Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Not leaving in style

I am convinced my mother has been praying in the village Catholic church every week since I moved to Mumbai, asking God to get me to come home.
Not that she has anything against India, but she is my mother, and wanted me back.

When I left England, I kind of anticipated I would stay three years, with a back-up plan to stay longer, if I really fell in love with the place (or with any person), or less if I hated it. So, I did stay three years. My British friends had all placed various bets on how long I would stay at my London leaving party, so I guess one of them has, err won.

After umming and ahhing and changing my mind about whether to come back, or not, I finally decided to in July, against the advice of everyone in India, but matching the advice of my mother and several friends in England. The ousting of Labour, and David Cameron coming into power with the Lib Dems, kind of influenced my decision, as I was pretty sure England would get back on its feet with a new Government in place. That combined with missing my favourite supermarkets in England (read: Waitrose, Tesco and Sainsbury's) and the vast array of food products I can get here, as well as missing the advanced infrastructure in England, the NHS, ambulances, more comfortable trains, higher quality accommodation, drinkable tap water, more polite taxi drivers, more efficient police and overall  better quality of life, kind of spurred the decision on, with some divine intervention too, it seems.

I also felt I had given India what I could, at this stage of my life, written all the stories I wanted to, and India too had given me back what I had wanted - allowed me to experience its vast diverse self (read: cuisines, languge, tribes, religions, races), and taught me that the country has a rich culture and history that takes years to unravel, but that will always be unique and steadfast and from which the West can learn a lot.

The end of an era
I will miss the fantastic nightlife in Mumbai, the year-round T-shirt weather, my Indian friends, the great social life, endless parties, vast array of soft drinks, Indian dress, Indian food, the fantastic cinema-culture, Indian theatre, the cafe culture, the work-place culture (read: daily cakes) the beaches, the roof-top bars and so on..

But for me, it was time to move on to the next phase. There are hardened British expats in Mumbai, who will never leave...they often retain very negative impressions of England...I was not one of those...I feel as though it is more the Mumbai expats from London that feel they have 'little to return to' in England, whereas people from outside London, like me, tend to have better quality lives here and so there is ''a lot to return for."
However, when I had dreamt of leaving, I had imagined I would have several huge parties, and spend my last few days meeting friends, and going for walks in my favourite places, like Juhu beach. But it was not to be. I have noticed that every expat that leaves India  leaves disastrously and I kind of did too.

I had a few days off work before my final departure, and managed to come down with fever, vomiting and  diarrhoea. This seriously curtailed my ability to pack, or rather clear out my flat and I was reluctant to see a doctor, as I had had a few bad experiences, being ripped off. One Mumbai doctor, who is recommended by the British High Commission, had on a previous occasion, made me pay Rs 800 for an appointment, when every Indian who went to him paid Rs 300, and he did not diagnose me, or offer any medicine, and was plain rude. Another at a private hospital had told me to have Rs 10,000 of blood tests, which I did not do, as I felt it was unneccessary...(This is one good thing about the NHS as they are reluctant to make you have blood tests unless you really need them..In Mumbai it seems to be what every doctor wants you to do..they have lost the ability to diagnose you from your symptoms or using their gut instinct. This is prevalent in the US too where healthcare is privatised).

Anyway, luckily an Indian friend's dad who is a top notch doctor, diagnosed me on the phone without charge and I got the Orni-O drug that slowly cleared up the infection, but it heavily delayed my packing. While friends did not stop calling me, asking me to "meet them"I was faced with the prospect of clearing out my flat. Stupidly, I had not sent anything by freight. Bin liners piled up outside my flat and every day the recycling man came to collect them.  He paid me Rs100 to Rs 150 each time and took 10 to 20 bin liners of everything from newspapers to old clothes. I quite liked this system. In the UK you would have to pay for a skip to come to your house, or you would have to pay an extortionate fee to dump it at a landfill site. There in Mumbai, someone was paying me to take away my rubbish.

A world apart - that was Mumbai

I gave most kitchen items to my maid, as well as my TV. Other valuable items I gave to friends that wanted them. I cannot understand why expats hold sales of their items, when there are so many people you can give them to...Seems really selfish, especially after living in India, when watchmen and maids could make use of these items. I felt really glad that eveyrthing was going to a good use. The only problem was I had more items than even I realised..

