mind and body. Life isn’t exactly a cake walk in the States either.

Give it time, let it grow on you, and only then will you be able to finally find your comfort zone. How you manage also depends on you, and your personality. But yes, being positive and making lemonade when life hands you lemons, in my view, will help your journey be all the smoother.

Picture courtesy Foxypar via Creative Commons

Happiness, India style

By Isheeta Sanghi

Sunrise at India gateIt has now been about four years since the move to India, and I think I have finally been through all the stages that one needs to experience to accept moving to a new place.

No one will tell you this but the thing is, you will never be able to accept it one hundred percent- because it is so different, and the reality is no matter how much you try, you can not change your past, who you are and where you have come from. That said, you do the best you can do, and as long as that is good enough for you – it does not matter what any one else thinks.

“Here in India, you try to change the system, and the system changes you,” one of the most powerful dialogues in Rang De Basanti — the reality of living in India is that you can not change the system, because if you try you will actually go mad.

For instance, nothing is centralized in India; not even banks. And the best way to save yourself a lot of stress and anguish is to remember – everything is a surprise in India! When you walk into one branch of a bank don’t take for granted that they will be able to give you the same information/services as your “local” branch. In fact, trying to get new notes at a bank? Don’t expect the teller to have them. Why? I really have no idea, but if you can tell me, I’d be forever grateful.

Another thing, do not be fooled into believing that people will salute to you as you enter hotels, or buildings these days. Those days are gone! A friend of mine had parked his car at a high end luxury hotel in Bangalore, and when the valet brought his car to him, he realized something had been stolen from the car. At that time the management could only offer their condolences. A few weeks later he went to the same hotel again, and as the valet stepped into the car, my friend simply asked him to be careful as he had had a bad experience last time. The valet replied by saying that he could park his own car, that he parked Mercedes Benz and other ‘high end’ cars all day long.
Shocking huh?

India is not perfect, but you have to find your own strength and weed out the negative, irritating, annoying things and try hard to look at the really great things about living here because no one else but you can do that.

Make a list of the things that make you happy in India – maybe it’s the winter in Delhi when you can look out the window from your apartment on the 20th floor and not see anything but this beautiful thick white fog, it could be the monsoons in Mumbai when you can have a nice hot cup of chai and fresh pakoras while watching the rain come down on your windowsill.

Maybe it’s the one day when you are sitting in your car and at a traffic light you see kids playing on the street wearing nothing but rags and these wonderful, warm infectious smiles, making you realize that there are so many things that you have right now in your life worth smiling for, making you forget about all of your problems, all of the things you have to do, and all the things you want to do.

It could even be something as small as chatting with a friend on g-mail – remembering old times or planning new adventures — maybe even seeing your cleaning lady come to work smiling. Whatever it is that makes you happy realize that it is yours, and no one can take that away from you. This New Year I challenge you to make yourself as happy as you want to be.

Picture by Koshyk under Creative Commons attribution license

A Returning Indian Entrepreneur Reflects – Part 2

By Kashyap Deorah

Let’s just say that our move to India is done and we are now completely a part of the problem. It has been nearly 22 months since we moved back. Two Diwalis and two Holis later, Independence Day has now moved back from July 4 to August 15. The fascination of big weddings, auto-rickshaws, street food, fresh mithai, monsoon rains, cutting chai, tangdi kabab, patiala pegs, haggling street vendors, gymkhana memberships, high-school reunions, first-day first-shows, live cricket matches, festive crowds and high-honking lane cuts has now transformed to the little compulsions and compromises of life, sometimes trading off health with politeness, and sometimes freedom of choice with practicality.

After more than a year of parasitic living at our parents’ home, we are now on our own as a working couple managing a household with daily interactions with a maid, cook, driver, dhobi, nariyal-wala, milkman, newspaper boy, kachre-wala, watchman, car wash guy, and monthly interactions with the local cable goon, Internet provider, repair technician, plumber, carpenter, electrician, landlord, home delivery guys, and a barrage of brokers. I commute 10 minutes to work, while wife Shruti commutes 45-90 minutes depending on her traffic karma, to cover a distance similar to Mountain View to Palo Alto.

Besides moving from the US to India and from parents’ home to ours, some significant events in our life include a recession, starting up from scratch, Shruti’s career path change and seeing my sister’s daughter grow up. Actually, Zoya mirrors our life in India since our move happened during my sister’s third trimester. Our new life in India is as old as hers in this world. We have now started walking on our own and have started mumbling some sense, in between violent shrieks and tears when we are not well understood. Here is a sequel to part one written in March 2008.

