Mississauga, December 11 (CINEWS): In less than 24 hours, I will be airborne, enroute to Mumbai, a city where I was born and lived for more than three decades before deciding to make Toronto my new home. Over the past few weeks I’ve told friends and acquaintances that I’d be away for three weeks and they all refer to my trip to Mumbai as a vacation or a holiday.
And to be honest, I am not sure if referring to my visit could be accurately described as a vacation. Last year we visited Las Vegas, Los Angeles and San Diego, that was totally a vacation. Over the past two summers we’ve done road trips to NYC, Washington DC, Boston and Detroit, those were memorable vacations. But going to Mumbai?
I have nothing against Mumbai apart from mixed feelings and if I had describe my impending visit as anything, I’d use words like pilgrimage, and an obligation of sorts.
Most first-generation people I know go back to visit the old country primarily for family. Others go to attend weddings or go seeking brides or bridegrooms for their lonely children who find it easier to land a job than a life partner. Some go to bury a dead parent or bury the past. Increasingly people are going back to settle property issues. But many have confessed that going back to India is an emotionally draining experience.
For many visiting India can be emotionally draining
More than one person has confessed having some serious arguments with their parents and siblings over things like property or trying to settle old family feuds. Family politics often rears its ugly head and while the ‘prodigal son or daughter raise their voices and flail their arms as they try getting their point across to tone deaf family members, their Canadian born children are left shaking their heads in disbelief wondering what on earth is going on. One teenager told me, “When I visit India with my parents, its like I don’t know them, they become so Indian.”
I am going back to India on a tourist visa, technically I am not ‘touring’ but in a way I am because going back to Mumbai and living in Bandra West, is like visiting a new place. Everything looks so different, there are a few vestiges from the past still remaining, but otherwise the landscape has changed so much that feeling nostalgic is out of the question. The fading memory of the place remains mostly in the mind.
Even though first-generation immigrants go back ‘home’ and find so much changed, there is still a sense of joy at being in a place where one had many happy and sad memories. It is hard to describe. Ruby Bhatia the Indo-Canadian who came to Mumbai to become a television personality once told me that she totally loved Mumbai because people were warm and hospitable. After getting married in Mumbai she came visited Toronto to meet the family, one day she took her new husband to meet her old neighbors, forgetting she was now in Canada, she rang the doorbell unannounced and was shocked to find that most of them didn’t invite her in and spoke to her at the door. That’s when her heart broke. These were neighbors who watched her grow up.
People are often genuinely happy to see you
When I am in Bandra walking in the neighborhoods, I have no qualms ringing a doorbell of an old friend or acquaintance simply to say hello and surprise them. I face the opposite of what Ruby Bhatia experienced- it is hard to leave. The friends will all insist you come in, ply you with tea, bring out snacks and even insist you stay for a meal. Half the time is spent apologizing and explaining you don’t have the time to stay.
A friend’s daughter noticed that and found it ‘weird’ that people whom her parents hadn’t been in touch with for 20 years were so hospitable and happy to see them. “Surely they must want something,” she later remarked to her parents who assured her that was not the case. It was only when she noticed the same pattern that she figured out that this was a national characteristic.
I am afraid the second-generation growing up here in Canada would never experience the warmth of neighbors and friends most of us have taken for granted when we lived there. One reason is that most immigrants move from one house to another every five years. I know someone who lived for two decades in a Mississauga neighborhood before moving to Vancouver. They knew everyone on their block and I recall her often mentioning how nice her neighbors were, always having block parties and socializing in each others’ backyards in the summer. Two years after moving away, they were in Toronto and we met up with them, I enquired if they were going back to their old neighborhood to visit their friends.
They had no plans at all. Why? Some of the neighbors had moved away and the others who were their Facebook friends hardly communicated. Turns out they reached out to their old neighborhood friends via Facebook wondering if they could make plans to meet. Most were lukewarm, two of them didn’t even respond. The few who did said it would be nice to meet, but they were busy all week working and had plans on the weekend. Mostly what they were hearing was, “Call when you get here, we can play it by ear.” Needless to say they didn’t call anyone and wouldn’t dare turn up at any of their doorsteps unannounced.
So to come back to whether a visit to India is a vacation, I’d say no, it is an experience that should not be missed. It isn’t just the weather that can be described as warm.