I lost all in interest in having a leaving party, as I had bank accounts to close, bills to pay and kgs of stuff to sort through. Luckily a friend agreed to host a leaving party for me for close friends, which was very generous. Luckily none gave me a leaving present, as it would have ended up with the recycling man.

As D-Day grew close and I realised I had more items than even I realised and so on the day I was meant to be leaving my flat, I was surrounded by boxes and bin liners. My friend dropped round and nearly fainted. She tried to help me, but most of the work (sifting through stuff and working out what to throw, what to give away, and what to keep), only I could do. My landlord gave me an extra night to sort it all out...I stayed up all night...and just met the 8am deadline of handing over the keys, then shifted 100kgs to a hotel...

 So, my ideal leaving scenario of sipping cocktails on my last night overlooking Mumbai beach were dashed. I again stayed up all night, and ended up leaving tonnes of stuff in my room for the hotel staff.
Then utterly sleep-deprived with a friend, I shifted 60kgs to the airport. My plan? Hoping they wouldn't notice. But dressed in a raincoat and a fleece to  "lessen the luggage,"  they did.

Looking rather ridiculous, I was singled out straight away as someone over the luggage allowance before anyone weighed it. The airlines man even grabbed my hand luggage, which weighed 15kgs. "It's bad enough you have 60 kgs of check-in luggage but 15 gs of hand luggage when you are meant to have 7kgs takes the biscuit. Go and get rid of some," he said.

The line about leaving India after living here three years didn't wash; in fact it seemed to exacerbate his desire to charge me extra..So,.I shoved all my cat's toys into my raincoat pockets, handed a load of stuff to a friend outside the airport, then got stung with Rs 8,000 excess baggage (= £117)...

Feeling like shit, exhausted and drained, and upset to have left half my life in Mumbai, I ran to security as I was about to miss my flight..

As I boarded the aircraft, looking ridiculous in a raincaoat stuffed with toy catnip mice, and feeling very depressed, the airline official suddenly said: "You have been upgraded, máam." He then took a biro and changed my seat number. My final flight home was business class.
"I would have dressed differently, had I known, " I said, wiping the sweat off my face.
"What would you like to drink," I was asked after sitting down on my horizontal bed. "Dom Perignon,"I replied...I guess in the same way weddings never go as you fantasised, nor does leaving India.


Sucheta said...

i have been following this blog since i came across your HT blog few weeks ago.
I have moved across most of east and north india throughout my childhood, and it is ALWAYS messy!
But it is always fun too!
3 years is the perfect time to belong to a place: after that life there becomes a drag for me and I want to move on. So i feel really happy for your Mumbai experience and I hope to have the same in England some day!

K. J. S. said...


Yes mothers are like that!! You are looking so gorgeous and ravishing particularly in the first photo!! Sorry to hear about your last time hitches!

Wish you all the best for your future!!

Will keep visiting here

Naomi said...

Hi there, Thanks for your messages! Sucheta, do come and visit England...I think you would really like it! It's really worth the trip, esp outside London where I am now..
Hi KJS - Nice to see you here again...

Anonymous said...

Oh! Ni, its heartening to know you have left. I mean you just left because I got busy with my work and was not able to visit your blog regularly and not able to ward off that troll named Rajeev Yadav that you actually decided to LEAVE me? That's outrageous.

Together we saw so many dreams, of opening topless strip clubs, of drinking champagne by the moon light in Udaipur and of, well, having HIV tests together!

We also dreamt of having chai together at Paharganj, of going to South Hall together and of moving around as an interracial couple. Now suddenly you have shattered all my (our) dreams and have decided to answer your mother's prayers???

How can you be so heartless? And while you sent your two cats (unaccompanied), you refused to take me to your developed country. How good would we have looked walking hand in hand with people jealously looking at the good-looking British blonde and a handsome Indian bloke. Now it's all going to be just a dream.

By leaving me in my third-world misery you have bereft yourself of a good copy editor who would eagerly tell you of your mistakes before any one would read it. The spelling mistakes, the grammatical errors, the nonsensical sentences your articles had, being written after getting wasted in Lower Parel's numerous watering-holes. Who would do it for you now? Not me!