Aspiration Vs Experience
A common theme across Indians, bar the extremely poor (about 35% of India) and the extremely rich (about 2% of India), is aspiration. Some aspire more than others, but we all aspire. Some aspirations are ambitions to jump many steps in the ladder at a time, but it remains perpetually apparent that we are all on a ladder. Each Indian seems to have a story of where they started in life, and where they are today. A story of struggle and a highly developed ego about how well-earned the cup of tea is this morning. Ironically, between steps in the ladder is a black-hole with infinite ability to suck energy. One can expend a lifetime without hopping a step, or one can swiftly curve right around and jump a few notches. On the other hand, the American’s story in the sports bar is about his experiences. The places he went, the women he was with, and the cigars he smoked. The American way of life focuses on being yourself and having unique experiences, no matter how much gas it guzzles. Of course, Indians keep finding their ways to be different while Americans participate in pissing contests to conform.

Survival Vs Progress
From the blue-collar working man to a small business to a corporation, the fair price of a product or service for the Indian market is based on the perceived cost and not the perceived value. Negotiations at all levels end up being cost justifications rather than value justifications. There are two reasons that together make this happen: competitive gaps are quickly filled by entrepreneurial energy in an over-competitive market, and the collective natural capacity of Indian customers to tolerate pain and out-wait you ensures that someone will blink on margins. The only way to de-couple pricing from cost seems to be exclusive rights to a scarce tangible resource. Think of all inorganic growth stories in India, and you would discover that it started with a certain license or right or exclusive ownership won early in the game, or persuasively prohibiting market entry for other players by force or tactic. For instance, real-estate in Mumbai is like stock options in the Bay Area. It is the most probable reason your high-school friend is driving a Porsche Cayenne. On the other hand, the American dream rewards the guy from the mid-West who sold the hot-dog machine that could produce thrice the number of hot-dogs a day and now has a star by his name while sipping Pina Colada in Lanai. The American market at large adopts small innovations at scale in the span of time before competition catches up, and original ideas can successfully be protected from being copied. Going back to the Sequoia and Banyan Tree comparison, the Indian ethos is optimized for continuous survival while the American ethos is optimized for continuous progress. India is growing, but only at a pace that is essential for survival of a billion people. Perhaps this is not an economically underdeveloped society, but an overdeveloped one.

Chaos Vs Order
Before moving to the US, my political views were right of centre. After coming back, they parked left. As an immigrant, your lifelong beliefs are questioned. The rules you were brought up with stop applying, and in order to build the next set of rules on your own, you must go back to first principles. Decisions based on first principles require more processing cycles per day compared to quick look-ups of a rules-based system. After moving back, you can live on first principles for a while and look beyond your preferences and embrace the environment with open arms.  Sooner or later you would start forming rules that help you live easier. In India, a better part of those rules would apply to people and would take the form of stereotypes – quickly judge people, then accept, reject or ignore. You would be one of a billion mutinies, with a certain set of impenetrable views, albeit unique and changing. In philosophical debates your conscious mind would argue on first principles, but in real life, your unconscious mind would be asserting these rigid rules. Indians end up with a fair degree of order in personal life, perhaps as a survival technique in a high chaos environment. Perhaps, this is not a socially underdeveloped society, but an overdeveloped one.

Man Vs Nature
Some of my most memorable experiences in the US were with nature. These were moments that made me feel closer to life than ever before, feeling every drop of blood in the body, aware of how insignificant we are in the face of nature, marvelling at how much the human race has achieved starting with a world of forests, mountains, deserts, oceans and volcanoes. Some of my most memorable experiences in India have been with humans. Moments that make you feel more alive than ever before, seeing the extremes of human resilience and adaptability, the fragility of human life, contrasts in the value of a human life, acts of selflessness and selfishness, kindness and cruelty, shallowness and depth, and the extremes of human ethics. You would be well advised to take a break from humans when in India and give yourself some mind space in what nature has to offer within Indian borders.

