I Am a Non-Resident Indian (NRI) – Same-Same, But Different!

As we travel and make new homes in unknown lands, we grow to appreciate new cultures but also use a focal but distant lens to observe homes of the past. I notice this in myself when I speak with family in India and know that I am not alone. 

In full disclosure I must admit that my British passport will never take away the tears I shed when I hear the Indian national anthem but the odd tear has started to run down the cheek when I hear “God save the Queen” as well! My heart swells when I hear the lyrical notes the 9 year old strikes in Britain’s got Talent and wrenches with equal gusto when I hear the tribal singer belt his chords on Indian Idol. I truly am a “desi” at heart, and yet, feel fraudulent when I hear family and friends talk of Indian nationalism to mean never criticising those in political power or call out simple cultural anomalies that should never stand the test of time. So, does moving away from India as a child of the endearing 80’s still give me the right to criticise what I see through the lens of dispassionate distance?

What does it mean to be a Non-resident Indian? For many it means not paying taxes in India, for others, they prefer having a travel document that makes moving across the globe, visa-free, slightly less tedious. For me, I have gained a new home in Britain, lost the right to my Indian vote, and am bringing up children in a mixed and diverse culture, some of it great and some of it not. I have laid my bed and am very happy in it. Nothing is ever dusted in gold, not even the streets of London but I always like looking at my glass full – brimming with twinkling Scotch and soda, my first sips of which were at my Dad’s bar in Delhi!

India has now become my home away from home. I go back to meet family and friends, continue to have commitments that take me back and it’s the place I take my children to show them my past. I am a flawed person, some of that past is great and some of it is not. India and my family made me the confident individual I am but I slowly find myself feeling less at home in the homeland, and it breaks my heart. My secular upbringing now feels challenged, the country’s economic boom no longer hides its social and cultural biases, they feel stronger than ever before, and can’t be camouflaged in the cloud of familial euphoria that landing in Delhi brings. 

There is so much my India brings to the international table. A country of a billion plus, that is the largest manufacturing hub in the world of vaccines, it stands proud in what it can deliver to 2021. A life-saving drug, is just that, a shot in the arm to bring humanity back to some sort of normality, any nation that has a role to play should stand tall in what it can contribute, and Bharat does it best. And yet in the last decade, a word hidden in my secular dictionary, “sedition” is displayed in newspapers black, white and pink every day. The hushed silences my homeland suggests are necessary for an easier life tingle my spine. Is my criticism unfair or do we as NRI’s hold India to higher standards and therefore feel it’s our birth right to berate our homeland when we see a flaw?

Does living in the land of your birth make you the stalwart that has to constantly defend its values, its culture and the nationalism that comes with it? And if not, it’s a mystery why we do it. My mother defends the government I criticise, she, on the other hand can criticise the bad behaviour of a bureaucrat at the passport office and sees fit in having him hauled up by a senior. The man had a bad manner, he also now has a big “x” in his customer service report! Had I said the same thing, I would be called the NRI expecting perfection, when she does it, she is a tax-paying citizen, well within her right to have him rapped on the knuckles.

So, does our relationship with the motherland change fundamentally when we chose to live in a different geography? Analytically speaking, mine has. I have found my voice to say things can go wrong everywhere, even in India. There is plenty wrong in Britain, but no one tells me off when I say it. As I look forward to India thrashing England in the test match at the swanky and shiny pride of Gujarat, Motera, my cricket loyalties are intact. I hope that redeems me when I say, come on India, grow up, and learn to take some criticism on the chin.

The Railway Woman