And look at that ridiculously tied pink salwaar. It's supposed to be tied on the hip bones and nor 10 inches above it. It's all because I have stopped advising you on things Indian and how they need to be done correctly. But I, again, as always admit that you look way too beautiful in a nice salwaar kameez than you do in any western dress any day.

Uff! I'm so speechless, with head in my hands thinking how my social status would have gone up when people would have known that I am dating a gori that that too from a developed country that we were once slaves to. Oh that cut-glass British accent would have acted like a best aphrodisiac ever. And as far as I know you always wanted to date a good-looking, good-hearted Indian guy. So why did you give up?

This can't be true you gatta some back and now!!! Call me now (1-800-525-date) (Calls from BT phones only. Call rates £ 3.99 per min.)

Naomi said...

Ok, that is the weirdest comment ever. Who is this guy? I don't know anyone called Paul.....Who has a number that costs 3.99 a minute?! I can call India for 0.5 p a minute...I do not advise anyone to ring the number above...
Paul, thanks for your comments...I get the humour and it was very funny....altho clearly we don't know each other. Which alias did you use on HT Blogs? I don't mind you advertising something here, but that number looks well dodgy...If anyone rich wants to try it, and tell me what happens, please do - you will need to be in the UK though.

The Lone Musketeer said...

Hi Naomi,

Guess you are not reading the HT blog comments anymore...
So, in summary, I stumbled across your blogs a few days ago. Thanks for the blogs, they were a treat to read and here is a reference which should help in understanding Indian society better and might answer some of your questions vaguely. It is an interesting read anyway (I am not related to these guys in any way :))

Sudhir Kakar, Katharina Kakar. The Indians: Portrait of a People, Penguin India, 2009

And the link:

Hope it helps.


Naomi said...

Thanks Gaurav,

I am still checking Expat 0n the Edge. Thanks for the recommendation...Im currently reading Michael Wood's The Story of India (published by the BBC), which is very readable and I'm really enjoying...

Have also been recommended to read The Argumentative Indian by Amartya Sen..

The book you recommend sounds quite interesting.

By the way feel free to recommend anuthing on this blog (provided it is moral!) - there are no's cool.

projenator said...

A very interesting article I read a few minutes ago. A UK study says migration does not bring happiness

Naomi said...

I completely agree with that finding. The article you refer to is about Indians migrating to countries like the UK, but it is equally true of Brits migrating elsewhere as well. I don't know of any British expat that is truly happy living overseas, and that includes ones I know living in India, Australia, Spain, America and Dubai...That is why we are known as "whingeing Poms"...I certainly think that people are generlly happier in their own countries (although there would be some exceptions, such as war-torn countries, dictatorships and so on..) But if you were to list a Pakistani out of the flooded parts of Pakistan and bring them to England, they would not like it after some time...there would be many aspects of life they would probably hate....I know of many Indian immigrants in the UK and most of them complain about England the whole time (I am referring to Indian expats not British Asians who were born here as they do like England...)

The Lone Musketeer said...

Hey Naomi,

Thanks for your recommendations also. I have watched the series by Michael Woods, I think the book has the same material. The series was amazing though!
And I am also hoping to read Argumentative Indian some day :)

Btw, here is something interesting...
It is 'free' movie by an American and views the Hindu epic Ramayana as 'the greatest break up story ever told'!!!, I am yet to watch it, incidentally it was recommended to me by a British colleague.

Also, I wrote a blog, inspired by the book and your blogs!, where I try to analyze the Indian family where you might find some answers or at least some food for thought...
It is, I think, in a more serious tone (geeky/nerdy, don't know the difference in the cultural loadings on these two western words :(, Indian stereotype) and the lame excuse for potentially being rude at places is an ingenious extension of Newton's (ironically English!) thought; we see further by standing on the shoulders of giants (not that I picture you (or the authors) as a giant) and sometimes when we don't like one of the shoulders we try to hack it off.


The Lone Musketeer said...

And, I live in Caen in Lower Normandy. Being an Indian I need a visa to go anywhere in the world so haven't been to England yet, might go for some academic events later.

However, if you ever visit France and by chance or otherwise head north-westwards, do tell !

projenator said...

For a migrant in the US, this is all I have to say...