Immigrants are a cursed species. The merits of the place we live in are taken for granted, and the merits of the places we travel to or stay away from monopolize our thought. No matter where we live, the mind always wants the best of both worlds without accepting the merits and demerits of a place as two sides of the same coin. You cannot have one without the other. In general, those who move back to India after many years in the US choose to forego some obvious material comforts of life. There is a certain higher purpose that pulls one back home for fulfilling a human need closer to the soul. When moving back to India, I felt like the monk who sold his Ferrari (in this case, an Audi), only to realize that I am no monk. What seemed like a promotion to a higher plain of awareness is only the beginning of our pursuit of happiness. It would be a lie to say that we do not miss our life in the US. Life in India is much tougher, and as Calvin’s dad would say, it builds character.

At the same time, it is true that no matter what you choose to do here, you would be solving more fundamental problems and real needs compared to the US and making that much more impact on people’s lives; even if your expectations of being compensated or recognized commensurate with the impact might take a beating by US standards. Look at it as a journey towards self-realization and an opportunity to end up farther ahead as a world citizena after your life and experiences in India.

All in the eyes

By Isheeta Sanghi

Picture by Antonio Milena - Wiki Commons

Picture by Antonio Milena - Wiki Commons

Staring – isn’t it something that we can all agree Indians know how to do best? When you’re a kid, you feel it and you think it’s weird, but you get along. When you become a young adult and you feel other people’s eyes on you, for no apparent reason, you get irritated and want to yell “What the heck are you staring at?” When you get to the point in life where you realize you simply cannot teach an old dog new tricks, you learn to try and meditate when people stare, or try to completely disregard the fact that they are even alive and looking at you.

I don’t stare at people, so when people stare at me, I find it highly offensive and my blood pressure reaches levels it probably shouldn’t reach. I hate when nosey in-laws (in particular) ask questions that I am uncomfortable answering, because I don’t ask those questions, not only because I don’t care, but also because I have no room for that information in my head. I’ve got enough going on in my own life for me to process and analyze what other people are doing or not doing or buying or not buying.

I hate when trash pickers go through my trash because I don’t go through anyone’s trash, and I feel that on some level it is an invasion of privacy. When you throw something in the trash in the US you know that it’ll end up in some recycling plant somewhere and that’ll be the end of it. But in India someone will go through your trash and if you have even a diminutive amount of cream in a bottle, they’ll take it and use it. And please don’t get me wrong, I wish there was less poverty in the world, and I wish I could help, but for the love of God, please don’t go through my stuff, even if it is my trash, it’s just plain creepy.

I also hate when Indian men (in particular) stare at me because I’m showing off about a quarter of my leg, because hey, let’s be honest unless John Abraham is walking down the “street”, Lord knows, I’m not looking at any Indian man. On top of that, I’m wearing more clothes in order to avoid being stared at as is, that I find it completely ridiculous that they stare, because you’re trying your hardest to cover up.

I recently noticed, however, that it’s not only this particular type of staring that exists in India.There’s a totally separate form of eye etiquette that people follow when they drive. A heavy stare from someone driving a “big” car, to a cab driver driving some bashed up yellow licence-plated vehicle can do magical things. When the stop sign isn’t working (and even when it is) eyes become a form of traffic policing.

People will look at each other and inch forward, and based on the type of stare you get back, you move, or, you don’t. Note also, that none of the staring is nice staring. In the US people usually acknowledge one another, and offer the other to go first, waving a friendly smile while they’re at it. Here, if you tried that, you’d be in the same place, probably forever, because friendliness in India, for the most part, is actually a form of vulnerability and when people think you are vulnerable, they will take you for a ride.

There are also those who don’t use their eyes, as a form of traffic policing. These are the people who simply will not look at you and will keep going, so that they have the right of way. This seems to be the latest trend with many drivers, and it’s a miracle that the number of potential accidents remains only potential.

It’s funny how things of India always seem to rest on that fine line between ridiculously insane, and absolutely hilarious. The driving gets to everyone, it gets to the newcomers, and it gets to people who have been here for years, and there are days when you can make light of things and laugh, but there are days where you just wish that with the flick of a wand you could organize all the cars in neat tidy lanes, have the trucks in one, motorcycles in one, autos in one, bullock carts, cows the occasional camel or elephant, and bicycles in another, and a separate lane for all the cars. But seeing as how the wand thing isn’t likely in this lifetime, I guess the best bet is to practice your best heavy stare, and hope to get safely to your end destination.

Peanut Butter and Jelly

By Isheeta Sanghi

pbjThere’s something so warm and comforting about it. Whenever I have a PBJ I immediately return to those blissful days of school when the most I had to worry about was finishing my homework on time. Funny how the world changes isn’t it? Now schools have banned Peanut Butter, and kids are exposed to so much more than some of us can even imagine, Now there’s so much more to life, so much more to worry about, so much more to think about, so much more to be grateful for, and so much more to appreciate.

Maybe it’s because it brings me back to my comfort zone that I still sometimes make a sandwich for work, or maybe it’s because I can relate so much to the sandwich itself. I am a peanut butter sandwich, we all are. We are our mother, and our father. We are Indian and American.

For a while I stuck to just peanut butter sandwiches, and I think maybe on some level that was all psychological, maybe I only wanted to associate myself with one side, whether that mean being only like my Mom, or only being an American.

Maybe I only wanted to be a girl that grew up in California, and leave it at that, but that would be a lie. I’m not only that girl. I’ve lived all over the world, I’ve been exposed to a global lifestyle from a very young age, I’ve been friends with people from all corners of the world, from all walks of life, and I’ve seen so much. It’s hard to just be that girl from California driving around in her SUV with her sunglasses on and soaking up the sun when I know that when I go to sleep at night there are girls out there that are being abused, and there are children out there that are being trafficked around for money and drugs.

In actuality, we all have a little bit of everywhere we’ve come from in us. I’m the girl that used to recite lines from the Mahabharat while growing up and I’m not ashamed of it, I’m the girl that decided to be a cheerleader in high school and I’m not ashamed of that either. I’m the girl that loves her independence, but I’m the girl that still lives at home with her parents. I’m a mix, a mutt, a khichari, a peanut butter sandwich, and I accept it, embrace it, and live it.

Is it hard being from two worlds, two countries, two cultures, two families? Of course, but like anything in life you’ve got to figure out what you are comfortable with and adapt to the situation, and you have to be true to yourself. It takes a while, it’s taken me a good 2 years to find this place that I’m in right now, and more importantly, accept it. You come across all types of people in this world, I see expats here who are very comfortable with only being American, and sort of disowning the Indian side, and that’s a choice that they have to be comfortable with and live with, and that’s good for them. For me, that’s not a possibility because I’d be living a great big lie.

If I was asked to change it, to go back and not move, to go to college in the States and live in the dorms and come home to do laundry, to be part of an Indian club and perform ‘Bollywood’ dances for various functions and lead a relatively ‘normal’ life, a part of me still would probably say yes. I’d change it and never have moved and changed anything; I’d go on living life being that Californian girl.

But the other part of me would say no, the relationships that I’ve fostered, the life lessons  I’ve learned are invaluable and irreplaceable. You’re in limbo, but it’s not a bad thing, sometimes you get confused because life plays tug of war with you and your heart pulls you from side to side, but we all manage to pull through it. What you need to realize is that it’s not the end of the world, nothing ever is, there’s no situation that you can’t get through, and sure you might not see results as soon as you want to, but that’s just life. My advice, don’t take life too seriously, things will get better and it may take time. When in doubt, make yourself a peanut butter sandwich or whatever that comfort food is that brings you back to happy memories, and let go, just enjoy the moment, and everything that comes with it!


By Isheeta Sanghi

What is it that makes us who we are? Is it our parents? Is it where we grew up? Or is it our friends? I have struggled a lot with figuring out the answer to this question. For the longest time it was easy, I was simply an American. No two ways about it. Then somewhere along the way I realized that I wasn’t .

I realized that my non Indian friends did not tie a band around their brother’s hand once a year symbolizing that there will always be togetherness, a bond of love, a bond of protection. I realized that my non Indian friends’ mothers did not fast once a year to bless their husbands with long, prosperous lives. I know that these traditions are just that- traditions, and there’s no scientific proof that by tying a Rakhi or by participating in Karva Chauth that anything happens- but that’s precisely the point. We have these traditions that give us hope, they keep us going.
Growing up with two cultures puts you in limbo- because it’s not that you have a choice, you really are neither/nor. You can’t be totally American because the festivals will pull you back- the color, the music, the excitement and anticipation of festivals like Rakhi and Karva Chauth will rope you back to your roots. The haunting voice of Lata Mangeshkar singing ‘Aye Mere Vatan Ki Logo’ brings you to tears, because you think of what the country has gone through, what all the people of the country have gone through, and you are instantaneously overwhelmed with a sense of pride.
Simultaneously, you’re not all Indian – you articulate a certain way, have certain mannerisms, and of course have cleaning methods that overwhelm the house help; Manju looks at my Mom in complete and utter bewilderment when she tells her to wash and dry the bananas before putting them on the table.
You also remain incredibly involved in US Affairs including the victory of President-elect Barack Obama. I actually was airborne on my way to India when the captain announced that the new president of the United States of America was Barack Obama. I was overwhelmed with excitement.
So is it my passport that defines me, or is it my last name? I don’t really know, because I don’t feel completely one or the other is what defines me. On the inside I feel that both cultures are part of me, they’re interwoven into the person I am and I can’t choose just one to define me. Traditional values that pull me back to my Indian roots are at the same time balanced out by my American independence.