"If pleasure be happiness, happy indeed they are"

Sharat said...

Nice Nice..

Naomi said...

@Lone Musketeer, I really don't get this whole Indians needing a visa to go anywhere in the really disgusts me and must be stopped...Indians are more connected to their families, culture, cuisine and roots than any race I know so they are the last to be the types to try and remain in a country's so backward that it still persists..I have a couple of Indian friends who happened to be born in London to Indian (not British Asian parents) and they managed to get British passports just because of that - the parents were only in England on holiday at the time - and soon returned to India, but it does make their travel arrangements so much easier.....
Mind you the Indian Governemnt is now making it harder for Britons to work there...When I first moved to India, I think a work permit was 30 pounds (Rs 2,000) for one year, now it is 350 pounds (Rs25,000 to Rs 30,000)....Of course if you are Israeli it is even worse.....they charge double...
@projenator: would you explain your comment please?!!

The Lone Musketeer said...

Wow, calm down ! I think it is all about the numbers... no developed (esp EU) country can possibly allow zero potential wrt India. Think about it, the population is 1 billion, even if 1% of the people end up migrating, in lets say a generous period of 10 years, it adds up to 10 million which is 15-20% of the population of European countries (among which Britian will be the most preferred option for migration because of the language and also because there are already many Indian (origin) people there). Also, Indians, as you said are pretty connected to their culture etc., and hence generally do not completely adopt the culture of the country which they are migrating to (even if it is to become a secondary culture for them) a great deal. Although I have traveled relatively less, but taking to friends etc., there seems to be an Indian local community in every country that has substantial Indian immigrants. Perhaps, no country would want to be influenced like that.

In fact, I noticed how proud Europeans are of their *distinct* culture, food, wine (French :)) etc. I have been pointed at small things and told that this is typically French. I never thought of it like this. In India diversity is just taken for granted, nobody explicitly notices it. In fact, I used to have a chill running down my spine when I was asked questions like 'What are the typicall Indian dishes?', or 'What kind of music does India have?'. I didn't want to disappoint people or be rude to them but I am not competent enough (I guess no Indian can possibly be) to answer these, especially in a few lines as was expected. Anyway, my point is it is relatively easy for these countries to have their culture diluted by immigrants, which are small (in numbers) when you look at it from the Indian side but are large when seen from theirs. I think I can understand (but perhaps can't quite articulate that well) why they want Indians to get a visa to get in.

About the work permit, what you say is true but you should see from the following perspective also. The general trend is migration of skilled labor from India to abroad. If a person is going in the opposite direction probably he (or the company inviting) has much to gain and hence a relatively big price for the work permit isn't a big thing. In a few cases I know the companies reimbursed this (I am mostly talking of high tech sector, may be diff in others) if not literally under the head of 'work permit' then as a 'relocation allowance'. With some countries of course (like you pointed out Israel) it is much more diplomatic.

Hope my words made some sense !

Take care

Heather Gupta said...

That is me! A hardened British expat ... though I am from Devon not London so I shouldn't be anti the old country. Actually I'm not really anti it, I just prefer India by miles. But then again as you well know, there are huge upsides and downsides to both. Ideally one needs to be filthy rich with a pad in the UK (or 2 - one in 'town' and one in devon dorset or somerset) and a flash apartment in Bandra .... and spend a few months at a time in each ....

Naomi said...

Hello Heather! Noo, you are an exception as you fell in love and married an Indian, and as of recently, even had a child there! That makes you an exception as love came into play...And when love/relationships come into it, anyone might decide on anything...rationale disappears out the window. Having said that I'm surprised you "prefer India by miles.." Would be interested to know the reasons, if you care to share them..:)
I do agree there are upsides and downsides to both places. But it does take ages to become aware of even these...So in India there will be a novelty factor that attracts an expat at the outset..but whether it is duarable and whether the expat feels the same 3-4 years down the line, is the question. The same applies to Indians migrating to England. None of this applies to people who have married into the other culture, as that is cmpltyly different.

sorabh said...

May be I haven't searched your blog enough, but I was disappointed (don't take it personally) to not read much about the contribution of a few expats to the sports scene in Mumbai and elsewhere. It's very commonplace to see expats lending a few tips, and participating in community sports here ...