The American in me realizes that there are things that I have to do- for myself and for my life, and the Indian in me recognizes that though I should set out into this world and do all the things that I want to do, I should never forget that a lot of who I am is because of my family- and their due importance should always be appreciated and noted.

Isheeta Sanghi grew up in San Diego and recently relocated to India.

Missing India

By Isheeta Sanghi

After a visit to the FRO in Bangalore, a speedy two day trip to Delhi’s Ministry of Home Affairs, many police reports, thousands of copies of birth certificates and passports, and a penalty fee of 2000 Rupees, I was finally all set to make my journey out of the country, back to America.

I could not help but sense some excitement; after all it had been two years since I had left the country. New York has been my dream, (I think it is a lot of people’s dream – hence the crowds.) I wanted to live my life in NYC, meet the perfect guy, and live a perfect life. Ask any of my high school friends and they will tell you that I was the crazy girl that was willing to give up the San Diego sun for New York snow. I came to New York a few months ago, full of expectations, interning (for free!) with a magazine.

But I think things in the US have changed quite drastically or maybe it is just me. I find myself missing something. For the longest time I could not understand what it was. It’s not like I was missing my parents or was homesick, it was not that I was missing home cooked food (ok maybe it was that a bit); I was not missing the easiness of school life, lord knows I wasn’t missing the BSNL internet connection. It was something else, and I did not quite figure it out until a few weeks ago.

I was missing that excitement, that craziness that only India has. Do not get me wrong, New York is pretty crazy- but it is not India-crazy. I still can not believe that I am saying it and admitting it quite openly, but I guess I have come quite a long way. I miss India! I miss the smells, the crazy dogs, the crazy traffic, the noise and of course the everyday tamasha. I miss it all. I miss arguing with the auto rickshaw guys, I miss staring back at all those Indian men that stare and seeing them realize that I know they are looking. I even miss the annoying kids that wake me up in the mornings yelling at each other with their accented English as they play soccer outside my balcony. I miss it all!

I am waiting to get back so that I can just sit out on my balcony and drink a cup of coffee in the cool Bangalore breeze. I could stick it out longer here, and make a life for myself, but I know that I will be missing something- and that something is India. It is contagious, and once you get over the dirtiness, you realize that you are much closer to reality- dealing with problems like poverty, hunger, lack of electricity in the villages.

I am not going to go all Swades or anything, but I want to go back because I think I can live a much happier life in India. Here I see people of Indian heritage in New York that are shop owners in the subways, or that wheel around a kebab cart, or that are selling newspapers on the street wearing their salwar kameezes. And I am not going to lie; my heart breaks a little bit. Because I know that that is not what they had planned; those women who were once girls had not dreamed of getting married, moving abroad and selling newspapers on the street. Likewise, I did not forecast graduating, and coming to the States only to intern for free and go order people’s Starbucks. How long can you do it for?

My Dad and I (whom most all will agree) rarely see eye to eye, but recently it is been very different. So many things happened prior to me leaving India that said ‘Stay! Stay! Stay!’ and I remember feeling frustrated that I would never be able to get out of the country. I did not realize that I had already achieved the one thing I wanted in life, contentment. The supersize everything is not exciting anymore. I can not believe I am saying this but Starbucks really is not worth what you pay at all, and even though I still haven’t found the GAP factory in India, I can no longer justify spending $50 on a ‘Made in India’ shirt. I figure I’ll just go to Shankar Market, find the left over material roll and get it made from my favorite tailor.

For anyone moving back or thinking of moving back- give India a chance. It is a beautiful place, and the people are amazing. You need to give it time, look at things with humour (even in the toughest of situations) realize that even if one of your expensive wine glasses broke in the process of moving that you’re not going to take those wineglasses with you in your afterlife, and also, it is not India’s fault that it broke. Realize that what you should take with you are the memories of where you have been more than the material itself. I have finished up my internships, and am excited about heading home to India the cows, my roots, my family, and of course the craziness that truly makes India such a uniquely beautiful place.


Isheeta Sanghi lives in India but is spending a few months in the US interning in NY.


By Isheeta Sanghi

There’s something infectious about India. When we get off the plane, we are disgusted with the so called bus that takes us to the terminal, we cringe at the thought of those oh so familiar smells of poor hygiene, sweat, and masala.. And of course, none of us look forward to being bombarded by thousands of (mostly short) Indian men all advertising one thing as soon as we exit the airport ‘Taxi Madam?’ No baba, nahi chachiye- obviously NRIs have family coming to greet them!

The fact remains that we all make the pilgrimage home at some point in our lives, maybe even a few times a year, because that’s what we do. We know that our grandparents, maybe a handful of aunts and uncles live there and that is the primary reason that we go. As a child, the trip is somewhat monotonous. The same things being said ‘oh the last time we saw you…’ or ‘oh you’re so big now!’ You get to a point in life though, when that trip is worth more than just bringing back lehngas (which are rarely worn) and pictures of exotic India to share with friends. It’s more of a homecoming. We’re exposed to our roots and our heritage, which in today’s fast paced world is something that we all will learn to appreciate more and more.

Roots are the origin- the starting point, and no matter how high up a tree may grow, branches may extend and leaves may appear- the root remains the origin. Likewise, no matter how much we may try to convince ourselves that after being born and brought up in America, that we are truly only American is a little bit of a lie. No matter how far apart we may grow from our traditional colourful culture, values and heritage; there is a part of us that will inevitably always be connected to our roots.

Initially I was hesitant about acknowledging my heritage. I convinced myself and everyone around me that I did not care for anything Indian. What I realized, after living in India, is that it really is not all that bad. Sure there are things that are ‘typical’ Indian that still I am still ashamed of- like the underworld that rips away the innocence of so many young girls and boys, the lack of preservation of the many monuments, and of course the smelliness of some of the gullies. However, there are more things that make me proud to be of my heritage. I love the family values, the colourful festivities, and the warm people.

Going back to your family’s heritage is amazing, and if you are lucky, you will have family members who have it all mapped out, and you can see where your origins lay. You may not have met most of the people, but just knowing about them gives you a sense of pride. You can smile at the accomplishments of those who came before you, and recognize that if they didn’t do what they had done, you probably wouldn’t be in the place that you are in right now. I learned that if my great grandfather had not pushed my Dada out of the country to pursue his higher education, we would be leading a very different life.  Since my Grandfather studied outside the country, he saw some benefit in it, and encouraged his own sons to venture out as well. When you hear about things like that you only learn to appreciate your roots- either family roots or cultural roots- even more.

Like you learn to love people, you learn to love India. You start to take pride in the fact that the country has come a long way- a very long way- sure it’s not perfect, but what place is? It takes time, and it will take a lot of compromise from your end, you will have to treat it like a child, and forgive its inconsistencies and wrongs.

Picture courtesy this blog.

The Support System

By Isheeta Sanghi

I read The Namesake when I was in my first year of college. It was a very delicate time in my life, as it is in the life of any college going student. I was separated from my parents, not simply by state borders but by countries and oceans. College is a very important time in life because we can reflect, and really think about what it is that we want for ourselves and our future. After reading The Namesake, however,  I didn’t think so much about myself relating to the character depicted by Kal Penn in the celluloid version of the story, but rather I thought more about Ashima and her story, and how I could relate all of her experiences to what my Mother must have experienced, moving to a different country after marriage.

Though my Mom grew up in the metropolitan city of Delhi, and had elder sisters who were married, two of whom had already made the journey westward, and was well educated, the fact remains that when someone is taken out from their natural surroundings naturally life becomes tough. I don’t know much about my Mothers past, but what I do know is that I could picture her standing by the stove cooking beef for the first time in her life, crying because she had grown up in a vegetarian household, and had to bear a smell that was devastating to her. I could picture her standing innocently by a street light not knowing that in order for her to cross the road she had to press the button on the pole. I had a sinking feeling in my heart throughout the book because Jhumpa Lahiri has so beautifully depicted those emotions that I’m positive had been felt by my own Mother. Continue reading